So, what happened at the ASMFC meeting last week?

I was out of the country, so I missed the live stream of the ASMFC meeting. I did hear some secondhand comments from others who watched. Lowlights included a few commissioners congratulating themselves for being longstanding ASMFC honchos (great resume point: “In charge of saving striped bass when the stock was decimated.”); business as usual (read: foxes guarding the henhouse) from certain NJ and MD commissioners; and a commissioner from MA whose biggest concern about fishing restrictions was loss of revenue from striped bass tournaments. (Really? Gonna start a sea robin tournament when the striper stock collapses?)

Sidebar: there was a proposal in MA (not ASMFC related) to increase the quota days for commercial striper fleets since they fell far short of their quota this year. You can’t make this stuff up. It reminds me of an old Peanuts strip where Lucy says to Linus, “Your stupidity is appalling.” Linus responds, “Most stupidity is.”

So, enough editorial. The best summary I’ve read is from the American Saltwater Guides Association blog. You can read it here.

Let’s stay vigilant on this issue. I’ll do my best to relay good information as I receive it.

Many ASMFC commissioners noted a high volume of passionate public comments. Thanks to everyone who opened their big mouth!

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Is it OK to fish the Farmington in low summer flows?

I received a great question today: “How about a straight answer about fishing the river at the level it is at right now. I was told I’m crazy for staying away – my thought is it’s not good for the fish or the fisherman. Be honest please.” I’m assuming the question is about the Farmington.

Those of you who know me know I have nothing to sell you but the truth. So here we go.

The simple answer is: most of the time, yes. The Farmington is, after all, a tailwater. If you’re unsure what that means, its flow is generated by a bottom dam release, in this case Hogback Reservoir. In an average year, the reservoir will have a good amount of water in it, such that the bottom strata will be much cooler than the surface. I can tell you from experience that I’ve shivered for hours in the river on a 90 degree day in July. That water is plenty cold.

Fog is what happens when frosty water meets warm, humid air. This shot is from mid-summer.

Morning Fog

What happens in a drought year? In the most extreme years, it can get ugly. Go back to our most recent severe drought year, 2016. The water release was in the paltry double digits, and because there was so little water in the reservoir, what was coming out of the chute was in the mid 60s — not good. Take that water, bake it over several miles, and we had fish kills. The DEEP even declared thermal refuges, unprecedented for the Farmington River. I advised people to not fish.

So what about right now? The release is 118cfs, not great, but it’s coming out cold (the Still is adding 12cfs for a total of 130) as we had plenty of water this spring. Where you fish matters. The run from Hogback to Riverton right is plenty healthy for fish. Naturally, it will warm as it travels downstream. The water may be stressful to trout by the time it gets to Unionville. But every day is different — today it’s cloudy and in the upper 70s, not exactly a river-under-a-heat lamp. If it were sunny and blast-furnace hot, you’d have a different dynamic.

When you fish matters, too. From dawn through when the sun tops the trees is the coolest the river will be on any given summer day.

In conclusion: Use the stoutest tippet you can to get those fish in fast. Don’t take them out of the water. Fish when and where the water is coolest. Use common sense, and you’ll fish with a clear conscience.

 

Why the ASMFC is set up to fail — and what the American Saltwater Guides Association (and you) can do about it.

Have you ever wondered why so many species managed by the ASMFC (Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission) are in trouble? How can any commission tasked with managing fishing stocks have such an abysmal track record and still exist?

The answers are both complex and simple. On the simple side, the answers are a) because the commission does not have conservation in mind, and b) because they can (there is no accountability).

Why does the ASMFC suck at managing our striper fishery? Because they can. Compare their non-checks and balances with the Magnuson Stevens framework. Share this infographic with fellow anglers and conservationists. And be sure to read this synopsis of ASMFC vs Magnuson Stevens.

ASMFC-vs-MSA-Framework

If it all sounds pretty dire, it is. But there is hope: the American Saltwater Guides Association (ASGA).

