Monday, August 10, 2020

Cinder Worms

If you fly fish for striped bass in New England, you've probably heard of the worm hatch. The massive emergence in the Rhode Island South County salt ponds during late spring are famous (or infamous?), though worm "hatches" occur all over Long Island, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Cape Cod, and the islands though early fall. You could encounter a worm "hatch" in any muddy bottomed cove, creek, or salt pond on any given summer night. And it can really make or break that night. Now, I keep putting "hatch" in quotes because that's not really what it is. Cinder worm swarms, like so many occurrences fisherman call hatches, are not juvenile animals emerging from eggs. In fact, when cinder worms leave the mud and rise to the surface, its typically a breeding behavior. So call it swarm, not a hatch, please. When these one to four inch, many legged, brown to red worms do their mating dance, it usually attracts a fair bit of attention from our old friend, Morone saxatiles. Despite the small size of these worms, bass of all ages can't seem to overlook them. They often get so focused on one prey image that they require very honed and specific presentations. My first encounter with a cinder worm swarm was in a tidal marsh off Cape Cod Bay in 2017. I didn't have the right tools on my to get the job done then. I've felt the need to redeem myself ever since, and the famous swarms in Rhode Island have called my name. But I got my redemption even closer to home than that.

The night was dark and cloudy, and hiding a big moon. It was a high outgoing tide. I wasn't looking for a worm swarm, but they were there and the bass were on them. And I had the right stuff. A five weight, a 15lb leader, a greased line, and deer hair worm flies... finally, it came together. The fish weren't big, but there was only one way to catch them and that was imitating those odd little red worms swimming in the current. Nearly every cast produced a take and most produced fish. If I'd been using a pair of flies, I'd have been doubling a lot.



These weren't big bass, in fact they were mostly very tiny, but it didn't matter to me. This was another piece of the puzzle, more learned about one of my favorite species to fish for, and another check on the list. Like the herring run, like squid over the reefs, like live eels, like flats fishing with crab flies... it's gaps in my knowledge beginning to fill. Because I can never know enough about striped bass, or any fish. There's a lot to do and a lot to experience. Life is too short.


Cinder worm swarms often leave anglers shaking their heads, wondering how they couldn't get so much as a tap with so much surface activity. Fly size, color, and buoyancy matters. Retrieve, or lack thereof, also matters. And sometimes there are just so many worms, getting a fly noticed is nearly impossible. I'd been stumped before and I'll be stumped again, but on this one night in early summer, I went to bed just before the sun came up, with the sounds of stripers popping on the surface still ringing in my ears and a smile on my face.
Until next time,
Fish for the love of fish.
Fish for the love of places fish live.
Fish for you.
And stay safe and healthy.



Thank you to my Patrons; Erin, David, John, Elizabeth, Brandon, Christopher, Shawn, Mike, Sara, Leo, and Franky for supporting this blog on Patreon. 

Friday, August 7, 2020

Big Trout on the Farmington, The Way I Like It

I'd sworn off trout fishing during the day in Connecticut this season after I saw fishing pressure, littering, poaching, and unethical behavior by anglers spike on some of of my favorite streams. I mostly followed my own advice until one day in early July when the weather was just too perfect and a buddy asked if Id like to go to the Farmington. With thunderstorms in the forecast, some of my favorite hatches underway, and the flows just right, I couldn't resist. Over the years on that river I've gotten good enough at a hit and run style of fishing. Get into a spot, do what I want to do there, move on. The weather this day was conducive to both head hunting and streamer fishing, all the better for my fishing style.

The first spot was vacant. I hit it thoroughly with a streamer and pulled out a couple rainbows and a small wild brown, then found some heads. A couple modestly sized browns were rising in a flat tail out. I'm seeing an awful lot of super long leader dry fly fishing for these sorts of situations, and I'm sure it works... but so does a 14 foot leader if you know how to use it.


I duped and landed two of those fish and let the third go about its business. Both were wild browns of a foot and change, and very hefty. Both ate the same simple CDC summer caddis. 
Later on, finding fish doing much the same thing in another spot, I switched to a foam back pupa. It worked every bit as well.



With about a half dozen heads successfully hunted, maybe a little more, and some juicy looking fast water in front of me, I switched back to a stout leader and a streamer, a Full Pint, and was promptly rewarded. The bite that followed was one of the most unique streamer bites I've had on the Farmington... fat holdover rainbows one after the other, with a couple wild brook trout in between, through a whole 100 yard stretch of fast pocket water. It was pretty unusual for this river.






