“Building A Better Trout Stream” — the story of Hatchery Creek, a natural-looking, sustainable, man-made stream

April summons memories of my early days as a trout angler: nightcrawlers, fishing with dad, Opening Day, Salmon River, and of course, buckets of trout fresh from the hatchery. The story of Hatchery Creek in Kentucky is quite different. What a cool concept — creating a blue ribbon trout stream from scratch — and they pulled it off big-time. “Building a Better Trout Stream” originally appeared in the January/February 2017 issue of American Angler.

Building A Better Trout Stream

Here’s to the fine job our Connecticut hatcheries and DEEP staff do. Love me my survivor Strain trout.

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Rejecting the concept of the go-to fly

Are trout anglers smarter than striper anglers? I ask myself this question a lot. I don’t have a definitive answer, but I do know this: no other fly fishing endeavor gets by on a smaller corpus of knowledge than fly fishing for striped bass. As evidence, I offer the phenomenon of the go-to fly.

“What’s your go-to fly?”

You see it all the time on striper forums. It presupposes that there is a single fly solution for all saxatilus situations. Invariably, the usual suspects are rounded up. Now, the Clouser is a great fly (or jig, depending on your level of crustiness). In fact, there was a time when it was my favorite striper fly (really). But a Clouser is not going to serve you well when the bass are holding on station slurping grass shrimp. I go back to the night in Rhode Island when, after several hours of pounding up 10-15 pound bass on Big Eelies, another angler chased me down the beach to ask what fly I was using. He’d learned a hard lesson that sinking lines and weighted flies are a highly unproductive way to fish for bass crashing bait on the surface.

Now, ask a trout angler, “What’s your go-to fly?” If they’re any good, their answer will be, “For which hatch?” Or, “What time of year?” Or, “How am I fishing?” You get the idea. No trout angler worth his Catskills dries would ever approach the Trico spinner fall with a Woolly Bugger by rote.

If you want to catch less fish, fish the go-to fly.  If you want to catch more, go to the fly that best resembles what the fish are feeding on — and fish it how the naturals are behaving.

I love my Big Eelies. But they stay in the box when I’m fishing for bass that are feeding on herring.

Block Island All-Nighter Flies Big Eelies

 

Mainly Misunderstood: five myths and realities about using floating lines for striped bass

No line application in fly fishing is more misunderstood than the floating line for striped bass. Well, maybe not. Maybe it’s the intermediate line. Tell you what — read this, then go forth with your floating line and be fruitful and multiply your striped bass catch. “Mainly Misunderstood: Five Myths and Realities About Using Floating Lines for Striped Bass” includes words of wisdom from striper grandmaster Ken Abrames. It first appeared in the May/June 2017 issue of American Angler.

Mainly Misunderstood-Five Myths and Realities About Using Floating Lines for Striped Bass

All good things to those who invest in the floating line. (Okay, we can add in the flatwing and the greased line swing.)

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Soft Hackles for Winter Steelhead

Calling all steelhead fanatics and soft-hackle aficionados! “Soft Hackles for Winter Steelhead” first appeared in the Jan/Feb 2015 issue of American Angler.  It features six of my favorite winter steelhead soft-hackles, including detailed photos, pattern recipes, and a little story about each fly. Also included is my winter steelhead indicator setup.

I wrote this piece several years ago, but I’m pleased to tell you that I still use all of these flies. With the brutal cold approaching, it seemed like a good time to post “Soft Hackles for Winter Steelhead.” To read it, click on the pdf link below.

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This fine buck was taken in late fall 2017 on a Salmon River Rajah, one of the soft-hackled flies featured in the article.

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“Streamer Kings” in the Jan/Feb 2018 issue of American Angler

I usually write from my own experience, but for “Streamer Kings” I interviewed George Daniel, Chad Johnson, and Tommy Lynch. Their comments and insights compose the bulk of the article. Whether you’re new to streamers for trout or an old Mickey Finn hand like me, I’ll bet you learn something useful. On newsstands now.

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Block Island Stripers From The Shore

 

“Block Island Stripers From The Shore” first appeared in the October/November/December 2016 issue of Mid Atlantic Fly Fishing Guide — sadly, the last issue of this regional gem. I consider Block Island to be sacred fishing ground. Some of my favorite fly fishing memories have been created along its shoreline.

My grandparents had an old map of Block Island in their basement. To my young eyes, it looked like a pirate treasure map from a story book. (I wasn’t too far off – the notorious Captain Kidd was known to frequent the island and its waters.) Then, there was the curious name. Why Block? It was shaped more like a pork chop than a cube. (I would later learn the island was named for Dutch explorer Adrien Block.) It was small enough to be charming (7 miles long and 3 miles wide, situated 13 miles off the coast of Rhode Island) yet substantial enough to have been around since the last ice age.

Then there were the magical names of its shoreline and landmarks: Pots and Kettles. Rodman’s Hollow. Black Rock. It all sounded like a fanciful netherworld inhabited by wizards and elves.

The wondrous reality is that from May through November, Block Island is home to Morone saxatillis. And if the year, moon, and tides align, you can reasonably expect an unforgettable encounter with a striped bass on the fly from the shore.

