I guided Jon yesterday from late morning to mid-afternoon. We had abundant sunshine, the air was crisp and chilly, and we had a bit of a breeze to contend with. But by far the most challenging part was the sheer volume of leaves in the water. It was never-ending. Still, the trout have to eat. The trick is to keep at it, and I like to use flies that offer some contrast to all the yellow and orange and red in the water. We fished four marks in the lower river, which was running about 225cfs, a very respectable height, and far better than the double-digit CFSs we’ve had to suffer though in the Permanent TMA.
So: Jon is a beginning fly angler. We spent the session drop-shot nymphing under an indicator. Jon did a great job sticking with it despite all the infernal flora. And what do you know? The indicator dipped, the hook was set, the battle won, and…Jon’s first Farmington River trout was wild brown! Way to go, Jon!
Surfcasting Around The Block II — Forty Years of Striped Bass Surfcasting Stories, Articles and Legends from the Islands of Block and Aquidneck is on the shelves! Dennis Zambrotta’s much-anticipated follow-up to his out-of-print classic Surfcasting Around The Block is actually a group effort with multiple contributing authors — many of them Block Island surfcasting legends. Although the focus is on fishing the island with spinning gear, the astute fly caster will be able to glean a treasure trove of information on fishing the island.
And yes, there are two chapters devoted to fly fishing Block Island authored by yours truly. The first part is a story about a particularly memorable Block Island All-Nighter. The second covers gearing up for fly fishing on Block Island. Where can you get Surfcasting Around The Block II (ISBN979-8-218-07120-2)? The Saltwater Edge. The Island Bound Bookstore. And The Surfcaster. Happy reading!
I’m delighted to have piece in the diamond issue of Surfcaster’s Journal. Meditations on the Sand Eel and a Floating Line is exactly what it sounds like: my thoughts on fishing this important bait using traditional patterns and salmonid tactics — and catching more striped bass. Most anglers I see targeting stripers feeding on sand eels use intermediate lines and weighted flies. They’re missing out, and typically only catching the stripers that are willing to chase. Some of the answers to the mysteries of “How come I can’t catch those bass?” when they’re feeding on sand eels are unveiled within.
Surfcaster’s Journal is an online e-zine. If you’re not reading it, you should be. Although the focus is primarily on using spinning gear, there is some in-depth fly casting content (like this piece) — and there is plenty of invaluable information that may be gleaned from the traditional surfcasting articles. It’s only 20 bucks for a year. You can subscribe here.
Mini-striper report 10/16/22: I fished for several hours last night with surfcaster extraordinaire Toby Lapinski. He was plugging and I was on the 2H fly rod. Conditions appeared to be perfect, but the neither the bass not the bait got the memo. Toby managed two school bass and yours truly took the skunk. Toby had a trenchant analysis of the evening, which, as you have not yet heard it, I will now precede to relate: “Bleaaahhhh.” That’s a direct quote.
The spawn is taking place on some northeastern wild brook trout streams. I recently fished a brook on consecutive Thursdays, and the changes over the course of a week were dramatic. Seven days ago, there were only a few leaves in the water and no visible signs of spawning activity. A week later, the brook was congested with foliage and several redds were apparent. I spotted a large hen on one, and a few active fish on another.
In case you don’t know, a redd is a spawning bed. The fish select an area with enough water and current and the right size gravel, then clear the area of debris and other sediment before depositing eggs and spreading milt. (This is why spawning and post-spawn fish often present with scraped bellies and frayed fins.) Redds are fairly easy to spot; they look like light colored patches contrasting against much darker substrate. On a small stream, redds may be anywhere from a couple of square feet in area to significantly larger. A distinct light colored patch with fish darting about on the bottom nearby is a sure sign that you’ve discovered a redd.
Maintaining the integrity of redds and protecting spawning fish is vital to the future of any wild trout stream. The stocking truck is not coming to replenish what humans destroy! Here’s what to do if you see a redd: First, leave it and the fish that are near it alone. Don’t try to catch spawning fish. Let nature take its course. Next, make a mental note of the location. Chances are that the fish have been using the general area to spawn for dozens or hundreds or thousands of generations. Finally, stay out of the water near the redd for the remainder of the fall, winter, and early spring. If you crush the eggs or the developing fry, that would be bad.
