Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Troubled Waters

Perhaps it was only a matter of time, but troubling news reverberated throughout the local angling community last week. An invasive type of algae, Didymosphenia geminata (a.k.a.didymo) was positively identified in the fabled West Branch Farmington River. This is the first confirmed report of didymo in Connecticut waters, but it has been plaguing trout streams in the Northeast since 2007. This junk has earned the nickname 'rock snot' because when it blooms, it can form thick mats of brown gooey material that coats the stream bottom and could potentially smother aquatic insects and plant life. The CT DEP admitted today that, once didymo has spread, there’s no practical way to remove it from a river. What we can do for now is try to contain it and that requires public education. Time will tell what happens with this stuff in the Farmington, but at least we can all do our best to help keep it from spreading to other Connecticut trout streams.

An extreme example of what didymo can do to a trout stream
(Photo credit: Biosecurity New Zealand)

The following paragraphs were cut and pasted from an official DEP press release this morning:

Humans are the primary vector responsible for the recent spread of didymo. Anglers, kayakers and canoeists, boaters and jet skiers can all unknowingly spread didymo. The microscopic cells can cling to fishing gear, waders (felt soles can be especially problematic), boots and boats, and remain viable for months under even slightly moist conditions. To prevent the spread of didymo to additional waters, DEP asks that anglers, especially those who also fish the Farmington River or streams outside Connecticut, and other users practice CHECK, CLEAN, DRY procedures.

•CHECK: Before leaving a river, stream or lake, remove all obvious clumps of algae and plant material from fishing gear, waders, clothing & footwear, canoes & kayaks, and anything else that has been in the water and look for hidden clumps. Leave them at the site. If you find any later, clean your gear and dispose of all material in the trash.

• CLEAN: Soak/spray & scrub boats and all other “hard” items for at least one minute in either very hot (140°F) water, a 2% bleach solution, or a 5% dishwashing detergent solution. Absorbent materials such as clothes and felt soles on waders should be soaked for at least 40 minutes in very hot water (140°F), or 30 minutes in hot water (115°F) with 5% dishwashing detergent. Freezing thoroughly will also kill didymo.

• DRY: If cleaning is not practical, after the item is completely dry to touch, wait an additional 48 hours before contact or use in any other waterway.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Hardwater Recap

Despite a few inches of snow on the way, spring is officially upon us. The past few months of ice fishing came and went like they always do, in the blink of an eye. Good times were had, new anglers were introduced to the sport, and a few nice fish were caught and released. The ice equipment is now shelved until next fall and the open-water gear is getting tuned up, but before we get caught up in the madness of migratory stripers and mayfly hatches, let's take a look back at the 2010-2011 ice season. We hope you enjoy the recap--tight lines!

Monday, March 21, 2011

Maine Humble Pie

An ice fishing road trip that I pencil in every season is to Maine's Sebago Lake. Good friends of my family have lived next to this massive body of water since I can remember. Every February for the last several years they have hosted me for the Derbyfest. This annual two-day tournament draws thousands of ice addicts from all over New England to Maine's deepest lake to compete for the heaviest lake trout, also referred to as togue or lakers. Coveted prizes like boats and snow mobiles are given out to top finishers, which normally require a trout well over the double-digit mark. To up the ante this year, a $100,000 reward was posted for anyone who could topple the state record togue, a 31-pound beast caught in 1958.

Aaron's new fishing mobile received baptism by fire on this trip
Derrick, Aaron and I met on a rainy Friday morning and packed Aaron's new truck for its inaugural fishing trip.  What a better way to break it in than a run up to Maine in gnarly weather?  We packed as "light" as we could, yet still needed to strap three sleds and a pop-up shelter to the roof just to fit everything.  We made it to Kittery without issue and stopped for some fine New England sea fare at Bob's Clam Hut.  After getting back on the highway, we soon crossed the rain/snow line and the road conditions instantly turned treacherous. An oblivious driver in an FJ Cruiser sped past us in the fast lane, lost control and hit a snow bank, causing the vehicle to barrel-roll three times. Thankfully, it landed right side up and looked relatively unscathed, though I dialed 911 and a few other cars stopped to assist regardless. We continued on at a snail's pace shaking our heads as to what had just happened.

After another long hour on the road, we pulled up to Jordan's, a rustic lake-side general store that's always buzzing come Derby time. This is where we stocked up on bait, live white suckers and rainbow smelt, as well as picked up our Derby registration and three-day licenses. Next stop was Wayne's house, our headquarters for the weekend. After a big Maine dinner, we sat around the wood stove catching up, tinkering with new gear, and hatching a game plan for the next morning. With a fresh foot of powder on the lake and no snow mobile, our crew would be severely limited on where we could fish.  We scoured a Sebago depth chart for some sharp drop-offs that were walkable distances from shore. A spot was agreed upon, yet with no recent scouting it was like throwing a dart at the map.   

