Sunday, December 26, 2010

Jigging Fix

Our first trout trip of the year was a far cry from what we had hoped for. The ice was just over three-inches thick, perhaps that's why we were the only ones on the lake that day; or maybe it was the 30 MPH gusts. The wind was so fierce it had us confined to the portable shelter and eventually snapped a pole supporting one its hubs. The fishing sucked too. When our honey hole didn't produce, we packed up the shelter and moved base camp a few hundred yards away for good measure. A few trout did cooperate and it was awesome watching them spiral up towards the hole through the crystal clear ice. We'll try again soon under better conditions and hopefully our results follow suit. 

Photo credit: Aaron Swanson

Photo credit: Aaron Swanson

Photo credit: Aaron Swanson



Thursday, December 23, 2010

First Ice Pike

Another ice fishing season is underway. Hordes of hardwater enthusiasts are taking advantage of the early start and spudding their way onto frozen lakes and ponds in search of hungry fish. The first part of ice season is arguably the most productive so now is the time to use those sick days you've been banking up. It's no secret that fish tend to be more active and aggressive when lakes first lock up with ice, and pike are no exception. That's good to know because pike fishing can be painfully slow; any edge you can give yourself is a plus. 

Friends and I capitalized on the early-ice conditions by logging two consecutive 12-hour shifts in prime pike habitat. The action lived up to the hype with five respectable specimen caught and released and just as many missed opportunities. The best part about the two-day bender was that it was a team effort--each angler landed a quality fish and everyone pitched in around the hole. It was a great way to start what we hope is a long and prosperous hardwater season. Good luck and be safe out there!

Photo credit: Aaron Swanson

Photo credit: Aaron Swanson

Photo credit: Aaron Swanson

Monday, December 6, 2010

Wood Is Good

Winter is a great time of year for saltwater anglers to catch up on things they put off during the long fishing season. I use my off season from the salt to make leaders, tie flies, rig eels, and swap out rusty hooks. Some crafty anglers use this time of year to create wooden fishing lures that drive both fish and fishermen crazy. A friend and local plug builder has taken this hobby and turned it into a full-time business. Lordship Lure Co. is quickly becoming a household name in surfcasting circles along the Northeast. Lordship is based in and named after a small waterfront neighborhood in Stratford, Connecticut. Each one of Ron's wooden plugs is handmade using the highest quality components. He has a full line of fish-catchers from eel skin Atom 40's to small needlefish to a fantastic top-water spook. Below is a look inside the Lordship Lure headquarters.


Local surf legend John Posh ties each and every siwash bucktail.



Sunday, November 28, 2010

Transition Trout

In late fall every year there is a few-week span between putting my saltwater gear away and drilling holes through the ice. One of my favorite ways to fill this void is by casting for trout and walleye along the Saugatuck Reservoir in southwestern Connecticut. This is the first year in many that I dropped the ball and didn't get my seasonal reservoir pass. Instead I have been keeping busy fly fishing on the Farmington River. Aaron and I spent a good part of our Saturday there nymphing and throwing streamers. It wasn't lock and load, yet we manged to put a handful trout in the net using small nymph patterns. A few of the brown trout had all the signs of stream-born specimen, which is always nice to see. I am enjoying my time on the river, but it won't be long before Old Man Winter has a firm grip on New England and ice season starts in earnest. 







Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Late Season Stripes

I recently had the pleasure of fishing with Captain Chris Elser, a big bass specialist with over 40 years experience in the western Sound. We launched right at the start of the outgoing tide during a morning window between rain storms. There was zero wind; perfect conditions for the fly rod. Not far from the launch we spotted birds working a patch of water where schoolie stripers were crashing on small baitfish. The fish finder was lit up for the next hour. White flatwings fooled several stripers under two-feet in length and one of keeper size was lost right at the boat. We tried culling out some bigger fish with large soft plastic baits and top-water plugs, but nobody was home. I had a bite taken out of a 14-inch pink Hogy so there's at least one bluefish still hanging around. It was a fun few hours to say the least and it felt great connecting with bass on the fly again. It's not quite over out there yet and don't rule out a late push of migratory stripers gorging on sea herring before ice season kicks in.   

