May 19, 2010

Connecticut River Stripers

I'm fortunate enough to live only an hour from the shore which offers access to some great saltwater fishing in the Long Island Sound so why get all excited about a few Striped Bass in the river?!  Well the spring Striper run in the CT rivers has been one of those things that doesn't last long and brings the stripers to areas were just about anyone can get at them.  No need for offshore type boats, long boat rides or trying to make heads or tails of where to go in such a large area.  Just grab your tin can or boots, some tackle and give it a go.  Okay, maybe it's not that simple but definitely doable.

The Connecticut River   - the “long tidal river” named by the Algonquians of southern New England - starts at the northern tip of New Hampshire where it beings its southerly 410 mile journey through New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts and Connecticut where it ends in the Long Island Sound.  The CT river offers up many different looks, feels and recreational opportunities and one of my favorites is fishing.  The CT River offers up many different species of fish from Carp, Catfish, Northern  Pike, Walleye and one of my personal favorites, Small Mouth Bass.  It also is home to many migrating fish species like the American Shad, Atlantic Salmon and River Herring (also known as Alewife) and these migrating herring are the reason the Striped Bass make the journey from the ocean up river every spring as they follow the migration of river herring.  These striped bass will follow the herring some 70 miles into Massachusetts just to feed on this migration only to return to the ocean later on.

The opportunity to catch stripers ranging from  10" to15" fish all the way up to 50" fish from anywhere in that 70 mile stretch is what makes the river striper run one of the most anticipated events of the spring.  Starting in Late February early March the forums start buzzing with people looking for those first catch reports of bass and it builds into a all out frenzy with reports of the herring run.

I have a couple of friends who have boats that also enjoy trying their luck at fishing the river striper run and this past weekend I joined my friend Scott and his two sons on an early morning outing.  Our trip started out meeting at the commuter lot at 4:30am where I loaded my gear into Scott's truck, locked my doors and left my window open - ofcourse I didn't notice this until we got back some 10 hours later.  We decided to launch in Hartford which is only about 30 minutes from us but the gate to the launch was closed and being the impatient types we are, we spun everything around and made the 10 minute run to the Wethersfield Cove to launch and we were out on the river and at at what we so ingeniously named "Hole #1" by 5:30.

There are many ways to fish for stripers such as drifting live bait, trolling, anchoring up and fishing with some type of chunk bait or sand worms or just working the shoreline with lures and plastics.   We setup the kids with a live bait setup - it is illegal to use river herring as bait so many people use large shiners instead - and the first drift was underway.  It took my friends oldest son Zack about 5 minutes to miss the first fish, but Scott's youngest son Junior - not really his name but that is what we call him - made his first opportunity count by doing everything right.  Waiting for the fish to run with the bait and then click over the bail and set the hook home and just like that the first striper of the season was hooked up and the fight was on.  After a really decent fight we were able to net this healthy 22 inch striper.  The smiles says it all doesn't it.

Junior's 22" Striped Bass

After a few pictures we released the fish back into the river and then a round of high fives was in order.  I thought this was a good sign of the fishing that was to come and we definitely had opportunities but the fishing wasn't on fire by any shape of the imagination.  As we setup for another drift we continued to scan the water for any sign of fish or herring and we did see some sign of herring but no sign of any fish chasing them.  On our second drift, Zack missed another fish on his live bait setup and Junior hooked into another one, this time a little smaller.  After his second fish Scott and I were beginning to get nervous because this isn't normal for Junior.

We had opportunities on every drift with the live bait, but I just had a feeling and decided to bang the shoreline with a pearl Houdini to see if I could catch one just hanging out waiting and sure enough I did.  About 10 feet from shore my Houdini got hammered and I knew right away he was a decent fish.  The legal size limit to keep a striped bass is 28 inches with a 2 fish per person limit.  The fish was taking drag and working me around the boat and I got a couple of good looks at him and every time he made another run. Junior was manning the net and giving me grief so I put a little bit more pressure on him and I had my first keeper sized bass for 2010 in the boat. I decided to return it to the river to keep feeding on those herring and get just a little bigger.

My first 2010 keeper

After that I concentrated on helping Zack get a handle on what he was doing wrong and it wasn't long before he was hooked up with his first CT river striper.  After a nice little fight  we were taking some pictures and releasing another bass back into the river.