A feisty Block Island school bass taken on a dead drift using a small, sparse sand eel pattern.

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Where to fish. Finding a place to fish on Block Island is a good news-good news scenario: many possibilities, ample public access. You can find most of these spots on an online map. Note that there is no camping on Block Island, and no sleeping in vehicles.

Crescent Beach stretches several miles north from the ferry landing in town to Mansion Beach. The sandy bottom makes it a popular place for sight fishing. Some people bring ladders, but most anglers are content to walk and wet wade. Mornings – the beach crowds start building around 11am – and late afternoons are the best times to try your hand at stalking a cruising fish. If you see a substantial number of bass during the day, it usually means they’ll be around at night, too.

You’ll find structure, waves, and current like this along much of the island’s shoreline.

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Sandy Point is the spit that juts out from the northern tip of the island. Currents from Long Island Sound and Cow Cove smash together, creating the dangerous – and sometimes deadly – North Rip. This is the place where Block Island angling legend Ben Lubell lost his life in the early 1980s. Take a lesson from Ben, and never wade in the North Rip. Stay out of the water and the wash at Sandy Point.

Those same lethal currents can also make for great fishing, acting as a conveyor belt that delivers helpless bait to waiting mouths. Local historians will tell you that Cow Cove got its name when the island’s first settlers forced their cattle to swim ashore there. Noted author and fly tyer Ken Abrames says with a smile that the name really comes from the size of the stripers that have been taken there over the years.

The Great Salt Pond was once a brackish, landlocked lake. A channel was dug in 1895. The pond offers the fly fisher a rich diversity of angling opportunities, from shallow flats to deep water drop-offs to pinch-points to river-like currents. The channel at the Coast Guard Station, also known as the Cut, is the most popular fishing spot on the island. However, popular doesn’t always mean best, and parking is often limited.

West Side. Charlestown Beach runs along the middle of the west side of the island. When it’s on, gird yourself for a bad case of striper thumb. The largest blitzes I’ve experienced on Block Island – both in numbers and pounds per fish –have taken place along Charlestown Beach. The West Side is also home to Grace’s, Dorie’s, and Cooneymus Coves. All are rocky bars that are in fly rod range at high tide.

South Side. The stretch from Black Rock Beach to Mohegan Bluffs features the kind of rocky structure that stripers like to frequent. However, both surf and prevailing winds can be a challenge to fly casters.

Some final words of advice and caution: never fish an area you’re unfamiliar with at night. Reconnoiter it first in daylight at the same tide you’ll be fishing. Don’t venture out in rough surf. And fish with a friend.

Flies and gear. Sand eels, squid, and silversides are the predominant inshore baits, so bring plenty of flies that match their action and profile. Sand eels start out small – 2” or less in early June – and grow as the summer progresses. I favor sparse, impressionistic patterns like Ken Abrames’ Eelie and Big Eelie. I tie the Big Eelie in a wide range of color combinations, from the original white/yellow/olive/blue to blue/black/purple. I make them about 4 ½” long, and stripers relish them all. It’s hard to go wrong with any simple, slim-profile baitfish pattern.

I’ve caught more Block Island stripers on the Big Eelie than any other pattern. This is the fly’s original color scheme.

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It’s not uncommon to find both smaller (2”-3” long) and larger squid in the Great Salt Pond. And while I’ve never done very well using big flies on the Block, I always bring some foot-long eel patterns, because one day I’m going to find that 50-pounder. Crab and shrimp flies designed for bonefish will also work quite well on Block Island’s flats.

Bring your favorite one- or two-handed rod. As with any island, expect windy conditions, and match your rod accordingly. The water I fish is typically 2 to 8 feet deep. A floating line gives me the option of presenting from the surface to the bottom in most places. I always bring my full-sink integrated line in case it’s insanely windy or I want to fish a deep channel.

Waders and studded boots are essential gear for navigating the rocky shores and jetties of Block Island. Lightweight and comfortable boots will make that one-mile slog down the beach a little more endurable. Keep in mind that Block Island is surrounded by cool water for much of the summer; you’re probably going to need a jacket at night. Use a personal flotation device and carry a compass – Block Island can get Transylvania horror movie foggy.

And for those rare nights when the wind lies down and the air is still, make sure you have a generous supply of effective bug spray. The no see-ums on Block Island are torturous.

When to fish. Every year is different, and as east coast striper stocks have ebbed and flowed, so has the fishing on Block Island. In the previous four years I have caught as many as 75 bass over 8 nights, and as few as 4. There’s no way to predict which island you’re going to get.

While you can certainly catch Block Island stripers in daylight, Ray Charles put it rather eloquently when he sang, “night time is the right time.” Because most of the water I fish is shallow, I favor the dark of the moon or cloud-covered nights. Of course, the best time to go fishing is when you can. Catching or merely fishing, Block Island is a unique and beautiful location – and you’ll quickly understand why it was named by the Nature Conservancy as one of the “Last Great Places.”

Why I love fishing at night. This striper was part of a school of 10 to15-pound fish that set up on a shallow cobble-bottomed bar to ambush bait.

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