Monday, July 31, 2017

Catching Up

My first fish of 2017 betrayed how well this spot would wind up fishing.

     It has been a long time since my last post here. I've been busy with family, work, and fly tying. That's one excuse. Another excuse is how miserable spring fishing was for me this season. The most likely excuse is that I just haven't felt the urge to write much. In any case, I wanted to document how this season has gone so far, if for no other reason than to have a causal record on which to look back.

     I wanted to get out during the warm winter stretches, but something always ruined it. Come March, I was getting irritated and decided to ride it out until the spring runs started, when I would make up for lost time. My first trip, on April 20, to my favorite spring spot yielded one schoolie, which is better than most first trips to this place. Based on that, I figured I was in for a treat this season. 

Stripers on nymphs

     How wrong I was! This river has been fishing worse and worse every spring. Not only didn't I see a sea run trout, but didn't hear of any caught or seen, either by anglers or state sampling crews. The striper run wasn't too great either. That schoolie was the biggest striper I caught there this season. There were a ton of dinky stripers around though. After a while, I decided to get goofy and tried to catch them on nymphs and a trout rod, which wound up working great. That was only fun for an afternoon or so. The best thing to happen to me all spring was driving off with my net on the car roof, not losing it, and having it crushed by an 18 wheeler (like I did last spring on the Naugatuck). I got to Target, did my shopping, then saw it on the roof of my car. That's about as lucky as I got there this season, so I think it is time to move on and find a spot with better spring prospects. I have one in mind, but will have to wait until next spring to see how it pans out. 

The highlight of my (former) favorite spring spot

     Fishing in the salt yielded similar results for me. Lots of tiny fish. I was always in the right place, but just a little too late. Rowan L. (CT Fly Angler) had sympathy for me. While my spring river was fishing worse than ever, his was fishing better than ever. He took me out one night and the place was absolutely loaded with stripers. Finally, I was in the same place as some keeper-sized fish. I hooked two and lost them both!

     American shad fishing was OK for me, but not nearly as good as it had been for me the past two seasons. I broke one of my favorite switch rods on my first shad of the season. It was a bonehead mistake on my part. Extreme frustration was beginning to kick in, so I decided to take a couple weeks off and regroup. 

An order of orange Caribou Bombers for trophy brook trout fishing in Labrador

     I had a late wave of salmon fly orders to tie, so my break was the perfect time to catch up. I am happy to hear that the flies have been doing their jobs. I love tying. I really enjoy it. But, after a couple weeks of hardcore tying sessions (and a new chair born out of necessity...ouch), I was ready to fish again. 

A wild, small stream brown that was one of my first of the season

     I figured I needed to change gears, so I dusted off the trout gear. My first solo trout trip of the season happened much later than normal for me. I think it was sometime in June. After teaching some drum lessons, I stopped by a small stream that has been good to me in the past, but that I had not fished in a few years. I was surprised that the water was as low as it was and it made me uneasy. Getting charged by a pit bull made me even more uneasy. Luckily, he just wanted to play. Thinking the pool was spooked, I flipped my caddis downstream. To my surprise, my first trout of the season was a 12" wild brown! Unfortunately, he didn't want his picture taken. There were way more downed trees than the last time I fished here, so that made fishing a little more challenging. I wound up having a really good evening and caught many more trout than I had expected. In years past, I would pull a brookie or two from this river, but it seems like there are fewer than ever in this section of stream. Maybe they move around, or maybe it has become too warm for them. I'm not sure.

Farmington River Yellow Drake

     It was about time for my favorite evening hatches on the Farmington River, so I moved my operation over there. My first day on the Farmington was a sulfur bonanza, with several hour of consistent dry fly fishing. I stayed in one pool for about six hours. There was no incentive to move. My next trip, I decided to focus on the big bugs of summer, the Yellow Drakes. It was a successful trip, other than being warned by the police not to stay after sunset. I've fished this spot for years, mostly into the night, and this was the first time I've been warned. It was a successful trip, so I decided to push my luck...

The big Cream Variant was the winner. 

     I tied up some big flies for the Drake hatch and decided to go with a friend (who shall remain nameless in this case!). I asked him to drive in case we got caught. Since I never had a problem in the past, I thought it might have been a fluke. We fished, the hatch was pretty good, and I nailed one of the hardest fighting Farmington browns I've caught in a while. The fish was perfect and had no elastomer tags. He freaked out every time he saw the net. I suspect that trout might have been a wild fish. He absolutely nailed a sz. 10 Cream Variant, which is such a fun fly when it works. I was riding high until two police cars stopped us on the way out! Quickly, I stashed my hat and glasses under the seat. It worked, and we got off with a warning. Another friend wasn't so lucky and was actually ticketed.

