I had so much fun fly fishing the Pequest River in New Jersey last weekend that I decided I’d head there again on Sunday morning. I was interested in fishing the portions of the Seasonal Trout Conservation Area that I hadn’t been able to cover because I’d run out of daylight. I arrived at the river around 9:00am on Sunday. The weather forecast was calling for sunny skies with a light breeze and temps in the upper 30s. The sunshine had quite a few more fishermen on the water than the prior weekend. I set up my Winston fly rod with a 9-foot leader and a 5X, 24” section of tippet tied to a Flashback Hare’s Ear Nymph. Below the Hare’s Ear Nymph I tied a #20 Black Zebra Midge, the fly that is becoming my most successful winter pattern. It makes sense being that the midge larva is one of the only things the trout are seeing drifting by them during the month of January. Another new addition to my fly fishing gear was a new pair of Orvis Encounter waders and a pair of Simms Boa boots. It was a luxury to head out fishing with a pair of waders that I knew weren’t going to leak. My 2016 experience with leaking Patagonia and Simms waders is worthy of its own blog post at some point. The Simms Boa boots I wavered on buying because I know they are disliked by fly fishing guides due to the inability to make quick repairs in the field. I ended up going with them anyways because I have been tired of trying to tie frozen laces and get into and pull off wet wading boots.
When I arrived riverside, everything looked much different than my last visit to the Pequest River. The ice was gone from the riverbanks and the water was up and slightly off color. I started drifting my set-up underneath an indicator at the Pequest Trout Hatchery Bridge. Within five minutes of being on the water I’d hooked up with two trout and lost both of them. Again, the small hook size can be frustrating to fly fish with. Many times I’ll see the indicator pause, I slowly lift the rod and see the trout lift off the river bottom with the fly in its mouth, and then it slips out. I don’t know if there is a solution to this issue when fishing #20 barbless hooks. On my third hook-up I finally had the fish solid in the lip and I had a fun fight with a small rainbow trout. After fishing the bridge for a half hour I started moving downstream, fishing all the riffles and rock structure. I should warn any of you that read this that the Pequest has a very rocky bottom and can make for sketchy wading. About fifteen yards below the bridge the Vibram soles on my new pair of Simms boots were no match for the slippery rocks of the Pequest. I lost my footing and took a dip in the water. Considering that I’d just measured the water temperature at 35 degrees, it wasn’t a pleasant experience. I shook it off and kept going.
Over the next hour I had a few situations where I watched trout dart out of their lie to chase my Hare’s Ear Nymph only to miss taking it. Those situations are exciting, but drive you nuts. As I moved downriver, the Pequest took on a different personality. The river bottom seemed to have more debris, and the river became wider and with deeper pools and riffles. In one of these deep riffles I cast my line and as I went to mend, my indicator zipped under the water. I set the hook and immediately could see I had a good rainbow on the Hare’s Ear. This was easily the biggest fish I’d encountered on the Pequest in the time I’d been fishing it. This fish gave me a great fight on the 5wt. After a few good runs I was able to work him into some shallower water and land him in the net. He was somewhere in the 18” range. It was an unexpected catch and put a smile on my face.
After taking a mid-afternoon break to eat a sandwich, I explored downriver a way and was unsuccessful in getting any more hits. As the river gets wider, it becomes more difficult to pinpoint good water for drifting nymphs. I’m sure this is one of many reasons why a majority of fishermen stay closer to the hatchery. The fishable water goes on for a while and eventually the river winds closer to the road, which also makes it less inviting to fishermen. No one wants to watch cars driving by when you’re trying to enjoy the peace and quiet of the outdoors. I have a suspicion however that there are probably some lunker trout hiding in the water a few hundred yards below the hatchery. This water sees much less foot traffic. I want to visit this section of river in the springtime.
Later in the afternoon after not catching a fish for some time, I decided to hike back up to just below the hatchery outflow where I’d caught double-digit rainbows the weekend before. When I got up there, the fish had clearly spread out. I was able to hook into two more fish, one of which I lost and one which I landed. It was amazing to me how many fishermen were out on the water on a winter Sunday afternoon. It was almost as crowded as trout streams I fish in the spring months. I can’t imagine the pressure the Pequest River sees in April and May at the peak of the mayfly hatches. If you decide to head to the Pequest, choose your day carefully! It could be the difference between netting double digit rainbow trout or casting all day at fish that have seen a hundred flies before you got to them.