Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Part Time Home Water Ep. 2: Big Fish and Snow

I only took a one day hiatus from my new "part time" home river... the fish gods decided I had to go back. Rik Frankel and I had planned to make the trip up to Massachusetts to fish the Swift tail water. Checking the forecast every afternoon until today, I watched the outlook get progressively worse and worse. By the time I was getting ready to buy my Mass license it had completely gone in the wrong direction... winter weather advisory from 10:00 a.m. Rik and I smartly decided against making the long trip and began making a new plan. There was no doubt in my mind, we had to visit my new part time home river. I just had to see a fish come out of it. And so we found ourselves parked near the stream this morning, a cloudy and very cold day, and rigging up streamer-dropper rigs.

I don't often fish streamer-dropper rigs, they are a tremendous pain in the butt. That being said, on a cold day when it's nearly impossible to strip streamers, both because the fish don't feel like moving and because after just four minutes your fingers just fall right off.  It is also very helpful to have a smaller option when the fish are in a picky mood. Today my rig consisted of a size 4 olive Woolly Bugger, 14 inches of 4x tied to the bend of the hook, and a size 12 Sexy Walt's.

Ten minutes is all it took. I was into a fat 16 inch wild brown trout that behaved very much as tough it were being electrocuted. It actually vibrated when it jumped. At first I though I was into a holdover rainbow based on the purplish reflections on the fish's sides and the ridiculous jumping, but when I got it to hand I was happy to see it was a wild fish. That was all I needed! TRIP MADE!

Two of my favorite things in the world are streamer eats and small water wild fish. As such, that fish had me whooping and jumping around on the bank for a couple minutes, and walking around in circles with my hands in my pockets whispering expletives followed by "that was a beautiful fish" or "what a great fish". I don't do this all the time. I talk to a lot of the fish I catch, but the complete mental break down only follows a particularly good fish caught after a lot of time and effort, and based on the research and exploration I have done of this particular stream that brown certainly deserved that sort of celebration. 

One problem: this time of year, a fish like that being caught in the first 10 minutes is a death sentence for the rest of the day. This time, Rik and I were thwarted by water fowl. Ducks and one Canada goose swam and flew downstream in front of us, spooking the fish. We only got a couple of grabs. I was glad to spook a few more substantial fish. Now I know for sure where there are wild trout in that river that. Next time, I'm going to fish it hard and try to get some numbers. I don't know what the population per mile is in this stream but it shouldn't be impossible to get at least 10 wild trout in a day there. But more importantly, I think it has the potential to produce some serious brutes. Much bigger than 16 inches.

It started snowing fairly early. By the time we left that river the roads had become fairly slick. But there really is nothing prettier than a small stream is fresh, white snow.

Monday, January 30, 2017

Part Time Home Water

My Dad recently moved, which is great for a number of reasons. One of which will bring some new and interesting posts to this blog. For the past couple years I have been able to learn some of the waters around his previous home, and some of the ponds are particularly fishy and I plan to visit them again. But now I have a whole new set of ponds and streams to fish, and though the ponds most likely have the same assemblage of common fishes found all over CT, the salt water fishing has been traded for streams. There are a number of small wild trout streams that I already know and have fished, but there are a couple promising spots that I now will have the opportunity to really learn, and there is one river in particular that I am very excited about.

Yesterday I spent a few hours doing a preliminary exploration of a large portion of the watershed. This was pretty much urban water and there was LOTS of trash, but the water was clear and did not smell. I have caught both brown trout and brookies in far dirtier water, so I was at least hopeful. In the end all I ended up seeing were suckers, dace (very few) and sculpins. No salmonids. The only fish I caught there were two small suckers. The small stream flows into a larger river that I know for a fact has wild brown trout and is stocked in the spring as well. It looks like extremely good streamer and dry fly water, and I did see one trout rise today. I am very much looking forward to learning this river.

By far the coolest thing I saw all day was a hawk that was seemingly trying to get something out of the grass. It was stomping its feet on one spot and pulling at the grass. I suspect it had found a mouse and in a brief tussle it had gotten tangled in the grass. It was really something to see such a large bird that close, especially given the fact that it wasn't injured. The only other times I've seen hawks or owls that close they were either captive or injured or both. 

