Cape Stripahs

Up at the Cape this weekend for my son’s soccer tournament, but they don’t play at night…so I did.

Saturday I hit two spots. The tides weren’t ideal, but I wanted to see how one in particular looked on the incoming (I’ve only fished it on the outgoing). Last year, same time, it was lit up like a Christmas tree. This year it was dead as Julius Caesar. I gave it 45 minutes of due diligence, then headed to a second mark. First cast, my line got all discombobulated. After I straighten things out, I pulled it in for a re-cast. Wait. Was that pressure a fish or some weeds? The answer was fish. I proceeded to get into a batch of micro bass, and one of their bigger brothers. Fished a three fly team and took fish on all three flies. Both the air and the water on the incoming tide were cold! I wished I’d brought my neoprenes.

Sunday met old UK pal Mike who got the outing off to a proper start by taking a bass on his first cast. We had schools of stripers, mostly 1-2 year-olds, come through in waves, so the action was either red hot or non-existent. There were a few larger — by that I mean sub-20″ers — in the mix. To cull these pipsqueaks, I tied on a 7″ Eel Punt on a 3/0 hook. (I should mention at this point that I’d forgotten my headlamp, so I did all this dancing in the dark). So while I still had bumps, I was spared the tedium of stripping in trout-sized bass. Meantime, the Meatballs showed up with their 40,000 watt headlamps lighting up the ocean, and — my personal favorite — into my face when I was playing a fish. I’d like to tell you I was sorry when they left, but that would be a lie.

I finally connected with a sub-legal fish that had aspirations of going on the reel, but I had other plans. A catch, a photo, a release, and a good way to end the festivities.

I haven’t fished an Eel Punt in years. This striper reminded me why it’s such a good fly, especially on the swing on a dark, mysterious night.

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Small Stream Color, or: A little something to get us through today’s gray

Snuck out for a couple hours the other day on Ye Olde Brook Trout Emporium. The catching was a bit on the slow side, but the fishing was tremendous. At last! Freedom!  I took them on the dry (size 16 Improved Sofa Pillow) and the wet (size 20 Snipe and Purple) dropper. Water was 56 degrees and medium low. Bugs everywhere: midges, some large dark un-IDed mayfly spinners (mahogany duns?), caddis, and my first confirmed sulphur sightings of 2017.

Sky of blue, sea of green. The canopy is filling in, and the wooded wetlands are in their glory. 

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While I was disappointed in the number of fish that wanted to play, I did see more actively feeding char on this stream — especially in slower, deeper water — than ever before. Those that were coming up for the naturals were also quite willing to inspect my dry, even though it was substantially larger than what was hatching. This fellow pounced when the opportunity presented itself. You can see the beginnings of a kype.

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Ray Bergman, you magnificent bastard, I read your book! This brookie was quietly sipping, forming delicate rise rings in some glassy water. I approached from upstream, made a long cast, and got him on the wet dropper by raising the rod tip and doing a hand-twist retrieve. By far the hardest hit of the day.

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Everglades Report: Absolutely, positively, definitely not in Kansas anymore

I fished in Everglades National Park on Wednesday and it was — well, like nothing I’ve experienced before with a fly rod. I’m not sure what I expected, but like any fishing trip, the day had its highs and lows. I can tell you this: it was never boring.

Let’s start with the mosquitos. There were more per cubic foot of space than I’ve ever seen. Ravenous little suckers, too. The most remarkable thing about them was how quickly they descended upon you the moment you opened the car door — or stopped the boat in a cove. Unlike some of the noseeums I’ve encountered, these could be kept at bay with standard-issue bug spray. Still…wow.

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This outing was part of Number One Son Bill’s UMiami Law School graduation present. He was spinning, I was fly rodding. We murdered them at our first stop (technically accessory-to-murdered them). To wit: one of the ladyfish Bill caught got whacked by a shark after he released it. The fish floated away about 30 feet when the shark came back and rolled over on it. It gave me a new appreciation for watching trout take spinners. Bill had an Everglades hat trick of ladyfish, sea trout, and reef snapper within 30 minutes. He outcaught me about three-to-one.

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The Everglades is an intimidating place. The wildlife ranges from the innocuous (butterflies) to the annoying (mosquitoes, snook, tarpon — we’ll get to those last two in a bit) to the potentially deadly (sharks, crocs.) I was amazed that they let people canoe in a canal where we spotted three crocs in the space of 50 yards. The heat and sun can get to you, too, especially if your last outing was in neoprene waders. Then, there’s the structure of the place. From the point-of-view of a boat in a watery expanse, it looks like any big lake. But its creeks and diversions and coves are labyrinthine, mysterious, and untamed. Our guide, Capt. Mark Giacobba, did a great job getting us in and out of some very fishy looking water. As you can see, he knows how to dress for his job.

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We spent most of the day working the mangrove-layered shorelines, but my favorite spot was the tidal pond — I dubbed it “Dead Mangrove Cove” — we poled into. You can’t see from the photo, but in many places the water is only 1-2 foot deep. The snook were not in thick, but there were enough over the course of 90 minutes to keep us on high alert. Now, if you’ve never sight-fished for snook in shallow water under bright sun, you don’t know from spooky fish. I was wholly unprepared for this. We spooked one by pointing at it — and it was 50 feet away. I spooked several starting my first false cast. Hell, I think we spooked a few by just thinking about them. They say that wild brown trout are wary. My new perspective is that that’s just about laughable.  

