Thursday, March 23, 2017

The First Stripers of Spring

I went striper fishing with a friend today. I went back to the holdover-spot-that-shall-not-be-named. I know, I know, I said I wasn't going back, but to be honest a few friends of mine have been going and have dialed the bite in better than I had and therefore have been getting some bigger fish, including a handful pushing 30 inches. So yeah, I gave in to temptation. But I'm never going for one of those ridiculous long triple digit days again, not at this spot.

I tried to pick out the larger fish with a 10 inch white bucktail pattern and a sink tip line. I was able to get about the same number of 20 inch+ fish as I did on my first trip here in  about a 6th the amount of time. One was actually the heftiest I've caught this winter, though still not even a keeper size fish.

That was all very fun. My friend was fishing jerk baits and he was catching well too, his first striped bass. The coolest thing I noticed were fish busting periodically in a rip. There must have been grass shrimp or small bait fish washing through that rip, just under the surface. Seeing surface action made me wish I had some small gurglers with me. I probably wouldn't have caught anything on top but who knows.

I'll leave you with this. Striped bass are a special fish and a lot of us would like them to stay around forever, but that won't happen with the kind of fishing pressure they are getting right now. PLEASE fish responsibly, release breeders, and don't keep fish every time you go out. Four or five 32 inch bass a year will do you just fine and maintain an suitable fishery. It physically hurts me to see a dead 40lb cow bass. These incredible fish will not be around long if things keep going the way they are. Don't take every keeper.

That is all.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Crazy Wild Stuff

I fished a lot yesterday but the first portion of the day, though I caught a handful of good trout, did not yield much post-worthy materiel. Not interesting fishing, no big fish or wild fish or interesting species, and not really the most interesting photography. Later in the day, however, I had a very interesting outing!

I go out onto my favorite tidal freshwater river, hunting for sea run trout, pike, walleye, and giant perch. I found none of those. But very early in the outing I did catch something and it was a but of a surprise.

A little stocked brownie, many miles from where it must have been stocked, in tidal waters? That's bizarre, awesome and just the odd luck I enjoy experiencing. This fish might even be headed towards salt waters, though it hasn't been there already and isn't one of the ones the state has been stocking (no clipped pectoral fins). 

A likely spot for when the water warms up.

Now here is why I am one of the few people who fish this stretch from the shore:

It is a long, difficult hike to get into many spots, access is spotty, and it is really not the easiest fishing. But that's why I love it.

The wildlife was out in force today. When I wasn't being menaced by mute swans I could hear wood ducks and black ducks. Neither species allowed me to approach them, carefully as I tried. Turkeys were calling from the opposite shore. As I walked out of my final spot at twilight I saw a something swimming and I momentarily thought it was a beaver and considered just continuing on my way. I'm glad I took a closer look because it was actually an otter. 

Up the hill and away from the river I had come out of the tree line when I heard a bird call that I had never heard in person before. I recognized the distinct call immediately, the unseen caller was an American woodcock. I pulled out the camera, and with what little battery I had left I was able to record it calling and then taking off for one of it's short looping dance flights. 

I wish I had more battery life because that was by far one of the coolest things I've every seen on a fishing trip. The sound these birds make on their way back down from their flight just by manipulating their wings is absolutely wild. At the same time a couple deer were coming down into the field I could hear them come down the hill and along the tree line. I never moved, but a light breeze came up behind me and they caught my scent and began huffing and stomping before busting back into the forest. To make it just that tiny bit cooler two bard owls were calling back and forth on the adjacent ridge, and spring peepers and wood frogs were enjoying the warm evening rather loudly in the swamp. What a night. 

