Two hours on a small stream

That’s all the time I had. But there’s a certain comfort in having a time limit. It forces you to keep moving. To spend more time with your flies in the water. And if you feels the pangs of regret over pools not covered and fish not caught, there’s always next time.

It was a lovely, sunny afternoon, albeit with a slight chill in the air. The water was perfect: dropping after the weekend’s downpours, just a tinge of color, nice and cold. There were the ubiquitous midges, BWOs sz 14-16, and some caddis. I fished with a dry/dropper and a small tungsten bead jig. Although I had a few slashes (and one landed) on the dry, the natives showed a clear preference for the jig. I had great success in deeper, darker holes, and along shaded cutbanks.

When I began, it was all BWO duns. But by the end of the trip, I started to find spinners. I love finding the same mayflies on small streams that I see on bigger rivers. Now, to find some risers…
The skunk cabbage is asserting itself in the moist bottoms of the woods. I ran across these on my hike out. Anyone know what they are?
The less photos you take, the less stress you place on the fish. I encourage everyone to Take The Wild Trout One Photo Challenge when fishing small streams. You get bonus points if you keep the fish’s gills submerged.

Make your voice heard — sign the official ASGA Letter that calls on the ASMFC to initiate Addendum II

Apologies for the short notice, but this needs your attention today. It only takes a couple minutes. Here is the link to sign. And below is a simple outline of the issue from the ASGA.

ASGA believes that our striped bass fishery is at an inflection point: if action is not taken at the upcoming May meeting, the stock will not rebuild by 2029 and drastic measures may become warranted. We are calling on anglers, guides and business owners to join us in calling for the ASMFC Striped Bass Management Board to initiate Addendum 2 to Amendment 7 for striped bass.

It is clear that some areas experienced excellent striped bass fishing last year. The good fishing was a result of one of the most prolific year classes on record reaching maturity. This translated into over 35 million pounds of striped bass harvested coastwide. 

ASGA had deep concerns that the slot limit would fully exploit the robust 2015-year class when it was proposed. These concerns are now a reality. The 2015-year class is the last robust recruitment year. While the 2017 and 2018 year classes are average, there are four consecutive years of the lowest recruitment in recent history following. This leaves the stock and those that depend on a healthy striped bass population in a very dangerous place.

Amendment 7, which was just approved and implemented in May 2022, clearly states that the stock must be rebuilt within 10 years. This current rebuilding plan has failed. The 2022 MRIP harvest numbers showed that harvest doubled and decreased the probability of rebuilding to 14%. This is unacceptable to our community and clearly violates Amendment 7’s rebuilding provisions. 

The American Saltwater Guides Association will be submitting an official letter (PDF link) to the ASMFC Striped Bass Management Board on Tuesday, April 25th. 

We are asking only that the Striped Bass Management Board follow the rules it established. A new rebuilding plan that has a minimum of a 50% chance of success must be initiated, and those regulations need to be in place by the 2024 season. Addendum II would develop and institute new regulations, providing a better chance of rebuilding the stock by 2029.

Farmington River Report 4/20 & 4/21/23: Nothing, then all of a sudden it’s on!

I guided Jordan and Chris on Thursday and we started off on the lower river. Given the recent cold, dank weather, I was hoping the morning sunshine would kick-start some bugs, but that was not the case. We plugged away with nymphs, fished drop-shot under an indicator, and although both anglers hooked fish, I wasn’t happy with the action. So we moved upstream to the PTMA.

Jordan landing his first real Farmington River trout. He did well, prospecting in a seam adjacent to the one I’d shown him. It was a spunky rainbow that ate a size 14 Frenchie variant.

The next task was getting Chris into some fish. I took him to the same slot where my client Jason had had success the day before, and the fish were still there. Chris did a good job getting his nymph rig where it needed to be, and he was rewarded with multiple hookups. Around 2:30pm, creatures began stirring. This was to be the first major Hendrickson event of the year for me. I hustled down to Jordan’s position and re-rigged him for wet fly with a simple two-fly team. Our Blessed Lady of the Soft Hackle smiled upon us, and Jordan banged up a hefty brown on the dangle. I left Jordan to swing away, and rigged Chris for dry fly. I tied on a Usual, one of my favorite Farmington River patterns, and we got to witness one of those epic Hendrickson dry fly eats: a perfect drift in the feeding lane, the trout committing to the fly, white mouth agape, and the turn with the hook buried in its jaw.

While there were plenty of stocked rainbows and browns in the mix, there’s something about the Hendrickson hatch that brings out the wild things. Here’s a lovely some-teen wild brown with unique spotting on the pectoral fins, taken by Chris on a dry fly. Nice work, fellas!

