Thursday, July 19, 2018

Summer Blitz

July is the slow month for many that chase striped bass with a fly rod in Long Island Sound. Big fish are mostly out of reach in both depth and distance, small fish are inshore on the surface somewhat less, and the fishing is pushed to darker conditions. There's still some sight fishing to be done but it just isn't what June was. It is a grind till the new moon in August. But if you play the game you still have a chance of finding something special. Last night, after grinding for hours, Noah and I found something quite special.

We were headed in after a slow bluefish hunt, nothing substantial caught by either of us, and after rounding the point I could have sworn I saw a few splashes a long way down the shoreline between me and a secondary point. I continued at the same pace. It was probably just a herring gull taking off. I got much further and saw another splash between myself and a dark patch of water. OK, that was a fish. But all alone out in the middle of nowhere. Not a viable target.
I maintained course.
Then, all too suddenly, it became clear that the dark water wasn't just an effect of wind and light. It was nervous water, nervous water in which hundreds and hundreds of striped bass were feeding heavily on rain bait.

When the fish let us get close enough we were treated to a show. There were soooo many bass in there, and for the most part they were gently slurping up the small bait just inches under the surface. The larger ones in the school rose like trout to emergers, showing the tops of their heads and a bit of their fins just ever so briefly. It was beautiful.

We caught a few of them. All it took was putting something with a slim profile right in that nervous water and giving it a little twitch. 

I've fished for striped bass consistently for three years now. I am absolutely infatuated with these fish. Big.
Shallow water.
Deep water.
Blind casting structure. 
On the fly, on plugs, on live eels....
It just doesn't matter. I love striped bass more than life itself. And it kills me to know I came a bit too late and that this fishery is not only a fraction of what it was just 15 years ago but also getting worse.

I don't take one moment in a situation like this for granted, because I don't know when the next time I'll see it again is. It'll happen, for sure. But undoubtedly less than my soul needs it to. 

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Water and Light

They do some pretty spectacular things. If you don't take minute or two to just see it,, I mean really see it, try to understand it, you might miss it.

Today some heavy thunderstorms passed through southern New England. Multiple flash flood, severe thunderstorm, and tornado warnings were issued. My town received little but brief gusty winds and heavy rain. But the linear outflow dominate storm that hit was a sight to behold. Though low clouds and haze muddled what likely would have been an exceptional shelf cloud, the backside of the gust front was sculpted into an ominous structure called "the whale's mouth". Rain cooled air undercuts the warm moist inflow feeding into the storm's forward flank, lofting it behind the gust front and up into the storm, twisting and molding it into a roiling structure with rapid upward motion. Those not well versed in storm structure may misinterpret this as signs of tornadic potential, but in reality it is evidence that, scary as it may look, this storm won't be dropping a funnel any time soon.

Monday, July 16, 2018

Dusk Till Dawn

Little ones close, blinking and green, the bioluminescing abdomens of small, dark, soft bodied beetles.
Big ones farther away, bright and sightly orange through the haze. Discharges from the base of a thunderhead that was rolling towards us. Mike and I had to bail as the rain turned to a downpour, moving upriver towards clearer skies. Everyone else had long since quit, we were just beginning. It had been a while since I had last spent a whole night on the river and this was going to be a long one.

I got to the end of my first pass of a run with a big streamer. There were no slashes or boils in hearing range nor grabs on the streamer. Doubt was the word. What would I be doing? What could I be doing? A lightning bug drifted by, blinking as though it were still safe and dry and flying.

The net pass with a wet fly resulted in a couple tugs and one small fish landed. But that is not enough for me to be convinced.

The hour crept by. I found a streamer that seamed to work better than anything else and stuck with it. Mike caught a couple good rainbows. The catching was steady, but oh so slow. We may have averaged a fish an hour.

Around 3:00 A.M. I had my best take of the night. I heard and felt the initial kill strike, then heard the eat moments later. I didn't set because I didn't feel it. In hindsight that was a mistake. The kill strike must have knocked slack in the leader so I didn't feel the actual take. I know that was a big fish.

Before long I hooked the biggest thing I would hook all night. It was about 18lbs, very angry, and had a huge paddle tail.