Monday, March 20, 2017

A Thousand Indessisions

Image result for henry blake memes

Today Rik and I embodied Colonel Henry Blake and were very indecisive about where we should fish, when we should go, what the conditions dictated... he drove across the state and back and fished two wildly different rivers. To be fair the decision to fish the Farmy seemed smart yesterday. Then we fished for a little while and I think both of us thought, well, we thought many things. We discussed where we should fish, where we shouldn't fish, tried some spots for a short time and left for others, drove down roads looking for parking and then gave up, it was just a mess of indecisiveness. I caught one bow on a Clouser at Pipeline, and Rik hooked and lost two.

But the crowds descended upon us as the air warmed up and I wasn't liking it. When I'm fishing my mind is wired to be suspicious of anyone who shows up nearby carrying a fishing rod. Fishing is not, in my view, a fun thing to do within 20 yards of 5 or more other people who you don't know. It really was a mess, what with the snow and lack of good parking. We could have hiked but really just didn't feel like it. So we ditched the Farmington. On the way to lunch I said "should have gone to the Swift". We were headed to the Salmon, where we wasted time by jumping around too much. Rik got one rainbow there. I'll say this, it was a beautiful day to be out. But I don't think either of us were on top of our game! My photography was decent though, and our jumping from place to place gave us some different scenes to take in.

Tomorrow I'm rolling out early and I'll have my eyes on the prize. Watch out trout! Oh, and later in the day I have a new toy coming in the mail. Hint: it's a great tool for big water and fish like shad and salmon. Any guesses?

Saturday, March 18, 2017

The Sea Trout Grind

There is a handful of people who are successfully targeting sea run brown trout in CT and I am not one of them. I have caught one and seen about a dozen. They are truly a holy grail-ish fish and are much harder to catch on the fly than conventional tackle in small water given their tendency to run away at the slightest sound.

That's why Rik and I were using long light leaders today. I had a 12 foot leader to 6x on my 5wt and a 15 foot leader to 4x on my 8wt. Turning over the 12 footer on a short glass rod in the wind... not so fun. But I made it work and covered water a carefully and quietly as I could. The first river we fished had some gorgeous and super fishy water but low water and the lack of stocking last fall brought into question how likely it would be that we would catch anything. Also we could probably have done better on the outgoing tide. Satellite imagery had given me the impression that the water we were going to fish would be slack and so have a good current on the strong incoming tide we had, but instead it had a significant gradient and the incoming tide had a filling affect... no good for fishing, there wasn't a strong current to hold fish to structure.

Now, this spot was GORGEOUS! just some of the prettiest coastal water I have ever fished. But it is recognizable and not too pressured or trashed yet. I am therefore too concerned about the sanctity of this stretch of water to post photos of the more gorgeous spots; places I can't wait to fish in a couple weeks. And I'm sure it will yield some giant stripers in May too.

Once the current in the stretch of water we were working halted we moved on to another stream. Neither of us had fished or even seen this stretch of river. The first spot we stopped at was almost unfishable. The second was much better, and after swinging a red tag wet on the downstream side of a stone bridge and getting no grabs we marched across the road to the upstream side. Almost the second the stream was in sight I spotted a finning trout against the far bank. It looked like a large fish. I carefully got into position to cast at it but by the time I was there it had moved on, probably chasing mummichogs. Brief shots are usually what you get with sea run trout in CT and just seeing one was a heck of a special thing.

Sea trout fishing in CT is a grind, it takes patience and commitment and lots of research. We didn't catch any today, but for me a pair of stripers kept the skunk off.

I've had my best fortune on sea trout streams in early spring, so the next four weeks could give up the goods. Who knows.

Friday, March 17, 2017

Shad and Herring

Spring is coming, and so are the shad and herring runs, so let's all bone up on ID so we know what we're catching, shall we? In CT targeting and keeping anadromous alewives and blueback herring is illegal so being able to distinguish these from shad is important, and it is possible to run into another less commonly caught shad species, the gizzard shad. And if you are good and fish the right spots at the right times, you could get lucky and catch the full Fly Shad Slam: hickory, american, and gizzard. Getting that last one is TRICKY!

