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.

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.

Small stream report 10/5/21: workin’ hard, playin’ hard

A bit of a busman’s holiday for me yesterday as I had a busy day shooting video on a small stream. This is one of those places where there’s no easy way to get there (both driving and walking). Plus it sucks to spend so much time setting up shots that end up being unusable. But whoa! Listen to me kvetch. What a lucky man I am to have such an office. There’s a certain beauty on display in the deep woods after a rain, hills shrouded in fog, water droplets collecting on leaves, rivulets rushing down hillsides. The water was up a tad from the rain, but running clear and cold and the char were open for business. I did well with bushy dries and mini tungsten head buggers. (I’m still a little bitter that they were indifferent to my micro Wigglies.) The better fish came on streamers — no surprises there. I guess I’ll have to go back next week to get all those shots I missed…

I like the metallic look of the gill plate. I like the blue halos. I like the specificity of the lateral line. Ah, screw it. I LOVE this fish.

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?

Found on the Housatonic: One Spiffy Landing Net

Someone lost a landing net on the upper Housatonic, and I have it. It’s a nice net, but it’s been in the water for sometime (it was mostly submerged). Describe its general size, frame shape/material/color, and net material/color and we’ll arrange a reunion.

Also found on the Hous.

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Farmington River Report 7/9/20: what a way to go!

I worked with Bill yesterday on his indicator nymphing and wet fly skills. Water conditions were perfect in the Permanent TMA: 325cfs, cold, clear. The trout and bugs were a wee bit more uncooperative. Hatches (sulphurs, caddis, olives) were spotty and the feeding was inconsistent at best. We fished two marks and saw four trout hooked all day, and since we had two of them, we declared victory. On the plus side, Bill landed his PB non-lake-run brown. He nailed it at high noon (we fished from 10am-2pm) while nymphing. I was observing from upstream, and when he set the hook it sure looked like a fish to me. Bill thought he was stuck on the bottom — that happens sometimes with larger Farmy trout — and then, gloriously, the bottom fought back. Sadly, Bill snapped his rod during the battle, but the fish was landed, much to his delight. To say nothing of mine!

Bill’s new personal best, a gorgeous high teens wild brown. Love those halos. He took the took dropper in our nymph rig, a size 18 soft-hackled pheasant tail. Since that hook was a 2x short, it’s effectively a size 22 fly. Do not underestimate the power of tiny soft hackles this time of year. I almost always make my top dropper on my drop-shot nymph rig a soft hackle. Congratulations, Bill!

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Why New Jersey is called “The Garden State” (Warning: contains adult language to describe NJ’s striper management meeting procedures).

It’s easy to see why New Jersey is nicknamed “the Garden State:” It’s from all the bullshit.

The manure was flying even before Thursday night’s “public” comment (say the P-word with your tongue planted firmly in cheek) session for the New Jersey Marine Fisheries Council.

Tony Friedrich of the American Saltwater Guides Association wrote a scathing summary that outlines the (Corrupt? Rigged? Incompetent? All of the above?) outrageous behavior of the Council. You can read it here.

Fish are considered stupid because they have small brains. However, all stupidity is not limited to small-brained creatures.

“Wet Flies and Soft Hackles” at Legends new dates: March 13-15

It was my bad, folks, as the original date conflicted with the state hockey tournament. New dates for the Wet Flies and Soft Hackles weekend at Legends BNB on the Farmington are March 13-15. I’ll be there on Saturday March 14 to lead a day-long tying class and wet fly seminar. You get to stay at an amazing lodge on the banks of the Farmington and, weather permitting, get out and do a little fishing. Please note, you cannot book through me — you need to contact Legends directly. Last year’s event was a blast — hope to see you there!

