Wednesday, January 22, 2020

Hunting Wild Urban Trophies

"Trophy trout" is a relative title. A trophy trout should be considered any wild or multi-year holdover trout well in excess of its stream's average size. In the wild trout river you fish most, that could be 12 inches, it could be 24 inches, it could even be 30 inches if you are so lucky to live in one of those rare places where those fish exist. Both of the following statements are also true: fisherman tend to exaggerate the number of large fish and how big the fish get in popular streams, yet there are also a lot of  streams that hold truly big trout by anyone's standards that get largely ignored. My trophy hunting revolves mostly around looking for what few wild trout there are in the least heavily trout-populated part of a river that still has trout. Show me a mile long stretch of river that has no more than 50 trout and maybe no trout at all at certain times of year, that's the water I'm looking for here in Southern New England. Often, it's the dirty, urban, bottom end of a trout stream where that old brown trout spends his winter. Below that roll dam or next to that shopping cart could be the biggest trout you've ever seen. But you've got to be really committed if you want to catch that fish. It might mean covering miles on foot without seeing a single fish. I've done it, I've done it so much. I've come home aching deeply, dehydrated, in actual pain. I've thought to myself so many times "why the f*** do I do this to myself?". 


My current favorite project stream to target large wild brown trout close to home is just such a river. It has a couple tributaries that truly are packed with fish, just tons of them. There are some pretty serious ones as well, like the one I named Dave. But the main river, mainly the bottom third of the trout-friendly (barely) stretch, has but a small number of wild fish with a startling average size. It also has a handful of true trophies. It's very tough fishing. The fish are so spread out and move so regularly that you need to cover every lie in two miles of river to have a real chance. It is very easy to lose confidence. Not catching fish is as necessary a part of this trophy hunt as is the actual catching. And it's not a "weeding out" thing. You could tie on a small nymph and try to find the more abundant juvenile fish, but the truth is there aren't many of them here either. Not as few as the monsters, but not enough to make nymphing even worth my while. The more I've targeted large trout the more I've come to believe that a small to medium sized streamer that is both a little intrusive and eye catching and a good representation of the fish the trout eat most is the best way to catch big browns. That goes double for this water, streamers are the  On this water, my three favorites are Coffey's Sparkle Minnow, Swentosky's Full Pint, and Schmidt's Maraceiver, none tied to a length exceeding four and a half inches. In the fall when trout are angry and about to or just post spawn, the Sparkle Minnow comes into play. Throughout the season, the Full Pint imitates the large tessellated darters that are extremely abundant. When fish have slid into the glides and are more apt to take a swung fly stripped slowly than anything else, the Maraceiver in olive and white or yellow, tan, and orange has proved its worth.



On my most recent visit, easily one of the best outings I've had on this urban ditch of a wild trout fishery, it was the Full Pint at the bat. I caught three wild trout. Yeah. Three. I walked two miles of river up and down for them. And I just called it one of the best trips I've had there. Think about that before you take up this sort of pursuit, it isn't for everyone.

Two of those three fish were quite nice though. Not the true monsters I was seeking. But, dare I say it, one was close to trophy status and another wasn't that far off either. The smaller of the two good sized browns ate in a spot I'd never pulled a trout from. That happens a lot in this stream, at almost the same rate over time. There are an awful lot of good lies that I've not pulled trout from yet despite fishing them many times, and these fish do move constantly. This was just one more spot checked of the list, one I'd expected sooner; an inside seem, just below where two tongues of current meet, perfect depth and perfect riffled surface.... He ate on the fall. He already had it before I made my first strip of the retrieve, that just set the hook.


The larger one ate in a spot I've pulled one smaller brown out of in the fall three years ago. It was heavy white water with soft finger like swirls behind a bedrock ledge. She ate in the swirl closest to me, not a rod length away. It was a beautiful, visual take. Not at all fast and aggressive though; she ate that streamer no different than she might have an emerging mayfly. How long was she? I don't know. Almost certainly under 20". Long enough for a quick celebration after she swam off.


