Tuesday, May 17, 2022

Monster Connecticut Brook Trout

 I've been on the hunt for big brookies this spring. After a number of years of less dedicated wild brook trout fishing, wherein I'd just occasionally revisited easy spots already well known to me and caught very typically sized fish, I'd got the bug again this year and wanted to find something impressive. I hadn't caught a wild brook trout of over a foot in Connecticut in quite a while. Catching fish like that can sort of just happen if you fish for brook trout enough, but I didn't just want to go out and hammer brookies every day. That isn't really my thing anymore, and I don't think it does the fish any favors. I've taken to resting streams and having a measured approach. I'm not trying to catch every brookie in the water I fish, just the largest ones. I'm also not just fishing any old water. I've come, over time, to understand what makes big brook trout in CT, and it doesn't happen just anywhere there are brook trout. If you think I'm going to just go ahead and tell you the magic ingredients, well... I'm sorry to disappoint you, but I won't. They make sense though. If you follow the natural patterns, understand the biomass factors, and think about how different habitats work you'll figure it out on your own. That's a great feeling and I don't want to deprive you of that. 

Once I'd figured out the formula it was just a matter of time, and not much time. I'd stacked the deck in my favor, if I caught brook trout at all in the places I was fishing there was a strong probability one would be a monster. To catch the fish, I'd also stack the deck by using larger flies than I might otherwise. I've never been a big fly for brook trout guy, in large part because bigger hooks and small delicate fish do not mix. But I wasn't after small fish, and there wouldn't even really be any small fish in the places I was fishing. I'd fish larger streamers, mice, gurglers, and things of that sort unless I saw fish actively feeding. I wasn't taking that strategy because the fish would want really big meals, more so because I needed flies with a bit of calling power because I didn't know exactly where the fish would be sitting a lot of the time and wanted to fish in a way that would potentially draw a big brook trout from further away.

It's funny, frankly, just how quickly it came together. Of course that's ignoring the years it took to put everything in place to make it easy to do, but once I had the idea in my head it was a matter of days. The location I had the most confidence in showed me two giant brook trout on my first visit of the year, though I didn't catch either one. On my second visit, I caught one of the largest brook trout I've ever caught in CT. At fourteen and a half inches and carrying about a pound, it was an extraordinary specimen of a native salmonid. 

As we shift into what feels like a very early summer here in CT, I do intend to devote a bit more time over the coming month or so to these big brook trout. Since I got that one I managed a few other monsters as well, but I'd really like to break the 18 inch mark here in CT. I think it's possible, though I don't know of anyone that has done so recently. If nothing else, it's a relief to see that our only remaining wild native salmonid is doing well enough to kick out specimens as big as a pound. That certainly is a good thing. 

Thank you to my Patrons; Erin, David, John, Elizabeth, Brandon, Christopher, Shawn, Mike, Sara, Leo, C, Franky, Geof, Luke, Streamer Swinger, Noah, Justin, Sean, Tom, Mark, and Jake 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.

Monday, May 9, 2022

Fly Fishing For Invasive Goldfish

 Recently I took a quick ride south to a park pond. I was after an invasive species. I often fish for non-native and invasive fish, as there are plenty of them around (definitively, of course). I don't fish for this species that often though, as they haven't really taken hold here in Connecticut just yet. In other parts of the country, they've filled significant niches, displacing native species and causing ecological issues, as an invasive must do to be designated as such. As with other cyprinid species, goldfish in large numbers can cause increased water turbidity due to their bottom-based feeding strategy, diminishing plant life and degrading water quality. These negative impacts could well happen in Connecticut if they are allowed to spread. Concerningly, two of the places I know of that contain them drain indirectly into the Connecticut River. Fishing is not permitted in either and it seems the goldfish are welcomed by those managing those waters. In another case, a pond had a large number of big goldfish that were thankfully eradicated before they spread into the river below. On a couple of occasions I've seen individual goldfish in rivers where they were likely dumped as unwanted pets. This day, though, I was heading to an isolated pond where the goldfish couldn't leave. They still shouldn't be there, but it's less of a concern for spreading. 

This pond ecosystem itself is an odd one. It contains a single large common carp, western mosquitofish, and the goldfish as the non-native species. For natives, it contains pumpkinseed sunfish, golden shiners, and brown bullheads. Being a tiny, man-made pond it doesn't represent a great example of how these species would interact in a natural ecosystem, but the golden shiners seem to be quite stunted there and rarely attain the sizes I see in similarly sized waters that don't contain goldfish or mosquitofish, so maybe there is a negative impact at play. 

