Friday, December 13, 2013

Naugatuck River - Fall 2013: Observations & Thoughts

A two-handed rod can be a valuable asset in hard-to-wade pools

On Tackle...

Before this season started, I was unsure whether or not to use lighter gear due to the smaller size of the salmon. Especially in September and early October, I caught fish on a wider variety of rods than I've ever used in the past. On the lighter end, I landed salmon on an Echo 10'6" 4wt. switch rod. As long as the fish was far from me, the rod handled wonderfully. It definitely lacked backbone when I got the fish in close, however. I also used a Vision GT Four 9' 6wt. single handed rod. That was fine for some fish, but one salmon really kicked my butt on that setup. Though these fish can feel lethargic (especially come November), if you hook into enough of them, you will find some real tough guys mixed in. This is especially true when the water is warm. When the water temps are in the mid to upper 60s, you want to play these fish hard and fast. Sure, pretty much all of them can be handled on lighter tackle, but why stress them unnecessarily? After landing a few, I went back to using the same gear as always. As I've stated before, my main three rods are:

9' 7wt. Sage Graphite II - a nice medium-fast action IM6 rod
11' 6wt. Sage Z-Axis switch rod - my bread and butter rod
11'3" 7wt. Redington CPX switch rod - for heavier flies and fish

The water was very low most of the fall. Most of my takes were induced rather than on the pure swing (flies were stripped, drawn in slowly, hand twisted, etc.). As such, I found it much easier to use a single handed rod in most situations. The 9' 7wt. Sage was just right for what I needed to do. 

I think using a long leader really helped a great deal. An 8' or 9' leader is usually all that is required, but I used a 12' tapered (hand tied) leader for much of the early season. Maxima Chameleon was fine,  I didn't need to resort to using fluorocarbon. I fished a lot of size 10 flies this year and coupled them with 6 lb. test, which I felt was stealthy enough and still quite strong. As the season progressed, I shortened my leader, sometimes fishing a straight, 9' piece of 12 or 15 lb. test Maxima.

In the tackle department, the single best decision I made this year was to start carrying a net. When 8 lbs. was the average size of a CT salmon, tailing a fish was my preferred way of landing them. It can be difficult to tail a smaller salmon. Even if I felt comfortable with the "Vulcan Grilse Grip," I'm confident I can land a small fish faster with the net than with my hands. I settled on a Brodin Trout Bum net (San Juan model). The aluminum frame is nothing fancy, but it's very durable and will never warp. Though it's large for our average river trout, the net is just the right size for smaller salmon.


An Owner hook in the mouth, a Same Thing Murray tube fly safely
up the leader and a salmon in the net...everything's working just right


On the salmon themselves...

I have to say, I had some memorable scraps this season. Given the smaller size of the fish, I thought I might get bored relatively quickly, but that wasn't the case at all. Overall, they were a very acrobatic bunch. Not only that, but some were quite strong for their size. I chased more than a few around this season. I think a lot of the very early fish hadn't spawned and were still full of piss and vinegar. It wasn't unusual to hook into a bright silver salmon early in the season. 

I'd say my average fish was 4-5 lbs. I caught a couple really tiny salmon and a few larger ones, though I didn't land any of the big boys this season. I lost one that I'd estimate was 12 lbs., but nothing like the fish in the upper teens I've caught the past few years. I'm not complaining, though. I'd rather catch really spirited smaller fish than lethargic larger ones. 

I caught more well-conditioned fish than ever this season. Maybe it's because they're a year younger than they used to be and there's less time for them to get battered...I'm not sure. The toughest fish I landed were almost always in pristine condition. Sure, I caught some beat up ones too, but I caught a much higher percentage of good looking fish than I ever have. The crew at the Kensington hatchery deserves a big "thank you" for all the hard work they do to provide us with this unique fishery! 


No surprise, the Polar Bear Mickey Finn was my best fly this season

On flies...

In seasons past, I'd usually catch a fish or two on a size 10 wet fly. This season, I hooked 10 salmon on 10s. Though I could have lived without the dead low water, I really enjoyed fishing small flies and long leaders this season. I suppose that went hand in hand with the conditions, though. 

Not surprisingly, the Mickey Finn came out on top this year. Strangely enough, all eight salmon I hooked on it took a size 6. When I fished it in other sizes, the salmon wanted nothing to do with it. Historically speaking, that has always been the most productive size for me. I don't know what it is about this fly they love so much.

I've come to the conclusion that, as long as the water isn't too colored, I only need one fly for dark days on the Naugatuck River. At least for me, the Same Thing Murray has been peerless under these conditions. It finished a very close second behind the Mickey Finn. However, if I had factored guide trips into my stats, the Same Thing Murray would have bested the Mickey Finn. It doesn't matter, I can't be without either one. Unlike the Mickey Finn, I had success with the Murray in wide range of sizes, from #2 all the way down to a small #10 (tied on a trout hook). 

Third place was the Snaelda, which beat out last season's top fly, H.M.'s Sunray Variant, as the top tube fly of the year. The German Snaelda (pictured below) was the most effective color scheme. I had success with two varieties of German Snaelda. One was relatively small (1/2" copper tube, 2" overall length) and was tied with bucktail. The other was larger (3/4" copper tube, 3" overall length) and was tied with arctic fox. If I had to choose one or the other, I prefer the smaller Snaelda tied with bucktail. The other Snaelda which worked well for me was all-black and tied, with bucktail, on a 1/2" copper tube. That fly worked particularly well on warm, sunny days when the fish were hunkered down in the fast water.

As I mentioned in prior reports, this is the first season in which I've had success with Buck Bugs. Until recently, I fished various bugs for years without even a sniff from a Connecticut salmon. Perhaps due to the low water, the salmon were more surface oriented than usual this year (more on that below). That's the only explanation I have for why Buck Bugs seemed to produce for me this year all of a sudden. A more likely explanation is that I fished the bugs in pools I knew were full of grabby fish. Perhaps it wouldn't have mattered which flies I used? Either way, I'm relieved that the "Broodstock Buck Bug Boycott" is now over! 


On overcast Naugatuck days, the Same Thing Murray is
my hands down favorite. Nothing else even comes close.

On fishing methods and techniques...

As I look back through my notes, the thing that stands out to me the most is that, out of the thirty-six salmon I hooked this year, not one of them was hooked while using a sinking line or sink tip. Not even one! I devoted time to fishing a sunk line once the water cooled off, but I can only recall moving one fish with that setup (it never came back for the fly). Even my last outing, with a 42ºF water temperature and a river falling from a good rain storm, salmon were still willing to rise for a fly! 

That's not to say my only action was on unweighted flies. It most certainly was not. I hooked seven salmon on copper tube flies, but they weren't fished on anything more than an intermediate polyleader. In fact, some of them were fished on a 100% mono leader (to get down quickly through the choppy water at the heads of pools). 

This got me thinking about something I read regarding catching Pacific northwest winter steelhead on or just under the surface. If I remember correctly, the author stated that, even in cold water, it could be done so long as the air temperature was warmer than the water temperature and the water temperature was actively rising. Near the end of November, a friend of mine caught a Naugatuck salmon on a dry fly in water I previously would have never thought capable of being productive with dries. I had taken my dries out of my pack a couple weeks prior to this trip. I saw him catch the fish and the wheels in my head started to spin. I switched back to a mono leader and caught a fish just under the surface very shortly thereafter. Maybe there is really something to the wintertime rising water temperature theory?

