Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Catching Small Fish

There are a few reasons I like specifically targeting fish that often don't grow particularly large. I thoroughly enjoy fishing for wild brook trout in streams so small and with such slow growth rates that they hold sexually mature brook trout that are only two and a half inches long. Here's a such a place, I fished it just a couple days ago.

It is amazing just to see where fish can live. Yesterday Noah and I were trying to catch spot tail shiners out of a drainage pipe discharge. The pipe and the area downstream from it was full of life. Hundreds of spot tails, some juvenile panfish, and a small bass. The bass was there to chase the shiners, and the rest were presumably there for the warm road runoff. None of these fish were large individually, but it was cool to see so much biomass in one place. Plus, they were beautiful little fish. As were the small fallfish that I found podded up in a pool further up the stream. 

When it comes down to it, one of the biggest reasons I am into fishing is observing biodiversity. And the largest fish make up the smallest portion of a water bodies' total biomass. There are only a handful of fish species (comparatively) in the North East that get larger than a foot on a regular basis, which means to really see the kinds of fish around here, you have to fish the small ones. Shiners, top minnows, mummichogs, brook trout, grass pickerel... all amazing, beautiful fish that live in amazing places that I would never have seen if I didn't spend time fishing for small species. 

Sunday, February 19, 2017

One Last Day

There's only so many fish you can catch in one spot within a few trips before it becomes questionable. So, as fun as it was to put up a couple of triple digit days in the holdover bass spot I've been fishing, today is probably the last trip there this winter. It might be worth visiting in spring when there could be larger fish there and possibly topwater eaters, but I don't want to or need to put any more pressure on the holdovers that are all over that place now. So today I caught a couple hundred more fish during some beautifully warm weather. Mark joined me, needing redemption for the skunk he got on Friday due in large part to a line that got way too stiff in the cold water.

Even with a lot of ice still in the vicinity we put on a clinic. What made me most happy was that us fly guys were far and away out-fishing the few spin fisherman there. But we were all catching, enjoying it, and treating the fish well. I recognized a couple guys from my first visit and we chatted about the odd schooling behavior of the fish.

Mid way through our outing two conservation officers showed up. Apparently someone had called in and reported people keeping short fish at the spot. We were a little surprised, Mark and I were the first ones there in the morning and we hadn't seen anybody do anything but release the fish. Our guess was that a local called in trying to get fisherman kicked out but fortunately I have yet to have a hard time with a conservation officer and in this was no different, the officer (whose name I have forgotten) and I had a short conversation about flies and fly tying, and before that his dog and I had a talk about the striper double I had when she came down to see what I was doing. She was curious but not too sure.

Despite not getting the same number of fish I did on the first visit it was still a serious quantity. A few decent sized schoolies were mixed in there too, and once again they were all healthy, beautiful specimens. God at putting a serious bend in the rod.

This is an amazing place, and I've had an amazing couple of visits. But I don't really have an urge to go for another day like that. If I  continue looking for holdover bass in March it will be in bigger water with more current and more tidal variability, where fish move and are unpredictable. And more importantly, less pressured.

Friday, February 17, 2017

Icy Stripers and Salty Brown Trout

The initial goal for today was to get some stripers while there is still snow on the ground. given the slight chance that there would be ice on the water I had a Plan B, sea run brown trout. I have a rather unhealthy obsession with chrome. Any salmonid that spends time in salt water is truly a thing of beauty. It ended up being the case that we did a bit of both.

I was fishing with Mark and Rik today. Mark and I were looking at bodies of water we passed on the way to the striper spot and They had varying amounts of open water. One that is very close to the backwater we were going to fish was pretty significantly open despite having no currant or tidal influence. And yet after hiking in to the spot we found way more ice than expected for a place with significant current. We stayed a bit, didn't catch anything. Then we fished the main river channel once Rik arrived, but that was also unsuccessful. So, it was on to hunting chrome of the trutta variety. 

For those not in the know... fly fishing for sea run browns in CT is a very low yield game. If I had caught one today it would have been my second in three years. I did get a taker, a brief hookup actually. But what exactly it was is uncertain, though I would lean toward trout given the lack of other possibilities in this particular stream.

Our thinking was that the incoming tide and warmth of the sun would push back the ice and give us a window in which to catch some stripers, so as soon as we were done fishing our stretch of the sea run brown trout stream we were on our way back to the spot. Unfortunately Rik could not stay, but we pressed on with hope of cold winter striped bass on the fly. When we got to the spot we found less ice, and as we waded out we both noticed something odd. The bottom seemed harder and less mucky, at least in spots, than it had been in the morning. What the reason for this could be I have no idea. What I do know is that this icy striper fly fishing was not easy. My aggressively tapered floating line saved my butt, I was able to punch my cast into the wind and get the fly into the zone. I caught four or five schoolies. Mission accomplished. With frozen fingers and feet Mark and I finally gave up and vowed to return on the warmest day of the weekend. On that day, we will catch them.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Winter Wonderland

Well here we go... before I get to today's fishing I need to talk about something very important. It affects me, it affects you, and it affects fish and wildlife and wild land everywhere. So PLEASE take the time to read and consider this. And once I'm finished, I will show you all some crazy beautiful winter brook trout fishing. Trust me, it's worth reading the first part of this post.