Zack's first CT River Striper

We continued to have some hook ups and some misses but Scott wasn't having much luck and you just can't let the Captain of the boat not enjoy some of the fun, plus if we all out fished him he might not bring us next time.  Scott had some opportunities earlier in the day but just wasn't connecting but when he finally did he went on a 3 fish catching streak with the largest being another 22 inch fish.

 Scott's contribution to the boat.

Ok, I apologize Scott.  That wasn't very nice or fair to use the picture of this little one so how about this one.

We continued to fish our normal spots and try a few new ones and we boated 10 or 11 bass, missed probably as many more with only the one keeper sized fish.  There is plenty of discussions on the forums about the the run being over or just beginning but either way we will continue to try our luck in the river before moving out to the sound for the season.

As morning changed to afternoon the river got more crowded with kyakers, water skiers, jet skis people cruising the river and plenty of people along the shoreline taking advantage of the great weather and this great resource known as the the long tidal river.

For more information on Striped Bass fishing in the Connecticut River check out these links.

CT Outfitters for tackle, licenses, bait and fishing information
Capt. Blaine Anderson - Fishing Guide - From the river to the sound
CT DEP  - information about licenses, limits, access points
CT Fisherman - The best CT fishing forum around.

May 14, 2010

Connecticut Trails Day 2010

A quote from the Connecticut Trails Day 2010 celebration booklet says it all....."Get ready to find your happy place in Connecticut! ."  June 5 & 6 marks the weekend long Connecticut Trails Day celebration being held all over Connecticut with hundreds of scheduled events spread out all over Connecticut.  With 139 state parks and forest in Connecticut you are sure to find something that offers up a wonderful time in the great outdoors.  There are Hikes, Educational and Nature walks, canoeing and kyaking events, geocaching trips and even good old trail maintenance opportunities spread across 88 towns so I'm sure you can find something that interests you and fits into your schedule.  Another great thing about this celebration is all state park and forest fees will be waived for these events.  So start planning your Trails Day celebration by reviewing all the events available during this 2 day celebration.

On a side note,  I'm proud of the fact that the company I work for is a proud sponsor of Connecticut Trails Day and even though i will not be participating in any of these events, I will be enjoying the great outdoors in Central Pennsylvania as I take my first trip to fish the famed Penns Creek where i hope to catch a glimpse of the infamous Green Drake.

More information can be found using the following links.

CT Trails Day Celebration website
CT Trails Day Celebration booklet (PDF File)
CT Trails Day supplement (PDF File)

Start planning and enjoy the celebration and don't forget to share your happy place with someone else.

May 11, 2010

My Introduction into Euro Nymphing

For those of you with that kind of mind, please get it out of the gutter as this post is all about a fly fishing technique known as European style nymphing.   Disclaimer - I am in no way an expert in this method, it's origins or concepts but it is something I've wanted to try as a way to expand my fly fishing skills.

As I mentioned in previous posts, nymphing is the technique of presenting your flies sub surface down to where the fish do the majority of their feeding. There are so many methods of nymphing  to choose from and one just starting out could get extremely confused and all turned around.  From Spanish & French nymphing to Czech & polish nymphing, indicator nymphing, high-stick nymphing and ofcourse Euro nymphing.  Many of these techniques have many similarities but there slight differences were most likely born out of fishing on their home waters because of regulations and fishing pressure. As fly fishing has grown into competitions, competition and the rules that go along with them have also caused some type of adaptation and modification to these methods so even if the base concept is the same, the style, technique and even equipment becomes modified for those unique methods.

Because of all the different styles and techniques I thought it was important for me to get some help with putting this all into perspective and into play by enlisting the help of a professional guide and that is exactly what I did by booking my Euro nymphing trip with Aaron Jasper.  Aaron is the co-founder of Trout Predator Online (TPO) which is in my opinion the best site on the web to share information and ask questions about all things Fly Fishing.  TPO is a daily stop for me as Aaron and the folks who frequent TPO have been a huge help in my journey as a fly fisherman and you can find everything from fishing reports, fly tying videos, product reviews and tons of information related to all styles of fly fishing.  Have a question or problem just post it and you will be helped from some of the best people around.  Aaron's full time job as a teacher surely has something to do with how successful he has been as a guide and a fly fishing instructor.   I've had the chance to chat back and forth with Aaron on many occasions as well as attend a presentation on Euro Nymphing that he presented and I just had to book a trip with him and I was glad I did.

