The month of December arrived at Oak Creek, and with it the unmistakable feel of winter. A chill seemed to accompany the air, the days were shorter and darker, and the hardwood tree limbs were increasingly barren of the once brilliant foliage of fall.
I wandered along the banks of the stream several times in the final month of the year, and found the fishing to be spotty and often slow concerning trout activity, but still with some bright moments of finding feeding fish, even risers, and bringing some fine wild Browns to hand. The images above depict Oak Creek a short distance downstream from Slide Rock State Park, at the beginning of December. Some fine-looking runs and pools are interspersed here, but trout were mostly lacking on this day.
Some of the fine insect hatches from the fall continued into this month, in somewhat less prolific fashion, and Blue Winged Olives still appeared in decent numbers most days, in the middle of the afternoon. The mayfly above, about a size 20, was a typical specimen.
I found this run on the same early December day featuring the photos earlier, and noticed the pale gravel of recent redds near the grassy bank--a sure sign that mature Brown Trout had been in the vicinity, and engaged in spawning. I lobbed a brown #10 Crawbugger on 5X against the bank, and let it drift under the grasses, in the hopes that a hungry post-spawner fish might still be present in the run. Sure enough, a dark form emerged from the cover, followed the streamer, and then inhaled it. The brute proceeded to thrash about, and made a few runs towards the security of the bank, before being guided to the shallows.
I gazed down at a fantastic male Brown Trout, just over 14", exhibiting a slight kype and dark, rich coloration. The belly was black, a characteristic I have noticed before on Browns during spawning season, especially on the males.
I admired the russet and dusky golden hues of the trout, then watched him glide towards the far bank, and fade back into the currents. As it happened, this was the only fish I brought to hand on the day, a pattern that repeated itself more than once for me in the winter along Oak Creek. On some days, I was unable to land even a single fish, but these lean pickings were in tune with the season, and it made every fish caught that much more vivid, and a moment to appreciate.
A large redd is evident in the picture above, at the tail of one long glassy pool. I found myself scanning the water as much as fishing during this time, and coming across recent evidence of spawning activity by Brown Trout was both comforting and enlightening, and another clear sign of the season.
I prospected for winter fish near Slide Rock State Park a few times later in the first week of December. I was greeted with several bluebird days, featuring pleasant mild temperatures.
This was a fine, dark Brown close to 14", that rose for a tan #16 Parachute Sparkle Dun on 5X. The fish held in a small pocket, and was one that I had stung previously, but had not been successful in landing. Many of the better wild Browns in Oak Creek seem to share this trait for me, where they require repeated visits and attempts to successfully approach and fool. I feel as if they demand that an angler really get to know their individual preferences and habits to avoid spooking them, and then maybe they can be convinced to take a well-presented fly. In any case, each nice trout here is always memorable, and I was fortunate enough to land two others on this particular winter day.
These photos show the additional fish brought to hand on this day. The Brown above measured about 18", and was a female that I have actually landed twice before from a favorite run, in previous months. She seemed a bit slimmer this time, probably due to recent spawning activity, but still sported brilliant coloration, and revived quickly, to descend back into her crystalline run. The fish above swallowed an olive #20 Parachute Sparkle Dun, no doubt resembling a natural from a decent Blue Wing Olive hatch that occurred in the afternoon. Most of these mayflies were a size 20, but some individuals were closer to a 16.
The third fish caught on the day is pictured above, a toothy-jawed male Brown of 13" that quietly rose for a tan #16 Parachute Sparkle Dun from the tail of a glassy pool (again, a fish that I had unsuccessfully tried for in the past, but got it right this time). As with many other Brown Trout from this stream, he displayed beautiful coloration, made more so with the spawning season.
I included a couple of photogenic pools in the vicinity that I have photographed more than once in the past, to show the beautiful light, and the increasingly stark appearance of deciduous trees and bushes quickly losing the remainder of their leaves.
On one particular day, I was unable to coax any fish to my offerings, but I did come across one large (18" or so) Brown Trout that I spooked from the shallows of a deep pool. The bruiser featured a distinctive dark, almost black coloration on its right side, from the head to halfway back along its body, and proceeded to retreat in an unhurried fashion to the streambed, and wedged itself between two rocks. I drifted several streamers and nymphs past it, with no response, but did snap an image of the trout, as shown below. I always suspected a large Brown resided in this spot, but this was the first time that the fish had decided to show itself, and I intend to keep an eye out for the brute when passing by this run in the future.
I caught a single fish a couple days later along Oak Creek, materializing as a 13" female Brown Trout, with striking spotting and hues. Again, this fish rose for a #16 Parachute Sparkle Dun during Blue Wing Olive activity in mid-afternoon, and again, I finally managed to hook and land this particular fish after repeated unsuccessful efforts in the last few months.
The shade grows long over a likely yet challenging run near the Halfway Picnic Area.
Here are a couple of images of previously productive water between Junipine Crossing and Bootlegger Campground.
This section did not yield fish on the day I cast there in December, but I know this area will reawaken with the returning warmth and bounty of spring.
I took this shot of the stream later in the month, actually on my last day of fishing for the season.
No trout showed themselves here, and as afternoon waned, I began to suspect that I would end the year on a fishless day.
However, I worked my way upstream, and came upon a long, flat run, where I have spooked fish more than once before, and tried to assume a low profile, while creeping up on the tailout to search for holding trout. As luck would have it, a good fish was holding against the streambed, and a Baetis hatch was winding down, so I ended up casting a #20 Copper Emmons (with an olive wire body) upstream, and let the little nymph drift back towards the trout. I saw the fish turn slightly and flash, and I instinctively tightened the line, and raised my rod. The trout had taken the fly, and charged about the run, resisting my efforts to subdue it. Eventually I pulled the fighter to shore, and appreciated another great Oak Creek Brown, and my last fish of 2009.
The Brown measured a solid 16", appeared to be a male, and like other trout caught recently, he exhibited some striking coloration and spotting.
I have mentioned this in previous posts, but the Brown Trout I have caught from Oak Creek are some of the more beautiful members of this species I have had the pleasure to catch. A head detail is shown above, and I included another full body shot below; note the tiny beadhead nymph in the top of the mouth.
And here is one last image of the Brown, as I prepared him for release, to feed and grow and perhaps be fooled another day. It was a great way to end a year filled with some spectacular fly fishing, and a fine finish to my first season spent along my new home water, Oak Creek.