Reaching the century mark: Steelhead #100

Finally, after so many disappointing outings, I hooked and landed my 100th steelhead. Not the prettiest fish given the time of year, but beautiful and perfect in his own way. It was an eventful day — full report to come next week. In the meantime, here’s a picture worth a hundred words.

Striper report 4/11/21: The walk of shame

This one’s going to be brief, folks, because I have nothing good to report. Well, that’s not entirely true. I got to meet up with old striper partner-in-crime Bob. We each enjoyed a cigar on the walk out. And I got to shake some of the rust off my two-handed casting. Beyond that, it was cold, the wind was blasting out of the east at 15mph (with higher gusts), it rained most of the time we fished, seaweed and grassy detritus was an issue, and neither of us got a single touch. I saw one striper caught by a spin angler. I talked to another fly angler in the parking lot who said he caught two small fish, and that it had been fairly slow thus far. I wish I could tell tales of the Bass-O-Matic, but that will have to wait for another day.

Dr. Griswold performs the walk of the skunked. I was right there with him, just out of camera range.

Farmington River Report 4/9/21: Nature (quickly) finds a way

Just a quick two-hour session on the lower River last Friday. The sun was shining, the air was warm, the water was low and crystal clear, and there was a strong caddis (size 16-18) hatch. I fished three marks and found acton in only one. I purposely stayed away from areas that I knew had been stocked as I wanted to try to find the Salmo that had made it through the winter. I tried several techniques, each to match the conditions and marks I was fishing: tight/long line micro jig streamer, tight line drop shot nymphing, and then indicator nymphing.

Funny thing! I had just landed my first fish, a tiger of a wild brown, when lo and behold, Ye Olde Stocking Truck showed up. What I found fascinating — and I’ve witnessed this before — was that within minutes, the fresh fish were porpoising and snapping at caddis emergers in a back eddy. It doesn’t take long for them to discover where their next meal is coming from. It’s genetic programming at its finest.

Love these holdover/wild fish. They just refuse to come to net without a furious argument. This guy fought way above his weight class.

Reminder: ASMFC Striped Bass Amendment 7 PID comments due Friday, April 9

If you care about building a sustainable striped bass fishery, please take a few minutes to send your comments. Here’s the link to last week’s post that gives you everything you need to know about the ASGA’s position/plan, and how to submit a comment. Thank you.

Striper fly fishing question of the day: “How do I know what bait is in the water?”

I get this question all the time. As with many fly fishing questions, the answers can be simple and complex. This post is designed to be a mini-article rather than a treatise, so I’ll keep it simple.

If you’re asking “How do I know what bait is in the water?” you’re probably trying to match the hatch. That’s rarely a bad idea, especially if the stripers are keyed on a specific bait. Just be aware that while stripers can be selective feeders, they aren’t always selective feeders. So a generic baitfish pattern like my Soft-Hackled Flatwing may work just fine even when there’s nothing like it swimming around. Still, you want to know what’s for dinner, so…

Get a large fine mesh dip net and go fishing. Or, if you have a drag net and a partner, use that. You can do this on a beach, or off a well-lit dock and night, or in an outflow or an estuary. Sometimes you don’t need to get wet: get a bright light and shine it in the water at night. If the water goes nuts, it’s probably silversides. This first step is obvious, but many anglers are either too lazy or oblivious to do it. I’ll tell you in advance that you may surprised at the volume of small stuff that’s in the water.

Research the bait in your area. Get a field guide, or use the web for research. You should know what the resident baits are, and be able to ID them. A mummichog is not a silverside is not a peanut bunker.

Know what bait is likely to be when and where. Again: do your homework. Discover the patterns. Know when herring come up the rivers off Long Island Sound to spawn. Know when the sand eels show up in Newport, RI. Know when the cinder worms are swarming in the salt ponds of SoCo. Every year is different, but nature is always right on time.

Not a silverside. Sometimes, when the bait is in thick, you’ll accidentally snag one of the critters. That was the case with this peanut bunker several years ago.

Small stream report: hiding in plain sight

I had the pleasure of fishing with Toby Lapinski earlier this week and even though it’s that time of year, our quarry was not striped bass, but rather small wild trout and char. This brook was new to me, so I was stoked to be on undiscovered waters. The stream is overgrown with briars and saplings, to say nothing of the broken limbs and downed trees that seemed to be everywhere. It had riffles, glides, plunges — a nifty combination for a brook that is in some places small enough to jump across. (That’s, of course, if I could get a running start. And not be wearing waders. And be 20 years younger.) Funny thing! I’ve driven past this brook hundreds of times and never knew it was there.