Besides, it’s pretty cool to simply sit on a rock and watch the beginnings of the next generation of Salvelinus fontinalis.
Steve Culton will be making his first appearance at the 2022 International Fly Tying Symposium, November 12-13 in Somerset, NJ. (I know, sounds like a press release, but this kind of is.) In case you haven’t visited, and are looking for more information, the Symposium site is live. There was a glitch yesterday in the class registration link; that has been fixed. So, if you want to attend my class, Tying Soft Hackles, Winged and Wingless Wets, Saturday Nov 12 from 1pm-3:30pm, you can register here.
I’m currently working on two new seminars that will debut at the Symposium. The first, on Saturday at 10:30, is Tying and Fishing Wet Flies. This will cover some basic wet fly construction, theory, and how to present and fish wet flies — and you’ll also get to see some of my favorite patterns. On Sunday at 11am, it’s Beyond Cast and Strip: Presentation Flies for Stripers. I’ll be covering fly design, use of natural materials, sparseness in design, and — drum roll — presentations other than cast and strip. If you want to attend either or both, you just show up, and I’m hoping for a good turnout from currentseams followers. And of course, I’ll be at a tying table when I’m not teaching and presenting.
I hit a hidden gem last week that takes about 2 1/2 hours to get to. That may seem like a lot of effort — you’ll get no argument from me — but it’s usually worth it. And on this day, it was.
Over the years, this brook has seen its ups and downs. I’ve been moderately disappointed by it my last few outings, especially by the size and number of the fish. But you get what you get, and the fact that it still has native char, like it has for thousands of years, is a true blessing. So: I won the weather lottery. A warm, sunny, gorgeous, Indian summer day. After the rains, the water level was spot-on perfect, running cold and clear. In terms of numbers, the fishing was off the charts. I landed dozens (despite my best attempts not to, in order to reduce stress) and pricked dozens more. No beasties in the mix — you like to get a couple in the 9″+ class — but I did dredge up a few 7-8-inchers in the deeper pools. The brookies were everywhere. I started with a dry/dropper, which was moderately successful, but when I switched to subsurface (a tungsten bead head nymph/worm thingy) I couldn’t keep the char off the fly. What a wonderful day to be out in the woods.
This is a very late report from last week. After a hot, dry, droughty summer like the one we experienced in 2022, I like to head to a few small streams to get a handle on how the natives fared. This trip was last Friday, well before this week’s much-needed soaking. As I suspected, the water level on this brook was on the low side of low. Much of it was unfishable. But there was plenty of good news.
The water temperature was bracing and cold, certainly colder than it ever was this summer, but this brook has many places for the char to go to escape the summer heat, even in low water. I saw dozens and dozens of fish, many of which looked to be young of year. I also found a few pods of bigger brook trout — nothing really huge, but in the 7-8″+ class. On an outing like this, I do get to do some fishing, but a lot of it is more inspection-oriented, with the intent of spooking fish. Often, with the water so low, the natives want nothing to do with the sight of you or your rod waving around. I got no interest of the dry fly, and pricked two with a weighted jig-type fly.
Then, yesterday after the rains, I visited a different stream. What a bounty! But you’ll have to wait a couple days for that report…
On page 77 of my copy of A Perfect Fish, scribbled in the margin just to the right of the recipe for the R.L.S. Sure Thing, is a single word. Fall. Then, below that, in smaller letters, 8-9″, night time when there’s a little moonlight KA 3/12/10. These are the notes I took from a phone conversation I was having Ken Abrames on that date. If you went through my copy of the book, you’d find notations like this one sprinkled throughout. Such are the benefits of befriending the author.
The funny thing about the Sure Thing is that up until last week, the only thing that was certain about that pattern was that I would blank when I fished it. To be fair, I didn’t fish it a lot. But over the years it got enough time in my rotation to cause a chuckle whenever I thought of the name. Pshaw! Sure thing, indeed.
