This year has been one of the strongest fishing seasons we have seen in years for the northwestern part of New Jersey. Cooler weather combined with high water has blessed us with remarkable conditions. This has been true for the Shad Run and New Jersey Rainbow Trout fishing. I say Rainbow Trout fishing because New Jersey has not stocked Brown or Brook Trout in a while. This does not mean they cannot be caught; it just limits the scope of locations where they can be caught.
Last season, due to the drought and unseasonably warm weather the Trout season was cut a bit short and barely made it through the end of stocking season. This year we Trout fisherman are winning with the cool and rainy weather. Some of the Trout streams in New Jersey are impressive for their diversity of terrain. The majority of worm dunkers in this state cannot be bothered to walk half a mile to a good hole loaded with fish. Sometimes the best way to locate fish is to find the common stocking spots, go on Google Earth and scope out which way the stream heads deep into the woods then hoof it in.
Tactics that Produce
You cannot go wrong with a basic inline nymph rig in New Jersey Jersey Trout streams. I like to tie on about four (4) feet of 3X tippet material, three (3) feet of 4X tippet material, then 18 inches of 5X tippet material all connected with a blood knot. I place an indicator way at the top, some split shot above the blood knot between the 4X and 5X material. At the end of the 5X tippet I tie on a general attractor pattern or something like a large stonefly. Then I tie a trailing fly onto the first hook with 5X material. This trailing fly is typically a midge or a bead head nymph (Prince, Pheasant Tail or Hare’s Ear).
Another way I recommend to ply the water with various types of Woolly Buggers. Green, brown, red and black all do the trick depending on the water and time of day. The Woolly Buggers work the best swung in waist deep fast water. You can also affix a bit of split shot six (6) inches above the fly, this will pull the fly down in the water column if the fish are feeding closer to the bottom.
I had previously acquired the proper gear for Shad Fly Fishing prior to my earlier Fly Fishing adventures therefore, I had all the necessary equipment and some flies tied up on deck ready to go. I used my St. Croix 7WT Bankrobber Streamer Rod strung up with Rio Sink Tip line and a 8LB test Bass tippet material. As for a fly, I used something called Al’s Shad Fly #4. This consists of a size four or six hook, dumbbell eyes, yellow hackle, yellow hackle tail, yellow yarn and silver tinsel. I also tried out some others but this seemed to get the most attention.
Where to Look
Using the Fly Rod puts you at a slight disadvantage to a spin fisherman when seeking Shad. On the Delaware, through Warren County, where I typically fish for Smallmouth in the summer there are no major dams for the Shad to “stack up” like they do in Deer Creek, Maryland. Therefore, you must seek out pools downstream of major runs or those created by tributaries. Swinging the fly into slower water pools on the side of fast water or before a major obstacle in the river should yield results.
Saltwater Fly Fishing is a rapidly growing sector of the Fly Fishing “industry.” I am unable to put my finger on the specific reasons for this trend, however I assume it has to do with the allure of large fish, warm weather, soothing waves and recovering game fish populations in the southern United States. Fly Fishing the salt water is beyond doubt a unique challenge, certainly more difficult than bait fishing the ocean.
Sanibel Island is a special place for Fly Fishing, a fine vacation spot and a frequent haunt of the Moose Knuckle Fly Fishing team. The island is home to Norm Ziegler who authored the book, “Snook on the Fly.” My last time on the island was in 2014; it had been too long since fishing the beaches last. Owing to my international travel for work I had accumulated miles and was able to snag a free flight and first class upgrade from Delta.
The occasion for this momentous escapade was Mark’s 35th birthday, coincidently, the first time I came to Sanibel was for Mark’s 30th. Time flies when you are Fly Fishing the world and all. Typically the best time to target Snook in Sanibel is June and July, however a good trip for the birthday is always in order.
