Saturday, February 29, 2020

Species Profile: Tautog

As most of you hopefully already know, I am a life-list angler. I target, document, and count the number of species, hybrids, and subspecies I catch, specifically on fly tackle. Because of that I spend a lot of time learning about and fishing for many different species of fish. This means I'm more adept at identifying and fishing for an extremely broad range of species than the average fly angler. This series will attempt to outline species identification, some life history, and methods for targeting with fly tackle. Maybe I'll get to every fish on my life list, but considering it is ever growing... it would take a while. Mostly, I hope this will get a few of you interested in going out and learning about or catching something new. 

Tautog, Tautoga onitis, or blackfish, are becoming ever more popular a species to target in the saltwater here in the northeast every year. Part of that is because of the declining quality of striped bass fishing, and part of it is the length of time the season lasts. Well after the last little tunny has left and fluke fishing is over, when the last of the seasons migrating stripers are popping up here and there, the tautog bite is still going strong. But if you aren't from the Northeast, or you don't fish saltwater, you probably know nothing of this species. And, even if you do know a thing or two about tautog, you may not believe they can be caught on the fly. 

Tautoga onitis
Tautog are a member of the remarkably diverse family Labridae, the wrasses. Wrasse come in a striking array of shapes, sizes, and colors, and aside from being diverse they are a notably intelligent group of fishes; more on that to come. Tautog are varied in coloration despite their commonly used nickname in the Northeast, blackfish. Tog can be mottled, brown and grey, white and black, with patches of bronze, copper, sometimes even teal or green. Juveniles are typically much more colorful than adults. 

Large adults are sometimes called "white-chinners" because their lower jaw is often white in coloration, whereas smaller younger individuals are darker. Tautog are generally similar in appearance to another wrasse that inhabits the same areas and the same structure, the bergall or cunner. Tautog are more deep-bodied than cunners. Cunners have a pointed head, tautog have a round head. A large adult cunner is far smaller than even an average tautog. Both have rubbery skin, small scales, a spiny though not visibly so dorsal fin, and are very difficult to keep a hold of because of a thick but not especially unpleasant protective slime layer.

Tog can be found from South Carolina to Nova Scotia but are especially abundant from Virginia to Massachusetts. They inhabit a wide depth range from well over 100ft to just six inches of water. Migration in and out of shallow water depends on temperature, when the water is at its coldest tautog will be wintering offshore at the deepest extent of their range. As the water warms in the spring, tautog move inshore to spawn. The species shows strong preference for hard structure, be it rocky shorelines, reefs, bridge pilings, or wrecks; however they also occasionally can be found over shallow sand or mud flats. Tautog feed on a variety of crustaceans, clams, aquatic worms and sometimes other fish, but their affinity for crabs is well known. Equipped with big flat teeth and a strong jaw, they are perfectly adapted to cracking open the shells of crabs and sucking out the meat. Molar like teeth toward the back of their mouth can even crush up barnacles.

Tautog spawn during the spring in and around estuaries. I personally routinely see large adult tautog in the same places every spring, often holding to the exact same big boulders or bridge pilings each year leading up to the spawn. Some research suggests offshore spawning may occur to some extent, as well as drift of eggs and larvae from inshore waters. It seems the youngest life stages of tautog rely heavily on underwater vegetation for concealment until they reach sub-adult size and join the bergalls on the inshore rock piles. Eel grass is notably important. From NOAA Technical Memorandum NMFS-NE-118, Tautog (Tautoga onitis) Life History and Habitat Requirements, Frank W. Steimle and Patricia A. Shaheen:  

"In the Weweantic River Estuary (Massachusetts), the greatest abundances of eggs and larvae were collected over eelgrass (Zostera marina)-vegetated sites and near bottom (Stolgitis 1970)." 


