Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Some Amazingness for Peter Laurelli

Peter Laurelli has been periodically quietly dropping some of the most incredible saltwater fly fishing videos I've ever seen for a number of years now. I found his work on Youtube a few years ago by looking for some good striped bass fly fishing videos. I was getting frustrated, I could find anything I felt was really special. Than I came across this:

...and I was absolutely floored. I have watched every video it Laurelli's SIFF series multiple times. And I have to say, if you are suffering from salt withdrawals and cabin fever right now and can't take thinking about blitzes and big bass or albies, DON'T WATCH THIS STUFF!!!!! The other day Laurelli finally put out a short edit of the four year long SIFF18 project, and I've since tied 60 albie flies that won't get used for months and walked around the house for hours doing a two hand retrieve with no rod under my arm, setting the hook of ghost albies. This is crack people, if you aren't addicted yet, don't start now! That being said...

If you are a permanently addicted, absolutely zero hope of ever shaking the obsession, totally stuck person (like me), take a look.

I can't even... man! Saltwater fly fishing is insane. Word is the full 25min+ feature will be done before the stripers return home.

Thanks Peter Laurelli, for feeding our addictions. Albies, I'll see you again in about seven months.

Monday, January 29, 2018

Ice Bluegills... on Pepperoni

I like pepperoni. I like it enough that I can sit down and eat a foot long sausage without any concern of the distraction to my digestive tract that is guaranteed by eating that much spicy, cured meat. This should be obvious, but some of you may not be in the know... that packaged, sliced stuff you can get at the grocery store that's already the right shape and size to be put on a pizza. That's not real pepperoni. It isn't even close. But the other day I opened up a drawer in the fridge and saw a package of that not-quite-good-enough-pepperoni and had a though.

I've been having a hell of a time catching bluegills through the ice. I've seen them come up to a hair jig, or come up to a tungsten jig with a tiny scented soft plastic, and just not touch it. No matter how I worked it (or didn't) they were defiant. Uncharacteristically obnoxious, really. Bluegills are supposed to be an instant gratification fish and here I am completely failing to catch them.

The hair and feather jigs didn't work on their own. That was no surprise. A tungsten jig with a soft plastic getting snubbed baffled me. But maybe that little bit of of saltiness in the plastics was not enough to tempt the extremely cold, lazy bluegills. I was not in the mood to go out and get wax worms or spikes, which I new would work. What I wanted was something a bit creative, and those little slices of crappy pepperoni fit the bill for me. Cut into thin strips they would fit on a jig really well, give off tons of scent, and provide a piece of real meat for the gills to chomp down on.

I broke fresh holes on a shallow marshy pond six or seven miles from home, and low and behold, the pepperoni worked. Not only as a tip for a tungsten jig, but as a trailer on a marabou jig as well. After three years of halfhearted attempts and three weeks of really serious effort, I caught just under 40 bluegills through the ice. Now I need to figure out perch and crappies. Shouldn't be too hard.

Saturday, January 27, 2018

The End of an Era

On a mid winter day in the late 1990's, in a gravelly riffle of an Eastern Connecticut freestone stream, a tiny brown trout alevin broke out of its egg and entered a very hostile world. He didn't know it, and he never would know it, but his mom and dad had been the toughest of the tough, and their strong genetics would allow him to become the toughest of his many tiny siblings. It was rough life from the start. This alevin, as is the case with every alevin, had nobody to protect him. His survival was up to instincts, a tiny bit of intelligence, and luck.

In June of 1997 a baby boy was born in a small town in western Pennsylvania. He didn't know it, but he would eventually cross paths with the alevin that had been born before him.

14 years later, the once tiny trout had fought through years of the difficult life a wild brown in Connecticut faces. He had survived floods, droughts, deep cold, and extreme heat. He had spawned a time or two, and each time it took a lot out of him. He had already done and seen more than most trout do. But he persevered. His children hatched and live or died. He may even have eaten some of them. He had no knowledge of children or parenting. His brain told him to mate so he did. Right now, he was in eating mode. He held in a slow pocket of water in a deep run, eating every little paraleptophlebia nymph that drifted close enough to make grabbing them nearly effortless. He could not tell, but he was being watched. Sitting up on a rock was the boy, who had moved to Connecticut from Pennsylvania seven years before. He was learning how to fly fish, and right now he was watching the biggest trout he had ever seen. He got his rod into position to make a cast. The trout saw something out of place and quickly ducked for cover with a few hard flicks of the tail. He had just had his first meeting with a human that would spend the next two years tirelessly searching for him. All he knew was that he had to survive and to survive he had to hide at the first sign of predator.

Two years later the big trout had grown more and grown even more weary. He had spawned again, just 60 days before, and was now feeding heavily to regain the weight he would need to survive the winter. Something flashy and red drifted towards him and he analyzed it with his right eye as it approached. He decided it was food and grabbed it.

