Wednesday, June 19, 2024

Eclipse

 Emily and I trod out into a snow-covered clear cut in Northwestern Maine, with hardly a cloud in the sky and the sun bright overhead. It was warm despite the snow, perhaps 55 degrees at that time. We'd come to this place for a very specific reason, and for once it wasn't fish or snakes that had gotten me to Maine. We were two of many in fact. People of all walks of life had driven to a strip of Northern New England to watch a quirk of astronomy that has been stunning earthlings for as long as there've been such critters scrambling around the surface of this planet. We had all come here for the solar eclipse. 

I've been captivated by the world in a very absolute way as long as I can remember, from microorganisms to such cosmic displays. I'm drawn to see and experience as much as I can while I'm here. That all consuming need to be wherever something huge, powerful, and awe inspiring is what drives my storm chasing. The feeling of being in front of the updraft of a supercell or braced against the wind of a landfalling hurricane isn't easily described, but I know I need it like I need water, food, and sleep. I can't stand when I miss a tornado within 10 hours of home. The idea of missing the eclipse was similar, if not more so considering how easily predicted they are. But I must say, my excitement was tempered a little. Not knowing what to expect was the tricky thing. How many people would there be? Would there be an immense traffic jam that would stop us from getting there? would it actually live up to the hype?

But that had all settled when we found that clear cut. There were two other small groups, each a hundred yards or more away, so we more or less had a spot to ourselves. The view was tremendous, and the clean snow would make a canvas for a mysterious phenomena known as shadow bands to dance across. We laid down a blanket and made a snowman to where an extra pair of glasses, then settled in to watch as the moon slowly began to traverse the face of the sun. 


Shadows on the ground soon began to take a crescent like shape, mirroring the shadow being cast by the moon. The light began to take a more and more bizarre quality. Though every morning the sun is shadowed the same amount as it rises and sets, the way that light looks is so familiar. It's refracted by the atmosphere in just such a way, coming from just such an angle. Coming from almost over head its something else entirely. Then, as totality approached, shadow bands wavered across the snow. And in moments it was nighttime, if only for a few minutes. 



It's pretty easy to understand why people without the knowledge of the earth's orbit around the sun and the moon's orbit around earth though the world might be ending for just a moment, then chalk the event up to a higher power's wrath, or even a warning. It was astonishingly surreal and breathtaking, more so than I'd anticipated. It moved me nearly to tears. 

I'll be 47 the next time an eclipse's path of totality will cross the contiguous United States. There's not much that could stop me from being there to see it happen again. It's very much one of those things that must be seen at least once, and to me left a need to fulfill that same feeling the next time the opportunity arises. Like seeing a humpback whale breach. Or flipping a rock and seeing the vibrance of a smooth green snake underneath. Or looking up into the heart of a massive, rotating thunderstorm that could at any moment touch the earth with the ferocity to kill and destroy. When people don't feel a raw and intense emotion from such experiences, I don't understand that. When they do, to the point of taking off time from work, getting friends and family in the car gathering in a place far from home all to see the same natural spectacle, it makes much more sense. And in some ways it's almost as beautiful as the spectacle itself. 

hank you to my Patrons; Erin, David, John, Elizabeth, Brandon, Christopher, Shawn, Mike, Sara, Franky, Geof, Luke, Noah, Justin, Sean, Tom, Mark, Jake, Chris, Oliver, oddity on Display, Sammy, and Cris & Jennifer, Courtney, and Hunter 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, May 30, 2024

Knee Deep in The Trees

 It isn't terribly common that I stay out on the same piece of water I just guided on for five hours. Typically I've seen what I need to see and am keen to go elsewhere and explore or make sure some other bite is setting up. But sometimes a bite so good is underway that I'm compelled to stick around. That was the case one day in late April this spring. I'd found hoards of carp churning the water into a muddy soup in a flooded area so thick it made approaching them in the boat tricky. But I knew I had waders in the car, and that the bottom was firm enough I could approach these fish on foot. So after I parted ways with my client, I hastily dawned my waders again, offloaded some un-needed weight from the canoe, and paddled back to the area in question. With the boat hauled up safely onto a dry embankment, I crept my way out into the flooded forest trying to make as little wake and disturbance as possible. 