My trip started out with a 4am wake up with thunderstorms all around.  I had an hour drive to meet up with Aaron at Upcountry Sportfishing in New Hartford,  where we would be fishing the Farmington River, which by the way is probably one of the best fisheries in the state of CT.   A I was sitting in the parking lot waiting for Aaron a huge flash of lightening and a crash of thunder shook me and my truck and all I could think of was that I must be insane to go out fishing in this weather.  One thing I love is technology and using a few weather and radar applications I had on my Motorola Droid I was convinced we could get this trip in.

At our first stop Aaron gave me a quick introduction into my setup and the concept of Euro Nymphing and then handed me the rod.  After a few attempts at casting this new rig I thought for sure he would just leave me along side the river and move on, but he didn't and was able to get me corrected pretty quickly.   My first few attempts with the new tools of the trade threw a wrench into my casting and that was the first lesson learned this day.  I had thought and read that you didn't really cast your team of flies, but instead lobbed them along but i can tell you for certain, I did plenty of casting and not a whole heck of lobbing my flies.  Matter of fact I started to lose a little confidence in my abilities but Aaron stepped in and took care of that by explained that this is a learning opportunity and he was goign to put me in positions that would make me learn and I'm definitely not afraid to learn.

This setup consists of a 10 foot 3 weight rod, about a 15 foot total length for my leader which has a butt section connected to some type of inline sighter, which in this case was a coiled sighter (there is a great video on Fly Fishing Reporter that shows how to make a coiled sighter), then your tippet to your team of flies.  In these case we were using two flies on a piece of Fluorocarbon tippet with a larger, heavier fly as our anchor fly and usually a smaller fly as our dropper fly.  The only weight in our setup was built into the flies themselves and this entire setup is designed to get the flies into the zone and down to the bottom as quick as possible.  In simple terms you cast your flies, take up the slack so your sighter is on the water and your rod position is leading your team of flies down stream making for a direct line of contact to your flies.  Because of this contact you can feel everything (unlike nymphing with an indicator) and the coiled sighter adds to the visual detection and makes every little touch of your flies visible.  Just plain amazing.

We didn't catch anything at our first stop and neither was the gentlemen that was fishing just below us so off to spot number two.  First cast into spot number two and I see the coiled sighter twitch ever so slightly and think..hmmm, I wonder if that was a fish...That is about the same time I got lesson number two.  Expect to catch fish on every cast and when just starting out always set the hook at any hint of something different either in the contact with my flies or in movement of the sighter.   I'm a pretty quick learner and on my second cast I watched that sighter twitch ever so slightly and I set the hook and the fight was one.  I knew instantly I had a good fish and seeing I had been losing fish during the retrieve on my last few outings I had prepared Aaron and asked him to be on the lookout for anything I was doing wrong and he was and coached me through it which resulted in Aaron netting my first ever trout caught Euro Nymphing and probably my largest trout ever.  It was a beautiful large holdover Brown trout.  Check out that smile!!!

A Euro Nymphing first for me
19" Farmington River Brown Trout

After taking a few pictures of this bruiser and releasing him back to his hide I new right away this was going to be one of those days.  Yes, Aaron told me it would be before we even started but I guess with the bad weather around I just thought otherwise.  Lesson three - Always listen to your guide and believe in him, heck that is why you hired him.

We continued to work our way along this section of the Farmington River trying to dodge the thunder and lightening and looking for more large trout hiding spots and we found them for sure.  we netted almost 20 fish, many were holdover fish as well as a stocker or two and even a small salmon parr.  There were two bruiser fish lost on this trip and many more missed as I fell out of that ...."expect to catch a fish every cast" mentality on occasion.  I had one incredible hit that caught me a little off guard and I ended up setting the hook like I was Tuna fishing only to snap my leader.  Even Aaron who was standing next to me was in awe at the slamming the fish put on the flies.  What was amazing is that missing fish and losing those bruisers didn't frustrate us for long because there were plenty of beautiful holdover fish to help continue my introduction into Euro Nymphing and here are just a few of them.