Standing on a sandbar at the side of the big trout's pool was the boy, now a little older and much more skilled and experienced with a fly rod. The light fiberglass telegraphed a pull and he set the hook. For the next ten or fifteen minutes the trout and the boy were connected. For the boy it was a battle for a trophy, for the fish it was a battle for survival. He had no idea that the boy had no intention of killing him. Their encounter was a brief one. The fish struggled to stay alive, and when released went down to sulk in the murky depths. The event had very little impression on him. After recovering from the battle it was back to life as usual. But it had a big impression on the angler. From that day on he referred to the fish as Grandfather out off reverence.

About four years later, Grandfather was holding deep in the cold, dark stream. His gills worked slowly and his tail undulated just enough to keep him in place. He was old and weak now. He had lived in this stream for more than 20 years. The stream itself was a different place from what it had been when he first hatched. The river had treated him with harsh indifference over the last month as it had his whole life. Massive pieces of ice, dislodged and tumbled by a flood, left their marks on his back and flanks. The wounds weren't severe enough to end him right then and there, but they had taken a toll and he was too old and weak to survive them. There, alone, in the dark winter run, Grandfather took his last breath of clean cold water and slowly drifted downstream.

Today the young man whose last four years had been molded in large part because of that fish, found him, pale and stiff, in the tail of the same pool where he caught him.

At first I was surprised to see my old fish there. I have been hoping for the last two years that whenever Grandfather passed that I would somehow find him. I could tell, without a doubt, that this was him. But he looked so different. He was dead. After so many years, he was dead. I set my rod next to him. He had grown three inches since the day I had caught him, though death may have taken some. I took a couple of photos of him, stood up, and walked to the bank. I sat exactly where I had hopped down do get into casting position four years before, not knowing I was about to catch my first big trout. I thought I was going to be sad, and I am a bit now as I write this. But instead I looked up at the blue January sky and smiled, remembering Grandfather in his prime. He was a beautiful animal. A force to be reckoned with. I glanced back over at the pale carcass and frowned. I pulled my camera out of my backpack and deleted the photos.  Grandfather was, to me, the life force of this river and the driving force that pushed me to fish as hard as I could. The day after I caught him I had said I would not fish until the new year. Two days later I realized I couldn't wait. I had to get back out their. I had find the next big fish. I was already obsessed, but this big brown broke me for good. I can't bear for that lifeless body to be the last image of the greatest trout of my home river. So, it isn't.

Here's to you Grandfather. You were a spectacular animal. I will never forget the times our paths crossed. Farewell.

Friday, January 26, 2018

Figuring it Out... Some

Ice fishing isn't as cut an dry as cutting a whole on a lake and sitting on a bucket with a rod in your hand. At least not if you want to be good at ice fishing.

I do not own a flasher, I don't even own an auger. I'm learning to ice fish the old school way, fishing bodies of water that I already know like the back of my hand with very limited ice fishing gear. I've been catching a few bass and learning quite bit, but it's been kind of funny to fish tiny ponds, cut a dozen holes over a few days, and find that there seems to be nobody home in the pond!

What I'm finding out to be most important is structure and depth, which I expected, but the fish are very specific. I've discovered in the smallest pond that I've been fishing is that the only holes that are going to produce fish are one over or adjacent to beds of lilies that have just sprouted out of the mud and are waiting for the warming temperatures of spring to coax them up to the surface. Anywhere else... no fish. None.

The biggest pond I've been fishing has been the most challenging, which I expected. But I've been targeting big crappie there and I kind of expected them them to be pretty easy to find. If fished the basin, I've fished the edge of the dam, I've fished woody structure, I've fished rock bars. No crappie. Just this one healthy largemouth:

The water in the bigger pond is quite murky, so I think I'm going to try some different water for crappies soon. But tomorrow it's all about trout.

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Oops! Sorry!

I was going to do a clean out of my spam comment folder today and I was very surprised when I opened tit to find about 10 clearly not spam comments from the last month and a half. How they ended up in there I don't know, and what confuses me more is that when I tried to publish them I somehow accidentally deleted all of them. So, if you've commented in the last month and a half and wondered why it never showed up, that's why. Sorry about that. I have a lot of readers but only a handful of you engage in the comment section and I appreciate it very much when you do. Thanks.

I will try to address a couple of them that I remember...

Brk Trt...
Alan I believe you commented on "Falling Snow and Big, Bushy Dry Flies" and referred to seeing some beaver damage on a recent trip... as far as I know you have not fished that stream, I haven't seen evidence of beavers in four or five years there.

Will, thanks for your comments on my Florida posts. That was a fun trip. I'm hooked on snook now!

If anyone else had a specific question and your comment was never posted, I promise I'll make sure it gets published next time.