I have hooked a few beavers over the years. It's never fun.

The sun snuck up on me I didn't feel tired but I know I was. The cold water had stiffened my legs. Last chance morning dance. Under a bridge my fly got hammered. I was using my 10wt at the time after hours with the 5-6, which sounds ridiculous for trout but when I'm fishing big streamers it's all about castability. I usually fish an 8wt. At that point you've already sacrificed good long fights in the name of power. I had joked earlier that I could probably skate in a 20 incher like a small panfish on that rod. This one I could not.

It doesn't feel good when you simply can't stay awake any longer at 10:30 a.m. But any night fisherman worth their salt will probably tell you...

It might be worth it.

Friday, July 13, 2018

Catching Summertime Trout

Summer is tough in CT. Some years are worse than others, and this one is pretty rough. But if you watch the details you can still get fish very consistently. You will have to be picky about when you fish and how you fish, and you won't be able to fish as many days as you could in spring and fall, but that is just the nature of the game. So. When and how should we target trout during the summer?

The single most important detail in summer trout fishing is water temperature. If it is warmer than 68 degrees, either stay home or fish for something else (my preference is ALWAYS the latter. There is more to fly fishing than trout. If you have the time to fish, use it!). How can you figure out when the water will be cold enough? I have a pretty simple plan of attack. Let's start with freestoners, because the plan is a little more complex for them then the state's two bottom release tailwaters.

-Check the weather.
Find a night in the 50's. Even in July we do get those night time lows sometimes. The morning after that nighttime low of 56? That's when you go. Most often those nights happen after a cold front, and if you are lucky that cold front brought in rain and cloud cover. That is a recipe for perfection. Watch for that weather, get out on the river the morning after.

-Check USGS gauges.
Don't use Water Data? Do you live under a rock? Any fisherman that wants to be effective should be well versed in using Three tips for using Water Data to pick the best times for summer trout:
1. Not all river gauges have temperature readouts. If they do, keep your eyes glued on that graph leading up to your trip. The magic numbers are 60-65. That's the range you want. It doesn't have to remain in that range all day, but you best carry a thermometer and leave before the temp tops 68.
2. If the river you want to fish doesn't have a gauge, and most don't, look at the gauges for other river in  its vicinity. This will never be a perfect metric. But if every other stream in a region is flowing below average and warm, you can safely assume the one you want to fish is too.
3. Use the gauges in conjunction with weather forecasts. If you can, compare water temperatures to the air temperature and amount of sun at the same time. Some gauges record air temperatures and precipitation which is a very useful. If the stream is 70 degrees at 4:00 on a sunny 88 degree day after a thunderstorm the previous night, you can just about bet it will be that temperature any time you see those conditions in the near future weather forecast.

-Understand your river's habits.
Knowing a river is vital. Where are the springs? Is there a lot of shade to keep the water cool in the upper river, or are there a lot of open areas? Are there a lot of long, slow, shallow sections?
Sun on the water is no good. Lack of springs or cold tributaries is no good. Slow water, also no good. These things dictate where you should fish a river and if you should fish it at all. Most streams will have colder headwaters and warmer lower stretches in the summer. Just because you see that a USGS gauge way down the watershed is reading 75 degrees doesn't mean there isn't cold water to be fished in that river. On the other hand there are a few streams that get colder the lower you get downstream. My homewater behaves that way because it is fed in a couple places far up the watershed by shallow ponds.  Springs supplement the flow as it wanders downhill, dropping the temperature as much as 8 degrees in 4 miles. Find all day shade, find fast water. That's where the good trout fishing is going to be. A word of caution: isolated pockets of cold water in a river that is too warm overall should not be fished. Those places are refuges for stressed trout. Pressuring those fish is morally questionable. If the temperatures are not reasonable on both sides of the river and consistent up and down a 100yd stretch, don't try to catch trout there. Some streams stay cool almost all summer despite being freestoners. Most are small, but find those streams and you are golden. Following these rules may mean you make a number of visits to rivers without trout fishing them. That's all part of the game. You will come out of it a better fisherman. Get to know the river now and you will waste less time fishing it at the wrong times in the future. It is all worth it in the end.