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Stalking Salmon

A unique fishery takes center stage for many anglers each fall when DEEP's Inland Fisheries Division releases Atlantic salmon into designated Connecticut waterways. These surplus broodstock salmon, sometimes surpassing 20 pounds, are stocked after doing their duty for the Connecticut River Atlantic Salmon Restoration Program. I don't take advantage of this opportunity enough, but with a sun-soaked fall day, perfect for spotting salmon, friends and I made the run up Route 8 to give it a shot. Below are some photographs from a recent fly fishing recent trip on the Naugatuck River.


Photo credit: Tommy Baranowski

Photo credit: Aaron Swanson

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Autumn Browns

Friends and I just enjoyed a picture perfect fall day on the Farmington River. It felt great to be casting for trout again after a long lay off. The morning was crisp and a little on the windy side, but it turned into a stellar indian summer afternoon. The river was at a fine flow and crowds were light. We connected with quite a few cooperative fish on various egg patterns and small pheasant tail nymphs. Of course the outing's best trout broke free, but a some quality holdover browns found their way into the net. With great fishing and friends and a few cigars thrown in, it was a hell of a day.
   
Photo credit: Derrick Kirkpatrick


Photo credit: Derrick Kirkpatrick

Photo credit: Aaron Swanson

Monday, November 8, 2010

Trout Bums

Fishing buddies of mine just returned home from a road trip to Great Lake tributaries in New York and Pennsylvania. I made this voyage one fall a few years ago, but these guys have things down to a science now. The scene up there is not for everyone, yet the catching can be epic. Their video got my blood pumping pretty good and I'm looking forward to getting back on the wagon next fall.   

Friday, October 29, 2010

Roosterfish

My wife and I just returned from our honeymoon in Costa Rica. We enjoyed a week long stay at Playa Conchal in the Guanacaste Province. Set along the Pacific Ocean, this stretch of shoreline is famous for its white sand made from billions of broken down shells, or conchas. While it was far from a fishing vacation, a guided trip was high on our agenda. Costa Rica offers so many angling opportunities from offshore marlin to inshore snook, yet our sights were set on roosterfish...from a kayak!

 
Fast forward a few crazy months to 6 a.m. on a Tuesday, and we’re in a van rolling down a dirt road in the small town of Potrero. The driver left us at the water’s edge where Ralph, our heavily recommended guide for the day, was readying three kayaks. We overlooked beautiful Potrero Bay at low tide, as howler monkeys were making their presence known in the tree line behind us. A few locals were surf fishing only without the use of rods. With just wooden spools, line and a simple metal lure, they whipped their offering and retrieved it by wrapping it back around the spool. I soon learned casting distance was not a factor because the whole Bay was teeming with life. There were billions of tiny sardines so densely packed that the turquoise water looked brown. Right in the wash you could make out bigger fish slashing through the sardines sending them to the air then raining back down. 
Since it was our first time fishing from kayaks, Ralph gave us a brief primer before heading out. At first he set us up for light-tackle trolling around the shoreline, which gave him time to secure enough bait for the real mission at hand. Mosey and I cruised along tight to the rocky coast with small lures trailing behind us. My wife had the hot hand and landed a few feisty Spanish mackerel that were kept for the table. In the meatime, Ralph landed four precious moonfish using a Sabiki-type rig similar to one I use to catch herring back home. Silver in color and the size of a saucer plate, moonfish are high on the preferred dining menu of roosters in Potrero Bay. They were put in Ralph's handmade PVC container and towed behind the kayak, keeping the baitfish lively throughout the trip.


Moonfish a.k.a roosterfish candy

With bait on board, it was time to switch to beefier conventional gear and paddle a few hundred yards out into the Bay. Being that far from shore felt a little unnerving at times, but that is where the big roosters roamed. A circle hook was pierced through the back of the bait and several yards of line was let out behind the kayak. The offering was dropped down with no additional weight and we began slowly trolling between two rocky outcroppings. Not more than five minutes passed before we heard the sweet sound of line peeling from the spool. I came tight to the fish and the circle hook did the rest, burying itself into the corner of the fish's mouth. It was only a little guy, yet the fight was incredible. After a couple of minutes I saw flashes beaming from under the kayak, then the seven long spines of dorsal fin from which the roosterfish gets its name. I grabbed it by the knuckle of its tail for a quick photo before harpooning it head first back to the depths. 



