Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Conditions Could Not Have Been More Perfect...

This morning the stage as set for the final showdown. The wind died down. The pressure was slowly dropping. Some light fog rolled in. The pond's water temperature and the air temperature were both up from the previous week. It was actually warm enough for shorts! I put the kayak in before 8:00 and was fishing almost immediately. I was completely ready to catch some big largemouth bass.

It was going to be good. Fish were active. On a number of occasions I watched bass and pickerel busting on bait tight to shore. I was getting pickerel follows right away. I caught some perch. Things just seemed right. These are the kind of days when it can be expected that any cast could produce a hawg largemouth.

But the universe had other plans for me. I did not catch one bass, not one pickerel, not even a decent crappie. I had to walk away shaking my head. What is with these fish? Same conditions, same time of year last year I was getting the predator slam in this pond with relative ease (bass, pick, 'eye). There is no reason why I shouldn't have caught some big fish today.

I actually gave that pond the finger. That's the first time I've ever actually been angry at a body of water. It's just that I know how generous this place can be, and for a good part of this fall it has been giving me the finger! One walleye and two pickerel in a month... that isn't right.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

And Another One Bites the Dust

Dams... if you are a fish, they are either your worst enemy or your best friend. The reality is, most small mill dams in the Northeast do much much more harm than good, so it is with great pleasure that I announce that the Jeremy River mill dam is now a thing of the past. Gone for good, replaced with a rocky gorge and some very fishy pocket water!

What the benefits of this dam's absence will be is not yet clear. It opens up salmon spawning habitat, but it is clear that their disappearance from this part of the world is not due to issues in the streams. Eels will have an easier time getting into spots upstream. I'm sure the absence of a big flat stalled pond in this river will improve summertime temps and oxygen levels. Who knows? It will be interesting to see, that much is clear.

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Six Trips in the Making

There's this one stream I've fished a few times each year for the last few years. I don't know what its beef with me is, but it seems to have one. Usually, if there are brookies in a stream, even if they aren't prevalent, I don't have much trouble catching them in one or two trips. This one clearly had brookies, it was just particularly fickle. It took me five trips just to hook one, and on my sixth visit I finally caught one.

How is there not a brookie under the leaning tree?

All three of those pools should have at least one brook trout. 

So. Much. Fishy. Water. SO MUCH! 

Now there just has to be one here. And it turns out there was. A 10-11 inch spawned out female. She was sitting right on the edge of the foamy eddy, in three inches of water. She ate my olive frenchie four times before I finally got her.

She certainly is an amazing old fish, super dark and well covered with yellow spots. Her mouth and back were nearly black. Her tail was HUGE. Yes, those five failed attempts were worth it.

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Well Then...

There a some days that make me hate fishing. Today was one of them. I got to the river after a long ride, realized immediately that I had left my phone at home, and within and hour broke off half of a leader that I could not rebuilds. One small perch does not a sea run brown trip make...

So that does it for me and sea run browns for a little while. Tomorrow will be a brookie day. I'm getting tired of waders anyway.

Friday, November 25, 2016

Black Friday Sea Run Brown Hunt

It's always a grind trying to catch a sea run brown on a fly. Ron Merly, a CT expert on sea trout, almost never uses a fly rod for them because they are incredibly skittish as far as line hitting the water, shadows being cast, and wading go... after all they have a lot more at stake than their stream resident brethren... it isn't often that gator blue fish and breeder stripers go far enough up the creeks to pose a risk to the resident trout! That is why I am still very pissed that I didn't get a photo of the only sea run brown trout I've caught, and why I am determined to put in the work required to get another one. Hopefully it ends up being bigger.

