Friday, October 19, 2018

25 Minutes, 4 Fish

I am one lucky SOB. I say that for numerous reasons, but one of the top reasons is that virtually whenever I want I can exit my front door and be on wild brook trout water in less than five minutes, walleye/bass/pickerel water in three minutes or ten minutes, and a variety of other multi-species water in two minutes to ten minutes. It's Heaven for a non-picky angler like myself.  But being able to get on a brook trout stream in five minutes is especially, well, special. There's been a little problem with the closest stream for the last few years though. It did not handle the drought years of 2015 and 2016 very well. The extent of the dewatering was horrible, in large part because of an extensive well system in the stream's headwaters. The oldest year classes got hit hard, really hard, and the number of fish I'd catch in a trip fell from 5-20 to 0-5. It was demoralizing to have this little gem of a suburban creek so devastated. Fortunately I found redds every fall. On those days I stopped making casts all together. Most of the time when I find brookies on redds in a stream I'll focus my efforts on the water where there can't be redds: Mud bottom, deep fast slots, and places with all-boulder substrate. Not all trout will spawn at the same time so I can still catch colored up fish without interrupting spawners. But in most of the streams I fish locally I couldn't even justify that approach. The populations needed the best chance possible to recuperate. The biggest trout I saw on redds in this nearby stream last fall were no bigger than 5 inches, most were 4.

Then there's 2018. One of the wettest years I've fished through. Stream beds were dramatically rearranged and all year there's been tons of food n the drift, even with warm water temperatures all summer. Resulting in, as I discovered yesterday, the fattest fall brookies I've ever seen. It seems that a lot of these fish have grown absurdly quickly this season. On a short evening trip, just 25 minutes, I covered 50 feet of water and caught four brookies. Three of them were in the top four largest fish I'd caught in this disconnected stretch of the stream. The biggest is only beat out of first by one male I caught in the fall of 2015, at the time an anomaly of a brookie that I'd never seen the likes of before there.

The amazing thing was how immediate it was. I got there, tied on a little hair wing streamer, and promptly caught the only male of the bunch.

This could just be a fluke.
Not a fair representation of the average.
A lucky, lucky evening.
Maybe it was. And I'd take that for sure: three of the best fish in the stream in a 25 minute trip? Sign me up!

But if that were true and it was a fluke, today would also have had to have been a fluke. A huge, enormous, massive, insane, wild fluke.

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

TIME TO ACT! (again) Proposed Rule for Block Island EEZ

Right now, my favorite game fish is not in a good way. Striped bass have had more than their fair share of hardships and right now they may well be dying a death by 1,000 cuts. And, though most recreational anglers won't admit it, we have a lot of blame to take in the matter. Recreational anglers aren't fishing for striped bass in a sustainable way. The few places that still harbor large numbers of big female breeding age striped bass are heavily networked, heavily pressured, and far too many fish are being killed. So, when I learned that NMFS is considering a new ruling that will permit recreational striped bass fishing in the Block Island Transit Zone, a segment of the federal exclusive economic zone, my heart sank. This would be another cut. It would be a pretty significant cut, one that would bleed profusely for years.

On it's face this may seem like a nice thing. New water open to recreational fishing? GREAT!
No. This is bad. This is very bad. The waters of the Block Island Transit Zone are a vital holding place for large schools of breeder striped bass at a time when they are much less accessible outside the EEZ, in late summer when the water temperatures are warmer. The real reason anyone has pushed for the opening of striped bass harvest in the EEZ is to increase their ability to kill more big bass when it becomes more difficult to do so in already legal water. And right now anything that allows anyone to kill more stripers, especially big stripers, is a monumentally stupid idea. So, I stand firmly opposed to this rule, and anyone else that cares about these amazing fish should too. Now is the time to take action. Please follow the link below and comment on the proposed new rule. Make it clear that the Block Island Transit Zone of the EEZ should remain closed to all fishing of striped bass, recreational or otherwise. The deadline is November 19th. Please share this far and wide.

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

I Lost Something in the Hill Country (III)


Sunday was our last fishing day in Montana. It was going to be a pretty big send off, actually. The clouds cleared overnight, and as I fished that morning in the bitter cold I caught glimpses of the hills that had hidden from us. Then, on our drive to David's, we just had to stop. The sky had opened up from gigantic to unfathomable and every hill was on display. Some of these were many, many miles away, and yet they looked like you could drive 20 minutes and be right there.

The Crazies
David took us on the scenic route to our intended destination. We stopped on the way so I could take a cast into one of the most incredible little creeks in this area. It is private water, and had we more time David could have really gotten us in there to fish it thoroughly, but a few casts in a culvert pool were better than nothing. On one of those casts, as my streamer traversed the tail-out of the pool, a monster brown emerged from the depths and shadowed it. David and my dad watched it from above me, on the road grade. I couldn't see the fish, so I continued stripping hoping to feel a pull. I never did. We continued through the most beautiful terrain I had ever seen. We stopped at a high place, snow still lingering there, and looked out over the vast expanse of ranch land. It was extremely quiet there. No road noise, none of the whir of civilization I am far too used too any time it isn't blocked out by the sound of moving water. Just quiet, and the distant sound of a few birds in the woods. David told us that, years ago, we would have been looking over a huge heard of buffalo.

