Mina and I stepped into a prime bit of trout-holding water, offering catch and release fishing all winter, on a small stream we call “The Dirty.”
Running through an industrial town in the Naugatuck Valley, filled with abandoned factories, its banks dotted with homeless encampments, the river is for many the most unlikely place to fly fish.
On her second cast Mina has hooked her first fish of the day. Moments later I have a fish on. This is predominantly a Rainbow trout fishery and we both release the chunky and surprisingly feisty fish. Usually trout are sluggish when the winter water temperatures are in the 40s, but not today.
We cast long, delicate, incredibly sensitive rods strung with monofilament line joined to a fine monofilament terminal leader to which two subsurface nymphal imitations are tied. This technique allows us to have a direct connection to our flies as they tick along the stream bed. The slightest bump or pause in the free drifting imitation and we set the hook.
After thirty-odd years living and fly fishing the rivers in Washington, Oregon, Idaho and Montana, I have returned to my roots in Connecticut. We are fishing a technique known as Euro nymphing or tight lining – with equipment and tactics that only a few years ago were almost unknown to American anglers.
The style is adopted from Czech, Spanish and French anglers who brought the technique and new equipment to international competition and stunned Americans with its effectiveness.
Mina, who took up the sport just a few years ago, has surpassed me in skill as an angler and fly-tier. She was an enthusiastic adopter of this new style and I quickly followed.
It is a chilly morning, promising sunshine, and we hope the river will gradually warm with the day. Our next piece of water is a little more technical with currents that converge making the drift of our flies more uncertain. I notice a Mayfly emerging from the stream. The insect is well known to fly anglers as the Blue Wing Olive – tiny, prolific and bread and butter to trout throughout much of the season.
We both tie on tiny, green, spare imitations of the Blue Wing Olive and are hooking and releasing fish with encouragement and gentle ribbing as more trout are netted and released.
These Rainbow trout were raised in hatcheries and released by the State of Connecticut to enhance their sport fisheries – and they are great sport this morning – but our real quarry is Brown trout, a European species introduced into American waters in the 1880s.
Wary and still aggressive and ravenous, the Brown trout is considered the trout of choice for most fly anglers.
One more piece of water with yet another idled factory looming above.
An overhanging tree makes a sidearm cast my only option and gives up two fish hooked and lost and one to the net, released no worse for the encounter.
A break for lunch at about one o’clock.
I’ve packed tuna salad with homemade bread and butter pickles – my secret ingredient. Mina has brought the barbecue flavored potato chips.
We sit on a stone wall on the edge of a parking lot in the sun contented.
Mina, an acknowledged
germaphobe, delights in the hermetically sealed plastic fork I have provided
for her. It’s courtesy of an airport food court, I tell her.
Our next stop is the true “Dirty” experience.
We park behind a factory — trespass through a torn and rusty chain link fence — to reach five separate and distinct bits of holding water all so small and subtle that we take turns casting, hooking fish, and stepping out to each let the other fish through.
“Ten casts and you are out,” Mina tells me.
Luckily, I hook up almost every pass. She catches more fish than I do before we have wised up the trout in that run.
This is a melancholy experience.
A homeless camp recently disbanded by local authorities has been flooded in a recent storm and the sodden and filthy remnants line the bank. A shirt in a tree. A tennis shoe embedded in the gravel. A broken tent pole at my feet. Mina and I question ourselves, powerless to help as we take our sport.
We hook and release fish in each piece of water. One Brown trout for each of us is a bonus.
We end our day on the same piece of water as we began. The river has a chill breeze. The hatch of insects has ended, and the bite. I tell my sister, “stick a fork in me!” She laughs and agrees, “me too!”
We break down our rods, pack up our gear and say our goodbyes.
On my drive home, I listen to NPR and the endless and alarming news of our new normal. I wish I had never turned on my car radio.
The headlines almost make the paradox of this little urban river seem normal, chasing my muse surrounded by decay, a far cry from the chalk streams of England where fly fishing began.