Category Archives: Freshwater

trip sunset

Stop the NY DEC From Slashing Water Quality Testing

I’m reposting an email from Lee Willbanks, the executive director of Save The River, which advocates for the St. Lawrence:

The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) has slashed the state’s water quality testing budget and is now proposing to slash the state’s hazardous pollutant testing guidelines - reducing testing from once every 5 years to once every 10 years…or less. Urge DEC to keep a 5-year waterway testing schedule – testing our waters once every 10 years is not enough.In response to the budget sequester, last fall DEC cut its statewide water quality monitoring budget by a third, from $640K to $440k a year. This budget cut included the elimination of testing for pathogens (sewage) and pesticides.  We know from the State’s data that sewage pollution and pesticides pose a serious threat to our waterways and our health.  We need more data, not less, on the location and magnitude of these pollutants.Tell DEC we need to continue testing for sewage pollution and pesticides in our waterways – these programs should be reinstated.

DEC’s proposed new guidelines also make it more difficult for water quality data from outside sources, like Riverkeepers, to be considered by the State when making water quality assessments and plans. We need more sources of data, not fewer, to track and address water quality pollution. Urge DEC to broaden – not narrow the scope of water quality data it uses.

A water quality data blackout is bad for our environment, our health and our economy.  Please join us in calling for the restoration of our statewide water quality monitoring programs to 2012 levels of funding, staffing and testing.

Use this email template to tell DEC “Restore water quality monitoring programs to 2012 levels. You can personalize this email with your own examples of what robust water quality monitoring means to you and your experience of the River:
email address:  jamyers@gw.dec.state.ny.us

subject line:  Please restore water quality monitoring programs to 2012 levels

text:

Please accept these comments on the Draft Consolidated Assessment and Listing Methodology (CALM) posted January 2014. The proposed CALM guidelines commit DEC to monitoring the waters of NY once every ten years or less frequently.  This is not often enough to manage pollution and protect the health of our waterbodies and the health of the public who swim, boat and fish.  I urge you to maintain the current water monitoring and assessment schedule of testing water in each basin of the state once every 5 years, or more frequently.

I am concerned about the presence of pollutants in our waterbodies and rely on DEC to test for all the pollutants that impact the health of our waterways.  In particular, I am concerned about exposure to the disease-causing pathogens found in sewage pollution.  I understand that DEC has recently cut pathogen and pesticide testing altogether and implore you to reinstate testing for those pollutants immediately.  Without regular testing and reporting on pathogens/sewage-contamination, public health is put at risk and the sources of pollution are left undetected.

Finally, the revised CALM guidelines include strict limits on the sources of outside water quality data that DEC will use to assess the health of NY’s waterbodies and limits staff’s ability to use their professional judgment in reviewing data sources.  In light of the limited resources available to the DEC to gather water quality data, I urge you to reconsider this position and establish clear, attainable guidelines for data collection that can be met by the non-profit organizations, academic institutions and civic groups involved in water testing.  Access to more data will allow DEC to identify pollution sources, and take action to remedy them more quickly – saving valuable waterways from slipping into greater impairment from which it is harder and more costly to recover.

Like so many New Yorkers, I consider clean water one of our most valuable resources.  Please invest our clean water dollars in a robust water quality monitoring and assessment program that conducts regular and thorough testing of our waterways and utilizes all reliable sources of water quality data.

Thank you.

Counting

I used to count fish. Most probably do when they start fishing as a way to catalogue it, or for whatever reason. I stopped mostly after reading Longest Silence–if you did you probably know the exact passage about “trout number seven”–and also because it is a nonsensical way to record a fishing experience.

Looking back on my fishing journals, I recorded a day in the year 2000 where I caught 30 just-stocked brook trout on a river where I paid for a beat. Should that carry more weight than the trip that year down the Rio Hatiguanico in Cuba?  The one with the ornithologist  who served me rum and helped me hook  my first tarpon on fly? By numbers it does.

So I started counting days. In 2008 I recorded over 100 excursions with a fly rod and I knew with the birth of my first child that year that the pace would not last unless I moved to Florida and/or won the lottery. In 2013, I recorded 52. Once a week seems more than reasonable for someone in a northern locale with a full-time job and family, and who is not a guide.

Still, counting days is not a perfect math, either. The year in my head doesn’t add up to the numbers on the page–a notion my wife would find insane¹. Maybe it’s because I turned down as many invitations to fish as times I actually spent fishing–I am probably the king of the “Yeah sounds awesome oh wait I can’t” response. Maybe it’s because of the skunk days I withstood trying to force carp to like me. But likely it’s because much of my fishing time came in clusters or consisted of stolen moments².

Either way, in 2013 I got to be on the water in some of my favorite places in the world in both Florida and New York with some of my favorite people and also got to watch my two daughters catch panfish on little pink Ugly Sticks by the dozen. So, yeah, 2013 was good. And as the great Neil Young sings, “numbers add up to nothing.”