Several studies reported that young tautog (less than 10 cm) prefer vegetated over unvegetated bottoms (Briggs and O’Connor 1971; Sogard et al. 1992; Dorf 1994; Dorf and Powell 1997). These preferred, vegetated habitats are reported to range from primarily eelgrass beds (Goode 1887; Grover 1982; Orth and Heck 1980; Heck et al. 1989; Sogard et al. 1992; Szedlmayer and Able 1996) or a mix of eelgrass and algal associates [i.e., sea lettuce (Ulva lactuca), Enteromorpha sp., and Polysiphonia] (Briggs and O’Connor 1971), to beds of mostly Ulva (Nichols and Breder 1926; Sogard and Able 1991).

Though like virtually all fish they grow quite rapidly as juveniles, tautog are actually a slowly maturing and slowly growing species. A tautog doesn't reach maturity until three or four years of age, with females taking on average longer than males. The incredible 28.83 pound all-tackle world record was estimated to be 22 years old and the species is estimated to live as long as 34 years or more.

Now, I've thrown in the seeds here and there, maybe you have noticed maybe you haven't... but the combination of the tautog's habitat, life history, and flavor have put them in a rough place as their popularity grows. Unfortunately, this isn't the sort of species that is popular entirely for its sporting qualities, and they do have that in spades. I mentioned earlier the intelligence of wrasse. Anyone that has spent time fishing for tautog can't deny their knack for making off with the bait without getting hooked. Tautog seem to be very inquisitive, and reacting to sounds and smells and coming in to inspect things closely. I've heard stories of spear fisherman scraping their spear on a rock to pique the interest of hiding tautog, whose curiosity then leads them into the shooter's sights. The fighting capabilities of tautog are equally impressive. They don't have long term stamina but their muscular body and big, broad tail give them all the power they need to rush back into their rocky lairs after being hooked. Set the hook on a tautog and you'd better be ready to give that fish all you've got. Unfortunately, what comes to mind most in association with tog is how good they taste. I am the last to say tautog aren't a good eating fish, they are absolutely delicious. I keep a couple most seasons, and enjoy every one. But our affinity for tautog as table fair, in combination with declining fisheries for other species like fluke and striped bass, the rising popularity of tog fishing, and their ecology is leading to declining numbers. The vegetated bottom young tog rely on for survival is being decimated up and down the coast, especially eel grass. And according to ASMFC, tautog are overfished and overfishing is occurring in Long Island Sound, New Jersey, and the NY Bight, and are overfished in Delaware, Maryland, and Virginia. It's important that we anglers start to see the value of tautog as more than just food. I'm not going to stop eating tautog just yet, and I'm not suggesting you need to either. But harvesting selectively is a good idea. Tautog don't migrate that much, your local population is pretty much your local population with a little bit of exchange between other populations. Keeping big, genetically strong tog in the gene pool is a good idea, so as much delicious meat in on that 10+ pounder, you should probably let that one swim and keep a smaller one instead. Consider going out and catching tautog just for fun sometimes with no intent to put meat in the box at all. They really are a lot of fun, great sport on light tackle... and with that let's delve into targeting them with the fly rod.