Arriving at Sanibel Island was a bit worrying with some brisk weather changes occurring which had an adverse impact on fishing. When we got there it was cloudy and a massive storm system had settled in that Mark refers to as an “eastern wave,” as the storm moves across Florida from east to west. Standing on the beach in the rain and fishing yielded one Sea Trout for Mark. The water was far too choppy for effective Fly Fishing.
When we awoke the next morning, the weather front was circling, with thunder boomers all night. It is easy to fish in the rain but not advisable in a thunder storm. The good news was that the rain cleared around 11AM allowing us calm water to fish. As soon as I cast a line in the water, I saw the bait out on the second bar. There appeared to be some mackerel and ladyfish out there. Since it was already past the golden hour for Snook I figured to tie on a glass minnow and give it a shot. Sure enough landed a nice mackerel and had a few bumps until they bit my fly off. The skunk was now off of the trip.
The next day was to be the highlight of my time on this expedition. Mark’s mom had given him a “Benny” for us to rent a canoe and head out on Tarpon Bay to hunt for Gator Trout, Redfish and Snook in the Mangroves. Well she probably just figured to go on a leisurely canoe ride. This boat ride was to be anything but a leisurely three hour cruise…
Pursuing the Snook with a fly rod requires the correct fly pattern for the environment, which you are seeking a fish in. Typically a saltwater fly pattern’s effectiveness is color driven. This is why Norm’s Crystal Schminnow is the best fly for seeking Snook in the Sanibel Island environs. It mimics common baitfish and shrimp at the same time, exciting the predatory instinct of the Snook.
Heading out at 8AM after a run to Bailey’s for breakfast we were equipped with a Canoe, two paddles and a fully charged battery. The day was forecast to be a little windy though not unfishable. Mark used his shrimp bait and a popping cork to land a nice gator trout (large Sea Trout). I was using a tan shrimp pattern and sort of drifting it with small actions. I had a few little nibbles but no solid connections. The wind kicked up hard forcing us to move to the leeward side of some mangroves.
To pull Snook out of the mangroves with a fly rod you need to do a few things. First rig up on an 8WT rod and at least 30 lb shock tippet, this gives the angler the ability to tractor the fish out before wrapping up in the mangroves. Second, your cast needs to slide in under the mangrove branch or right near it, this takes some practice however it pays off when the Snook are in the nooks and crannies under the mangroves. Third, once you get the hook up, you need to lower your rod tip to the water and retrieve to prevent that Snook from tangling in the mangrove roots.
As we pulled around the leeward side of the mangroves the boat aligned with my typical casting distance and I fired out about 60 feet of line. The schminnow unfurled on the water, sliding right into the mangrove, at a point I worried it would become stuck. I performed two small strip retrieves and the fly just stopped hard, Snook on! Next I moved the pole for the set and lowered the line tip into the water, keeping the tension on at all times. My finger began to burn from the fast stripping and tension, however I did not give up. The Snook had some nice runs in it putting up quite the fight and punishing my hand. Finally the Snook was in the boat and we had success!
We turned deeper into the mangroves and I had a few quick battles with smaller Snook but the wind started to get worse and our electric motor was acting up. Taking the safe decision we set off towards the marina to have the boat fixed before continuing, it was lunchtime after all. As we pushed across Tarpon Bay in the direction from which we came the motor continued to lose thrust. Each section of the journey we backtracked over became increasingly difficult to head against the wind. Not helping the matter is that the wind speed itself was increasing while clouds gathered in the distance.
As the entire situation began to seem hopeless, the marina gave us a ring on Mark’s mobile advising us to return and seek cover. Upon hearing of our predicament the marina sent out a rescue boat, which was very welcome. Thanks to the rescue, we made it back to the marina and did not get blown out to sea!
Last weekend was the 10th annual Orvis Game Fair at Sandannona in Millbrook, NY. Orvis Sandonona Shooting Grounds is the oldest permitted shooting preserve in the United States. These grounds have a lot of history on them and it is a special treat to visit every year. The last two years have witnessed warm beginnings to the autumn, as you would expect this delay of cool weather and rain adversely impacts the fall Trout fishing season.