Now it was Mosey's turn. A fresh bait was hooked and lowered down to the money zone. She didn't have to wait long until a rooster gobbled it up took her for a nice Costa Rican sleigh ride around the Bay. Ralph coached her well and Mosey looked like a pro subduing her first roosterfish (handling it for a photo was another story!). By this point the trip was a major success, yet our guide was determined to go bigger. We paddled out to deeper water and dropped down our largest bait. There was a longer wait this time, but the next run-off was well worth it. Right away by its initial run I could tell this fish was in another size class altogether. The kayak was getting towed and turned with ease and the rooster took much longer to tire out. Ralph even strategically slapped his paddle on the water in order to drive the fish towards the shallows. The tug of war lasted several more minutes before I hoisted up my prize. Mosey did a great job capturing the moment then the fish kicked off like a mad man. It was in the middle of that fight where my deep respect and admiration for roosterfish began.

Photo credit: Mosey Broatch
The overall experience was more than I could have imagined and called for a proper celebration with cold cervezas. Before heading back to the resort, we hunkered down at a beach side bar and shared fish stories and laughs with our guide. Looking out over Potrero Bay, it was mind-boggling to comprehend how rich it is with marine life--a different universe than what I'm used to back home. Ralph is a lucky man to have this oasis almost to himself. I hope to return to Costa Rica again someday and take better advantage of the epic fishing opportunities it holds. This is one fishing trip that I will never forget. 

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Shock & Awe

Taking a six month seasonal job with the DEP's Inland Fisheries Division helped me put off the so-called real world after graduating college. By far the coolest part of the job was sampling bodies of water across Connecticut via electrofishing. For anyone unfamiliar with the process, electrical currents are sent through water that temporarily stun fish, allowing for easy capture and transport into holding pens. Then fishery biologists can count and measure the fish, take scale samples, and even bring back the cream of the crop to the hatchery for breeding. Electrofishing big rivers, small streams, and even lakes and ponds was an eye-opening experience to me, especially from an angler's point of view. The amount of fish we got to see  up close and handle was obscene. My favorite waterway that we sampled that summer was one that I fish very often, the West Branch Farmington River.


For years before and since that job, I've tagged along during this survey. I like keeping tabs on the trout situation in the Farmington and it brings me back to those fun times as a seasonal staffer. I continued the tradition this September and documented the first of the two-day event with a camera. On a beautiful Tuesday far from my office desk, I spent a few hours with old colleagues admiring trout and their fine habitat. Though cool from the bottom release dam upstream, the river's had been extremely low for a long time. Normally the flow from the dam is cut back the day before shocking, but this year that was unnecessary because it was the river was so low already. This gave trout ample time to find deep holes that are difficult to sample, which can ultimately affect the integrity of the survey.

A Wood turtle, a species of "Special Concern" in Connecticut

Bright and early that sunny morning, a large crew amassed at the lower boundary of a designated Trout Management Area. A human chain stretched across the river and moved upstream at a snail's pace, stunning and netting everything in their path. All fish were transferred to holding pens until enough were captured to make stopping worthwhile. As the shocking crew continued on, a few fisheries biologists and staffers stayed behind to record the captured fish before catching back up with the group. Recording the fish consists of measuring, identifying, and sometimes taking scale samples. To the best of their ability, biologists determine whether the fish are born in the river or raised in a hatchery. If it's a stocked fish, it can sometimes be determined at what age and sized they were released. This is possible thanks certain fin clips, as well as elastomer tags, which are injected dye marks that are placed above the eye of Survivor strain brown trout.  




With the recent drought conditions, it will be interesting to see this year's data stacked against previous samples when it becomes available. While I didn't witness any crazy big, wild trout this time around, I did get to get to see plenty of healthy wild specimens in the 18-inch class and an excellent amount of small wild browns too. On the negative side, I noticed a large amount of skinny trout, especially Survivors from the 2009 and 2008 class. It seems the younger Survivors stocked last spring may be out-competing them for food. But overall it is always impressive witnessing the sheer number of trout captured over such a short stretch of river; way more than any angler would like to believe during a hard day of fishing.