When I initially started targeting tautog on the fly I was told by quite a few people that I probably wouldn't catch any. It was difficult, and that wasn't surprising. Everybody was targeting this species with crabs on fish finder rigs and jigs, sometimes on sand worms in the spring, but hardly ever on artificials. I had to accept that, no matter how hot the bite was, I was going to have to settle for far fewer and smaller fish than I could catch on crabs. But, getting the chance to catch even one of these bulldogs on fly tackle was worth trading for the numbers.
I've found that it can be difficult to nail down a pattern to catch tautog on the fly, they are very moody and can be at times startlingly easy on artificials and at others very difficult despite taking a bait readily. Though tautog do feed on the flats, in CT they do so mostly in mid to late spring when it isn't legal to target them, so I primarily fish for them around man-made structure like jetties or bridges when the season is open. I also fish for them from boat or kayak over reefs, along breakwaters, or around islands. Crab flies like the Merkin and Simon's HoverCrab can catch a tog or two, and in situations where big tog can be sight cast to they might be the best choice. But I've caught most of my fly tautog on stonefly nymphs like Strolis' Shimmer Stone, and on simple small Clousers. Red over white, orange over white, and olive over yellow in sizes 2, 4, and 6 are my favorites, tied short. Less than an inch of hair beyond the bend of the hook is preferable as tautog are liable to nip the fly once very quickly and then never come back for a sniff again. I fish these flies on a 20 ft leader, 17ft of 20lb test Berkley Big Game to 3 feet of 16lb, either directly to the fly or to a small drop shot weight. Essentially, this is salt water mono-rig nymphing. Lob the fly or fly and weight around rocky structure and try to work it around boulders and into the holes where tautog might be residing. Sometimes I'll drop flies right into holes in jetties. When you feel a tick, set with a quick jerk in tandem with a strip. Set too hard though into a rock or an unyielding giant tog and you are liable to blow up your rod, so be careful setting the hook with this sort of vertical tight-lined presentation. If you get so lucky a to convince a tog to eat a fly and manage to set the hook, the next 15 seconds will determine whether or not you actually catch that tog. There's not much space between that angry fish and its rocky hiding spot, and it will try really, really hard to get back there. I don't own the perfect fly rod for this job yet but some of you may already have it. It's the unfortunately discontinued G. Loomis Short Stix 10/11, a beefy but also short lever that was designed with input from my friend Ian Devlin along with Mark Sedotti for entirely different purposes but may well accidentally also be the ideal tautog fly rod. I remember when I first held one in my hand a while back, knowing basically nothing about it, and my first thought was, "this would be great for tautog". That was when I was first starting to target the species and I was getting very frustrated with with conventional 9ft fly rods, I found them too long too be effective, and just not what I needed to set the hook into a tog then wrench it away from the structure. I've even gone down to 5/6wt glass rods just to get better vertical hooksets even though it meant I had less power to then land the fish because I was so tired of missing bites. I am confident any rod rated 8wt or above at a length of under 8 feet is preferable if you can get your hands on one. Not that many people are out looking for a dedicated tautog rod, but these short fly rods are incredibly versatile anyway so you can just add reefing tautog to the list of things they'd be great for.

Situationally it is possible to sight fish for tautog, and if you can see them that  is ideal because you can judge their reaction to your presentation. Whether it's just to fish hanging around rocky structure or to tog tailing on the flats, sight fishing is one of the greatest learning opportunities you could be presented with. And you never know when it might happen, here's former fishing editor of Field & Stream, Joe Cermele, on the boat with Captain Eric Kerber of On a Mission Fishing Adventures, catching tautog on the fly at night on a lighted bridge:

Tautog on the fly is really one of those few remaining "final frontiers" in fly fishing in this part of the world. It is worth trying, especially since tautog and other bottom dwelling species often make themselves targets when other more traditional fly rod species don't. They've become one of my favorite fish to fish for. Being such a quirky, energetic, interesting looking species meant it didn't take much to earn them that. 

Until next time,
Fish for the love of fish.
Fish for the love of places fish live.
Fish for you.

Thank you to my Patrons; Erin, David, John, Elizabeth, Brandon, Christopher, Shawn, Mike, Sara, Leo, and Franky for supporting this blog on Patreon.

Thursday, February 27, 2020

Convergence '20: Early Moves

When I started "Convergence" in 2017, it was only about the gathering of predator species brought about by the river herring run. But, in time, it became more than that. It became a series about the magic of spring in southern New England, and each and every migration the warming weather brings. Striped bass, shad, herring, birds, eels, suckers, sea lamprey, and even amphibians.... Convergence has become a love letter to my favorite time of year and some of the spectacles, migrations, breeding collections, and feeding events perpetrated by a bunch of truly special native species. Truth is, there is no place in the world I'd rather be from April 1st through June 1st than right here at home. 
But the spectacle often begins earlier than that. And this year it is beginning as early as I've ever seen it. On the 25th of February, I set out into dark, rainy, foggy conditions to document some of the first movements of frogs and salamanders on their annual migration to breeding pools. I'd not expected a chance to go herping before leaving for Florida on the 28th, but I watched the forecast carefully a week before and it looked like things could be conducive for an extremely early warm, rainy night. By the afternoon of the very day, I became confident I'd end up documenting the first migration of the year that night.
 I was barely out the door when I found the first salamander of the new decade. It was a red-backed salamander, the first species of salamander I ever found and probably the species I've seen the most of over the years, but that I was looking at one in February wasn't unexciting.