Carp often have somewhat predictable feeding patterns and paths in lakes and rivers that maintain a semi predictable route unless spooked, but in flooded woods they don't set up the sort of home territories. The same individual fish are often in the same area- I've seen the same orange koi in the same patch of flood plain for the last three seasons -but their feeding is very random. There'll be a post up on Patreon about carp feeding patterns soon for those interested. But for the context of this story, what that means is that I had very little clue what each fish I spotted was going to do next. They might tail 15 feet away one moment then pop up right at my feet, linger in a bush for a while, or just go in a straight line. It was very erratic, which made things both interesting and quite tricky. The thick mud they were stirring up was also a complication, making it near impossible to see some of the fish. I've become fairly good at both finding the fish and intuiting the strike without feeling or seeing it though, and that makes all the difference. It really wasn't all that long before I go one, a feisty little common. I maneuvered the rod and put a lot of pressure on it to control the fish in the tight quarters and snaggy environment. It's a close quarters brawl, no room to see backing here. 




I continued along after I let that fish swim, looking for tail swirls, fresh muds, and patches of tiny bubbles or "fizz". Fish were absolutely everywhere, so it was more about finding the easiest target than finding a target at all. It wasn't unusual that I could mark half a dozen or more fish feeding within 30 feet of me. Regardless of size, I always erred to whatever fish was closest to me. In fact, I didn't even know what I was casting to when I got this gorgeous little fantail to eat. 

2024 has been the year of the fantail here. Last year I only put one in the net. This year there's been more trips when one made it to the boat that trips where one didn't. Often we've managed more than one! I'm not sure what accounts for that abundance in the genetic stock, but there sure are a lot of them. I'm not complaining. They're such absurd and cool looking fish, with crazy elongated fins, droopy long barbles, and wild pom-poms in their nostrils. They're really quite beautiful fish. Especially the one I got on the other day I stayed late and waded after a trip....

I count myself so, so lucky to have a fishery of this caliber at my fingertips. Though the flood game is short lived its just so incredibly engaging, even on the days when very few fish commit to eating. It's like being in a bayou, but right here in the northeast. And in that bayou there are 5 to 30 pound fish cruising around and feeding, and with the right boat and gear I can get clients to put flies in front of those fish. It's just so, so cool and there's really no other fishery like it around here. 

After getting four nice, feisty fish in a short session, I made my way back to the canoe, taking a shot at an unwilling much bigger fish up way shallow on the way. It's pretty wild to see how far up into the floodplain a fish of over 20 pounds will wander. 

If you'd like to experience this fishery with me next season, it's best to book early. By mid March this year my calendar was pretty darned full and the only open dates were when I had cancelations or had to shuffle folks around. So be prepared to grab dates as early as February. 

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, oddity on Display, Sammy, and Cris & Jennifer 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. 


Saturday, April 27, 2024

Morning Blitz

 Fall 2023 was a struggle in most of my normal striped bass haunts, and I stubbornly stuck to my guns in those places working under the incorrect assessment that if I kept going, eventually the fish had to show up. Meanwhile, friends were having much better fishing just a short bit further away from home. Not only were the encountering good stripers but big bluefish as well. I stuck to my guns on my home turf for a while before finally seeing reason and venturing out further. It was desperately necessary at that point, as I the season looked to be about to wind down.

Fall is when I basically live out of my car. Really, that could happen any time of year. But it's definitely more likely from September through November. The same clothes may not come off for days on end, the interior of the vehicle starts to smell dank and musty, and I consistently look both manic and tired. Loved ones say "you should get some rest", I say "when I'm dead". Pushing even just a little further from home and learning a relatively new to me area demands even more than the usual effort, and when a bite is in progress that means methodically fishing different structure in the new area, drawing knowledge of how similar spots in areas I already know fish at different tides, winds, and times of day. Some may require a significant number of visits at different times and tides to really dial in. I look or bait and make educated guesses as to where it may go next if it is liable to leave- always a factor in the fall -and watch for concentrations of fish eating birds or even seals. This often mean spending the majority of a week in the same general area, catching naps here and there and eating when I can and what I can between tides. But I always feel the pressure of the approaching cold season and the inevitable departure of the fish. 

On the first day of my exploratory I found a spot in daylight with very promising structure and bait activity. I made careful note of the tide level and current speed at the time of that visit and came back later that night on a different tide. There were fish feeding heavily and some very large ones in the mix. The next night, same thing but on the opposite tide. This was an ideal setup, and a spot I'd throw into the rotation for a while. Unfortunately it ended up serving up absurdly fickle fish. Though there was near constant and hellacious surface action I struggled to get bit. I tricked just a couple into taking very large Hollow Fleyes, but nothing else seemed to draw any attention and that just barely worked as it was. I fell asleep in my waders in a park and ride that night a bit dejected and frustrated but with intrigue as to the following morning. I hoped that bait might dump out into the adjacent bay and start a blitz.

