Thursday, February 2, 2023

Belly Crawlers

 The drone of late summer cicadas and crickets pierced the hot summer air as I crept around the periphery of a grimy looking pond in Rhode Island. This was the sort of water that might make many fly anglers cringe or scoff. It was trash filled, murky, and heavily impacted by a couple centuries of human encroachment, industry, and neglect. In fact the fish I was after in this pond, Cyprinus carpio, had been introduced by Europeans and hadn't exactly helped the natural landscape. Lightly put, this place was a mess. But it was a mess among which I'd found very enjoyable sport. The carp in this pond varied from wonderfully ornate mirrors with a variety of scale patterns to large, chestnut colored commons. When the conditions were right these carp came into the shallows to feed and there I could stalk and cast to them with light fly tackle. Along one particular stretch of this pond, the fish would regularly come up so shallow that their backs would be out of the water as they fed. Belly crawlers, I call them, borrowed from the redfish world. These fish would be keenly aware of disturbances in their periphery. Carp seem to know how vulnerable they are in extremely shallow water, as most fish do. Though their field of vision outside the water is restricted to a tiny window because their eyes are so near the water's surface, sounds and vibrations could quickly send them scurrying into the safety of deep water. 

I slowly approached point around which I could expect to encounter belly crawlers. It was actually just a shallow gravel bar that emerged as a dry, vegetated point during low water conditions. Its gradual slope created a flat of sorts on either side. Though I could never figure out why, the fish favored the eastern side. It was about a 5/1 ratio; fish I'd see on the east side to fish I'd see on the west side. Even from 40 yards away, now, I could see three carp on the east side of the point. Two small ones, one sizable. Each wallowed in the muddy, weedy flat rooting for macro invertebrates, dead things, anything they might be able to eat. This was the picture perfect scenario, a fly-carper's dream. Though none of the fish, even the largest, was a particularly large individual, this was the ideal set-up to get fantastic visuals and present a fly to a carp in water just inches deep. I crept into position, careful not to step on anything that might make a loud crack. I used the low brush of the island to conceal my own silhouette, rather than standing plainly visible against open sky. I knew this would be a one fish deal, so I focused on the largest while trying not to spook the other two. I knew I could get very close to these fish without spooking them as long as I was slow and extremely quiet. I remained low and edged closer bit by bit as the fish continued to feed. Once in a good position, I watched and waited for a clear shot. almost like a hunter waiting for a buck to make its way out of thick brush, I needed my target common to move out of the weeds and into an open spot. It would eventually, and a clear shot could be had. Cast too soon and I'd risk hanging the fly up in the weeds and potentially spooking the fish. So I waited, patient but slightly on edge, for the fish to move into a gap in the weeds. Eventually it did. I raised the rod and made a short and gentle cast, landing the fly a few feet beyond the fish. I then lifted the rod and drew the fly to the fish before letting it fall just inches in front of the carp's mouth- a drag and drop presentation. The carp confidently moved forward and flared its rubbery lips, taking in my hybrid fly. I set the hook sharply and the battle was on. The fish never preformed a long run but dogged hard in the weeds, thrashing at the surface than diving down and into the brownish vegetation. It was a relatively short battle, but the belly crawler soon came to net. 


That was far from the only carp I cast at that day, nor was it the only one I caught. Each presented its own challenges and was a memorable catch in its own right. That's one of the wonderful things about sight fishing. You take in so much information, so many visuals, and it can really cement an experience in an angler's memory. Even in a dirty, trash filled New England pond. 

Thank you to my Patrons; Erin, David, John, Elizabeth, Brandon, Christopher, Shawn, Mike, Sara, Franky, Geof, Luke, Noah, Justin, Sean, Tom, Mark, Jake, Chris, Oliver, and oddity on Display for making Connecticut Fly Angler possible. If you want to support this blog, look for the Patreon link at the top of the right side-bar in web version.