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, Brandon, Christopher, Shawn, Mike, Sara, an Leo for supporting this blog on Patreon.

Monday, January 20, 2020

Winter White Perch on Dries

It's really nice to have a reliable winter perch hot spot just up the street, even if they are small landlocked ones not giant anadromous ones. For somebody that likes catching and eating perch it's like having a free buffet in town. Roll up, fill up a plate with as much as you can eat, then go back to the comfort of home in just five minutes... and with white perch being wildly overpopulated in these landlocked bodies of water, there is no concern of keeping a whole bucket full of them. There is no legal limit in lakes and ponds in CT... keep as many as you want, there really are too many. What's even nicer, this free buffet I've got isn't public. A handful of locals get to fish it and rarely is there more than one of us there at a time. Having a huge crowd would dampen the enjoyment quite a bit, and probably get this fishing spot shut down for good as well.



Seeking oxygen after dying blue-green algae causes massive dead zones, these perch flock to the tributaries, stacking up in relatively shallow water just to breath. They aren't there to eat, but they still have to or they'll die. They are so shallow it is often possible to get them to come to the surface to eat a small gurgler. This is an opportunity not often had through normal feeding circumstances in my area. I've heard of white perch rising to Hexegenia hatches elsewhere, but in CT a white perch on top is an anomaly. Except at this spot in the winter.


Catching a white perch on every cast is fun... catching white perch on every cast on topwater in January is just hilarious. 


Though all I've been taking home lately is the white perch, it isn't all I've seen or caught. In the years I've been hitting this spot I've seen carp, walleye, bass and pickerel in there with the perch. But this bluegill was a first.


As I fished some unseen predators did make occasional assaults on the schools. I'm lead to believe I ought to night fish the mouth of the creek on the net warm spell, hopefully that will result in something large. That would be pretty damn cool.

Oh, and before I forget. If you want to check out Leo's videos from his trip with Noah and I, here they are: 





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, Brandon, Christopher, Shawn, Mike, Sara, an Leo for supporting this blog on Patreon.

Saturday, January 18, 2020

Night Fisherman of All Seasons

For most, night fishing for trout is a seasonal pursuit. During the months of July and August especially, fly fisherman set out after dark convinced any given night could produce the biggest fish of their life. A smaller number of anglers though see night fishing differently. Regardless of season, if the conditions look even half decent, if there's any chance of catching even one trout of any size, we feel the pull. I have to go. A front approaches in January. On the night of the 11th, conditions align. At the ground, the air is still. Thousands of feet overhead, the clouds fly over at a blistering pace, lit up by a big bright moon. Up there it is not calm at all. A finger of unseasonably warm air reaches the northeast. The rivers are low enough, and though the water temperatures have not yet climbed out of the 30's, the low this night is in the mid 40's. I feel the pull.


I'd fished colder nights and come out on top, but this was slightly uncharted territory. I'd night fished for trout in January but never where I would be this night. My plan was clear none the less. There would be no fishing mice or poppers, or big streamers. Tightlining small streamers and nymphs was the plan. The fly I chose to start with, my all time favorite for nocturnal trout: a black bunny leech. Mousing may be all the rage, but give me a black leach any night and I will make something good happen. The black leech accounts for the largest trout of my life and hundreds more fish than I've caught on top. Tightlining at night poses its own challenges, but the rewards are high. Odd though it may seem, I've had far more violent and heart stopping takes on a tightlined leech than on a big rodent, which is typically pretty nonchalant. If you've ever seen a 20 inch brown take a hendrickson dun, you get the idea. It's often just like that when a brown eats a mouse.

When that heart stopping massive thump that buckles the rod comes in at 9:30 pm on January 11th in CT... well that's just awesome. Three hours and only the one take. I made the connection though.