     I went back once more, but set my cell phone alarm to get me out before sunset. It was a rainy day and the fish were taking olives and I managed a few browns from a very fussy pool. The drakes hatched early and I hooked (and lost) one nice trout before I had to go. As I packed up, an officer drove by to make sure I was leaving. What a drag...that spot fishes best right before sunset and into the night. It's a shame it's now regularly patrolled and off-limits. Oh well, I'm happy to have done as well as I did there in my few trips. 

Wild Farmington River rainbow trout

     A Farmington River first for me was the wild rainbow trout (pictured above). To my knowledge, it's only the second wild rainbow I've caught in Connecticut. Wouldn't it be great if there were a lot more of them...and bigger? It makes me wonder about some of the fish I have lost...

Finally...a carp! Small, but I'll take it. 

     The past couple of weeks, I have been focusing on carp fishing. Rowan L. was kind enough to show me the ropes. It took three trips and a couple of blown hook sets to land one, but I managed to land three on my third day. They were all small, but we have our sights set on something much larger...possibly the largest exclusively freshwater fish that swim in our state...But they are so difficult to hook....hopefully more on that later...

     So, that's about it. Luckily, the summer has been going much better for me than the spring. With the rain and mild summer, I'm cautiously optimistic about good fall fishing this year. I will be doing more frequent posts than I have been and will be doing some prep work for the upcoming Connecticut salmon season, so check back often.

Monday, April 17, 2017

My Best Guide Trip Yet

M's first trip - 2013 (4 mos. old)

     A few months after my son, "M," was born, I was ready to get on the water. 2013 was a brutal winter and I had a pretty serious case of cabin fever. Even if it hadn't snowed so much, I just needed to get out of the house. Seeing how a newborn would be confined to his carrier, I figured a quick fishing trip might be possible. I timed it for the Quill Gordon hatch on a local river. 

     Things didn't go according to plan. As a baby, M demanded to be held and walked around almost all the time. It was exhausting. I thought he might be distracted enough by the sights and sounds of nature for me to catch a fish or two. I had only made a few casts before M cried. He didn't want to be in the carrier. He wanted to be held, just like at home. So much for my brilliant plan. 

    After the first trip, I decided to wait a bit before trying again. A few months later, a stroller trip to Connecticut's Salmon River ended pretty much the same way. After that, I decided to pull the plug on fishing with M in year one. In his second year, we made a couple successful trips to the Naugatuck, largely due to the novelty of a toddler carrier backpack. By the time M was old enough to run around, he had gotten sort of wild, that way little boys often do. He was too wild to bring fishing. It just wasn't enough action for him and it would have been dangerous to leave him on the bank. I fished on my own for the next two years. 

The apprentice

     This winter, four year old M developed an interest in fly tying. I showed him some basics and he soon asked, "Where are all of my tools?" I laughed, but he didn't let me off the hook. I had to get him his own set of tools. I had enough of the basics at home, but we made a special trip to UpCountry Sportfishing to fill his box with tools and some bargain bin materials. It was still too cold to fish, but the seed had been planted...

     ...Fast forward to last Friday. The weather had been warm enough to make a local Quill Gordon hatch a possibility. I had a much needed day off and had planned on fishing alone that day. However, my plans change suddenly,  as they often do. I called an audible and brought M back to the original river. We returned to the pool he last visited when he was four months old. I told M that I would do the casting and he would fight the fish, just like we had practiced in the basement two weeks prior (on the rod and reel he claimed were his). 

Fish on!

     As expected, there was a Quill Gordon hatch, albeit a light one. We hooked up on a cripple pattern, but lost the brown trout early in the fight. The other trout didn't have much interest in a dry fly, but they nipped at a sz. 14 Hare's Ear wet fly. It seemed too small, so I switched to a larger wet fly, a sz. 10 Leading Coachman. 

     Bingo! It wasn't long before we hooked up in the tail of the pool. I handed the rod to M. He reeled the wrong way at first, but got it right after I offered some expert advice. It wasn't long before I netted M's first trout, a nice little brookie. Unfortunately, the fish slipped out of my hand when I tried to take its picture. Shortly after the excitement of landing his first trout, M dropped my 20-compartment dry fly box into the river. I fished it out of the current with the tip of my rod. 