After that stretch, the character of the river changed for one bend. The bottom went from large rocks to smaller cobble, in a bend with a nice deep trough and a riffled tailout. I fished the head, cut, and trough of that bend run without a hookup. It was in the shallow, fast, featureless looking tailout where I hooked up. The take itself was unremarkable, but the moments immediately after proved to me that the culprit was the most impressive trout I'd tied into in awhile. It was a brown, and I knew it was a wild fish almost immediately. The fight was absurd, happening entirely in a foot of water or less. For part of it, the fish was rooster-tailing and jumping over rocks heading upstream defiantly, something I'd never had a hooked trout do before. It was wild. Both the fight, and the fish. I was shaking when I got my hands on it... 22 inches of stunning Farmington River wild brown trout, caught with one of my preferred methods... this was my best Farmington fish ever, no question.



That fish left me as violently as it had come, with a shower and a soaked arm. I wouldn't have it any other way, I hope he reaches 26 inches and gets caught only very rarely.

That wasn't the end though. I continued to pick off fish heading downstream until I reached another big flat with some heads on the far bank. I waded into position and picked off the first head with a CDC caddis. Then I got the next, and a third, and then a fourth after that. All mid sized brown trout. I then focused on the real challenge, a sipper doing cycles in a small eddy behind a grass tussock. I assumed it was a nice wild brown, and it definitely behaved like one. I cycled through flies, carefully timing my casts and playing the game I love to play. I may not be a great trout angler, I don't fish for them as much as I used to, nor as much as many others. But if I'm good at anything, I'm good at working bank sippers. I stuck with my guns, watched, made careful moves, and eventually, up she came, for a sulfur emerger. It wasn't a brown, it was a 19 inch rainbow, a very nice looking one.


We proceeded back upstream after I released that fish, hoping to move some of the fish missed earlier. Suddenly came the Isonychias, and the pocket water boiled. I tied on a Iso Cripple, laid a cast against the bank, and let it slide through the shade under an over hanging tree. That fly disappeared in a massive toilet flush like rise, and I lifted rod to feel a very heavy fish. It began darting around in a panic, and it was clear that this was a trout on par with that big brown earlier. When it jumped, it was obviously a very heavy rainbow well over 20 inches, a silver bullet with a pink band. That trout then made the fastest run I'd had a rainbow make in years, and I was powerless to stop it. She broke me off in the rocks. I couldn't help but smile. There's nothing wrong with being bested by a fish like that. 

I'd had plenty of fun anyway. More than enough. I got to do everything exactly the way I like, and that isn't something I can always say. 
Until next time,
Fish for the love of fish.
Fish for the love of places fish live.
Fish for you.
And stay safe and healthy.



Thank you to my Patrons; Erin, David, John, Elizabeth, Brandon, Christopher, Shawn, Mike, Sara, Leo, and Franky for supporting this blog on Patreon. 

Wednesday, August 5, 2020

Shorties and Getting Bit by a Skate

One foggy dog day morning, Noah and I drifted around an Eastern CT bay, bottom fishing. It was a short fluke filled day, we caught them with consistency. Though most wouldn't be particularly thrilled, I don't fish for fluke often and that's the only way to get big ones in today's fishery. I'm just happy to catch any flat fish, because they're wicked cool animals.




Most of the time I was fishing with a strip of sea robin on my jigs, But I did make sure I fished without it enough to get a couple properly on the fly. I don't catch flatfish on the fly nearly as much as I'd like to.
Towards the end of one drift, as we started to come up into shallower water, I got some fluke like taps then set into a fairly heavy fish that bent my 5wt to the cork. It didn't feel at all fluke like. It was either a ray or a skate. Given that we'd been wade fishing the same flat the previous evening and had seen and fouled a bunch of clearnose skates, more than I'd seen my entire fishing career prior, I had a feeling it was one of those. And that's exactly what it was.

We netted it. This proved to be an ill advised move.

The skate bit down on the net and decided it didn't feel like letting go. I decided to flick in on the snout just above its mouth to try to get it to let go. I'd forgotten how protractile a skate's mouth is....

Before I'd realized what was occurring, I found my finger very firmly in the jaws of an unhappy and impressively strong skate. I gasped in utter shock at how strong this fish's jaws were. And how much my finger now hurt. I could not simply pull my finger out of the skate's mouth. I asked Noah for help... and to take a photo. The photo was prioritized over my finger... documentation and story telling over my own safety is the name of the game.

Photo courtesy Noah Johnson
I was convinced that if the fish decided to start thrashing I would at best have severe lacerations and at worst lose my finger. The latter seems pretty unlikely, but at the time I really felt like that was a possibility. It f****** hurt! Noah and I, using pliers, managed to open the mouth and remove my now damaged middle finger.

I don't recommend getting bit by a skate. It isn't fun. If you, for any reason, need to get a skate to let go of something, don't flick it about it's mouth, just grab the pliers.
Until next time,
Fish for the love of fish.
Fish for the love of places fish live.
Fish for you.
And stay safe and healthy.



Thank you to my Patrons; Erin, David, John, Elizabeth, Brandon, Christopher, Shawn, Mike, Sara, Leo, and Franky for supporting this blog on Patreon. 

