Monday, January 16, 2017

Scouting Out a New Small Stream

Today I decided to visit a stream I've been eyeing up for about three years. It is not particularly easy to get to being down a veritable maze of back roads and un-mapped trails that often dead end at someone's private land. Today I negotiated the labyrinth and finally found water. I was going to make a few casts here and there, but there was a lot of ice and the water temperature was hovering just at freezing. The only thing keeping it from freezing during the first couple hours of the my outing was motion. Even though the air temperature was in the mid thirties ice crystals formed on my boots and line. Slush formed around sticks floating in slow eddies.

Before I even rigged up my rod  I met some new friends.

After the deer and I parted ways I began waling water. When I'm fishing a new stream I cover a lot of water and don't always cast much. I look for riffles, deep pools, and rushing pocket water. I look for hatching insects or, in their absence, I roll stones and pull out woody debris to see what's crawling on it. If the stream is small enough I walk quickly and try to spook some fish. This stream today was not small enough for that, far too much flow. So I looked for potential habitat. I found plenty. Unfortunately the cold water ice, and slush probably prevented any feeding from whatever trout may have been there.

Despite the skunk, which I was expecting anyway, I was having a tremendous day. I covered a lot of ground and saw some really beautiful things, including this 15ft deep spring hole. If it were connected to the stream I would not be surprised if it had a bunch of brook trout in it.

While riding through a field at the end of the day, I spotted something interesting: a line of very large animal tracks. I saw them while riding at a pretty good clip. I had to whip back around to have a look, and what I found was amazing. Large track with a 3 3/4 inch width, some with splayed toes, the first three (in softer earth) with claw prints and the rest without any sign of claws.They had three lobes on the pad, signifying a feline origin... I am quite confident that these were mountain lion tracks.

Very splayed toes
That was a pretty spectacular find to end the day, topping of seeing lots of natural beauty. That all makes a decent recipe for a fish-less day that is still just awesome!

Friday, January 13, 2017

Home Water Day One

A new year can not be considered as such until I have caught a trout from my home river. So today I went to my favorite place in the world with the intent of catching at least one wild brown trout, the first of the year. And I was not going to leave until I succeeded.

The decision was made early on to go downstream,  drifting and bouncing streamers. I have had success doing so before when the water is brutally cold after the spring thaw. Today the conditions were somewhat like that: rapidly rising water blew out the ice, the water was discolored and cold, and there was a lot of it. Flows like these make dead drifting small flies in pocket water difficult, so even though smaller flies may be preferable I prefer streamers and large nymphs. Today I started out with a mini sculpin, then switched to a chartreuse zonker in hopes that it would stand out against all of the drifting junk and at least give me a chance to see a follow or a flash.

The streamers did not produce the desired effect so I reverted to rolling a bead head hare's ear soft hackle along the bottom of slower lies. I was not having much luck getting any sort of response, but then again many days like this one have ended in a skunking on this river. These conditions are not my favorite to say the least, but if and when I do catch a fish on a day like this it is often impressive. I had pretty much resigned myself to the fact that nothing was happening when I came to this pool:

I have named this pool "The Magic Pool" because on spring days during the hendrickson hatch, when every other fish in the river is focused on moving nymphs, the fish in this pool are always looking up. I looked at it today and said "this is gonna be the one". I made five drifts along the near side in the tailout, one on the far side, one more... then I set the hook. It was instinct. I saw something different and set. The fish was not big, but a familiar face. I caught it this spring during the blue quill hatch and two years ago in late December a half mile away. Interestingly the fish that I have caught more than once I have almost always caught more than twice as well.

So that's that. I feel much more like it is a new year now.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Hard Water and Fly Tying

The last two days on the water were ice fishing days. Ice fishing is something I know a bit about but am very badly equipped to actually do. I have never caught a fish through the ice and the last two days continued that proud tradition.

The rest of my time during this cold spell has been spent working at home, practicing driving, and tying flies. At the moment I am filling my upsized streamer box. I bought a large box for my articulated and stinger streamers and moved my single hooked (in my mind small) streamers from a small box to a medium box. That small box is now being filled with big nightime surface bugs (mice, wakers, foamulators). So that has created a lot of gaps with which I am filling with a healthy variety of big gnarly trout getters. That on its own is a lot of tying, especially on the deceiver style flies, but the bulk of my current tying time is being occupied by a large order of woolly buggers for Dette Trout Flies. The first of many shipments should be going out Monday, 96 white #4, 96 white #6, 48 yellow #4, 48 yellow #6. The entire order totals... well, a lot.

Fortunately for my sanity warmth has arrived once again. The next couple weeks should be some pretty great winter fishing. And not the hard water kind. 

