Best of 2018 #10: Topwater smallmouth before the floods

A look back at some of my favorite fly fishing moments from 2018.

I’d been licking my chops all year, waiting for the Housy smallmouth season. And why not? The fish are plentiful, the anglers scarce, the water’s pleasantly warm, and there’s something magical about the feeding frenzy that occurs during the change of light on a hot summer evening. I went to the Hous earlier in July than usual with the thought that I was going to find some new honey holes. I had to do a bit of walking — a mile hike in waders in 90% humidity will get you lathered up proper — but man, did my efforts pay off.

Little did I know that these July outings would be the crescendo. August brought rain, and more rain, and then it rained again and again and there went the summer smallmouth season. High and stained, with flows in the thousands, was the new August normal.

This night in particular remains fresh in my memory. Dozens of quality bass bull-rushed my Gurgler as late afternoon transitioned into evening. Then at dusk, I tied on a Countermeasures and tossed it into the shallows…

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A handsome fish, this one. I got into more larger smallies this year than ever before.

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Dusk can be a magic time. This guy was sipping on emergers in about a foot of water. Based on the titanic hit he laid on the Countermeasures, I can only guess that if he were a football player, he’d be a linebacker. 

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Striper Report: A slow start to December

The month is off to a lackluster start. I fished a proven late fall bass producer on Monday, and it was a blank for me and the other half dozen souls who braved high, stained water and biting winds. Went back to the same well on Tuesday, and although I had the place to myself and the conditions were far nicer, the bite — or lack thereof — was the same. Off to spot B, where I knew bass had been caught 24 hours earlier, but no. Not for me, dagnabbit.

I don’t like the short term weather forecast, so perhaps I’ll need to rethink time and tide. Catching a striper on the fly from the shore for 12 consecutive months may sound like a simple proposition, but this first week of the last month shows how difficult it can be. While I am bloodied, I remain unbowed.

What my fingertips felt like by the end of Tuesday’s session.

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The Official Steve Culton Fly Fishing Show Marlborough schedule

It’s show time! I’ll be presenting all three days at the Fly Fishing Show in Marlborough, MA, January 18, 19 & 20, 2019. Three brand new programs, each making their debut.

First up is a seminar, Wet Flies 2.0. A deeper dive into the ancient and mystical art of wet fly fishing. This will be almost all new material, and a natural extension of the very popular “Wet Flies 101.” Friday, January 18, 2:30pm in the Catch Room.

On Saturday, January 19, 10am in Room A of the Destination Theater, I’ll be presenting Targeting Big Stripers From The Shore. Catching bigger bass on the fly while wading is always challenging, even more so in these tough striper times. Come find out some of my secrets.

Speaking of secrets, we wrap things up Sunday, January 20 10am in Room B of the Destination Theater with Lost Secrets of Legendary Anglers. How do iconic fly anglers consistently manage to catch all those fish? Shhh…it’s a secret.

I don’t have my Edison, NJ show schedule yet, but when I do you can be sure that I’ll post it here.

Mark it down on your calendar. Be there or be square. And as always, be sure to come say hello.

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“Wet Flies 2.0” in the works

“Wet Flies 2.0” is the followup to the highly popular “Wet Flies 101” presentation. 2.0 will take a deeper dive into wet fly tactics and techniques — a more advanced course in how-to, where-to, when-to. I began working on it yesterday, and I’m at it again today. “Wet Flies 2.0” will make its debut at the 2019 Fly Fishing Show. I’m excited. I hope you are, too.

The Magic Fly, AKA Pale Watery Wingless wet variant. You betcha I’ll be talking about this one in Wet Flies 2.0.

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Salmon River Report 11/19 &20: Steelheading isn’t fair

You’ve heard me tell that my mother used to say that life isn’t fair.

I hated hearing that, but over the years I’ve grudgingly accepted it. I know she had my best interests in mind. But if she really wanted to help me, she would have added, “And steelheading is even more unfair.”

Cam and I fished the Salmon River last week. We had cold, warm, ice, snow, and sunshine. We had 350cfs and 750cfs. We had fish on and fish off. And we had the cruel fickleness of the beast and the sport.

Day One. After a slow start, Cam gets into a slob of Lake Ontario’s finest. He went three for three. This is his first of the morning.

