Tuesday, November 12, 2019

These Are the Fish in My Neighborhood

As an angler privileged with an exceptionally flexible (though impermanently so) work schedule, I recognize I get to fish more than most or at least as much as pretty much any other very driven fish bum. I am also lucky to live in a very fishy place. I still don't have my own vehicle, but don't need one to get to a lot of different species in a variety of different fishing scenarios. I've got a lot really close, but even the least fishy parts of the planet have options five to twenty minutes away from just about any home. If there isn't fishable water people probably wouldn't live there. Most fishable waters are never getting taken advantage of. To some degree that's fine, the best fishing pressure is no fishing pressure, but the amount of people that lament about how little they get to fish that have water within minutes of their home and work is crazy to me. If you don't want to fish more and are happy with how well you fish when you do get out, that's one thing. But if you only fish a couple times a month or less, complain about it, and also wish you were a better angler, there's no good reason you can't find the odd few minutes here and there to get on some piece of water. Keep that casting muscle memory in play, exercise your ability to see fish and read water. Wherever you happen to live, I'm sure there are fish somewhere in the neighborhood that you could be practicing on.

Here, not quite a mile and a half from my home, is a ditch. A ditch with some fish in it.


Some of those fish just so happen to be brook trout. This long, lean, spawned out girl fell for an Edson Tiger on the first cast into this stretch of slow water.


Believe it or not I crossed another brook trout stream less than half a mile from home on the way to this one. But part of the reason I passed that one up was that I wanted to get a fish or two on a mouse. This stream has some meat eaters in it, and some larger fish as well.


One moue eater was satisfying enough though, and I went redd hunting. I found them in all the places I've found redds in this stream in the last 6 years. Yeah, by this point these fish are practically my pets. The stream change a little year to year, but barring something seriously catastrophic I've got the drill down pat.



So I went to the next stream, which I found a little later but have also fished a lot for a while. It has a very different character and more fishable length. And the bottom 200ft are tidal.


November dry fly fish, 58th consecutive month.
Duped by the ever productive Ausable Ugly. 
And then I went home. Which didn't take long at all. These are some of the fish in my neighborhood. Do you know the fish in your own neighborhood?

Until next time.
Fish for the love of fish.
Fish for the love of places fish live.
Fish for you.


Thank you to my Patrons; Erin, David, john, Elizabeth, Chris, Brandon, and Christopher, for supporting this blog on Patreon.

Saturday, November 9, 2019

A Redfin Pickerel Mission (from back in July)

This is very late because it is. 
Rather, this is very late because I intended to but didn't fit it into the lineup with all the Maine, New Hampshire, and  other summer stuff that I prioritized, but have decided to write it now for the sake of diversity. Most of what I've done fishing wise in the last week is brook trout and striped bass. I like to use this blog to promote the awareness of less popular species, and since brook trout and striped bass are not remotely unpopular, I'll throw back to a mission to get a redfin pickerel before getting back to that stuff.

Redfin pickerel is the one species of fish I actually frequently get asked for help over. Before I was even really as up-front with my life listing endeavors I got the occasional email inquiry regarding the species (more accurately the subspecies, American pickerel is the higher classification.) I offer up what little I actually know whaen asked though I do consistently catch the species they often throw me for a loop. They are hyper aware of human presence. Though they may not appear to spook if you can see them they can see you and they probably aren't going to eat. They're supposed to be fully diurnal and yet I've now caught more than one while night fishing for trout. Their frequent preference of water just inches deep doesn't help either. Redfin pickerel are one nutty, charismatic little fish. So I do hat I can when someone asks but it's easier to show than to just tell. So when fellow lifelister Brad Rasmussen (Fish Finding) told me he was planning a trip to Southern New England and wanted to target redfin pickerel, I was quick to offer to show him the ropes on one of my local waters. I enjoy sharing this goofy little species with others. That was sometime in February I think. 
Fast forward to this July and I was meeting my new friends Brad and his girlfriend Alex near a redfin stream after they'd driven down from Quebec. Though this wasn't the only fish they'd be after on the trip, I really didn't want it to be an "everything but" outing, which it often can be here. 