Plethodon cinereus
It was then a little while before I found another amphibian that wasn't DOR (dead on road), the species I most expected to out so early in the year: wood frogs. Wood frogs are famously cold-tolerant, and I've even seen them making calls along the edges of melting ice sheets in vernal pools. They are handsome little frogs with quite a lot of variation in color and pattern from one individual to the next. 

Lithobates sylvaticus

I rode a couple miles with only some sporadic wood frogs, then almost decided to turn around. I changed my mind at the last second and decided to continue, but in a direction I'd not initially planned on. This ended up being the best decision I've made in a long time. I went down one hill, found a few wood frogs, up the next, where I found another red-backed salamander, then crossed the highway into amphibian mass-migration on the back roads on the other side. Unfortunately, DOR wood frogs and spring peepers were numerous. In places, I could actually smell the vehicular carnage. I talked on the phone with Ian Devlin, who'd had exactly the same idea and was also out cruising for amphibians in a different part of the state, and he was finding the same thing. He descried the smell as much like that of a largemouth bass. I don't dislike the smell of a bass, but when that smell is coming from piles of dead wood frogs it is sickening. Please, I beg of you, if you can avoid driving on dark, rainy, warm nights in late winter trough early summer, do so. There are only a handful of human problems worth killing hundreds of frogs for. 
The melancholy mood soon shattered though, when I saw in my headlamp been a familiar shape. I brought my bike to a screeching halt and turned around to look back up the hill. My beam fell upon the defiantly marching figure of an adult spotted salamander that knew exactly where it was going. I let out an involuntary yell of excitement and joy.
I don't care if I sound like a fool to some people. I absolutely adore these animals, seeing them is one of the things that makes life worth living. 

Ambystoma maculatum

Had I gotten there minutes later, I'd likely have found this salamander dead, because just after I got there and picked it up, a car came flying down the hill at well over the speed limit. I shouldn't have to tell you that going 20mph over the speed limit on a back road on a rainy, foggy night isn't only dangerous to any animals that may be crossing that road. It blows my mind seeing how reckless people are.

I continued on, and finally found some spring peepers that weren't pancakes or smoothies.

Pseudacris crucifer

From there the diversity of species grew. One of the most notable finds was an eastern newt in between its land-dwelling eft stage and adult aquatic stage. This was the first I'd found this species on land, on the go in the middle of metamorphosis.

Notophthalmus viridescens

One of the best looking wood frogs I've ever seen.

The last amphibian I photographed, though not the last I found, was a four toed salamander. I'm sure I'd come across these in the past but this was the first I've found since I began taking herping more seriously. I found it's irregular golden coloration very beautiful, and I can't wait to photograph a four toed under better conditions (the camera battery was dying, so I was much too rushed).

Hemidactylium scutatum
With spring amphibian migration already underway in late February, I have no doubt I'll be missing quite a few migration nights here. But that will almost certainly be made up for in a big way. Eastern diamond backs? Pygmy rattlesnakes? Scarlet kingsnakes? Who knows!
Until next time,
Fish for the love of fish.
Fish for the love of places fish live.
Fish for you.

Thank you to my Patrons; Erin, David, John, Elizabeth, Brandon, Christopher, Shawn, Mike, Sara, Leo, and Franky for supporting this blog on Patreon.

Monday, February 24, 2020

Down & Dirty Browns Up North

It's rare that I head north during the winter. I typically keep my trout fishing south of the CT/MA line from December through March, but when the opportunity arose to go explore a river to the north that I've wanted to for a while, I was perfectly happy to cross that line knowing that I could well come in contact with a wild brown of two feet or bigger. Besides, I was getting sick enough of the incessant repetitiveness of going to a river, fishing nymphs, fishing streamers, and catching very little other than trout, doing so somewhere I'd been interested in for a while would be at least better than fishing the same old places I had been all winter. So, towards the snow and older temperatures I ventured.