M's second trout

     After laying the fly box out to dry, we went back to it. It wasn't long before we hooked up again. After another urgent lesson in which direction to reel, M brought his second trout close, this time a little rainbow. After landing the first fish, M really wanted to net a fish himself. That wasn't going to happen, so I handed him the net with the rainbow in it. The fish kicked, startled M, and he dropped the net into the river. I jumped in after the net and the water went over my hip boots. Like my fly box, my right leg was totally soaked. It was a small price to pay for the memories. 

     We had to leave shortly thereafter, so we packed up and headed out. I took off my soaked socks and put on a pair of flip flops. After putting M in his car seat, I congratulated him on a job well done, catching two of the three species of local trout. He whined loudly,  "But I wanted to catch a brown trout, too!" 

The lucky fly, set aside for safe keeping

Monday, April 10, 2017

Deploying the Troops

Headed to the Queen of Rivers, Norway's Alta

     This coming August marks my tenth wedding anniversary. It has been a great ten years. I couldn't ask for a better wife. Due the milestone, I think I'll be on the outside looking in this salmon season.

     My favorite kind of fly tying is tying for a trip. If it's not for my own trip, second best is someone else's trip. After taking a fishing/tying break in January and February, I have been busy tying for anglers taking some interesting trips in 2018. Among the more interesting orders was a dozen Governors, headed for the big, powerful, early June salmon of Middle Camp's pools on the Cascapedia. Another few dozen are headed for the Rivers Tay, Spey, Nairn, and Ness in Scotland. I've  never fished in the UK, but would love to someday. 

Governors for outsized Cascapedia salmon

     The order that got me the most pumped was a dozen tubes, headed to Norway. There are many great Norwegian rivers, but none as revered as the River Alta, home of the world's largest strain of Atlantic salmon. While tying the other orders, I watched some Dave Chapelle specials and listened to a podcast about crime and corruption in Providence, RI (some familiar characters!). While tying Alta flies, I watched Alta videos. Sometimes I stopped tying to give the videos my full attention. I realized that it's a place I need to see at least once in my life.

    Fueled by over an hour of huge salmon videos, I marched into the room my wife was in and declared, "I'm going to start entering the Alta lottery. If I actually win water, I'll figure out what to do later. But I'm telling you right now, one day I'm going to say that I'm going to Norway. It might be next year. It might be fifteen years from now. But it will happen eventually. I have to fish this place before I die."

     She was sort of caught off guard by how abruptly I delivered my "serious" message, but she got it. I think she'd actually like to come along for that trip, which is great. I tried to pitch a tenth anniversary trip to Iceland, but she saw right through it. She knows next to nothing about fly fishing, but I think she understands how this river is different from all the rest. 

Willie Gunns, headed home to Scotland

     I'll probably be living vicariously through some of you guys this season, but that's okay. I still have to tie a bunch of Miramichi flies. It has been a few years since I was last there. Maybe I'll tie a few extra Undertakers and Butterflies for myself. Maybe I can sneak away for a quick trip if the opportunity presents itself...

Cockburn Shrimp for high water on the Miramichi

Monday, April 3, 2017

Boston Event: Sippin' Suds for Atlantic Salmon

click to enlarge

      A couple weeks ago, New England on the Fly's Ben Carmichael sent me a heads up about an upcoming event. I checked my calendar to make sure I don't have a gig on the evening of April 26. I do not, so I immediately purchased a ticket online.

     Some friends and I have causally talked about having a meet up of local Atlantic salmon anglers. Evidentially, we are not good enough organizers to make such a thing happen. Thank goodness guys like Ben Carmichael are! Ben mentioned that it will be a way to get hopeful and inexperienced Atlantic salmon anglers in the same room with experienced salmon anglers. 

     Recently, while I was talking with a friend of mine who is a very experienced fly fisherman, but new to Atlantic salmon fishing, we talked about conversations that happen between Atlantic salmon anglers. I mentioned how I noticed how Atlantic salmon fishers have their own unique "dialect" within the larger language of fly fishing. When salmon anglers get talking amongst a larger group of fly anglers, it doesn't take long before the Atlantic salmon guys and gals begin speaking in what sounds like a sort of "code" to everyone else. It can be hard to follow for those who have yet to participate in this branch of the sport. 