Today was one of those days when everything seemed perfect. No wind all day, grey sky, an excellent tide, and bait fish schools all over. I worked my butt off. Made some of the best casts I've made in my life too... when you make an 80 foot roll cast with a 12 foot leader and put a beadhead woolly bugger right next to a school or rolling spotfin shiners where there just has to be a big brown, you feel pretty darn proud of yourself. I even looked around to see if there was anyone watching. Then I remembered I had slogged down river, off trail, across a few sloughs, through deep mud and thick wet reeds. There wasn't a soul around, and I was perfectly OK with that. After all when someone is watching me I can rarely cast like I can when I'm alone. I could just be lying, but remember this: I fish just about every day and when there's too much snow to go I just cast in the parking lot cross the street from my house... if you can't cast 90 feet with an 8 wt after casting 300 days a year for four years, you need to buy a spinning rod.

I fished one back slough that looked great... lots of lay downs, plenty of currant, and tons of mummichogs darting around int the shallows. Nada... no fish seen, no fish hooked.

Now the big question; did I catch a sea run brown trout today? Nope. I got completely skunked. I could easily have given in and gone bass fishing, but that is not how you play this game. I fished 11:00 to 3:45, and covered more than a mile of river. I did see a few fish in one spot. I came around the corner to a flat bellow on of the first rapids of the river and in a spot that I call the rock garden three big trout spooked. The smallest was 17 inches, conservatively, and they were all very heavy fish. I had gotten foolish and didn't approach the spot carefully enough. The hunt continues tomorrow, this time starting where those fish were and going upstream. May luck be on my side... there is hardly another fish that requires so much luck and skill to catch.

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Happy Thanksgiving! Here's a Big Walleye.

OK, first and foremost, I hope all of you had a great Thanksgiving with family and friends. I did... and the food was wonderful as always.  

Today was cloudy, a little warmer than the day before, and very calm... just the kind of pickerel and walleye weather I'd been waiting for. Despite the perfect conditions, it took y a while to get a grab. When I saw the fish come to the surface I wasn't surprised to see what it was: a large yellow perch. This is perhaps the best time of year to catch big pond perch. 

About a half our and a few more perch later, I got the most ridiculous tangle I've ever had. It took me the rest of my remaining time to undo it. I figured I was owed a big fish for having to put up up with tangle zilla, so I decided to do a late evening trip back to the pond. I normally do not night fish this time of year, but I thought it could produce a big walleye. After an hour I was not entirely sure. I fished a chartreuse woolly bugger for most of the time, then switched to a larger fly hoping that at least a decent bass would take it. The bug of choice: Mike Schmidt's Maraceiver. I fished that fly until well after the sun had set, fan-casting a rocky ledge area and a flat of dying weeds with some deep pot holes. I was getting cold, and after 40 casts and not a touch, I was ready to give up. I made that one last cast and began retrieving the line. I worked the fly with the rod tip as I reeled, because you really never know...

And of course, as I got towards the end of my very last retrieve of the day, one that was not really meant to catch a fish, the maraceiver got absolutely crumpled.  After a frantic fight, I tailed a very fat 26 inch walleye and promptly lost my mind. Why? How? BIG FISH! I mean... jeez. I've experienced the "last cast phenomena" many times but never to this degree. I usually fish out  my last cast to make it the best possible chance for me to get a bite. This time I has just screwing around and thinking "yeah ya just never know". After more than three weeks of annoyingly cruddy warm water and saltwater fly fishing, the fish gods threw me a bone. I was jumping and hollering on the bank. the moment her tail kicked and she swam off.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Well Rounded Outing

So the first part of my blog title... "Connecticut". I wouldn't be doing my home state justice if I didn't occasionally talk history here every now and then. First, today's fishing... I went to the kettle lake to see if I could get some bass in the cold and windy bluebird conditions. I probably would have had a few to hand had I not been a goober and left my 0x spool at home. I dropped one fish that felt like a decent bass and had another big one rap my on a branch and break my tippet off. I didn't feel like trying to get picky bass to eat flies tied on a five foot 20lb leader... so I gave up and went about the other adventures on my agenda for the day.

After packing up gear and getting over the fact that today was a skunk that shouldn't have been I headed north to do some surveying. I am a contributor for the worlds largest mineralogical database, and on today's agenda was photographing one quarry and surveying another to see if doing drone photography there would be possible. I visited the closer of the two first.

