I Can’t Get No (but Gordon can)

Booking a steelhead trip months in advance is a sure way to not only reserve a spot, but also play the weather and bite lottery. It’s a game I’ve done very well at when it comes to steelheading and losing.

Like Sunday, when Gordo and I fished some Lake Ontario tribs. 34 degrees, wind, rain, freezing rain, high & cold water, bite all but shut down. (I try. And I try. And I try. And I try. The fact is, dammit, I’ve blanked on three of my last four days up there. And oh, the crappy conditions I’ve endured. Insert long sigh here.) Of course, you can’t control the elements, so you might as well make the best of it.

We started off with some crik stomping at Trib A. Dad blanked, Gordo landed a dark horse buck before the bite shut down. Trib B was the Salmon River. After a couple hours we decided it wasn’t going to happen, and the lack of boats, anglers, or witnessing any hookups made us feel good with the decision as we paddled down to Pineville. Off to Trib C. First hour: blank, blank, blank. Last two hours: a fresh run of fish from the lake. Unfornately it wasn’t dad’s day, and I couldn’t even manage a touch. Gordo dropped two and landed two, so I got to play the role of proud papa, which, as any of you dads can testify, takes the mightiest stink out of any skunk.

Given the choice between 10 degrees and sunny or 34 degrees and raining/icing, I’ll take Option A any day. Sadly, we didn’t have a choice. I think I’m finally starting to warm up.

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Kids. You take them fishing and they have the nerve to outfish you. Decisively. That’s OK. I’ve got a lot of yard work planned for this young man this week. Talk about a trouper — miserable conditions, spotty bite, and Gordo never complained once. Having finally lost a steelhead and for becoming a member of the Frozen Chosen, he’s now officially a steelheader.

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“Building A Better Trout Stream” — the story of Hatchery Creek, a natural-looking, sustainable, man-made stream

April summons memories of my early days as a trout angler: nightcrawlers, fishing with dad, Opening Day, Salmon River, and of course, buckets of trout fresh from the hatchery. The story of Hatchery Creek in Kentucky is quite different. What a cool concept — creating a blue ribbon trout stream from scratch — and they pulled it off big-time. “Building a Better Trout Stream” originally appeared in the January/February 2017 issue of American Angler.

Building A Better Trout Stream

Here’s to the fine job our Connecticut hatcheries and DEEP staff do. Love me my survivor Strain trout.

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2017 Farmington River Broodstock Report

The collection for the next generation of Farmington River Survivor Strain broodstock was completed on Monday. The river is now back to a normal medium height (about 240cfs in the permanent TMA). Here are some details on the collection, conducted within the permanent TMA, from Fisheries Biologist extraordinaire Neal Hagstrom:

“We captured approximately 90 brown trout that we took to the Burlington Hatchery for broodstock. The largest was a 22+inch wild male. The state facebook page has some streaming video of the fish workups (visit the CT DEEP Facebook page and scroll down to September 11 — neat stuff!). We also took 15 other smaller or injured trout for general background health checks of diseases, something we do every year.”

Some of the broodstock are Survivor Strain from this year (left red elastomer) and last year (left yellow). About half of the older fish showed no signs of spawning and were returned to the river. The DEEP looks for genetic elasticity in their broodstock combinations, so there is a broad range of sizes, Survivor Strain and wild, and of course  both sexes in the sampling.

Neal commented that while there were plenty of fine specimens, there weren’t a lot of trophy trout. This dovetails with my experience this year: an abundance of high teens browns but not a lot of true brutes. He said the fish should be returned to the river in early December, “and no, we did not take everything. There are still plenty there.”

Thanks, Neal, and thanks to the DEEP for this amazing fishery and breeding program.

We grow ’em bigger than your net. A true 20″ Survivor Strain brown (clipped adipose) taken this summer. It’s hard to photograph a fish this big by yourself, but it’s surely a most wonderful dilemma.

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Farmington River Report 7/26/17: “Get out the chapeaus!”

Or so Jack Edwards might have said if were calling my fishing game. An odd Farmington River hat trick, consisting of browns, a rainbow, and…what? Smallmouth bass? Read on…

I value my fishing solitude as much as anyone. Many days, I choose where I fish as much for alone time as I do for fish-catching potential. I started off yesterday at 6pm on the lower river in a stretch where I might expect to see a dozen anglers all season. Holy mob scene, Batman! Six cars and ten anglers later, I was dragging my horrified self to parts less populated.