Thursday, January 26, 2023

Overpressured

It's a warm spring day on a famed New England trout river. There's little wind and between clouds the sun warms the bottom of the river. In a gentle ripple no more than two feed deep sits a wild trout. She is an old fish with a couple of spawns under her belt and a decade of surviving the changes, both natural and unnatural, that has taken place on the river of her birth. She carries battle scars from some of the trauma she had survived. Notably, her maxillary are both in varying states of damage. As any trout does, she eats without complete understanding of what she's ingesting and many times throughout her life she has eaten things that weren't food. Some of these things were sharp and attached to a barely discernible line, and though the odd large animals that pulled in that line always let her go, the repetitive catching had completely destroyed the trout's jaws. The maxillary was an important part of the trout's anatomy for feeding and the damage had made not-insignificant difficulty for her ability to obtain nutrients. In fact, those large animals regularly effected the trout's feeding. She'd learned to be more discerning in what she chose to eat because each time she'd made the error of eating one of those artificial items she was forced to struggle and exert a lot of energy. To avoid that the trout had become extremely careful, to the point that she'd sometimes even reject real food items. At this very moment a Hendrickson hatch was in progress. Duns like tiny sailboats rode the turbulence of the riffle but the trout stayed down near the bottom. The consistent disturbance of the large animals had forced her into feeding different feeding habits. She didn't feed from the surface as much, she picked different lies, and she fed less during the day than she otherwise would. Much like the need to be more picky about what she mouthed this also had a small but present effect on how much nutrients she could obtain. Though she was doing okay- she was at least alive -she was less healthy than she would otherwise be were it not for those intrusive and ever-present animals. 

Of course, she wasn't the only trout those animals were effecting. Just a few feet away there was a dead fish, slowly decaying and being consumed by caddis larvae. This trout had been hooked poorly by one of the fake food items and even though the angler let the fish go he was bleeding horribly. A few hours later he settled to the bottom a few hundred yards below where he'd been released, completely lifeless.  This trout wasn't the only one to die such a death. It didn't happen every day, but it did happen. Some fish were handled poorly, some just happened to be hooked in critical places, and some were caught and released at times when they were already under extreme stress. Though the trout's little pea brain couldn't comprehend the concept, her life and that of every other fish in the river were negatively effected by every interaction with those big animals. This was life for this trout, though thousands of years of evolution had given her traits to avoid the sort of predators that would always eat a trout if they caught it, she was having to adjust to avoiding a predator that would likely just put her back in worse shape than she was before. It was a strange and foreign sort of pressure for a fish to accommodate. 

The trout's brain also couldn't comprehend the other ways by which these animals impacted her life. The hatch of mayflies drifting over her head was a strong one, but these hatches had become more and more sparse as years progressed. The animals would trod across that bottom day in and day out, crushing nymphs and disturbing habitat. The things they put in their lawns and on their roads would drain into the river with each runnoff and kill yet more bugs. Over time what had been blizzard emergances became more sparse, and the nymphs in the drift became harder to come by as well. This effected fish smaller than the trout as well, and blacknose dace and common shiners had less to forage on. The trout relied on these small fish as forage as well and they at some times critical for her to obtain energy. As the forage base got smaller, the large animals stole the river's water as well. They used it to make their lawns greener and their cars shinier, and to relax and clean themselves after a hard day of trying to fool the trout. When the water made it back into the river, if it did at all, it was warm and often richly nutrified. When the hot, dry summers came this killed more forage and more trout as well. But the animals continued to come to the river in droves doing everything the could to catch more and more trout. some days the trout had to leave her lie again and again as the animals came along and spooked her one after the other. She could hardly catch a break. Of course, she kept trucking along. A trout doesn't really understand the implications of what goes on around it, it just does what it's biological imperatives tell it to so that it can stay alive. It eats, it tries to avoid being eaten, and it makes more trout. It responds to stimuli to better survive. 

