So, what happened at the ASMFC meeting last week?

I was out of the country, so I missed the live stream of the ASMFC meeting. I did hear some secondhand comments from others who watched. Lowlights included a few commissioners congratulating themselves for being longstanding ASMFC honchos (great resume point: “In charge of saving striped bass when the stock was decimated.”); business as usual (read: foxes guarding the henhouse) from certain NJ and MD commissioners; and a commissioner from MA whose biggest concern about fishing restrictions was loss of revenue from striped bass tournaments. (Really? Gonna start a sea robin tournament when the striper stock collapses?)

Sidebar: there was a proposal in MA (not ASMFC related) to increase the quota days for commercial striper fleets since they fell far short of their quota this year. You can’t make this stuff up. It reminds me of an old Peanuts strip where Lucy says to Linus, “Your stupidity is appalling.” Linus responds, “Most stupidity is.”

So, enough editorial. The best summary I’ve read is from the American Saltwater Guides Association blog. You can read it here.

Let’s stay vigilant on this issue. I’ll do my best to relay good information as I receive it.

Many ASMFC commissioners noted a high volume of passionate public comments. Thanks to everyone who opened their big mouth!

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Is it OK to fish the Farmington in low summer flows?

I received a great question today: “How about a straight answer about fishing the river at the level it is at right now. I was told I’m crazy for staying away – my thought is it’s not good for the fish or the fisherman. Be honest please.” I’m assuming the question is about the Farmington.

Those of you who know me know I have nothing to sell you but the truth. So here we go.

The simple answer is: most of the time, yes. The Farmington is, after all, a tailwater. If you’re unsure what that means, its flow is generated by a bottom dam release, in this case Hogback Reservoir. In an average year, the reservoir will have a good amount of water in it, such that the bottom strata will be much cooler than the surface. I can tell you from experience that I’ve shivered for hours in the river on a 90 degree day in July. That water is plenty cold.

Fog is what happens when frosty water meets warm, humid air. This shot is from mid-summer.

Morning Fog

What happens in a drought year? In the most extreme years, it can get ugly. Go back to our most recent severe drought year, 2016. The water release was in the paltry double digits, and because there was so little water in the reservoir, what was coming out of the chute was in the mid 60s — not good. Take that water, bake it over several miles, and we had fish kills. The DEEP even declared thermal refuges, unprecedented for the Farmington River. I advised people to not fish.

So what about right now? The release is 118cfs, not great, but it’s coming out cold (the Still is adding 12cfs for a total of 130) as we had plenty of water this spring. Where you fish matters. The run from Hogback to Riverton right is plenty healthy for fish. Naturally, it will warm as it travels downstream. The water may be stressful to trout by the time it gets to Unionville. But every day is different — today it’s cloudy and in the upper 70s, not exactly a river-under-a-heat lamp. If it were sunny and blast-furnace hot, you’d have a different dynamic.

When you fish matters, too. From dawn through when the sun tops the trees is the coolest the river will be on any given summer day.

In conclusion: Use the stoutest tippet you can to get those fish in fast. Don’t take them out of the water. Fish when and where the water is coolest. Use common sense, and you’ll fish with a clear conscience.

 

Loch-Style Fly Fishing in Scotland: Kate McClaren, I think I love you

I’d been to Scotland before. My Nana and Grandpa, two off-the-boat Scots, took me when I was ten years old. Now, nearly fifty years later, I was going back with my wife and kids.

Chanelling my inner Scotsman. Nae kilt for me, but surely there’s an auld angler within each of us who fishes traditional wet flies.

ScotsChanelling

Although this was a family trip, it seemed a moral imperative to not only fish, but to fly fish in the homeland of my forefathers. And if I could catch a trout on an ancient or traditional Scottish wet fly pattern, that would immeasurably sweeten the pot. So, where and how to do this? I ruled out Salmon fishing: cost-prohibitive and a greater chance of failure than success (maybe next time). So trout it was. Buddy Matt Supinski hooked me up with Graeme Ferguson, and we made plans this past spring for August 9.