For a guy who’s fairly well-known for wet fly fishing, I haven’t done a lot of it in the evening. Most summers, I’m content park myself in some dry fly water and wait for the evening rise. I’m doing things a little differently this week, swinging wets as afternoon transitions into night. Same three fly team as yesterday: S&G, Magic Fly, hackled MB. The hatch activity in this second location was about a 3 on the 10 scale. Sulphurs were the prominent bug. Very little bird activity and even fewer risers. The smallie came first, plowing into the March Brown on the dangle. A few aerials for my viewing pleasure, and for a moment I thought that maybe I was on the Hous. A few minutes later, I was saying out loud to myself (it’s OK, I do that) “There’s really nothing going on here,” when WHACK! Also on March Brown.

I had been dead-drifting the wet fly team through some water better suited for dries when my line came tight with a vengeance. You could count the spots on this guy, and the pattern is about as linear and symmetrical as I’ve seen on a brown. 12″ long and the parr marks have yet to vanish. Full adipose.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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Next, I fished a steep riffle that rushes into a deep, compact pool. No bugs, nothing rising, and I was thinking that maybe I should rig for depth charge when a stout rainbow clobbered the fly as it swirled near the surface. Here’s a trippy low-light shot that begs the question: Is this what C&R looks like at a rave?

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I‘ve said it before and I’ll say it again: dusk can be a magic time. The trout went bonkers on the surface just at the moment when you could no longer see your fly. This brown measured 17″. Full adipose, and look at the size of the anal fin and tail.

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Block Island Stripers From The Shore

 

“Block Island Stripers From The Shore” first appeared in the October/November/December 2016 issue of Mid Atlantic Fly Fishing Guide — sadly, the last issue of this regional gem. I consider Block Island to be sacred fishing ground. Some of my favorite fly fishing memories have been created along its shoreline.

My grandparents had an old map of Block Island in their basement. To my young eyes, it looked like a pirate treasure map from a story book. (I wasn’t too far off – the notorious Captain Kidd was known to frequent the island and its waters.) Then, there was the curious name. Why Block? It was shaped more like a pork chop than a cube. (I would later learn the island was named for Dutch explorer Adrien Block.) It was small enough to be charming (7 miles long and 3 miles wide, situated 13 miles off the coast of Rhode Island) yet substantial enough to have been around since the last ice age.

Then there were the magical names of its shoreline and landmarks: Pots and Kettles. Rodman’s Hollow. Black Rock. It all sounded like a fanciful netherworld inhabited by wizards and elves.

The wondrous reality is that from May through November, Block Island is home to Morone saxatillis. And if the year, moon, and tides align, you can reasonably expect an unforgettable encounter with a striped bass on the fly from the shore.

A feisty Block Island school bass taken on a dead drift using a small, sparse sand eel pattern.

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Where to fish. Finding a place to fish on Block Island is a good news-good news scenario: many possibilities, ample public access. You can find most of these spots on an online map. Note that there is no camping on Block Island, and no sleeping in vehicles.

Crescent Beach stretches several miles north from the ferry landing in town to Mansion Beach. The sandy bottom makes it a popular place for sight fishing. Some people bring ladders, but most anglers are content to walk and wet wade. Mornings – the beach crowds start building around 11am – and late afternoons are the best times to try your hand at stalking a cruising fish. If you see a substantial number of bass during the day, it usually means they’ll be around at night, too.

You’ll find structure, waves, and current like this along much of the island’s shoreline.

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Sandy Point is the spit that juts out from the northern tip of the island. Currents from Long Island Sound and Cow Cove smash together, creating the dangerous – and sometimes deadly – North Rip. This is the place where Block Island angling legend Ben Lubell lost his life in the early 1980s. Take a lesson from Ben, and never wade in the North Rip. Stay out of the water and the wash at Sandy Point.

Those same lethal currents can also make for great fishing, acting as a conveyor belt that delivers helpless bait to waiting mouths. Local historians will tell you that Cow Cove got its name when the island’s first settlers forced their cattle to swim ashore there. Noted author and fly tyer Ken Abrames says with a smile that the name really comes from the size of the stripers that have been taken there over the years.