It seems everything from white perch to brown bullheads can find your presentation before a redfin does in these waters, and that was almost what happened this time. It's also typically the case that if you are after any lifer, even an easy one, the first one comes harder then it ever should. Alex had never caught a redbreast sunfish, and the first hole we fished is typically just brimming with them. Of course she caught like a dozen bluegills instead. I rarely catch bluegills there. Neither Brad nor I got a redbreast out of that hole either. I hooked a snapping turtle, then a brown bullhead which I was happy with. Alex did end up getting a lifer out of that hole, but it was a largemouth bass of all things.

Brown bullhead, Ameiurus nebulosus
 Downstream we went in search of the primary target. And find them we did, though we went through all the trials and tribulations of redfin fishing. Spooked fish, fish in water to shallow effectively fish to at a distance, even one hooked and  quickly lost. But eventually we found one that was willing, one that slammed Brad's tiny jig repeatedly, got hooked, stayed hooked, then didn't escape after the hook was out. Mission success.

Esox americanus americanus


Not long after, Alex got her lifer redbreast sunfish as well.

Lepomis auritus
So I was probably as relieved if not more so than Brad. I would have been really bummed out if I hadn't gotten them on a redfin! I'd also recommended a few saltwater spots that could produce a number of other lifers, and they ended up finding something in one of them I never had. Check out Brad's post about the trip here.

Until next time.
Fish for the love of fish.
Fish for the love of places fish live.
Fish for you.


Thank you to my Patrons; Erin, David, john, Elizabeth, Chris, Brandon, and Christopher, for supporting this blog on Patreon.

Wednesday, November 6, 2019

November Shallow Water Walleye

When there's a chill in the air and the water is getting not just cooler but cold it's time for me to start looking for my 30" fly tackle walleye again. Cold nights on the lake are lonely, and I like it that way. Just me, what few crickets are left, the herons, and the fish. 


The spring fishing tends to be better overall, and it can be so, SO good, but the fall fishing is a little different. At least in the places I fish, it seems harder to get a handle on. And these are all stillwaters, it's funny to me how many assume my walleye are river fish at first. I can count on one hand ho many walleye I've caught in rivers... three. Three total. Perhaps it's because CT walleye stillwaters are so hard to get a handle on that it's easy to assume my fish must not be from lakes. It isn't easy to get them on the fly, unless you have a lot of time, a lot of will, and take notes consistently. I've seen the fishery go through interesting swings since I started. I caught my first walleye on the fly on July 1st 2015, out of a pond, after sunset, on a big articulated streamer. Through 2015 and 2016 I had good walleye fishing at night during the summer in two bodies of water, though the bulk of it was in the aforementioned pond. That pond also produced good fish in the fall and early winter of both those years, especially on warm nights and cloudy, rainy days. That pond started to show signs of decline, producing only three walleye in 2017, only one in 2018, and none at all this year. In 2018 though I nailed down a spring pattern in a larger body of water, then a fall pattern as well. This year that effort gave way to more consistency, though the fall fishing remains sort of on again, off again. In the spring it seems that once the fish are "there", they're always there until June when they start to get sporadic, and if you can't catch them that's your own fault. In the fall it never really gets solid. One day being great doesn't mean the next day, even if the conditions seem better on paper, won't just be a perch slay-fest with not a walleye to be found. This fall I've had far more off days than on days, but I'm getting a little better at determining the subtleties. 

Yesterday (Nov. 5th) was the first day that produced the target species this fall, though it started out with... not that.

Micropterus salmoides
This largemouth was a bit of a weirdo. The fight confused me severely. I had no clue what I was going to get, or even how big. I can't even describe it... it was just odd. Not the typical late fall slow, dogging, maybe a jump or two, largemouth fight. 

And after that I got what, for this lake at least, wasn't a bad white perch. Were I expecting to catch more this size or even just a little smaller I'd definitely have kept it. Lucky for it I wasn't in the mood.


Then I got that faint touch and set into something that did sweeping headshakes and 10ft runs. I know a good walleye from the first seconds of the fight, and in shallow water, on the fly... let's just say the idea that walleye are no fun on the other end of the line gets dismissed pretty quickly. These fish do pull, even on the heavy gear I'm using on my quest to best a true behemoth. And because a walleye kept grows no more, she went back. They all do in my trophy hunt spots.


Until next time.
Fish for the love of fish.
Fish for the love of places fish live.
Fish for you.