Monday, August 3, 2020

Waving Tails and Backing


I remember how much I shook the first time I made a cast at a common carp. I'd never caught such a large fish before, and it seemed that, if I hooked it, I'd be in for a proper battle. I didn't then, and it ended up taking a long while before I ever caught a carp. When I did it was on the fly, and I'm still very proud of that. It did indeed fight and fight hard. Since then, I've caught many common carp in many ways: on bait, on the surface, on dry flies, sight casting to tailing fish... and honestly it doesn't matter how I've caught them, it was always extremely enjoyable. They are one of my favorite species to fish for and always will be.
Though I don't get the same tremors I did that first time, I usually still get the shakes when I'm about to make a cast a large tailing carp.



Carp are a fish that can't be forced. You can't get away with bad presentations, you can't force feed them, and they demand subtlety. Often I don't know why a carp spooked or refused the fly, and it happens a lot. That's part of why I love fishing for them. I've been regularly targeting carp about as long as I've been fishing for trout, and though catching trout has become second nature, fishing for carp makes me feel like I still don't know anything. But every once in a while, even a blind squirrel finds a nut.


I walked around the lake shore one morning in late June looking for waving tails. I found a couple, but I only fooled one. I barely remember it, but the fish was tailing, I made a cast, and it turned hard and ate with confidence. It then found backing quite rapidly. I was using my 5wt, a much lighter rod than a started out carp fishing with, but more than adequate for small carp and fish up to about 25 pounds. This fish as somewhere in between. And it was also my first of the year, a few months later than usual. It's hard to be on top of everything, because an awful lot all happens around the same time. Such is the common frustration of the multispecies angler... what should I fish for today?


Fortunately, as summer crept along, he choice would be carp on a handful of key days. The first of the year would not be the last of the year. More waving tails and backing to come in 2020.
Until next time,
Fish for the love of fish.
Fish for the love of places fish live.
Fish for you.
And stay safe and healthy.



Thank you to my Patrons; Erin, David, John, Elizabeth, Brandon, Christopher, Shawn, Mike, Sara, Leo, and Franky for supporting this blog on Patreon. 

Friday, July 31, 2020

The Year the Sand Eels Returned

Sand lances or sand eels, were a staple baitfish in Long Island Sound for many years. By the time I was regularly fishing for striped bass, they were rare enough that it took three years before I encountered bass feeding on them and it wasn't until this year that I actually had to fish imitations of them to deceive fish very specifically keyed on sand eels. This year has been an odd one in Long Island Sound, not like any other year I've fished, and it seemed for a while to be the year the sand eels returned.

One grey morning in late June I stepped onto the sand of one of my favorite flats and looked out over The Sound, unable to see the horizon as the glass calm water blended with the foggy grey sky. When a handful of sand eels spooked out of the bottom of a shallow pool, I knew this would be a good morning. I'd never seen as much as a single one here in the past.


As I walked further still, I saw something else peeking its head out of the sand, a fish of catchable size, and clearly a species I'd never caught. I had a bonefish fly on, and though it wasn't really small enough I had nothing better. I dropped it in front of the fish and it left the sand and ate aggressively. It was much too large to fit in the mystery fish's mouth, but I still managed to hook it and bring it to hand... not that there was much fight on the 10wt.

It would be a little while before I identified this fish. Leo Sheng identified it, actually.

Life List Fish #165, Striped cusk-eel. Ophidion marginatum. Rank: species.
 I hadn't even gotten my ankles wet and I'd seen some sand eels and caught a new species. When I did get out into the water it was quickly apparent that there were large schools of sand eels and that both striped bass and sea robbins were feeding on them. I tied on a simple, slim, Surf Candy style fly and waited to see a wake, pop, boil, or tail.
The first fish I caught was a sea robin. This was no surprise, they are pushovers.


It took me a little while to realize that, though I was only in a foot and a half of water, the stripers were behind me. The were working the bar edges, rooting out sand eels. Though I wanted to look out into deeper water, I was going to need to turn around to catch these bass.


They were very finicky, as most stripers feeding in just inches of water are. I was getting more follows than I was committed takes. In fact I wasn't really getting any takes at all, until I started to let the fly fall and slowed my retrieve. The I managed to pick up a few fish. They were small, but it isn't just about size... it's about the conditions. I don't care what size the fish are, stripers working extremely shallow water, feeding selectively, and demanding a precise presentation is extremely engaging fishing.


After a while the visible bass activity dissipated, so I tied on a Gurgler and attempted to get a topwater sea robin... it didn't take long. Mission success. I left happy.


That was the last time I saw sand eels there so far this year. I kept seeing them in other areas until water temperature climbed too high.
Until next time,
Fish for the love of fish.
Fish for the love of places fish live.
Fish for you.
And stay safe and healthy.



Thank you to my Patrons; Erin, David, John, Elizabeth, Brandon, Christopher, Shawn, Mike, Sara, Leo, and Franky for supporting this blog on Patreon.