Weird scenes inside the white fly hatch

Just a couple of photos from the recent White Fly action to entertain you on a Friday. Enjoy the weekend and please do a rain dance!

Ugh! Why do I smell so bad? Turns out it’s not me, but rather the hundreds of dead White Fly spinner carcasses stuck in my net from the previous night’s expedition. White fly spinners have a knack for finding their way into/onto your clothing, gear, glasses, and, very regrettably, into your nose, mouth and ears. This bears repeating: White flies taste really, really bad.
Not the shot I was hoping for, but it’s interesting enough to share. This stacked image has some nice scribbly abstracts of the moon over the trees and its reflection on the water, and the white fly tracks are reminiscent of jet contrails.

First Roses = Light Cahills on the Farmington

This happened Monday, so I’m a little late with the post, but my first rose blooms always mean there are Light Cahills on the lower end of the Farmington. The hatch is already progressing upstream. Call them what you want (Vitreus, sulphurs, etc.) — I see these first signs of summer as simple creamy mayflies, and I go with the generic term of Light Cahill, which suits me just fine.

Remember, you are matching size, color, and profile. These first invaders are usually a size 14-16 — sometimes you get a big 12. For dry flies I like the classic Catskills Light Cahill, the Pale Watery Wingless AKA The Magic Fly, and the Usual. For wets, the Light Cahill winged, the Pale Watery Wingless, and the Partridge and Light Cahill. Any of the creamy Leisenring or North Country patterns will also serve you well.

Old reliable “Grenada,” a hybrid tea rose, is always the first to pop. If I weren’t so busy with yard work, I’d be all over this hatch. Catch a few for me, will ya?

Last night, while you were sleeping…the bass were popping…

First, I’d like to apologize for the lack of recents posts. Busy, busy, busy is the word. I’m hoping to clear my plate by early June so I can get on the water and tell you about it. But I did manage to venture forth last night with #2 son Cameron for a grass shrimping expedition. We fished a secluded tidal marsh. Conditions weren’t ideal — I’d like it a little warmer — and I was concerned at the start by the lack of visual and audible feeding tells. I needn’t have worried. Once the feeding began, it grew exponentially, and we were surrounded by the cacophony of pops, splashes, swirls, and sharp reports.

Nonetheless, the fishing was tough. We dropped a few, landed a few, but the number of hits was not commensurate with the number of stripers present. So it goes when you have thousands of bait targets in the water. We fished a three-fly team consisting of a deer-hair head shrimp on top, a Black GP in the middle, and a micro gurgler on point. Droppers are the fastest way to find out what the fish want, and last night they wanted the deer hair head fly. We spent as much time sitting and watching and listening as we did fishing, and that seemed right. When I think of all the places in southern New England where the same thing will be happening tonight, I can’t help but smile and relish the sensory treat we experienced.

I don’t usually double-dip between here and Instagram, but this is the best shot from last night (credit to Cam) and I think it is worthy of inclusion. What looks like an impressionistic oil painting is actually a time-lapse photo taken in the black of midnight. Being surrounded by feeding fish is something every striper angler should experience. There were grass shrimp, mumies, and even a few random worms. Good stuff.

How planting by the moon can help you catch bigger bass

Some of you may know that I am avid gardener. Right now, I am planting by the moon. What’s that, you say? The basic idea is that just as the moon’s gravitational cycle causes tides to rise and fall, it also affects soil moisture. So you want to plant seeds and transplant during periods when more moisture is being drawn to the surface.

Okay, Steve. But what the heck has this got to do with fishing?

I’m a firm believer in paying attention to natural rhythms.Using stripers as an example, I also believe that the angler who wants to catch more bass, and especially bigger bass, will not be one who places a premium on leader construction or casting distance — but rather one who focuses on things like tides, moon phase, wind direction, bait patterns, water type, structure, location, water temperature, frontal systems, and barometric pressure. What’s more, that angler should pay attention to common natural markers, like hearing the first spring peepers or when flowering trees bloom.

It’s all part of one magnificent puzzle. Every year is different, but nature is always right on time. It doesn’t hurt to be able to cast a plug or a fly line very far. But if you really want to crack the big bass code, pay attention to Mother Earth’s natural rhythms.

