Category Archives: Freshwater

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

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.