This leads me to my biggest regret of the season. Prior to the season opener, I resolved to fish the riffling hitch as much as possible this season. I even tied a bunch of hitch tubes of various sizes and color variations. For some reason, I just didn't give them much of a shot. I had one fish grab a waking dry fly. My hottest fish of the season boiled for that same waking dry fly. If nothing else, a skated dry proved to be a great "fish locator" for two very aggressive salmon (who were both later caught on wet flies). Would either have chased a hitched tube? I think they might have, and possibly others, too. It's going to have to wait until next season, but barring extreme high water conditions, I'm going to actually fish the hitch more.

Last season was the first time I fished Sunray type flies with a two handed strip. I stripped those tubes as fast as I possibly could and fish nailed them like crazy. If they didn't nail the tube, it at least gave up their locations and signaled that they were willing players. That didn't work too well this season. I did catch four salmon the H.M. Sunray Variant, but three of them were caught on the same day. I think that approach was too aggressive for them in the extreme low water conditions we had this year. Previously, the Sunray was my last resort. This season, I found the copper tube (mainly the Snaelda) and a slower presentation a much more useful last resort tactic, even in warm water.

The German Snaelda is tough to beat

The low water can be a pain in the neck. I enjoyed it at first, but it really overstayed its welcome. There's one particular pool I'm really not too fond of. It's very heavily fished, difficult to wade, hard to land fish alone, very slow in low water, has some very troublesome obstacles, etc. This spot really drives me nuts, but I do quite well there, so I continue to fish it. When the water is really low, the salmon seem to lie in a deep trough on the near side of the current. Swinging flies is almost impossible. The water moves too slowly. I tried dead drifting a dry fly, but it wasn't too effective.

The best technique I've found (at this pool) in low water is to use a long leader, small wet fly and a slow, steady draw. I cast the fly to the edge of the current and I retrieve one of two ways:

1. I put my line hand all the way up to the first guide and pull the line down, past my hip, very slowly while still keeping the line tight. Eventually, I can't strip any farther and have to start over again.

2. I cast and immediately place the rod under my arm. I strip with two hands, but extremely slowly. It's really similar to the approach above, but the fly never stops moving.

Both techniques proved themselves deadly in this particular pool. I'm not exaggerating when I say it was almost a spectacle on a couple of occasions. I'd show up to the pool and find either spin fishermen throwing medium sized lures or fly anglers throwing weighted buggers or larger streamer type flies. Keep in mind, it was still quite warm out. I'd rig up my 9' 7wt. with a 12' mono leader, tapered down to 6 lb. Maxima. My flies of choice were either an M1 Killer, Sugerman Shrimp or an Almost, all size 10 (sometimes even tied low water style). I think the salmon were put down by all those big lures zooming in front of their faces. I gave them something different...a small, often subtly dressed wet fly, fished high in the water column and just barely faster than the current. This lie is quite deep, but the salmon would come right up to the surface for these small flies. This method produced some vicious takes!

Little killers (top to bottom): M1 Killer, Red Butt Butterfly & Almost

Overall, I'm very pleased with how this season went. I had really good time, especially in September and early October. The weather was warm, the fish were often very aggressive and many fought quite hard, despite their reputation. I've said it a million times...get out there early in the season. I think a lot of people wait until most of the fish are in the river. You won't catch me doing that! Even if there are relatively few fish around, the ones that are there will still set up in the best lies. At that time of year, those lies are usually great taking lies. Maybe I'm cursing myself here, but I fished alone an awful lot in the beginning of the season. I'm not complaining. I prefer it that way! It just seems like most people go out a couple of times in November, maybe they hook something maybe they don't, but they miss the most exciting time of the year. Our season started in September this year, well earlier than I can ever recall it starting before. It was great! I hope that continues. Don't take my word for it though. Get out there early and see for yourself. Or don't...I'm more than willing to shoulder that burden!

I'm going to keep updating this blog throughout the winter, so keep checking back. I have a very special joint project in the works with Paul Beel at FrankenFly. I have to wrap it up, but the hardest part is already done. Look for it sometime in early 2014. Also, I wanted to have a giveaway for my 100th post...sort of a "thank you" for your support. #100 happened a couple weeks ago, but I still want to make it happen, albeit belated. I have some good gigs coming up, so there might be a brief lull here for a few weeks.  I'll be back at the vise soon though. As always, feel free to contact me if you have any questions.

Have a happy holiday season!

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Naugatuck River - Fall 2013: Data

The leaves are all gone and winter is almost here

I never have been one to keep a fishing journal for my trout fishing. I guess I'm just not into entomology and typical trout stuff all that much. As far as sea run trout go, I can see myself starting one eventually, mainly to document run timing. I used to keep a broodstock salmon journal to document effective techniques at certain temperatures, water levels, etc. I got lazy last season and didn't write anything down, which I now regret. This season, I decide to make this blog my journal. It helps me keep track of trends and maybe it will help some of you, as well.

Though it's still technically autumn, I wrapped up my fall CT salmon fishing season with one trip in December. I have tallied up all my stats, effective flies (and sizes), trips per month and as much other relevant information as I can think of. Please forgive me if the data portion of this summary is sort of dry sounding but, like I said, this blog has become my journal. In addition to the data, I will post some general observations I have made in a follow-up post. Hopefully, that will be more interesting. 

Note: When collecting data on effective flies this fall, I am only including instances of salmon being legitimately hooked. With the exception of dry flies, I am not including information of flies which might have rolled a fish, gotten a pull, pricked a fish, etc...only flies which actually hooked a salmon long enough to be on the line for at least 10-15 seconds or so. Also note, this data only pertains to my own fishing, not from trips in which I was the guide. 

Number of Trips & Success Rate

Total number of trips to the Naugatuck River: 15
Full Day Trips: 9
Partial Day Trips (3 hours or less): 6

September Trips: 5
October Trips: 6
November Trips: 3
December Trips: 1

Salmon hooked: 36
Salmon landed: 29
Average hooked per trip: 2.4
Average landed per trip: 1.9
Largest salmon landed: about 8 lbs. (3 salmon this size)
Smallest salmon landed: 2 lbs. (2 salmon this size...a liberal estimate on both!)
Largest salmon hooked: estimated 12 lbs. (lost after several minutes)
Incidental trout catches: 1 (small brown trout, possibly wild)

Skunkings (trips w/no fish landed): 4
Trips w/o a hookup: 2
Trips with absolutely no action of any kind at all: 1 (cold day w/falling temps & colored water)
Trips with more than one salmon hooked: 8
Trips with six or more salmon hooked: 3
Best single day: 7 hooked, 7 landed (October 10th)
Pairs of forceps lost: 2 (1 expensive, 1 cheap)

Environmental Data

Highest recorded water temp: 68ºF (September)
Lowest recorded water temp: 40ºF (November)

Highest flow fished: about 350cfs (November)
Lowest flow fished: about 120cfs (October)

*Vast majority of days fished were when flows were below 200cfs (yikes)

Top 3 flies for 2013 (clockwise from upper right and in order):
Mickey Finn, Same Thing Murray & Snaelda (German and all-black)

Effective Flies (# of salmon hooked)

Conventional Flies:

Mickey Finn: 8 (all on a sz. 6)
Same Thing Murray: 6
M1 Killer: 3
Buck Bugs (various colors): 3
Sugerman Shrimp: 2
Almost: 1
Black Bear/Red Butt: 1

Tube Flies:

Snaelda (various colors and sizes): 5
H.M. Sunray Variant: 4 (3 w/orange & black; 1 w/white & black)
Ally's Shrimp Tube: 1
Same Thing Murray Tube: 1
Willie Gunn (w/gold body): 1


Effective Fly Sizes

#10: 7 salmon hooked
#8: 4 salmon hooked
#6: 10 salmon hooked
#4: 1 salmon hooked
#2: 2 salmon hooked

Aluminum tube flies (various sizes): 5 salmon hooked
Copper tube flies (various sizes): 7 salmon hooked
Plastic tube flies: 0 salmon hooked

Other Fly Data of Interest

*Dry flies were responsible for raising three salmon, two of which were later hooked on wet flies.