The Great Salt Pond was once a brackish, landlocked lake. A channel was dug in 1895. The pond offers the fly fisher a rich diversity of angling opportunities, from shallow flats to deep water drop-offs to pinch-points to river-like currents. The channel at the Coast Guard Station, also known as the Cut, is the most popular fishing spot on the island. However, popular doesn’t always mean best, and parking is often limited.

West Side. Charlestown Beach runs along the middle of the west side of the island. When it’s on, gird yourself for a bad case of striper thumb. The largest blitzes I’ve experienced on Block Island – both in numbers and pounds per fish –have taken place along Charlestown Beach. The West Side is also home to Grace’s, Dorie’s, and Cooneymus Coves. All are rocky bars that are in fly rod range at high tide.

South Side. The stretch from Black Rock Beach to Mohegan Bluffs features the kind of rocky structure that stripers like to frequent. However, both surf and prevailing winds can be a challenge to fly casters.

Some final words of advice and caution: never fish an area you’re unfamiliar with at night. Reconnoiter it first in daylight at the same tide you’ll be fishing. Don’t venture out in rough surf. And fish with a friend.

Flies and gear. Sand eels, squid, and silversides are the predominant inshore baits, so bring plenty of flies that match their action and profile. Sand eels start out small – 2” or less in early June – and grow as the summer progresses. I favor sparse, impressionistic patterns like Ken Abrames’ Eelie and Big Eelie. I tie the Big Eelie in a wide range of color combinations, from the original white/yellow/olive/blue to blue/black/purple. I make them about 4 ½” long, and stripers relish them all. It’s hard to go wrong with any simple, slim-profile baitfish pattern.

I’ve caught more Block Island stripers on the Big Eelie than any other pattern. This is the fly’s original color scheme.

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It’s not uncommon to find both smaller (2”-3” long) and larger squid in the Great Salt Pond. And while I’ve never done very well using big flies on the Block, I always bring some foot-long eel patterns, because one day I’m going to find that 50-pounder. Crab and shrimp flies designed for bonefish will also work quite well on Block Island’s flats.

Bring your favorite one- or two-handed rod. As with any island, expect windy conditions, and match your rod accordingly. The water I fish is typically 2 to 8 feet deep. A floating line gives me the option of presenting from the surface to the bottom in most places. I always bring my full-sink integrated line in case it’s insanely windy or I want to fish a deep channel.

Waders and studded boots are essential gear for navigating the rocky shores and jetties of Block Island. Lightweight and comfortable boots will make that one-mile slog down the beach a little more endurable. Keep in mind that Block Island is surrounded by cool water for much of the summer; you’re probably going to need a jacket at night. Use a personal flotation device and carry a compass – Block Island can get Transylvania horror movie foggy.

And for those rare nights when the wind lies down and the air is still, make sure you have a generous supply of effective bug spray. The no see-ums on Block Island are torturous.

When to fish. Every year is different, and as east coast striper stocks have ebbed and flowed, so has the fishing on Block Island. In the previous four years I have caught as many as 75 bass over 8 nights, and as few as 4. There’s no way to predict which island you’re going to get.

While you can certainly catch Block Island stripers in daylight, Ray Charles put it rather eloquently when he sang, “night time is the right time.” Because most of the water I fish is shallow, I favor the dark of the moon or cloud-covered nights. Of course, the best time to go fishing is when you can. Catching or merely fishing, Block Island is a unique and beautiful location – and you’ll quickly understand why it was named by the Nature Conservancy as one of the “Last Great Places.”

Why I love fishing at night. This striper was part of a school of 10 to15-pound fish that set up on a shallow cobble-bottomed bar to ambush bait.

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Summer Presentation: “The Little Things” at the Long Island Fly Rodders, Tuesday, August 1

Most fishing clubs go on summer hiatus. Not the Long Island Fly Rodders. In fact, they’ve booked yours truly to kick off their fall meeting season with “The Little Things.” I’ve heard rumors of a pre-meeting barbecue, so how can I resist?  Tuesday, August 1, 6:30pm, at the Levittown VFW Hall, 55 Hickory Lane, Levittown, NY. For more information, visit liflyrodders.org.

Speaking of presentations, I’m currently working on “The Little Things 3.0” and an as yet untitled one on how I fish for striped bass.

If you want to catch big stripers like her, pay attention to the little things. (Using a floating line and learning the greased line swing doesn’t hurt, either.)

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