This year a group of us grabbed a few campsites at the Clarence Fahnestock Memorial State Park off of the Taconic State Parkway. The park is over fourteen thousand acres and features two bodies of water, Canopus Lake and Pelton Pond. The location was perfectly situated between the West Branch of the Croton and Dutchess County rivers. Our logic was that we needed to focus on the tail waters of the Croton watershed due to the low level drought.
The West Branch of the Croton below Boyd’s Corner was fishable, however mostly warm water species were hitting and flows were low. Mark had a swing and a miss out of the reservoir by a Brown Trout. The freestone streams of Dutchess County were all the lowest I have seen them over the past five years. They are still fishable for Smallmouth Bass when they are very low. I even managed to find a few Trout in one deep and cool pool.
We all look forward to the official start of the summer season and the beginning of fishing summer 2016. This year we were treated to the impending threat of Tropical Storm Bonnie, which despite of the risk of rain, brought some welcome hot weather to bookend our cool spring. The increasing temperatures livened up the action on the Paulinskill and other Trout streams throughout the preceding week.
I took off Friday from work and used both Friday and Saturday to work on my house project. Sunday was planned to be the day for fishing, an important choice because it is also the day of parades, limiting the foot traffic on the rivers. On warm to hot days like what the weathermen were predicting, the key to catching fish is to go early in the morning or late in the day. We started around 6AM in order to get in the holes just as the sun was rising.
This time of year is always a good time to break out the color green on the Paulinskill and other local waterways. You can use leverage either Woolly Buggers or Trout magnets. Knot Just Flies in Blairstown has even had a few custom flies spun up specifically for this time of year. A four or five weight Fly Rod or ultra-light weight spin tackle is all you will need.
The Trout and Smallmouth have moved from there early and mid season holding locations. The heat is forcing them to seek springs, deeper pools and more oxygenated water. Unfortunately, we even noticed some dead Rainbow carcasses; these fish likely expired from the heat.
Plying the deep pools slowly and areas known to have cooler waters due to overhanging trees and brush yielded results quickly. The stocked Rainbow Trout have grown since they were first put in here; some of them are pushing over fourteen inches. The growth in these Trout is always nice to witness, as the strong ones tend to become holdovers lasting the entire year.
Some of the Smallmouth are still watching nests in the river; others are firmly in post spawn hunger mode now. The Smallmouth Bass in the river were sitting in more oxygenated and cooler pools. Looking for the bubbles in the current was a good indicator of potential holding locations. Mark also found that locating a nest was they key to landing a large one.
Let’s all pray for cooler and wet weather to keep the water comfortable and the fish eating.
If you live in the New York metro area, Trout fishing in the Catskills is a traditional rite of spring. Specifically, many of us head up to “Trout Town USA” or Roscoe, NY on most modern maps. Roscoe has been famous for Trout fishing since the 1800’s when the Ontario and Western Railroad brought people up here to Fly Fish. The first dry fly fishing in America happened on fabled streams in the area. I had been to Roscoe on opening day in order to attend several events including the Catskill Fly Fishing Center and Museum’s, “Catskill Legends Dinner” along with their first cast event. The following day I attended the “Two Headed Trout Dinner,” hosted by the Roscoe Chamber of Commerce. At that event I was the winning bid on a silent auction for a weekend at a guesthouse in Roscoe. All of these events are a fine time and I recommend checking them out next year.
The West Branch
This fine stream, starting out in Stamford, NY and running all the way to where it meets the East Branch at Junction Pool in Hancock, NY is one of the best wild Trout fisheries in the State of New York. The river was dammed in the 1960s to create the Cannonsville Reservoir, storing additional water supply for New York City. Though it cost Trout anglers many miles of stream the dam created a steady cold-water release on the Delaware. The East Branch is also dammed to create the Pepacton Reservoir however; the releases from this branch are less consistent because the clean water is more highly valued for drinking purposes.
