Tuesday, April 23, 2019

Searching for Sea Runs with Alan

Yesterday Alan and I went to visit some coastal streams with potential for both sea run browns and maybe a rogue sea run brookie. In fact, the first stream was chosen specifically for its salter potential.




Unfortunately, it seems that all that prevents this from being a prolific salter stream is one small, useless dam. It has the advantage of running through mostly private and very restricted power plant property, and being small enough that most wouldn't give it so much as a glance anyway. It does have land locked brookies, but we couldn't get to them legally. And I wouldn't at all be surprised if, from time to time, one or two got stuck downstream from the dam and were forced into a salter lifestyle. 

The next stream we payed a visit to is known for it's sea run brown trout, but has some brookies as well, though no documentation of a sea run brook trout has come from it any time recently. Cormorants rained on our parade there. I hooked and lost one small brown trout, either wild or an Iijoki. Which, I do not know, for I did not get a good enough look. Down river, alewives were running strong. The dark bottom and tannin stained water made photographing the live fish difficult, so I scooped up a dead one. 



The next stream, not far away, has a far more robust wild trout population. This one was the true gem find of the day. We will both be visiting it again. I alternated between a purple leach and an Ausable Bomber. The streamer took the lions share, a half dozen brookies and one sizable brown, which clearly ate the fly but came free and then got hooked in a ventral fin. But the bomber took the prettiest fish in that stream, a remarkable looking brown with huge dark spots and fantastic gold coloration. That fish fought remarkably well, doing stunning high jumps and tail walks. That fish alone settled it: I had to revisit this place. 




 

  
Salmo trutta

Dark, tannin stained streams make dark fish.
On the way back towards home, we stopped at another stream, one I'm much more familiar with and have fished for years. Lately, it seems to producing a lot of gorgeous but smaller than average brookies... like this one:

Salvelinus fontinalis

This is contrary in a lot of other streams in the are, which, for the last two years, have been lacking in younger year classes. Why this stream differs I do not know. Another thing that's different about it but shared by a stream directly opposite it in the same drainage is an abundance of dace and common shiners. And they're getting active now. So, I decided to catch some. I got three species, actually. Eastern blacknose dace, fallfish, and common shiner. It was a nice little breakaway from the trout fishing. The tanago hooks are bringing home the bacon, I caught my smallest dace ever! I can't wait to get to some water with new micro species. 

Luxilus cornutus

Semotilus corporalis
Rhinichthys atratulus
When we got back to the car, we found it covered in brown stoneflies, all females carrying and depositing eggs on the shiny surface. 

I love spring.



If you enjoy what I'm doing here, please share and comment. It is increasingly difficult to maintain this blog under dwindling readership. What best keeps me going so is knowing that I am engaging people and getting them interested in different aspects of fly fishing, the natural world, and art. Follow, like on Facebook, share wherever, comment wherever. Also, consider supporting me on Patreon (link at the top of the bar to the right of your screen, on web version). Every little bit is appreciated! Thank you to my Patrons; Erin, David, john, and Christopher, for supporting this blog.

Sunday, April 21, 2019

Micro Fishing Time!

If you enjoy what I'm doing here, please share and comment. It is increasingly difficult to maintain this blog under dwindling readership. What best keeps me going so is knowing that I am engaging people and getting them interested in different aspects of fly fishing, the natural world, and art. Follow, like on Facebook, share wherever, comment wherever. Also, consider supporting me on Patreon (link at the top of the bar to the right of your screen, on web version). Every little bit is appreciated! Thank you to my Patrons; Erin, David, john, and Christopher, for supporting this blog.

As things warm up more and more, my mind is wandering to thought of new species and new waters. Rock gunnels, central mudminnows, different sticklebacks, redhorse, swamp darters... there is a lot that I want and I want it soon. Some of the species on my list are pretty tiny. And so I may as well get back into the micro-fishing mindset so I don't miss out on any opportunities that come my way. With properly "springy" weather today, it was as good a time as any. With tanago hook (thank you tenkara bum) flies, some bits of soft plastic, split shot, and my trusty 6'6" rod, I went to visit some ditches.



I was pretty sure I could expect the typical assortment of sun fishes at the first spot and that's exactly what I got. Pumpkinseeds and bluegills. I had hoped for fathead minnows but saw no cyprinids of any kind, just micro sunfish. 

