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. 

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

A Few Good Fish

We are in the midst of a great stretch of night fishing from shore. There is a fair amount of bait in the area that has drawn in quality striped bass and bluefish that are eating our live eels like Tic Tacs. It has been a fun few weeks in the surf and I have a feeling there is more coming our way. The best part about it all is that every bass and blue was released to be caught again. 


Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Covert Operations

As a kid, bicycle was the main method of transportation for my fishing excursions. Whether I was pedaling to the Wepawaug River for stocked trout or to Milford Harbor for snapper blues, a trusty bike got me there. After reaching the driving age, however, there was a decade-long span where I forgot what a bike looked like. That was until my maiden voyage to the Cape Cod Canal earlier this year. With miles of paved pathways lining each bank, the Canal is a perfect venue for fishing with a bicycle. Canal anglers customize their rides with baskets, cargo racks and rod holders, and refer to them as Canal Cruisers. These tricked-out bikes keep them mobile, enabling anglers to cover much more ground than afoot.   

That trip also got me thinking about places closer to home that a bike would make more accessible--spots that are a long way from the truck; private neighborhoods that you could wheel into unnoticed and parks that close after sunset. I decided it was time to customize a bike that would help me fish locations that I normally wouldn't without one. A fellow Connecticut Surfcaster Association member learned that I was the lookout for a beater bike. Kevin told me a friend of his was getting rid of two and he let me pick the one of my choice for FREE. I couldn't refuse the offer and settled on a purple Murray mountain bike from Kevin's garage. Sure it was a woman's bike, needed a basic tune-up and a rear tire, but otherwise was in great shape. Some key modifications were also necessary for carrying the gear needed for night raid in the surf. 


The first order of business was to lose the bike's purple coat. I peeled off all the stickers and took lighter fluid to remove their remnants. Next I purchased a $3 bottle of black spray paint made for metal surfaces. In just two quick coats the ride went from feminine to ninja-like. I then dropped it off at a New Haven bike shop for a tune-up and new tire. There I picked up a black Wald basket for the front end, which would carry my wetsuit and footwear. I also bought a rear cargo rack for holding my plug bag and eel bucket.

For the bike's rod holders, I picked up 10-feet of 1.5-inch PVC pipe from Lowe's, as well as some 2.75-inch hose clamps to help secure them. I took the bike to my buddy Mike's house, which has a man cave teeming with power tools. Mike turned what started as a simple PVC cut job into an all-out rod holder mounting project. He bolted strips of marine polymer sheets together on the rear cargo rack and then screwed the PVC rod holders into that. This polymer mounting system, coupled with the hose clamps, assured the rods holders weren't going anywhere. 

After mounting the rod holders, I bought another bottle of spray paint, this time one made for plastics and finished off the PVC and polymer with a matching black coat. The last purchases were a headlight and a red taillight for safety measures. Each light has various modes such a blinking setting for passing cars. The bike fits snug in my Jeep with the seats down, but a roof or hatch rack would make it easier to take another angler and their bike along. A strong bike lock and solid kickstand are still needed, but otherwise the she is ready to roll as is. One small drawback is that I have to pay attention of my rod angle with low-hanging branches, as my one-piece 10 footer is already one foot off the ground in the rod holder. 


The plan is for this ultimate fishing machine to add new locales to my rotation of spots, allowing me to sneak in and out of quiet neighborhoods without slamming car doors drawing attention. The bike will also make destinations like the Canal and Block Island easier to traverse and more affordable. Hopefully, it will also serve as an incentive for my fishing buddies to outfit bikes of their own too. I am glad that I tackled this project and I am very thankful for the friends that helped make it a reality. 

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Two For Two

It is mid September and fall is in the air. Water temps are cooling down and local fishing is heating up. Spots that treated us well back in the spring run are showing signs of life again. There is a cornucopia of baitfish in the area and striped bass are taking advantage. My buddy Derrick and I fished hard Friday night and were rewarded for our efforts and lack of sleep. Gator bluefish put a dent in our eel supply, but persistence paid off and two quality striped bass were eventually caught and released. 

Derrick's catch almost didn't happen, as spot number one seemed lifeless when we first arrived. There was plenty of tiny bait around, but no signs of anything bigger feeding on it. For over two hours we hopped from rock to rock casting live without a touch. On the walk back to the Jeep, we made a last ditch effort and found two more rock perches to fish from. Not a minute goes by before D yells, "I'm on!" After a nice fight, she thrashed on the surface in front of us and I waded neck-deep to lip the 39 inch bass. The feisty striper kicked off strong after a quick measurement and photo.

Derrick hoisting a well-deserved striped bass

A half hour more went by without another sniff, so we left to recharge the batteries before the tide would be right for spot number two. After a quick catnap only a few hours of darkness remained. We exchanged our wetsuits for waders and set out again with renewed confidence. Between the two of us, we carried a silly amount of plugs, but live eels would once again be the ticket. A 41-inch bass slammed an eel right at my feet and a wild fight ensued in strong current. The fish got a little roughed up in the rocks, but she too swam away strong after posing for the camera. The final tally was two local spots and two respectable fish--I'll take those results any night of the week.

Is this the start of a memorable Fall Run? (Photo credit: Derrick Kirkpatrick)

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Stone By Stone

The house where I grew up was built in 1723. The old colonial has a ton of character and is part of a great neighborhood, although the street is quite busy for a one-way. The original structure was smaller way back when it was moved on logs to its present location from around the corner. My folks moved there when I was just a baby and still live there today. They've done an impressive job with the upkeep of the aging house and big yard. My brother and I like to pitch-in when we can and we planned a big project for Labor Day weekend.

Lining one side of the driveway sat a poor excuse a stone wall. It had fallen victim to more than a few car tires over the years. The plan was to rebuild the wall and create another one like it on the other side of the driveway. We used the existing stone and added to it some quality field stone donated by a generous neighbor. The project was an enjoyable one and it was nice being able to see measurable results at the end of the day. It was also cool for my brother and I to work together on something that will still be there long after were gone. I love stone walls; they are part of the fabric of New England. It's great to have a respectable stone wall again at the family homestead; it's a perfect fit.