I assumed I'd be on my own for this outing. I also assumed at first that it would be very short, but I managed to get more than six hours in, and my good friend Brandon, who knew the river well, was able to make it out and show me around the place.
My first impression of the river, it was about what I'd expected. A developed, industrialized, heavily human-impacted river, much like some of my favorite brown trout streams. That may seem weird but its true, I like mid-sized to large streams that have healthy but not especially numerous wild trout and a few really big fish. In southern New England, very few streams match description aren't urban, gritty, gungy places. These streams aren't conducive to huge numbers days, don't get the best hatches you'll ever see, and often don't hold every fly angler's attention very long. I felt pretty comfortable here though. Murky water and the promise of meat-eating browns kept my head in the game.

My first fish. my first brown trout in the particular state we were fishing, actually, took a jig sculpin pattern. It positively slammed it, being one of a pair of small browns both after the fly simultaneously.

I then went 0/3 in that same pool with a Bunny Bullet Sculpin under an indicator. One of those three takers was indeed an absolute slaunch, a HUGE wild brown. It was on and off in short order but I saw enough of it to know it was the largest wild trout I'd stuck in a long time. Would that I could have stuck it better, though.

And then things got slow. For hours, actually, Brandon and I both went fishless, despite changing locations, flies, and general methods. Fisherman like to find things to blame on their lack of ability to catch fish; what I came up with for this afternoon was a water colder than air situation. The river got progressively murkier throughout the afternoon, so it was clear snow was melting into the river and that typically prevents the water temperature from rising even though the air temperature does. Whatever the case may be, we weren't catching fish. Until late, that is, when my indicator plunged for the first time in a long time in a manor that wasn't snag-like, and I set into another small brown that had eaten a BHHESH. She wasn't much, and didn't signify a pattern as neither Brandon nor I had another take while nymphing, but she kept the lights on.

We fished into darkness, hoping for a miracle. That miracle came in the form of a violent strike on my olive Heifer Groomer, an eat that took me completely by surprise in the waning light and old water. The fight was short but sweet, the fish going airborne a couple of times. It wasn't huge, but it was an absolutely gorgeous specimen of a wild Salmo trutta. It was worth the ride up and guaranteed my return.

Actually, scratch that: it was the monster I lost that guaranteed my return. It may be May or June by the time I do get back there though. In the meantime, I've lots to do. and I'm very pleased to report that a lot of it doesn't have to do with trout.
Until next time,
Fish for the love of fish.
Fish for the love of places fish live.
Fish for you.

Thank you to my Patrons; Erin, David, John, Elizabeth, Brandon, Christopher, Shawn, Mike, Sara, Leo, and Franky for supporting this blog on Patreon.

Saturday, February 22, 2020

Simple But Deadly: Rich Garfield's Sirloin

Throughout the years, I've very infrequently delved into fly tying on this blog. That may partly because fly tying feels more like actual work to me than fishing does, but that's neither here nor there. Whatever the reason, I only occasionally have written actual fly tying posts, with recipes, tips, and productive patterns. And because I do routinely mention specific fly patterns, and have over the years simplified and honed my own fly selection down to relatively simple to tie but extremely effective patterns that can fool more than one species of fish, it's high time I started a fly tying series. Most of these flies, basically all of them, are other tyer's designs. A few are my own. But they all work, and I have an immense amount of faith in them. This series is not written for beginner tiers who are still learning simple methods and steps, but for experienced tiers looking to diversify their fly selection that can understand very simplified instructions that don't cover every step in detail. This is "Simple But Deadly". 

Rich Garfield's "Sirloin" is a twist on the classic muddler. It's a three material streamer, very easy to tie, and I guarantee most of you that tie your own flies have two of the three necessary materials already. You may not have the third, but I highly recommend getting it if you want to tie the Sirloin. There are decent substitutes but I wouldn't call a sirloin without it's trademark wing an actual sirloin.

sz. 10 to sz. 1, 2x or 3x long streamer hook
Danville 3/0 waxed monocord white
Coyote belly fur
black, grey, brown, orange, olive, or white chenille
Deer hair

Start, after tying in your thread, by cutting a clump of coyote fur, measuring it to about the length of the hook shank, then tying it in as the tail.