-both fish raised on a #6 Titanic were hooked and landed

-one fish was raised with a #6 Green/Brown Bomber, but was not hooked at all

* A hitched Sunray Shadow variation (yellow tube w/orange and black wing) raised one fish, but I'm not sure if it was a trout or a small salmon, as the fish was never hooked

------------------------------------------------------------

In my next post, I'll summarize my fall season with some general observations. I promise that post will be more interesting than this one is!

Friday, December 6, 2013

Naugatuck Report - December 6, 2013 - Who Needs Pink Flies?

A useless Pink Cosseboom
Hopefully, I will be proven wrong next season

When it comes to flies for broodstock Atlantic salmon, all I hear is "pink, pink, pink..." I have heard about the deadliness of pink flies for years. I tied a bunch of pink flies for today to see if all the praise is actually warranted. Some of the flies were predominantly dark with pink accents and some were bright, garish looking things. I wasn't going to fish the pink flies to the exclusion of everything else, but I figured I'd give them a fair shot in the rotation.

Other than the pink thing, I had a pretty modest goal today. I only needed to get one more salmon on the line to have hooked thirty for the fall 2013 season. One salmon hooked really isn't aiming too high, though anything can happen, be it good or bad.

I was happy to be reacquainted with my recently repaired Sage Z-Axis 11' 6wt. switch rod. I have been without my main Naugatuck salmon rod for over a month while it was at Sage HQ in Washington. We finally have a decent flow, so the two hander is a viable option once again. The water was 42ºF and the weather dreary and rainy, but relatively warm for December. I fished a floating head and a 10' intermediate polyleader with about 6' of Maxima Chameleon tippet, 12 & 15 lb. test. Given the conditions, it seemed like a faster sinking tip might be more appropriate, but I'd rather err on the side of fishing too high than too low, at least at first. Besides, if necessary, switching polyleaders or even heads is easy and takes very little time. 

In all, I fished six different pools today. Here is a brief summary of each:

Pool #1 - In my first pass through the pool, I raised a salmon on a #2 Crosfield's Black Silk (linked is the fly masterfully tied by my friend Marc LeBlanc from Moncton, New Brunswick). I couldn't convince him to come back, however. I tried the Pink Cosseboom (#2) on my second pass, but there was no interest. In my experience, the Same Thing Murray is virtually peerless when used on dark Naugatuck days. I tried a #4 Murray and hooked and landed salmon #30 in short order! My modest goal had been met early, so now I could relax a bit. Nothing else happened at Pool #1, so I moved on. 

30th hooked for the season

Pool #2 - In my opinion, this pool fishes best in low water. The water wasn't exactly high today, but it was high enough to make this a losing proposition. I didn't stay long. 

Pool #3 - This pool is new to me as of this season. It produced well for me when the water was very low and warm. I did nothing there today and moved on quickly. 

Pool #4 - Pool #4 was at the perfect level. The fishing was incredible; 5 lb. landed (#2 Murray), 8 lb. landed (German Snaelda; .5" copper tube), 6 lb. landed (German Snaelda; .5" copper tube), 6 lb. landed (Murray tube fly conversion; 1" copper), 12 lb. hooked and lost (Gold Bodied Willie Gunn; 2" copper tube)...Wow! 

Salmon #5 of the day took a ridiculous looking Same Thing Murray tube conversion on what was supposed to be my last cast in the that pool before leaving and moving upstream. The fish took on the reel-up! It wasn't elegant, but I'll take it. The best part about it was that it persuaded me to give the pool one last run, which was when I hooked and lost the 12 pounder. I lost what would have been my biggest of the season, but I still left very satisfied. 

The Same Thing Murray Tube Fly (1" copper)
I don't know what I was thinking when I tied this, but I'm glad I did

Pool #5 - On my first pass through the pool, I landed an 8 lb. salmon on the #2 Murray. This fish was quite a jumper. He seemed to be the only player in this pool today.

Pool #6 - At this point, I only needed to land one more salmon to have 30 landed on the season, a milestone that wasn't on my radar as of this morning. It was getting dark and Pool #6 was my last chance. Unfortunately, it didn't pan out.

The final tally was seven hooked and six landed. None of them took a pink fly. Other than the oddball Murray tube which, strange as it looks, is still "salmon colored," all seven fish took conventional salmon flies and tubes. Might one have nailed a Black Bear Pink Butt or the Pink Cosseboom? Maybe...I should have tried them while at Pool #4, though I'm reluctant to switch when tried and true salmon flies work as well as anything (and better than most). I guess I'm not convinced that pink is all that everyone around here makes it out to be. That said, I still haven't given it a fair shot. There's always next season, I suppose...

So that's it for me for 2013...I'm done! It was a lot of fun while it lasted. Fall 2013 on the Naugatuck was very productive for me, but it is time to move on. I'll wrap up this season in my next post and we'll see which fly wins the prize this year. Stay tuned!

Friday, November 22, 2013

Naugatuck Report - November 22, 2013 - You Can't Keep a Good Salmon Down (Carter's Bug!)


Nice to see you again, stranger

To say I haven't been fishing much lately would be an understatement. First, a stretch of good gigs kept me off the water. Then some guide trips got me back on the water, but not actually fishing myself. That's okay, my clients caught fish and I was happy. Then the flu took me off the water again, which was pretty miserable.

I had a pretty good streak going earlier this season. I don't know the exact figure, but I think I landed in the neighborhood of 15 salmon in a row without losing one. There were a couple I definitely should have lost in that stretch, but I got really lucky. The universe and the salmon struck back, however. If I look back at my reports, the last salmon I actually landed was a month ago, on October 21. Yikes! More alarming is that I've only fished three times in the space of a month. Losing that hour in the evening now prevents me from making any more end of the day fishing trips. I guess I'm happy I was able to fish as much as I did early in the season.  

So today was the day to end the streak and get back in the black. Of course, despite rain, the water is as low as ever. It's way too low. Not only does it prevent the salmon from moving, but it pushes all the anglers together. The water was warmer than I thought, topping out in the mid 40s. It was damp and cloudy, but the air temperature was relatively warm (50s). 