The two species of river herring are very difficult to distinguish physiologically without cutting one open, and since you can't legally kill one without specific permission from the DEEP and the vast majority of fisherman do not have the time or skill to learn how to identify between alewives and bluebacks, I'm not going to got into that... instead I will clarify the distinctions between the other shads and herring that could be encountered in the same water.

Alewife, Alosa pseudoharengus, found dead, probably from energy loss during spawning. Still milting. 

Blueback herring, Alosa aestivalis caught while counting for DEEP
The first important thing to distinguish a river herring from is an Atlantic herring, as they are the same size and have similar mouths and coloration. Atlantic herring can be kept. River herring cannot. The key to identification is the presence or absence of belly scutes. Sea living herring have no scutes, but you cannot easily tell the difference by looking. Put you sleeve or any part of your shirt over your finger and rub it from tail to nose on the fish's belly. If it is a river herring, the fabric will catch on the scutes, whereas a sea herring will be smooth.
Any herring caught in fresh water will be a river herring anyway, if it is smaller than a shad (15 inches is a good rule of thumb for max river herring length). To be certain look at the fish's lower jaw. Pull the lower jaw open and look at the slope of it as it enters the mouth. If it is sharply rising, it’s an alewife or a blueback herring. If it's a gradual rise, it’s a shad.  If the water is slightly brackish the fish could be an Atlantic menhaden, which can be identified by looking at the scales running along its back. If they form an overlapping pattern like a zipper it is a menhaden. 

When it comes to river herring the best policy is simple: if you don;t know let it go. I advocate catch and release fishing regardless, but I know some anglers will want to keep some herring or shad and I strongly encourage those anglers to be absolutely positive in their identification of shad and herring, as river herring are a very valuable species and need as much help as they can get. And that's ignoring the penalties illegally taking herring bring upon a negligent angler. 

Hickory shad, Alosa mediocris

Now shad... there really is no real penalty for not knowing what kind of shad you are catching, whether it be hickory, American, or gizzard.  That being said, it is good to know what you are catching. Ignorance may be bliss to some but knowledge is a great tool, I personally like knowing exactly what kind of fish I'm catching as a biologist and multi species angler.
American shad, Alosa sapidissima, caught on a two hander by Sonny Yu (photo courtesy Sonny Yu)

American shad are the largest of the three. They commonly top 20 inches. Hickory shad are noticeably smaller and average 15 inches. The two most noticeable distinguishing characteristics are the jaw length and gill rakers. A hickories' lower jaw extends well past its upper jaw when fully closed, while the American's upper and lower jaw are matched. The gill rakers of a hickory typically number in the 60's and look like a feather or brush. An American shad's gill rakers are more separated, like a comb, and typically number from 18-22. 

Gizzard shad are the most clearly different of all the species I've discussed so far. Instead of a thin, papery, almost crappie like mouth they have a short blunt snout and a very small mouth, almost but not quite bluegill like. The rear spine of the dorsal fin trails back beyond any of the others as a filament. They don't get as large as American shad but may grow as large as 20 inches. 

Image may contain: 1 person, outdoor, water and nature
Mike Andrews with a large fly caught gizzard shad, Dorosoma cepedianum. (Photo courtesy Michael Andrews)

This is not the full picture, for more on shad and herring identification do some reading:

And for some good information on fly fishing for shad check out Sonny's blog and book, he knows his stuff!

Monday, March 13, 2017

Fish Before the Blizzard

As I type these words the first flakes are beginning to fall on the leading edge of what is clearly going to be a storm of historic proportions. As a meteorology nerd I have already committed to staying awake and vigilant through the duration of the storm, regardless of the amount of coffee it takes. But today (I'm sure by the end of this it will be yesterday) Rik and I went fishing. Knowing full well this storm would put us out for at least a few days we took advantage of the sun and moderate temperatures to get some time on a Class 1 wild trout stream,

The fish were sitting out in the sun, not moving much. I caught one stunning 8 inch brown on a Sexy Walt's. I had spooked it and two others in a shallow glide as I waded downstream. They shot under a cut bank. I got myself downstream from them and waited and watched. Eventually the medium fish came back out and positioned himself next to a triangular rock. I cast the fly directly upstream from the rock and allowed it to bump into it and then roll down the side. The fish responded by gently plucking the fly off the side of the rock. I set the hook and after a short battle the fish was at landed. I Had placed my bag down the bank so I could be more stealthy sight casting, so I let the fish swim and went to grab my camera. When I came back the fish and my barbless hook had parted ways. Ah well.

