Winter catch-and-release: Avoid frozen gills and eyes

With single digit temperatures again in the forecast, this seems like a good time to talk about cold weather catch-and-release best practices. When the temperature is so low that you’ve got ice forming on your waders, or your line and leader sports frozen droplets the moment they hit the air, you should be thinking about what could happen to a fish’s gills or eyes if exposed to that same frigid air.

When it’s Everest summit cold out there, try to keep fish in the water as much as possible. Absolute best practice would be to never remove the fish from the water. If you must take a picture, keep the fish in the water (in your fish-friendly landing net) until you’re ready to shoot. Then it’s 1-2-3, lift, shoot, and get that fish back in the water ASAP. Limit your number of shots. Please remember that damage time is measured in seconds.

It was in the teens when this picture was taken. We probably shouldn’t have done it. On the plus side you can see water still dripping from my hands, which indicates the shot came moments after the steelhead was lifted from the net. Photo by Peter Jenkins.
Option B is much safer for the fish. I know, it’s not the same, but Arctic air can be cruel on your favorite gamefish’s gills. How cold is it? You can see droplets and sections of ice already forming on my waders. Photo by Peter Jenkins.

From the archives: “Soft Hackles for Winter Steelhead”

As you may know, I am currently occupied with getting ready for my oldest son’s wedding. In lieu of new material, I’m recycling some of my favorite posts from years past. Let’s continue on the steelhead kick (man, I really want to tie into some fresh chrome!). Six years after its publish date, Soft Hackles for Winter Steelhead remains relevant; I still use these flies, and whether swung or dead drifted along the bottom, they still catch fish.

Ever notice how 36-degree water doesn’t feel as cold when you’re releasing a steelhead?

From the archives: “Ten Things Every Beginning Steelheader Should Know”

November means steelhead. At least it does for me. This year, though, the steelhead adventures will have to wait a few weeks. In the meantime, here’s an oldie but goodie from the archives: Ten Things Every Beginning Steelheader Should Know. Even if you’re an experienced steelheader, you might find a useful nugget within. Enjoy the read — and enjoy the ride.

A man, a steelhead, and a cigar. Gotta love November!

Making sense of the changing striper management landscape, or: thank goodness for the ASGA

On the difficulty scale, keeping current with how the ASMFC plans to manage (I’ll be kind and not place quotes around manage) striper stocks is somewhere between Calculus II and Organic Chemistry. Flux and fast and fluid also come to mind as good descriptors. (And as always, alliteration.) But thanks to our friends at the American Saltwater Guides Association (ASGA) it’s become easier.

Next up will be draft Amendment 7. Public comment will be open later this year, and I’ll be sure to get you the links. To help you understand what’s going on before then — no degree in Chaos Theory required — here are some helpful links.

If it looks like a moratorium proposal, is it really? Nope. Here’s why.

Once again, recreational anglers will need to mobilize and speak loud and clear when Amendment 7 comments are requested. Here’s a primer on the highlights and landmines of Amendment 7.

If you’re finding this stuff helpful, and you really care about stripers, you should join the ASGA. You can do that here. And of course, any donation you can make helps them continue their outstanding work.

Last but not least, here’s a great piece from our friend (and friend of striped bass) Charles Witek on the importance of getting Amendment 7 right.

Thanks for taking the time to read. And thanks for caring about striped bass.

We have to do our best to make sure the resource is handled with care. Getting involved with Amendment 7 is the best way you can do that.

Read “Old-School Striper Patterns are Still Deadly During the Fall Run” at Field & Stream online

Fly anglers are always looking for the next best thing. Especially when it comes to fly patterns. But often, “new” doesn’t translate to “better.” Some of these patterns are decades old, but they still get eaten because the stripers haven’t gotten any smarter. So if you want to see what’s in my fly box this fall — and at the end of my leader — read “These Old-School Striper Patterns are Still Deadly During the Fall Run,” brought to you by our good friends at Field & Stream.

The Magog Smelt Bucktail didn’t make the article, but it’s another fall favorite of mine. You can find out more about this pattern here.

“8 Flies Smallmouth Bass Can’t Resist” at Field & Stream Online

You can read my newest piece, “8 Flies Smallmouth Bass Can’t Resist,” right now at Field & Stream online. Even if you’re more of a trout person, I’d recommend giving it a read as many of the patterns translate to the Salmo family. Naturally, I’ve included a few of my own bugs, like the August White and the Countermeasure. Besides, it’ll give you something to do while waiting for all this water to recede…

I’m pretty sure this guy ate a TeQueely, one of the featured patterns in “8 Flies Smallmouth Bass Can’t Resist.”