Yesterday was herb day. Today it’s peppers. I have it on good authority that this weekend is a great time to plant cukes and squash.

CT DEEP’s new Wild Trout Management Plan

Last month, the Fisheries Division of the CT DEEP announced a new draft action plan for wild trout conservation. They recently held two online presentations with the opportunity for public comment, but you can still review the draft plan and tell them what you think. (For the record, I said that while I was all in favor of wild trout conservation and management, DEEP must be cautious about over-publicizing wild fish and revealing specific locations, especially those that aren’t currently “on the books.” It only takes one motivated poacher — or excess angling pressure — to irreparably damage or wipe out a stream.)

It’s no secret that wild, native char populations are under stress not only in Connecticut, but throughout the northeast. Climate change, pollution, angling pressure — the usual suspects are omnipresent. Wild trout and char need all the help they can get. Here’s to hoping that the CT DEEP does everything right.

As The Traveling Wilburys so eloquently sang, “handle me with care.”

The Everglades, Part 4: Bill and Dad Ride Again!

Before this trip, I’d had only one Everglades fishing experience. That was four years ago, and it was a single day excursion with my oldest son, Bill, who was graduating from law school. Our target on that May day was snook and tarpon, but I never even got a taste of a tug. Sure, the jacks and ladyfish and sea trout were fun, but I was disappointed. The highlight of the day was a fine snook Bill grabbed out of a shallow tidal flat.

And so it came to pass that Bill and I were heading out again. I’d already gotten my snook, and then some, and had an all-too-brief encounter with a tarpon, so in a sense this was a gravy day for me. Bill was getting married in three days, and at the very least we’d soak up some sunshine and enjoy some cigars.

Wednesday turned out to be the warmest of the three days, but there was still an early morning chill that was amplified by the boat slicing through the pre-dawn canals. I wore fleece pants all three days — I’m generally always inclined to be cold — but later on this day I almost broke the shorts seal. I knew what was coming in a couple weeks, and I kept reminding myself that regardless of the action, this wasn’t steelheading — and I should enjoy the blessing of actually being able to feel my toes and fingers.
A left-handed fly caster on the bow and a right-handed spin guy on the stern makes it easy to do double duty. However, as we drifted past this island, I wanted to get some footage of my Marine doing battle. Bill found a pod of sea trout and had at them. These are beautiful fish, and they can be highly aggressive with their follows and takes. We liked this spot so much that we asked Mark to do another pass around. we never saw another boat until the very end of the day.
We made a run to where the Everglades dumps into the Gulf, and I loved this mark: current, loads of structure, and all kinds of birds and mammals and reptiles to eyeball. We actually fished hundreds of yards of shoreline. By now, I felt like my presentations and hook sets had come light years from my first trip. As we drifted past a downed tree within a pocket channel, I thought I saw a shadow. One cast, a couple strips, snook on! A decent fish for sure, but sight casting him in lightly stained water made me feel on top of my game. Bill and I each took multiple smaller snook at this mark. Of course, just when you think you’re all that, a baby tarpon in a cove near a creek mouth will remind you that you aren’t. And so, having touched two tarpon on the trip, I am resolved to get one on my next. Like Boss Rojack said in My Favorite Year, “The fighting is rounds…this is round one”

The Everglades, Part 1: Nature on steroids

The Everglades is big and wild and intimidating. It’s also intimate and beautiful and serene. I know, this sounds like the beginning of a middle schooler’s essay. But it’s truly a challenge to describe the place. One thing’s for sure: we don’t have anything like it at home.

In case you’ve never been, the Everglades is an enormous subtropical wetlands that ranges from Lake Okeechobee to the southernmost Florida mainland. You see things like palm trees and sawgrass and mangroves, and it’s evident that you’re in a warm, wet climate. But when you’re out in a boat in the middle of one of the expansive watery areas, a glance at the distant verdant shores could make you believe you’re on a lake in Minnesota. The only clue that you’re not is that there are no houses dotting the landscape. The lack of ego in the form of architecture definitely adds an allure of mystery. 