Thank you to my Patrons; Erin, David, john, Elizabeth, Chris, Brandon, and Christopher, for supporting this blog on Patreon.

Monday, November 4, 2019

Brook Trout Spawn

I fish because I am deeply fascinated by fish, the things fish do, and the places they live. Fly fishing is my window into that world. Most of what fish do involves eating, so a practice that involves trying to get fish to eat something artificial is a great way to learn about fish if done in the right way with the right intentions. But fish do have to do a few things other than eating, one of them being reproduction. In October and early November in CT, wild brook trout spawn. They do so mostly in shallow, gravelly riffles and tailout, and in their haste to make babies, they often become quite easy to approach and observe. I've found that in these times, not only am I morally obliged not to fish to spawning native salmonids, but I have no need to. I can watch. I don't need to catch to learn.



I have fished to a variety of species during their spawn, and I will continue to when I encounter new scenarios in the future, but I know what happens when you drop a fly on a trout redd. It's not mysterious, and a trout caught on a redd is not an impressive or skillful capture. It is indeed a destructive capture. But in mid to late October, I visit some of the most densely populated brook trout streams I know of specifically to observe spawning. I may indeed fish parts of these streams. But if I think there is even a slight chance that there could be trout setting up a redd or already on one in a piece of water, I don't step in it, I don't cast in it, and I take my time approaching low and slow to see what might be occurring in that water. If there are fish spawning, I'll sit and watch. Sometimes as much as an hour. I highly recommend it. The things I've seen doing this have changed how I think about brook trout.
In some of these streams, so many redds are packed into such tight quarters that the boundaries become muddled and the competition between fish gets extremely fierce. Communal redds can look like they were made by one huge female, but may actually hold as many as a dozen male-female pairs.

A communal redd that had 4 pairs of brook trout on it before I walked up to take this photo.
Often, where there aren't communal redds, there are redd communities or even what I call redd cities. Instead of the lines being blurred between redds in a small piece of good gravel, dozens of redds are scattered through a stretch of stream where the ideal characteristics are present. I sneaked up to one such redd community and watched for half an hour. Often, some of the fish that have just started or just finished up spawning are the spookiest there, also the biggest fish. And whether they see you or not some fish will spook off their redds from feeling or hearing your approach. Sitting perfectly still for as long as will and comfort allows will give those fish time to come out of hiding. While I sat and watched this redd city, more and more fish revealed themselves. Many males fought in this section, jockeying for position behind the females. At times a more dominant male would bite a saller one right in the midsection and push it off the redd. I've seen the wounds this causes many times. Eventually, I watched a brook trout every bit of 18 inches fall back downstream and settle in behind his chosen partner, a solid 14 inch female. I tried to photograph this tremendous pair, but the reflections, lighting, and angle were not cooperative. Neither were the fish when I attempted a new position, so I decided to back off away from the redds and fish the pool below. Not every trout will spawn, at the same time or at all, in a given season. Especially in streams with population densities as strong as this one, many will preoccupy themselves with eating the eggs of their fellow brook trout. Fishing downstream of redded up fish with egg patterns is nearly always productive. Sculpins, suckers, and darters also seek out trout eggs, in bigger rivers a two fly rig with an egg and a small streamer is deadly below spawning trout. In this stream I saw numerous tiny slimy sculpin below each group of spawning brookies.


And of course some fish will just continue doing exactly the sort of things they would have done if the spawning wasn't happening at all. This stunning big female was rising steadily on station, and an Irresistible Adams fooled her.


After catching a few fish I was happy with that and went about looking for spawning brook trout I could photograph. It didn't take long to find them, though it did take some time belly crawling to get close enough to get good shots. I picked up a few ticks, but it payed off. 




In the next sequence of three photos, the largest individual of this group, a 12 inch male, kicks and dumps some of his milt. He isn't actually over a redd, so I'm not quite sure what he ha doing, maybe hoping to get some of his milt into redds downstream on the off chance he can fertilize eggs from females he isn't going to partner with? A very interesting behavior, regardless of purpose.




