In Lieu of Stocking

What a strange start to fall! With water levels as low as they have been, Mass Fish & Wildlife made the atypical decision to not stock many of the state’s regularly stocked rivers. In talking with local anglers, not one could recall a time when such a decision was made, including the horrific drought of 2016. With the climate getting drier and drier each year, it seems as if this may soon become the new normal. Instead of pouting about the lack of fishing opportunities, though, I decided to make the most of the cards we’ve been dealt. To start, fellow small stream aficionado Will Friedland and I headed to the skinniest of blue lines in search of micro salmonids.

Will fishing the first stream.

Well, not at first, exactly. Before fishing the tiny stuff, we elected to try a mid-sized stream that usually gets stocked in the fall. Without the pollution of stocked fish, I secretly hoped to find wild trout after wild trout, opening up the public’s and Mass Fish & Wildlife’s eyes to the potential of the stream as a fully wild fishery. Unfortunately, no such groundbreaking discoveries were made, and without having so much as seen a fish, we moved on to the smaller brook.

The brook looked just like many others I’d fished throughout the state, yet one difference was glaringly obvious: the clarity of the water. The water was nearly as pure as the crystal waters of the Swift, but the size of the fish wasn’t quite the same. Cast after cast with my size 14 Purple Haze and Will’s size 10 Stimulator induced hearty takes from hungry fish, yet after about 15 rises, we still hadn’t hooked one. Schools of diminutive minnows swam all around us, but if there were fish of any substance, they must have been lurking deep in the shadows.

After blanking at the best pool in the entire stretch of stream, I eyed some minuscule pocket water as my next target. My fly landed with a gentle plop and drifted for less than a second before a teeny creature darted from the rocks and sucked it under. When I lightly set the hook, the smallest salmon I have ever seen went flying into the pool behind me. I struggled to grab my net and scoop up the fish before it wriggled off the barbless hook.

The smallest salmon I’ve ever seen!

Will had told me we might find some landlocked Atlantic salmon parr in the river, but never in a million years did I expect a salmon quite this small! I suddenly realized that the minnows we had been seeing weren’t dace or chubs, but tiny salmon. The river was full of them!

A little brookie from the brook.

Upon downsizing to a much smaller caddis emerger, I began catching fish after fish. None were big, but they sure were pretty. Will switched to a small foam caddis and also caught his fair share of salmon. As we worked downstream, a brook trout even found its way into the mix. What a cool and diverse stream!

The following week, a group of seven board members from the Massachusetts chapter of Native Fish Coalition gathered at the Swift River for a fun day of conservation and fishing. Though it was still a little early for the big brook trout to be moving upstream, a couple of recent stockings had the river chock-full of fish. I figured Rt. 9 would be crowded beyond belief as the Swift was one of just a few rivers to get stocked this fall, especially on such a pleasant Sunday. I was pleased to find that we while we certainly had company, it wasn’t so bad that the seven of us couldn’t get our own uncongested spots.

I ended up fishing streamers throughout most of our time there. A Golden Retriever enticed a number of rainbows, though only a few ended up taking, and a lowly one was officially landed. A couple of small brook trout with eyes bigger than their appetites also ate the streamer.

My solitary rainbow of the day.
A streamer-eating brook trout.

In the last five or so minutes, I spotted a nice brook trout rising to minuscule emerging insects with a regular cadence. I swapped to my trusty Sparkle Caddis Emerger, which had been quite successful for me during my summer trip to the Swift. On the first cast, as the fly gently drifted in the slow current, the trout came up and sipped the fly so subtly it was almost unnoticeable. After a short but spirited battle, a stunning 10-inch brook trout lay in my palm, slipping away before I could snap a picture. Man, I wish I had switched to dries earlier.

Other members of the board had luck on streamers and soft hackles. From below Rt. 9 all the way up to the bubbler, fish were being caught. Some were freshly stocked, and others were the wild, native fish we work so hard to protect (although nothing is truly native to the Swift, a flowage so altered and unnatural you can hardly call it a river).

As the brook trout spawn kicks into high gear, remember to be mindful of redds. If the lack of water this fall is good for one thing, it’s the reduced competition wild salmonids will face from stocked trout as they create the next generation. Still, let’s not add to the pressure they are already facing from the low, warm water.

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