It is no secret that our new POTUS does not put environmental causes near the top of his list, and right now one of the most important agencies in the National Government is at risk. Trump appointed Scott Pruitt, a man who has frequently voiced his dislike for the EPA, to head that exact agency. Plans are under way to massively de-fund it. And now, four Republican lawmakers are pushing to abolish the agency entirely.

 Here's the issue... the EPA has not been tremendously popular, particularly among republicans. It is no secret that mining, drilling, and manufacturing jobs are disappearing from this country. Because environmental regulations disproportionately effect these types of industry it is easy for many to shove the blame on the EPA. However, when cheap labor, bad health and safety standards, and lack of concern for habitat destruction is wildly prevalent in other countries it is clear that hard ball environmental regulation is not the reason these jobs are gone. Natural gas, though only somewhat cleaner, and is extracted and processed in such a way that it doesn't require the kind of labor that coal mining does and has subsequently taken over for the coal industry.

 So what harm is heavy environmental regulation doing for business? My father is plant manager of the Redland Brick facility in South Windsor. Before he was promoted to that position the permits to pump water out of the clay mine on site had expired and for six years it filled with water. Because that water was coming from a small drainage that was designated waters of the state, the clay mine was also technically waters of the state. To begin pumping the company had to do a tremendous amount of work to obtain the permits again. For many months it was a regular topic of conversation during car rides. My father had to regularly test the turbidity of the water to ensure it was up to standard. Having seen it in person, you could probably drink out of that pond with minimal filtration. After a long period of time, undoubtedly tons of paperwork, and continuous communication with environmental officials (remember, time is money), the necessary permits were obtained and pumping could begin. But even then the water had to be regularly tested and if it wasn't up to snuff the mine could not be pumped. Knowing what I know about stream ecology, that mine could have been pumped in a tenth the amount of time, with less money and less effort if the regulations were more relaxed without doing any environmental damage whatsoever. If anything, pumping into the stream helped it during the low water periods we had in 2016. So that is how environmental regulations can hurt business without benefiting the environment to any significant degree. Redland and my father did not want to do environmental damage, and would have done anything within reason to avoid it even without those regulations. It is these state regulations over-zealously enacted by democrats that do the real damage to the economy.

But here's the kicker... these were STATE LAWS. Abolishing and defending the EPA would do exactly nothing to change these state regulations. The EPA produces broad, sweeping regulation that effects every state and is based on careful study and rationalization. The Clean Water Act and Clean Air Act are products of the EPA, and such laws are what keeps guides, fly tyers, outfitters, rod makers, hunters, retailers, parks, and many other job creators in a healthy state. Not to mention the fact that these regulations have massively decreased the amount of pollutants in the air and water. I mean look at the Naugatuck. It is still dirty and urban, but what was once a toxic river can now sustain trout, salmon, bass, and stripers again. Without the EPA this would simply not have happened. The reason I say that is simple. State environmental laws stop at the borders. Pollution does not. CT could set a goal to keep levels of mercury in the air bellow a certain point, but if rust belt states don't share that goal and regulation, CT will get pollution via air currents. Mass could set laws preventing the dumping of nitrogenous waste into rivers, but if NH doesn't do the same the CT river in Mass will carry the same pollution. Environmental regulations regarding river pollution in Montana have the potential to effect North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Iowa, Missouri, Illinois, Arkansas, Mississippi, and Louisiana from JUST ONE WATERSHED. Do you see the problem now? Like it or not, we cannot bring back the coal and steel industry, at least not as it was. The EPA is necessary for protecting our water, air, and our own health. I would not feel secure going into the fishing industry were it not for common sense environmental regulation, and what this new administration and the GOP are doing against the public land, water, and clean energy scares me. It is a dangerous game. Please fight against this. Fight for common sense regulation. Not overly harsh regulation, not overly relaxed regulation, smart, safe, environmentally sound regulation. I can't live without it, and neither can you. Call your representatives, and evaluate government decisions based on actual sound facts, not media headlines and what the political party you support says. We know they all lie.

Recently I've been in awe with one particular little brook trout stream. Though tiny it has an amazing number of fish and an exceptional average size for the area. Today, in the wind and the cold, Kirk and I payed this special place a visit. The stream was buried in snow. On this day, fishing would not be particularly easy.

It actually didn't take long to kill the skunk. I was twitching a little Euro Pinkie around at the head of a broad pool and up came ms. char. After three takes she was finally hooked.