The goldfish themselves are finicky creatures and tough to fool with a fly. They often school up tightly at the surface in the spring and sit motionless, just sunning themselves. When they aren't doing that, if you don't chum you won't see them. At all. They may as well not be there. I wasn't prepared with chum so it was a good thing they were sunning. That didn't make it an easy task though. I spent the better part of an hour fishing to them with unweighted nymphs, soft hackles, and a few dry flies. I had them move to the fly numerous times but discerning the take is often the hardest part of the whole deal. I rarely feel it, and with goldfish the size of these at a distance more than 25 feet seeing the exact moment they nip the fly is a real trick, one I usually don't perform well. Eventually though I usually manage to make it work, and this time I did get a nice orange one. Only the one, but I'll always take one over none. 

Goldfish are tough to get a handle on once they do take over. As is often the case with similar species, angling can't really stop them, so even if you kill every one you catch you aren't doing any good. Because of the habitat they spend most of their time in, mechanical and chemical methods of removal often either don't get them all or are too indiscriminate. So the best strategy is actually curbing future infestations. Anglers should report seeing goldfish, especially in interconnected waterways, to their state environmental protection agencies. It's also important to pass on information and educate, since goldfish are a common pet that is all too often released into the wild. The ramifications of goldfish taking over a watershed are not insignificant and should be taken seriously. 

Thank you to my Patrons; Erin, David, John, Elizabeth, Brandon, Christopher, Shawn, Mike, Sara, Leo, C, Franky, Geof, Luke, Streamer Swinger, Noah, Justin, Sean, Tom, Mark, and Jake 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.

Monday, May 2, 2022

Your Recreation Isn't Passive, Even if It Is

I was walking on a publicly accessible piece of land around a drinking water reservoir. A sign caught my eye, a classic water company land sign. One that said what you could and couldn't do. It said "Passive Recreation Only" and "no fishing, hunting, motor vehicles". It also stated "dogs must remain leashed".

I thought about that sign. It was meant to reduce activities that could pollute the water. The irony there being that the water volume in the reservoirs was so huge that any pollutants introduced by the sorts of prohibited actions would be so diluted as to be completely negligible. But dog walking was allowed, along with their urine and feces which would undoubtedly run off into the reservoir. And allowing people to walk around an area isn't really passive. People don't float inches off the ground, thereby leaving it undisturbed. If you are in a place, you impact that place. 

I've been thinking more and more about that term, "passive recreation", recently. That term is generally used in reference to things like hiking, biking, bird watching, and other activities that don't have a direct and clear impact on the landscape. I don't agree with that terminology, though. I don't believe any outdoor activity can truly be passive. You always impact something, and almost always negatively. The question is simply just how severe that impact is. Something like fishing, obviously, isn't at all passive. You may not have though into it that much though, so lets do that.

When you travel to a fishing spot, you add wear to existing paths or start beating your own. Those of us who are very obsessive anglers can probably remember beating a well trodden path into a spot that very few people were fishing before you came along. That's an impact... you trod down existing brush, probably moved some seeds around, cause erosion, and so on. In the process of arriving you alter the behavior of the wildlife that are present, and they have to make changes in their behavior. Then you start fishing, perhaps you hook some fish- you stab a hole in them, more insignificant if it's a small barbless hook, pretty severe if it's big and barbed. More than one hole if you're using a treble hook. Then you force the fish to expend energy, fighting for it's life. Maybe you keep it, removing an organism from the ecosystem. If you release that fish, you still haven't actually done it much of a favor and there is some chance your actions result in that fish dying after you let it go. Not very passive, that's for sure. 

But what about something that would be considered passive? Let's take the most common example, hiking. To hike you need a trail. Trails can cause a serious amount of damage to the landscape depending how heavily traveled they are and where they are located. A trail right along a stream ran result in bank erosion and disruption of the habitats of fish and other stream dwelling wildlife. Trails on rocky high ground can severely impact slow growing low brush, nesting birds, and herpetofauna. If trail thoroughly spiderweb an area and are heavily traveled, large wildlife may struggle to accomplish important life functions even in daylight. Trail also represent access, and not everyone that can access an area will do so responsibly. In the world of CT herpetology, we're fighting mountain bikers right now. They're moving into new areas, building new trails, and causing huge habitat disruption. They likely don't perceive their actions as destructive at all, but the have been. One unauthorized trail I've been working with the state on represents a substantial threat to an endangered species. It must be stopped. And trails like it are popping up all over the state. Actions like moving rock, beating back brush, moving leaf litter, and building structures always have a negative impact. Sometimes that impact can be huge. 

A CT DEEP herpetologist installs a remote camera to monitor an unauthorized trail through protected habitat.

