Another short and sweet (or bitter, depending on your POV) striper report: fished the mouth of the Housatonic today for two hours. We had a good tide, overcast skies, and a falling barometer, three elements that should have made for a terrific outing. Unfortunately, Mother Nature forgot to CC the bass on the memo. Not a touch for me, both deep and on the surface. In fact, I saw only three three teens-inch bass caught in two hours among ten or so anglers, and it was all two guys fishing one small pocket. Deciding that you cannot catch what isn’t there, and having had enough two-handed casting practice, I skedaddled just before low tide.
Not from today. In fact, it was as warm a November day as I can remember down there. The most excitement I had was when a bird went fishing for my fly. I was relieved that the pull produced no hookup.
To the Hous: I fished within the TMA yesterday, and my experience can best be summed up by one Mr. Robert Zimmerman, who said in his epic song “Highlands,” “you picked the wrong day to come.” Okay, the weather was magnificent. It was great to be out. But there were scores of anglers competing for the honey holes (more people yesterday than I’ve seen in the last 10 years in the fall combined — really) — the water was loaded with leaves and evergreen needles (beware the windy autumn day) — and the trout were most uncooperative (I hit five marks in two hours and saw one fish landed). The river height was an excellent 325cfs, but those looking for solitude and leaf-free waters should be advised to wait a bit. Rain’s coming as I write this, and that should spike the flow this weekend.
With all this flotsam, it was challenging to get an unmolested drift.
Despite yesterday’s storm showers, the northern part of the state is officially in a stage 2 drought. You don’t need me to tell you that — one look at the brown, desiccated patches (formerly known as lawns) in your neighborhood is the signature. Some rain tomorrow from Laura remnants may make a slight dent.
The Farmington remains viable, if a little low. MDC reduced the flow to 125cfs out of the gate. The Still is warm and painfully low, so it isn’t offering any help. At least the water coming out of the dam is still cold! The Hous isn’t much better flow-wise; this week it was in what I call “rock garden mode.” Naturally, not being a tailwater, the water temps are vastly higher than in the Farmington.
Challenging conditions for angler, for sure. I have a few tips to offer.
Pick and choose your time slots wisely. Earlier, later, and dusk/dark are the best times to target. I’ve recently experienced situations where I couldn’t buy a late afternoon strike; at dusk, the same water begins to simmer and it’s a fish on nearly every cast.
Go deep. It’s almost counter-intuitive: the water is low, so the fish must be looking up, right? Sometimes it doesn’t play out that way. If you think you’re uncomfortable in low water, the fish are even more so: stacked into deeper pockets, slots, runs, and pools. Holding on the bottom. And that B-word can be a difference maker. Sometimes a strategically drifted bottom presentation is your best bet.
Fish the hot water. You’ve heard me mention this before. If the water is white, bubbling, roiling, and boiling (think riffles and pocket structure) you should be fishing there.
Old Reliable dry/dropper — big/small. Get a Wiggly, Chernoble ant, hopper, cricket, big Isonychia dry — and drop a small (16-22) soft-hackle or nymph off the hook bend or on a dropper tag. This is a great searching method and a very effective way to cover two parts of the water column.
Catch ’em up!
Loch fishing, Scotland, August 2019. We need a few soakers like this.
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.
I intended to fish the Hous for smallmouth, but I didn’t like the cold front that came through the day before. So to hedge my bets, I began in the TMA in hopes of some Salmo action. A brilliant day for fishing! 70 degrees, sun and clouds, crisp autumn-like air. Water 191cfs. Started with a streamer in a popular hole, and had a couple small bumps. Then I noticed some risers, and tied on a white fly soft hackle. “The Wrong Fly Presented Correctly” Part 1: the fish were on Tiny BWO emergers, but I didn’t have anything close to that in my box. So I went with a swung soft hackle just below the surface. Bang!
Like buttah, a gorgeous mid-teens brown that’s been in the river for a while (look at those pecs). I love how nature finds a way despite low flows and scorching summer temps.
Downstream in the TMA I discovered a pod of smutting trout in a placid pool. Again, on tiny BWO emergers and again, only the size 10 soft hackle (and 8-pound test tippet to boot) at my disposal. “The Wrong Fly Presented Correctly” Part 2: the answer again was yes.
Wrapped up the trip with some new smallmouth water recon. Very sexy water, but as I feared the cold front put the kibosh on the action. Not to worry. It’s going to be warm this weekend…and there’s always next year.
I fished within the TMA yesterday from 7pm-8:45pm and it’s an easy outing to sum up:
The fishing stunk. I found very few bass that wanted to play. The dusk bite reeked even worse, with only a few small fish showing themselves, and even they were keyed on insects. They wanted nothing to do with my bigger flies.
I fell in. Soaking wet, water cascading down your leg, squishy walk out — you know the drill. On the positive side, if you are going to immerse yourself while fishing, doing it on a piss-stinking hot day in 76 degree water isn’t all that horrible. And my cigar remained dry. Little victories, people. Little victories.