Friday was play day for me. I found some space in the lower end of the PTMA, which delighted me no end because Friday was sunny and warm and the kind of day that especially draws a crown this time of year. Unfortunately, it was also blustery, and the gusts sent a torrent of tree seeds into the water. To make matters worse, the seeds were about the size and shade of a female Hendrickson, so I made sure my wet fly team had darker flies. It was a bittersweet afternoon for me because I ended up in some water that was a netherworld of activity. Plenty of rises below me — but two anglers, too. Plenty of rises above me — but same angler density. I managed to take several fish on wets using an upstream presentation (and I slipped in a couple downstream victories as well). What was significant about this was the fly the fish ate. On my three fly team (Squirrel and Ginger top dropper, Dark Hendrickson soft hackle middle dropper, Dark Hendrickson winged wet on point) the only pattern the trout ate was the middle dropper. When the hatch indicated that I should switch to dry (the trout will no longer show interest in the subsurface fly) I had one of those days where there were so many duns on the water, I had trouble getting the trout to find my fly. I consoled myself by watching the sheer number of naturals that didn’t get eaten. And the trout that I did hook made those successes seem sweeter.

The version I used had a brown partridge hackle fiber tail, rusty brown thread dusted with DRC spectrum dubbing, and a brown partridge feather.

Many thanks to everyone who shared the water (Jack and Dennis, you should have stayed a bit longer!) and to those who came to say hello. I hope the flies I handed out served you well.

Hendricksons are out full throttle in the Farmington River PTMA

Yesterday and today saw a strong showing of Hendricksons in the lower end of the PTMA. On both days the duns started to come out in force around 2:30-2:45pm. On both days the best of the action was over by 3:30. As always, savvy anglers will fish under the hatch until the wet fly no longer gets eaten. The trout will tell you when it’s time to switch to the dry. A more detailed report to come this weekend…

It’s good to see you, old friend.

Farmington River Report 4/19/23: Jason triumphs over another cold, slow day

Given the cold, blustery conditions, cloud cover, and total lack of hatch activity (well, OK — I did see one tiny BWO and we witnessed one rise), Jason picked a good day to cover drop-shot nymphing under an indicator. We fished two marks within the PTMA and one below it, and fishing trout that wanted to eat was a challenge. Jason was a great student and asked plenty of questions. He’s going to do well. As always, when the nymphing is tough, you’ve got to move around, cover water, manage your drifts, and figure out where the fish are holding. Look for a reason to set the hook on every drift. Set hard, sweeping low and downstream. I can be discouraging when you’re doing everything right and have nothing to show for it. But, the generally persistent generally make out. Well done, Jason!

A bent rod and a focused angler, or: Things a guide likes to see. Things really haven’t picked up this week, but hopefully the warmer weather on Friday will give the bite a boost. I had Jason test-driving a new nymph today, and I’m happy to say that it worked.

Random mini reports: Striper struggles and trout are about

On Sunday night I fished with surfcaster extraordinaire Toby Lapinski. We were after stripers that were after herring. I had a bump after a few casts. After a few more, I had a take with some head shaking and thrashing, and after a few seconds I had…nothing. No big deal as the fish didn’t have any size. I’d like to tell you that the night ended happily ever after, but that was it for me save a snagged herring. Toby got into a window of opportunity and connected with a few bass, landing one that was sub-slot, and one that was well over slot. Nice! I’d decided to fish elsewhere, so I missed it. Why should my spring striper luck change now? To add to my woes I stayed out way too late. Glory days are coming. But when? Yes. I know. After.

I’m guiding tomorrow, so today I bounced around the Farmington River looking for fish. I was on the water from noon to about 4pm. I hit five marks in the PTMA down to Unionville-ish and hooked up in three of them. However, it was a fish here, a fish there, and long stretches of nothing. It was hours before I saw a bug, and the bite was correspondingly slow. The cold air and rain showers and gusty wind didn’t help. I didn’t see another angler hook up all day. I saw a handful of small caddis, a few size 14 BWOs, and a couple stray Hendricksons. No risers.

Thanks to the currentseams readers who said hello today! This is good time to remind everyone to please come say hello. You’re not bothering me, and it’s good feeling to put faces and voices and smiles to names.

Today’s method was drop-shot nymphing under an indicator. I fished a BH Squirrel and Ginger size 14 on point with a size 18 Starling and Herl dropper. Every fish came on the BHS&G until the sun came out…and then it was every fish on the S&H. Droppers are a wonderful way to give the trout a choice.

