From the archives: “Ten Things Every Beginning Steelheader Should Know”

November means steelhead. At least it does for me. This year, though, the steelhead adventures will have to wait a few weeks. In the meantime, here’s an oldie but goodie from the archives: Ten Things Every Beginning Steelheader Should Know. Even if you’re an experienced steelheader, you might find a useful nugget within. Enjoy the read — and enjoy the ride.

A man, a steelhead, and a cigar. Gotta love November!

No fishing…or even writing about fishing

Where did the week go? I wish I could tell you that I was out pounding the rivers and shoreline, but sadly I haven’t wet a line since last week’s Housy TMA run. That section of river is currently under 3,000cfs of water, while the Permanent TMA in the Farmington is taking a luxurious bath at 1,400cfs. (Sigh.) Small streams or salt, anyone?

Unfortunately, I cannot partake. Even finding the time to write about fishing has been challenging. This is mostly due to a good thing — my eldest son is getting married next month, and I’m busy with prep work and other hosting duties. Normally, I try to get in 2-4 posts of original content every week, and that just hasn’t been possible. So, I ask for your patience. In the meantime, I may go through the archives and look for a few golden nuggets to re-post, as I’m only going to be getting busier. I appreciate your readership, and your comments and questions.

In the meantime, here are two things to keep you busy. Where We Are With Striped Bass And Amendment 7 was written by John McMurray, a member of the ASMFC (don’t let that fool you — John’s one of the good guys). It’s a good summation from someone who was there.

Hard Lined is a short (15 minutes and change) film about stripers and their current plight. I haven’t seen it yet, but like you, I’m going to watch it this weekend.

Oh, to be able to find the time to sit on a mossy bank and reflect on this wonder called nature.

Almost 900 followers and other happy Monday ramblings

Happy Monday, fellow currentseamsers. I hope everyone had a good weekend. My highlight was going 9-3 against the spread; in this crazy NFL season, I’ll take that and run. I was going to go fishing today, but decided that I had too many other pressing things to get done. Absent urgent matters, I think this is important to share: If you’re ever ambivalent about going fishing — you know, that “I feel like going fishing but I’m lazy/not sure I want to” kind of energy — make your factory default setting “Go Fishing.” You’ll be glad you did.

I see we are dangerously close to 900 email followers, and you know what that means: a fly giveaway celebration to follow! But first, we need to get there. If just ten of you got a friend to follow currentseams, we’d be having call for entries…very soon. Just sayin’!

Here’s a review from our good friend Charles Witek on last week’s ASMFC striped bass meeting. As far next action steps for concerned anglers, we are in a holding pattern.

No details yet on my appearances/classes at the 2022 Fly Fishing Shows in Marlborough and Edison, but I will of course post those here when I get them. I’m hoping to see many of you there.

And as if we didn’t have enough water in local rivers and streams, there’s a ton more rain on the way. Wait until next drought when we’re parched and praying for rain. Is it too much to ask for a happy medium?

Catch ’em up!

Not this year.

Housy Streamer Report 10/21/21: First and Last

The trip didn’t start out like I’d hoped. While I was gearing up, I discovered that I’d forgotten my wading staff. (With flows over 1,300cfs, that would have come in handy.) Then, I realized I’d forgotten my streamer reel and line. Since I was dedicating the session to the streamer cause, I lined up with something I had remembered: my integrated full sinker. It was a classic case of, “somehow, it all works out,” because there were so many leaves in the water. By using a full sink and a tungsten-head streamer, I was generally able to avoid vegetation hits.

First cast with a Mickey Finn soft-hackle, and whack! I hadn’t even begun my strip cadence. It was a quartering cast downstream, and as I fumbled for the line, the streamer sank and began to move down and across. That’s when the hit came. It was a lovely holdover brown, about a foot long, and I thought this was going to be the start of a day where you land a pile of fish just by showing up. ‘Twas not to be. I didn’t see another angler hook a fish over two hours, and there were plenty of people out and about on this fine fall day.