It took a little while to find more fish. Since the water was much colder than my previous visit, I think most of the fish stacked up in the deeper pools. Cold temperatures and bluebird skies are not the best fishing conditions. Luckily, brook trout are very forgiving and I found a pool full of fish rising to little emerging stoneflies. I tied on a winter stone pattern, though it was a size or two bigger than the naturals.

You can probably imagine my surprise when the stunning 10 inch brook trout I caught on my previous visit here came up and gently sipped the size 18 fly. I was pleased to see him again to say the least.

At that point I backed off and gave Kirk a turn. He tied on a dry and was soon into a fish. He landed it, photographed it, then began working the pool again. Another fish nosed up and sipped down the fly. This time the connection was not so good and the fish did not come back. A bit longer and we decided to visit another beautiful little stream. 

This one is in my opinion the prettiest brook trout stream in the area. It runs through a fairly undeveloped area, a valley full of tall hemlocks, dark rock, and deep green moss. Or, in today's case, white snow. 

This stream wasn't quite as kind to me as the first, but it gave up one solid brook trout. Kirk and I ended the day with an even two fish each, with one of each coming up for a dry. In a foot of snow in February, that is a blessing. 

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

PTHW Ep. 5: Streamer Heaven

For a couple hours yesterday I thought I died and went to streamer heaven. The sun was out, the air was warm, and for whatever reason every fish in the river seamed to want nothing but meat flies. I was fishing with Adam Klags. Before we got on the water I assumed he would easily out-fish me this day, given how effective Tenkara tactics tend to be any time fish are feeding on insects in the drift. I thought if anything I would catch a few solid fish on my Euro nymph rig. But after a few pathetic might-have-been takes and a lot of tangles I got sick of that and stuck on a short leader and an articulated streamer. There is only so much I can put up with when I'm not catching fish.

So here's the conditions... partly cloudy, pre-frontal, calm wind, air temp about 44, water temps mid-high thirties. Those are conditions that have given me a hard time as far as streamer fishing goes on more than one occasion. But not today. I had tied on a funky yellow fly that was basically half Ice Pick, half Meal Ticket in yellow and silver/pearl. The first pool I fished it in I got three ridiculously aggressive takes from a substantial fish. For the first take I wasn't even looking as I was talking to Adam at the time. The next two I was just loosing my mind and did not get a hookset. Once that fish was put down I put a cast across the next tailout upstream and jerk-stripped it across. It got hammered by an gorgeous little 8 inch wild brown.

Two more runs upstream and another small brown came out from under the bank and missed the fly. He did not come back. But, maybe 15 minutes later, in a super fishy looking riffle, I hooked up with a slightly larger brown, maybe 12 inches. And this one was colored up! Easily one of the prettiest wild browns I have caught recently. 

Then it happened. We got punked by wood ducks. They spooked every spot... pool by pool, run by run. EXCEPT one... a nice slow tailout. I made my cast and a fish can down after the fly. Two takes were missed. I thought it had spooked when it quickly headed back upstream. Nope. My third and final fish of the day. And the biggest. 

And then the conditions changes and the fish shut off. And that was the end of it.

Monday, February 13, 2017

"The Well Rounded Fly Angler"

I will be giving a talk on February 26th, 4:00pm at the Middle Haddam Library (2 Knowles Road, Middle Haddam) on multi-species fly fishing. Essentially, I'm going to be doing an entire talk about fly fishing without any "trout tips", attempting to go even further towards breaking the stereotypical view of fly fishing. I will talk tips and tactics and tackle, covering stripers, bluefish, sea robin, fallfish, panfish, pickerel, carp, catfish, walleye... the whole shebang of CT no salmonids. Free up an hour, but we may go a little longer. No admission charges, no age requirements... if you are free that Sunday evening, stop in. I always enjoy meeting my readers.

Saturday, February 11, 2017

PTHW Ep. 4: There is No Such Thing as a Snow Day

If you are really, really into fly fishing, there is nothing to stop you from being on the water when the weather is survivable an you are in good health. Not even a foot of snow. The hike into my home river is more than two miles and I do it on my bike in 10 minutes, but I have spent multiple hours getting there and back in two feet of snow before. If there is open water, I will get to it, and I will fish it! Today, Rik and I fished my PTHW in gorgeous, clean, deep snow! It has been a while since I last fished in these sort of conditions, and it is a lot of fun.

So here's the gist on the conditions: air temperatures were in the low forties, water was probably right at 32 since we were getting ice in the guides (happens occasionally when the air is well over freezing but the water is exactly 32), midges were hatching. No risers. 

BUT... here's my fish for the day:

This was winter fishing at its finest. The surroudings were stunning, the water was so cold it hurt, and the fishing was slow. This is what winter fishing is supposed to be like. And it is also why I love this time of year.