“I’m Not Dead Yet — The last hurrah for wild Connecticut River strain Atlantic Salmon” from American Angler

A long title, but a good quick read on the last few returning Connecticut River strain Atlantic salmon. “I’m Not Dead Yet” (Holy Grail fans will appreciate the reference) is a tale of ambitious environmental intentions and epic fail. Or, if you want to get biblical, what is a man profited if he should gain an industrial revolution and lose a majestic species? “Im Not Dead Yet” first appeared in the July/August 2016 issue of American Angler.

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“Bring out your dead!” These little guys have long since been eaten.

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Farmington River Report 6/13/18: Workin’ hard, playin’ hard

On the river for ten hours today and loving every minute of it! I started by guiding Brian from 11am-3pm. Brian had a story that is typical of many of my clients: loves the Farmington, but has had too many encounters with the skunk. He wanted to focus on wets, but I suggested we spend an hour working on his nymphing game, since that is the year-round highest percentage play on this river. Brian has mostly Euro-nymped, but I set him up with a drop shot ring under an indicator. He took to it like he’s been doing it forever. There’ll be no skunk, today, Brian. The first fish was noteworthy because the indicator never went under — it merely twitched. Look for a reason to set the hook on every drift, and like that Brian was on the board.

It was a cool, wet day, and there was precious little bug activity. The water is still unusually cold, with 48 degrees at the bottom end of the permanent TMA, which was running at 330cfs. Nonetheless, we managed a mix of browns and rainbows by (you’ve heard this if you’ve taken my class) moving around and covering water. Nice work, Brian.

Every guide loves the sight of a bent rod and a tight line. Brian did a great job with his hook sets today.

DCIM100GOPROG0015239.

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Thank you for playing. They liked the bottom nymph, a size 14 Frenchie variant.

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Now it was my turn to play. I grabbed a sandwich and headed off to a snotty run to swing wets under a leaden sky. The cold from the river was a stark contrast to the warm and humid air (my lower legs and feet were uncomfortably cold by the time I finished.) By this time (4pm) there was a slight uptick in bug activity. Whack! My second cast produced a gorgeous wild brown.

They don’t make ’em like this in the factory. Absolutely flawless fins.

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Any pre-hatch period is my favorite time to swing wets, and I moved down to a more languid section of water. Sure enough, as the clock moved toward 5pm, there was an uptick in bug activity, mostly Light Cahills (Vitreus) 12-14 and caddis 14-16. The fish were rising a little more regularly now. I was fishing a three fly team of a Squirrel and Ginger on top, a Light Cahill winged in the middle and a Hackled March Brown on point. My strategy was to target active risers, and I caught a bunch of trout on all three flies.

There comes a time during every hatch when the subsurface wet becomes ineffective, and today it was 7pm. I switched over to dries, and had a blast fooling trout on the surface. I fished Magic Flies and Usuals, 14-16, and had a good couple dozen takes — but only about half of them stuck. I was going to leave at 8pm, but I remembered how fiercely I admonish those who depart from the river before the magic hour in June and July, so I stuck around until 9pm. The last half hour, the river was simmering with rise forms. I switched over to classic Light Cahill dries, 12-14, and ended the session with a healthy brown who was just showing the beginnings of a kype.

The best part? There was no one there except for me, the trout, and the bugs.

Our Lady of the Blessed Pink Band. First Farmy trout of the year on a dry. 

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Another back country brookie adventure

The cathedral was built at the end of the last ice age. As the glacier receded, it carved out the path of the stream and dotted its edges with granite boulders. Tens of thousands of years later, I came to worship at its altar.

In one of the Beatles’ Christmas records, John Lennon waxes romantic about the Elizabethan high wall. Here’s to the New England low wall. What was once farmland is now dense woods, and every once in a while you stumble across one of these gems, as if it were part of some random design plan.

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I’ve been fishing this stream for years, and in late May you can always count on a good hatch of yellow sallies. I spent 15 minutes sitting beside a pool watching the char rise in earnest to both midges and stoneflies.

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I started with a dry (Improved Sofa Pillow variant)/nymph (Frenchie variant) dropper and had interest in both. I switched out the nymph for a North Country spider, the Partridge and Orange, to which the answer was a resounding yes. White micro bugger, ICU Sculpin, Squirrel and Herl — they liked them all. Pricked dozens, landed a few less, and spent most of the morning giggling about it.

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I love how the brookies change their colors to match their environment. This guy came from a shallow, well-lit run with a light stone bottom…

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…while his cousin came from the depths of a plunge pool that may only see sunlight for a few days each year.

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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.

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

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Fun near the Raritan River

In the movie 1776, George Washington sends a dispatch to Congress in which he bemoans the sorry state of the Continental Army. Washington describes the soldiers as drunk, disorderly, and cites them for engaging in such scandalous behavior as “naked bathing in the Raritan River.”

That all sounds like fun, but in January it’s really too cold to seriously consider. So I passed up the chance for some skinny dipping in favor of attending the Edison Fly Fishing Show.

My seminar was the show’s first at 9:45am. With the new venue and labyrinthine passageways to the seminar rooms, I had visions of presenting to a crowd of ten. Not to worry — nearly a hundred people showed up, and I’m told it was one of the largest crowds of the day. Thank you if you were part of the audience.

So that was cool. Afterward I walked the floor, did a little networking, shopping, saying hello to friends, and meeting and greeting. Many thanks if you were one of the people who stopped to chat.

I got out cheap with just one purple flatwing saddle. Next up: the CFFA Show on Saturday, February 3rd. I’ll be tying. Details to come.

Pretty fair company. I caught parts of Rosenbauer’s, Daniel’s, Currier’s, Randall’s, and Mayer’s presentations. Just head thataway.

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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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