I thought for sure it was time to start sinking a fly. I thought wrong. They wanted nothing to do with a sunk fly. It amazes me that they're still going after the same stuff I was fishing in mid October. I rolled a few fish on a #6 Same Thing Murray and a #6 Mickey Finn. The only solid grab I had was on the MF, however. The salmon pictured above broke my dry spell, thank goodness. 

Blah blah blah...whatever...Here's the good part...

I met up with my friend Roger for couple hours this afternoon. It didn't take long for Roger to roll a salmon with his Matuka. A few minutes later, I saw Roger playing a fish. I went downstream to lend a hand with landing the salmon. I got the fish in the net, took a closer look and did a little double take when I saw the fly in its mouth. Roger caught that sucker on a dry fly! A proper salmon dry fly... a grizzly and white Carter's Bug! And well into November to boot! Roger mentioned that his friend took another on a Bomber a few days prior. So not only are the salmon still interested in wet flies fished high in the water column, but they're even taking flies on top. Despite cold weather and falling temperatures, it seems like the fish are still taking their cues from the water level more than anything else.

Check out the fly...a white & grizzly Carter's Bug!

Let that be a lesson to me. Just when I thought the salmon had reached the height of their unpredictability, they seemed to go that extra mile. I abandoned dries about a month ago. Sounds like I should have kept fishing them all along! 

Naugy salmon on a dry...welcome to the club, Roger!

I don't have many more fishing days left in me this season. Hopefully this wasn't the last one. Soon it will be time to start tying fancy flies once again.

In the meantime, enjoy this video of Bryant Freeman tying Carter's Bug...


Saturday, November 9, 2013

Naugatuck Report - November 9, 2013 - Fussy, Fussy, Fussy

The Pearl...came soooo close today...ugh

It was a frigid morning and I had a feeling fishing would be tough today.The water, low like always, was around 44ºF when I arrived. It probably warmed a bit during the day, but I doubt it made it out of the 40s. These conditions can be a bit baffling. Low and cold is a tough scenario. I've caught fish on small flies (#10) on a sink tip, well sunk large tubes, conventional flies fished just under the surface, etc. Just about anything might work and there just isn't enough time left in the day to try it all.

I fished two rigs today, a 9' 8wt. with a 9' mono leader an 11'3" 7wt. switch rod with a 460 gr. Rio AFS intermediate head and mono leader. I used a variety of flies, from relatively small, light ones to heavy copper tubes. I fished most of the day with only two bits of action. 

The first came on a classic salmon fly called "The Pearl." I desperately want to hook something on this fly. I tied this G.M Kelson pattern for Mike Radencich's latest book "Classic Salmon Fly Patterns" (p. 182).  I've had success with a couple of classic patterns, but never with one tied on a blind eye hook. I tied a smaller version of the Pearl (#2) for fishing this fall. Today was the first time I had the opportunity to fish it. 

The Pearl - "Classic Salmon Fly Patterns" (Radencich, p.182)

I swung it through a reliable lie. A salmon rolled for the fly, but I couldn't get him back. I decided to rest the spot and try again after fishing through the pool. The next pass went exactly the same as the first. I rested him again and fished through the pool once more. The third pass produced a strong pull from the salmon, but that's where it ended. I thought I was going to finally catch my first salmon on a gut eyed fly, but it wasn't meant to be. 

The only other action came just before dark. I had exhausted all the sensible options, so I figured it was time to go to the Frances. I tied on a Black Frances (1" heavy copper tube) and started casting upstream. I mended to get the fly down and worked my way down the pool. I've never had success with this approach before, but it's probably because I've never given it much of a chance. Well, it did produce a pull from a salmon, but nothing more. 

In retrospect, I should have tried the Frances approach at the other pools. In my opinion, it's not a very pleasant way to fish, but I'm starting to see the value of it as sort of "last resort" when the fish are in a sulky mood (as they were all day today). The H.M. Sunray, fished at light speed, is my typical last resort. It was totally ineffective today. The Francis is probably a good arrow to have in my quiver. 

No one I spoke with had any action, so I guess it was just one of those days. It's not the first and it certainly won't be the last. I think we've finally turned the corner in terms of temperature. From this point on, I will probably fish the vast majority of my flies lower in the water column. From mid-Spetember through the first week of November, I felt the need to sink a fly only on the warmest of days, in the fastest water…and even then only on a couple of occasions. So far this fall, almost 90% of my salmon hooked have been on a mono leader and an unweighted fly. It was a good run while it lasted!



Friday, November 8, 2013

Naugatuck Report - November 7, 2013 - Guide Trip

Fish on!

Weather wise, today was a strange day. I believe the fishing day started in the low 60s. I was too warm and started to remove layers. It was cloudy and drizzly, but the air temperature was very comfortable. The water topped out around 55ºF (the last we'll see of prime temps, I think). As usual, the water was low. That sort of goes without saying at this point.

Warren and I met a little before noon and he was tight to salmon #1 within the first hour. This one didn't mess around, grabbing a #4 Same Thing Murray the first time the fly swung by him. 

We're still not sinking a fly unless we absolutely have to. They're still eager to rise for an unweighted wet fly, though I think that will begin to change as the cold weather rolls in this week. I sound like a broken record, but I have no idea why anyone would fish heavy flies and tips when it's unnecessary. First of all, I don't know any fly fisher who prefers chucking weight. Also, if a fish shows interest in your fly, you want to be able to see it. You don't always see the fish move when you're fishing lower in the water column, especially in broken water. It pays to start high, then work your way down. They're Atlantic salmon...they like to rise for flies, perhaps even more than trout do.  Refer to salmon #2 below for an example of why it pays to start with your fly on or just beneath the surface...

Salmon #1 of the day

On our way to pool #2, we felt noticeably cooler. I stopped by the car to add a layer. About midway down the run, we saw a really subtle boil behind the #6 Same Thing Murray. The boil happened near some submerged stones and neither of us were sure if it was a fish or just hydraulics. It was that subtle. Also, it was too dark out to see the fish flash in the water, adding to the confusion. I decided we should treat it like a fish just to be safe. It was a good move, as it was a fish and a hot one at that. It took about three or four more casts and slight presentation tweaks to persuade him to take the Murray. Unlike his original showing, the take was much more dramatic. He was airborne and off to the races in no time. Warren handled him well and he was quickly brought to the net and released. The Murray does it again! Time and again, this fly proves its worth on dark, dreary days. 

Salmon #2 - further validation why it makes sense to fish from the top down

Shortly thereafter, an intense rain squall passed by, complete with very strong gusts of wind. We waited it out and decided to move to pool #3. Pool #3 has been as much of a "sure thing" for me this season as any but, strangely, didn't produce a salmon for us today. It did produce a nice 15" holdover rainbow trout, however. Which fly did it take? The same thing, Murray...

By the end of the trip, we were both soaked and freezing. It felt like the air temperature dropped by a good 10-15ºF over the course of the day. If I had to guess, the bite probably got progressively worse as it got colder, though two salmon landed is a good day in my opinion. 

Cold water tactics are about to come into play. Conventional flies will be replaced with tubes and large classic salmon flies in the near future. Once my guides start to freeze up, I'm done for the season, so come get it while the gettin's still good!