Well, that’s the thing about booking so far in advance in a land thousands of miles away: you play the weather and conditions lottery. And my goodness, did we lose. Cam and I have a knack for choosing disaster weather on fishing trips, and we nailed this one dead center. The forecast called for heavy rain and 10-20mph winds. The Scots call it dreich. That sounds about right.

Brown, swollen rivers meant loch fishing — or in this case, lake fishing. Our mark was Lake Menteith, the only lake in country of lochs. Now, stillwater fishing is not my bag, but I was willing to try. And so we launched in a driving rainstorm accompanied by banshee winds. What the hell — the fish don’t know it’s wet.

We started off with sink tip lines and teams of three flies. I had the first touch, but I didn’t really know what to look for in a take. A botched hook set proved to be my downfall. A while later, Cam was on. If it looks wet and wicked and wild, it was. But a bent rod tends to make you oblivious to the conditions.

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Attaboy, Cam! Trip bought and paid for. These landlocked rainbows reminded me of junior steelhead in temperment and leaping capability. They’re also not shy about going deep — we had several fish sound on us as if the lake were bottomless. This fish took Cam’s point fly, a very Nuke Egg-like day-glo pattern.

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Are we having fun yet? We’d launched around 9:30, and three hours later the rain was dissipating. Graeme suggested we break for lunch, so we headed back to the clubhouse to dry out and re-fortify. A most civilized menu: Carrot/leek/corriander soup (a triumph, Mrs. Ferguson!), meat pie, and scotch eggs (hard boiled, surrounded by sausage, bread crumb coating, decadent).

HappyAnglers

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Two critical events turned the afternoon tide in our favor: conditions improved (the rain stopped, it warmed up, hatches began, and the trout showed on the surface to feed) and I managed to fire up — in the wind, no small task with matches — a beloved Partagas Serie D No. 4. Floating lines on, first stop, bang! I’m on. You can see from the glassy water just below my elbow that we’re fishing in the shallow water of a cove, sheltered from the blow. We’d drift where the wind took us, adjusting as needed. Graeme also brought a subsurface drogue chute — brilliant! — that when deployed slowed our drift. 

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I bagged another one not ten minutes after the above photo was taken. We moved to a mark where a wee burn was dumping colder water into the lake. I decided to clip off one of Graeme’s buzzers (UK for midge larva) and tie on a fly I’d tied and brought with me, the traditional loch bob fly Kate McLaren. One of the beauties of fishing a team of three is that you often don’t know which fly the fish chose until you land it. Fish on, battle fought and won, and as Graeme netted it, he announced, “You’ll never guess which fly she took. The Kate McLaren.” I loved that fly, that moment, and especially that fish so much I decided to give her a kiss. The trout may look traumatized, but she swam away no worse for the wear.

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Final tally was four for dad, two for Cam, and one very happy father-son team. Our boat, #4 (coincidence?) was a fine vessel. I can’t say enough good things about our guide, Graeme Ferguson: professional, matey, courteous, knowledgeable, capable, and his wife makes incredibly delicious soup. Here’s his contact information: graemeferguson_82@hotmail.com. He does rivers and salmon, too. Highly recommended. Tell him Steve sent ‘ya.

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Back from the land of the Lochs

Where have I been? Scotland. And now, I’m back. I hope you’ve all been catching some trout, smallies, stripers, brookies, or whatever your current favorite is.  I was busy sightseeing, eating, sampling whisky, and smoking Cuban cigars. Oh. Yes. There was some fishing, too. But you’ll have to wait for that story.

It’s gorgeous even when its blowing 15mph and the rain is sheeting sideways.

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We have much to catch up on: the Scotland report, the ASMFC meeting, the remote possibility of me being able to guide for the rest of the month, upcoming gigs…so stay tuned. In the mean time, I need to answer 579 emails and pull 432,812 weeds. And sleep. Thanks for your patience.

Housy Report 8/1/19: Ladies & Gentlemen, start your White Wulffs!