Happy New Year.

1. (And most likely is.)

2. (In the Wordsworthian “Spots of Time” vein.)

BOOKS: 50 Best Tailwaters to Fly Fish

Some of the places I’ve been fishing vicariously, like the White River via Steve Dally’s Ozark Fly Fisher JournalOthers, like Henry’s Fork and the Deschutes and the Fryingpan, have been rolling around in my head since my fly-fishing infancy. Still others, like the Farmington and the Neversink, are almost in my backyard. And then there are the few, like the Bow River and Lake Taneycomo, where I’ve actually fished.

So after going through all 50 carefully selected and thoroughly vetted destinations compiled by Terry and Wendy Gunn, I don’t think of 50 Best Tailwaters to Flyfish so much as a book as it is a call to action. What have I been waiting for and, now that I’ve been thumped in the chest by this book, how can I apply what’s been given? Because the collaborators in this book, like the aforementioned Dally or the legendary Joe Demalderis of the Delaware,  have given us a lot.

Overall, 50 Best Tailwaters to Flyfish is an incredible reference for fly anglers, and also a reminder that fly fishing can take you just about anywhere you want to go, if you let it.

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Contingency Plans

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A north, northeast wind with gusts to 30, even 40 mph can make the east coast of Florida an unpleasant place to be, especially outside the inlets. But there’s a lot of water to cover between the coasts, too, and there’s always a lee somewhere¹.

(1. I like ditches.)

Humility and the Common Carp

About that trout set. It’s not a thing that’s done in saltwater or warmwater or 99 percent of the fishing I’m wont to do. My muscle memory has been ingrained with setting the hook on the strip, and this hasn’t been helping me in pursuing the diminutive but wary common carp that reside nearby.

The thing about sight fishing for carp, I’ve come to find, is that it quickly exposes all of the things I am doing wrong. I couldn’t get a carp to look at my flies for ages until two years ago I had a breakthrough. I caught a few more and thought I’d unlocked some sort of secret code but I hadn’t. I think, maybe, I was just getting lucky.

carp junior

The wrongs: I’d throw a fly in front of tailing, mudding or foraging pond carp and start slow stripping it, like a bonefish retrieve. They did not like this. I’d think casting within a foot of its mouth was close enough. It wasn’t. I’d think they couldn’t see or hear me standing on the banks. They could. I’d somehow hook one and not know why then go four or five trips in a row without getting a serious look.

My continuing relationship with the common carp is like living in a piscine version of a David Allan Coe song.

But there’s something about them that brings me back. As I told a friend recently, “I suck at it but I really love it.”

Of late, a few wise words have helped me suck at it a little less. The great John Montana of Carp on the Fly offered up this advice: Cast a little beyond the fish’s mouth and drag the fly back so it drops right in its feeding circle. Then don’t move it. Since I started doing this I have had at least one carp attempt to eat my fly on every subsequent trip. Revelation.

This led to confounding problem number two: a catastrophic run of missed hooksets. There is nothing like watching a fish eat your fly but not hooking it, or thinking a fish ate your fly but not knowing or not feeling it or maybe it did but did it, jesus, what he hell?

Backing

Then John advised the trout set. And the need to be decisive.

It’s still several degrees removed from easy for me, but I’m going to buy Kirk Deeter’s book. Because if a mere six-pound fish is capable of exposing the backing on my 6wt, it’s a thing that’s worth all the suffering.

Postcards of the Hanging

The sun came out and the shallows warmed and  fish moved into them. Others held fast in the current rips, poised for ambush, and still others patrolled the drop-offs or took cover in the newly thickening weeds. The fish hit the flies of those who were there and the pics are for those who could not be.

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Fight Like Meat

There is no known reason for a trout to be in this pond. It is a warm water pond of municipal park vintage with no appreciable depth, a small battery of largemouth and one billion bluegill.

The bluegill hit flies when the sun is out and are at the ready when a lunchtime bend is needed. The bass have seen too many lures to let their guard down often, but when they do the results ripple through the entire containment.

In October a truck shows up full of trout and people line the banks and fill buckets. They are typically cleaned out within days, their long term prospects on par with the tank lobsters at the diner.

Honestly, from my vantage point I thought it was a bass. I had on a bluegill popper but cast it over and watched the fish turn and slash.

I waited for the jump but the fish rolled on its side like an omega dog and let me pull it to the bank.

Somehow it survived the winter I guess but I still don’t like its prospects.

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Near Misses

I don’t forget them, ever. I have a catalogue of almosts running through my subconscious, flickering like the 8mm nature films from 8th grade science class.

Damn you snook for following my fly out of the mangroves, eating it and jumping off it before I even had a say in things.

Damn you tarpon for peeling away at the last second.

Damn you striper for refusing to wait until I worked the line kink clear of the guides.