Don’t let the name fool you: the ASGA has your (the recreational, conservation-minded striper angler) best interests in mind (as well as in deed). They’ll be going to bat for us at the ASMFC meeting next month. To quote the ASGA: “We are hereby putting the ASMFC on notice. If they choose not to follow their own rules yet again we will do everything in our power to legislate a new framework that won’t allow them to mismanage the resource.”

What can you do to help?  Here’s a short action list:

1) Educate yourself – ASGA blog is a great resource

2) Write your state ASMFC reps (you can find the list here.)

3) Find a post or infographic on ASGA that speaks to you and share it.
4) Hit the contribute button and make a donation support the efforts of ASGA (The value of this cannot be underestimated. It costs money do do all that research and travel around the country to represent your interests.)
~

The entire recreational angling community has to mobilize if we are going to have any chance of recovering this precious resource. I’m asking all currentseams readers to step up and do at least two of the above. The stripers and I thank you.

 

 

Secrets to Catching Bigger Smallmouth on the Housatonic

It’s the time of year when this question begins to flood my mailbox: “I’m catching a ton of little smallmouth bass. Where do I go on the Housatonic to find the bigger fish?”

There’s no single, simple answer. And it’s not just a matter of where. It’s also when. And how. Here are a few tips to help you catch the big one.

It’s 8:15pm. Do you know where your trophy Housy smallie is? My money’s on “at the business end of a Countermeasure.”

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– Fish near deep(er) water access. Big smallmouth like the cover and security that deep water provides. Picture them hanging out on the bottom of a deep hole during peak daylight. They didn’t get to be big by accident.
– Your chances of catching a big smallmouth bass increase exponentially as the day transitions into night. There will come a point where the bite will shut down, which is usually about the time you can no longer see your fly.
– Target shallows in low light, particularly shallows near deep water. Like many predators, big bass will move onto flats as twilight builds. They’re feeding with confidence under the cover of darkness. Last week as I was walking out of the river at 8:45pm, I nearly stepped on a monster smallie that was cruising in about a foot of water.
– Take the road less traveled. There are often rich rewards awaiting those willing to walk. If you were a big smallmouth, where would you be? Finding the answer to that question is half the fun.
– Cull the pipsqueaks with bigger flies. Four inches is a good cutoff point. Some of the little guys may want to fight outside their weight class, but often can’t get the hook in their mouth.
– Land your fly with a splat! For example, when I’m fishing a Countermeasure, I like to give it a noisy landing on soft water. Big bass will frequently crash the fly moments after it hits.
– This goes without saying: put in your time. The more you fish, the more chances you’ll have to hook up with a big one.

Dusk can be a magic time, but the big fish bite window is sometimes frustratingly short. 

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Adding weight to a wet fly team: when and how

“Do you ever add weight to your wet fly rig? If so, where do you place the weight on the leader?” “Do you ever use weighted wet flies?” I get these questions a lot. Here are the answers.

This is how we do it. Two options for adding weight or a weighted fly to a wet fly team. There’s a downloadable pdf link below. FYI, the Maxima I use most often is 4# Ultragreen.

AddingWeightWetFlyTeam

AddingWeightWetFlyTeam

Let’s start with the last one. I hardly ever use weighted flies, and when I do, it’s with a specific purpose. Syl Nemes was of the opinion that if you were using beadheads or weighted flies, you weren’t wet fly fishing. I have a lot of respect for Syl — he is, after all, a giant in the pantheon of American wet fly fishers — but I find the weighted wet fly a practical arrow to have in one’s quiver.

So, I’ll add a tungsten beadhead wet on point when the water is generally higher than I’d like (500-800cfs on the Farmington); if I’m fishing a deep pool where there are some trout rising, but I suspect the bulk of the emerger action is well beneath the surface; or if I want to sink the flies quickly and then create a more precipitous rise as the line comes tight. If my drift is of any significant length, or the pool is particularly deep, I’ll be throwing mends and keeping slack in the line to help sink the rig. In some cases I may throw a shorter line and “nymph” without touching the bottom — almost like a deep water Leisenring Lift.