Brookies and brown trout have been on redds for the last few weeks. They'll be on them for a few more. And then it won't be until February that alevins emerge from the gravel. So keep a look out for redds now, and try to remember where they are so you can avoid wading over them for the next few months. Also keep and mind that eggs are spread for a few feet or more downstream of the cleared gravel patch, so wading above a redd is much better than wading below it. Better yet, don't wade across gravelly pool tail outs at all until March.


Until next time.
Fish for the love of fish.
Fish for the love of places fish live.
Fish for you.


Thank you to my Patrons; Erin, David, john, Elizabeth, Chris, Brandon, and Christopher, for supporting this blog on Patreon.

Friday, November 1, 2019

ASMFC Has Made a Choice. Now What?



When I say ASMFC made a choice, I mean that very literally in that they ignored the public entirely. Though we had a long time leading up to the end of the comment period on Draft Addendum VI and the bulk of the public comment both in writing and at meetings was in support of 1@35", so few people actually voiced their opinion (roughly 1000 total comments coastwide) that the council used the low number of comments as an excuse to make a decision that differed from the one the majority of the public wanted. As of 10/30/19, ASMFC voted that starting in 2020, the coast wide standard regulation on striped bass will be a slot limit of one striped bass between 28 and 35". Because "conservation equivalency" will remain a standard, some states may choose a different set of regulations provided they can offer up a plan with evidence that their own regulations will hold up to the standards ASMFC have set. This idea have conservation equivalency has repeatedly resulted in some states taken far more than their far share of striped bass. I was hoping to see conservation equivalency nixed during this session but had no real expectation that it would happen. So we can fully expect less conservation aimed states to continue on that path. Mandatory non-offset circle hook use with bait has also been chosen, to be enacted in 2021, and this is a good move but not enough coupled with the rest of these decisions. None of the options were great or even good. I was on board with 1@35" because 1@36" seemed to hold up well enough post-moratorium and because it would allow the strong 2015 year class to get to spawning size, but even that was a mediocre option in the long run. A 36-40" slot would have been much better, and a three year moratorium on keeping stripers (not a moratorium on fishing for stripers, and yes, that is a very important distinction) would have been ideal, but clearly was never going to be on the table.

So, public input was lacking, which was very disappointing. So many people take part in and care about the striped bass fishery. Way, way more than 1000 people. It wasn't as though it was hard. Not everyone can take the time out of their day to get to a public meeting, I get it. I couldn't get to either of CT's. I guarantee more could have though. And everybody should have the time to take 5 minutes to write and send an email, short but just personalized enough not to be tossed aside as a form letter (it seems that's what they do). If you pay attention to striped bass fishing and conservation at all it was impossible to avoid seeing the email address to send comments to and suggestions for what comments to make at some point during this summer and early fall. So if we couldn't all get that done, what are we left with now? That was so simple, so straightforward, and yet so few people took initiative. Now that the decision has been made the avenues to make our voices heard aren't as clear and don't all channel in the same direction. A lot of people saying the same thing to the same group is a lot more effective then fewer voices saying slightly different things in all different directions and that's pretty much what we have now. That concerns me. What I've seen in the last couple days in the wake of the decision from even some of the most conservation minded striped bass anglers I know, is a lack of direction and arguments that won't gain traction. And I don't really know the solution, though I have some ideas. For right now, the best I can say is we are not done here, not by a long shot, and if you are ready to stop fighting, I'm sorry but you can't. We need you now more than ever. So please pay attention to the bigger groups in this fight, groups like American Saltwater Guides Association and if they say to write a letter or an email or make a phone call, DO IT. If you're the type to really take initiative, start writing and calling state representatives now, just make sure your argument is clear, cogent and won't turn people away. To be clear, I think fighting hard and fast for a moratorium now is not a smart move. But making it clear to everyone that has any sort of say that the ASMFC's actions ignoring the public are unacceptable and making it clear that the bar needs to be raised on the speed with which action is taken on any over-fished fishery will help. You can say just that : "ASMFC's actions in regards to Striped Bass Draft Addendum VI during their last session are unacceptable. They asked for public comment then completely ignored it. The Commission needs to be held accountable for their decision and their lack of real, strong actions to rebuild overfished fisheries." Take that, use that. Please.

Politicians like to drag their feet. If we do too, we can say goodbye to healthy sustainable fisheries.
Until next time.
Fish for the love of fish.
Fish for the love of places fish live.
Fish for you.