Mark and I secured guide Ray Ottulich through The Beaverkill Angler Fly Shop in Roscoe, NY. We met around 11AM at the shop and motored on up the 17 Quickway to a boat put in on the West Branch. This was the first time I floated an eastern river since my trip with dad up to the Andro in Maine a few falls back. I peaked with excitement at the prospect of floating the West Branch for Trout instead of plying the Main Stem for Smallmouth from shore. Fly Fishing from a drift boat is a superior method of fishing as far as I am concerned.
Seeking the Hatch
The Catskills are renowned for their Dry Fly Fishing; this does not mean that deploying the dry fly is the only way to prospect for Trout. This may sound sacrilege however, I remind you the reader; I convinced Mark a spin fishing only man to hang up the ole bait pole and give Fly Fishing a chance. He did, point of the story, sometimes you need to be open minded about fishing. Prime hatches occur on cloudy days or in the morning and evening, this forces us to go down deep with nymphs or fish streamers in rising water when there is no hatch.
The fishing reports all indicated March Browns and some Blue Wing Olives at dawn or dusk. Setting out a noon is standard procedure in these parts to ensure that you secure the productive water at dusk when the hatches do go off. I started plying the deepwater edges with a streamer to no avail. Then we all switched over to pheasant tail nymphs in the shallow fast water, where the Rainbow Trout stage to eat the Blue Wing Olives nymphs. Mark managed to hook one repeatedly working a stretch of fast water. This period of time did allow us all to hone in our casting for when the actual bugs started coming off of the water.
Pods of Fish
The sun began to cast long shadows and the noses of Trout touching the top of the water brightened our smiles. Sporadically at first, you could detect feeding Trout by a feint splash or a glint in the water. Tying on the March Brown and an emerger enticed strikes from wary Trout. A few more missed hook ups and we pulled the boat next to a trailer park, boom Mark hooks his first fish on the Dry, a 15-inch Brown Trout! While Mark was busy fighting his Trout I was busy not landing Trout. For some reason I had a major mental block to actually set a dry fly…very frustrating.
We continued our leisurely float down the West Branch, picking up speed through some rapids; unfortunately the bug activity was much lighter than expected. This season has been a strange one, very warm in March followed by a snowstorm on opening weekend that has kept the water very cool and delayed the season. As our boat rounded the Hancock 191 Bridge we again were treated to intermittent rises. Again Mark hooks a 17-inch Brown Trout on the dry fly! Lets talk about beginner’s luck…
The Beaverkill along with the Willowemoc are two of the only undammed major Catskill streams. All of the other’s have had some sort of influence by man, negative (the Esopus) or positive (the West Branch tail water). The Beaverkill northeast of Roscoe to its source is a pristine valley, is less populated and less industrialized than it was one hundred years ago. The public water is limited, sometimes forcing you to wait your turn, however even on a busy fishing weekend in prime season, glorious lonesome water was found.
Saturday was a cloudy day with a bit of humidity and intermittent sprinkles. Perfect weather for a Blue Wing Olive hatch and we were treated to one. Arriving at a secluded though popular pool in the upper Beaverkil we were treated to an empty parking area. I quickly tied on some Blue Wing Olives I had purchases twenty minutes before and the fish were keyed on. Again, I had a lot of action but they fish kept getting a clean release.
Things to Do
Combined the towns of Roscoe and Rockland have plenty of entertainment for anglers when they are not on the river. Rockland has three great establishments we stopped in the Trout Town Brewery, the Rockland House and the Courtyard Tavern. Roscoe has a the popular diner aptly named the Roscoe Diner along with a bistro and a Pizza place. There are five fishing outfitters (fly or spin) in this town and some nice cabins for rent throughout. We are looking forward to the next summer adventure up this way, which will likely be a camping trip.