More photo shooting yesterday afternoon, then fishing from 6pm-9pm. Visited two honey holes in the TMA. The first was the bomb — it’s footprint is probably smaller than the size of the average house — but when it’s on, it’s on. It’s got subsurface structure, current, and frog water. Good for six bass, one the evening’s best, about two pounds, on the TeQueely. The second was a bit of a drag, with far less action and none of the larger fish I expected. The bass didn’t start showing themselves until well after 8pm, and then it was mostly smaller fish. I’m learning that with these higher than usual midsummer flows that the bass are far more spread out than usual. Still, I caught countless smallies on subsurface and topwater streamers, wet flies, and dries.
As I walked out, I was inundated by white flies. The bass may like to eat them, but I can tell you from unfortunate experience that they don’t taste very good.
Head shot of a slab smallie. A forearm burner, this one.
Once they get over a foot long, you’ve got a battle on your hands, especially in flows near 500cfs. Handsome fish.
There’s an old zen saying I recently made up that goes like this: “The second white fly cannot come until the first.” Well, the first, second, third, and beyond are here. More on that in a minute.
I spent most of yesterday afternoon banging around the river shooting for my upcoming feature in Eastern Fly Fishing. Evening found me ensconced in a pool that proved to be a challenging wade at 600+ cfs. We had some difficulty, but despite a good-near-soaking stumble, we made it through.
So. At this height the bass were more spread out and definitely not as surface happy as they were last week. I did most of my business from 6:00pm-7:45pm on a TeQueely. The Gurgler was largely ignored. Saw my first white fly at 8:00pm, and although they weren’t thick the hatch built up some steam. As usual, the bass moved into the shallows and frog water as it got progressively darker. They were feeding on the surface (which was also littered with sulphur spinners) but they weren’t keyed solely on the insects. I know this because I did boffo box office with a Countermeasure from first cast to take out at 8:55pm.
Lost in all this white fly madness (sure, it’s fun!) is the black caddis. Size 16, and they were out in force. And I think the smallies like them as much as the white flies. Fish a Black Magic top dropper over an August White on point, and see which the bass prefer. Smallmouth always tell the truth.
I fished the Housy the other night from 6pm-8:30pm. Virgin waters for me, below the TMA: some pocket water that dumped into a long boulders-on-the-bottom run, shoulder deep in the middle ringed with frog water. Action: underwhelming. Hatches: underwhelming (mostly tan and black caddis). So it goes, but I did catch fish and I had the place all to myself.
I took the usual assortment of late afternoon dinks. Pre-hatch swung wets produced very little interest (not surprising given the weak evening rise) and all the action came on the Black Magic top dropper. The smallmouth bite window was torturously brief: 8:00pm-8:15pm, then shutdown. I had switched over to a grey and chartreuse Gurgler, and my best fish of the evening came on that fly. Toward dark I did get the largest bluegill I’ve ever landed, but that’s really not why I was there.
Nearly a foot long, this dude whacked the Gurgler upon landing, then hunted it down about ten feet across a current seam. Almost put a burn in my rod hand forearm.
When I’m teaching or speaking, I often tell people that I don’t have all the answers. This isn’t false modesty. I really don’t. But I do have many questions. And so it goes with the 2017 smallmouth season. So, to quote the Polish Prince, I’d like to know…
Where are the bigger fish this year? Last summer’s bronze bully bonanza stands in stark contrast to this year’s onslaught of sub-6″ fish. It’s not so much that I mind the action, but I’ve managed only one bass this summer in the foot-long class. Dusk, last year’s magic time when the double-digit inchers came out to play, has been largely pipsqueak heaven.
One theory I have is that last year’s uber-low water concentrated the fish into runs and holes that provided enough current and cover; when the dinner bell rang, the alpha fish in any given spot took charge. This year, with significantly more (and cooler) water, the bass are more spread out. Still, that doesn’t explain why I wouldn’t at least have chanced into a larger fish.
Which leads to my next question: why has the dusk-to-dark surface streamer bite been so slow? Last summer, I’d have bass hammer my deer-hair head/rabbit strip tail bugs the moment they hit the water. This year, my flies remain largely unscathed. (This may speak to the preponderance of small fish, since the bug in question is 4″ long.)
Obviously, more research is needed. I’ll be curious to see how the bite plays out in this watery laboratory for the rest of August.
Notes from last night: water at 270 cfs. I fished two runs from 6pm to 9pm. The first was TeQueely territory. Lots of action, although there is a structure-laden frog water section next to current and a deep hole that continuously, mysteriously fails to produce. I’m going to have to re-visit at dusk. White flies are just about done — in fact, there were far more sulfurs on the water last night. Also small tan caddis, and the ubiquitous black caddis. The two fly team of white fly soft hackle (I’m calling it the August White) on point and Black Magic dropper continues to shine. I’m swinging wets far more than I did last summer, mostly pre-hatch, and the bass just can’t keep away. Multiple doubles last night, and the Black Magic out-caught the August White 2:1. I’m targeting active feeders, swinging through and across current seams, but I’m doing boffo box office on the dangle with a slow hand-twist retrieve. Best fish last night, 9″, came on this last presentation (Black Magic).
From one year ago to the date. I know you’re out there. Somewhere.