Sunday, January 21, 2018

The Quintessential Brown Trout

I'm on the hunt for a very specific fish. I have been for about a year now. It lives in one specific river. There is more then one of this fish there, but odds are I'll only be able to catch one of them. This fish is the perfect big brown trout. Not just for a small river like this, but for any east coast stream. Pretty big for anywhere really. He, or she, has to be between 26 and 30 inches, not a skinny pickerel trout like the Farmington is so good at producing, and not a hatchery fish. I'm looking for the brown trout of brown trout. The big momma or grand pappy. The quintessential brown trout. I know for a fact that fish of that caliber exist in this river, and that catching one is going to be one of the biggest challenges in my fishing career. 

But I also have a pretty good idea of how it will go down, and I know, unequivocally, that I am going to catch this fish on a streamer. I almost did on Saturday, and I will be kicking myself over the fact that I didn't for a year or two probably. Maybe 10. But I don't want to talk about that publicly. 

From mid January through March is one of the best times to specifically target a river's biggest wild brown trout. It is tricky, because it is going to be slow. I caught three fish in about five hours on Saturday, and I consider that an exceptional day of winter streamer fishing. All three fish were on the larger end of the scale for a small river.

I fish upstream with streamers, probably 60% of the time. Some would believe that the retrieve speed I use doing this in the winter is way too fast. These people need a lesson on hydrology. A trout works a lot less hard moving five feet downstream to hit a fly then it would moving two feet upstream. Yes, the trout that ate moving downstream has to swim more than two feet upstream to get back to it's lie, if that's where it chooses to go, but it doesn't have to chase a baitfish up there! It can take it's sweet time about going back home. Food for thought.

My first taker moved five feet for a five inch streamer in mid 30 degree water. More food for thought. It isn't like that every day. But sometimes it's even better!

I have no idea how far the first fish I hooked moved for the Barely Legal, but it sure did hit the fly hard. He was beautiful, a butter bellied 16 inch long male with perfect fins and no hook marks whatsoever. I was after all, standing in a river with no wader boot prints around but mine. I probably had three or four miles completely to myself here. No other anglers.

The next fish was the dink of the day at 14 inches, but she was gorgeous. This fish was a rule breaker, sitting in a knee deep fast riffle. Not all trout sit in slow, deep water in the dead of water.

The last fish of the day, a solid hour after the second, was the biggest and most classically colored. More importantly, it had a small head, small fins and a very thick body. This indicates that even at 18 inches this trout was still growing rapidly. In a couple years this fish could be my monster, my quintessential brown trout. It sure has the right look. The deep yellow belly, brown and blue flanks, and leopard spotting reminds me of wild River Test browns from England. This was a handsome fish, and large enough to get me pretty worked up. I just love brown trout, and if I can't cast to them with a dry fly there is nothing I'd rather do than catch them on big streamers. I've said it before and I'll say it again: the tug is the drug, and I'm pretty high right now.

Today Mark Philippe was with me, and the river was a different animal. More stingy than the day before. Really, it was normal.

When hunting for big winter browns with streamers, patience and persistence is key. Two or three hours might even go by with no substantial signs of life. And then...

Some people might wonder why I often techniques that dramatically limit the number of trout I catch in an outing. Well, the bait fisherman that catches one average trout to take home and calls it a day has less impact on the fish population than the nympher that catches and releases 30 12-18 inch trout and photographs a dozen of them.

Food for though. Many if not most of us are guilty.

Friday, January 19, 2018

First Largemouth Bass of 2018

I've been getting more and more into ice fishing. To a degree, out of necessity; This is the kind of winter that makes ice fishing kind of a necessity for those of us who like need to be on the water every day. I am a fly fisherman, but first and foremost I am a fisherman. I am no purist. I fish green crabs with 3oz egg sinkers and conventional gear to catch tautog and porgy that I bring home, fillet, and eat. And I enjoy it. 

I'm really starting to get into ice fishing. I just bought the first conventional outfit I've bought in six or seven years. It's shorter than most carp I catch. And an absolute blast to fight fish on! I still get to tie the things I'm fishing... mostly marabou and hair jigs. I got the new ice fishing outfit on Thursday, got some line on it, and went out immediately to give it a test. Fact: I had not yet caught anything other than two striped bass, on a hand-line no less, through the ice. Fact #2: I was so confident I wasn't going to catch anything I knowingly left my camera batteries at home and only had my phone to photograph anything I caught. 

I went to a pond I had fished on Tuesday so I wouldn't have to cut brand new holes. It's also a place I know very well, I I had some pretty good ideas as to where fish should have been laid up. I fished two holes with no signs of life, then cut a third. I let it sit for just a minute or two while I was moving gear over to that side of the pond. My first drop was just a test of depth. I was about where I wanted to be. My second drop lasted about 35 seconds. A 16 inch largemouth intercepted my white marabou jig. I felt a little shudder and set the hook. After a pretty exciting battle on the short stick I got the fish's head through the hole. He popped off right in the hole, swam two circles around it, then swam back into the dark. Well, that was close. What would the next drop bring?

