Sunday, September 25, 2022

Albies & Updates

 You know what sucked? Last year's tunny season. You know what doesn't? This year's. It feels like this year you can play your cards right and have a good shot at landing a fish every time you go out. That very much wasn't how it played out last year, especially in CT. Last year was incredibly sporadic, with fish being isolated to certain areas and frequently hanging a few miles off shore rather than running the structure. 

There are plenty of slower days and the fish have been pressured enough to get picky, but this year's volume and spread are exponentially better than the previous three combined. It has also allowed for more confidence in experimentation, both with new spots and new methods. I, personally, have been streamlining my fly arsenal as well as getting back to frequently using floating line. Other high abundance years back when I first began targeting these fish, notably 2017, allowed for similar exploration and experimentation, but I didn't yet have the experience to draw conclusions yet. I got quite a lot of opportunities to fish despite not yet even having my own vehicle. During the 2017 season I'd often have my step-dad drop me off on his way to work, walking sometimes miles between spots throughout the day and slugging it out with nowhere to go on the slow days. Those were the good old days, I learned a lot entirely on my own. when I fished with friends that year, they often new as much or less about little tunny than I did, so it was very much a time of trial and error and learning from experience. 

On the note of  coming to conclusions, just what is it that has made this a good year? One factor seems to be the drought. Inshore salinity is higher due to a lack of rain. Other banner years happened in concurrence with droughts. 2016 was a severe drought year, 2017 likely piggy-backed off of that. Other drought years in the intervening time haven't hosted large numbers, so there is certainly more to it than that. it was an offshore storm that pushed the fish to us this year, which is exactly what happened in 2017. Last year it was the onshore impact of Henri that seemed to push in the first fish. There are still plenty off questions about what brings them in, why some years are so poor, and so on. Many won't likely ever be answered even with the startup of tagging projects like ASGA's "The Albie Project". I'm excited to see what results this project has, if anything at all. Frankly it will be noteworthy if any tagged fish get recaptured just as some tentative catch and release data.

In other news, I've updated my Patreon benefits, my to two tiers now get 50% off any guided trips! I've also increased my post rate over there, It's basically become the old style Connecticut Fly Angler- shorter, punchier posts, though I think more incisive. The incisiveness comes with age...  growth comes with time and I'm always growing as an angler and as a writer. I've started to feel a lot older lately when I think back to memorable bites and good fishing I've had and realize that some of it was more than a decade ago. 

I've got some availability for land-based tunny trips going into October, as well as some canoe based striped bass sight fishing as well. The fall sight fishing is very different from the more typical June-July crab season, the fish are often feeding on mullet and peanut bunker rather than crabs and shrimp. This often results in epic shallow water blitzes as well as less picky fish than spring. It's a cool option if you are looking for a unique guided fly fishing trip. Send me a message through any of the platforms I'm on to book. 

I really can't believe I've been doing this as long as I have. I must say again, thanks to every single one of you that has offered their support in one way or another over the years. You are all appreciated.

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

Tuesday, September 20, 2022

Dredging For Catfish & Carp on the Fly

 Most fly fishing for carp and catfish is done by sight. These species don't have the prey drive that other fish species do, so getting them to move a distance is usually a hard ask. That's often what necessitates sight fishing. If you can see the fish, or at least see where a fish is, you can put your fly on its dinner plate. There are, however, scenarios that both allow and necessitate blind casting. Narrow river channels often offer opportunities to dredge bottom and pick up large fish completely blind. This is something I like to do both on my own and with clients when conditions aren't good for spotting fish, as it can often produce some larger carp and catfish than sight fishing does. 

Fairly recent'y I took advantage of some decent post frontal conditions to get on the blind bite. The strategy was to post up on channel edges, anchoring the canoe in place with the push-pole, and slowly pull heavy flies through the channel itself. I fished a short two piece leader, 20lb-15lb, and Drew Price's Mr. Bow-regard on a clear intermediate, 8wt. The retrieve was just as slow craw. Takes weren't necessarily frequent, but if we'd been sight fishing that day we'd have been SOL. The fish just weren't shallow, though they were feeding.

 These were typical conditions to get carp and cats feeding in the channels, low-ish light, high pressure, and stained water. That first fish was a brutish near-20 pounder that took the fly quite subtly just off the bottom then but up an impressive fight.The next one hit pretty hard and began to fight very much like a cat. Instead, it was just quite a small carp. 

Effective flies for this strategy are generally 1.5-3" long, dull in color, and heavy. I fish buggers, slump busters, the Mr. Bow-regard, and a few of my own patterns to good effect. Patience is key, as you need two thing to meet in close proximity without too much control over where the fish actually are in relation to your fly. All you can do is get your fly near bottom and fish it slow until it finds a fish. It's easier to explain and demonstrate the principles and intricacies of this tactic as well as where it is best employed on the water, from my canoe. These are fisheries and strategies I don't really see anyone else utilizing with fly gear, or artificials at all for that matter. And yet they're incredibly productive and fun. 