The next morning, a huge blitz was in progress in a spot I couldn't get to as I drove to where the fish had been the night before. I pulled off for a bit to watch the birds dipping down to catch juvenile menhaden as stripers and blues churned the water underneath them. It was a fun show for a bit, but I wanted to feel a tight line. Things were quiet over by the mouth of the creek that had been loaded with bass the previous few nights. There were a bunch of cormorants hanging out up the beach though, and they seemed expectant. I decided to take their lead. I made some blind casts while I waited and picked up a few errant schoolies. 

It was more than an hour without much change before some of the cormorants began to take off confidently, fly across the bay, then land and swim around a point that was obscuring another small cove. Soon the whole flock- perhaps more than a hundred birds -were following their lead. I did the same. Rounding the corner, diving gulls and a few swirls marked the school. Eagerly I hopped out, dropping a camera in my waders pocket and grabbing the rod. I doubted tis would last very long and didn't expect I'd need to perform any fly changes. Twenty minutes, a dozen fish up to about 20 pounds, and a bit of sitting and basking in the chaos later the action departed and so did I. 


Short though that may have been, and utterly underwhelming compared to the blitzes the previous fall, that was the peak of my fall daytime fishing for bass. Had I adapted earlier and looked for greener grass further afield, it may have looked quite a bit different. That's how the game works sometimes though. You can get rewarded handsomely for sticking to your guns or you could miss out on the bite happening where you aren't.  

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, oddity on Display, Sammy, and Cris & Jennifer 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, April 3, 2024

Moments on The Fly- Log Common

 On a winding Ohio creek shaded by lush trees just beginning to get touches of fall color, I found a school of perhaps 20 carp relating to a tree that had fallen in the river. I'd walked quite a lot of this creek already, finding some redhorse here an there, catching striped shiners and smallmouth bass. This was the only place I'd see carp, and there were a lot of them there. This wasn't an atypical thing in my experience- I fairly regularly encounter isolated schools of carp in a pool or perhaps two consecutive pools on a small river in low flows with none whatsoever to be seen above or below. Sometimes these schools have just temporarily taken up shop in a spot and will only be seen there for a season, perhaps having made there way there during high water conditions. Sometimes these locations prove to consistently hold fish at all times of year. Which of the two cases this was is not known to me, as it remains the only time I'd ever fished this river. I do hope to return of course.

When I spotted the carp it was because I disturbed them a little bit. Two of the fish noticed my movements and left the log. Their retreat to deeper water wasn't especially hastily and it didn't seem to disturb the other carp there much though they did begin to move around a bit. The moment I'd noticed these fish I stopped in my tracks, very literally. Once the pair that left were out of sight I slowly adjusted from my mid-stride position to a more comfortable stance and just waited and watched as the carp that had decided to shifted and adjusted into new positions as well, taking advantage of the new room. Even if some fish are spooked or disturb in a school, an immediate shift to being a still and quiet as possible can keep the ones that weren't from taking notice. Common carp are a particularly aware and weary species and it won't always work on them. This time everything went according to plan. The fish went about their business as though I wasn't there and in time I felt comfortable enough with their behavior to try to present a fly to them. The choice of target wasn't difficult when one fish sidled out of the shadow of the log and worked its way toward me parallel to it, shopping the river bottom for morsals. It wasn't the biggest fish there but none were that big nor were there any mirrors, ghosts or any other interesting morphs I might rather catch. I'm not one to look a gift horse in the mouth so I fed that little fish a green weenie. I'll often take a smaller feeding target over a non-feeding but bigger one so long as neither is actually that big, and none of these fish looked over 10 pounds to me. That active little common ate the weenie in textbook fashion and I lifted the rod to set the hook. Within the next few seconds there wasn't a carp in the lot that was left undisturbed. 


Though it wasn't an especially big fish, the circumstances made is a standout catch from that trip. Carp will always be a favorite of mine, big or small, and small midwestern creeks provide a backdrop to the pursuit of this species that I'm not as familiar with. Though I was looking for new species out there, the novelty of catching an old stand-by in a different setting withstood. 