But you’ll see birds and fish and reptiles…and mosquitos. Fortunately, my experience this time was mosquito light. (Not so four years ago in May, when those bloodsucking flesh drillers were so aggressive and relentless that I literally had to sprint from my car to the visitor center in Everglades National Park to find sanctuary.) 

Parts of the Everglades have an extensive canal system, and on the first day we fished one of them for peacock bass. I managed to hook ten different species over the course of three days. Some of them were old friends from Connecticut like largemouth bass and bluegill. Others were recent acquaintances from a few years ago, namely jack and ladyfish. But six of them were brand new to me: gar, oscar, peacock bass, speckled trout, snook, and tarpon. 
To get to the Flamingo boat launch in the southern end of the Everglades, you need to travel a two-lane road that cuts a straight edge for most of its 50 miles. Once you launch, you head along a canal much like the one in the first picture, then out into what I call “the lake.” There are all manner of rivers and creeks and islands and coves to explore off the lake, and this is where the massive Everglades can reach that wonderful state of intimacy. Here’s a still from a video I shot. We’re water bushwhacking — those are mangrove trees — though a creek that’s not much wider than the boat. You had to parry the branches away from your head and body. It leads, as many of them do, to a small cove that resembles a New England salt pond flat. You go into stealth mode — whispering and hand signals only — and you look for cruising fish or travel lanes or little pockets against the mangroves to cast into. We blanked in most of these, but a few of them produced, and in a week where the bite was considered to be slow, you take those moments and don’t ask questions.
Air plants are epiphytes, meaning they grow on other plants, in this case a mangrove. These look like the dried tops of pineapples. They draw their water from the humid air and from rainfall. One of the best parts of fishing in the Everglades is that you get to see and hear and sometimes even touch plants and animals that aren’t ever found where you’re from. Speaking of humidity, it wasn’t very warm or humid the first two days on the boat, but by the third the layers were getting peeled off as sunrise transitioned to mid-late-morning.
Bon appetit! Monday’s quarry was peacock bass. This gator beat me to this particular fish, but I’ll tell you all about my first experience with peacocks next. Spoiler alert: there were lots of them, they provide great sport, and I want to catch more. Photo by Mark Giacobba.

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.

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.

Block Island Report: You shoulda been here last week

After last year’s feast or famine full-moon struggle, I was really looking forward to fishing the dark of the moon on Block. To add to my excitement, the shore fishing in the weeks leading up to my trip was en fuego. I’ll quote Chris Willi of Block Island Fishworks: “I haven’t seen this much bait and bass and blues and shad in the pond in 20 years.” Captain Hank chimes in: “There’s life in the drink everywhere!”

By the time I arrived, it was all gone.

The front that came through on July 4th weekend sent everything packing. To add to the weather mischief, tropical storm remnants swept through mid-week and further cocked things up. The result was some of the poorest fishing on Block I’ve experienced in the last decade. A dozen fish over the course of seven nights was the best I could do, and I felt like I did really well given the conditions. To give you some perspective, I got a dozen fish or more on four different nights last year. I did not see another angler catch a striper from the shore, fly or spinning, for the entire trip. I did not speak to any anglers who managed more than two stripers the entire trip. Perhaps worst of all, this is now the third consecutive year that I have not caught a bass over 28″ on Block. Not good.

The Cut was a barren bait and striped bass wasteland. Charlestown Beach likewise. The flats fishing, my favorite form of Block Island fly fishing entertainment, stunk. Even the East side beaches were spotty, with a fish here, a fish there — and that’s if you could find a weed-free zone. And yes, I hit up the South side and SE sides. Blanks.

But enough kvetching. There were some positives. I did not blank on any night. I fished three marks that I’d never fished before, and found fish in two of them. (In fact, one of them became my defacto skunk saver.) I loved all three spots, and I will be adding them to my rotation. I spent more time fishing open beaches in wind and wave, and the two-handed cannon once again proved its mettle. On the opposite side of the rod spectrum, I finally baptized my five weight with a Block Island bass. And let’s face it: anyone who gets to spend a week banging around Block Island with a fly rod and a humidor full of premium cigars has a pretty good lot in life.

There’s always next year.

Now, if the rivers would just come down so I can harass some smallies.

The striper fishing was dead. Get it?