We don't often think that hard about the impacts of our actions. What I've written thus far could be pissing you off if you've ever done any of these things. That's completely understandable. I know how I feel when someone point out something I'm doing that might have some negative impact. It's annoying to have to think about your own actions, especially when someone is making it sound like you've done something bad. I'll tell you this: nobody is immune. This isn't meant to be an accusatory piece, I just want people to think about this stuff more consciously. Is a new trail a good idea? Should I build this cairn? Should I get so close to this animal? Should I pick it up and handle it? Should I fish for these fish? Should I pick all of these wild edibles? The answer to these questions is "no" an awful lot more than we're comfortable believing. Recreation is never passive. It always has a negative impact. It's up to us to value the continued existence of habitats and species over our own personal enjoyment and recreation. 

Thank you to my Patrons; Erin, David, John, Elizabeth, Brandon, Christopher, Shawn, Mike, Sara, Leo, C, Franky, Geof, Luke, Streamer Swinger, Noah, Justin, Sean, Tom, Mark, and Jake 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.

Monday, April 25, 2022

The Killer of Browns Brook

Editor's note: this story is very different from what I usually write and post, but I hope you will all find it enjoyable. I concocted this tale on the walk back to my car after fishing a heavily beaver-altered stream in a quite remote area. Finding an out of place object triggered a story line about animals with murderous intent, particularly animals you wouldn't expect to be murderous. It's the first and probably only time I'll ever write a tongue-in-cheek horror story, or any horror story. 

A hiker wandered down the banks of a narrow stream, red walking staff in one hand and binoculars around his neck. It was a beautiful early spring evening. The air was warm overall save for a light breeze that occasionally wafted through, bringing a bit of a chill with it. The sun had fallen low to the horizon, casting a golden glow through a layer of high, hazy clouds. The hiker gazed at the sky and thought to himself that there must be quite a lovely sunset coming in a couple hours. Those sort of high, wispy clouds really light ablaze when the sun reaches the horizon. A sound emanated from the woods; a cracking branch and a little shuffling. The hiker payed it little mind. Squirrels are everywhere, after all. What did catch his attention was the call of an inbound wood duck. Raising the binoculars to his eyes he watched a pair bank through the trees and make a splashdown on a beaver pond. The pair moved around the corner and out of site. Easing his tired muscles out of resting position and taking the weight of his walking staff, the hiker made a few short steps towards the bank. 

Ahead of him on the same bank was a tangle of green brier and tightly bunched saplings. Beavers had worked this area over and the emergent vegetation made passing through a difficult task. The opposite bank, though, was all mature forest. The trees were big and old, and the undergrowth sparse. He'd have to cross to the other side to continue downstream. Luckily those beavers had left him with a bridge. A big old oak lay across the creek. There was a branch sticking straight up, but though the man was in his 60's he was not one to shy ways from a challenge. Getting to the midpoint was easy, and though he nearly dropped his staff into the river and his binoculars swung perilously, he rounded the branch without incident too. From there it was a mere step onto the bank. At that moment a load cracking noise caught his attention and he startled, nearly wheeling off the log and into the water. He barely caught himself, looking around for the source of the noise. There was nothing to be seen, so far as he could tell. Collecting his whit he righted himself again the stump of the beaver felled tree and looked back down the bank he'd successfully reached. Neither that loud crack nor the ruckus he'd made disturbed the wood ducks, apparently. Though they were still out of sight there's been no loud takeoff and alarm call. 

Suddenly, another loud cracking noise arose from behind the startled wandered and he turned to see a well chewed tree beginning to give. It was a thick old tree and it was falling in his direction. He had but seconds to weigh the options. Taking the closest escape he dove toward the brook, rolling of the bank and falling into a hole that was every bit of four and a half feet deep. The wood ducks took off, calling loudly. Animals flushed throughout the area as the big old tree crashed to the ground mere inches from where the hiker had just stood. He didn't hear the wood ducks take off, of course, as he was too busy exploding back to the surface of the brook and gasping for air. The water was quite cold, probably not even 50 degrees, and he realized quite quickly he was in a bit of a predicament. scrambling up the steep bank, he flopped on the ground and struggled out of his backpack and soaking wet jacket. He knew the air temperature was dropping quickly, and he knew he was pretty far from his vehicle. 

Simultaneously catching his breath and wringing out his jacket, the hiker pondered his options. Hypothermia sets in quickly. He knew he needed to retain body heat. He hopped up and started doing jumping jacks. Then running in place. His muscles screamed. He had to get moving, this wasn't going to keep him warm long. Turning to examine his rout out, he noted that the newly fallen oak had created quite a messy tangle of branches. He'd have a hard time getting through all that mess, but it was either that or go back in the creek. As he approached the felled tree some movement caught his eye. Up the bank and near the chewed stump of the massive tree stood an enormous beaver. It must have be close to 80 pounds, he thought. And it was standing, up on its hind feet and staring at him. In his excitement at seeing such an enormous old beaver, the hiker forgot about his predicament. The beaver dropped down on all fours. As it did so the hiker realized that something was off about this beaver. It took a few lumbering steps toward him and stood back up. As it did so the hiker realized the animals eyes were a blazing crimson red. When it stood again it spoke. The beaver's mouth didn't move, but it spoke directly to the hiker. "Humans don't belong here, hiker" it said. Completely flabbergasted, the hiker couldn't muster a reply, he just gasped. "We don't like humans in this place" said the beaver. "I... I... I mean no harm" stuttered the hiker."