Saturday, November 2, 2013

Naugatuck Report - November 2, 2013 - Guide Trip

Salmon #2...piece of cake!
Earlier in the week, I was a little afraid we'd get too much rain on Friday and this trip would have to be rescheduled. It really didn't rain much at all. That was a blessing for us today, though more rain wouldn't have been a bad thing in the long run. 

Akbar and I were on the water by 10am. The river was definitely up a little bit, but still a little too low for my liking. Oh well, I've been doing well in much lower water than this. The river topped out around 54ºF, which is up about 6ºF from the last time I fished. That was a nice surprise. The only problem today was the color of the river, which was still a little off-color from yesterday's rain. We could see our wading boots, so I was still optimistic. 

Akbar is an Atlantic salmon rookie, but handled himself like an old pro today, landing two and rolling a third. Akbar saw the second fish roll upstream from him, went back to the top of the pool and nailed  it without any assistance from me (I was on shore, rigging another rod at the time). I scurried back downstream with the camera while the salmon put on an impressive ariel display. A few minutes later and the fish was safely netted, photographed and quickly returned. 

Like my last two trips, all the action was on Ally's Shrimp (#2 conventional fly today & aluminum tubes last week). Ally's Shrimp is my go to fly when the water is starting to getting cold...lower 50s down to upper-to-mid 40s. They've been a hot seller in the Fly Shop this fall and I only have a couple left. I need to tie more for myself, so I will restock them as soon as I have the chance to tie more. 

I still have some openings for guided "Salmon School" trips, so contact me to book a trip before it's too cold and I go into winter fly tying/hibernation mode!

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Naugatuck Report - October 26, 2013 - A Rude Awakening

Once the first cold spell hits, thoughts of Hawaii
begin to replace thoughts of salmon fishing

There are two fishing clichés that irritate me whenever I hear them. The first one is, "That's why it's called fishing, not catching." The other is, "The worst day of fishing is better than the best day of work." In the case of the former, I think I dislike it mostly because it's overused, but it's also pretty stupid sounding. Does it really need to be stated?  The latter is complete nonsense and I cringe whenever I hear it. I'm probably one of the lucky ones in that, for the most part, I like my job. My best days ever at work top my best days of fishing if for no other reason than the "high" lasts longer at the gig than it does on the water. It's more of a sustained euphoria than fishing's manic bursts of excitement. Even if I hated my job, I'm pretty sure getting a raise would be more enjoyable than burying a hook in my own neck.

Today, I fished after work. It was a pretty simple nuts and bolts type of rehearsal, but it was more enjoyable than fishing in veritable leaf factory, complete with 20-30mph wind gusts and less water than ever. Despite the low water, I really enjoyed the warm autumn we had until last Tuesday. Shoot, even in  extremely low water, the fishing could still be pretty great. The salmon were very aggressive at times. I love fishing small salmon flies and I had ample opportunity to do so in the past five or six weeks. Last Monday, the water temperature topped out around 63ºF. Today, the highest I got was 52ºF.

I thought the change would be a bit more gradual. Oh well, time to prepare for cold water tactics, I suppose. The water is slower than ever. I tried the small stuff, but they weren't interested. I went from right #10s to tubes. They were interested in only one fly today, the Ally's Shrimp tube fly (which did a great job of fending off the leaves). First pool...nothing.  Pool #2...two pulls on the tube, but couldn't seal the deal. Pool #3...nothing. Pool #4...rolled a salmon twice. He finally took and I lost him a few minutes into the fight. Later, I rolled another twice, but no hookup. Between the wind, leaves and trickle of a river, getting a consistently good presentation was very challenging.

My hooked and lost streak is up to three in a row, which is frustrating. Oh well, I guess that's why it's called fishing and not...*barf*

Monday, October 21, 2013

Naugatuck Report - October 21, 2013 - Trying to Beat the Clock

It's about time these thing work here...

Tonight was another quick trip. We're rapidly losing daylight and it was a little too quick for my tastes, but that's the time I had. In order to fish, I had to drop junior off at mom's job in West Hartford, then drive (just ahead of rush hour traffic) all the way to the river. I figure I had about 2 hours and 15 minutes of actual fishing time before dark.

I decided to fish a pair of pool which, even in low water, are well suited for two handed casting. However, the water was so low, I wished I had brought the single hander instead. I didn't have time to swap, so I used the 11' 6wt switch rod with mostly overhead casts. It didn't take me long to notice the top guide was loosening up. I have two bent snake guides on the uppermost portion of the rod, as well. I can live with the bent guides, but the tip needs to be fixed. Ugh...like I said, I didn't have much time, so I fished it anyway and it worked well enough to get through the evening. I think its season is over though. If we don't get any rain, it won't really matter. I'm going back to the 9' 7wt rod until it makes sense not to. 

Pool #1...Water temp 62ºF and the water is getting uncomfortably low. One pass with a #10 Sugerman Shrimp produced nothing. Another pass with a #8 Green Machine w/white tail brought a tiny salmon to hand. I would say the fish was 16" tops. A couple more passes yielded nothing, so it was time to hurry to the next spot. 

Pool #2...The low water is a little less of an issue here. 1st pass raised a salmon on a #8 Shady Lady. Two casts (and minor presentation adjustments) later and the fish was on. It ran at me faster than I could strip and I lost contact with the fish, thereby losing it altogether. 

Next pass...While fishing the fast water, I had strong pull on a #10 Sugerman Shrimp, but no hookup. No worries, another couple of casts and it was on. The salmon bolted downstream, jumping a few times along the way. I slowly made my way after it (this pool can be a pretty tricky wade). The salmon made a left turn directly behind a large boulder. Luck was on my side the last two times this happened to me, but it wasn't with me tonight. The fish sawed off my leader at the lowest blood knot. The only other action I had was a tiny smallmouth bass on the blue Bug. 

1 for 3 in a little over two hours isn't bad but, considering the diminutive size of the salmon I landed, losing a pair of decent fish and the upcoming rod repair expense, I left feeling a little unsatisfied. I guess I'm happy that I'm finally having luck with Buck Bugs on CT salmon. I've tried them for years here with nothing to show for it until now. They've worked well for me on the Miramichi, Renous and Cains Rivers. It's about time they work here!

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Ally's Shrimp Tube Fly: Dealing With the Autumn Leaves

Ally's Shrimp Tube Variation - .75" aluminum

     Albeit it short lived, the peak of autumn is the prettiest time of year in New England. A vivid mosaic of oranges, yellows, reds, purples and fading greens make a perfect backdrop for a day on the water. The resinous aroma of decaying leaves reminds us to make the most of our dwindling fishing time. It won't be long until many of us go into a sort of hibernation for the winter, diverting our attention from the river to the tying bench. As we fill our boxes with Blue Charms and Green Highlanders, for a season which seems to be an eternity away, we cling to the memory of our last autumn salmon to get us through the cold winter months.

Whoa now! In just one paragraph, I've exceeded the single post limit on flowery, self indulgent, overly romantic prose...

All joking aside, autumn might be my favorite time of year to fish, however, the beauty of the leaves soon turns to headaches and frustration once the leaves hit the water. Hooking leaf after leaf gets old pretty quickly. Unfortunately, there is no "magic bullet" to keep the leaves away and still maintain a fly's full effectiveness, at least none that I'm aware of. I have a trick I use when I can't deal with the irritation any longer. Of course, it's not 100% effective, but it does alleviate the problem a bit. 