Sebago drops to a mind-boggling 314 deep in its Big Bay
We got a later start the first day than we would have liked, mostly due to the home-brew Wayne's brother busted out the night before.  And as expected, the snow slowed us down quite a bit, although we managed to carve out a nice piece of real estate with the depths we were looking for.  Our tip-ups were set off bottom in water ranging from 60 to 110 feet deep.  I also drilled a few dozen extra holes in between for jigging.  It was slow going in terms of action.  We marked some fish on our electronics, though they were acting far from aggressive.  Enticing these lakers into their characteristic cat-and-mouse chase was difficult.  The tip-up action wasn't much better either.  Sometime mid-morning I got my one and only flag of the weekend, which turned out to be a "chew and screw" with about 20 yards of line taken out and no one home.  We kept working hard though, changing jigs and presentations, moving traps around, and varying depths, all the while cooking, eating, and BSing the day away.  Staying mobile and purely jigging is arguably the most effective tactic for icing lake trout, yet with a group of our size that is there for fishing and camaraderie, staying put and hammering a chosen area was the plan of attack.

Trap fishing with smelt set off bottom can be an effective tactic for Sebago lake trout
Derrick eventually put the group on the board when his sole flag of the weekend produced a small lake trout from 67 feet down.  It was the right species, just the wrong size by about 12-pounds we would later find out.  As day one wore on, the lack of life underneath us only became more apparent.  The bite was off plain and simple.  After a full day working hard with little to show, we packed up and went back to the drawing board.  A hot meal was waiting for us back at headquarters and we sat around the table staring at the map again.  We could have easily gone back to spot number one, taken what we had learned and tweaked our presentations for day two.  However, we chose a spot about a mile away, directly in front of the family lake house, hoping that the home turf would would generate some good luck.

Derrick's small lake trout that ate a smelt was the only one we saw all weekend

In short, Sebago didn't treat us any better on Sunday.  Old Man Winter welcomed us back to the lake with a raw wind and mixed precipitation that came in sideways.  The warm confines of the pop-up shelter were inviting, though we mostly braved the elements and jigged like mad-men knowing our time in Maine was growing short.  Unfortunately, for the second day in a row our fish finders stayed blank for the most part.  A few willing fish rose off bottom, yet triggering them into biting was difficult to say the least.  In my limited experience, when the bite is "on", it's really on.  Many seasoned anglers caught their share of lakers that weekend, including one lucky Mainer with a 14.14-pounder that took first place, but we just couldn't make it happen.  However, a phone call one week later had me scratching my head, as our host and his brother caught 10 lake trout a piece up to 6-pounds.  It was like the lake trout action turned on like a light switch.  Air plane jigs, spoons, tip-ups with smelt - it didn't matter.  With my jaw dropped, Wayne told me fish were bursting 40 feet off the bottom in 70 feet of water to smash their baits without hesitation.  Man, I wish that was the case during our trip, but that is the roll of the dice that are road trips.  All in all, it was a classic time as always.  And one of these years we're bound to get lucky and hit pay dirt.  Unbeknownst to me, this trip would be my last real trip of the 2010/2011 ice season.  It will be good to get back in the swing of open water fishing until I'm chomping at the bit for ice again next November... 

The Motley Crew with high hopes on day one

Until next year....

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Get Up, Stand Up

In Governor Malloy’s proposed two-year budget, a portion of the reduction of services/spending includes the closure of the Kensington fish Hatchery as part of cuts being made to Connecticut's Department of Environmental Protection. The budget projects this action would potentially realize $800,000 in savings over two years – a relatively miniscule figure compared to the overall budget.

The Kensington fish hatchery has some unique qualities not enjoyed by other state hatcheries, which are already at capacity for fish production. If this hatchery goes away, anglers will not see increases in production elsewhere to stem the gap in fish stocking.

The Kensington Hatchery produces CT's only Seeforellen brown trout

What Connecticut Anglers Stand to Lose:

  • While the closure of this facility looks to generate approximately $800,000 in savings, it is reported that annual operating costs are closer to $95,000 - $100,000 annually (David Mordavsky – Journal Inquirer). 
  • Recent upgrades were made to this facility totaling $65,000 in improvements. The hatchery is reportedly in excellent condition (Modavsky – Journal Inquirer).
  • Kensington has unique qualities which produce healthy, good looking fish and also meet federal Interstate Salmon program requirements. The dirt ponds and water alkalinity are unique to this hatchery.
  • Closing the Kensington hatchery will effectively end Connecticut's participation in the four-state Atlantic salmon restoration program. 
  • According to the DEP, the Kensington Hatchery produces the state’s only strain of Seeforellen brown trout. The hatchery produces 25,000 catchable size trout and 700 surplus broodstock annually. The 700 surplus broodstock support 8 of the most important trout lakes. In addition, approximately 250,000 fry and parr are produced and used in programs to enhance sea run and wild trout. These fish live longer, grow larger, and are wilder in nature than brown trout strains used in other hatcheries.
  • Also according to the DEP, the Quinnebaug and Burlington Trout Hatcheries are currently at full production capacity. Fish production from Kensington cannot be moved to another hatchery.
  • Decreased stocking programs could lead to less angler hours realized, in turn leading to less revenue for associated business and ultimately tax revenues. The 750,000 trout stocked by the State generate 1.5million angler hours and an associated $56million in revenue (David Mordavsky – Journal Inquirer).