The White Fly hatch is officially on! I experienced a heavy blizzard last night below the TMA beginning at 8:45pm. Up until then, the fishing was slow, with a handful of bass coming to surface (Gurgler and Countermeasure) patterns. Decent size fish in the 10-12″ class. But not a lot in terms of numbers. Water was 78 degrees, 250cfs and less stained than yesterday. Same bite pattern: waning as it got darker. Then the White Flies came.

It starts like this…

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If you’re a White Fly newbie, this is a big (size 8-12) mayfly that hatches as dusk, then forms a dense cloud of mating activity, such that it looks like it’s snowing big, chunky flakes. If you turn your headlamp on, they will inundate you (they don’t taste very good — ask me how I know). It’s a late July/early August hatch, and when it’s going the bass will key on the insect to the exclusion of larger offerings. Wet flies swung pre-hatch and chunky dries like the White Wulff, Usual, and Light Cahill will serve you well. (You’ll want to tie those dries on stout hooks.) If you’re fishing spinners they have very long tails, twice the length of the hook shaft.

The hatch can be fickle and come and go, so jump on it this weekend.

…and before you know it, it’s snowing in August. All I had to do during last night’s hatch was pick a rise ring, make a drift over it, use the bucket method of strike detection, then set the hook. I took many fish on a flat that was only a foot deep. Don’t let those dainty, tiny sipping rise rings fool you — with the exception of one fish, every smallie I connected with at dark was in the double-digits length class.

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Housy Smallie Mini Report 7/31/19: No falling in, no white flies

Another quick-hit mission to the Hous. Fished from 7:20pm-8:45pm and the action was much better than earlier in the week, if still not spectacular. This year’s weird pattern continues: instead of a building feeding frenzy with a crescendo at dark, the bulk of the bigger fish came when there was still plenty of light. No white flies yet, but I would think that will happen this weekend. Water was a little below average cfs and 78 degrees, light stain. Some decent sized bass, but no monsters — biggest were in the foot-long range, a very respectable size. Fished subsurface (TeQueely) and on top (Gurgler and Countermeasures). Did take a couple right at 8:45, but they weren’t huge.

Dolomieu the Leaper.

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Don’t neglect the frog water-like shallows. This brute hit the Gurgler in a about a foot of water, right after the bug landed.

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Why the ASMFC is set up to fail — and what the American Saltwater Guides Association (and you) can do about it.

Have you ever wondered why so many species managed by the ASMFC (Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission) are in trouble? How can any commission tasked with managing fishing stocks have such an abysmal track record and still exist?

The answers are both complex and simple. On the simple side, the answers are a) because the commission does not have conservation in mind, and b) because they can (there is no accountability).

Why does the ASMFC suck at managing our striper fishery? Because they can. Compare their non-checks and balances with the Magnuson Stevens framework. Share this infographic with fellow anglers and conservationists. And be sure to read this synopsis of ASMFC vs Magnuson Stevens.

ASMFC-vs-MSA-Framework

If it all sounds pretty dire, it is. But there is hope: the American Saltwater Guides Association (ASGA).

Don’t let the name fool you: the ASGA has your (the recreational, conservation-minded striper angler) best interests in mind (as well as in deed). They’ll be going to bat for us at the ASMFC meeting next month. To quote the ASGA: “We are hereby putting the ASMFC on notice. If they choose not to follow their own rules yet again we will do everything in our power to legislate a new framework that won’t allow them to mismanage the resource.”

What can you do to help?  Here’s a short action list:

1) Educate yourself – ASGA blog is a great resource

2) Write your state ASMFC reps (you can find the list here.)

3) Find a post or infographic on ASGA that speaks to you and share it.
4) Hit the contribute button and make a donation support the efforts of ASGA (The value of this cannot be underestimated. It costs money do do all that research and travel around the country to represent your interests.)
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The entire recreational angling community has to mobilize if we are going to have any chance of recovering this precious resource. I’m asking all currentseams readers to step up and do at least two of the above. The stripers and I thank you.