Lepomis gibbosus

Lepomis macrochirus

Lepomis gibbosus


In transit to the next location, which was actually more of a stream than a ditch, I found a small snapping turtle presumably bypassing a mill dam via land. I was very pleased to see him. He was less than pleased to see me. He was a pretty chill dude anyway.

Chelydra serpentina
When I got where I was going I was hoping I would be able to get an upgrade on my current only longnose dace, which wasn't the best example of the species. Indeed they were there, but the backnose dace were both more abundant and more willing. I caught a fair number of that species there but nothing else. 

Rhinichthys atratulus




Though not overly productive, that was a nice little outing to get out and warm up some muscles that haven't been exercised since Noah and I got back from Florida. I do plan to get out and do some more micro fishing fairly soon. I've gone far to long without adding a new species to my life list. 

Saturday, April 20, 2019

Species Profile: Lake Chubsucker

As most of you hopefully already know, I am a life-list angler. I target, document, and count the number of species, hybrids, and subspecies I catch, specifically on fly tackle. Because of that I spend a lot of time learning about and fishing for many different species of fish. This means I'm more adept at identifying and fishing for an extremely broad range of species than the average fly angler. This series will attempt to outline species identification, some life history, and methods for targeting with fly tackle. Maybe I'll get to every fish on my life list, but considering it is ever growing... it would take a while. Mostly, I hope this will get a few of you interested in going out and learning about or catching something new. 

I'm in a rather unique position for writing this "Species Profile" installment. Erimyzon sucetta is an interesting little fish. It rarely ever gets caught. There are two life listers that I know of that have caught a lake chubsucker: Jessel Sanchez (instagram) and a friend of his who I only know as Species Spotlight (instagram). They both caught theirs on bait in the same location. Then there's me. On the 29th of December, just after sunrise, in a little ditch outside of Jupiter, Florida, I became the first person on record to catch a lake chubsucker on the fly. I didn't even know what a lake chubsucker was before that trip, though creek chubsuckers are on my radar. But I've learned quite a bit about the species since. Certainly enough to write an accurate profile. So, lets examine one of North America's most notoriously evasive sucker species, shall we?


Lake chubsuckers belong to the genus Erimyzon with four other species. They are generally small in size, maybe reaching 10 inches, deep bodied, have a small protrusible mouth, an olive colored back, silvery to golden colored sides, and yellow to white belly. Adult males get tubercles on the head and anal fin during spawning.

Lake chubsuckers can be found in watershed from New York to Wisconsin, and down to the Gulf Coast from Texas to Florida. Though their range covers a large part of the U.S. and a bit of Canada, it has lots of gaps. Basically the entirety of the Appalachian mountain range, for example. Their preferred habitat is clean, weedy lowland swamps, lakes, and creeks. Their range reflects this: they aren't found in especially hilly places. Habitat degradation is a significant threat to the species. Mining, development, and diverting waterways put lake chubsuckers at risk. Simply changing the turbidity of a water body is enough to push this species out. They have been extirpated in a number of portions of its historical range.

Warm, clear, clean, still water with an exceptional amount of weed coverage will harbor the greatest abundance of chubsuckers. They also prefer a bottom of sand mixed with organic debris. Spawning occurs from March through July. males will clean an area of gravel or vegetation, females will disperse their eggs, and the males will then fertilize them. Individuals generally have a life span of five years. Algae, copepods, and chironomid larvae are all important food sources for lake chubsuckers, and vegetation may make up as much as 70% of their diet. 

Lake chubsuckers can be exceedingly difficult to find. So much so that the state of New York isn't even entirely certain that the species still exists there and are actively trying to locate extant populations to determine whether they have been extirpated or not. This evasiveness is one of the things that makes catching the species on hook and line very difficult. The other is that diet... vegetation eaters can be extremely picky.

A marsh in Florida inhabited by lake chubsuckers
So, do you want to catch a lake chubsucker? It may well be one of the most extraordinary challenges in angling. On, fly, on bait... any method of hook and line angling... trying to catch this species will be one of the most difficult things you ever try to do. But I do have a few pointers.