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Best of 2019: a fun little fly fishing recap

With today’s guide trip cancelled, I turn my attention to reflecting upon the fishing year that was 2019. Here we go, in chronological order:

Fly Fishing Shows in Marlborough and Edison. The Marlborough Show was particularly memorable for the weekend ice storm that paralyzed the region. Let’s just say that — ahem — attendance was light on Sunday. Nonetheless, I had three(!) intrepid anglers at my presentation, “Lost Secrets of Legendary Anglers.” I spent the rest of the morning chortling that I had the day’s biggest crowd, which was accurate until Ed Engle beat me by two. “Lost Secrets of Legendary Anglers” will return in 2020 at 10am, Saturday January 20 in the DT Room C, along with other Seminars and classes. What makes these shows memorable — and appreciated — is the chance to see old friends, connect with peers, and meet you, my valued reader. Please come say hello at the shows in January!

Old friend Tim Flagler is one of the nicest people you’re going to meet at the Fly Fishing Show.

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Speaking of Speaking: every fly fishing/tying club gig I did. This may sound like a shameless attempt to curry favor, but I assure you it’s on the level. Teaching and talking about fly fishing is by far my favorite part of this job, and it would not be possible without your support and enthusiasm. So, thank you CFFA Expo, Cape Cod Flyrodders, Legends on the Farmington (I’m doing another class in February 2020 so stay tuned), Russell Library, Hammonasset TU, Thames Valley TU, Capital District Fly Fishers, Farmington Valley TU, and Nutmeg TU for your patronage.

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Housy and Farmington River features in Eastern Fly Fishing magazine. Wow. I actually get paid to write about two of my favorite rivers? What a country! And thanks to editor John Shewey for thinking of me.

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My new two-handed cannon. Once I figured out the right head configuration, I became a dangerous casting machine. Many thanks to old mate Mike Oliver for his wonderful design and exacting craftsmanship. I now sneer at the wind at the mouth of the Hous. And the west side of Block. So there.

In addition to being a fine rod builder, Mike also brews a delicious cuppa on the beach. Milk is included. Very civilized.

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Trophy Smallmouth on the Little Salmon River. We got kicked in the nuts by Mother Nature for spring steelhead, so a-smallmouthing we did go. They sure grow ’em big up north.

Gordo and Row Jimmy with a bronze slob. 

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Epic June wet fly bites. My goodness, how I love the Farmington River’s Light Cahill/Sulphur/Caddis/Iso bite window of late spring/early summer. Both clients and I enjoyed the thrill of double-digit days.

Figure 1 (of many). Greg’s rod might have permanent bend.

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A hot Housy White Fly bite. If you go enough, sooner of later you’re going to hit the summer blizzard just right. I think I missed it last year; this year on more than one occasion I was snow-blinded in August.  There’s a certain rush you get from drifting a size 10 White Wulff that you can no longer see, then feeling a sudden crushing blow that resonates down to your fingertips. Wow, wow, wow.

Be sure to keep your mouth shut. White flies do not taste good.

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Catching a Scottish trout on a traditional Scottish wet fly. The conditions were disgusting — driving rain and windy — but Cam and I soldiered on and were rewarded with several hefty trout to net. The highlight for me was catching one on a Kate McLaren I’d tied several years before, never dreaming that I would one day be fishing it bob-style on a loch.

Cam with his first fish and guide Graeme Ferguson (wonderful to make a new friend); a kiss for a fellow lover of Kate McLaren.

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Fun at the Striper Moon film premier. It was in many ways a Who’s Who of southern New England striper fly fishing. What a treat to watch Lori Shankar’s film with Ken in the audience.

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(Finally) establishing a presence on Instagram. If you’re not already following me, please do. I post content on stevecultonflyfishing that you won’t find here.

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Big Fall Housy Browns. After last fall and this year’s winter high water, the resident browns had ample opportunity to feed and grow with very little angling pressure. A lot of the Housy faithful I spoke to declared this the best fall fishing in years. Can’t argue with them!

Over 20″ of holdover butter.

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A silver lining to a poor Salmon River steelhead run cloud. I only need one steelhead to make me happy, so landing this big buck on a morning where the temperature never got out of the teens had me in a grinning mood.

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So, you’ve made it this far. Please tell us about your 2019 highlights.