A Modest Proposal (Revisited)

A couple of years ago, I made the suggestion that given the current condition of striper stocks — stressed — and that their future depends greatly on smaller fish getting to be larger — breeder size — might it not benefit everyone if we didn’t try to catch a bajillion small stripers?

Once again, I’m revisiting that energy. Ask yourself this question: Do I really need to catch dozens and dozens of school bass at the mouth of the Hous (or wherever you go this time of year where striped bass congregate)?

I invite you to join me in observing this new, off-the-books reg: When it becomes apparent that it’s a small bass on just about every cast, reel up and stop fishing.

Catching another dozen dinks won’t make you a hero. But walking away will.

This session, from yesterday, went up to 11. Things were slow until the tide reached a certain window. Then a rip formed, and it was the Bass-O-Matic. I was tempted to go for 12, but I stopped after this fish. You can, too. Thank you for your consideration.

A few days ago, on a small stream…

As we bid farewell to March and say hello to April, I’d like to personally thank the CT DEEP for eliminating the closed season trout fishing rule. The old reg made it illegal to fish for wild trout in non-WTMA streams from March 1 though Opening Day. Enough with that nonsense! And let’s go fishing.

Since I had no previous experience fishing the day’s mark this time of year, I was curious about might be happening. As I mentioned in my last post, this not winter/not spring netherworld can be a tricky period. My random conditions drawing got me a low-side-of-medium, crystal clear flow; a mix of sun and clouds; and temperatures that struggle to get into the low 40s. I did see a few stray midges, but nothing that could be considered a proper hatch.

Spring must be close. Always a comforting sight, the skunk cabbage are popping everywhere, a clue that warmer days will soon be upon us.

The method was bushy dry/tiny bead head nymph dropper and the jigged micro streamer/nymph. If it was a deeper plunge, I did the latter. Everything else got the dry/dropper. I was pleased to find a wild char in a mark that has disappointed me no end. It’s really fishy, with plenty of cover and a big boulder that borders a deeper slot. The fish hit the dropper, but there was no hook set. Much farther upstream , I also had some repeated swipes at the dry, but again no hook set. Tug-tug-tug!!! Someone in a roiling plunge really wanted the jiggy thingy, and — stop me if you’ve heard this one before — there was, again, a failure to seal the deal.

I wish I could tell you that it turned on at some point, but those three touches were all I could manage. I wasn’t surprised, but I was disappointed. I suspect further research will need to be conducted this month.

But that’s not where the story ends.

I decided to drive to another mark, the place where I caught Alan last month. (Yes, I’m weird enough that I name fish. Sometimes I name them after real people, like Alan. Other times they’re just fictional , like Gus in this story.) I wasn’t sure if I was hoping for a Hail Mary or just didn’t want to end the session. I drifted the dry dropper through some deeper plunges and runs, then walked upstream.

And there it was. The place where I’d caught Alan. I spent a few minutes observing its wonderfulness. It’s at the head of a longer run. There’s a good, small cut bank with an overhanging tree that will one day fall into the brook. A deep cut runs parallel to the cut bank, and it’s evident why this a prime mark for an alpha fish: cover, current, and the head of the cafeteria line.

This time it took only one cast. The dry vanished from the surface, and when I raised the rod tip I could see that the nymph had been the target. It was a good brookie, and I immediately assumed it was Alan. Into the net, camera readied, shot taken, release completed.

It wasn’t until I got home and saw the photos that I realized that this wasn’t Alan. Wonderful thing, unique spotting! I’ve dubbed this guy “Alan’s Brother.” It all makes sense now. When I was taking this shot, I was thinking that I’d over-estimated Alan’s size. This was certainly an exceptional char for this size brook, but I remembered Alan being bigger. So, it’s good news all around: there’s more than one big old brookie in this town. I hope they made lots of whoopee last fall.

Last night, while you were sleeping…

…I was catching my first striped bass of 2022. The conditions weren’t great — rising barometer, gusty winds, cold, rain showers — brrrr! But you don’t know if you don’t go, and she was right where she was supposed to be. She hit the Rock Island flatwing like a ton of bricks and gave me a couple powerful, short runs. The presentation was a greased line swing, and the hit came about halfway through the delivery.

Not huge, but 10 pounds is 10 pounds. This is the first slot fish I’ve taken in a long time.

Winter catch-and-release: Avoid frozen gills and eyes

With single digit temperatures again in the forecast, this seems like a good time to talk about cold weather catch-and-release best practices. When the temperature is so low that you’ve got ice forming on your waders, or your line and leader sports frozen droplets the moment they hit the air, you should be thinking about what could happen to a fish’s gills or eyes if exposed to that same frigid air.

When it’s Everest summit cold out there, try to keep fish in the water as much as possible. Absolute best practice would be to never remove the fish from the water. If you must take a picture, keep the fish in the water (in your fish-friendly landing net) until you’re ready to shoot. Then it’s 1-2-3, lift, shoot, and get that fish back in the water ASAP. Limit your number of shots. Please remember that damage time is measured in seconds.

