The following article was written by Gary in 1975. He talks of three personal small streams in Connecticut. Several such articles have been shared with us from The Connecticut Fly Fishermen’s Association (CFFA) archives.
Trout Stream of Southbury – Woodbury – Oxford
by Gary LaFontaine
When Gary J LaFontaine wrote this for Lines & Leaders (December 1975), only a few CFFA members knew him as the enthusiastic Connecticut kid who answered the pioneering drive to “go west, young man, go west.” The CFFA was fortunate to have him in its presence long enough to leave an indelible mark. He’s been a devoted member for over twenty years, willingly sharing his talents in print or in person (when we can get him to leave his adopted Montana homeland.) After graduating the University of Montana, Gary and wife Ardyce moved to “home” temporarily to be near his ailing mother. “Trout Streams…” was penned by a budding young writer, who has blossomed into one of America’s fly fishing notables. His literary contributions to fly fishing have brought him awards, fame and fans. More importantly, they have helped thousands of anglers become better flyfishers. Gary has authored Challenge of the Trout, Caddisflies, The Dry Fly New Angles and Trout Flies: Proven Patterns. Today, Gary writes from his home in Deer Lodge, Montana, when he’s not traveling to lecture, read or fly fish . . Ed
As I padded up the steep rock fall, the thin stream hurling over small steps and tiny gorges, I flicked my rolling casts into ripple pockets and dish-size pools. A 10 inch brook trout jumped over the little dry fly, a No. 16 Royal Trude, and took it from above. He finned up through a chute of water, flopping in the upper pool. I led him back downstream to hold and release him; a native trout that did not come from a hatchery, a fish in crowded Connecticut that may never before saw an artificial fly.
It was nearly 6:00 a.m., and I clambered out of the valley, and walked the 300 yards to Cottage 21 of Southberry Training School to begin my day’s work.
This day was typical of my angling season in southwestern Connecticut, where I lived and worked during my stay in the state. The Southbury – Woodbury – Oxford area is a region less thickly settled than other sections of the state, and it is an area of contrasts, where a man can quickly pass from the closeness of a wooded stream in the rugged sharpness of New England beauty to the nearby industrial offal of the Naugatuck River, or from the freshness of brushy fields and high woods to the sameness of a beginning suburbia sprouting on the land.
While I spent the spring and early summer months of 1972 working at the state institution for the handicapped, I concentrated on fishing three streams close to home, seeking the steady success that comes with familiarity. The streams, and the number of times that I fished them in a three month span, were the Little River of Oxford, Sprain Brook of Woodbury, and Spruce Brook of Southbury.
Often time a “trip”, like in the morning before work, or a few hour’s casting after supper in the evening, but the frequency of visits to the same spots allowed the settling of a rhythm, an let me acquire an intimacy and feel for the secret of the stream.
Spruce Brook runs on the state owned land of Southbury Training School. The stream is an inlet to the training school pond, Stibb’s Lake, and circles behind the school cottages 24 and 28. It carries a steady flow of water through the summer, and trout from the pond run up the stream in the spring and fall.
I head rumors through the winter of a native brook trout population in the brook. In early April I walked out to scout the stream, winding with the small canyon as I followed it up, over log jams and rock piles. Many small pools bubbled out of the tumbling water, and I itched with anticipation,
On opening day of the general season I went out at 11 a.m. The stream was mine alone, and I nursed it, fishing slowly (and yet spooking trout in the shallow water). I had the solitude, and the quiet, and the early spring green; and the four small native rookies were bright dots in the setting of purity.
The stream is not totally easy to fish, and the trout are mostly small and not overly gullible. The miniature canyon is cramped and the rocks are slippery. There is no path alongside the stream. I do not mean to discourage anyone, but come expecting a more subtle reward in a gentle fishing day. Do not fight the stream (so futile against small brush streams), and meet it like a fried that will gladly discuss the issue of trout. Please return any of the native population to the water, because neither the stream nor the pond is artificially stocked.
Sprain Brook is a tributary of the Pomperaug River, crossing under Rte. 47 towards the town of Washington. It is a dark stream, the water seeped with the rich detrital litter of the bottom, and Limnephilidae caddis carry around the cases of stick bits and leaves and burrowing mayflies turner in the washings of dirt. The brook trout and brown trout in the stream are stocked, but they adapt quickly and color dark like the gentle stream.
I fished the stream on the warm, sunny afternoons, of May, driving up after work sitting at stream side after a day’s toil for a spell to unwind from a day’s rush. Stretching out with my head perched on folded arms, I watched the water for the rises and deep swirls of feeding trout, and plotted ensuing strategy.
On a typical day I never fished more than 400 yards of this stream on either side of the bridge, because it was not necessary. I usually walked upstream, past an abandoned house, to fish the first large pool above the road. There a riffle sluiced through a guard of stones to run into the pool. If I walked under the bridge, turning the stream corner, the main flow of the riffle into the pool slid down the right bank before fanning out.