The night before, I tied up two old Housy favorites, the soft-hackled Mickey Finn and Black Ghost. This is an old, crappy photograph, but essentialy the flies have a template of marabou tail, then a contrasting marabou hackle and some black Ice Dub for a collar. There’s flash, too; sometimes I use Krystal Flash and sometimes Flashabou. I’ll try to put together a complete recipe and shoot some better photos of the steamers.

A few minutes later, I stuck what I thought was going to be my biggest trout of the year. I’d felt a solid bump on the cast before; I repeated the cast, and the fish did not miss the second time. It sounded and bulldogged and I realized I might have hooked into a trophy brown. When I finally got its head up, surprise! Smallmouth. A good one, too, mid teens and fat, with dramatic fall camo colors. That’s the latest in the season I’ve ever caught a decent smallie on the Hous.

I visited a second mark and managed a courtesy tap, but with the clock ticking I moved to the last spot. This section was moving faster than the previous two pools, and with a well-defined slot I made the decision to switch to the long-leader jigged mini-streamer. Slow going, but I was rewarded with a fat stocker rainbow on my last cast. And that, I thought, is the perfect way to bookend a two-hour streamer set.

Which is it, Maryland DNR? Optimism or concern?

In case you missed it, the Maryland DNR just released their 2021 striped bass survey, and the news ain’t good. It’s actually pretty dire, as this chart shows.

You have to go all the way back to the disaster years of 1979-80-81 to find a worse three-year period on this chart.

In an article published by Chesapeake Bay Magazine, the DNR’s view of the recruitment situation is alternately described as “optimistic” and “concerned.” Huh? Which is it? Better still, why isn’t it “alarmed to the point of hyperventilation”? This is merely further evidence that some of the people in charge of striped bass conservation are at best fools, and and at worst, grotesquely incompetent.

Speaking of incompetent, the ASMFC Striped Bass Management Board is preparing to meet to discuss Amendment 7. Public comments will be needed in the next couple months, so stay tuned here for further information. We’ve got to keep hammering away, folks. The gods may not be able contend against stupidity, but perhaps a well-organized, highly motivated striped bass fan base can.

Streamer color with leaves in the water (and other ramblings)

When there’s an abundance of leaves in the water, conventional wisdom holds that the best streamer colors are black or white. The logic is easy to understand. Those colors are unlike any that the fish are likely to see from dead vegetation. I find that of the two choices, black provides an even more dramatic contrast than white. Of course, everyone has their personal theory and opinion about streamer colors, and at any given moment, someone can prove yours wrong.

But I don’t really want to talk about color. I want to talk about motion, movement, and presentation. Take a look at this very short clip. It’s an underwater shot of a white micro bugger dancing through a leaf-infested pool.

As you can see, the leaves have a very distinct motion as they move through the water. They slowly tumble and glide. If they move laterally or horizontally, it is at the pace of the current — in this case, somewhere around languid. The streamer moves quite differently. It is faster than the leaves. It jerks, shudders, and sharply rises and falls. Yes, the white helps it stand out. But for me, what creates the greatest differentiation between it and the leaves is its movement.

Something to think about next time you’re out.

Farmington River Report 10/15/21: Slow. Slower. Slowest.

Doug and Paul chose a spectacular fall day for a session with yours truly. Unfortunately, the bite didn’t match up to the conditions. We fished two sizable marks from 10am-2pm, and all we could manage was one bump and one hookup. That actually isn’t as bad as it sounds; angler traffic was fairly heavy for a fall weekday, and I didn’t see anyone else hook up the entire time. So well done, Doug and Paul! The river was running medium high (530cfs) and the water is beginning to cool nicely. Observed: caddis and a few tiny BWOs. Leaves are a bit of an issue, and we had all our action on white streamers. (I should have mentioned that we were dedicated to the streamer cause, both traditional presentations and long-leader jigged micro streamers.) Both anglers fished hard and well, and on another day might have connected with dozens.

Doug having at it. Perseverance helps on slow days, and Doug was rewarded not too long after I took this shot.
Paul makes the point that there are worse ways to spend a few minutes on a sunny fall afternoon than sitting on a log with your feet in a river. I loved how Paul asked so many questions. Thinking anglers are better anglers. A most enjoyable day, gents!