That last picture shows me locked up on another bruiser and illustrates another lesson I learned. Just as expecting to catch a fish every cast, confidence is contagious so purchase a larger net.  :)

It doesn't matter if you are an experienced fly fisherman looking to expand your technique and knowledge or just starting out, there is a load of free information available to help you out there but nothing replaces some one-on-one instruction with someone that has the right stuff and Aaron certainly does.

Aaron guides in both CT and NJ.   To contact Aaron Jasper visit either TPO or his Fly Fishing Evolution website and I promise you will not be disappointed.

Next step is to continue Euro Nymphing on my own and I'm sure new success and failures with be found along with plenty of more questions.

May 9, 2010

Happy Mothers Day

As we enter the spring season can anyone honestly think of a better season to celebrate Mothers Day?  As we come out of Winter,  Spring brings new life every day.  The grass is growing and showing it's enticing green color and comfortable thickness.  Trees are full of new leaves and blooms.  Flowers are starting to peak from the ground with their endless array of colors.  Birds are returning to build new nests to raise their young and newborn animals are starting to show the eagerness to explore.  What better time of the year to celebrate those who have given us new life - Our MOTHERS.

To my Mother, my Wife, My Stepmother and Mother-in-law:

I wish all of you a very Happy Mother's day and thank you for putting up with as well as encouraging my outdoor passions. 

Thank you for.......
  • fighting through all those early morning wake ups.
  • for not killing me when you have to move those containers of worms in the fridge or move buckets of bait out of your way.
  • putting up with the piles of smelly, dirty hunting clothes sprawled out all over the house as we prepare or unpack.
  • for not complaining about the deer hanging in the tree or garage.
  • for sitting there worrying about me while I am out running around the woods or standing in the middle of a river.
  • for not killing me for not calling and telling you I am going to be late.
  • for understanding when I don't make it to dinner or a party because I am out in the woods.
  • For allowing me to chase my passions.
Happy Mothers Day and I love you all very much.

May 5, 2010

New Jersey Spring Turkey Opener

Well my original goal was to spend 5 or 6 days hunting turkey and fishing for shad down in the Delaware Water Gap but as things go something came up and I had to change my plans to a two day trip.  Stinks for sure, but still fun and relaxing, just way too short.  A couple of my friends were lucky enough to spend the entire first week of the season chasing the birds and the daily updates I got from them just seemed to make it hurt more, well except for the rain and cold weather they had at the beginning of the week which made me glad I was inside at my desk.

Jimmy (aka "I have a loaf of bread") and Billy (aka "Busch Pilot") fought through the rain and cold for the first 3 days of the season as they worked the stubborn birds.  One afternoon they had to call it quits due to hunting hours ending just as they were working a longbeard into their position.  Man I hate when that happens.   Busch Pilot was fortunate enough to get a nice Jake into range earlier in the week with about 4 minutes to spare so he decided with the weather forecast what it was he better take the opportunity that presented him and he harvested his bird.  Not the longbeard he was after but definitely a trophy on heavily hunted public land.

Busch Pilots Spring 2010 New Jersey Bird

My friend Jim (aka "Bubba") and I headed out for NJ Thursday afternoon to meet up with the rest of the crew and get a few days of hunting and relaxing in.  Bubba is recovering from surgery so he wasn't planning on hunting, but instead catching up on his sleep and some sightseeing.  We arrived in the Gap Thursday afternoon to find the guys at the river doing some shad fishing.  My dad was down there as were a few of his pals and the only one that was having any type of consistency with the shad was my Dad's friend Paul.  I think the weird thing about Paul's success was that it was somehow tied into his weird choice of tackle or maybe it was his choice of women's waders.  Anyway, it really doesn't matter how he chooses to dress or what he was using for tackle, because he was kicking everyones butt.  Paul was using a Cabela's Wobble Jig with a small plastic tail on it and he did really well with it.  As a matter of fact, the shad in the "Shad fishing the Delaware 4/29/10" blog post was caught on a Pink Wobble jig.