Since they are very hard to find, you need to narrow your search extensively. First, make sure you are actually looking withing their range. Then, try to get in touch with local fisheries biologists. Look for electro-fishing data. Find the places that have the highest abundance of the species. Then, look for places that have big swings in water level seasonally. You want to find scenarios that will concentrate the fish. This is probably the only reason why I caught my own lake chubsucker: we were fishing a small, deep culvert ditch in the middle of a very expansive marsh during Florida's dry season. Fish that would otherwise have been spread out through weedy water where they wouldn't have been seen were concentrated in one clear pool. This is especially necessary because you are going to need to sight fish to this species. There is no other alternative. If you can't see them, you won't catch them. 
If you've actually succeeded in finding a place with visible and very concentrated numbers of lake chubsuckers, start fishing it regularly, at different times of day, during different conditions. Dap small nymphs in front of as many fish as possible. Eventually, one might eat. Noah and I visited our little Florida ditch a bunch of times and on all but one visit the chubsuckers just weren't willing to move to anything. On that one outlying visit, I got a number of them to move to a Walt's Worm, and eventually did hook one. I wish I knew why they were willing on that visit, but there weren't any standout variables. Basically, catching a lake chubsucker is going to have to be the result of either a ton of luck or a ton of hard work. But I'd say it is worth the effort.  These are a fascinating little fish, and, like I said, probably one of the greatest challenges in the sport of angling. 


If you enjoy what I'm doing here, please share and comment. It is increasingly difficult to maintain this blog under dwindling readership. What best keeps me going so is knowing that I am engaging people and getting them interested in different aspects of fly fishing, the natural world, and art. Follow, like on Facebook, share wherever, comment wherever. Also, consider supporting me on Patreon (link at the top of the bar to the right of your screen, on web version). Every little bit is appreciated! Thank you to my Patrons, Erin, David, john, and Christopher, for supporting this blog.

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Dialing in Big Walleye and Crappie


I've had the early season walleye and slab crappies on lock since The end of March. It's been really, really good, so I really haven't felt the need to do much else fishing wise on the days when the bite was going to happen. I was on the fish and on them good. But I wanted to dial in the bite a little better... I wanted a very specific fish: my biggest walleye ever. The biggest crappies were just as easy as the smaller ones, so I didn't have that much headway to make there. But I knew there were giant walleye there too, and I really wanted on.


Saturday night was so warm wearing shorts wasn't unreasonable. But it was also brighter than I would have preferred and there wasn't as much flow.  The crappies came but the 'eyes didn't. I knew they had to be there, though.


After I felt I had beat on the reef plenty long enough, I decided to see what was actually there. I hit it with my light. Sure enough, a dozen sets of big white glowing eyeballs were revealed, only to scatter quickly.

I knew what to do.

I went home. That may seem like a crazy move, but I wasn't done for the night.
I got to the vice and tied up a couple of very small, unweighted white woolly buggers.
Then I went back. I made a few test casts somewhere else to make sure the fly looked like I wanted it to in the water with my light. Then I carefully drifted that fly through every spot I'd seen a walleye sitting in before. And eventually, I saw a swirl. I lifted the rod and was on. This was not the giant I was looking for, but about the best so far.

Why did I need an unweighted, tiny little peanut of a fly? Well, I might go into that in depth one day. But not here, not now, not for free.



The next night looked even better. Good cloud cover, fog, showers, and shorts weather again. There was even less current though, so I expected the fish to be ranging throughout the area rather than holding. And that's exactly what was going on. Before sunset I beat on perch and bluegills, which was fun. But as soon as the sun went down the slabs came in and took their place.


After a few good crappies, not much happened for a little while. Then, exactly where I didn't expect them to be, I found a school of walleye. I missed one, landed a solid male, then on the next cast got my smallest ever walleye on the fly. Good start, but once again, I was looking for a brute.



And then, the surprise of the night...
A fat brown bullhead found my chartreuse bugger and ate it.