Small stream report and observations

I’ve been focusing on small streams this month, partly to scratch an itch and partly to shoot video content for the new small stream presentation I’m building. Small streams are cool because they’re like any bigger river or ocean: weather changes, water levels (or tides) rise and fall, water clarity and temperatures fluctuate — you never know what you’re going to get until you get there. Here are few photos along with some things I’ve noticed that might help you on your next small stream adventure.

Micro Wigglies work — here’s proof. But I’ve been very disappointed by the generally poor reception the brookies have given them. Micro Wigglies are almost useless in high water, and even in low water need to be stripped to induce a strike. If you’re committed to the dry fly cause, it’s hard to go wrong with a big, bushy dry. What’s “big?” If I’m not necessarily interested in hooking sub-4″ fish, 14 is as small as I’ll go. Of course, you de-barb your hooks, limit photos, and only handle wild fish with wet hands. It goes without saying (but I’ll do it anyway) that you should never lay a fish down on rocks or dry leaves or sand for a photo. This may be self-evident, but the better dry fly days are the ones when the water is lower rather than higher.
Using roll and bow-and-arrow casts helps you avoid annoyances like this. My rule of thumb for awkwardly-placed-by-nature streamside vegetation is: If it’s living, I never remove it. If it’s dead, it must not be visibly supporting life (spider webs, for example) or creating good natural structure/cover for the subsurface residents. So, if it’s a spindly twig that got knocked into the river last wind storm, and it keeps eating your streamer, feel free to toss that sucker.
Dry flies are a hoot on a small stream — make ’em come up! — but the bigger fish are usually taken subsurface. I marvel at how curious these char are about any intruder in their underwater world. You can feel them bumping the fly moments after it hits the water. What is it? Food? Not food? Threat? Don’t mess with those teeth! I

Making sense of the changing striper management landscape, or: thank goodness for the ASGA

On the difficulty scale, keeping current with how the ASMFC plans to manage (I’ll be kind and not place quotes around manage) striper stocks is somewhere between Calculus II and Organic Chemistry. Flux and fast and fluid also come to mind as good descriptors. (And as always, alliteration.) But thanks to our friends at the American Saltwater Guides Association (ASGA) it’s become easier.

Next up will be draft Amendment 7. Public comment will be open later this year, and I’ll be sure to get you the links. To help you understand what’s going on before then — no degree in Chaos Theory required — here are some helpful links.

If it looks like a moratorium proposal, is it really? Nope. Here’s why.

Once again, recreational anglers will need to mobilize and speak loud and clear when Amendment 7 comments are requested. Here’s a primer on the highlights and landmines of Amendment 7.

If you’re finding this stuff helpful, and you really care about stripers, you should join the ASGA. You can do that here. And of course, any donation you can make helps them continue their outstanding work.

Last but not least, here’s a great piece from our friend (and friend of striped bass) Charles Witek on the importance of getting Amendment 7 right.

Thanks for taking the time to read. And thanks for caring about striped bass.

We have to do our best to make sure the resource is handled with care. Getting involved with Amendment 7 is the best way you can do that.

Farmington River mini-report 10/8/21: filming fools

Yesterday I wrapped up some drone footage with Director Matthew Vinick for his upcoming film “Summer on the Farmington.” Elevated flows (650cfs in the Permanent TMA) and leaves were an issue, but we got it done. Adverse conditions didn’t discourage the legions of anglers I saw out enjoying the river and weather. I had 30 minutes to fish for pleasure after the shoot, so I hit a favorite mark for some tight line nymphing. Sadly, every stall of the sighter or tangible bump turned out to be either bottom or debris. I was not alone — of the dozen or so anglers I shared water with, I did not see a single trout hooked. On a positive note, the water is noticeably cooler than it was a week ago. Things can only get better, right?

Pro tip: when there are so many orange/yellow/red leaves in the water, try going dark or white with streamers — and make sure one of your nymph droppers is small and dark (it’s tiny BWO season). A small Starling and Herl soft hackle would be a fine choice.