-Fish at night.
Lower, warmer summer water will push more trout into nocturnal mode. Sometimes to a degree that it is next to impossible to catch at midday but almost easy after sunset. Remember that it takes time for water too cool down so it may be as late as midnight for water temperatures to drop appropriately in a freestone.

Water is always warmer lower in the water watershed in our tailwaters. My recommendation is to start early as far down the river as you want to fish and work up. Even with cold water high sun makes trout shy. So, if you are going to fish between 9:00am and 5:00pm,  shadows are key. Overhanging trees, cut banks, woody debris... you should focus on those structures anyway but on a mid summer day you wouldn't do badly if you only fished that stuff. Fishing shadow lines during the summer has produced some of my best streamer and dry fly trout.

A Farmington shadow line brown. Photo Courtesy David Gallipoli 

Opposite to night fishing freestoners in the summer, tailwaters often require hotter, muggier nights. Fog can be an issue though. Fog suppresses hatches and can put an end to a night bite. One way to work around that is to tightline nymph a huge black nymphs. That has saved me from a skunk more than once. 

It is an oft repeated rule that longer leaders, lighter tippets, and smaller flies pay when fishing in the summer. But I frequently stray from that thought process in the exact opposite direction. I'll leave you with one last thing to try for summer trout: Fish the hardest, frothiest holding water you can find with a small frog pattern. You just may be surprised by how big the trout you bring up is. 

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Nasty Storms and Aggressive Stripers

We actually started too early this morning. There were flashes to the west, and dark skies. The Moon Tide was going to stay at the docks for a little longer, and Mark, Myron and I were going to have to sit and wait. And watch the show.

The skies started to clear and we made our move. The weather, once again, decided to screw with us. two small cells expanded in size and the converged right over where we wanted to be. We turned around and ran away. Big weather is not to be messed with on the sound. 

With the danger past we were left to search. And search. And search. We found a few stripers but they weren't concentrated. Then, in 24 feet of water around some islands, we saw birds. Then boils. Then a fish boiled on my fly. Then we started hooking up. 

What these fish were eating was pretty unclear. All three of use were fishing different presentations. I had on a large Gamechanger, Mark a Gurgler, and Myron a small squid. 

We were on those fish for a good little while. They quit boiling when the tide slacked and the sun came out and stayed out, which was also conveniently timed right when we wanted to quit anyway.  

My striper spring was pretty mediocre. Summer so far, equivalent. Today was the first day I caught more than 7 stripers in the sound this year... that's a little startling. I'm hopeful for a good late summer and fall. But it is abundantly clear that I need to put some more time in. I'm blessed to have a number of good friends like Mark that are nice enough to invite me out on their boats, a serious advantage, especially now. But I need to up my surf game too if I want to catch a really big bass this year. After today, I think fishing the Game Changer really will be a game changer. I was impressed with the action I could squeeze out of that fly when I tested it last week, and it's effectiveness showed today it both numbers of fish deceived and hooking percentage. I like that fly. 

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Summer Daze

It's hot. Dry. Bright. Long.
It is summer. Not my preferred season. After a colder than average spring July kind of came in saying "things are going very different around here" and it has been hot. Really really hot. This weather can lead to some consistency in warmwater fishing but some species seem to take longer to get into the pattern than others. Carp lately have been erratic. Last week I went out one morning and found a few fish but couldn't connect. Another night on the same water I found a few fish in one of the reliable spots, but there were none in the street light lit spot that produced most of my night carp last summer. The lake level is lower, which I thought would be a good thing because overall last year sucked for carp on the lake with a higher levels. This morning was really lame. I saw two bubblers and one tailing fish. Wah wah wah.... Thank God for smallmouth and hybrid sunfish

The Bell Pond this morning did not suffer the same lack of carp feeding but they were in the nearly impossible to land, supper deep in the pads feeding mode. The was exactly one that wasn't and I'm not sure exactly how I blew my shot but I did. 

Creek resident bass are generally more consistent this time of year, but in places with tidal water there is still patterning to be done and it seems I've been out of that fishery for too long to have it down. In hopes to rectify that I just payed a visit to a bass spot that I can count on holding a few good fish this time of year, and it was. There were plenty of small fish and a few decent ones. I however, was on a rock bass tear in didn't catch largemouth or smallmouth. 