Sunday, January 8, 2017

A Theory on The Disappearance of Atlantic Salmon in CT

Now, I do not claim to be as knowledgeable as basically any fisheries biologist, but being that I have spent a lot of time looking into the subject and a pretty substantial amount of time fishing and observing the Connecticut River watershed I think I have at least a reasonable understanding of the fishery. I have also learned, through the work of others, about similar cases involving both salmon and other anadromous salmonids. Take this for what it is, an angler's view of the decline of one of the greatest sport fish to swim in CT waters.

People are without a doubt the most destructive and dangerous animal to ever live on God's Green Earth. And there may be no period of time when humans had less concern for the Earth then the industrial revolution. In CT nearly every body of water large enough was dammed, cutting off valuable spawning ground in nearly every river salmon ran up. The last naturally spawning salmon recorded in CT waters occurred during the Civil War.

To the common fishhead, the dams may seem to be he main culprit. On closer examination that is clearly not the case. Initially, when the salmon restoration began, there were some substantial returns to the rivers. But as time progressed fewer and fewer salmon came back despite many juveniles being stocked. Even in a year with terrible flows and temperature, like 2015 and '16, substantial numbers of salmon parr prevailed. I have fished the Salmon river in September before the fall trout stocking and caught as many as 50 salmon parr in a less than a half mile of river. And in the spring I catch numerous silver smolts in all parts of the watershed. What then happens to these smolts? I suspect a similar situation is now being played out in the Maritimes, where striped bass not traditionally found that far North are being blamed for the consumption of outgoing smolts. Mind you, I'm not suggesting that striped bass were not common in the Connecticut River when salmon runs were more sustainable. There were certainly more of them "back in the day". The variable that has changed here is the available forage. Herring and shad, which were historically frequent in the same region, are depleted so dramatically that they have ceased to provide the striped bass with the food they look for during their spring migration. Despite the dramatically low herring returns, striped bass still stack up at the mouths of rivers in he spring, at the same time that thousands of bite sized salmon smolts are migrating out. Just as the loss of eel grass has left sea run brook trout at the mercy of striped bass and bluefish, the lack of large quantities of fat-rich herring has left salmon smolts at the mercy of the same predators.

It is no secret that man of the fish swimming in the Connecticut River watershed are far from their native range. Smallmouh and largemouth bass, as well as brown and rainbow trout, eat numerous juvenile salmon each year. I have caught four large smallmouth in the Salmon River that either had a live salmon parr in their throat or coughed up dead ones. After the spring stocking of juveniles I catch stocked trout, fish that would not often naturally reach their size in such small streams, that have bellies full of fry and parr. If there is any issue that is directly related to the rivers themselves, this is it. In Alaska this issue has been identified by fisheries biologists. Invasive pike are directly effecting the salmon returns.

As far as what happens once the smolt get out of the river, I don't know. I could speculate on it all day, but the ocean is a place I have not studied near as much as the rivers that I live very close to. But what I do know is that most biologists think the biggest cause for low salmon returns throughout the North Atlantic is not in the rivers themselves but in the oceans, and that these causes are nearl impossible to reverse. And I know that with the current situation there is not much hope for the future of Atlantic salmon in CT, or anywhere else in the US for that matter. It is truly a tragedy that this may well end up being the last, or one of the last true adult anadromous salmon caught by an angler in the Salmon River:

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Brook Trout and Midges

Well, the next fiver or so days look like ice fishing weather, so I had to get out today to do some brook trout catching. I'd caught two brook trout this year up until today, so I decided to pull out all the stops and visit my "secret weapon", one of southern New England's best brook trout streams.

When I got to the stream I saw something that caught me off guard. at first I thought it was just water leaking through the concrete culvert from the dirt road above. But I kept looking and soon realized it was tons of brook trout rising to a steady hatch of midges!

I tied on a small Syl's midge pattern and began drifting it through the rises, expecting some excellent dry fly action. Well, as is usually the case on this stream, these fish were tricky little buggers! I caught about six before deciding that the time between catches and the size of them was just not enough to keep me there.

I decided to start doing some sight nymphing with a simple ice dub nymph. I dropped it on the bottom in front of working fish and more often than not the ate it up.

After while of working a pool and loosing quite a few fish I saw a splashy rise. I decided to try it with a dry fly again. I opened the box and a well dressed yellow humpy popped out of its slot. Clearly it was meant to be. But what were the chances that this huge fluffy dry fly would get eaten when the biggest natural on the water is a size 22 caddis? First drift up came a solid brookie. Second cast it was hooked.

After messing around with the risers at the culvert for a little while longer I decided to go fish a different stream that I new had brookies but never bothered to stop at. A few casts with an ice dub nymph and one took. 