When the leaves are at their worst, I use a shrimp or Flamethrower-type tube fly and a single hook. I rotate the hook 180º so the hook points upwards and sort of buries itself in the tail of the fly. To make the fly a bit more "weedless," I add an element of stiffness to the tail of the fly. I take a play of out of the Francis or Pot Bellied Pig playbook and use either stripped hackle stems or wild boar bristles, respectively. If I use stripped hackle stems, I use the lowermost part of the stem. You want something as stiff as possible and with a bit of an upward sweep to help push the drifting leaves away from the hook point. 

Like I said, this is not a "magic bullet," but I find it to be a great improvement over a conventional fly tied on a downward pointing hook. Fish are hooked just fine with the upward pointing hook. I haven't noticed any problems with the fly's orientation in the water. If you're really concerned about it swimming "true," add a bit of weighted tape to the underside of the front part of the tube (where legal). I don't really find this necessary, however. 

Ally's Shrimp Tube Variation w/inverted single hook

Here is the dressing for a converted Ally's Shrimp:

Ally's Shrimp Tube Variation

Tube: .5"-.75" plastic, aluminum, brass or copper
Rear Rib: Oval gold tinsel
Rear Body: Chinese red Uni-Yarn
Tail: 3 stripped hackle stems, dyed orange or grizzly/orange; pearl Krystal Flash; orange bucktail
Front Rib: Oval gold tinsel
Front Body: Black Uni-Yarn
Wing: Grey squirrel tail and golden pheasant tippet
Bottom Wing: Grey squirrel tail
Collar Hackle: Orange rooster
Head: Red

Junction Tube: Color of your choice
Hook: Owner SSW straight eye #2-#4, inverted

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As a professional jazz musician, and in keeping with the tone of the introductory paragraph, I feel obliged to make some kind of corny reference to the classic song "Autumn Leaves." Of course, I might be expected to post a link the quintessential Julian "Cannonball" Adderly recording of the tune (from his 1958 album "Somethin' Else"). However, the tone of the tube fly posted suggests something more recent, so here's Orrin Evans, Eric Revis and Nasheet Waits playing it instead:



Thursday, October 17, 2013

Naugatuck Report - October 17, 2013 - The Rare Trip That Actually Follows the Script

Salmon #21 landed so far this season
Today's plan exceeded my expectations

As a jazz musician, one of the best attributes one can have is the ability to be a blank slate while playing music. Premeditation not only kills spontaneity, but often fails to live up to expectations when things inevitably don't go as planned. Often times I ask myself, "Why fishing should be any different?" It's not different, but I often find myself visualizing the ideal day of fishing before a trip. It's foolish and I know it, but it's something to look forward to. In an entire season, I would say I get one day that actually goes according to the image I conjure up in my mind. Until very recently, this fishing season has been one of horrible timing for me. I struck out mightily with searun brown trout early this year, I couldn't cement plans to go to Canada for Atlantic salmon and my landlocked salmon plans fell through. Today was different though. Today went exactly as planned. Actually, it went even better than my idealized image of it.

My mother is in town from North Carolina, mainly to spend time with her new grandson. I told her about our successful fishing trip last month and she said, "Let's take him fishing while I'm in town!" Hey, that's okay with me! She could watch him and walk him in his stroller and maybe I'd get an hour or two in, perhaps even a salmon to hand. 

I sat at the vise last night to tie a couple of flies for an order. When I finished, I decided to tie a couple small Sugerman Shrimps for fishing today. It's my all time favorite Atlantic salmon fly but, for some reason, has not done as good a job for me at home as it has done abroad. I knew I'd be fishing a slow moving pool in low water and I just knew a small Sugerman would be the way to go. I tied a #8 and a #10. 

I knew exactly where I was going to fish and I knew I'd start with the #10. While I was tying, I convinced myself that I would hook and land a salmon within my first ten minutes of fishing. It would be my 20th salmon landed on the Naugatuck season so far and I knew it would be a fighter. 

All of this happened almost exactly as I pictured it, but with a few twists. In my haste to get down to the river, I didn't set my drag tightly enough. The salmon was hooked within the first five minutes and he took off like a bat out of hell, running and jumping like a maniac. Instantly, my reel overran and I had a birds nest of fly line to deal with. Oh no! I was able to strip in enough line to stay relatively tight to the fish while I stripped off almost the entire line and freed the tangle. I scurried to reel up the slack line, meanwhile playing the fish from my stripping hand. 

Just after I managed to get all of the line reeled up, the fish bolted around a big rock. Argh! I thought my plan was going to end right there. Though it took some time and a lot of pressure on the fish, I managed to pry him out from the other side of the rock. Then he went back. Then I popped him out again. I was able to bring him close and he made a move for a nearby rock. This pool is sort of a minefield, especially in this dead low water. I managed to get him close enough to net in my new Brodin Trout Bum (San Juan model)

Boy, was I relieved! #20 landed for the season and a great first fish for a new net, about 7 pounds. The #10 Sugerman was nestled perfectly in the scissors of his jaw, so it's no wonder why he stayed on the line throughout the turmoil. I mangled my Sugerman with hemostats, but it didn't really matter as the hook was partially straightened from the fight. It was a very close call. The day could have ended there and I would have been satisfied. 

I went back up to check on grandma and junior and they were fine. They enjoyed watching the scrap with the salmon. We took a little walk and headed back to the pool about 20 minutes later. My mom said, "The baby is doing fine, go catch another!" Yeah, easy for you to say, mom...

Well, that's pretty much what happened. I started at the top of the pool and was tight to salmon #21 within a few minutes. This time, the fish took a #10 Almost, a small, virtually all black wet fly (pictured in this post). It's about as drab as Atlantic salmon flies come, but it was just the right fly at the time. This fish was smaller, but also managed to run me around a rock. Ugh, not again...fortunately, this fish was in water shallow enough for me to cross to the center of the river and chase after it. Alls well that ends well with a nice 4 pounder in the new net.

My ghillie taking a well deserved play break

I fished a little while longer while junior napped, but the pool was pretty much spent. When he woke up, I changed out of my waders and fed him a bottle. We took him to a grassy area and he had a blast playing with Elmo, a new book, grandma's cell phone and an empty plastic water bottle. The day couldn't have gone any smoother and I left very satisfied.

And two salmon landed to boot...not bad for no more than 30-40 minutes of actual fishing time!

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Note: The river is still a trickle, which forces us to use low water tactics for best results. I got 63ºF when I checked it yesterday around noon, which is pretty ideal. We might not have water, but the temperature of the water that is there is pretty good.  Try relatively small (#8-#12), unweighted flies fished on a floating line. If there's not enough current to swing, retrieve the line in a slow, steady draw. Try to keep the fly moving at the same rate of speed throughout the retrieve. Most of my recent catches have been on #10 hairwing wet flies and 6lb. test Maxima Chameleon, mono leader around 11' long (I've been fishing the single handed rod almost exclusively this season). 

Monday, October 14, 2013

Naugatuck Report - October 14, 2013 - Buck Bug Fever

Some of the local scenery

I did a lot of walking today. At times, it felt like I did more walking than fishing. I'm not complaining, mind you. I like the exercise. Plus, I'm the one who stresses the importance of mobility. Sometimes all that walking brings results. Such was the case today.