After a while of dealing with ice and slow trout we decided to find a TMA with no ice. We were successful. And I managed to get a handful of takers and land one. But Rik still needed his fix and I had heard through the grape vine that the perch run was on so we went for perch.

There's some perch in there....

We caught a couple in the short time we had left and ended the day on a high note. It is always crazy to see the biomass in such a small area when the perch come in. 

Saturday, March 11, 2017

The Magic of Fresh Snow

It seems winter decided to come roaring back from the shadows after a week so warm the flowers and spring peepers were coming out. We had a lovely light snow on Friday and are in for a really good storm Tuesday. There is the possibility of snowfall in the 18 inch range. All the better for the trout streams that are in bad shape. The Salmon river is looking like it usually does in late May right now flow wise, so this snow is a godsend. I cannot emphasize that enough, we could use two more big nor'easters on top of that and it still wouldn't make up for the last two years. Luckily the snow packs are the best they've been in years in Montana so I should be in for a treat in August. See, snow haters, it is good! My livelihood is dependent on big winter snowfalls. So I'm more than happy to take this mid March beating knowing that it will mean better trout fishing, better striper fishing, and better smallmouth fishing, and will therefore not appreciate everyone's "why does it have to snow in March" shtick.

Friday was beautiful. I absolutely love fishing in a fresh fluffy snowfall that is less than 4 inches deep, especially when it decorates the trees with a heavy frosting like coating. Like leaves that snow closes the gaps and blocks the sun and makes the trout stream feel more homey and intimate. And it's just so gorgeous!

To add to the snow and the clear clean water and the trees, a bald eagle flew over and was set upon by a raven. The massive eagle eventually latched onto the ravens tail and the birds tumbled into the canopy and out of site. What an evening!

I caught a lot of fish using my favorite nymphing method, good old Joe Humphrey's style tight lining. No fancy leaders, no sighters, no multi fly rigs. Lots and lots of fish were caught. I got a few lazy eats on mice from more giant brookies. That was pretty darn cool. And I caught some on articulated streamers too. Honestly this was my favorite day on this river so far this year despite no large fish coming to hand.

Friday, March 10, 2017

Shadow Play

It was a little breezy out yesterday. When I hit the river with David and Elwin we were catching nothing but sticks, leaves and other various non-fish items, whether they were on the water, on the bottom or somewhere behind us. The sun was likely to blame for the lack of feeding since the wind was blowing downstream. It is an upstream wind that kills the bite, so I'd guess the bright sun and clear water kept the fish hunkered down until the shadows began to creep over the surface.

We did move some fish, particularly wherever a shadow hit the water, but it was slow. Eventually El and Dave had to head out but I stayed, refusing to let home waters and stocked trout get the best of me.

Eventually in a deep deep pool, when the shadows had stretched from bank to bank, I caught four fish indicator nymphing. That gave me the confidence to tie on the mouse. Soon I was getting explosive strikes but the fish missed the fly time after time, often just tail slapping it. But finally as the sun ducked behind the hill a large brook trout rose to the fly and made the most beautiful slow motion take I have ever seen. It closed it's huge mouth around the fly and turned down, showing its big square tail on the way. I set the hook and was in for a short but nail biting battle. Soon I had a 19 inch brook trout at hand.

That made my day, and though I had a few more fish come up and take the mouse I was not nearly as impressed with them as I was the brook trout. That was a stunner.