Nonetheless, I tied one up last Thursday because I was going out in the fall with a little moonlight, just after dusk. I made it 9″ long like the man said. And I remember thinking, as I lashed feather to hook “If not tonight, when?” Besides, Toby (Lapinski, surfcaster extraordinaire) had done well his previous outing at this mark with a yellow needlefish. The Sure Thing is a three-feather flatwing with at least one yellow saddle and plenty of yellow bucktail. It would be a very reasonable facsimile of Toby’s plug.
We settled in and began to cast, me with my two-hander and floating line and Sure Thing, Toby with his surf rod and bag of plugs. Right away Toby was into stripers. Nothing too big by his standards, but enough to whet our big bass appetites. Even though it was early in the incoming, the current was already beginning to pick up speed as it rushed across the rocky bottom. This was my second time here, and I knew what I had to do: make a cast, immediately throw a large upcurrent mend, gather in the slack, and let the fly greased line swing over the bar.
Big fish don’t miss, and this one drilled the Sure Thing with precision accuracy. The beauty of the greased line swing manifests with such takes; you feel the heaviness of the fish, see the surface erupt in a chaotic whitewater geyser, and hear the distinct sound made by a large object as it thrashes on the surface. My cast had only been about 70 feet, and I quickly came tight to the striper.
I set the hook. Then again, and once more. Normally, I’d put a bass this size on the reel, but I’d already begun stripping her in. It wasn’t until she was about 25 feet out that I questioned my decision. I let her take a little line from hands, and used the rod tip to deflect the more frantic short bursts. She was close now.
Twice I thought I was in a good position to lip her. Twice she refused. And then it was over. The camera was readied, rod tucked under arm, fish supported — she never left the water — and then the most satisfying part. Release. Watching her melt into the dark waters of Long Island Sound, knowing you may catch her again some day. Perhaps it’s the fist bump from the friend who was there to share it with you that is the most satisfying. Or, maybe the victory cigar.
Bert took a striper lesson with me on Monday. We banged around two different tidal marks near Long Island Sound. The wind made for a few casting and mending challenges, and the water was heavily stained. Bert learned about non-stripping presentations where the angler brings the fly to the fish. The greased line swing, the dangle, strategic mends — these are all now part of Bert’s striper fly fishing vocabulary. We even had a tug in the midst of this mid-day maelstrom. We also covered fly selection, dropper rig construction and presentation, and baitfish ID. If you want to catch those hard-to-catch, unwilling-to-chase, and (most of all) bigger striped bass on a regular basis, you need to learn presentation. Great job, Bert!
Then, Monday night, I ventured to the Ocean State. It never occurred to me that the entire southern New England coastal waters might be stirred up by the blow. Yep, the estuary I fished was the same sandy mess and weed farm. Bait was everywhere — mullet, peanuts, silversides — but the only thing that was on them were a few bass in the 12″-16″ range. In a little over two hours I managed a couple hits from these smaller guys, but no hookups. I stayed out way later than I should have, and I didn’t hit the pillow until after 3am. Maybe next time.
A late but hearty and heartfelt thank you to the Basil Woods TU chapter from central New Hampshire for hosting me via Zoom last Thursday! I presented my original “The Little Things” to a very enthusiastic group. More and more fly fishing clubs and TU chapters are taking advantage of technologies like Zoom to hire guest speakers like me. If you’re outside reasonable driving distance, you can do the same. For more information on programs, visit my Presentation Menu page here.
Here’s a brief Q&A segment from post-show. Q: Do you arrive at the river rigged for streamers or do you start with emergers? A: It depends. Sometimes I make up my mind well in advance that I’m going to fish a specific method, consequences be damned. For example, there are days in the winter when I’ve decided that I’m going to fish streamers solely because I’m willing to risk catching one large trout — I hope — rather than a bunch of smaller ones. Or maybe I just don’t feel like nymphing. There are times in the spring and summer when I’ll plan to swing wets, and then, as the hatch moves out of the emerger stage, switch to dries. Other times I’ll get on a nymphing kick, and that’s how I’m going to fish — simply because that’s what I feel like doing. So, fish the method that pleases you most. And know that if you want to catch more fish, you’ll need to be fluid in your choice of methods as conditions and time of day/year dictate.