The big animals, us, are impactful on trout, and unless we're doing (keyword: proven and effective) habitat projects, re-introducing extirpated forage sources, or introducing healthy nutrient sources (I believe is was Ernie Schweibert that said sometimes the best thing that can happen to a trout stream is for a trout to take a s*** in it, and this does bear out with population densities and average size in many cases), our impact is always negative. The more of us fish, and the more often, the higher that impact is and the more fish we will unintentionally kill... the more stream bed our wading boots degrade... the more redds get trampled... the more trout's behavior gets altered. 



There is a limit to how much fishing pressure a river can take before both the health of the fishery take a hit. Those of us who pay attention are keenly aware of how fishing pressure changes a stream and it always makes it worse. We anglers need to be mindful of this, and in the current world of chasing clout and everyone wanting to look like they slam fish all the time, with anglers wanting to fit into the top of the social hierarchy, its all too easy to lose sight of the impact intense pressure has on any fishery. Either we can accept it and continue to watch the fishing quality and perhaps more importantly the experience quality decline, or we can take personal responsibility for our own personal pressure. And don't do it to be holier than though. Don't do it to brag. Do it because the fishing will be better for the next guy and better for the fish if you only pull one nice trout out of the wintering hole, or leave a few of the heads coming up along the bank alone after you've already had a great evening of dry fly fishing. There are ways to spread out your fishing pressure and still stay out on the water all day and catch a fulfilling number of fish. It's up to each of us to find that way of fishing that both full fills and excites us and reduces our personal impact on the fishery. And I know I could do better, that's my biggest goal this year both personally and as a guide. I hope I can diminish my own personal damage to the resource we all rely on. 

Thank you to my Patrons; Erin, David, John, Elizabeth, Brandon, Christopher, Shawn, Mike, Sara, Franky, Geof, Luke, Noah, Justin, Sean, Tom, Mark, Jake, Chris, Oliver, and oddity on Display for making Connecticut Fly Angler possible. If you want to support this blog, look for the Patreon link at the top of the right side-bar in web version.

Friday, January 20, 2023

Spectacular Vermont Brown Trout

 "Want to give it a shot?" Drew Price called to me from the other side of the creek, knee deep along a great looking pool. He'd just hung his fly in a limb on the near side after covering the pool fairly thoroughly. I figured I had no shot but said "sure" anyway and crossed to his side. The clear, cold flow of this lowland river squeezed the air out of my waders as I made my way over on a gravel bar. This was a stream I'm never fished before, one Drew told me had been really intriguing him as it refused to give up the caliber fish he knew were residing there. Of course this intrigued me greatly. That's the sort of trout stream that grabs and maintains my interest, the sort that I know has large fish but is impenetrable and hard to crack. So of course when Drew asked if I'd like to make the ride up and fish it with him I obliged. 

The initial fishing enforced the idea that this was going to be a tough nut to crack. Access wasn't easy, the water was very clear, and the narrowness and sweeping bends formed complex current breaks that were hard to read. There were also lots of places for a lethargic trout to bury themselves into during the cold- deep cut banks and log jams -that they likely won't come out of all that willingly.  We didn't catch fish through a bunch of juicy looking water. I'd opted to fish a mono rig and a sparkle minnow. I have confidence in Coffey's Sparkle Minnow for wild brown trout just about everywhere, and the mono rig would allow my to flip and sling the streamer in the abundant places where I'd have no back cast room. I moved two smaller trout as we made our way down, both made their attacks the moment after I completely flipped the direction the fly was swimming. But those fish really weren't all that confidence inducing for me, they were small fish and we were covering a lot of water that felt as though it should be producing that just wasn't. Drew wasn't kidding about this place. 

That was what lead us to that deep pool. In that time, the river had gotten under my skin, just as Drew had expected it would. This was my sort of trout stream. And it was about to get a lot more interesting. I eased up the side of the pool where drew had fished and began casting my sparkle minnow toward the head of the pool. I made a few fairly typical retrieves before I decided to switch it up and two hand retrieve as fast as I could. I don't remember how many casts it was before a nice trout made a visually spectacular swipe at the fly just about right under Drew's rod tip. "Shit, I just had about a 22 inch fish take a swipe" I said. It never touched the fly, but I really didn't expect it to come back. I made three more casts before feeling that telltale tension and with urgency stated "there she is!". I made quick work of the fight and Drew got the net under it. We went crazy, both of us- almost incoherent. It was indeed 22 inches, and an absolutely gorgeous and unusual looking trout. It didn't look like any trout I'd ever caught before. It was very pale overall with spectacular light blue cheeks. It was a lovely brown trout and my first over the 20 inch mark this year. A good start to the new trout year if I do say so myself!