It was in the teens when this picture was taken. We probably shouldn’t have done it. On the plus side you can see water still dripping from my hands, which indicates the shot came moments after the steelhead was lifted from the net. Photo by Peter Jenkins.
Option B is much safer for the fish. I know, it’s not the same, but Arctic air can be cruel on your favorite gamefish’s gills. How cold is it? You can see droplets and sections of ice already forming on my waders. Photo by Peter Jenkins.

Farmington River Report 5/24/21: finding fish with wet flies

I guided Eric yesterday and we had a mix of sun and clouds and moderate, cold flows (380cfs in the Permanent TMA and 445cfs on the lower River). We fished two marks with mixed success. At the first, there was very little hatch activity and we observed no fish rising. One bump was the best we could do, so we decided to seek our pleasure elsewhere.

And that’s one of the best pieces of advice I can give you if you want, like Eric, to learn how to fish wet flies: if one spot isn’t producing, find one that is. And, once you get there, work the water. Cover as much of it as you can. Determine where you think the trout will be holding and feeding. We fished a three fly team of a Squirrel and Ginger on point, a dark soft-hackle of Eric’s creation in the middle, and a BHSHPT on point. All of our action came on the point fly. Eric did a great job of navigating some not-that-easy-to-wade water (sometimes it pays to get into those more difficult areas). While the second mark was not as productive as I’d hoped — the caddis hatch was disappointing, and there were no regular, active feeders — Eric managed to stick four nice trout.

The answer to the question, “Why is this man smiling?” can be seen in the foreground. Great job, Eric! You’re on your way.

Catch and Release Best Practices

I was a little disappointed with the number of people who showed up for the most recent Tuesday night Zoom. Not from an ego standpoint. But rather from one of “we need this now more than ever.” One interpretation of the lower turnout would be that people already know C&R best practices. A casual scroll though Internet forums and social media shows this is far from the case: fish being held with dry hands. Striped bass (a stressed stock, remember?) being hefted vertically from their lips or laid onto boat decks. Wild brook trout being landed and photographed on rocks and twigs.

So please. Learn and practice safe catch and release principles: Barbless hooks. Land fish fast. Keep handling to a minimum and then only handle with wet hands. Ask yourself, “Do I really need a photo of that fish?” Keep fish totally submerged in your net, in current if possible, until you’re ready to shoot. For pics, it’s 1-2-3-lift-shoot. Then back into the net. (Ideal shot, we see water dripping from your hands and from the fish.) Consider underwater photography where the fish never leaves the water. Revive the fish if needed before release.

I know most of my readers already know this. I thank you. The fish thank you. The next angler who catches that fish thanks you. Please share this information with others as you see fit. And here’s a great catch-and-release best practices resource: keepfishwet.org.

Tuesday Night Currentseams Zoom: “Catch & Release Best Practices” Jan 19, 8pm

We’re back with another Tuesday Night Zoom, baby! Proper catch-and-release principles and technique is a subject we should all be taking seriously. Yes, fishing is ultimately a blood sport, but there are ways to hook, land, photograph, and release fish before they know what hit them. Join me tomorrow night and we’ll talk about it. If you’re not already on my Currentseams Zoom email list, send me a request at swculton@yahoo.com. Link goes out Tuesday late afternoon. Check your spam box if you don’t get it.

Best of 2020 #2: Big Farmington River Browns

Every year is different, and this year I just didn’t fish the Farmington River as much as I usually do. Part of it was my growing smallmouth obsession. Part of it was the unprecedented number of anglers on the river (thanks, Covid!). But I still managed to connect with some very respectable truttasauruses (truttasuari?). It was a good year for big trout on the Farmy, and there were dozens of reports on the UpCountry site of fish that cracked the 20″ mark. If you’re interested in targeting browns that can be measured in pounds rather than inches, I have two bits of advice. First, fish subsurface. Second, fish in low/no light conditions. And then, hang on.

The belly of the beast, an early April 2020 Farmington River Survivor Strain brown. Please take fish-friendly photos: keep your fish wet until you’re ready to shoot, and then only expose the fish to air a few seconds at a time. (Be sure to wet your hands before handling the fish.) I took this shot with my GoPro, which was set to auto shoot, so the trout was out of the water for less time than it takes you to read this sentence.

A Modest Proposal: Catch Fewer Small Stripers This Year

It’s no secret that our precious striper stocks are stressed. New regs are going into effect (check your state for specifics) that every striper angler should know about.┬áBut this year, I’m creating my own reg.

It starts with a question: Do I really need to catch 50 small bass at the mouth of the Hous? Do I really need to catch 20 sixteen-inchers in June during the grass shrimp hatch, or on a flat on the Cape during a sand eel blitz? The answer is no.

I’m asking you to join me. When it becomes clear that it’s a small bass on just about every cast, I’m going to reel up and stop fishing. So yes, let’s still fish. Yes, let’s still have fun. But let’s also give the bass a break. Catching another dozen dinks won’t make you a hero. Walking away will.

Sure, they’re fun. But they’re also ridiculously easy to catch. These bass are the future of the fishery. So please consider giving them a break. And while you’re at it, please consider making a tax-deductible donation to the ASGA. This group is gaining traction, and is┬ábeginning to have a real, quantifiable effect on the state of the fishery. Thank you.

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