Thank you to my Patrons; Erin, David, john, Elizabeth, Chris, Brandon, and Christopher, for supporting this blog on Patreon.

Wednesday, October 30, 2019

Tautog Time!

There's been a bit of a lull in my normal bass haunts, the bait that was there and the bass that were on it have moved on and the quite warm weather has kept the rest of the bait in the back. There have been tiny fish up in the bays, like really small ones, but that's not really what I'm after. I poke a few and then I'm done. So on a really slow bite this past Saturday, Noah and I read the writing on the wall, and, well, the wrasses were going to save our asses.



We collected crabs, an essential fa part of a tautog slam, and made our way to some rocky outcroppings that were sheltered enough that we could drift slowly enough to fish effectively without a drift sock or anchoring. We'd been out two days prior and had tried togging. Noah anchored and quickly lodged it too firmly to get it out. He had to cut the line. This and other experiences trying to anchor small sit-in kayaks have made me weary of it. I also just don't like the hassle. So I look for slow drifts. With a light north wind it didn't take long at all to find a slow drift over a pile of tautog. They were small but they were very willing. And at any size, these fish pull like crazy. I love them.


After about a half a dozen tog I set the hook into something behaving very differently. I had a suspicion what it would be, and that was soon validated. It was a big beautiful oyster toadfish. And yes, I did just use beautiful to describe this fish. Let you preconceptions go and look and the striped patterns of this fish's dorsal, pectoral, and caudal fins, and the cryptic pattern of its body. Also look at the skin texture and general shape of the fish. This is a creature that has evolved perfectly to survive in the niche it does. Imagine it in ambush at the base of a boulder covered in vegetation and algae. To me, that's beautiful. A fish living in it's nice and just being perfectly matched to it. Fish are so damn cool.



Tautog are often called ugly too. And of course I beg to differ. How is the fish below ugly?



Soon a southeasterly breeze kicked up and made our little hotspot inhospitable before we could get a big fish. No matter, I had a plan B and it turned out to be dynamite.


For about an hour before sunset until just a little after, we were on the best number of tautog I'd ever encountered, with a much better average size. Neither of us succeeded in landing a big white chinner, but I did come away with an encounter that left my jig bent and my nerves fried.





All this got my really in the mood to fish for these awesome little monsters, so expect to see more, hopefully some on the fly, and hopefully a few really large ones.
Until next time.
Fish for the love of fish.
Fish for the love of places fish live.
Fish for you.


Thank you to my Patrons; Erin, David, john, Elizabeth, Chris, Brandon, and Christopher, for supporting this blog on Patreon.

Sunday, October 27, 2019

CT Kokanee on the Fly

Noah and I are running out of local lifers, especially large local lifers. Especially in freshwater where we really had only a handful of micros and endangered species (which we don't target, for obvious reasons). The only freshwater "gamefish" I had left to catch in CT were tiger musky and kokanee, Noah only had kokanee since hasn't counted hybrids. We had to get kokanee this year. Last year we tried one time. It was too late, too cold, too windy, too snowy, on and on and on. It was just an extremely poor fishing day. Our only day targeting kokanee this year was the polar opposite, an absolutely lovely fall day to be up in the Northwestern CT hills. Now, I guess I should give some background for those of you that don't know what a kokanee is. Kokanee are the landlocked for of sockeye salmon, having naturally diverged roughly 15,000 years ago when melting glaciers facilitated their geographic isolation from sea run sockeye. Sockeye are a strange salmonid, continuing to feed on zooplankton almost exclusively through their entire lives. As such they don't rise to hatches or feed on baitfish, and the fishing methods used to catch kokanee outside of spawning season can be quite unique. Like their other Pacific salmon brethren though, they let their guard down during the spawning run and can be aggravated into striking flies and lures. Also like Pacific salmon, when they start the spawning process, that's the beginning of their end. They die after they spawn. CT DEEP maintains a small number of stillwater kokanee fisheries through capturing adults before they spawn then stocking the offspring back into those bodies of water. They likely wouldn't produce a wild fishery on their own, but it is interesting to have these fish available to us. 