You see, for me night fishing isn't about catching the biggest trout of my life. Perhaps it's too easy to say that seeing that it has already come to fruition, but I would have said the same thing before. Night fishing for trout is about challenging these fish on a different front. I want to know enough about their behavior and how conditions effect their feeding to be able to go out and catch a trout at any time of day or night any day of the year, or at least rule out the times when it isn't possible. That might mean I'm out there many nights getting cold and catching nothing. I'm okay with that. This is a game I adore.
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, Brandon, Christopher, Shawn, Mike, Sara, an Leo for supporting this blog on Patreon.

Wednesday, January 15, 2020

Tomcod Tomfoolery

Tomcod (Microgadus tomcod), also called winter cod or frostfish, are native to the North American Atlantic coast from the Gulf of St. Lawrence to Virginia. Their tolerance of cold water and indeed their preference of it now means they are extremely diminished in abundance in many places. CT is one of those places. A combination of warming water temperatures as a result of climate change, diminished tidal marsh habitat, and pollution are keeping tomcod from making the sort of comeback many of us wold like to see. In the Hudson River though a population of tomcod persists due to a freakishly fast incidence of evolution. The Hudson River tomcod have evolved an immunity to PCB's that would otherwise have killed them. This National Geographic article goes in depth and is worth a read. Ironically, the same genes found in the Hudson River tomcod have been found in tomcod caught by CT DEEP in the Niantic River. In recent years tomcod have made a very minor resurgence in CT waters and are around in small numbers in the winter. So Leo, Noah and I went to try to find some.


The waters we intended to fish had been confirmed in recent years to have tomcod, however we had no real way of knowing if they would be there while we were, if we cold actually effectively get to them, or if they were going to be in an eating mood. The first location had tomcod last winter as confirmed by DEEP, but it was very much in question whether we would be able to reach them. In hindsight I'm not sure we would have caught any whether they were in that river at the time or not, and I'm not sure they were. This has been a very warm winter. That day was cold, but on the whole things have been extremely mild. Tomcod aren't big fans of that sort of thing. Leo did kill the skunk though, coaxing a number of tiny banded killifish out of the rocks.


The second location we tried has reliable reports of hook and line catches, and on paper seemed very promising. Choose the wrong tide though and it doesn't matter. We chose a bad tide. Our lines collected trash, the felt soles on my Korkers collected snow, but we collected no tomcod. 



If a fish like tomcod can evolve rapidly to survive human pollutants, it gives me hope. What a remarkable little fish. But it still is one I'm not sure I'll ever catch on the fly. If I do, it is more than likely going to have to be through a hole in the ice.  
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, Brandon, Christopher, Shawn, Mike, Sara, an Leo for supporting this blog on Patreon.