The Kensington Hatchery is responsible for CT's fall broodstock salmon fishery

Below is the contact information of Governor Malloy and of ranking members of the Environmental Committee of the Connecticut General Assembly.  There is also a link for finding the elected officials in your district.  Please call or write to let them know that Connecticut anglers cannot afford to lose this facility; especially considering the recent increase in licensure fees.

Governor Dannel P. Malloy; Phone: 860-566-4840, or 1-800-406-1527; EmailAddress: Office of the Governor, State Capitol, 210 Capitol Avenue, Hartford, CT 06106

Sen. Edward Myer (Co-Chair); Phone: 860-240-0455, or 1-800-842-1420; Address: Legislative Office Building, Room 3200, Hartford, CT 06106-1591

Rep. Richard Roy (Co-Chair); Phone: 1.800.842.8267, or 860-240-8585; EmailAddress: Legislative Office Building, Room 3201, Hartford, CT 06106-1591
Sen. Andrew M. Maynard (Vice Chair); Phone: 860-240-0591; Address: Legislative Office Building, Room 2300, Hartford, CT 06106-1591
Rep. Paul Davis (Vice Chair); Phone: (203) 799-7285; EmailAddress: Legislative Office Building, Room 4045, Hartford, CT 06106-1591
Sen. Andrew W. Roraback (Ranking Member); Phone: 1-800-842-1421; Address: Legislative Office Building, Room 3400, Hartford, CT 06106
Rep. Clark J. Chapin (Ranking Member); Phone: 1-800-842-1423; Email;  Address: House Republican Office, L.O.B., Room 4200, Hartford, CT 06106

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Making A Great Place Better

It's no secret that the West Branch of the Farmington River is among the very top trout fishing destinations in the Northeast.  The quantity of quality fish living within its banks is unmatched in southern New England. The ever increasing number of Connecticut and out-of-state anglers lining its pools is a testament to that. There are many reasons why this river, particularly the upper portion, consistently produces high-caliber trout.  One of them is because of its year-round catch and release Trout Management Areas (TMA).

Established in 1988, the upper TMA encompasses a magnificent 3.6-mile stretch of river from the Route 219 Bridge in New Hartford to the power lines that run through People's State Forest in Pleasant Valley. With sufficient food, great habitat, cold, clean water, and fish-friendly regulations, there is a strong population of holdover trout, and an increasingly impressive number of wild fish as well.  For several years, there has been a growing movement to expand the TMA to improve and protect this amazing fishery even more. A proposed expansion in the works would increase the upper TMA upstream to the old bridge abutments in the tail of Whittemore Pool.  This would be a big win for trout by providing more catch and release sanctuary and for anglers by providing more room to breathe year-round. 

In addition, the proposed expansion would make the rest of the river from the Goodwin Dam all the way down to the Route 177 bridge a seasonal TMA.  This would mean that from September 1 until Opening Day, the entire 21-mile stretch of river from the Dam to Unionville would be a strictly catch and release area.  And from Opening Day until September 1, there would be a 2 fish, 12-inch limit in areas outside of the TMA.  However, in an attempt to make regulations more consistent throughout the entire stretch of river, the mandatory barbless hook regulation would be taken out if these changes go through in their current form. No doubt that by increasing the river's catch and release areas the trout fishing on the Farmington River would benefit immensely, yet reinstating barbed hooks into the TMA is looked at by many to be a step in the wrong direction.   

A public hearing has been scheduled for Wednesday, March 16 at 6:30 PM, at the DEP HQ in Hartford. This is the last chance to voice your opinion on the matter in person.  Based on public comment, the proposed regulations may be adjusted.  For supporters of expanding the TMA that cannot make it to Hartford, the Farmington River Anglers Association (FRAA) has drafted a letter (below), which you can tweak to make your own.  Written comments should be submitted no later than 4:30 PM on March 30 to Bill Foreman (see address/fax/email below).

Bill Foreman
CT DEP Inland Fisheries Division
79 Elm Street
Hartford, CT 06106-5127
Fax: (860) 424-4070

Dear Mr. Foreman:

I am writing this letter to show my support for the proposed changes in the Farmington River Trout Management Area. The expansion of the Trout Management Area to the bridge abutments at the tail out of the Whittemore pool, and the changes to the other areas of the river down to the Route 177 Bridge in Unionville are well thought out, and long over due.

However, there is one change in the proposed regulations which I DO NOT support. All three sections of the new proposals relating to the Farmington River require that the fish be released “without avoidable injury”. And yet the regulations requiring the use of barbless hooks has been eliminated from the proposal. Barbless hooks allow for reduced handling and a faster release of the fish, thus reducing unwanted injury. To eliminate this requirement makes no sense. Barbless hooks in the Trout Management Area have been required since its inception, and to remove this provision at this time would be counter productive to releasing the fish without avoidable injury. Please consider reinstating the barbless hook requirement in the TMA, and if you wish to standardize the regulations, make barbless hooks required for the entire section of the river in the proposal. Thank you for your consideration in this matter.


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