I was hoping these schools of fry in the sunlit shallows were YOY browns or brookies. But no. They’re black nosed dace YOY, maybe a couple centimeters long. Did you know that some scientists think that the eastern BND spread after the last ice age from a single colony in present-day Connecticut?
Not a bad bit of camo. You get the sense of the wildness of the place. I’d estimate the water to have been medium-high — remember, this was my first time here — which is a good spring flow, but we had bright sunshine and no canopy working against us. We saw midges, and there was also a decent hatch of small (16-18) tan caddis. Some of the sexiest runs and holes were surprising blanks, like this one. There’s always next time. Photo by Toby Lapinski.
Toby captured the largest fish of the outing, this vibrant char. We both fished a dry/dropper, and while Toby had some takes on the dry, all of my action came on the dropper, which was 2x short size 18 BHPT. I also tried some micro streamers, but had no takers. I highly recommend a dry/dropper setup on a new stream. It’s the fastest way to find out what the fish want. Photo by Toby Lapinski.
Small stream wild browns like this are fearsome fighters. It’s almost like playing a minute smallmouth bass. I pricked several more little browns on the tiny dropper nymph.

Three things you can do today to help striped bass stocks (ASMFC Amendment 7 PID)

Those of us who fish for, love, and value striped bass know that striper stocks are at a 25-year low. Many of you, like me, are also aware of the miserable job the ASMFC has done to manage those stocks. We’re angry. We’re frustrated. But we can’t give up, because there is hope: the American Saltwater Guides Association. The ASGA is on the side of healthy, sustainable striped bass fisheries management. Joining forces with them — or should I say, us — is going to create a critical mass that will help preserve our precious striped bass.Right now we are in the public comment phase of ASMFC Amendment 7 PID (Public Information Document). Here are three actionable steps you can take today to help save stripers:

One: Get informed. Read this downloadable two page ASGA reference pdf which simplifies the issues.

Two: Attend the ASGA Striped Bass Town Hall on April 1, 7:30 p.m. It’s a Zoom meeting so you can do it from home. You can register here.

Three: This is probably the most important one: send in a public comment for the record. As an added incentive, The Saltwater Edge has program where you could win cool prizes just for doing your part. Details of that program are here. For instructions on how to submit a comment, click here. You have until April 9. Do it today! I thank you. The ASGA thanks you. And the stripers thank you.

Last Currentseams Tuesday Night Zoom of the spring, 3/30/21, 8pm: “Traditional Striper Flies”

I’ve got stripers on the brain, and so we’ll be talking about the traditional-style striper flies I like to tie and fish: sparse bucktails, soft-hackles, and flatwings. The discussion will include materials and hooks I use, and I’ll throw in a tying demo of something tbd. If you haven’t been getting the Zoom links — I send them out Tuesday late afternoon — please check your spam box. If you’re sending a request to get on the list, please don’t wait until 7:45 p.m. Tuesday night…I won’t be checking my email that late. Thanks!

Me and Cam and a couple of brookies

Three hours in the woods is good for the soul, especially if it involves a thin blue line and fishing with one of your sons. In early spring the woods hold so much promise. The buds look ready to burst, the skunk cabbage pips are poking through the swampy sections of forest floor, and if you’re lucky you can be fishing in shirt sleeves. I prefer these tiny woodland wonders when there’s canopy, but I’m always curious about what the day will bring regardless of conditions. We both fished bushy dries, save for a few exploratory plunges with an ICU Sculpin. We didn’t find many players, but those we did attacked the fly with fervor. (All photos by Cam Culton save for the one of him fishing.)

We paid a lot of attention to the white water and its borders around the plunge pools, but what was lurking beneath didn’t feel like coming up. Areas like this one are usually money once the warmer weather arrives.
Contemplating my best approach to this logjam of a pool over an Olive Serie V Melanio.
We saw a fish rising in the tailout of pool. Turns out the brookie was holding a few feet upstream near a submerged tree limb and opportunistically falling back to feed. She took my fly on the first drift. To be able to cradle such a treasure and then release her…this just never gets old. Our outing was a mid-to-late afternoon jaunt, and while there was no significant bug activity we did witness sz 14 caddis, midges and what I can only guess were some tiny olives. We pricked about a half dozen fish; this was the only one brought to hand.
Young man at work. We found a player in a small run who slashed at the fly maybe a dozen times over the course of 15 minutes. (Part of that time was spend sitting stream side, resting the pool. Not a bad way to spend five minutes.) We switched out the big bushy dry for a smaller Yellow Humpy, but even thought the char was a decent size for this brook, we couldn’t get the hook to stick. We tried a Snipe and Purple, and finally the ICU Sculpin, then tipped our hat to the fish and began the long hike out of the woods.