After those two carp, I was really hoping to get a good channel to eat the fly. I slid the canoe quietly back up to the top of a deep cut and anchored again. Maybe 10 minutes later I got a light grab and set into a powerful fish. This time I was much more sure it was a channel cat, though the previous small carp still made me second guess it. Sure enough it was a cat, and one of the better ones I've caught this year. With only two exceptions, every time I've set out, either just myself, with a friend, or with clients to get a channel cat on an artificial or fly we've put one in the boat. I don't think there's a single other guide in southern New England that could offer such a consistent and reliable opportunity at catfish on fly, and they're often pretty big. I just need to find the sort of weird client that is actually into that sort of thing. 

Interestingly, though I can just about guarantee catching both carp and catfish virtually every trip, the catfish fishing quality varies year to year. Last year, likely due to the numerous high water events, the channel catfish were going crazy. There were days I caught more than 20, all on fly. This years severe drought hasn't seemed amenable to them. I think most have remained in the deep shelter of the larger river instead of wandering into the tributaries en-masse to feed. 

It's very interesting seeing large yearly pattern shifts of this nature. Sometimes it very literally drives fish abundance. Though that can result in inconsistency and years that just aren't going to fish as well no matter what you do, that's a big part of the intrigue. There's always more to learn. 

Thank you to my Patrons; Erin, David, John, Elizabeth, Brandon, Christopher, Shawn, Mike, Sara, Leo, Franky, Geof, Luke, Noah, Justin, Sean, Tom, Mark, Jake, and Chris 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, September 14, 2022

Squid Hounds

 One nickname given to striped bass is "squid hound". Perhaps you've heard it used, perhaps not, but if you've seen how striped bass act when squid are around you can probably make the connection. Squid are an interesting bait, being generally fairly sizable, soft, and swallow-able. They're a dense and easy caloric package. They don't always get themselves into places where a shore-bound fly caster can reach though. I'm used to squid bites on the reefs, casting poppers at dawn or large white or orange flies on sink tips. The bass coral the squid at the head of the rip, and they can often be seen jumping out of the water. This is a boat game in deep water. I'd not encountered a surf-based squid bite until more recently. It was a night bite, in a spot I'd been visiting for the difficult to fish but epic peanut bunker feeds. This night though something new was going on. The peanuts were there but the bass weren't on them, merely apparently passing through them. a few times I felt odd plucks on my fly... the sensation of something just touching it. Not a fish. Cephalopods, things with arms, tactile little creatures. 

It didn't take too long to put two and two together. This was a squid bite. The squid were here feasting on peanuts, and the bass were living up to their nickname. It wasn't hot and heavy, but there was good fish to be had in shallow water. 

The first hooked was a respectable fish of maybe 29 inches. A beautiful fish indeed. It hit close in, no more than 25 feet away. Soon another fish boiled nearby, and a quick reaction cast got the fly into it's vicinity. There was barely time to make a couple strips before the bass was on it. A sharp couple of strips buried the hook and the fish exploded at the surface. This one was very plainly a much bigger animal. It made a good account of itself, fighting me at ever step of the way in the bulldog sort of way that a good striped bass fights. When I got hands on it I could help but grin ear to ear. 

Any 20lb class striped bass on the fly is a victory; more, much more so when your feet aren't on the deck of a boat. Pursuing these fish is endlessly captivating to me, and one of the reasons is their versatility. This was such a perfect example of it, a spot that had been producing one type of bite, fish steadily on pattern eating peanuts. Then sudden;y the wild card- squid -they showed up and everything changes. Suddenly the fish's demeanor and behavior was completely renewed. They'd eat big flies right at my feet. 

My goal this fall striper season has been to narrow my focus. I often cover areas too haphazardly, though much of that has been in the name of finding new places. I know now though that there are a limit to the number of places that are likely to give me shits at larger bass from shore on fly, and instead of trying to fish everywhere, I'm focusing my effort on really just two spots, and the majority of that effort on one. I'm still keeping tabs on my Rhode Island shoreline for guiding purposes, but from a distance. Narrowing focus should in the end pay dividends in terms of larger stripers, I feel. My end goal? Well, I don't really have one. I'm just trying to see what is really possible with a fly rod and waders (or wading shoes) in today's over crowded, over-hyped boat fishery. The how large a squid hound can I pull on with my feet in the water? How many large ones can I tie into in a season? I'm not really sure, but whatever the answer I intend to find out through slow, well thought out pursuit. 

Thank you to my Patrons; Erin, David, John, Elizabeth, Brandon, Christopher, Shawn, Mike, Sara, Leo, Franky, Geof, Luke, 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.

Wednesday, September 7, 2022

Banded Rudderfish From The Rocks

Over the years I've caught a decent number of banded rudderfish in southern New England. Banded rudderfish, Seriola zonata, area carangid fish similar to almaco jacks. They're highly pelagic, and in their younger years largely associate to floating structure like weeds mats, buoys, or driftwood. They're also known to follow sharks. When I've caught them in local waters its generally when they pile up under navigation buoys. I'd never caught them from the rocks until quite recently. 