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It took me a good hour to remember not to step on my line — using a shooting basket in perpetuity will do that to you — while I was casting. The zip ties along the edge of the deck are a brilliant idea when there’s a breeze. So here it is: I blanked on snook. I had one good presentation and follow, but the fish turned away at the last moment. I would have loved a second day to redeem myself, but that will have to wait. The tarpon were even more bashful than the snook. We finally found a diversion where a couple rolled, but by the time we poled over they’d either vanished or been spooked. As the final insult, a school of seven tarpon swam purposefully past the boat as we prepared to leave. They wanted nothing to do with my fly. Bastards.

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Objection! Bill outfished his old man! Overruled, and that’s not a bad first snook. Bill just about dropped his cast in the fish’s mouth. Bill confirmed that this certainly made up for those three miserable snowy days in Pulaski a few years ago when he didn’t get a touch. Great job, kid.

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Farmington River Report 5/1/17: No bugs? No rises? No problem.

I guided Mina yesterday — a cool, dreary day for most of it. We headed to the permanent TMA and for the first hour we had the place all to ourselves. Mina wanted to delve into the black arts of wet fly fishing. Water was a little higher than I like for wets (440cfs — they’ve since (of course) dropped the flow — and it was cold! 45 degrees made for some chilly legs and feet. Bug activity was also low — some micro midges and a couple caddis, and no H-bombs, at least not while we were there. We covered lots of water before we found some customers. A couple bumps, a couple dropped fish, and a couple to net, but that was more action than I saw elsewhere. Ya done good, Mina, under some tough conditions.

Mina is a thoughtful angler who came armed with loads of questions and a strong desire to learn. Here she is, acing a pop quiz. I have to give props to my last two clients. Both Mina and Vicky were confident waders who weren’t afraid to venture into some more challenging water to get their flies in front of fish. Sometimes the angler that covers more water is the angler who catches more fish.

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We used a bead head soft hackle of Mina’s creation on point to help get the flies down in the higher flows. This guy (who’s beginning to sport a kype) took that fly on the dead drift. Note the cool cirrus cloud effect on the surface.

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Farmington River Report 4/28/17: To the Vicky belongs the spoils

I guided Vicky today and she did a bang-up job banging up some trout under the trusty yarn indicator. Vicky vastly undersold her fishing capabilities to me. She did a great job casting, mending, managing her drifts, keeping a positive vibe, and wading into some challenging water (750cfs, 50 degrees below the permanent TMA). Vicky told me she’d only caught five fish on the fly before today; we managed to hook nearly twice that many and land a bunch, all fat, healthy rainbows. We fished a size 14 Rainbow Warrior on top dropper and a size 14 Frenchy variant on point and took fish on both flies.  Our action picked up once the sun warmed the water (weather lottery winners, us) and a few Hendricksons started popping, but persistence and covering water paid off the most.

The skunk is off. We didn’t see a lot of fish caught, but we sure did see a ton of anglers for a weekday. Thanks to everyone who said hi.

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This got to be a familiar sight. Way to go, Vicky!

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Farmington River Report: A good day for Hendricksons (and nymphing)

There’s been plenty of  discussion about the possible negative effects of last year’s drought on the river. One concern was bugs. Friends, I’m here to tell you that the lower river near Unionville — an area that got torched last summer — was buzzing with Hendricksons today. Bugs everywhere. The hatch started around 2:15pm and it was still going in earnest when I left at 3pm. The bad news? High (930cfs) and cold water had only a few scattered trout slashing at the emergers.

Let’s back up a bit. Starting at 11am, I hit six spots below the permanent TMA and found trout willing to jump on in five of them. Most came via nymphing, no surprise, but I did get my first trout of the year on a swung wet. Before the Hendricksonstravaganza, I had seen only one H-word mayfly, seemingly lost among the prolific caddis and midges hatches.

We’re due some relatively dry, warm weather, so the good news will be a drop in cfs and a spike in water temperature. That should really get the trout going. Good luck if you’re out this weekend. Me, I’m avoiding that madness.

Hey! I know you. Missing most of the middle fork of the tail, but still the mayfly we all know and love.

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Gordo rides again, or: First steelhead of 2017

My status as a fly fishing personality gets me all kinds of cool perks. Like walking into Stefano’s and telling the hostess, no, we don’t want that table in the blinding sunlight, we want that one over there in the shade. Turns out we were seated next to some fellow Nutmeggers who recognized me, and we got to talking. They’d been up for several days and, like everyone else, were finding the fishing challenging. But on that day they’d discovered a whole bunch of steelhead that were willing to jump on. Hold that thought for a moment.

It was below freezing when we launched from Pineville. We focused on high percentage holding water, but the height of the river (1.65K dam release, 2K at Pineville)  and its temperature (42 degrees) meant that the drop backs really hadn’t started dropping back in earnest. I found this natural work of art during a little shore leave.

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Look what Gordo found! At least the skunk was off for him. 

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The river looks totally different at 2K. Here Gordo takes us through Upper Sportsman’s. Talk about winning the weather lottery! We fished hard, but by 11:30 we realized that the numbers weren’t on our side. So we decided to trailer the boat and focus on some recently acquired intel (thanks, guys!) 

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We made the right call. Third cast, I was on. Small fish, but now the skunk was wholly vanquished. A half-hour later, I was working upstream, picking pockets, when I tied into a nice post-spawn buck. He gave me a few firm head shakes and surface boils, and made one impressive run toward the lake. Problem: no landing net, no good LZ, Jim and Gordon upstream out of assist range. Solution: improvise. I got him into a relatively shallow micro-eddy, gently corralled him between my legs and the bank, then lifted his head out of the water for a quick selfie.

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And if you want proof that steelheading isn’t fair, they started dropping the flows the day we left. Jim tells me the fishing has been great the last two days.

(Insert sighs and grumbling here.)