Bass report week of 4/10/23: Striper woes and smallmouth goes

A check of my records confirms it. By this date in 2018, I’d already landed a double-digit number of bass 10 pounds or greater. (And some of those were significantly greater.) This year, not so much. Not at all, really. I have yet to land a striper. I’ve only hooked one. The rest have been random nips and swipes from dinks. Where have all the big striped bass gone?

I have a couple theories. The first is that they (nor their smaller brothers and sisters) never settled into this mark for over-wintering. That explains the painfully slow fishing from January through now. The second is that absent any substantial number of over-wintering fish, there would now need to be a reason for them to be there. (Read: bait.) And the herring are in late this year. Wednesday night was the first time I saw any signs of those wonderful oily baitfish, and the stripers hadn’t yet got the memo. It’s not just my mark. I have a reliable report of another herring factory estuary that is currently infested with Alosa and there are — wait for it — zero bass on them. So we’ll wait for the next tide cycle for the chance to catch bass that can be measured in pounds.

Greased line swing fans take note: the only action I’ve had has come when I’ve been stripping the fly in at the end of the drift. Small bass will chase. Large bass won’t.

It’s been six months since I did something like this. (Insert heavy sigh here.) Photo by Toby Lapinski.

My smallmouth season doesn’t typically start until sometime in May. Not this year. Yesterday I went to explore a tributary of the Connecticut River, two marks I’d fished once, and one new one. Even though the water is fairly low, there was substantially more of it than the one time I fished it last June. The first mark gave me little current and stained water; no bites. The second held a few ginormous carp swimming around in lazy circles. Still a light stain, but more current. Easily some 20-pounders in the mix. It was at this mark that I hooked my first smallie of the year, about 13″. The last spot was not only a trying-to-catch expedition, but also to see if any fish had come up to prepare for the spawn. I know, a little early, but nature is always right on time. I didn’t see any signs of beds; I saw one smaller fish, and hooked another. I felt like that was a good way to spend two hours.

I hope you’re enjoying the weather. Me, it’s a yard work weekend. So I’ll be out, but not really enjoying it…

Farmington River Mini Report 4/11/23: Stockees everywhere and a surprise guest

I fished the lower Farmington River yesterday from 12:30pm-3:30pm. I hit four marks and found stocked fish in three of them ready to jump on. I easily got into double-digit numbers, mostly rainbows with a few browns and one brookie in the mix. The method was a long leader with a jig mini-streamer. The water was cold, 49 degrees, and a great height, 540cfs. Lots of caddis and midges out, and a few stray small olives. Fish on!

Just when I was telling another angler that it was too cold for Hendricksons, look who shows up! There were a few stray bugs that came off about 3pm. This was in Canton. I only saw one rise all day, and it was to caddis.
Safely removed from a tree. And I got to carry a lucky bonus dead dried worm around for the afternoon.

Salmon River (CT) Report 4/7/23: All in Good Friday Fun

As tradition dictates, I went fishing on Good Friday in honor of Simon Peter, the greatest fisherman of all time. However, I mixed it up a bit. I couldn’t see driving down to the mouth of the Hous, my usual haunt, for what would very likely be casting practice (although we all could use it, right?) Even though I was tantalized by the sound of the surf and the smell of sea salt. So the decision was made: Salmon River, CT. It was an easy call when I considered that it was the day before opening day. That’s the Friday I fished with my dad and sons on that river for so many years.

I was joined by surfcaster extraordinaire Toby Lapinski. The water was on the low side of medium, 180cfs. With the warmer weather and Good Friday, the crowds were out. The FFO section was infested with anglers; the TMA section above, not as much. We fished four marks from 11:30am-2:30pm and found willing fresh stockees in all of them. Toby fished a streamer and I went with a small jig streamer on a long leader. I dead drifted, swung, stripped and jigged and caught fish all four ways. We saw caddis and midges and olives, and even a few risers. What a fantastic day!

I hooked my first trout with my streamer dangling in the current while I stripped line off the reel. Once Toby got in, it was only a matter of moments before he hooked up. How sweet to become an instant expert, if only for a few brief, shining hours. I must admit I do enjoy it in small doses.
Tight lines and bent rods was the theme of the day. It was mostly rainbows, but we did encounter a couple stray browns. I was surprised by the power of some of the fish. Maybe it was the water temperature, an ideal 54 degrees. (Photo by Toby Lapinski)