Tie in your chenille, wrap forward four to five turns, then tie off and trim (on hooks smaller than sz. 4, wrap chenille to just behind where the head would start. Hook sizes 4+  get 2 wing, under get one).

Tie in another clump of coyote fir, proportionally equivalent to the first.

Tie in your chenille again, and advance it four to five turns again, then tie off and trim.

Tie in a second wing of coyote fur, proportional to the first.

Trim and stack a clump of deer hair, pinch down to the top of the hook, make too loose wraps, then tighten while continuing to hold the clump in place to for the collar.

Spin two or three more large clumps of deer hair to form the head.

Whip finish or do 5 half hitches.

Using a razor blade, trim the bottom of the head flat.

Then round the rest of it.

Use your scissors to get the head to the shape you prefer.

Adirondack guide and tyer Rich Garfield really hit the ball out of the park on this one, the coyote hair provides a great natural color blend and swims beautifully in the water. You can modify this fly by adding lead or no lead wire, wrapped or as a keel, or simply use split shot or a sinking line to get it down. Fished without any weight near or at the surface at night, early in the morning, late in the evening, or on cloudy days, the sirloin can draw fish up. Strip the Sirloin quickly through the shadow lines along the bank in the summer when trout aren't actively rising. When striped bass are on shrimp st night in the creeks, swing a sparse Sirloin in tandem with a flatwing. Twitch this fly along the bottom to fool smallmouth feeding on crayfish or madtoms. This is not the last of Rich's concoctions that will find itself in the "Simple But Deadly" series... oh no, there in at least one more worth delving into.

Sirloins ready for action.
Until next time,
Fish for the love of fish.
Fish for the love of places fish live.
Fish for you.

Thank you to my Patrons; Erin, David, John, Elizabeth, Brandon, Christopher, Shawn, Mike, Sara, Leo, and Franky for supporting this blog on Patreon.

Thursday, February 20, 2020

In the Dark Again

Clouds and cold fog obscure any light that may otherwise reach the river at 11:00pm in February. Some things can still be seen, especially in my peripheral vision. But this is probably the darkest night I've ever fished in the when there weren't leaves on the trees and over my head. Being under the forest canopy on a clear, moonless summer night can be unnerving, so dark you could literally walk into a tree without any visual cue that it was there at all. In winter though even the darkest night is only so dark. And typically clouds reflect the artificial light and brighten things up substantially, so it was the fog that made this night so special. The perfectly dark winter night. 

On paper, it could potentially have been the best winter nigh fishing session I'd had yet. Dark is normally good in night fishing. But in retrospect, it was never going to be that good. The air was warm but the water was the coldest I'd fished all winter, and the river wasn't high but it was high enough to be a pain. And it just didn't feel right, perhaps the most important factor of the least important factors. 

But I didn't skunk. Working a deep bucket that has been a reliable spot this winter, and was previously reliable in early spring other years, I got more than one take. I was fishing a Bad Mother and a black leach. I wasn't sure which was getting taken, but more than once, after I'd dropped the flies into the top of the bucket and slowly lead them through it with the rod raised high, I felt a distinct thump. Eventually I managed to set the hook, sending a tiny stocker rainbow into the air. 

This wasn't going to be "the night". I'm still waiting for "the night". But I was fishing for trout in the dark again in February, and had continued my winter night skunk-free trend. That's not something many people can lay claim to.
Until next time,
Fish for the love of fish.
Fish for the love of places fish live.
Fish for you.

Thank you to my Patrons; Erin, David, John, Elizabeth, Brandon, Christopher, Shawn, Mike, Sara, Leo, and Franky for supporting this blog on Patreon.

Monday, February 17, 2020

Species Profile: Striped Killifish

As most of you hopefully already know, I am a life-list angler. I target, document, and count the number of species, hybrids, and subspecies I catch, specifically on fly tackle. Because of that I spend a lot of time learning about and fishing for many different species of fish. This means I'm more adept at identifying and fishing for an extremely broad range of species than the average fly angler. This series will attempt to outline species identification, some life history, and methods for targeting with fly tackle. Maybe I'll get to every fish on my life list, but considering it is ever growing... it would take a while. Mostly, I hope this will get a few of you interested in going out and learning about or catching something new. 