Back down into the next valley we went and in a short time got to the river. It was an especially pretty stream with clear blue green water, big boulders, and perfect gravel bars that made wading easier. In a short time I hooked a good brown on my streamer. Unfortunately, as I was landing her, my rod broke at one of the ferules. I went back up to the car to grab a backup and enjoyed watching the hoppers that had just thawed out. I ran, scaring them from their grassy hiding places and watching them fly up and land again, then shimmy down the grass back into the shade.

Upon my return, I carefully plied the water on my way upstream. Eventually the streamer came off. The sun was high and bright and the fish just weren't in the mood to move for a big fly. I changed to a Prince Nymph and was fairly quickly rewarded with a new hybrid, a very odd looking cutbow.

Eventually I decided I needed to suspend the nymph and cast further to avoid putting the fish off if I really wanted to be effective. I changed to a dry dropper, a Frenchie under a small cicada. That worked in spades. I found a few good pods of fish to bother and caught a couple good browns and my first ever mountain whitefish.

 Actually, I got my first, second, third, fourth, fifth, and sixth mountain whitefish. They really are a very cool fish. Their nose is well suited for rooting out insects, and I for one don't find them ugly. They are probably one of the more interesting salmonids I have caught. They are also very successful. By that I mean they have established themselves well throughout the west, having one of the broadest ranges of any salmonid around. It was cool to add a third new salmonid to my life list on this trip, though it was one many anglers consider to be a trash fish. I, of course, never take that word usage into consideration any time I'm working with a species regardless of how many I've caught. Whitefish are cool and I'm sticking to that assessment!

We moved downriver as the bite slowed in that water. I went back to fishing the sparkle minnow. That turned out to be the right call as I hooked into a stud of a brown almost immediately.

 From that point on it was streamer mayhem for me. If the water looked halfway decent at all and I ran the Sparkle Minnow through it at least halfway intelligently it got smoked. I caught a bunch of fish in that very short stretch of water, from just below a bridge up one side of and island and down the other. The biggest fish of the bunch wasn't a brown but an 18 inch rainbow that absolutely kicked my butt. pound for pound the best trout fight of my life. I thought I had a 20-22 inch fish on.

I was going light on the photos at this point for a couple of reasons, the first being that I was catching far more fish than I need to take pictures of, the second being that one of the whitefish I had caught had splashed me pretty good while I was pulling the camera out. Apparently a fair bit of moisture found its way to the inside of the lens, which fogged up every time I pulled the camera out of the backpack. I had to put up with some hazy spots for the next two hours, but as had happened when I took a camera into Mammoth Caves and the inside of the lens fogged up upon exiting the cave, it cleared up after sitting out for less than an hour.

We got back to the shed with time to do some evening fishing before dinner. I worked upstream through some new water and did very poorly entirely because I wasn't being slow and careful enough. I think I missed and lost a dozen good trout while my dad, fishing a dry dropper, had a fanastic pick of fish going down by The Shed.

Feeling unfulfilled and wanting to redeem myself, I decided to ply the slow water under the bridge over the far braid with a mouse. I got reactions not long after I got there, but they didn't satisfy me. When trout are just rolling and splashing behind a mouse I have very little confidence that fishing it will pay off. There was something large repeatedly gulping in the tail of the pool. I changed to a black conehead leach and went down to try my luck with that fish. Five casts, nothing. I made one more and began to reel up to change flies again. I made three full cranks, then felt solid weight.

I left Montana having seen the biggest sky I'd ever seen, fished the biggest trout river I'd ever fished, and looked at the biggest hills I'd ever looked at. I also left having caught the biggest wild rainbow I'll likely ever catch. And that, my friends, is that. It may seem like something is missing here. Am I really going to leave this story at that end? I am, because I don't really have another option. And I don't think I'd want it to end any other way. I'll be back to the mountains and valleys and rivers of Montana. There's no way around that. I lost something there that I'll probably never get back. 

Saturday, October 13, 2018

The Char of Fall

Autumn has many perks. Not being forced to sweat like a dog every day  spent outside is one. This summer was brutal. Hot and wet. It didn't rank anywhere near my best year for cloud photography, but we've had eight tornadoes in the state this year. That's tied with 1973 for the most in one year here. After a turbulent and wet spring full of severe weather, summer burst forth in late June with seemingly unending heat, but has since less than quietly dispersed. The last of the hot weather left its mark with two (likely final) tornadoes in New Canaan an Mansfield. Frustratingly, I got to see exactly none of them. Anyway, it was a rough summer. Mediocre fishing, mediocre storm photography for me, high water levels and temperatures, and just so... much... sweat. I'm glad that fall is here and I do not in the least bit mind that it is still very very wet. The stream flows are the best I've seen them since I started this blog! Seriously! I took advantage of that this week to get some time in with my favorite local salmonid. 