Monday, January 13, 2020

Extreme Rhody Fishing


If you recognize the guy in the photo above, it's probably because you've seen him say "WHAT'S UP YOUTUBE!" at least a time or two. Leo Sheng is currently a full time fishing youtuber. More than that, he is a life-listing, multispecies fishing youtuber. That is his job right now. That's how he keeps the lights on and the refrigerator stocked. He has been putting out quality content on his channel, Extreme Philly Fishing, for long enough to build quite the following, especially considering the type of fishing he is doing. Multispecies and life-list fishing, though it is growing, isn't the largest demographic. But within that group, Leo is a recognizable figure and an important voice. So how did Noah and I end up on a cliff in Rhode Island, looking out over a piece of water we though might hold some interesting saltwater species even in the dead of winter, with Leo Sheng talking to his audience about the fish we were there to seek via GoPro next to us?
That's a long story. 
Suffice to say, Noah and I had both been watching Leo's videos for years, somehow or another he found some of my social media stuff, and eventually we were messaging each other on a pretty regular basis. Ultimately, Leo, Noah and I fish for pretty much the same reasons. This text, ripped right from the Extreme Philly Fishing channel description, says it all: "Ultimately, this Channel is all about pursuing and collecting DIFFERENT SPECIES OF FISH! Recall, folks: every fish is unique, and every Species has its own role in nature! There is no such thing as 'trash fish.'"
We were going to get along just fine.
Leo wanted to do something unusual and mysterious this winter, and Noah an I had just the thing. The shoreline of CT and RI historically has had many winter fisheries. From whiting and tomcod to cod and pollack, there were productive fisheries in the surf and inshore zones of our states. Human activity has taken its toll though, and these fisheries are basically non existent now. Whiting, or more accurately hake, are almost completely gone from our shores. Beaches where whiting would wash up in such large numbers that locals would only need to walk the shoreline with a basket to get enough for dinner now appear totally lifeless. Bridges that were once tomcod hot spots may not see a single angler all winter. The beaches where surfcasters once sat by a fire at night, watching for rods with salted clams to bend under the weight of a cod, may see dog walkers and surfers in the winter, but rarely a fisherman. We only have ourselves to blame for this. Humans lead to the decline of these fisheries, and humans are now the ones forgetting they were there at all instead of demanding we get what was taken from us by the draggers, long liners, and polluters back.
But there are still whispering of some of these fish being around. Every once in a while some brave soul searching for their last beach front striper of the season will catch a cod, or some tomcod will show up in a net somewhere. They can't  all be gone. So, while other saltwater fisherman were either at home lamenting the fact that there is nothing to catch out on the beach or sucking it up and paying for a trip on a cod boat, Leo, Noah and I ventured to the space between to see if we couldn't find some sort of fish in the cold January surf.


We chose to start in Jamestown Rhode Island. In the winter most fish push into deep water, and the cliffs of Jamestown would give us access to that, with holes as deep as 164 feet deep not far off the shoreline. Diving videos Noah found showed abundances of sculpins, most likely shorthorn sculpins.  These are cold water species. Lumpfish, little sculpin, and rock gunnels are also possible wintertime visitors to these waters. The cliffs make for a dramatic landscape and good fishing at times, but are also dangerous. People have lost their lives fishing in this area. Caution is mandatory.

Visually the place looked desolate, though a few species of diving ducks and a lobster boat working pot to pot told us there was life. Putting bait in the water hammered that point home. Our offerings were getting messed with, almost certainly mostly by crabs, but there were some incidences that had us wondering. We can say with near certainty our bit never got in front of a sculpin, for they are not shy, and being like saltwater frogs (a big mouth and stomach with appendages) they would have taken our baits with little hesitation and a lot of rod tip fanfare.





After a few hours we decided it was time to move. After a stop for salted clams we were soon walking out onto the West Wall. I'd been out here on colder days, in fact the latest I'd ever caught a little tunny was on the wall on November 7th, 2017, and that was a much colder, windier day. But I'd never been in January. Rumors of cod brought us here. One of the historically productive cod beeches, Matunuck, was just down the road, and every now and then a cod does get caught still from this mile long strip of rock. Funny enough, we weren't the only nut cases out there, just on the other side of the inlet another fisherman was leaving as we arrived. We fished out there on the long wall until sunset, and it wasn't without its brief moments of excitement. Noah and I both had definite takes, he on the salted clams, me on the fly. It was a little disorienting, being out there in that famous tunny and bonito spot, fishing my 10wt with a fast sinking line, and getting multiple blatant takes an one brief hookup on a half and half. What it was I will never know. Another mystery fish.



We skunked there, but I left feeling excited that we had clearly found some sort of fish out there. These winter fisheries are mostly gone, but not completely. Every now and then a pollack swims into casting range or some tomcod venture up a creek. I would like to be there to meet them.
But if they were coming in the next two days we'd be fishing with Leo, we weren't going to be in the right place. The weather really threw us a curve ball.
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, Brandon, Christopher, Shawn, Mike, Sara, an Leo for supporting this blog on Patreon.