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, oddity on Display, Sammy, and Cris & Jennifer 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, March 18, 2024

The Rainbow Darter, #200 On The Fly

 Darters are interesting little fish that go ignored by most anglers. Members of the family Percidae, darters share lineage with yellow perch and walleye. If you look at their morphology this isn't terribly shocking, their fin arrangement and build aren't at all dissimilar from perch, with a spikey forward dorsal and big, rounded rear dorsal. Their patterning often matches up pretty similarly too, though it is incredibly varied. Darters are extremally diverse in fact, comprising a subfamily (Etheostomatinae) made up of five genera ( Ammocrypta, Crystallaria, Etheostoma, Nothonotus, and Percina). Of these, I've caught species in two genera: Etheostoma and Percina. Though I live in an area with a notable lack of darters- Connecticut only has two species -I am a big fan of them and when the opportunity arises to target them in areas with more diversity I like to. Of course, they're often very tiny, so it can be a real challenge to get them on the fly. Percina weren't terribly hard as they're larger and a bit aggressive, so longhead darter and logperch were quite easily acquired once I fished around an abundance of each. But the Etheostoma are little bit tricky. And oh boy can that ever be both appealing and irritating. Combine their difficulty with their exceptional diversity and you've got a recipe for a hunched over, frustrated CT Fly Angler with a very sore back sneaking around shallow streams. 

And such was the position I found myself in on a clear, clean flowing mid-sized river in central Ohio this past fall. I knew this area had a number of darters that I'd not yet added to my life list, and I was having no trouble finding a bunch of different ones in the shallows. And some of them were quite ornately colored. In fact, I could already tell that one of the species represented in this spot was the rainbow darter, one of a number of species that are graced with extravagant blue, red, and orange coloration. Their name portrays their beauty, and though they are quite widespread and can be fairly numerous a lot of anglers totally skip over their existence. Brook trout, eat your heart out... if colorful, nearly gaudy elegance is your type, rainbow darters give fontinalis a serious run for their money. Fly fisherman may quickly jump to a salmonid as the prettiest freshwater fish but I struggle to pick between darters and sunfish in terms of the colorful species. 

As I slowly wandered the tail out of a run, examining the bottom carefully, I noted small aggregations of darters around clusters of rocks with vegetation growing on them there were a few species represented though I couldn't identify each. I rigged up carefully: a size 22 hair big with a tiny piece of squirmy worm material affixed to the bend of the hook (darters like something to chew on, I've noticed) and one small shot just a couple inches ahead of it on 6x tippet. Finessing a fly down in front of a tiny darter in this current would be almost akin to dropping a nymph in front of a trout in 10 feet of water in a raging, turbulent flood. It's a very tricky dance that requires precision and patience, one I was already well familiar with. 

The shot placement is a key. If you place a split shot immediately ahead of a fly, it can drop right down to the bottom nd you don't have to control two separate entities down there; the split shot and fly act as one. But some darters like attacking the shot. For some this can almost work in your favor when the fly is right at the shot, eventually they get it in the process of trying to kill the lead ball (it comical, I'm not quite sure where their infatuation with them lies). But some of the really small ones, like the ones I was seeing, my attack the shot once and be done. So I had to play an odd game of keeping the shot far enough away from the fly as not to distract the darter but close enough to have control over where on the bottom the fly settles. Closer means more control, further means less chance the darter just attacks the shot and never cares about the fly. This is, obviously, not an exact science. It requires an immense amount of trial and error. In this case about an hour of it. I had darters attack the shot, run and hide, or hit the fly but not get it in their mouths just right. Persistence pays off though and eventually I did manage to hook one. It was a diminutive but colorful little creature, my first rainbow darter. 


Lifelist fish #200: Etheostoma caeruleum, Rainbow darter. Rank: Species

Though this certainly wasn't the most impressive example to the species, it was exciting to get my first of one of the more well known colorful Etheostoma. When they spawn in the spring the mature males really color up something fierce and I'd very much like to catch one of those. But there's always another fish, isn't there? Darters are just one of a large number of whole families and genera that go largely ignored by the angling world as a while. They flee from the path of completely unaware wading anglers and scuttle for cover as our drift boats shadow the riffle bottom. I don't expect everyone to want to catch two inch long fish on hook and line, but it still surprises me that many just have no interest in learning about them at all. 

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, oddity on Display, Sammy, and Cris & Jennifer 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.