Saturday, January 28, 2017

Species #51

I explored a tiny piece of water today. In the back of my mind lingered the hope that it would contain brook trout, but I knew it was extremely unlikely. I have fished streams this size that had brook trout before, but this one lacked the depth some of those streams had. It did, however have fish. Just not salmonids. It was full of little dace and shiners, and with a stripped hook and a LOT of effort I somehow hooked into my 51st fly rod species, a blacknose dace. Micro fishing! I'm still not sure how that "big" hook found lip but I won't dwell on it.

Friday, January 27, 2017

The Last Chance

Yesterday Mark Alpert and I went out exploring some new water. We found all sorts of fishy looking and odd bodies of water but we failed to hook any fish for a long time. The first stream looked extremely promising and had a few seriously deep bend pools and runs, and I'm certain I had a taker on a hornberg, what it was is hard to say. I suspect it was a wild trout of some variety.

I'm also certain I had a couple takers at the first pond we fished, but its even more difficult to speculate as to what the culprit as there. Both ponds looked super fishy though, and definitely warrant further exploration.

There just comes a time when I simply must catch something, so as the end of our day on the water neared I suggested we visit one of my favorite little brook trout streams. Despite it being a fairly long hike in I was sure it would be worth it. I haven't visited this stream many times but when I have it has been very productive.

Sure enough, in a pool where I caught ten wild brook trout last spring during a surprise hendrickson hatch, Mark and I hit pay dirt. In fact, my second fish and his fish were bigger than any I caught on my previous visits. And in the waning light of a warm January day, brook trout were rising. What a special little place.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Fly Carpin' In January

So this is a fitting follow-up to the last post! This warm spell has most of the ponds around here ice free, and any time the water isn't hard it's worth taking a shot at some carp, particularly in small ponds where they don't really have any place to go. Rik joined me for this outing, I was glad to show him the carp scene. Whenever someone expresses interest in catching carp on the fly I do my best to help them learn more about it, it is such an untapped fishery; at least as far as fly fishing. Even better, it is much more resilient than the trout fisheries we have.

This would be the earliest in the year I had ever fished for carp. There was about an inch of heavy wet sleet on the ground. The water was all wide open. No ice at all. Within a few minutes at our first destination we were seeing bubbling fish. Then something crazy happened. Rik caught a bass! We didn't get to take a picture of it, but that is by far the earliest in the year I have personally seen a bass caught on the fly here in CT. VERY cool.

After a little while at the first pond we decided to let it rest for a bit and warm up a bit. We explored two other bodies of water. The first was probably too deep, even if there were carp there. The second is pretty good in the summer and fall but on this outing it was chocolate milk, not very conducive for spotting carp, so we returned to the first pond.

 The wind was starting to let up a bit, and we were able to find some bubbling fish in the shallower upper end. We took turns casting at them since there weren't very many. Eventually, I got one to eat my Black Ops. Rik and I both saw my line twitch a bit. I made two short strips then lifted the rod. I must has done it at the exact wrong time, because there was just a tremendous yank and the carp made off with my fly, leaving my rather frustrated.

Well, that was a bit unfortunate, but it is hard to complain about an outing like that in January!

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Carp (Guest Post by Noel Dawes)


Probably the most prominent reason people fish for trout is because they can be hard to fool into taking a fly. There's so many types of insects to match, so many kinds of water to fish, and so many ways to fish it. It's a challenge - you have to adapt and pay attention to a lot of factors to have a success day on the water.

Striped bass and bluefish offer some of this as well, but it's really their brute strength that keeps so many fly anglers going after them. Even a feisty little schoolie can really pull you around, and a big blue can introduce you to your backing real quick. And add albies to that list, they're probably the most hard fighting species I know.

And bass - largemouth and smallmouth - are great for their availability. Pretty much everyone has a bass pond in their town, and if not, you can almost certainly find bass within a 10 or 15 minute drive.

But what if there was a fish that possessed all these aspects? A fish that was challenging to catch, yet could rip drag off your reel, and was accessible to pretty much everyone? That fish would surely be regarded as the ultimate sportfish…

Well that fish does exist. And it's a carp.