Adding weight to the leader is almost always a strategic decision I make based on river structure. Okay — that, and also because I’m lazy. Let’s say I’m wading along, fishing a stretch of riffles and pockets and runs with a water depth of 1-3 feet. Suddenly, I’m faced with a riffle that dumps into a stretch of deep water — or a deep, long pocket. Nothing is rising, and a few swings through prove fruitless. Still, it’s a fishy looking hole, and I’m certain there are trout holding on the bottom. This is where the lazy kicks in. Rather than swap out the wet fly rig, I’ll create a quasi wet fly/nymph rig by adding a removable BB shot just above the knot that forms the middle dropper.

Keep the line plumb when you’re presenting deep. Feel that shot ticking along the bottom. If you detect a strike or if the line moves off vertical, set the hook hard downstream.

WF101Presenting Deep 1

Now I’ve got a three fly team that, when presented correctly, covers two crucial areas of water. If I present like I’m short line/tight line nymphing, the middle dropper fly will be right at the bottom; the point fly, just above the bottom; and the top dropper about 16-24″ off the bottom. I’ll either feel the take, or, as I’m tracking the drift and keeping the line plumb, see the line begin to angle behind the drift; in either case, a hard set downstream is in order.

There is no magic depth for making the decision to present near the bottom. Channel your inner Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart, and you’ll know it when you see it.

My client Paul was swinging a team of wets through a run that I knew held fish. We had no takers, so we dipped into the shot-on-the-leader till for some tight line bottom presentations. Ding-ding-ding! Paul scored this gorgeous high teens Survivor Strain truttasaurus.

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Why anglers with shooting baskets catch bigger stripers than anglers with stripping baskets

It’s more than just semantics.

It’s a matter of how you fish, and how bigger fish tend to behave.

I was reminded of this point during a couple of recent outings. Schools of bass were moving through with the tide. I was fishing a floating line and a Rat a Tat Big Eelie variant. When I stripped the fly, I hooked up. When I mended and dead-drifted the fly over the sand bar, I hooked up — but with significantly bigger fish. I have experienced this on numerous occasions.

Then there are nights during a sand eel feeding event where the bass are willing to chase the fly — but only to a point. A change occurs, and to catch fish, the angler must create the illusion that the fly is a helpless sand eel drifting near the surface. (Dropper rigs on a floating line are the perfect tool for this job. Read more about striped bass dropper rigs here.) If you are taking in any line at all, it is certainly more of a slow gathering than a strip.

So, the next time you strap that plastic tub around your waist, consider this: are you using it primarily as a line collection device — or as a line management and line shooting device?

Your answer is one of those little things that will make a big difference.

The feeders on the strip were school bass in the 20″-22″ range. On the dead drift, helloooo, keepah! Plus a few just short of 28″. Good stuff.

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The Law of the Instrument and the Intermediate Line

I recently came across a reference to the Law of the Instrument, and it reminded me of fly fishing with an intermediate line in surf and current — especially since I recently used an intermediate line for two days on Cape Cod.

If you’re unfamiliar with the Law of the Instrument, it’s basically this: If all you have is a hammer, you see everything as a nail.

And why, you may ask, was I fishing with an intermediate line? It was the ideal taper and grain weight for my new two-hander. For test drive casting, it was aces. For fishing, it reminded me why I never choose an intermediate line for current or surf. (For more on this, read Mainly Misunderstood: Five Myths and Realities About Using Floating Lines for Striped Bass.

“The fundamental thing about fly fishing is presentation. It means that you control what’s going on, so that you can bring your fly to the fish. You’re in control. Not the line. Not the accident.” What Ken is saying is simple: use the right tool for the job.

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Perhaps the Law of the Instrument explains so many of the misconceptions about intermediate lines: they are less affected by surf, they are good for presenting deep, they are versatile. (D: none of the above.)

Expand your toolbox with a floating line — and you’ll begin to notice all the screws and nuts and bolts around you.