Friday, May 23, 2014

Fly Fishing the Big Flatbrook

If you visit the Flatbrook, there's a lot to see, as well as catch. The Valley and Ridge offers stunning views to stop and take in, rather than just driving through. The brown I'm photographed with was a hatchery fish I took home. This year, of course, far fewer of these are in the stream, due to the furunculosis outbreak at Pequest Hatchery, but wild browns and native brook trout exist in the upper reaches. I'm no expert on fly fishing. I've done enough to know what I'm talking about--thanks to Tom Gilmore's Fly Fishing the Big Apple. I've seen perhaps one sulfur mayfly in my life, but I take his word on the information's veracity. I can't say it doesn't interest me! I'd like to yet see more than I have.
Fly Fishing the Big Flatbrook

        The name of the Big Flatbrook has a special aura earned by excellent fly fishing and wilderness mountain setting. It’s commonly thought of as the state’s top trout stream, and it certainly is by location in the northwest corner of the state.

          A four-mile stretch from Route 206 to Roy Bridge is artificial lures only. This includes the Blewett Tract, a half mile section originally private and given to the state after the donor’s death. It ends just above the Little Flatbrook’s confluence. The state is not the only agency which has stocked this stretch; Trout Unlimited has contributed. From Roy Bridge to the Delaware, miles of stream provide excellent fly fishing or otherwise through June. The water warms in lower reaches during summer. Sixty eight degrees is about the critical point when trout lose ability to survive after release from being caught. Lactic acid build up during the struggle on a hook can kill a trout. The upper reaches are known to be fishable at least sometimes through the summer.

           In the Blewett Tract and just downstream, native brook trout occasionally get caught. The Little Flatbrook has a native brook trout population and some of these fish find their way into the Big Flatbrook. Tolerating warmer water, wild brown trout exist in the Big Flatbrook, and both rainbow and brown trout holdover. The stream is also stocked in the fall, and when it is not ice covered during the coldest weather, a contingent of fly fishermen do well in winter on nymphs.

          In June, the best time to fly fish is dawn and dusk. Caddis and blue winged olive hatches may be prevalent in the mornings, sulfur hatches in the evenings. It’s a good idea to come with dry fly sizes 14 to 22. White parachutes can aid in seeing your fly on the river’s surface at dusk. A parachute is just a fluff of white tied into the top of the fly where trout are least likely to notice, yet remains visible to you. Brown trout are nocturnal. Bringing a head lamp and fishing into dark may be an irresistible idea once you’re in the midst of rising trout. The action can make you lose all passivity. I’ve experienced this on the local North Branch Raritan and have heard about it on the Flatbrook.

         The best evening hatches seem to happen in stable weather without much wind. This much I gather from the North Branch. Late afternoon falls into evening with a great hush over the environment and insects thrive. Calm conditions also make casting and drifting dry flies a lot easier. Even with this advantage, if trout are rising but ignoring your fly, take a good look at what they rise for. Match it with the flies you have in your box, especially by size. Sometimes nothing much seems to be in the air, yet trout rise like mad. So make sure to bring some emerger fly patterns. Trout feed on larvae that swim to the surface to emerge into winged creatures, as well as feed on caddis and sulfur mayflies and such that alight on the water from the air. It isn’t easy to learn to match the hatch--I know this much--so start by observing whatever your fishing situation presents.

          Mid-day hatches do occur, although streamer flies like the bead head Woolly Bugger and Muddler Minnow are likely to be more productive than dry flies. Trout hit streamers hard, so make sure the tapered leader and tippet are closely matched for a blood knot. I once experienced a trout on the Flatbrook hit so hard the line parted where just this knot got tied badly. Streamers can be drifted in the current or retrieved by stripping the fly line. Nymphs may also be good during the day, bead head or without the slight weight. Stonefly or Hare’s Ear sizes ranging from 10 to 22 serve as possible choices this time of year. Last May we fished nymphs without any success but one hit. I tried a Woolly Bugger and caught a brown trout within minutes in the pool we had fished thoroughly.

          The Flatbrook is a long ride away for my family. All of its 30 mile length from headwaters to the Delaware is way up in the northwest corner of the state. We’ve made the trek for the past three years for an annual family day in the mountains. The scenery is wonderful. National Park Service route 615 allows about 10 miles of driving with very little human habitation besides Wallpack Inn and the abandoned hamlet of Wallpack Center. Other attractions in the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area include Buttermilk Falls, Crater Lake, and Millville, as well as numerous hiking trails. It's truly a stunning respite from the trafficked regions of the state.



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