( https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/e/e3/Carp_fly_fishing.jpg)

I personally can attribute almost every successful aspect of my fly fishing game to carp fishing. The biggest reason why you should give carp a shot (besides all the reasons above!), is because carp fly fishing will make you a much better trout, striper, or bass angler, or a better angler at whatever species you regularly pursue.

I do a majority of my carp fishing in ponds, so here's a few tips on fishing for them in still water...

So what do you need to catch carp?
Everyone prefers different gear, but fortunately a lot of gear will do the trick. I would use a 7 or 8 weight rod just given the size of these fish, so that you can control them when they take massive runs. I have switched around leaders plenty of times, but for most purposes, a 9-12’ mono or fluoro leader is fine in 2 or 3x. You can fish a straight piece of 8-15 lb mono if you're in a budget, and will catch plenty of carp.

Where can you find carp?
Carp are everywhere! Everywhere! If you don't know a carp spot within 30 minutes of you, you probably haven't looked close enough. For starters, almost every body of water in the Connecticut River watershed holds carp, from the river itself to the tributaries to the ponds in the watershed. That goes for MA and CT, and even parts of NH.

I know a lot of viewers on New England Fly Fishing are based around northeastern Massachusetts, which I consider to be one of the capitals for carp fishing in New England. Any of the urban ponds in Boston have them, as well as most of the ponds throughout that region, and the major watersheds like the Mystic, Charles, Merrimack, etc.

When in doubt, ask around. Bait shops and spin fishermen usually don't guard carp spots too closely.


Tactics for ponds
This is where my style of carp fishing differs from a lot of existing techniques, including RM’s. Most carp flies today look something like the ones below, with a pair of dumbbell eyes to keep the fly in the bottom and some sort of buggy material poking out to make the fly attractive.


These flies are no doubt effective, and produce a lot of carp, but I just prefer to fish a different way. I'm a sight fishing junky, and love my long, light leaders and unweighted flies. Watching a carp slurp down a slowly sinking fly is as good as it gets to me.

My general strategy for fishing smaller ponds is to get on the water as early as possible, and fish when the sun comes up. Calm, muggy summer days are perfect for this, as being able to see the fish is vital. I can usually deal with clouds, or wind, but if there's both, I'll usually fish for something else.

Then all it comes down to is sighting fish. I cover a lot of ground, cutting through the water with polarized sunglasses. I'm looking for either bubbles at the top (which signal something rooting around on the bottom), tails flapping around, or simply an entire carp. There are two kinds of behavior the carp will usually be exhibiting: tailing or cruising.


Cruising fish are the easiest targets, because more often than not they are catchable. The trick is to lead the carp with your fly just enough to gain its interest, but not too close or you'll spook it. 3 to 5 feet usually works for me, and mess around with your flies when you first get on the water to determine how far you will have to lead a cruiser to have the fly line up with the fish’s head. And every now and then, usually in the hot summer months, the fish will become so sluggish that they can't be bothered to move for flies. You'll see then just basking below the surface, hardly moving. This can be the toughest time to catch, but to pull it off you need to usually land the fly right on the fish and keep it right in front of its face. These fish are really lazy at this time of the year, and really will not exert energy to get the food, so most of my fish in these small, shallow ponds under these conditions are caught by literally bumping the fly into the carp’s nose. Half the time it will slurp the fly in and in the rest of the time, just keep casting at them. I'm not entirely sure why the carp in these small ponds sometimes get so sluggish in the dead of summer, but I suspect it has to do with the prominence of food (hot, sunny days produce a lot of aquatic vegetation), and that they mainly feed at night this time of year.

Tailers are when the carp is rooting around in the bottom or slurping algae off a rock or wall, with its tail waving above it. This is better suited for the bottom flies I mentioned earlier, but you can pull it off with the unweighted flies. Just aim your cast beyond the fish, let it sink down, and then spot manipulate the fly by stripping it right in front of the fish’s face. Sometimes the fish will look up from the bottom and see the fly (sometimes even chasing it down!), and sometimes you have to let the fly fall all the way down where it is vacuumed up.