The beaver dropped on all fours again and continued toward the beaver. "I need to assure you won't return, and that you won't bring others." The beaver's deep, ominous tone elicited fear in the hiker, and he stumbled backwards away from the approaching animal. "I won't come back, I promise" he gasped out, in complete shock at what was transpiring. "I know you won't," responded the beaver, "you will never leave." Scrambling back, the hiker suddenly felt the ground disappear from underneath him and with a yelp and a splash he was in the brook again. The commotion was short lived this time, the hiker never rose back to the surface. A few bubbles rose to the surface, then a billowing red cloud. The beaver emerged moments later holding a red walking staff crosswise in his huge, sharp teeth. 

A few months later, an angler was fishing his way up Browns Brook. The bite had been fantastic and he'd already caught better than a dozen colorful brook trout when he came upon a beaver dam. In the center and at the top was a bright red walking staff, stuck in the dam handle up, as if purposefully placed there. How curious, thought the angler. He wondered how and why a beaver would come to incorporate such an object in his construction. It was stick shaped, of course, so it fit the architecture. But it looked so odd and out of place. 

From behind the angler arose a bit of noise in the forest, a branch breaking and some rustling. He ignored it. All sorts of animals make a commotion on the forest floor. 

Thank you to my Patrons; Erin, David, John, Elizabeth, Brandon, Christopher, Shawn, Mike, Sara, Leo, C, Franky, Geof, Luke, Streamer Swinger, Noah, Justin, Sean, Tom, and Mark 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.

Monday, April 18, 2022

Can't Stop

It's dark and cold. The spring peepers went quiet hours ago when the temperature crept down below freezing. Nobody is out, the water slides by at a slow and steady pace. The tide is as sluggish as everything else seems to be. There isn't any sign of bait. There's no sign of bass either. It's so cold, why would there be? I fish anyway, letting the hours slide by, allowing the pursuit to pull me forward and keep me on target. If I think about that target I don't need to think about anything else. 

A muskrat comes up the bank from below. I think I know where he's headed, but I'm surprised to see him at this time of night. Normally he makes his rounds earlier. Maybe he's just wondering why I'm there when I am too. I'm often late to the party, showing up after the bass have been around a while and lingering till after everyone else has given up. This year I felt the need to hit the target sooner. But tonight there's nothing, it seems. No bait. No bass. But I must not stop. At 3:30am I can hear the frost that's forming on my line scraping off onto my guides. Hmm. Very cold indeed. 

I make a minor spot adjustment, just to cast through the same water at a slightly different angle. Sometimes that makes a difference. Usually it doesn't. I think about these things that some anglers don't. Not merely does adjusting where you stand allow you to present your fly to different fish, but it might let you present it better to the same fish you've already showed it to. Maybe there was a bass in front of me and I just had to show it the same fly in a different way. Maybe it  If I keep thinking about these things I don't have to think about... well, I don't want to think about that. I force myself to think about the variables and the task at hand again. The line I'm using wasn't great. The head is much too long for the job. It's much too long for anything I would do with it, frankly. Feeling the taper as I strip it through my fingers, I ponder solutions. I could cut it down I bet, make it into something really useful. It would end up being a triangle taper, basically. As it was there was really nothing I could think to use it for. My mind drifts to things Ian Devlin has taught me about tapers, grain weights, and casting. 

My new angle suddenly seems to have been a good idea when I feel that ever distinct thump. Ramming the hook home, I could tell it was a fairly decent bass. Not huge, but big enough to make for a very solid first of the season. 

By that point I'm more than exhausted enough to fall asleep. I let the fish swim off and walk back to the car. That was that. But only for that night. Sleep keeps the thoughts away for the most part, especially when I'm so dog tired I don't have any dreams I can remember. The next day I'll work until I have no more will to work, then I'll go fishing again. And I'll fish harder and with more intent than I ever have before.

 I can't stop, and I barely have since. If I fish hard enough I'll break my goals. If I fish hard enough, I won't think about those things I don't want to. I can't stop now or it will hurt too much. I'm fishing the pain away. That's all I know how to do. 

Thank you to my Patrons; Erin, David, John, Elizabeth, Brandon, Christopher, Shawn, Mike, Sara, Leo, C, Franky, Geof, Luke, Streamer Swinger, Noah, Justin, Sean, Tom, and Mark 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.