There was a point in time, not even that long ago, when a type of course grained granitic rock called pegmatite was of substantial value. Quarry's, prospects, and even underground mines explored pegmatite dikes  all over central CT from Haddam to Glastonbury. Their value came from "spar" or feldspar, a mineral used widely in ceramics and glass making; muscovite mica, used in construction materials and electronics; and even gem minerals including elbaite and beryl.  One of the most famed of the CT pegmatite quarries is the Strickland Quarry. The reason for its fame is the plethora of rare minerals that were produced in its heyday. A couple days ago a fellow CT mineralologist sent me a message letting me know that the water level in the quarry was extremely low (no surprise this year) and that if I could get a drone in there, some important photos of historical value could be taken. My visit there today was just to see how that would work out. As long as the rain does not fill it back up before late December I might be able to get some very valuable photographs.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Make Your Streamers Work For You

Before we dig into this... take a bit to watch this great and very relevant video by Brian Wise:

Mike is streamer royalty. He has created some killer patterns. One point he makes in this video is of particular value if you are planning to design a new fly or choosing a design that will catch you trout. Rather than just going bigger, bigger, bigger; as has been the trend for a while; tyers will start to make flies behave in specific ways to fit their needs.

Now, this is something I've been doing quite a bit of. Connecticut is not exactly a haven for those that like throwing 7-9 inch streamers for trout. I find 3-5 inch articulated streamers to be big enough to get the large predators up in arms, and not so big that they will give you the skunk every time you go out trying to get some large trout. So instead of pushing the size of the streamers I tie, I've pushed the action.

Bait fish that are injured rarely move straight, nor do those trying to escape a predator. It therefore stands to reason that streamers with a lot of action will improve your odds of getting a reactionary strike. On of the best ways to add action to a streamer, articulated or otherwise, is a deer hair head. Modifying the shape and size of the head on your streamers can give them different actions. Took me a while to get to that point didn't it? Well, that is what this post is all about.  Let's start with an old classic: the muddler. The trimmed dear hair head of the muddler is a streamer staple, and has been modified for more modern patterns. The dear hair head on Kelly Galloup's Sex Dungeon is essentially a large muddler minnow head. Sloping down from the collar to the eye of the hook and just slightly rounded on the bottom- that is the shape of the Dungeon's head.

Another key part of this fly's action is the dumbell eyes. Whereas a fly with the same head shape and no weight would dodge in any direction just a little bit. That is in many cases very good action, and that's why lightly weighted or unweighted streamers with a similar head shape are very effective, like Andreas Andersson's Rag Dolly. In the Sex Dungeon, however, the eyes add weight to cause vertical action. With each strip the fly is pulled up, and as the big head causes it to slow both the shape of the head and the weight of the eyes pull it back down, causing it to do a nice little jigging action. Add to that the articulation and you have a streamer that bounces and wiggles through the water with a very enticing amount of movement in it's materials.

What the the Sex Dungeon lacks in aggressive horizontal wiggle, another of Kelly's patterns, the Heifer Groomer, more than makes up for. And once again, the key to the Groomer is a slime body with a lot of motion and a large specifically shaped dear hair head. The secret to the Heifer Groomer is fairly simple. When I'm telling someone how to tie it, I get pretty specific about how to shape the head: make it look like a mentos candy.

Now, if you took those directions too far you wouldn't get the desired effect, but that is the closest common object I can think of. Instead of making the head just a round dis, make it a round disk that is flat on the bottom and a little bit more round on top.

What this very specifically shaped deer hair head does is cause drag. It create little eddies around it's rear and keeps the fly from drifting more than an inch or two past the point where the strip or rod motion ends. At that point the rear pushes the front and causes the fly to articulate horizontally. If you practice it is possible to get your retrieve to look incredible. This fly, with a fast twitchy retrieve, looks as much like a jointed rapala as a streamer probably can.