     The way I see it, Sippin' Suds for Atlantic Salmon is an event that was created to break down such walls. I have plenty of salmon fishing friends my age and younger, but most don't live in the U.S. Most of my American salmon fishing friends are older than I am. A lot of American anglers consider the Atlantic out-of-reach, either financially, in terms of proximity, or otherwise. Nothing could be further from the truth. An event such as this allows connections to be made and information to be passed along to the next generation of Atlantic salmon anglers. Let's face it, the Atlantic salmon needs as many advocates it can get. 

     If you are free, I encourage you to attend this event. I am very much looking forward to it. If you happen to go, I look forward to meeting you and talking salmon. 

Monday, March 27, 2017

"Sector E2" - A Painting by Val Kropiwnicki

A fish, a fly, a river, a run

     I have a basement music studio I use for practice, teaching, and rehearsals. It's a bigger room than what I need so, a few months ago, I decided to make it a more comfortable place to hang out. I added a couch, a chair, house plants, and a couple of tables. It's a great little spot to relax and listen to music. The walls were too bare, though. I have a painting and framed fly by my fishing buddy, visual artist Val Kropiwnicki, as well as some other decorative odds and ends. I felt like the room needed another big piece, so I called Val and asked him to paint something else for me. I described the scene to him in great detail and told him to interpret it however he wanted. 

     Val's summary of the work is far more to the point than was my description. He called the painting "Sector E2" and said it's about "A fish, a fly, a river, a run." Below is Val's process, followed by the finished painting. As you will see, there was some editing involved, which implies improvisation...perfect for a jazz musician's practice studio. 

(click images to enlarge and view as a slideshow)

     The image below is the completed painting as it hangs on my wall. It's hard to capture the detail in a small, crude picture. The texture can only be fully appreciated in person. The close-up scales of the salmon are incredible. While I enjoy more traditional pieces of angling art, this is not a traditional room, at least not in terms of its use. Val's "Sector E2" perfectly complements the attitude of the space it's in. 

Sector E2

Monday, March 20, 2017

An Introduction to Tube Fly Tying Tools

The vast majority of my tube flies are tied on either a tapered
needle or a modified hook shank. 

     I've received a few questions about tube fly tying tools recently. Instead of writing a new article, I am going to post an excerpt from my ebook Flies for Connecticut Atlantic Salmon: How to Tie and Fish Them. There is a plenty of information about tying salmon flies of all varieties, and not just for broodstock salmon fishing here in Connecticut. In fact, most of the flies are common Atlantic salmon patterns used in either North America or Europe. For those new to tying and fishing tube flies, rigging, tools, materials, fishing strategies, and fly recipes are covered in depth. The text below is a small part of Chapter 1: Tools, Materials & Salmon Fly Anatomy. 


Additional Tools for Tying Tube Flies

     Since tubes are not held directly in the jaws of a vise, a means with which to hold them is necessary. Most tube fly systems use either tapered mandrels or tapered needles. The taper is important because it prevents the fly from rotating under thread tension. Special tube vises can cost $150 or more. On the other end of the spectrum, objects found around the house might work as well as anything and they don’t cost a penny. I am not going to explain every brand and option. There are books and websites that can weigh all the options for you. Instead, I will tell you what works well for me. I take a sort of “middle of the road” approach. Listed below are the tube fly tools I use on a regular basis.

ProTube Flexineedle

     Tapered Needle - It helps to have a tapered needle with a flat profile. The flat profile helps prevent the tube from spinning under thread tension. My needle of choice is the Pro Tube Flexineedle. There are no additional tools required to hold the needle. It fits into the jaws of any conventional fly tying vise. The Flexineedle works best for medium sized tube flies, both plastic and metal. The vast majority of my tube flies are tied on this $17 item.

Blind eye and modified hooks for tying different size tube flies

     Modified Hooks - When tying very short tube flies, I prefer to use modified hooks. A short tube sits too far back on the Flexineedle to make tying comfortable. A hook shank is much shorter than a tapered needle. It’s easier to wrap thread on a short tube when there isn’t two inches of tapered needle extending from the open- ing of the tube fly. 

     In my experience, the most suitable hooks are large double hooks. Because the wire eventually splits to form both hook bends, a natural taper exists. A tube can easily be pushed back against the taper. Old blind eye hooks work well too, especially large, heavy iron hooks.

     Almost any large fishing hook will work, though. With a Dremel tool, I remove the eye and grind the side of the shank flat. If the hook doesn’t already have a taper built in, I grind one with the Dremel. Also, I cut the hook points off to avoid catching the thread. I had suitable hooks laying around, so these tube tools didn’t cost me anything.