I started by walking to some water I've never before fished. It was in a pretty urban setting. I'm not the least bit bothered by urban angling. One of the best days of fishing in my entire life was spent catching baby tarpon behind a police station in St. Maarten. This spot proved to be nothing more than a walk, however. The highlight was the graffiti dragon pictured above. It reminded me of my old Powell & Peralta Steve Caballero model skateboards. 

I moved to a pool that was good to me early this season. There were four other anglers in the pool. No one hooked anything while I was there and I moved on pretty quickly, walking to the next spot. 

I was alone for half of my short time at this popular pool. I hooked and landed a small salmon within a few minutes (#10 M1 Killer). I fished out the pool, changed flies and headed back to the top. I tied on a #6 Titanic and went to work on the surface. By then, another fly fisherman had shown up. We both noticed a large bulge form behind my waking dry fly. The fish was not interested in coming back up for the Titanic, so I switched to a #6 Mickey Finn. 

It only took a half dozen casts or so before I was tight to another demon. He jumped once at the beginning of the fight, but he was more of a runner than a leaper. He ran all over the pool. He ran back at me several times and I scrambled to strip line fast enough to keep tight to him. After a couple exchanges, he turned up the heat and took off. He took me into my backing. I can only recall one or two other CT salmon taking me into the backing prior to this fish. Long story short...I finally tired him out and landed him. He was in the 7-8 pound range and in good condition. Most of this years salmon are too small to tail, but this one wasn't. It felt nice to catch a fish that could easily be tailed once again! 

After moving on, I struck out at the next couple spots. At the advice of a friend, I decided to fish some water I haven't seen in a year or two. I used my 9' 7wt. Sage all day today. I have been using it most of the time in our current low water situation. I actually consider the two handed rod to be less easy to use in most of the spots I've fished lately. In higher water, the opposite is true. Even in dead low water, the next couple of pools I fished are better with a two handed rod (switch or spey), but I was too lazy to unpack it. I really should have. 

This little fella spent more time in the air than in the water

In the end, it was fine, if only a little inconvenient. I landed a small salmon on a #10 M1 Killer. At first, I thought I had hooked a really spirited holdover rainbow trout. This little one jumped at least 10 times. What he lacked in size he made up for in spirit. I did the math and figured out that was the 20th CT salmon I've hooked so far this season. 

After landing him and fishing out the pool with the M1, I went back to the top with a #6 Buck Bug, blue/brown hackle with a green & red butt and a white tail (see below). For years I have unsuccessfully fished Buck Bugs in the Naugatuck River. It has always baffled me how a fly that works so well in Canada performs so poorly here. I have a ton of them tied for Canadian salmon fishing and I always have a few on me for fishing at home. While all of this was running through my mind, suddenly a salmon grabbed the bug! He was only on for 20 seconds before he jumped and spit the fly back at me. I could almost hear him say, "No thank you, sir. We don't like Buck Bugs here!"

The Smurf-type Buck Bug that finally hooked a Naugy salmon


I had to take another pass through the pool, but this time with a fly in which I have a lot more Naugy faith, the #6 Mickey Finn. It did its job...salmon #5 of the day hooked and landed. It was small, though not as small as the first from this pool. Like the other, it fought quite hard for its size. 

Time to move again...another long walk. The next pool is one that can be a real pain to wade. I really wished I had brought the switch rod. Daylight was running out on me and I had to fish much more quickly than I would have like to. No worries, the #6 Mickey Finn worked its magic for the third time of the day, another salmon hooked and landed. I raced the clock and tried one more pool before heading home, but it was a bust. The final tally was six hooked and five landed. It was another red letter day on the Naugatuck! 

Some things to consider:

*Remember to always enter a pool ABOVE any anglers who are already fishing there! I know I repost this all the time, but please review this post regarding salmon fishing etiquette and pool rotation. 

*Another thing I've mentioned here...there's a common misconception that this fishery doesn't really heat up until winter. That is total hogwash. Yes, there are more fish in the river in December than in October, but give me an October fish any day. These fish are at their best while within their optimal water temperature range. In my opinion, you can't beat water that is between 55ºF and 65ºF. They fight harder, jump more often and are more willing to chase a fly long distances, near or even on the surface, when it's warmer.

We're still waiting for more fish (and rain), but I am confident fishing over however many there are at any given time. You don't need a river overflowing with salmon to do well. It helps, but if you know where to look and when, you'll do just fine. I'm not looking for a pile of fish, I'm looking for good taking water in whatever set of conditions I have in front of me that day. Find the right water, present the fly well and, most days, you'll find the fish. Somedays you won't, but eventually you will be able to find than a lot more often than not. 

*Please contact me if you're interested in booking a guided tutorial session on the river. I'm not looking for people who want me to do the work for them. I want to coach anglers who are hungry to learn. If you think like a trout fisherman, you might catch a few. If you learn to think like a salmon fisherman, you'll catch a whole lot more. There is a difference. Let's work together to help shorten the learning curve.

How do my expectations differ from a typical guide? I am not interested in building a clientele of repeat customers, per se. I want to show others how to be successful on their own. My hope is that these sessions help to build more of a local interest in Atlantic salmon fishing and conservation. As crazy as it sounds, I want to make the Naugatuck River a gateway to salmon rivers in Canada and beyond. Learn how to do it here before you spend your money there!

Friday, October 11, 2013

Naugatuck Report - October 11, 2013 - Yin & Yang

Not much happening today and no pics taken, so here is
a picture of my dog Otis (who is too crazy to take fishing). 

I didn't expect yesterday's lightning to strike again today, but I expected more solid fishing than what we had. I have a few spots which have been producing consistently all season, but the salmon were having none of it today. 

The only action I had happened less than one hour after arriving. I drew a blank at a normally reliable run and decided to move on. Armed with a #6 Mickey Finn, I only planned on making one quick pass through a popular pool (I had to pass it to get back to my car). I had a fair amount of line out when I saw a salmon roll not to far away from me. I figured it was the perfect time to fish a dry fly. As I retrieved my line, the Mickey Finn happened to pass in front of the salmon and he grabbed it without hesitation. It was another tough guy. For a lone angler, this pool can be tricky to land a fish, made even more difficult with a long rod and 17' leader. 

He jumped a half dozen times and I was finally able to land him in a small clearing downstream. This fish was a male very similar to my lucky #7 fish from the previous day. He was about 6lbs. and very well conditioned, which probably explains why the fight was as good as it was. His enthusiasm to grab my passing Mickey Finn ruined my dry fly plans, but oh well, I'll take it. 

And that was it for the day...I stayed almost all day and fished a bunch of places. I even hiked to some new water. The salmon I landed earlier was the only salmon I saw. I didn't see any fish jump or roll and I didn't see anyone else hook one. I guess they decided to sulk all day. Hopefully tomorrow will be better. 

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Naugatuck Report - October 10, 2013 - Lucky #7

The poor man's GoPro

Today's report comes from the "every cloud has a silver lining" department...

I was supposed to be fishing for big landlocked salmon this weekend, but the run hasn't materialized yet. I'm thankful for my friend John, who kept me posted so I didn't make the long drive for meager results. Still, it's disappointing...I thought my timing was going to be right on the money. Oh well...I still had a full day of fishing today, which is rare for me now. Back to the Naugy...