Photo Courtesy Drew Price

Photo Courtesy Drew Price

That could have been a start of a roll, but it wasn't really. Drew caught another fish a short time later but other than that I don't know that either of us actually moved another the rest of the day. The water looked great though and I was beginning to formulate methods and approaches. Suffice to say, I'll be back. Likely more than once. Probably many many times. Though that fish was a clincher, there's just something about covering as much water as we did, as much killer looking water, without catching numbers of trout that intrigues me. We know there are fish there. Obviously there are fish there. The question is, how do we catch them consistently? It'll take some time to figure it out I'm sure. 

Thank you to my Patrons; Erin, David, John, Elizabeth, Brandon, Christopher, Shawn, Mike, Sara, Franky, Geof, Luke, Noah, Justin, Sean, Tom, Mark, Jake, Chris, Oliver, and oddity on Display for making Connecticut Fly Angler possible. If you want to support this blog, look for the Patreon link at the top of the right side-bar in web version.

Wednesday, January 11, 2023

Walleye Talk & The Winter Guiding Agenda

Another one of my talks at the Middle Haddam Library will be on the 23rd at 7:00pm! This one will be on targeting walleye on fly. It will include data from about a decade's worth of targeting the species in CT waters, as well as in depth strategies for presentation and hunting down the largest walleyes. The Middle Haddam Library is 2 Knowles Rd, Middle Haddam CT. I'll be doing talks t the library every other month, at least that's the current plan, so expect another in April!


This has been a ridiculously mild January so far, and it doesn't look like that's about to end. The fishing has been good to stellar, depending on the day and the fishery. Trout are what's hip and happening, on the whole. The flows have settled out to a good medium and the fish are in wintering holes. They tend to move within the hole throughout the day and day to day with flow and temperature fluctuations. Trout movement is something I've really put together more over the last four years, with HUGE strides in the last two and that has really upped my game as an angler and guide. It's something I'm quite proud of, frankly, because it has lead not only to easier fishing but a more fine-scale understanding of what trout do and why. The intricacies of food availability, weather and ice impacts on the fish, and behavioral differences between species come to light better and better when you can follow trout through a whole season and watch densities actually shift through a system. If you'd like to learn about these factors, or just catch a bunch of trout sometime this winter, my book is open.

Alex and Glen learned the ins and outs of small stream wild brook trout fishing recently.


Of course, flows have been on the high side for the Shetucket. if any of my clients are interested in that fishery, we need to play the windows. Flexibility is helpful. If you are versed with or want to learn how to spey fish, on the other hand, and don't mind the distinct possibility of getting skunked, this high flow lends itself to the two hander and I'm equipped to teach the form. My hope is, though, that by next season I'll have a raft two float the Shetucket with in high water. That'll really open that fishery up in a broader range of conditions for myself and clients. For now, watch for flows below 1200 at the Taftville gauge for what I consider fairly consistent fishing.

Thank you to my Patrons; Erin, David, John, Elizabeth, Brandon, Christopher, Shawn, Mike, Sara, Franky, Geof, Luke, Noah, Justin, Sean, Tom, Mark, Jake, Chris, Oliver, and Oddity On Display for making Connecticut Fly Angler possible. If you want to support this blog, look for the Patreon link at the top of the right side-bar in web version.


Wednesday, January 4, 2023

New Year's Day 2023

 It's another year. 2022 was, well, it was an odd one for me. Like a roller coaster would be an apt description. The highs were really high, the lows were really low, and the drops happened so damned fast it made my head spin. The last day of the year was a pleasant one. I had a client in the morning- one of my regulars, Mike -and it was a great trip. The weather was very mild and the trout obliged. After that I went and relaxed with some friends, seeing the year out relaxed and happy. 