The streams I was fishing can be really tricky this time of year in large part because the are home for copious amounts of small dace and shiners. These little fish drown dry flies quickly and constantly nip subsurface presentations. It can be hard to get through them to get at the resident brook trout and occasional brown trout. This time it took me a little while to find the pattern. An Ausable Bomber did the job. The rises were very subtle, the fly just disappeared every time a char took. I caught numerous colorful brookies, all starting to get into spawning dress but not quite at their peak yet. Just like the foliage.

On the second stream the bomber just wasn't doing it, the dace were drowning it too quickly. I opted to imitate those dace. The initial tactic is one oft used in Maine in the fall: the streamer is cast upstream and retrieved straight down at a blistering pace.

This failed to get any attention at all, but instead of changing flies I changed presentation. A single shot was placed immediately ahead of the little bucktail streamer, and instead of retrieving the fly I performed a delicate dance deeper in the water column. The fish demonstrated their approval with strong grabs.

 I came to an almost unavoidable realization on both of these streams, neither of which I had fished since spring. They had undergone some serious rearrangement from the constant high water. There were pools that I'd fished for more than seven years that were simply gone completely, replaced by shallow riffles. Whole new runs had formed. Massive boulders had moved many yards. These were like whole new streams that I have to re-learn. I welcome that challenge, and it is one of the things that allows this small stream fishing to remain interesting.

Friday, October 12, 2018

The Fish that Have Been

 I've not been doing well at all on the false albacore front this year. It's nothing, nothing like last year. But (and that is a big but) I have been catching a ton of striped bass from 22-32 inches, and encountering some much larger. That makes me quite happy, because if I'm completely honest striped bass are my favorite species to fish for. I add "to fish for" because I have no favorite fish species overall. I care about everything. But I care about striped bass a little more. And it's no wonder why, just look at one. They are such handsome fish. At a distance they may not seem especially colorful. But take a closer look and you'll see that they're extremely colorful. Blue, green, purple, silver, gold, black... brook trout they are not, but striped bass are undeniably beautiful. More importantly they have taken me to some of the most beautiful places I've ever been because there is very little that will stop a hungry striped bass from chasing baitfish up super shallow flats, way up rivers, and right into the battered algae covered rocks of the Northeast coast. It hurts me to say this but I have to be very careful about sharing photos of the places that striped bass have taken me. There are too many people out there that want instant gratification, and striped bass demand the opposite of that. I've put in a lot of time to find the places, times, weather, and tides in which catch my bass. I'm not here to tell you where and when the bass are biting. I don't know who all of you are. I do know that I don't trust everybody with the security of this extremely damaged fishery. Unfortunately the beautiful photos of some of the places I fish are too revealing, I can't share them.

 The one thing I can tell you all right now is that the bass are everywhere and nowhere right now. One day they're at this beach, the next day they aren't. Ten minutes ago there was a blitz on this point, now it's dead quiet. These fish are moving, you actually will have to work to find them. They may not be showing at all either. The other day Mark Alpert and I fished the rip side of and island and it was completely dead. We slid over to the calm dead water on the backside of the island. There were no birds, no bait around. But the bass were there, and they were all bigger schoolie fish, 24-30 inches. Later in the day we got on a bite where the fish were occasionally breaking but not enough that they could be seen in the distance, or even all the time. But the herring gulls and cormorants were seriously worked up. A few casts with a 9 inch bone white Musky Doc (with no hooks on it) got a blow up from a serious fish. Mark and I both got our butts kicked in there. He had a smaller fish bury in the weeds that broke off while I was trying to extract it, I hooked a large bass that took me down and dirty. Sure enough I could feel the line grinding on the rocks right before that painful slack sensation.

Noah and I got into a spectacular evening backwater blitz last week. Peanut bunker had gathered near a choke point and schoolies and blues found them and pinned them in there. The blitz was ongoing when we got there and ended just before dark. It was a fantastic show. Frantic menhaden jumping and spraying out of the water, bass and blues frothing right behind them. I love the fall run. It is incredible.

Bass aren't the only thing I've been catching out there. Mark and I got into some blue runners on Wednesday. There were so many around this can it was unbelievable. They were actually blitzing... what on I have no idea because there didn't seem to be any baitfish in the water. Blue runner, Caranx crysos, is #94 on my fly tackle life list. Six. Six. Six. Six species or hybrids to go before I hit that totally arbitrary but some how impressive triple digit number.

 The sight fishing was actually pretty good on some flats areas before this weather moved in. It could very well remain good, I don't know, but if there are fish blitzing out front I may not play that game again. I got one beauty sight fishing this week, and I laid out casts in front of numerous others. Including a few real cows. Fish that made my forehead sweat and my knees shake. Huge bass. 20 pounders. 30 pounders. Even one that I'm sure would have broken 40. She was belly dragging on the bottom fat. Just a super giant.

The weather just turned a corner here. The wet wading days are over. The calm, warm days are going to be the exception to the rule. And I for one am extremely excited about it. There are, realistically, about 36 days left of the fall run here in Connecticut, maybe longer. Then another 36 after that for those willing to chase the bass south. It's panic time for me. I need to break 40 inches. I've been working so hard, and this is the time when all that hard work really could come to fruition.