If you've ever walked around a sand flat or through a salt marsh at low tide on the Atlantic coastline, you've probably seen hoards of small fish schooled it surprisingly shallow water, sometimes just in shallow puddles cut off from the sea by the tide. In most cases, these fish are some species of killifish. Here in CT most people simply use the name mummichog, which is a killifish species, but not always the one being called by that name. There are actually more than 1000 species of killifish in numerous different families. From the northern portions of the east central Florida to New Hampshire though, if you are looking at killifish in salt water one of the likely species candidates is the striped killifish.

Fundulus majalis
Striped killifish are the largest killifish in most of the places they are found, growing to 6 or 7 inches. The largest striped killifish I've personally caught was a monster at 7 1/2 inches long. Specimens as large as 8 inches are possible. Striped killifsh are slender with a pointed mouth and upturned snout. Their belly is white in color, their sides silvery grading into an on live back. The distinct black stripes that give the species its name also serves to distinguish between males and females. Males have vertical stripes, females have mostly horizontal stripes and usually some vertical ones, a clear example of sexual dimorphism. Females also get a bit larger than males. 

The fish in the first photo is a male, this one is a female
It should be noticed that most killifish from the same areas have vertical barring patterns, however the distinct dark black bands of the striped killifish set it apart from the other species it could be mistaken with. 

NOT a striped killifish. Do you know what species it actually is?
Striped killifish have a high salinity tolerance and a high temperature tolerance. They can often be found in extremely shallow, hot, salty water. At low tide at night it is actually pretty easy to catch them by hand, walking around with a headlamp on. They spawn in the shallows from early spring through early fall, and individuals can spawn repeatedly in one season. Eggs may hatch in as little as 12 days in very warm water. Striped killies live three to five years on average, and feed on a variety of macroinvertebrates and microorganisms.

Catching striped killifish on the fly isn't a complex affair. Walk the edges of a bay or tidal creek between April and November and look for schools of killifish, then drop a tiny nymph into their midst. A size 18 is small enough in many circumstances, but I routinely go down to 20's or smaller and sometimes use tenago hooks when targeting killifish. Sometimes they can be a little picky towards an artificial fly, carrying a bottle of anise extract might not be a bad idea but isn't necessary most of the time. If killies are spooked though, it is hard to get them to eat anything at all.
Until next time,
Fish for the love of fish.
Fish for the love of places fish live.
Fish for you.

Thank you to my Patrons; Erin, David, John, Elizabeth, Brandon, Christopher, Shawn, Mike, Sara, Leo, and Franky for supporting this blog on Patreon.

Saturday, February 15, 2020

Tiny Char in Tiny Waters

There is a stream that I've taken a pass at or two over the years, a tiny drainage into a much larger river that I'd heard tell had brook trout. I caught one there after some failed attempts, then never made a cast in it again. I even neglected the remote stretch of unmanaged generally ignored bass, panfish, trout, and trophy sucker water it flowed into for a good few years, which is a shame. Though wild trout are basically non-existent in that river it is beautiful and not without quality fishing for native and non-native wild species as well as drop-back holdover trout. It was large white suckers I was after in the big river recently, though I was catching holdover rainbows instead. Away from any visible human structure and with the road noise muffled by the hemlock lined valley and heavy mist, I didn't so much mind that I wasn't catching my target species. I just kept drifting my pair of nymphs, hoping that one of the times my leader twitched and I came tight that it would be the Catostomus commersonii of my dreams.

Somewhere in the middle of that adventure I passed that tiny, steep tributary again and gave it more than a passing thought for the first time in some years. I made a few casts right by the dirt road, and sent a small brookie airborne without managing to keep the hook in it. I smirked and continued on. This wasn't five weight water, how dare I desecrate it with such heavy gear? I'd come back soon.

Two days later, the weather was different, perhaps pleasant is the word though I like a damp day more than most. I was again in the vicinity and, having once again failed to find my 26 inch sucker, I headed to the nameless tributary. Sun filtered through the hemlocks and sparkled on the crystal clear, fast flowing water. I could see brook trout in the water, feeding, darting to grab things that were much too minuscule for me to identify or hope to imitate. A simple size 16 Walt's Worm though would be all I'd need to catch these little char.