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It was Jim’s birthday, and since we were both taking a break we insisted that he fish and catch a celebratory steelhead. This guy’s good. Here’s proof.

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A different perspective on the grip-and-grin. We kept all the fish in the net in the water until it was time for a quick photo op.

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By now, you’re asking, “But Steve — where’s your fish?” Ahem. I pounded the same water as Cam all morning on day one and not. A. Touch. Steelheading isn’t fair, remember? On the way downriver, I fouled one first cast in a deep hole. Farther down, I went one-for-two in another deep pool while Cam blanked. Are we seeing a pattern here? This is Cam’s last fish of day one. I dropped my first fair-hooked fish to an incredibly bad set. The second was camera shy, but was about the size of this one and polished metal bright. One steelhead to boat makes it good day.

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Oh, the injustice of Day Two! This tank of a buck is the only fish we boated. Now, anyone who’s steelheaded for years can tell you that fish are often lost to operator error. They’ll also tell you that you can do everything right and still lose the fish. Friends, I’m here to testify (with Jim and Cam as my witnesses) that I had four indicators go under, and I was dead-balls-on every hookset. Fast, sweeping downstream, hard — sticky sharp hooks — and every fish came unbuttoned. Three right after set, and one that I managed to keep on for a couple runs. You can do what you can do, and beyond that it’s up to the steelhead gods. Repeat after me: Steelheading isn’t fair!

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Ontario Tribs Steelhead 11/6-11/8: Back in the New York Groove

There’s something about steelheading that’s — I don’t know — sad. I’ve written about its emotional rollercoaster, and how when you’re down the track seems like an endless journey into melancholy. The highest percentage play on these tribs, a presentation along the bottom, makes me weary by tedious repetition. Let’s not even mention the weather, which can turn a suck day into shit faster than you can tighten the strings on the hood of your rain jacket.

But when the bite is on and weather is tolerable and the people are pleasant and — this is not insignificant — your luck is good, it’s about as much fun as you can have while wearing rubber pants.

A little crick stompin’ on day one. Up at 4:20am, spot secured by 5:10, waiting for first light. Any day I can land one steelhead is a good day. Skunk off early is even better. Bright, beautiful chrome that shone even in the rain.

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We bounced around from pool to pool. I had to work my butt off for this steelhead. It was a very difficult presentation for a lefty, and in an hour maybe I got maybe a dozen quality drifts. One of them was good enough to fool this sparsely spotted fish.

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Loved the last spot on day one. Best steelhead of the day, and one of the better ones of the trip. I got into some double-digit pounders, and the word was that there was a good mix of bigger fish this year. I hooked this one about a rod’s length away from me, and had to chase her downriver once she left the pool.

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Why we keep coming back — and why we gird our loins for days like day two: not a freaking touch. Most miserable moment: last two hours, guy below me hooks four. Guy above me hooks three. I snagged the bottom. A lot. Little did I know, tomorrow was going to be great.

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Day three: there’ll be no birthday skunk! A splendid buck, just beginning to color up. I shared the water with several other anglers who couldn’t have been nicer. Thank you, gentlemen. Not the world’s best picture, but you get a good sense of the size of the fish.

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My father always said, “I’d rather be lucky than good.” When you’ve got the hot steelhead hand, you recognize the manifest truth of his words.

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If you ever figure out steelhead fly selection, please let me know. I fished this same spot — and some others nearby — last year with little copperhead black stones, and nothing. They were all over the bling. This year, if it was small and black and had a copper head, they wanted it with a sense of urgency. What a strange game we play.

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To be read in your best baseball announcer impersonation voice: “Fouled off. Just got a piece of it.” Upon rig retrieval, it was easy to see why I dropped the fish at hookset. On this day I hooked nine and landed six, which doesn’t suck for a batting average. I lost one on a terrible initial hookset, and no idea what happened with the third.

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The last fish of a memorable day. It was the 91st steelhead I’ve landed. 

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Tell the NOAA no fishing in the Block Island Transit Zone

This is important, folks. The NOAA is considering a rule that would allow recreational striped bass fishing in the Block Island Transit Zone, a part of the EEZ. The BITZ is an important refuge for striped bass, especially breeding age females which sometimes spend the entire summer there. If approved, charter boats will come and wantonly kill the future of this glorious species. Please visit the link below, hit “comment now!” and provide your opinion.

Click here to comment.

She needs your help!

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