To my fishing pal, Buck. Thank you for always being ready for the next adventure, showing me the way and for helping me record this in the journal log.
With several spring creek tributaries and numerous cold water seeps, Ohio’s Mad River is the state’s only all year, cold water fishery with substantial public access. Like Pennsylvania’s Yellow Breeches Creek, the main river is not a true spring creek (emerging from the ground in full form), but rather it is a spring-fed stream that starts life with free-stone characteristics.
The Mad basically runs north to south through the agricultural setting of rural Champaign County, separated from the corn and other crops by a thin but dense strip of trees that occupy the river’s predominantly high banks. This setting, incidentally, serves to shield the angler from winds that may be sweeping the open ground at any given time. These same features also provide a maximum amount of shade when the clouds aren’t doing their part.
Heavy springtime rains and raw agricultural run-off can often keep the Mad running high and at times discolored. These rains can and do change the complexion and flows of the river from season to season. These conditions seem to persist further into the season each year. While streamers and larger nymphs can produce some of the Mad’s largest brown trout at this time, we find the Mad most enjoyable and at its best later, during its “second season”.
At some point during the mid-summer (it varies), the Mad seemingly transforms itself into a wonderful imitation of a true spring creek. The water assumes a new clarity and the flow levels drop and remain constant and still chilled. The wading becomes more pleasant, and the trout begin to congregate into the deeper lies, log jams, and under-cut banks. This is the time for terrestrial insect imitations. However, due to the fact few fields actually butt up to the river, grasshopper imitations can prove to be in-effective.
In late September or early October the river makes another slight but noticeable adjustment. The water becomes even more clear, and it now possesses a slight golden hue that is difficult to explain. Moreover, each rock, boulder, and pebble on the stream’s bottom stands out in high relief. These are the days when we think that “our” Mad River is the finest of all trout waters, bar none! While there can often be a fair stretch of thin water between them, pods of holdover browns can be discovered. One carefully fished section can provide a couple hours or so of first-rate action. Don’t rush it. We prefer to take turns casting in these situations, with the observer providing sage advice that upon rare occasions is even heeded. Parachute Caddis patterns with a trailing Caddis Emerger in tan or caddis green often fills the bill. A skating adult pattern such as a Kings River Caddis is a killer when the trout are up to chasing the adults.
With our combined seventy years of fly fishing experience on the Mad River and while the calendar may not agree, we regard the leaf fall to be the start of the winter fishing season on the Mad. There is an old saying that Winter trout fishing is best when the angler is most comfortable. That seems right to us. A day in the low forties can be reasonably pleasant as long as there is some sun and very little in the way of wind. Make sure your feet are warm, and wear a hat as well. It need not be fashionable. Really, the farmers just don’t give a hoot.