I watch the stream before fishing last May 7, and I saw the trout and stream minnows gang up on the emergence of dusty duns, the hatch a mixture of two closely related mayflies, Ephemerella subarea and Ephemerella invaria. I tied on a No. 14 Red Quill and approached the upper pool, and the fish continued to rise. With the dry fly I covered the beach tail of the pool before moving closer, as a precaution, and then I peppered casts along the right bank, looping the fly under the tree limbs. A 9.5 inch brook trout took the fly, curling into the bank as he fought, and I landed and released the first trout of the day.
I felt the tension of expectancy because in observation I had seen large trout in the stream (and large is relative judgement that is determined by the average fish for a stream) and now at the head of the pool, where the water tumbled, I put my casts into the bubbles. I spread my fly over the productive eddies, and no big fish of 16 inches or so came to the lure, but I caught two more brook trout of 10 inches each.
Still in search of my large fish, I left the pool. Down from the bridge the stream slowed into a deep, dark trench, flowing softly through a crowd of short trees and brush. I walked the meadow to start below the run, and fished back up towards the car. In chest waders I slowly waded up, covering both sides of the bank about ten yards apart. Periodically, a brook trout or a brown trout darted up to grab the Red Quill, and I caught and released four trout of up to 11 inches and as happened to me often enough on Eastern waters I hooked my fly in the green a few times.
At the last few yards I sat down to share a bit of meadow with a fellow angler, a gentleman of about 11 years old with a spinning rod and two 8 inch brookies strung on a stick. He looked over my fly closely when I handed it to him and he remarked on the size of the hook.
A fish rose a few times just above where the stick hung and made a V in the current. I nodded to my angling friend and approached a casting position. On the third float the fish, a 12 inch brown, took the fly and swirled the water. My companion stood up, “Hey.”
I landed the fish, and as the boy watched, I wished that I had let him try the fly rod, maybe to catch the trout, and to learn a start in the art.
“You going to let him go,” he asked.
I slipped the trout in the water and it wiggled from my hand, disappearing quickly in the dark water of the stream. “Well, we’ll save him,” I said, “Now, maybe tomorrow if you want to come back, he’ll be in the same place.”
I have always stood by one personal rule, since reaching the age of consent, since choosing my places to live, and this rule is not hard for a man to follow if he sets the correct priority: I live only where I can walk to a decent angling water.
I do not need a famous river, or a known lake, at my beck. A pond, or a stream, or a small bay is good enough, because then I can own the personality of that water, and know it and study it each day.
Following this practice of domicile choice, I have lived near such known and unknown places as Lolo Creek in Montana, Diamond Head Bay in Hawaii, Clark Fork River in Montana, St John’s River in Florida, and Little River in Connecticut.
The Little River is in Oxford, passing within a few hundred yards of the house that we rented on Dorman Road. The neighborhood is an edge of eastern suburbia, but the stream is fringed by tall hardwood trees, and runs cool in the shade. It bounces over the cream quartz and grey basalt pepper gravel in a twisting rush.
Brook tout wait at the riffle edges, and brown trout hang in the few large pools, and all of the fish are stream bred.
In a hectic schedule I grabbed my angling in short bits, usually in a few hour stints after work or after supper. I kept my Fenwick (71/2 ft., No 5 lines) assembled in a corner of the front pantry, and I reached in to pull it out and let my wife kiss my hand good-bye (or to come with me as she often pleased).
One day, in spite of a drizzling rain, I went to the stream. I walked up through the vale of trees, water dripping on my hat and down my jacket collar. My rod was pre-set with a dropper rig, and two wet flies, a No. 14 Lady Anderson the dropper and a No, 12 Dark Cahill on the stretcher, and I began to fish with them. I fished down and across (out of historical curiosity I have spent a number of angling days experimenting with the old wet fly dropper rig).
I enjoyed the intricate manipulation of the flies as I stepped and cast, stepped and cast, swimming the flies through eddies, current tongues, and pockets. At a large pool in the stream, an artificially set spot with a low brick wall under the incoming riffle, I fanned the flies across the head current. Each time the first bulge of water over the wall skimmed my flies further from the swiping in – current then I wished, but then as they curled down a slower eddy a nice trout took the dragging stretcher, the Cahill, and dug back towards the deeper water of the wall. With the flies unseen, I felt another sharp, contrary tug, and then a second fish swam away from the wall. The first trout, on the weaker leader material of the stretch, was broken off, but a larger trout hung on the Lady Anderson. After an anticlimactic battle I managed to land a 15 inch Brown, my best trout of the season from this stream.
(Coincidentally, Ken Parkany of the CFFA wrote me of a similar experience that he had on the Sourdnedunk River in Maine, but Ken employed much more skill and imagination for his feat. Using only a single fly, Ken hooked a small brook trout, which dove for a log. When Ken applied enough pressure to pull the prey from under the long, the small fish was not on the hook, but a 15 inch native was. Ken landed the larger fish and the small brook trout was nowhere around. Ken is a fine fellow, but never play the shell game with this band.)
These are my memories of Connecticut angling. On days off, I might fish the Jeremys River, or the Farmington River, or the Housatonic River, but these little waters of Southbury – Woodbury – Oxford were my mainstay streams, always ready at a moments notice to provide a contentment, a solitude, conductive to fine angling.