The flies I'm using are usually very simple, because carp will pretty much eat anything. My favorites are glo bugs in sizes 6-14, especially in white, yellow, and peach. These are easy to tie, and have a fantastic slow sinking action that carp can’t resist. You can use pom-poms and superglue if you want to make it even easier for yourself. Something I'll also use is just a size 4-8 hook wrapped with some light colored chenille all the way up the shank, or covered in dubbing. I rarely add weight to any of these flies. And white is my go to color.


For timing, as I have said, for unweighted fly carpin’, summer is as good as it gets. Late May to early June is before the spawn and fish will be feeding heavily, and same with late June. But you don't have to wait, carp can be caught on the fly year round, especially right after ice out when they start to gorge on the available food. In the winter months look for then in fallen trees and cover, where they will tend to sit motionless until the sun heats the water in the afternoon, triggering a feast.

Finally, you should fish for carp to protect your local trout. The strategies I have talked about are pretty much only applicable from late April to September, with the best times being the three summer months. And with the heat and droughts we've been having recently, a lot of trout fisheries are under a lot of pressure in the summer months, and really should be left alone. So instead of fishing for trout when the water gets too warm, switch over to carp, which will be completely fine in these conditions. And once you feel the power of a carp, your trout may start getting a lot more time off.

You can reach me in the comments here or at noeldawes1983@gmail.com if you have any questions. Spots, flies, and more, I'm happy to help.

Photo credits
-Carolina Sportsman
-Fly Fish Diary
-Missouri Flies
-Drowning Worms

To read the compliment to this post by RM, visit Fly Fishing New England here: www.blogflyfishma.com

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Cast, Strip, Strip, Strip...

Today I met up with Rik Frankel, fellow CT fly nut, and we made tracks to the Farmington. It looked like the ideal conditions for some mid winter nymphing and streamer fishing. I was excited to get to fish some larger water for fish bigger than 10 inches. I was rockin my full sink and two boxes packed full of big streamers and I was ready to go to work. Third cast I got a grab. Silly me, I thought that was a sign of things to come.

If I'm going to have a slow day, I'd rather it be a real grind. I don't want to put in no work and catch nothing, I'd far rather work my hard and catch nothing. That way I know it wasn't entirely my fault that I caught nothing... even a lot of the euro nymphing sharpies did poorly today, I only saw one fish landed. I myself casted and stripped and casted and stripped... to no avail. I got two follows and a few grabs and flashes. Even in similar water temperatures I've had more action.

Honestly I don't have much to say. It was a beautiful day to be on the river but it had me a bit befuddled. I've never seen so little action. This was my first ever skunking on the Farmy, and I'll where it as a badge of honor... I didn't waver from my task. Streamers or nothing.

It was great to finally fish with Rik, and if all goes right, and it looks like it should, we might get into some carp on Wednesday. 

Saturday, January 21, 2017

A Banner Day

Looking back, I'm pretty confident that today is the best day I've ever had on my home water in January  or February. I've had some good fish catches in mid winter before, but never any sort of numbers. All told today wasn't too impressive, I caught 20 brown trout and salmon parr. I've caught twice and even three times that number on better days in April and early December. I didn't break the ten inch mark either, though I did see a few bigger fish. But it was good to go out and fish hard and catch a good number of fish. Even if the biggest trout in this river was 5 inches I'd keep fishing it. I used euro nymphing techniques and covered water more carefully than I did the last time I came out here. I fished a two fly rig, in such a small river anything more would be too much of a hassle. The hot flies of the day were a black and pink Perdigon and a Sexy Walt's with a pink tag and hot head. Neither one caught more fish than the other, but when a green ice dub nymph or frenchie was the bottom dropper only the perdigon got grabbed. I usually use a line sighter but the takes were really subtle the last time I fished there and I got fed up with how hard it was to see pink line in the shade, so I opted for little knots of ultra chenille, two orange and one chartreuse, and it worked like a charm. I could see the takes much quicker and had a much better hook up ration, 20/25.

The first fish that I'd call decent was particularly colorful, and came from a pool that is ussually really good but was oddly unproductive all through 2016. I was glad to get him there.

The buttery, gorgeous brown bellow was by far the nicest fish of the day. Catching trout like this out of a stream that I love as much as any of my family and friends makes me extremely happy. I would give an arm and a leg to save this stream for eternity, I really would.