If you are not one for flies with articulation, the rounded head on a Zoo Cougar or Zuddler can give a pretty great action too, you just have to modify your retrieve to make the fly either wiggle (fast-short retrieve) or dart around (Slow-short retrieve), or whatever suits you.

Last but not least is the wedge shaped head. Tommy Lynch's Drunk & Disorerly and Andreas Andersson's Sid use a wedge shape head to get maximum action with minimum effort. The D&D, as far as I know, was the fly that really championed the effectiveness of the wedge by combining it with a well designed tail and body that flows and looks very much like a living fish. Pat Cohen's slop mop is good two but to bulky for my tastes.  The wedge causes the Drunk & Disorderly to do some crazy things in the water. It ducks, dives, and weaves through the currents very much like a frantic bait fish or spooked salmonid.

Instead of just diving when pulled forward, a fly with a wedge head is likely to dodge right and swing the tail out in the opposite direction. This causes the fly and tippet to be angled once they stop moving. On the next strip, the tippet either pulls the fly back up, or down and to the left. I doubt any strip will have the fly going in a straight line, and if so your leader might be a little too stiff...

This illustrates the value of the loop knot when fishing streamers. If you want to get the most out of the fly, use a non-slip mono loop or a double surgeons loop. They allow the flies to act the way they were made to.

Using the shape of a streamer's head is just as important is getting the action you want as the materials you choose. Experimenting with different shapes and sizes will improve your chances of finding an action that works on the fish you are targeting.

Saturday, November 19, 2016

A Morning Skunk, A Quick Hick, and Stellar Dry Fly Fishing

I'm very stubborn. As long as decent reports are coming in from Long Island sound, I'm going to be trying to get out after that one last striper. This morning I fished the lower Connecticut River and there was radio silence. Nobody home. No bait, no bass. Later in the day my father, brother and I went out looking for hickory shad, and we found one. This one:

I suspect the super moon flood tide has something to do with the rather boring salt water fishing lately. 

When we got back from the short outing I decided to go to a pond where the bluegills seem to eat dry flies any time the surface is not mostly frozen. With 7x and assorted midge patterns, I had a tremendous amount of fun. There are certain times of year when I particularly enjoy fishing for 'gills and this is one of them.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Colored Up

Late fall is when brook trout are in their finest attire. They get fiery and bulked up for the spawn. The males are particularly impressive at this time of year. Their colors go from beautiful to unbelievable. their teeth start to grow and their mouths become dark purple, they get an impressive humped back... this is when brook trout become little monsters. They have evolved be able to do battle during the spawn. In many streams most of the fish spawn at the same time and it becomes difficult to find fish that aren't on redds during the first two weeks of November. But I happen to know a couple streams where the brookies are so prevalent that only about a tenth of the population is spawning at any one time during the season. And the rest of the fish are super aggressive at the time, probably mad that the best spawning grounds are being occupied by their rivals.

I visited that stream today and some amazing stuff was occurring. Every tailout with good clean gravel had at least a few paired up adult brook trout, ranging anywhere from six to sixteen inches. And the stretch of water three yards down from the redds was PACKED with brookies that were just their to eat and sneak up behind the spawners. These were mostly just a bit smaller than the fish on the redds, and almost all males. These were the fish that did not get places next to females. The deep pools had fish too, mostly smaller fish and a few adult females that were also not spawning this time around. But I focused on those aggressive males waiting in the riffles for the eggs to wash out of the redds. Getting them to take a veiled egg fly was tricky, fun, and by far some of the most amazing native brookie fishing I've ever had.

14 inch male brookie protecting a redd

So, as you can see from the photos above it took me a little while to figure out that an egg fly was the way to go. I got a few on small ice nymphs and one on an Edson Tiger. I just never really thought that egg flies and brook trout were a good combination. Apparently I was wrong. Seeing a big male brook trout come three feet up a riffle to smash a tiny orange egg... that is just awesome.

To make it just that little bit better, these were some of the most beautiful brookies I have ever caught. Just remarkable fish in every way.

I've had a lot of good days on the water this year. And this was definitely one of them!