First Corona fishing of my season

May 4, 2020 – Connetquot

The virus is still holding us captive

The governors are talking about slowly opening the Country again.  There are unmasked protesters gathering as families grieve for their loved one’s whose body is in a refrigerated truck. Healthcare and essential workers expose themselves daily in the face of unending death. Masks are worn to protect our neighbors, social distancing practiced voluntarily, and hands washed to protect ourselves.  It’s surreal.

Corona Statistic May 4, 2020

I was invited…

to meet a few friends at the Conny for a 4 hour session.  I went over it with Sue and she agreed that I should go while holding firm to her reservations.  I just need to get out there.  I have to know if I can still cast a rod, fight a fish.  I have deteriorated so much in body (and mind) and stamina over the past months I sometimes feel like I am on the last bus out of town.

I decided on the 7’ Neuner 5 wt. and put my stuff together.

I plan no stops for coffee or anything else.  Just to the Park and back.  When I arrive a few of the guys are there, standing a good distance from each other with masks in place.  It is really good to see them. Also good that everyone is being respectful of the situation. Jimmy, Jeff and I are chatting when Mike Postol pulls in along with Fred, separate cars of course, then Paul McCain.  Life as we used to know it assembled here in this beautiful place. I head upstream to fish 21 and 22 thinking that I will later go to 16A and then call it a day, not wanting to overdo it after so long a hiatus.

Joe-stack

 I have a Joe-Stack on just because.  I get a reaction below the bridge.  Amazing fly. Further up I changed.

Once upstream a different approach was called for…

given the stream-side brush and limits to access. Lots of vegetation is already well covering the stream bottom.  I recall Chuck mentioning a few years ago when they cut down all the big pines over this section of the river that perhaps we will get more vegetation as a result, lemons and lemonade.  He was right.  In fact if there is this much in May, by June the stream may very well be choked with it, but we will cross that bridge when we come to it.  For today there is plenty of cover and holes to work and some fish holding as well.

I like traditional flies. 

There are so many thousands of flies these days and so many articles written about how they catch fish, but give me an Adams, a Mickey Finn, a Catskill tied dry.  Looking through my streamer wallet I have 2 small Black Nosed Daces I tied last year.  Most guys would want them with bead heads or weighted wire, to get them down.  I would too if this was a fast run or deep hole, but it is a gentle section with water in the 2 foot range and lots of watercress like growth.  In these situations I like mine unweighted.  Sure they float on the top for a while (I often muddy them up on the path before casting so they sink faster). The idea is to present this ephemeral imitation that flutters and dances, rises and falls, up and back in a natural way.  A fly that rides above the vegetation yet can sink in among the crevices if handled to do so. Lead and beads don’t do that well.  It takes some thought and practice and, most of all, patience to get the fly down to where it needs to be, but it can be done. The Black Nosed Dace was one of the first flies I ever tied.  This one is small, barely an inch and a half long on a size 12 hook. Lightly dressed.

Dace
Dace

Launched directly along the near bank…

I search for any huggers who may have a meal in mind.  Fish are often right there where you least expect them, especially on the first cast.  I move a big one.  Not to my fly but to another location not wanting to be bothered by my antics.  The fish are here.  This section is never stocked but those put in well below can move and they seem to like it up here better than down there.

I move upstream, sit on a log and add some tippet. 

I use a long leader here, 5x and 12 foot. It can be awkward to manage in this narrow section with no wading allowed, but it also enables me to let my fly sit in a spot and move back and forth without any fly line in sight. I believe this is a big factor in their willingness to bite. The rod being 7 foot long, a 12 foot leader does present some challenges, especially when trying to land a fish from the bank.  I’ll deal with that once I hook one. First things first.

Flipping

If I see a fish…

I will present it to him, but more often I am presenting it to just an opening in the weeds or under a log, maybe inside a root. Once I achieve the location I leave it there a long time.  No recasting, well actually not very much casting at all.  More letting the current carry it to where I want it. On occasion the fish is on the other side and I have to flip it over there and then throw a big mend so the current doesn’t move it back to my side before the fish gets a chance to see it.  Another reason for a long leader, the mend takes place well above the fish.

So this goes on.  I move after working an area, sit for a while and start again. Always looking for cover to hide behind, if possible.  In any case, not moving myself or the rod much.  Stealth plays a big role up here.

I see a fellow below me and let out some line. 

The fly is about 2/3 down and it drops alongside and then behind the fish.  I twitch it, strip it, just a little.  Slowly pull it up past his nose.  A few fast short movements and then drift it back and repeat.  Bang.

Too big to land!

Mission accomplished.  Some say you have to net the fish to count it but not here.  Unless you have a long-handled net, or a 9 foot rod and 6 foot leader, you are unlikely to net these large fish and would do well to hope they get off after the first few attempts at throwing your hook.  It is better for everyone.

With a 7 foot rod and 12 foot leader, standing on the bank with a short handled net, I don’t really have a chance. On occasion I will plop down on the bank, feet dangling, with leader inside the tip top and manage to net one that is too well hooked.  My preference is to have them release themselves as this one did.

I sat and checked the fly and leader.  Took a break before moving upstream and starting again.  It made for a pleasant morning with two nice rainbows to show for it, no photos. Social distancing was observed although I did have a chance to wave to Fred and chat with Paul.