Though I did spend a but more time out in the woods today I didn't do much more casting, just exploring and scouting. I might fish tomorrow, but if I don't chances are the next time I do it will be on hard water.

Monday, January 2, 2017

A Good Day to Fish Hard

When the conditions are good, fish hard. When they are not, fish even harder. Today the conditions were pretty much garbage for finding holdover stripers. Noah and I tried and failed. Unlike previous weeks there was nothing around for the fish to eat. No grass shrimp, very few mummichogs. We had a few hard to define hits, but the spots we fished just seemed dead. That did not prevent us from covering quite a bit of ground.

Needless to say we did not land any stripers. BUT we had a plan B. The weather had other ideas, and our attempt to get some brook trout was foiled by little bits of ice plopping in the stream. Sleet is just the worst.

One brook trout to hand. One more day on the list, a few new places visited. 

Sunday, January 1, 2017

New Year's Day 2017

Like last year I spent the first day of this year fishing a great stream with a great group of friends. Of course some excellent lunch provided by Alan and Mark and his wife helped, as did the coffee, donuts, and beverages supplied by Kirk and John.

We started the fishing today before everyone had arrived. After gearing up, chatting, and watching a couple interesting fly tying videos Kirk and Alan headed downstream and John and I went up. I was hell bent on getting month 23 of my dry fly quest out of the way, so I stuck with dry flies as much as I could and I suspect that hurt my fish catching today. But in the end I did succeed in fooling a brookie. More about that later...

After poking around for a little while without any signs of life John got a phone call... Pete had arrived. We walked up to the parking lot to meet him. We chatted and walked down to one of his favorite spots on the stream, a place we have begun to call "Pete's Hemlock". The spot has changed since last year but it is still worth a try.

We found a couple rising fish near that spot, but unfortunately in this slow flat water they are easily put down. We worked a few other good spots before Pete had to leave. We chatted about some of our favorite spots on the Farmington River while walking back to the parking lot where lunch was about to occur. Soon everyone was back and we enjoyed soup and chili. Then we were back on the water looking for more fish.

Once again John and I were stubborn and went upstream, only to hear when we got back that the other three anglers had caught some nice fish. But our efforts were rewarded with fish coming to the surface! John's ate a small hornberg sitting on its side. A strangely effective method. Mine fell for big river hatch tactics: a size 22 Syl's Midge on 7x tippet cast to a steady riser. The fish that took that tiny fly was a dark little specimen, and though I never touched it I didn't have to. That's 23 months in a row now. A solid two year streak is seeming more and more likely! 

And eventually it was time to go, the sun was falling in the sky. We discussed future plans then said our goodbyes.

This is truly the right way to start a new year!

(Photo courtesy Alan Petrucci) 

Saturday, December 31, 2016

Plus Two

So needless to say that big beautiful brownie I caught yesterday upped my intrigue with that watershed, so when Mark texted me yesterday to say that the stream we were planning to fish did not look too productive, things started coming together in my mind... I pondered and looked over my map resources and formulated the plan for the last day of fishing in 2016.

So in the morning Mark and I got on the first stream, the same one I had fished yesterday, no idea what to expect. I must say, we did not have much of any action. There are some fish in that stream but the clouds and changing conditions probably had them laying low. But that is a GORGEOUS stream!

After the lack of fish in the first stream I guessed the only trout there were browns. Brookies tend to show themselves even when they aren't really hungry, so we went looking for a brook trout stream. In my mind it was a bit of a long shot, but you have to try.

The second stream had almost no access, but we parked at a small business and sneaked down along the bridge. I flicked my Ugly just into the opening of the tunnel and watched a fish come out and grab it. BROOKIE! In mere seconds I had a very interesting looking brook trout at hand. The spot color and distribution along with the super dark background made it a unique looking fish... as is often the case the photo does not do it justice, in person it struck me as just looking different.

After driving around for a bit and trying to figure out another access point we eventually decided to check out the third stream. A short walk along some old railroad grade and we were there. Along the way we passed an older gentleman walking in the other direction. He asked us if we were going to fish "in the brook". We said yes, he said "My son fishes there a lot, good luck". Mark and I looked at each other, I think we both new what that meant. There had to be something there to fish for. When we got there what we found was an absolutely minuscule brook. And yet, in a plunge bellow a culvert, a six inch brook trout chased my "Crazy Shrimp" to my feet before seeing me and hurrying off.

So that's it. The last trip, the last day on the water, the last fish of 2016. And two more streams can now be added to my ever expanding wild trout stream list. A good day on the water with a good friend. Tomorrow starts a new year, and with some of CT's best small stream anglers coming together on a very special stream, it promises to be a good start to 2017. Happy New Year everyone. See you on the flip side. 

-Rowan Lytle