Thursday, December 27, 2012

Like Cordwood

Yesterday I took a ride to a Connecticut tidal river that pours into western Long Island Sound. The target species was fresh Atlantic herring that recently arrived here from offshore, as they do each winter. I can only imagine the challenges these silvery, foot-long fish encounter during their journeys at sea, only to come inshore and get pummeled by mergansers, seals and anglers like me.

Catching them can be fun and easy if your timing is right. The tide preferred by local herring sharpies is high outgoing, which happened to coincide with the warmest part of the day yesterday, though it was still bitter cold. Chemical hard-warmers helped keep me in the game, as did not touching the wet fish while shaking them off the hook. The mainstay method of catching herring on a rod and reel is with a Sabiki rig, which is basically a long leader with several little dropper hooks with glow beads and flash. At the bottom of the rig is usually tied a lead bank sinker that gives the desired casting distance and gets the offering down to the strike zone.

There were four of us on the rocks today, all strangers working in rhythm to fill our buckets. The process consisted of casting upstream on a current seam, letting the weight hit bottom and slowly reeling in. As the lead sinker bounced along the rocks and sand, the rig worked its magic in the current and herring latched on like it was their job. The fish tried like hell to dislodge the hooks from their paper-thin mouths by doing somersaults on their way in, but when one herring would pop off, another would grab hold. They were stacked like cordwood and we often caught multiple herring at a clip. I counted several doubles, a few triples and my eastern European neighbor had a lucky retrieve with four herring on at once!

I was a little unprepared today showing up with only one Sabiki rig. Not having a local tackle shop open near me due to the holidays, I decided to risk it and go anyway. Of course it didn't take long for my lone rig to get snagged in some riprap while pulling in a brace of herring. The line broke as I could still feel them trying to wiggle free. Thankfully a good Samaritan fishing next to me told me to grab a new rig out of his truck and I was soon back in line bailing fish. I owe him a hot cup of coffee for sure! I kept the good karma rolling by giving hand-warmers to one of the foursome that was going back and forth to his car to warm up. The small token was just enough to keep his fingers operable in the raw conditions.

The regular who spared an extra rig kept telling me the bite would slow down as the tide dropped, but it never happened. After a busy couple of hours, I bid my new jigging friends farewell and left the fish biting. I finished with a total of 54 morsels up to 13-inches long; by far my best day of that type of fishing. And while I won't be eating any of them, I never met a fish that didn't like herring! They will serve as fresh bait for a long time to come.  

Sunday, December 23, 2012


Every year, after my last cast has been made in the surf and before ice forms on our lakes, there is a peaceful place I go to clear my head and try my luck. For me, late fall is a transition time from surf fishing to ice fishing, and I prefer to ease from one season to the next at a challenging and magical fishery in southwestern Connecticut.

On chilly November and December mornings and evenings, you can often find me along the shores of this man-made reservoir targeting walleye, trout and bass with live shiners and metal lures. It's not easy fishing and I think that is a big reason why other anglers aren't flocking there. To me, that just makes each catch that much more of an accomplishment. But if it was just about the fishing, I would've stopped going a long time ago.

One of these days, I am going to score that wall-hanger trout or walleye I've been after for years, but for now, just seeing an eagle, hearing a pileated woodpecker, and watching my slip-bobber go under the surface once in a while is enough for me...

Friday, December 21, 2012

Wild Homecoming

An old friend of mine is home after a long time away. We fished together yesterday morning on a small wild trout stream that we used to frequent before he left. I could tell Matt was excited to be back, soaking it all in and taking photos of anything that moved. A few hours along a picturesque wooded stream on a brisk fall day must have crossed his mind more than once while floating in an aircraft carrier halfway across the globe. I'm glad it was me who he fished with first after not picking up a rod for a whole year (see our last trip here).

Everything was just how we left it except that the stream was scary low. Thankfully, as I type this a day later, the whole state of Connecticut is receiving a much needed soaking. The wild trout we found holed up together in a couple pools will be grateful to spread out again.

Matt started us off right by getting three strikes on his first three drifts with a dry fly and weighted nymph underneath it. On the third take, he connected with a trout much bigger than the first two. It darted around the pool and wouldn't quit, especially when it saw my net dip below the surface. When he finally subdued, Matt and I were in high spirits realizing it was biggest trout we'd seen from this stream in a couple seasons; an old male brown with deep, dark colors.

We let that pool rest and took a long walk through the woods, stopping where we thought any trout could be lurking. On this day, we did more walking than usual because some of the normal stops didn't seem worth it in the low flow. It was pretty sad to see the mystery taken out of once-deep pools. A silver lining to the lack of water was that it allowed us to scout a stretch we often don't make it to what is probably very promising water under optimal conditions.

After a crouching and casting for a few hours, we eventually wandered back to the pool where our day began. Like it was the first meal they'd seen in weeks, little trout were fighting over flies drifted down the center of the run. I got smacked first by a little native brookie, then again by another gem of a brown. They preferred a small pheasant tail pattern with a tungsten bead, but more than one came up for the bushy dry fly on top.

It was a very enjoyable morning on the water and I look forward to many more like it with my buddy that's now moved back home for the next few years. Sometimes I take for granted the wonderful fishing I have at my disposal in Connecticut, but yesterday was a good reminder not to.