 Noah and I wanted to time our trip to coincide with the spawn, preferably fairly early when the fish are the most fired up and easily triggered into striking. I started to get a little nervous when we circumnavigated the lake and saw only two carcasses that had been there a while. It wasn't until we got all the way around the lake and back to where we'd started that we found a bunch of kokanee. Noah hooked and boated one one his first cast into the school, of course it flipped right out of the kayak and we then both struggled for a long time to land one. Getting them to strike wasn't actually that difficult. Changing tactic frequently and just sticking to it got results. The fish would seemingly ignore a presentation for a long time before suddenly slamming it, or just progressively get visibly more and more irritated before snapping. We both got tons of takes, but a combination of factors including the small size of the fish, their jumping, and their tooth filled narrow mouths made them very hard to hook and keep hooked. Almost no takes resulted in hooked fish, and most of the fish we hooked threw the lure or fly. To make things even more frustrating, the fish were grouped tightly and moving about, so they often snagged themselves. I stuck mostly with barbless hooks so I could shake off snagged fish. Evidently people are going specifically to snag these fish. While we were there a man came along, snagged the biggest female there, and then kept it. Snagging is obviously low, but keeping a rotting, spawning salmon is just stupid. Someone also pulled up next to us and asked "snaggin anything?". People either aren't patient enough or just don't know that these fish will mouth the right presentations. Or they don't care, and that's honestly probably the case. Noah and I could have snagged every kokanee in this place twice pretty easily and then taken tons of photos to share all over social media. But what really would the point of that be?
No, we were struggling to catch any at all, but if I was going to catch a kokanee it had to eat the fly.




And lucky for me one did, I hooked it, it stayed on through a couple of jumps, and it didn't shake the hook until I had it in shallow water where I could keep it from making a break for it. I edged on step closer to my goal of reaching #150 before the end of 2019.

Lifelist fish #142, sockeye salmon (kokanee salmon), Oncorhynchus nerka, Rank: species


Noah eventually got one too, and we soon left those obnoxious little demons to their business. Honestly, I'll need an entire year to forget how frustrating they were to want to go try to catch one again. I'd love to try to get them in a river, that seems like a lot more fun, but I'm fairly certain that closest that kind of fishery exists in Colorado.
So, now I'm down to a dismally low number of local species I still need to catch. This is getting hard. Time to move!
Until next time.
Fish for the love of fish.
Fish for the love of places fish live.
Fish for you.


Thank you to my Patrons; Erin, David, john, Elizabeth, Chris, Brandon, and Christopher, for supporting this blog on Patreon.

Thursday, October 24, 2019

More Blitztober


Noah and I hit it right again on the 19th. It was a rough day for the kayaks but we had bass blowing up peanut bunker for hours and hours. Thanks to a text from Mark Phillipe we made a last minute change of plans and, though we showed up fashionably late and didn't see much going on initially, it wasn't long before the stripers and gulls started making a ruckus. 


It was a day variety in terms of fishing scenarios. I hooked up casting in open water with no visible breaking fish, casting into breaking fish, trolling, up in a creek, blind casting from a rock, sight casting in the wash on a sand beach, two hand retrieving through heavy blitzes, overhand crawling the fly around and under thick schools of peanut bunker, and dead drifting and swinging a flatwing in heavy current. This is one of the things that keep me in love with stripers. There are so many ways to fish for them, even with one rod, one line, and one fly along a one mile stretch of beach on one day.



 Noah and I both caught a ton of fish this day. I also got some tremendous blitz photos, some of my favorite ones I've ever taken. Unfortunately they are pretty revealing of the location, and though at times I'm fine with somewhat revealing beach blitz photos, these weren't ones I'm comfortable releasing for anyone and everyone to see. The place is actually a little consistent, not many places are as consistent anymore. One of the benefits I extend to my top tier patrons on Patreon are exclusive monthly posts. Since I've only got a few top tier patrons and anyone generous enough to render financial support to my crazy exploits can't be half bad, I will share them there... enjoy, generous people, and I can't thank you enough!



Though the weather is honestly absolute garbage for consistent fishing, Blitztober isn't over yet. Noah and I had a little bit of action this morning and we are expecting much more tomorrow. Here's hoping....
Until next time.
Fish for the love of fish.
Fish for the love of places fish live.
Fish for you.


Thank you to my Patrons; Erin, David, john, Elizabeth, Chris, Brandon, and Christopher, for supporting this blog on Patreon.