Striper Report: First Cast Fever, or: it’s all about adjustments

I decided to fish the mouth of the Hous for a couple hours simply because I could…and because it seemed like that time of year. I had the place to myself for about 30 minutes, but no love taps were forthcoming. The terminal rig was a Soft-Hackled Flatwing in R.L.S. Easterly colors on an 8-foot leader. It didn’t compute that there were no fish around, so I decided to make an adjustment.

This is the kind of little thing — I know you’ve heard that phrase somewhere before! — that can have huge impact on your fishing. If you know or suspect the fish are there and you’re not catching, do something different. So I swapped out my leader for a 6-foot section of T-11 and a three foot leader. Still nothing. Then, I added a 3/0 shot to the leader just above the fly. Next cast, bang! Then another two casts later. This made me happy.

Sometimes it’s the little adjustments that make the biggest difference. This single shot, clamped on with pliers, resulted in an immediate hookup.

You might think that this is how the story (happily) ends. But no. After those two fish, I went a good half hour without a tap. I have to confess that this kind of fishing holds little interest for me, even less so when the bite is off. But since we’re talking about adjustments, how’s this: go from dredging the bottom to skating on top.

Many years ago old friend Ed Simpson exclaimed, as we fished a spot not too far from where I was wading, “Make ’em come up!” Off came the full sink tip and shotted fly, on went the longer leader and a Gartside Gurgler. First cast, splash, boil, whack! Then another. And another. These fish were sporting the colors of bass not fresh from the sea, but rather those of winter residency. Not very big, but I love any striper that displays that marauding spirit. Many anglers think of fishing surface bugs as an active presentation, with the fly in constant motion, but every one of my hits came on the pause (see this post for more on varying your strip cadence).

My last adjustment came as the action and tide waned. I noticed a far sexier rip, abutted by a slick, 150 feet downriver. So I waded down, made some casts, and caught some more. And that, dear reader, brings us to our happy ending.

Housatonic Smallmouth Recap: lots of walking, low, slow, and not very big

You may have noticed this year that there weren’t many Housatonic River smallmouth reports on these pages. It wasn’t for a lack of effort from your humble scribe. I believe I fished more days this summer for smallmouth than I have since I started seriously pursuing them (in 2016). So why did I go dark? Part of it was people — and anglers — everywhere. And anywhere. I ran into anglers in places where I’ve never seen a soul. Finding a parking spot was, at times, impossible. Part of it was the drought, which made for challenging conditions. And part of it was that in terms of size and especially numbers, this was by far the worst year I’ve had fishing smallmouth on that river.

One late July night illustrates this last point. I fished a favorite mark that was, to my delight, devoid of other anglers. I hit the White Fly hatch perfectly — in fact, I’d rate this as one of the top three blizzards I’ve ever experienced. The surface should have been boiling with frantic rises — dozens per second. Instead, I could easily pick out an occasional lonesome rise ring here and there. The lack of bass on the bugs was both extraordinary and discouraging. What’s worse, what was rising was small. Not a bruiser in the bunch.

At least the dragonflies had a good meal.

Since the fishing was awful, and — this is important — every year is different — I decided that I would embrace different. So I explored. I fished new water. I tried new flies (like Wigglies and Barr’s Meat Whistle). And I tried new methods (like indicator nymphing and dead drifting crayfish patterns along the bottom). These efforts will pay off handsomely in the future. So, 2020 wasn’t the year we wanted it to be. But we can take comfort in the hope and promise of 2021.

Rose = Vitreus. Oh, + Smallmouth

Like clockwork, the first rose bloom in my garden means the Vitreus are popping. Funny thing: I went last night not to the Farmington, but to the Housatonic. (All this warm, humid weather had my smallmouth juices running.) Sure enough, there was a substantial hatch of Light Cahills. When we left the river at 8:30pm, there were clouds of spinners overhead. The fish surely ate well after dark. To the fishing: a little slow, but a few smallmouth were brought to hand on deerhair head topwater flies. My first smallie of the year came on a Countermeasure. That seems right.

My Grenada hybrid tea is usually the first out of the gate, and the Light Cahills were out in force. My Housy spies tell me that the spawning beds have cleared, and that the smallie action is picking up. I think a couple more weeks of warm weather would help. And of course there’s the Farmington…hmmm…decisions, decisions.

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Housy Trout & Smallies in the March/April issue of Eastern Fly Fishing

Hot off the presses: “Upper Housatonic River, CT — The Smallmouth River That Thinks It’s A Trout Stream.” You can read it in the March/April issue of Eastern Fly Fishing. You’ll find a little river history, a little reconnoiter, some trout and smallie basics, and a couple of my favorite Housy fly patterns. Oh. It’s also a pretty good read (said the author modestly). I believe you can get a copy at matchthehatch.com.

Where we set out to prove the O.W. Holmes quote, “There’s no tonic like the Housatonic.”

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