Four largemouth landed and three missed later I cut another hole a little to the side. I flashed a few fish there. By this time Noah had stopped by on the way to do some striper scouting, and I wanted him to get in on the action so I gave him run of the joint and went to cut another hole adjacent to a bed of grass. A few minutes later I had a nice largemouth through the ice. A good fish to end on

Today Noah and I explored some larger water, looking primarilly for crappie. We skunked. But I'm still into this. After the weekend I will probably be back out, figuring things out. Being able to catch any species of fish any time is something I strive to achieve. I can now say I've caught largemouth bass in January.

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Falling Snow and Big, Bushy Dry Flies

January, I thought you were going to be a tough month to kill. You often are, with your ice and snow and long cold spells. This time around you froze everything solid then flooded it all, scouring stream beds, moving fish around, and just making everything that little bit more difficult. But that wasn't going to stop me. I am well armed with the winter dry fly staples.

But I also have a tendency not to follow the rules. January, you are the time of year when the only terrestrial insects not hibernating or crawling on my windows are too small to imitate effectively and the aquatic insects are just big enough... anything but a good time to fish big, bushy dry flies. Fisherman like to make arbitrary rules; don't use this here, don't fish these now, don't fish that then. It won't work. I'm here to break those rules. So, when the size 20 parachute Adams failed to rise a fish in the flat I thought would be my best shot and the Crazy Shrimp failed to tempt anyone in the runs or plunges, I took a five minute ride downstream and tied on a size 12 Ausable Bomber. When all else fails, do something stupid.

I dropped the bomber on a glassy deep pool, gave it one twitch, and a lean nine inch brookie came up like a shark, dorsal out of the water, grabbed the bomber, and showed off her tail on the way down. I set the hook and by some miracle actually landed her.

So that's that January. I beat you fair and square, in the best way I can imagine. I'm not scared of you, I never was. And though I've won the battle I might just have to try again. There's nothing quite like fishing big, bushy dry flies in falling snow. 

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

An Apple in an Ice Shelf

My favorite brook trout stream has one occasionally annoying characteristic. It has a really substantial brook trout population, the best of any stream I've fished in CT. However, there are times when you will get to the stream and see almost nothing. Why? They left that water. Literally, up and left for more favorable conditions. Gone. They aren't home. There's always some. But in the middle of winter much of the stream bed is just bear white sand. Brook trout stand out when sitting over bear white sand, so these fish, especially the biggest of them, leave, going into the depths of a swamp and reservoir downstream. 

That leaves me knocking on the door in the woods upstream... "Hello? Anybody home?" There was somebody in there, but I wasn't going to get them to eat a dry fly as I had hoped. Sometimes there are really good January midge hatches on this stream, and the brook trout stick around. Today it was going to be a tougher hunt. Not quite like finding a needle in a haystack. More like finding an apple in an ice shelf. What is is that doing there

I found brookies in three places as I worked my way upstream initially, but did not catch them. What frustrated me was where they were sitting. The stream was running fairly high, and it tends to have very strong conflicting surface currents and slow bottom currents that often go completely the opposite directing of the surface currents. I found brookies in three types of places today: plain sand bottom, deep water with a strong counter current; sheltered gravel with an even slow current; Almost still water over leaf litter. Literally all of these are a pain to fish when the trout that are there are very lethargic, won't move more than six inches, and take so lightly it feels no different from bouncing on the bottom. But I am persistent, and pretty well practiced.  Here's my first native brook trout and first fish on the fly of 2018, 16 days in.... that's too long! Why'd I even bother coming back to CT? I should have just stayed in Florida.

I probably spent almost as much time looking at and photographing natural ice sculptures as I did actually fishing on this day. Who could help it? Winter is beautiful.

This handsome young male was one of those sitting in near still water. Specifically the dark are right under the ice shelf below.

I ventured way up one of the tributaries to see if I could reach what I thought was going to be a nice culvert pool. I was rather disappointed to find concrete step like structures, certainly not passable for brookies and not even providing a nice deep hiding hole. I did get a pretty great view though.

On my way back down the valley I found this fantastic spring. This is the life blood of small stream wild trout in this state. Without cold ground water seeps like this, there would be no small stream wild trout. It was very nice to see one without a few beer cans or an oil can tossed carelessly along the edge (as though you could toss an oil can in a spring with care).

I'm going to try to fish every day this week. With the exception of tomorrow the weather looks pretty good. Near perfect winter weather. Some time on the ice and some time on the streams is guaranteed.