Cabela's Wobbler Jig

Friday I decided to hunt a section of the mountain were Busch Pilot and I had a previous encounter 2 years ago with a big Tom and instead of getting him we almost got run over by two black bears. As i started heading into the woods I heard a gobble, good sign but I couldn't pinpoint the bird but I had a good idea of where he was so I slowly and quietly worked my way into the woods to try and get closer and as I was doing so I heard a hen cackle as she flew down off her roost.  I decided not to try and get closer but to rush a setup so as to not spook her.  Well it started out as if my decision and plan was coming together because that hen stayed put about 80 yards from me just clucking, yelping and cutting and ofcourse that big old tom was talking back and coming her way so I basically let nature take it's course but chimed in with some of my own love calls on occasion. It wasn't long before i started seeing other birds coming from the direction of the gobbler and as both that hen and I continued to call he came strutting into view at 80 yards.  I knew with all the hens around that I would be hard pressed to call him away so I concentrated on the hens.  Well that plan sure looked like it was going to work as I was able to get the hens to come up the little knob I was on and look me over but when the Tom gobbled, they just turned and went back down.  I watched them work their way out the direction I had come in.  The only good part was Busch Pilot was out there and I knew he had to hear them and ofcourse he did because i received a text asking why I haven't shot yet.  Well we continued to work this old bird and he stayed within a couple hundred yards of his roost and never left.  He just hung out strutting back and forth while his girls fed away.  The noon quitting time comes a lot quicker than you think when you have a big old longbeard just hanging out and there is nothing you can do about it.

Saturday started off way different but ended up the same way.  I decided to sneak back into the same area to see if the gobbler I left there yesterday was still around.  It was quiet up until about 7:30 when I heard the first gobble and it was below me and close to the same area we left that Tome the day before.  We never could not get this bird to gobble at us at all but he gobbled 4 times in total between the first one at 7:30 and the last one at 9:15.  He was pretty much doing the same thing that was going on yesterday.  Back and forth along a strut line but uninterested in our calls.  What was interesting is that about 9:30 I hear something crunching through the woods behind these deadfalls and then all of a sudden....there it is....  nope not the gobbler but one big black bear who came right up from where that gobbler was.  The bear stayed for just a little bit and I just couldn't get any pictures or video it thanks to the brush.  The bear started heading out towards Busch Pilot's position and I know how much he loves bears, not really, so being the good friend that i am,  I hit him on the radio so he could pack up and run away.  He let me know that about 10 minutes before I called him that a hen came cruising by him up from where the gobbler was so my thought was that this bear split them up and forced the gobbler the other direction.  I worked my way further out the bench to see if I could raise him, but nothing.  So around 11:15 I decide to start my way back to the car and work the lower benches to see if that gobbler got pushed down some, but no luck.  For two days of turkey hunting I had seen birds and heard gobbles so I can't complain.  No other birds were shot and there was no shooting near us.  Jimmy and his nephew James worked a bird along the fields but it kept putting the slip on them and they had to reposition a couple of times but just couldn't close the deal.  My dad spent Saturday morning working the PA side for birds as that was the PA opener but he too went home empty.

Bubba and I spent the afternoon doing some sightseeing  while the rest of the crew decided to work the shad over again.  There were loads of bird watchers out and about and we actually saw two Baltimore Orioles but couldn't get a picture of them.  The Bear count was down for us this trip as I only saw two, one of which we got a picture of and 5 were seen before I arrived.  Compared to the 14 I saw last year I was bummed.

Delaware Water Gap Black Bear

This one is for my buddy Ray.  He has a passion for barn pictures and has taken many himself.  Hope he enjoys it.
Old Red Barn on Old Mine Rd - Depew

Bubba and I did some exploring into a section of the gap where neither of us had spent much time and we ran across Buttermilk Falls which was just an incredible little falls that offered some cool refreshing air to tame the 90 degree heat we were in.  There is a hiking trail with some stairs to hike to the top but with Bubba's arm still in a sling and the stitches just having been removed we thought it was smarter to stay on flat ground.

 Buttermilk Falls 
Delaware Water Gap - New Jersey

This is the 3rd year of this spring trip and hopefully we have many more to come and it continues to grow as large as our fall trips. I can't think of any better time to visit the gap then in the spring and fall. All in all a great trip, great weather, great friends, family and loads of laughs.