There was a pretty long nothing. But I stuck it out. My friend Rick, who is an accomplished walleye tournament angler and has fished with me at this spot the last couple of nights, had told my about a tendency for there to be staggered bites during this type of activity: fish move in right after sunset and there's a flurry activity, then about a half hour pause before they come back again. I'd noticed the same thing last summer. I had a hunch that in this spot at this time of year, that second bite would coincide with the arrival of the big females. And, a half hour after I had caught the last small male, I felt a faint pause and set into something heavy and very angry. Unlike every other walleye I'd hooked here this year, this fish took line steadily and defiantly, heading for deeper water, and on 6lb tippet I just wasn't in a position to impose my will on it right away. When I finally did turn it it responded with enormous head shakes. Yeah, this was a good fish for sure. After a grueling battle, I tailed her. When I turned my light one her and finally saw every bit of her, some expletives slipped out.
"Holy f****** s***, this is the one."
There are certainly bigger walleyes to be caught, and I've been pretty lucky to catch far more mid to high 20's fish than 20's or below, but man what a gorgeous fish this was. I have an immense respect for walleye. They are so finicky, so smart, and just so gnarly looking... I adore them. And I was just elated to get this one. It was the last of the night. And that was fine with me.


Though it was very cold and very windy the next night, I had to go back again. Once again, I caught some monster crappies after sunset.


And once again I got a smaller walleye during the first bite.
And once again I got a big female about a half an hour later.

It feels really good to know that you're on the right track. It also feels really good to hold a big, beautiful fish that was the result of hours and hours of time on the water. Hard work pays off.



If you enjoy what I'm doing here, please share and comment. It is increasingly difficult to maintain this blog under dwindling readership. What best keeps me going so is knowing that I am engaging people and getting them interested in different aspects of fly fishing, the natural world, and art. Follow, like on Facebook, share wherever, comment wherever. Also, consider supporting me on Patreon (link at the top of the bar to the right of your screen, on web version). Every little bit is appreciated! Thank you to my Patrons, Erin, David, john, and Christopher, for supporting this blog.

Monday, April 15, 2019

When Things Go Bump in the Night

If you enjoy what I'm doing here, please share and comment. It is increasingly difficult to maintain this blog under dwindling readership. What best keeps me going so is knowing that I am engaging people and getting them interested in different aspects of fly fishing, the natural world, and art. Follow, like on Facebook, share wherever, comment wherever. Also, consider supporting me on Patreon (link at the top of the bar to the right of your screen, on web version). Every little bit is appreciated! Thank you to my Patrons, Erin, David, john, and Christopher, for supporting this blog.


I spent more time on the river at night than I did during the day last week, and it was a great experience. I learned quite a bit, I saw some really cool things, and I caught a few decent fish.


Tooth marks are the sign of a workhorse mouse fly.
I found that I had to vary my tactics more dependently on the kind of water I was fishing than anything else: mice worked well in slow, flat water. Pushers worked well in big deep eddies and pockets. Woolly buggers and large soft hackles worked best in riffles, tailouts, and runs. A large black Heifer Groomer worked well anywhere but would only pick up a fish or two out of any given spot.





Out of probably 4 dozen trout I caught during the week, I photographed only a few. I took what I'd basically call the still photo versions of b-roll, for future blog posts. But I had no real intention of writing any blog posts about these nights...

...until Friday night, when I saw one of the strangest things I've ever seen.

The night before was plenty typical. I moused the riffles before it got dark and pulled some fish. Funny how that seems to work: The water that mouses well during the day doesn't at night and vice versa. Then, after dark, I had a slow, steady pick. And, most excitingly, I caught a big crayfish with purple eyeballs.

Friday night was warmer, cloudier, and rainy, which wasn't a bad thing. The bite was much better, I was on fish right away. And I could get some time on this water with nobody else in sight before opening week commenced, which was great. Even in the TMA opening day is hell. 

At about 9:10 I released a small brown trout and looked up to see a little white light erratically meandering out towards the middle of the river on the third pool down from the one I was fishing. "Oh great, just what I need, some idiot that doesn't know how to night fish out here skunking up the water I want to fish," I said aloud. I often talk quietly to myself about what's going on when I'm night fishing. I talk to the fish too, and other animals I encounter out there. It keeps me from spooking myself out. As it turned out, there was little reason for me to do it to myself. This little light was going to do it for me. 

