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.
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.
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.