Banded rudderfish follow warm water eddies off the gulf stream and wander into our waters in August and September when temperatures are near their peak. Not every season provides particularly good fishing for them and the windows are often short. of course, most anglers don't know or care about these little oddballs anyway. That's where I come in: the weird, the underappreciated, the obscure... that's my niche. I always spend at least a little bit of time each season looking for these oddballs. Sometimes with oddballs it's best to let them find you, though. In the final days of August I headed east in search of scombrids, and instead of catching those- though they were indeed around -I got a nice surprise in the form of a big school of rudders.

In the water, they looked like a fleet of white torpedoes running up and down the rocks harassing the silversides. Their attacks were quite coordinated, reminding me of similar patterns I've seen in scombrid species. Indeed both cargangids and scombrids school and coordinate in similar fashion, both being evolved for high speed attacks on schools of bait. Unlike scombridae the rudderfish moved up and down the rocks at a slower pace, affording far more shots than would little tunny or bonito. All I had to do was get a flash peanut in their midst. 

One of the interesting thinks about banded rudderfish is that as they grow, they actually lose those name-sake bands. In fact they can alter pigmentation at a moments notice even as juveniles, becoming patternless or heavily banded at the drop of a dime. This sometimes leads to confusion when people are trying to identify them. There are similarly shaped and patterned fish in the same genus, including lesser amberjacks, and distinguishing them can be difficult at times. But most are exceedingly rare inshore anyway.

What banded rudders do, other than look cool, change color, and feed in interesting ways, is fight like hell. For their size and even on a rod as heavy as an 8wt, these little buggers pullllll. What I really want to do, if they linger around, is bring the 1wt out there with me and get some to really scream some drag. 

Hopefully these little buggers will linger for a while. Their presence in our waters is so fleeting, as with the other exotics, I want to get it while it lasts.

Thank you to my Patrons; Erin, David, John, Elizabeth, Brandon, Christopher, Shawn, Mike, Sara, Leo, Franky, Geof, Luke, 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, August 29, 2022

Getting in The Crap

 I have a habit of not linking to lose fish. I really don't like it, if it can be avoided. I also don't like to let seemingly impossible situations prevent me from taking a shot. I will cast at carp tailing within fallen trees, brown trout rising tight to grass tussocks, or bowfin deep in the weeds. I love to fish for stripers right in boulder fields, pike in narrow creek channels, and brook trout under low canopy. My natural inclination when I see something difficult or seemingly impenetrable is to take it as a challenge. It gets me to more productive spots and catches me fish others mat not even cast at.

Last week I had my client Jim on the canoe for a multispecies trip with some emphasis on bowfin. I finally spotted one in a spot I'd highlighted prior as a likely consistent producer. This fish was sitting nearly stationary in a messy tangle of roots and branches. I knew this fish would eat and I knew we could get her in the net if we played everything right. I nosed the canoe into the crap and Jim dropped Drew Price's Mr. Bow-regard on the fish. It actually backed up to eat the fly, then dove straight down into the sticks. Not to be deterred, I made sure the canoe was securely placed and entered the water to assure I could put the fish in the net. She was buried under a few logs but I was able to finagle her out, and Jim got to hold his first ever bowfin!

Though I was prepared to dive under if I had to for that bowfin, it was nice not to need to. While carp fishing in Rhode Island last week though, I was forced to take somewhat drastic action. I found some fish feeding in an area around multiple deadfalls. There really wasn't any gap between the deadfalls and open water. The space the carp were feeding in was very finite. If hooked a fish was most certainly going to leave that area through the deadfalls. I was willing to take that risk. The fish I presented to ate with confidence and when the hook was set she promptly exited under a large mostly submerged log. I removed my sling pack and entered the water, plunging under to feed my rod under the log without jamming the tip against anything. I emerged and the fish was still on. I finished the battle and netted the carp in muddy, belly deep water. Was it necessary? No. Was it fun? Heck yes. Did it save me from skunking? Indeed it did. That lake didn't produce another fish. 

Now it must be said, none of this is necessary. You don't need to dive under logs to catch  fish, you don't even need to land every fish you hook. You probably don't even want to do this stuff. But I kinda do. I'm at a point in my fishing career where I'm more interested in the fish I don't think I'll have any easy shot at landing than the ones I can almost guarantee. I want to be the best angler I can be and to me, the best angler I can be is being capable of catching every fish possible, and knowing what fish I aren't possible. Is that even remotely attainable? 


But getting in the crap, diving into the water, and plowing through prickers gets me a little bit closer. 

Thank you to my Patrons; Erin, David, John, Elizabeth, Brandon, Christopher, Shawn, Mike, Sara, Leo, Franky, Geof, Luke, 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.