This is our first New Year's Day without Alan. The small stream crew, no doubt, were all feeling his absence on the 1st. I know I certainly was. John and I had planned to get together and fish. He ended up with vehicle problems, something I'm certainly sympathetic to as my rig insisted on being a problem child this year with a broken axle casing, differential needing a complete overhaul, faulty alternator, and some more minor issues. Luckily it's running nicely at the moment. I had free reign of what stream I could fish on January. I decided to fish a small river valley stream dominated by brown trout, but with a few brookies mixed in as well. The temperatures were mild, the sun was up, and rain the previous night had brought flows to a nice level. 

I really wanted to go light as far as gear. Waders felt unnecessary, I went armed with just a sling pack and good old five weight. On the end of the leader was an Ausable Ugly. The plan was to fish thoughtfully and slowly, and hopefully catch any opportunistic trout I may come across. 


I've found that fishing trout streams without waders forces an angler to be more careful about their approach. Up on the banks, an angler is often a more obvious figure. One must move slower and position themselves more precisely. Waderless fishing made me more aware of putting sight blocks- objects that would obstruct a fish's view in my direction -between myself and the water I was going to fish. This was especially important in my early years as I tended to move quickly. I can remember numerous occasions on which I'd watch Alan get right on top of the water he was going to fish. He wasn't a large man, so simply by moving slowly and not making much commotion he was able to catch fish from close proximity. I had and still do have a hard time with that approach. Instead I get low, even crawl at times, and hide behind things. I fish longer rods and heavier flies a lot, so allowing long downstream drifts into places I can't cast isn't always an option. That was Alan's forte, light soft hackles and long downstream presentations. If he couldn't cast as far as he wanted due to obstructing brush he wasn't bothered. He could just control his line a fly and feed them down-current. I learned to employ this strategy with dry flies and still do that often, but I've yet to fall in love with the dangled wet fly the way many of my small stream friend have. 

On this tiny, brushy stream, my positioning had to be especially precise. I often opted to fish from within thick brush, finding windows to drop or bow-and-arrow cast my fly into runs and pools. If I hooked a fish from these positions it required quick action to get to the water's edge and land it, but I couldn't fish these same places from the edge of the stream anyway without risking spooking the trout. I'd often be reaching over a rod length's worth of bittersweet to drop the Ugly into promising water that I could barely see from my position. It may seem like unnecessary effort when some of the pools between had far easier approaches and casting windows, and maybe some days that's true. But not this January 1st. Each opportunity I got to bring a trout to hand came in one of the tricky pools to fish. 

One particular trout really made my day. It came in a classic "log pool", where the spill over a submerged downed tree gutted out a nice deep hole that featured an eddy on either side. Some activity upriver was churning up the bottom, and though it was settling out by the time the water reached the area I'd started visibility was low all the way up here. Maybe five inches. I made sure to work the pool very thoroughly because of this. Whereas it may only get a half dozen casts under clear water conditions I put about twenty through it this time. The last was greeted with an almighty thump. The fish that was responsible made good account of itself despite the cold water. It was a gaudily colored creature the likes of which one would not likely expect to encounter in a tiny and somewhat urban Connecticut creek. Well Pete and Alan, this one is for you. Happy New Years my friends, we miss you both dearly. 


This New Years Day was a bittersweet one for me. Perhaps it was fitting that I spend much of it crawling through the plant of that name. I really hope 2023 is a good year. I have some hope at the moment. I feel good. 

Thank you to my Patrons; Erin, David, John, Elizabeth, Brandon, Christopher, Shawn, Mike, Sara, Franky, Geof, Luke, Noah, Justin, Sean, Tom, Mark, Jake, Chris, and Oliver for making Connecticut Fly Angler possible. If you want to support this blog, look for the Patreon link at the top of the right side-bar in web version.