In the “wilds” of Northwest Jersey we are blessed with little farm ponds and larger Eutrophic Lakes that produce unbelievable quantities of Bio Mass consisting mostly of sunfish and Largemouth Bass. The commencement of Trout stocking signals the arrival of spring and the official beginning of fishing season. However, the good Fly Fishing really gets going about a month later once the smarter stocked fish have figured out how to actually eat flies. Right at this moment, the Bass start to move into pre-spawn or early spawn mode. .
Seasons of The Bass
Bass have distinct holding patterns and feeding tactics from April through June revolving around water temperature and spawning status. Bass commence feeding in the spring as the water temperature approaches fifty-five degrees. At this point in the season, Bass move from their deep holding positions to the shallows and begin aggressively feeding. If you have ever ice fished for Bass, you will recall in the winter, the deepest holes will contain a Bass if you catch any at all. Bass will at this team strike slowly fished streamers; this is all dependent on the temperature. As a general rule of thumb, the warmer the day, the more active the Bass tend to be.
As the spring continues, the air temperatures stay consistently warmer during the day and night. At this time, the Bass begin staging at the edge of drop offs. The spawning season continues and Bass become more aggressive. They will defend their spawning beds, in the shallows as well as engage in some feeding to support the spawn. True spawning begins when the water temperatures approach sixty-two through sixty-five degrees. Remember be ethical and release all fish caught during the spawn.
Where to find them?
During the winter, Bass seek the deepest location to survive and stay warm. The Bass is not a cold-water fish. As the water warms, during the pre-spawn and early spawn the Bass are located at the edge drop offs or cover. They will seek warmer areas, possibly the parts of the pond with darker soils. Early on you can look in areas of shallow cover, for example weed beds, creek channels, timber, brush piles and pilings. As the Bass begin to spawn, they will concentrate in water depths of one to four feet. Preferably in areas free of weeds with a firm bottom. Silt covered bottoms run the risk of smothering the eggs which the Bass will attempt to avoid.
What to throw at them?
Non Fly Fishers are always surprised at the smaller things that Bass will eat when tied up in fly form. To a Fly Fisherman it is not at all surprising; Bass are aggressive predators and fear not catching their next meal. Be it a juicy damselfly nymph, a worm or even a frog, Bass have a voracious appetite. Early season and during the spawn, Bass will not eat the poppers that they do in June or July. However, they will eat an assortment of flies. Below is a list of the flies that I tried during the last weekend:
Green Simi Seal Leech
Jan’s Carp Tickler
Large Woolly Bugger (Beaded or Non Beaded)
The issue with the smaller flies is that I find you catch a preposterous amount of Sunfish as by catch. Specifically, the Simi Seal Leach and to a lesser extent Jan’s Carp Tickler seemed to be Sunfish magnets, however the Carp Tickler was a favorite of the Crappie.
Other Fishy Friends
The lake I was fishing in these pictures also contains Crappie in healthy numbers. Crappie are larger than their cousins the Sunfish, they also put up a muscular fight on the fly rod. Similar to Sunfish and Bass, they spawn in shallow water, preferably with a little cover and a solid bottom. As opposed to Bass, they will take whatever spawning ground they can locate. Crappies are one of the first fish that can be caught on the Fly Rod in the early spring. You will need to fish for them when they are in the shallow waters and not following a school of baitfish into the deep water. Woolly Buggers work generally well to catch a Crappie in the shallows, I also experienced luck with Jan’s Carp Tickler when it was allowed to sink.
In lakes and ponds, timing your Fly Fishing to the seasons of the spawn will yield fishy results. During the Pre-Spawn, on warm days, after ice out, the fish are hungry after a frigid winter. The lake or pond water gradually warms during the Pre-Spawn period and the Bass and Pan fish begin to feed even more aggressively. Once the water reaches optimal spawning temperatures, your quarry will head out to its preferred nesting environment. In the case of Largemouth Bass and Crappie, these are shallow waters with some cover. Post-Spawn the fish will eventually leave their nests and seek cover in weedy areas. This is the time of year, when the water is in the 70s that the Bass will start to feed aggressively on poppers.