Is there a lesson here? I don't know. It's pretty clear that I've spent a fair amount of time away from my local warmwater fisheries over the last two years, and unfortunately it shows. I can't catch big fish nearly as consistently in the summer here as I used to. 

Sunday, July 8, 2018

Marsh Scup, Channel Flatties, and Flats Edge Birds

Noah and I put in some hours yesterday fishing for a variety of saltwater species with a variety of tactics, him on his new SUP and me in my kayak, which I indeed do stand in when the water is flat enough. Initially we searched for stripers on the flats. They really weren't there in good numbers, unsurprisingly given the time of year, temperatures, and tide timing, but there were some see robins in targetable numbers with a few cruising stripers and tailing tautog in between. Tag teaming sea robins is one of my favorite summer tactics. We found groups and individual robins working the edge of the flat. If I was in a position to present the fly I would right away. If not I pointed them out to Noah and got myself into position. Getting doubles, or even triples if you are fishing with two other people is pretty easy when working groups of marauding robins, is easy with coordinated effort. When one angler hooks up the other robins tend to follow the hooked one, and with precise casts and carefully timed fights and releases it can be possible to hook every one of a group, which could be as much as eight.

We fished a short channel edge behind the flat too, I missed a couple stripers, Noah got one then caught a short fluke on a fluke. To that end he had already gotten sea robin, striper, bluefish, and summer flounder. It was shaping to be a real "who's who" of CT inshore water kind of day. Our next move took us to pleasure boater city, which really annoyed me. Mucked up water, no larger stripers around, and the annoyance of having to keep one eye open for either drunken idiots or just sober stupid idiots became to theme of the day. Living in the heavily populated land that is Southern New England you learn quickly that there are a lot of people around with large, dangerous, fast moving things that should never have been entrusted with large, dangerous, fast moving things. We fished the backwaters, where the boat traffic was still startlingly frequent, and we found marsh porgies. 

It is, I think, quite unlikely that marsh porgies would be a thing were it not for the massive effect that man has had of the shoreline. The two places Noah and I found these scup featured deeper water specifically due to man made structure. In all likelihood these deep holes would never have existed in that kind of marsh water without manmade structure. In this case, bridges. Bridges draw fish like streetlights draw insects in the night. 

I was a little surprised, honestly, that we encountered porgies there. Even when I find them in inshore water it typically isn't that far in. But they were there and for a few hours we caught them on sandworms and some on the fly, and were we more equipped we probably would have had a damned good meal afterwards. Which reminds me...

At one of the launches we used on this day Noah and I found a pile of discarded fish carcasses. Not unusual and not a bad thin in my opinion either as it feeds the ecosystem from which those fish were taken rather than the garbage dump. But in this case, it appeared the only meat that had been taken was from the only keeper sized sea bass there and a short fluke. The short seabass had been filleted and everything discarded and the scup hadn't even been filleted. Anyone who does this kind of thing has a special place in hell waiting for them. If you are going to use the resource you damned well better respect it. CT, as far as I have researched, has no wanton waste laws regarding fish, only migratory birds. That needs to change. 

Noah's last fish of the day was also the second and final fluke of the day, once again in a channel but a much more subtle one.

Though it can be much more difficult to have consistent daylight striper action this time of year there is a lot of action to be had with a fly rod inshore. Sometimes it takes thinking outside the box, sometimes "cheating", but it is all fun and well worthwhile. 

Friday, July 6, 2018

Hunting Wild Trout in Vermont

When it gets hot, go north. And when it's hot up north, get in the coldest water you can find and just relax. Or, you could pretend it's no hotter than normal and hike many miles on a new to you coldwater river looking for big trout. 

I really didn't know what to expect from this stream, a fairly remote one as streams in the East go. There was very little information online. All I could find was that it had stocked trout and smallmouth in some sections. There were a couple tributaries that I was sure would stay cool and hold brookies. Other than that, I had no idea what to expect.

 My immediate impression of the river on the first night was that it looked like viable trout river, was plenty cold (despite daytime temps in the 90's the river never exceeded 68 while I was there), but seemed to be devoid of sizable fish.