Ontario Tribs Steelhead Report 4/2 & 4/3/23

Part One: Sunday. My original plan was to hit the Upper Fly Zone on the Salmon River, but after kibitzing with steelhead guide extraordinaire Row Jimmy, gears were shifted. High but falling water, some color to it — yes. The creeks. Creek A was surging along, and in addition to a moderate stain its waters carried a fair amount of leafy debris. I targeted two very likely holding areas, but over the course of an hour the only thing I could hook was the bottom. The UFZ beckoned, but its siren song was drowned out by the call of Creek B, which, as it turns out, was the right choice. Creek B was also running high, but much clearer. I was astonished to find that my secret spot was devoid of anglers. Third cast, right down the gut, the indicator dips and I’m on. I stuck the fish good, but as I’ve learned, now years into this endeavor, you can do everything right and the fish can still come off. (The reader will want to make note of this statement for later reference.) It was a fresh, gleaming bright fish, about five pounds, and it immediately skyrocketed out of the water and spit the hook. My disappointment was salved by the knowledge that there were fish here willing to eat. I ended up going 2-for-5, not a great batting average, but two of those were never really on, coming off seconds after a perceived hook set. It was good to be on the board. It was Sunday. It was sunny. I was steelheading. It felt good.

Our Lady of Blessed Blood Dot did not fail me. I set the hook so hard on this buck that I almost fell over. Being able to fish for steelhead in smaller water in relative solitude is a blessing. To show my appreciation, I made a burnt offering to the creek gods. Ok, so it was a smoldering cigar butt, and I was finished with it anyway. But it felt right.

Part Two: Monday Morning. The fishing on the Salmon River in Altmar stunk. We saw three steelhead hooked and landed. Despite the high flows (1.5K cfs) we were able to target known, proven holding areas (along with multiple other boats) and it just wasn’t happening. I’d been thinking it for a couple hours, but after we blanked in Ellis Cove, Jim suggested that we cut our losses and hit the creeks. It was 11:30am. Sold!

Part Three: Monday Afternoon. In what seemed like a flash, I was 2-for-4. The first one I stuck was a big ole’ fish that came up and planted itself in the main current. If it could think and determine a strategy — to bulldog and try to outlast me — I’d want to shake its hand or fin or however you congratulate a steelhead. Because as I steadily applied pressure to the fish, something gave and I was left wearing my leader around my body. By 1:30, Jim had to leave, so I decided to stay for a bit. I was glad I did.

Part Four: The Comedy of Battle. I was unfamiliar with much of this creek, so before Jim left I’d asked him for some advice on where to fish. One of his suggestions was a run under a dead tree whose branches extended down to just a few feet above the water. The target zone was a slot of deeper water, maybe 1 1/2 to 2 feet. This section of creek was so small that the surrounding trees and bushes would make casting difficult, to say nothing of a hook set. Landing a fish? We’ll deal with that if it comes. What’s more, its boulder and debris-strewn bottom was a snag fest, as I found out on my first few casts. But on the fourth cast, the bottom shook its head.

Steelhead on. Now what?

Twice, I whacked my rod against tree branches trying to set the hook. Things were so tight that I did my best to complete a hook set that was somewhere between a strip and a tip. The steelhead didn’t have too many places to go. Its first run was downstream. This fish had been in the creek for a while. Dark horse, spawning colors, and the biggest steelhead I’d stuck all trip. I decided the best chance of landing him was to strike fast. I spied an LZ across the creek, and charged into the river. Once I got to the shore, the steelhead had other plans. Ziiiiiiiing! Another downstream run. OK, so I gotta follow you. No, don’t swim into those submerged branches! But he did. I had to grab my line — usually the kiss of death in such matters — and free it from the snaking arms of a downed sapling, then pull the fish out of the maze of branches. Whew. Still on. I cranked the reel furiously, only to have the fish peel off another 20 feet of line. I dutifully followed it downstream, adrenaline and heart pumping. No! Not into more submerged branches! But that’s where he went. Again, I had to grab line and leader, fully aware that the tenuous connection between angler and steelhead could disappear at any moment. Again, I had to free the line from submerged branches. At one point I felt the leader go limp. But no. Salvation! Fish still on!

The last few moments were filled with exciting apprehension, if not terror. After all that went down, so many pitfalls avoided, how could I possibly lose the fish now? I eased it into the shallows. Twice, it would have nothing to do with my efforts. Keep the rod tip bent, Steven…drag just tight enough…easy. And then it was over. I made another burnt offering and decided that this was one of the best fights I’ve ever had with a steelhead. My prize earned, I slipped the fish back into the currents of its natal waters and watched it melt into the current.

It would be a good drive home.

Ooh. Ahh. Ohh. What colors! A brilliant display of nature. Well played, good sir. A valiant effort. Now, please, go make some baby steelhead.