HMH Standard vise with tube vise converter jaws 

      Tube Vise Tool or Converter Jaws - This is the least useful tool of the three, but it is the most expensive. I use the HMH Tube Vise Converter. It is a set of “jaws” that screw directly into my HMH Standard vise. The converter costs $65, but is only useful for those who already own an HMH vise. In lieu of buying new jaws or a dedicated tube vise, the most economical option is to buy what’s known as a “tube tool.” These tools come with pins or tapered mandrels and fit in the securely jaws of most standard vises. They can be usually be found for $20-$45.

     I only use my HMH tube jaws for tying one specific type of fly (the Snaelda/Frances, found in Chapter 4). The HMH converter works perfectly for those flies. If I didn’t need to tie either the Snaelda or the Frances, I would have no use for the HMH jaw. Other than those two flies, all of my Atlantic salmon tube flies are tied on the Flexineedle or on a modified hook shank.

     The only other tools needed to tie tube flies are a lighter (or candle) and a supply of single edge razor blades. If you use a whip finish tool, an extended-reach model is helpful. As you can see, making the leap to tying tube flies doesn’t have to cost much money.


The Frances and Snaelda (pictured above) are the only flies I don't tie
on either a tapered needle or modified hook shank. 

     As always, don't hesitate to comment below or  contact me with any questions you might have about tying tube flies or anything else. 

Monday, March 13, 2017

Product Review: Loon Outdoors Ergo Bobbin

The Loon Ergo Bobbin fits nicely in hand.

     They say, "If it ain't broke, don't fix it." Despite the recent influx of premium bobbins, I've used only basic bobbins since I began tying flies at age 13. The spectrum of premium bobbins is vast. A standard Rite Bobbin costs about $25, while an Ekich Ultimate Bobbin can set the tyer back over $100. I usually don't spend more than $8 or so on a basic bobbin, but I decided to give the new Loon Outdoors Ergo Bobbin a shot. 

     The Ergo Bobbins retails for $19.95. It doesn't offer any sort of fancy thread tension adjustment like the Rite or Ekich bobbins. In that sense, the Ergo Bobbin is more similar to a basic bobbin than what we consider a "premium bobbin." That's fine, I use my hand to fine tune thread tension when necessary (more on that later). What sets the Ergo Bobbin apart from other basic bobbins, as well as some premium models, is the shape of the handle. Instead of wrapping one's fingers around a fine metal tube, the tyer's fingers grip a wide yellow handle. 

     I wasn't sure how much I'd like the handle, but I wound up loving it. I was amazed at how much more control I had over my thread when my hand was gripping the bobbin in a more natural position. I felt like I could lay down wraps of thread with more precision than I could with a standard bobbin. The Ergo Bobbin was just the right size for my hand. My thumb and index fingers grip the handle, while my pinky finger can rest on, or next to, the spool. 

Only 1 inch of thread separates the hook from the pedestal. 
     There was one big "strike" against the Ergo Bobbin, however. Look at the picture above. Because the Ergo Bobbin is so long, there was very little room between the bottom of the bobbin and the top of my vise pedestal when the bobbin was perpendicular to the hook shank. This was a problem when securing materials such as an oval tinsel rib. After wrapping an oval tinsel tip or rib, I try to keep as much tension on the material as possible until I get about three tight wraps of thread over it. I tend to move the bobbin back and forth between hands to keep maximum tension on both the material and the thread. Because of this, I need more than 1" of thread out of the tip of the bobbin. Also, I need to be able to totally stop the spool from spinning, which I do by squeezing the spool between my pinky and my palm. Because of the length of the Ergo Bobbin, this was an impossible move when switching hands and trying to keep tension on the tinsel. The bobbin was too long and the vise's pedestal base kept getting in the way.

     This would cease to be an issue if I had more room between the vise head and the pedestal (or if I used a C-clamp instead of a pedestal). I've considered adding a 3" vise stem extension for a while, mainly to get the hook closer to my eye level. This should solve the Ergo Bobbin length "problem." However, it might be nice to have the option of buying a smaller, "midge" sized Ergo Bobbin for when I need more clearance. 

     In all, the positives far outweighed the negatives. The enhanced thread control was so noticeable, I figure I can devise a solution for the above problem. The Ergo Bobbin is noticeably more comfortable than any other bobbin I've ever used. The Ekich S-Bobbin looks quite comfortable, too. But for a quarter of the price, I think I will stick with Loon's Ergo Bobbin.