I admit it. I enjoy beginning my fishing season on my own schedule, getting out on the stream on that first spring day when the weather warms rather than some arbitrary date set by the State. This year, Pennsylvania’s trout season opens on April 13thwhile New York and Maine begin their open-water season on April 1st. New Jersey has declared April 6thas its opening day. More often than not I’m content to spend the official opening day of trout season working around my property, content to leave our State’s rivers and streams to those anglers, who will drop a line for a few days, and then leave the water until the following year.

So, with the temperature rising into the high sixties on this Saturday afternoon during the last week of March, I decide its time to head over to Bonnie Brook. You see, New Jersey permits fishing all year around on those streams that it does not stock, and since Bonnie Brook has not seen a hatchery truck since the nineteen seventies, I’m able to engage in this little conceit.

There is a smallish blue wing olive on the water this time of year, but I’ve only encountered this hatch once or twice on Bonnie Brook. I remember one season while fishing downstream with a wet fly, I noticed a trout rising close to the bank under the branches of a wild rose that hung over the side of the stream. I let line out, using the current to drift the soft hackle in that direction, but after two tries was unable to interest the fish. Nevertheless, the trout continued to periodically rise, grabbing something from the surface film that I could not see. Checking through my fly box, I knotted a #20 Adams with a parachute wing and drifted it downstream. As the current swept the fly under the branches of the rugosa, the fish rose, and few moments later I held a ten-inch brook trout in my moistened palm.

A hatch of black stoneflies closely follows the brief appearance of this little mayfly. These early-season stoneflies crawl from the bottom of the stream in abundant numbers, providing a reliable source of food for the trout of Bonnie Brook. This afternoon one buzzes past me before landing on the naked branch of a barberry bush. Another sweeps over the surface of a pool that extends only a few feet from one side of the brook to the other.

Stoneflies have four wings that make them look like tiny helicopters when they are in the air. The one flying past was quite large, perhaps a #12 while the one drifting down with the current was noticeably smaller, maybe a #16. I’m not sure if they are the same species or two separate types of stones. No matter. I open my early-season box of flies that contains black stonefly patterns in different sizes. They are meant to imitate the adult form of these aquatic insects as they return to the stream’s surface to lay their eggs.

I knot a fairly large fly, with a dun-colored CDC wing and a body dubbed with beaver fur dyed black. It is a very simple pattern, but quite effective this time of year.

I’m unable to raise a fish from the first pool and after a number of casts move upstream. A flash of crimson takes me by surprise as the pattern with the CDC wing floats down a crisp riffle running out of plunge pool. I’m able to dislodge the hook without raising the rainbow from the water. I estimate it to be at last eight inches, a nice size trout for this little stream.

A brook trout, an inch or so smaller than the rainbow, is the next fish to grab the fly.  It goes on like this for the next two hours. I release three rainbows, each measuring eight or nine inches and four brook trout that are smaller. In between, another nine or ten fish flash below the fly.

I end the afternoon on a perfect note. A rainbow, a bit smaller than the rest, rises from the bottom to inspect the stonefly pattern that bounces down with the current. I watch the fish float side by side with the fly. I can see it clearly—the red stripe splashed over parr markings, the black eye following the fly, and the splayed tail as the little trout turns and then descends out of sight.

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