After an evening skunking I decided to try fishing a large flat pool above a tributary mouth at night.

NOTHING. Nothing. I didn't hear, see, feel, catch trout or a smallmouth or anything other than snakes and crayfish.

So I was pretty sure this was a dead river, hence the detour to the Battenkill the next morning. We got back from the 'kill in the afternoon and I committed myself to fully exploring the mystery river and at the very least reaching a tributary I was sure would have brook trout. What I found was a whole different animal from what I had seen the night before. Water being released at an upstream dam, more mayflies were out, and the first place I fished produced a rainbow.


 Based on the abundant crayfish and baitfish I had already observed, and the fact that trout streams that have a generation cycle frequently fish well with streamers during releases, I chose to fish streamers. Not big articulated flies, smaller single hook flies that would match chubs, dace, and crayfish effectively. You have to be able to read a river well to be a good streamer fisherman, and I'm not just referring to reading water, I'm talking about knowing what streamers are appropriate, when, and why. This particular stream didn't really have the kind of structure and baitfish population that lends to big flies.
 I kept fly length under 3 inches, and the fish hit aggressively and often...
when I was on top of them. It became immediately clear that the heat and sun had pushed fished out of a lot of normally viable holding water. Even if the water isn't warm enough to present a problem , bright sun can. So except during the release period, I only found fish in places with shade, deep chutes or holes, and fast water. But the number of fish in those little pockets was impressive.

Ten rainbows landed and five lost or missed in, I got a surprise. A wild brookie. The first of a fair number of them. 

That was the turning point for me. This stream, this sleeper river with almost no little literature to its name, had wild trout in it. From that point on my task was to find a big brown. The very next good stretch of chutes gave up a gorgeous brown in classic Loch Leven Strain colors. No red spots, huge perfect black spots widely spaced, gorgeous golden belly. As I knelt down and slid my hand under his belly he shook free and swam off. As he went I quietly said "thank you for playing".

After making a brief detour on a brookie tributary, more on that in a future post, I kept the 3wt rigged with a dry dropper to do something I don't do often that I first saw done by Pete (TROUT1), and that's fish two rods. When I missed or moved noncommittal fish with the streamer I caught them with the 3wt. The first one I landed moving upstream was a gorgeous brookie.

After letting that fish swim off I thought to myself that I should send that photo to Pete when I got home.

Eventually I had gone as far up as I could go, I literally hit a huge wall. Back downstream I went, opting to hit some of the water I hadn't and try for fish I had missed and moved.

I got a few rainbows in the water I had already covered and missed more on both rods in a glide I had missed on the way up before fishing a long stretch of pockets. The first half of that water was fishless aside from a few brookies too small to even fit my PTSH dropper in their mouths. Then I got to this set of pockets:

I swam my fly through the lies in that piece of water, hitting as many as I could without recasting. I got the fly in the fastwater in front of the brown colored submerged rock right in the middle of that photo and a substantial fish came out and hammered it, sending spray into the air. That fish proceeded to fight like no trout I had ever hooked, playing the riverbed equivalent of pinball, bouncing rock to rock until he found a hole he could fit into. I was then tasked with puling him back out. four times he dove under a rock and I got him out until finally no amount of pulling with the 5wt would do and I had to extirpate him by hand. 

I mumbled to the fish as I fought, held, photographed, and released it. After it swam away, I fell back over the midstream boulder and exhaled. Then I popped up quickly to my feet an shouted into the nothingness of that Vermont river valley words of the profane and ecstatic. I've caught bigger, I've caught more colorful. That fish dissolved a stress that had built in with the heat of the day, a need to find the right fish. And that was the right fish. I kept celebrating for the next hour as I continued downstream. I released the last rainbow in the lost pocket I wanted to hit and climbed up the bank and was still celebrating that wild brown when I got into cell service for the first time in five hours. 

The first of the barrage of texts I got at that moment was from John Huber. 

He had heard through the grapevine that Pete had passed away. 

Peter Simoni, TROUT1, approaches a favorite pool. 
Life is fleeting. Nobody is here forever. Take every chance to talk to someone on the water, you never know who you will meet or what you will learn. Never stop exploring. Never stop fishing. Never stop experiencing.