It took hardly a minute to get one to eat but substantially more to get one to hand. I didn't need to move on from the first fish I found though, these aren't wise to angling methods at all. Nobody is fishing for these little gems in this tiny creek. Just me. When I finally landed one it was a moment of elation most could never understand. So happy over so little....

To me and some others these fish are very meaningful; relics of a more natural time. The fact that these native char remain in this particular creek is unsurprising, it falls out of a minimally developed hillside, with no run off from treated roads flowing into it, under a healthy mixed forest. Vernal pools sit in the low areas between slopes, and on the warmer days of late winter and early spring marbled salamander larvae, caddis pupae, and crayfish among many other critters come out of their underwater hiding spots. Barred and great horned owls routinely call from the hemlocks, and at night a chorus of coyotes is not unexpected. In 2015 I found the prints of a large cat crossing the muddy path. Parts are missing, and that is our fault, but the wild won't be snuffed out completely in places like this. The very land itself just won't stand for it. Literally. Road and trail washouts are commonplace. These tiny native char, as it turns out, stand for something much larger in the minds of those of us who have fallen in love with them.

These tiny fish surviving in tiny places keep me from losing hope.
Until next time,
Fish for the love of fish.
Fish for the love of places fish live.
Fish for you.

Thank you to my Patrons; Erin, David, John, Elizabeth, Brandon, Christopher, Shawn, Mike, Sara, Leo, and Franky for supporting this blog on Patreon.

Wednesday, February 12, 2020

Some Entirely Synthetic Fish

If you aren't familiar with Anders Halverson's book An Entirely Synthetic Fish, I highly recommend getting a copy. Halverson's book ultimately explores how humans have altered and interacted the natural world, with rainbow trout being the focus.

I've grown up fishing in a part of the country where there really aren't wild rainbow trout, and where hatchery trout are dumped into streams and ponds throughout the year under the guise of creating fishing opportunities. At first I didn't question it. It was what was normal and it must be the right thing to do, after all I could catch tons of trout just five minutes from home. Then I found wild trout, almost as abundant though smaller, and other species born in the river and inhabiting the same waters as trout were being stocked in, and I began to question things. The years have progressed and so has my opinion of trout stocking. I am more anti-stocking now than I have ever been. I know we can do better. I know we could have healthier wild trout populations in a lot of rivers if we stopped stocking over top of wild fish. This has been proven time in time again, in Montana, in Pennsylvania, even right here in CT. You've seen photos of the beautiful wild trout I've caught in all of those places right here on Connecticut Fly Angler. If that's not incentive enough, this should be: here are some of the entirely synthetic fish I've been catching lately.

Actually, all of these hatchery broodstock rainbows were caught on the same day. I caught others as well that didn't come in front of the lens. Did it take a lot of skill to wrangle all those big trouts? Not really, no. These fish were fresh from the trout factory. They were no harder to fool and only faintly harder to bring to hand than the smaller fish that were all around them. To put that into perspective, in a length of river in which there were less than 10 of these large broodstock trout, I caught six in one morning. In a stretch of wild trout river I've been fishing for four years that probably has less than 10 wild brown trout over 20 inches, I've hooked exactly four trout over 20 inches and landed none of them, because the all outsmarted me.
Which of those two sounds more appealing to you? It may well be the six big ugly slobs in one day, and that's okay I guess, to each their own. But which is right? Which is the way things should be? Which is more rewarding? Take a look back at those photos of those broodstock rainbows, then look at the following photos of fish born in the stream they were caught, fish that would benefit in numerous ways from the cessation of stocking adult trout, and consider those questions again. Which fish do you want to catch? It's a very easy answer on my end....

Until next time.
Fish for the love of fish.
Fish for the love of places fish live.
Fish for you.

Thank you to my Patrons; Erin, David, John, Elizabeth, Brandon, Christopher, Shawn, Mike, Sara, Leo, and Franky for supporting this blog on Patreon.