I headed down to Rainbow Bridge…

and once again got a rise out of the Joe-Stack.  Then move to 16A, the whirlpool. As I am approaching, Paul (Riverbayoutfitters.com) is working a reasonable fly to a lurking monster.  “He just refused me” he says.  Paul is a good fisher and persistent guy.  He continues to go for him as I walk down.  Before I could set up I hear him calling:  “Come and bring your camera”. Here is the result:

Paul McCain of Riverbayoutfitters.com

I have this thing for 16A. 

It is a handicapped access and well fished.  One stands on a board walk and fishes without getting wet.  It would seem to be too civilized for me but I love the place.  The water is fascinating and the fish are not always so easy to catch. I especially like to flip a Joe-Stack dry fly into the foam of the whirl and keep it from dragging.  It moves slowly, sometimes very slowly, patience.  At times the smaller brookies that inhabit the pool will show their lips as they come up for it.  A 10-12 inch brookie gives a good account for himself in this highly oxygenated water, often zinging my line off the little Hardy. Of course you can set some nymphs or a solid woolly bugger to work here with good results as well. Interestingly, there are always a few big boys who you can plainly see who could care less that you are there or for what you are showing them.  Educated or satiated, I am not sure. Its a neat place to fish.

No one was looking up…

so I move down to upper 15 as Bill Smith (The Elwood Flytier) is on lower 16. I leave the Joe-Stack on and it gets reactions but no hookups.  I put it in the back eddy behind the stone diverter and it sinks, which is not always a bad thing.  I let it sit for a while, wherever it was, but upon retrieving I snag it in something.

I have to walk around and reach in to save the fly which is now thoroughly soaked and covered in goo. Time for another fly.  As the sun is going in, fish are rising to what is probably a tiny BWO hatch.  Having moved to the other side of the rocks, I can easily cover both up and down stream.  What fly to use?

Iris Caddis in Green

 My first thought was a small parachute Adams…

I had put in my box when suiting up.  As I am looking for it, I notice an Iris Caddis on my drying patch from the last time I was here (in the fall).  It is a 16 or so and more BWO-ish than the Adams. I flip it upstream and let it come through the small sluice but it only makes it half way before being intercepted by a large Bow. Not a BAM but a slurp. First cast! Cool.

I try to use the same fly again but my Frog Fanny is empty and it just doesn’t want to float for more than a few feet. I change to another and flip it under the tree downstream – this time it was a BAM. Two casts, two fish.  I am a happy camper. 

Bill had moved downstream so I went up into his spot…

on lower 16.  More of the same when I realize that my shoulder is starting to fatigue.  (Surgery last January and I have been babying it ever since.) Actually it had been tired for some time but the fishing was too good to care.

I have noticed each time I fish this spot…

that a fish holds downstream from the stones, about 40 feet, just where the water sweeping off the downed tree below the sluice sends its current.  I saw him rise when down on 15 and now again from above.  I take a cast and send the fly past the back eddy, holding as much line as possible off the water.  In this way the fly floats down rather than back towards me.

The thing is that where this fish holds, and where others before him have held, is not a classic holding area.  It is open to the sky and sun as well as the birds who prey on trout. I reason that it is probably a small guy who hasn’t earned his stripes yet and look forward to giving him his first lesson.

The fly goes unmolested so I recast. 

This time a huge head comes up and inhales it.  He almost doesn’t react to the take.  Then I see him turn and thrash his tail, swirling to throw the hook.  What the heck is such a big fish doing in such a vulnerable spot?  I give him some room to run and wear himself out before cranking him in, which with 5x and a small Hardy is not so easy.  I pull the line and he moves right and left and then toward me.  Had he run down to the hole at 15 I never would have seen him.

I guess he is looking for a rock to cut my leader.  The river is fairly full, lots of rain the last month has the springs oozing water. As he comes toward the rocks, I am able to pull him on top of some that were just a few inches below the surface.  There he turns on his side and I use the leverage I have to slide him over to my net, which he did not fit in.  I miss his head twice and finally scoop him from the tail holding his head with my right hand as I drop the rod.

20 inches for sure,

…maybe more, but well worn.  A veteran.  He has bird marks all over his back and his jaw has been stretched a few times.  I remove the fly while still holding his tail in the netting. Admiring his size and in awe of his battle scars, I turn him into the current and in a few he was off. Whew.  What a day!

I packed it in…

as Paul walks by.  I let him know the Iris Caddis (which he taught me how to tie) is working as he heads down to see the other guys.

Walking out, I have to try one more cast at 16A. 

I tie on the Joe-Stack again, dap the fly in the foam and have a refusal.  They are back!  Those little brookies are probably looking forward to their evening pellet feed, hence looking up.  I make one more cast and fish on.  He did not disappoint.  All 12 inches of him tears the line off the reel and gives me a second run as well.

Tired, sore and smiling,

I broke down the rod and head for the car.  Mike (President of Long Island Flyrodders) is there getting ready to leave.  He asks if I had a good day and I quickly respond that any day here, with friends, is a great day.  He heartily agreed and we took leave of each other hoping to meet in June; same time, same place.

The Old Canal at Connetquot

A continuous thank you to all our healthcare and essential workers who are doing so much so that we can live our lives.  Today on the river we practiced social distancing and wore masks for us, but also out of respect for them. Thanks.

Also don’t forget our local small businesses like Riverbayoutfitters.com.  Paul will do curbside pick up, mail order or whatever works that is safe for you and the rest of us.  Give him, as well as your local restaurants doing take out, a call. 

If you can’t get out fishing check out the Reading Room for some books to get you through these times.

Stay safe and well. I look forward to seeing you on the river.