Damn you bluegill for smacking that popper you can’t even fit. Don’t think your size makes you immune because you falsely raised my expectations.

Own it Tiny, you’re on the list.

'Gill Raid

brook trout spring 08

The Connetquot River Is Coming Back

Early on in my fly fishing pursuits I found myself releasing my 14th trout in two hours of fishing the Connetquot River. I felt good about this until a man walked by claiming to have caught 50. He’d grown bored, he said, and was going home early. Adding insult, he scooped a dip from his lower lip and flicked it into the water, where a trout rose to meet it.

The Connetquot River has been described as Long Island’s blue ribbon trout stream, a once private fishing club turned into a pristine State Park with an on-site hatchery that stocked it with kamloops rainbows, brooks and browns. Some of the fish held over and reproduced, creating a small wild population, and some below the dam attained sea run status, heading out beyond where the river dumps into the Great South Bay.

brook trout spring 08

It worked via a beat system–a valid NY fishing license and $20 reserved the opportunity to fish an assigned stretch of river (choice of spots given by the order of sign in) for a four hour segment.

Fishing there always made you feel like a better fly angler than you really were; the deck was stacked in your favor like Kim Jong Il on the golf course. It fished that way until 2008, when an outbreak of Infectious Pancreatic Necrosis forced the State to shut down the hatchery.

The park opened early in the winter of 2009 and started a cull-fest, encouraging anglers to keep every fish they caught in order to rid the river of contaminated fish. I went one day; most stretches of water had been picked clean but I witnessed one young angler konk an old kyped brown trout and stuff it in a plastic bag.

In its heyday the park always had detractors for obvious reasons, and I’ve felt conflicted about it, but mostly enjoyed my times there. My friends and I learned a lot about fly fishing making pre-dawn pilgrimages from Hoboken and New York City.  The fish were stocked, but some of them held over and the browns in particular could prove as challenging and rewarding as any fish anywhere.

Winter Brown

Fishing at the park itself was steeped in ethics. It was one of the first places to ban felt sole, making rubber-soled hip waders mandatory in all wading spots. (One justification for the hip-waders–you couldn’t wade out too far and degrade the river bed with your footwork.) Barbless hooks were mandatory, egg patterns were banned, and general assholery not tolerated. Gil the riverkeeper walked the trails along the banks making sure your gear was copacetic, that you were respecting others’ space or to gently explain how your clumsy wading was ruining it for every angler downstream. Violations resulted in banishment.

Trout Unlimited and the Boy Scouts and other local conservation groups kept the waters and trails clean and practiced stream restoration.

These types of things carry over.

So I was thrilled this week to read in Newsday that the Friends of the Connetquot organization raised the necessary funding to get the hatchery back on track. The river is an amazing resource and, according to the article, the fly fishing brings in $300,000 of much-needed revenue annually to the park.

Thanks to Friends of the Connetquot for making this happen.

REVIEW: Where The Yellowstone Goes

Where the Yellowstone Goes starts not with trout but with chickens and irony. Then it jumps right into its premise–a 30 day float trip along the length of the Yellowstone, from the edge of the park to the Missouri River. The people are introduced and the reasons laid out, much like the nut graf in a magazine article, and then the focus shifts entirely onto the extended float down probably the most famous river in fly fishing.

For the viewer it’s an enjoyable low-key ride filled with breathtaking landscape and, as the opening blip foreshadows, understated quirkiness.

Yellowstone-Poster

The movie is full of interesting people and you’re invited into their conversations in a way that seems like eavesdropping. Or, it’s akin to stepping up to a bar and joining a discussion that’s already been started. The discourse reminds me of my favorite fly fishing movie, Tarpon, in the best way.

My favorite scene involves the crew inviting Margot Aserlind, the widow of a fly fishing guide, for a day on the river near Livingston. It’s her first time on the water in years, and it becomes this tender moment recording the interplay between the river and the people who love it.

The movie takes a dark turn when the crew comes across the site of the Exxon oil pipeline that breached in July of 2011, dumping 63,000 gallons of crude into the river. This event serves as the gateway for the movie to deliver a strong conservation message.

I love the movie’s languid pace. The soundtrack is fantastic if mellow but it reminds that for many practitioners fly fishing is a contemplative–not extreme–sport. The fly fishing scenes are realistic rather than heroic as the protagonist–the director Hunter Weeks–is a neophyte and just learning. This seems appropriate, how many people have been introduced to the sport during family vacations to Yellowstone? (There is one pretty awesome fly scene where Robert Hawkins, the fly fishing guide on the trip, duels a carp.)

Overall, Where the Yellowstone Goes is an atypical but enjoyable fly fishing movie (and the only one with a sheep rescue). Then again, it’s not really a fly fishing movie. But if you love this river or find meaning in any body of water, you will enjoy this story.

For more information, go to Where The Yellowstone Goes.