I watched the light down there for about four minutes after it reached about a third of the way across the pool and stopped there. Like a headlamp when the user turns their head, it dimmed and brightened periodically. Noting out of the ordinary. But then I looked away briefly and looked back and it had brightened considerably, so much so that I thought for a moment it must have gotten close. It then made a fast and abrupt swoop down and to the left, then swung back to where it had been as it dimmed again. I said "what the hell?" under my breath, and simultaneously missed a solid take. I kept watching though, and again the light did nothing particularly odd again for a little while. It then brightened again and made the same swoop to the right. Okay, so maybe my eyes weren't tricking me the first time. But then it turned red and once again did nothing interesting, this time for much longer. It lulled me into a false sense of security. My eyes must have been messing with me. There was no way what I saw had actually happened. I continued missing takes. Then it turned white again and slowly meandered back toward the river right bank, the place it had come from, and again I was sure it was just a fisherman. "Good." I thought, "Go home and don't come back until you learn how to night fish without a light".
But when the light reached the bank, it paused, brightened excessively, then shot to the other bank in less then a second. There, it paused for a second, then shot up to the tree canopy, where it faded away and disappeared entirely. Yeah... that was no night fisherman's headlamp. What the hell had I just seen?

I sent messages to some friends, lest this be the night I vanish without a trace. I even talked on the phone with my friend Ian Devlin about it. After which I headed down there to check things out. There were no recent signs of human activity along the pool over which the lights had been. The closest house was a little ways away and hidden behind the hill and trees. They had a bonfire going, and were quite inebriated. Probably too much so to be performing crazy maneuvers with a drone just feet above a river on a dark rainy night. I kept fishing, though I was completely unable to get back into a groove again. 

What the hell was that?!

I'm not sure I believe in alien visitors. I certainly believe a lot of people have seen lights and objects in the sky they couldn't identify, but I also think most of that can chalked up to misidentifications and lack of observational experience. Some can by chalked up to lying, too. But I've also had a number of strange things happen throughout my life that I couldn't explain. I've spent a lot of time in the woods and on the water at night for various reasons. I think some things are true that would probably make most people scoff. And frankly, I don't care. I know what I've seen and heard. I also I know what the only intellectually honest answer I have is in almost every case:

I don't know what it was.

So. What is the strangest thing you have ever seen or heard while fishing? I'm sure a few of you have some good stories. Fill up the comment section with weird and spooky stuff.

Sunday, April 14, 2019

Trout Opener 2019

Every year for a while now my dad and have fished some small wild trout stream on CT's opening day, somewhere nobody else is fishing, somewhere the stocking trucks probably haven't been. It's a nice little tradition. One year we got on a ridiculous sucker bite. Another year Dad got the biggest brookie I'd ever seen out of the particular stream we were fishing. Last year I got a bunch of small brookies out of an exceptionally small stream. This year it was the conditions that would stand out.

It had rained almost all night and well into the morning. The creeks were up and off-color. We had breakfast and made our way to the stream and found it carrying more than a little bit of leaf litter. Well, we were there to fish, so we did.



After poking some pockets in the main stem of the creek I decided that we ought to make our way up to a tributary that would likely be more fishable. We did. And it was, though just barely. I switched from a San Juan worm to a little purple streamer, and in the third pool I fished I had a fish on that came unbuttoned. Okay, this might work. a few runs up I had another take and this time sealed the deal.


Unfortunately the next four takers were not so easily landed, and that was kind of the trend for me: lots of takes a brief hookups, lots of fish dropped. But eventually I brought another to hand, which I chose not to photograph. My trend was preferable to my fathers though. For him, it was lots of things hooked and lots of flies lost. We all have those days....


My third and finale fish of the day was a gorgeous male.I had hooked him on the way up, but sure enough he was in the same spot and willing to come back. For this minute little tributary of an already small stream, this fish was a stud.


We briefly visited another stream, and it's tributary as well. But nothing was doing there except frogs, which was fine by me. 

The king looks over his domain
All told, that was a nice little Saturday morning. The opening day tradition continues.

If you enjoy what I'm doing here, please share and comment. It is increasingly difficult to maintain this blog under dwindling readership. What best keeps me going so is knowing that I am engaging people and getting them interested in different aspects of fly fishing, the natural world, and art. Follow, like on Facebook, share wherever, comment wherever. Also, consider supporting me on Patreon (link at the top of the bar to the right of your screen, on web version). Every little bit is appreciated! Thank you to my Patrons, Erin, David, john, and Christopher, for supporting this blog.