Farmington River Conditions: And the hits just keep on coming!

What a disaster summer this has been for major river fishing in Connecticut. Pity the poor Farmington: too much rain, too much flow, too much warm water. Its current story is best told by these USGS Waterdata graphs.

They’ve jacked up the flow again. At this rate, we may not have any stratification of reservoir water for weeks…or perhaps months.
Water coming out of the dam is already at a trout-unfriendly — and that’s sugarcoating it — temperature. Who knows what heated horrors exist downstream below New Hartford? Nature will find a way for some trout. Many will not be so lucky.

I regret being the messenger of such dire tidings, but it is what it is and there’s nothing we can do about it. Suffice to say, please don’t fish for trout. And hope those tropical systems out there right now stay away from Connecticut.

In case you’re wondering why the water is so warm, this article by yours truly may help.

Read “Everything You Need To Know About Fly Fishing in Small Streams” at Field & Stream Online

My newest article, “Everything You Need To Know About Fly Fishing in Small Streams” is now live in the Fishing section of the Field & Stream website. This primer will help you get geared up, review basic flies, tell you how to find viable water (no spot burning!) and cover fundamental small stream tactics. I’ll ask you all to do me (and the resource) a favor: Please go barbless, keep photos to a minimum, and keep those precious wild fish wet. Thank you, and thanks for reading.

Small stream pro tip: when I’m fishing a long, languid run with a dry fly, I like to take position well upstream. By feeding line into the drift, I can cover likely holding areas, and not have to worry about spooking fish with a line slap or the movement of the fly rod. While it wasn’t possible in this run, I also like to stay out of the water as much as I can. Photo credit to Cam Culton!

“How To Catch Trout in Extreme High- and Low-Water Flows” now at Field & Stream Online

Feast or famine. Flood or drought. It’s the new normal on rivers. But you don’t have to stay home when the conditions are less than perfect. Check out my latest article, “How To Catch Trout in Extreme High- and Low-Water Flows.” You can read it in the fishing section of Field & Stream Online.

Fishing the softer sections along the banks in high water can be highly productive.

Why is the Farmington River so warm? Or: when tailwaters don’t work

I’ve been getting a lot of questions about Farmington River water temps. The basic outline is, “I thought the Farmington is a tailwater. Why is the river so warm?” The answer is pretty simple.

In case you don’t know, a tailwater is a river with a dam release. The flow of the Farmington River West Branch is controlled by water that comes out of gates from the base of a reservoir dam (Colebrook Reservoir and Hogback Dam). If you’ve ever gone swimming in a pond or lake, you know that the water is warmer near the surface and colder near the bottom. This is called thermal stratification. In a larger reservoir, you have three different thermal layers: the epilimnion (the warmer upper layer; the metalimnion (or thermocline, the middle layer); and the hypolimnion, the coldest bottom layer. But I said this was simple, and there I go throwing all kinds of hifalutin hydro-science terms at you.

Ideally, there’s a happy medium of bottom release flows on a tailwater: cold water is never released in amounts that cannot be quickly replenished. But there are two situations that screw everything up.

The first is severe drought. Water that flows into the Colebrook Reservoir is reduced to a warm trickle. The volume of the reservoir shrinks from evaporation. The temperature of the water rises, especially if it’s hot, which decreases thermal stratification. As a result, what comes out of the bottom of the dam is warmer than ideal. (By agreement with the CT DEEP, the MDC must maintain a minimum release of 50cfs.) Because the flow is so low, water downstream warms quickly, trout get stressed, and it’s a bad scene all around. (This was the case in 2016. It was so bad that the DEEP took the unprecedented step of declaring thermal refuges on the Farmington.)

But that’s not what happened this year. This year, we had too much water. All that rainfall in July meant that the MDC needed to bleed water, and lots of it — so much, in fact, that it wiped out any meaningful thermal stratification in the reservoir. They’re still running such a high volume of water that there’s no chance for the stratification to re-establish — at least not in the heat of August. So that’s why at noon today the water was coming out of the dam at a very trout-unfriendly 69 degrees.

Eventually, it will get better. But right now, the best thing you can do for Farmington River trout is play the waiting game.

Taken this winter when the water was very, very, cold. Hang in there, buddy!