Conditions were good and there was a lot of action today as a result....way too much to document here and still keep the post modestly sized. The bite was on all day long. In my experience, it turns on and off throughout the day, but rarely stays good all day. Based on accounts from the spin anglers I spoke to today, a good day was had by just about everyone. I had a fantastic day, hooking seven and landing them all. In the fly department, the "big three" did all the catching today; the Same Thing Murray (#6 & #8 -1 salmon each), Mickey Finn (#6 - 2 salmon) and the orange H.M. Sunray (3 salmon). Instead of documenting all the boring details, I'll talk about the last two fish...

The first of two on a #6 Mickey Finn

After landing my fifth fish, I decided I was going to do some dry fly fishing since I really had nothing to lose. I didn't raise anything on a Bomber or a Wulff, so I decided to try a skating dry fly I saw in one of Henrik Mortensen's Patagonia seatrout fishing videos. This unusual fly is called the Titanic. I haven't tied this fly yet (satisfactorily, at least). I purchased a couple with my last order from Waters West Fly Fishing Outfitters

Titanic #6 - from Waters West Outfitters

I made my way to a likely lie and skated it away. After a half dozen casts a salmon exploded on the fly! The commotion gave me a sudden case of "buck fever" and I pulled the fly out of its mouth. No worries...the Titanic did a good job of locating a "player." The fish wouldn't come back to a dry, so I rested the fish for a little while. Eventually, I went back with the #6 Mickey Finn and sealed the deal, bringing a 4lb. salmon to hand. When I hooked this fish, it caused another salmon to jump, thereby giving away its lie. I have also seen this happen with grilse on wild salmon rivers.

After landing fish #6 and letting the water settle down a bit, I went back for the fidgety salmon #7. I went at him with a Sunray Shadow and got a pull, but couldn't get him to return. I rested him while I changed flies. Same Thing Murray...no dice...and another rest. Then I rolled him on a Sugerman Shrimp, but couldn't get a take. Then a rest...change to a Shady Lady...no dice. Then another rest...then I rolled him for a third time on a #10 Almost...wouldn't come back...rested him again. Black flies were getting him riled up, so I switched to a bright fly, the #6 Mickey Finn. I decided to strip it and he clobbered it on the first pass. With all the rolling, resting and fly changes, I worked him for about 30 minutes before he finally grabbed that Mickey Finn. 

Boy, was he pissed to be on the end of my line! He was the angriest salmon I've hooked this fall. He was just plain uncooperative, especially when he saw shallow water. I walked him to my usual landing spot but he was having absolutely none of it. He bolted back to the middle of the river, directly at the only other angler in the pool. I thought he was going to swim right through the angler's legs! Fortunately for me, this good samaritan was able to net my fish just about where he stood. He was as big and well conditioned a salmon as I have caught in the Naugy so far this season...I'm guessing the upper end of 6lbs and not a fin out of place. 

I've caught what I believe to be "dominant male" salmon from this exact lie in the past. I have a feeling that guy was the class bully. I've had a few decent scraps this year, but only two that have made me get serious really quickly. This was one of them. 

Lucky #7...not a bad way to end a pretty good day! 

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Red Butt

Simple but effective

The Red Butt...aka Black Bear Red Butt...aka Red Butt Bear...aka Bear Hair Red Butt...whatever the name is, it's as good a fly as any other. Of course, the same can be said for it's more famous sibling, the Black Bear Green Butt, but I prefer the red butt in the fall. I tie mine in a predominantly North American fashion, but with a little European touch for the tail.

Red Butt

Hook: Any single or double salmon iron
Tip: Oval silver tinsel
Butt: Red floss, yarn or stretch nylon (Gordon Griffiths red floss shown above)
Tail: Red Fluoro Fiber
Rib: Oval Silver tinsel
Body: Black floss, yarn or stretch nylon (black Uni-Yarn shown above)
Throat Hackle: Black hen
Wing: Black bear
Head: Black


Tuesday, October 1, 2013

M1 Killer

M1 Killer - tied by Dave Goulet

My first trip to the Miramichi River was during an autumn plagued by low water. I was fortunate enough to hook a dark, multi sea winter salmon on my first evening of fishing. Long story short...I blew it and lost the fish. I sweated out the next five days without a pull. Fortunately, hurricane Kyle was just about to blow into town and a good shot of rain got the fish moving. I hooked three grilse (one landed) the next morning, which was a relief, but I was disappointed that my two sea winter salmon had escaped.

In terms of weather, the next year was even worse. It was a very dry summer. I remember it was an easy summer for mowing the lawn. I barely had to do it past June. My friend and salmon fishing and fly tying mentor Dave Goulet, former owner of New Hartford, Connecticut's Classic and Custom Fly Shop, saw the writing on the wall and warned me that we both would be facing difficult conditions that fall (he arrived at his camp near the end of my week). Earlier that year, Dave gave me a list of eight fly patterns he recommended for autumn fishing on the Main Southwest Miramichi. Around the beginning of September, he amended the list with three additional flies, all specifically for challenging low water conditions.

The one he had the most faith in was a fly known as the M1 Killer. According to Dave, the M1 was created in the early 1990s by his friend Steve Messier. It was loosely based on the Supervisor, a classic Maine streamer pattern. Originally, the M1 Killer had a green throat, but they ultimately found a light blue throat to be more successful.

Dave instructed me to tie some M1s on size 8 and 10 double hooks. I did as I was told and had a couple of each in my fly box when I arrived at camp. The water was much lower than the previous year and we were not optimistic. I remember asking our guide if he knew of any golf course ponds we might be able to fish instead.

On the second day of the trip, just before it was time to come in for lunch, I decided to give the M1 its first swim on the end of my line. I was fishing a gravel bar on the near side of the river under a bright midday sun. I reached the end of the run and said to myself, "Ah, just one more cast." That was the one! A shadowy fish plucked my #10 M1 Killer from just under the surface and we were off to the races. I hollered for our guide to bring the net. The salmon was neither huge nor was it fresh, but I knew it wasn't a grilse and I didn't want to lose him. The Miramichi hookbill was safely landed, photographed and released. I was both excited and relieved.

My first msw Atlantic salmon - M1 Killer #10 double

Little did we know it was the only action anyone in camp would see for the entire seven days. It was a tough week for fishing. Even heavy midweek rain didn't raise the river enough to bring fish in. We really should have found those golf course ponds! It didn't matter to me though. I might have only caught one salmon that week, but I was still sitting pretty, especially given the state of affairs at that time. Since then, I'm never without a few small M1 Killers, just in case.

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M1 Killer (as tied by Dave Goulet)

Hook: Single or double salmon iron
Tip: Oval silver tinsel
Tail: Golden pheasant crest
Rib: Oval silver tinsel
Body: Flat silver tinsel
Throat: Light blue
Underwing: Pearl Krystal Flash
Wing: Black squirrel tail or black bear
Head: Black

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My version of the M1 Killer - Tied on a #10 Partridge Code M


I tie mine a with a couple of material substitutions. The body of mine is flashier, but is offset by having less flash in the wing. To help reinforce the body, I often take more than the traditional five turns of ribbing when tying over tinsel (à la Belarmino Martinez) or braided body materials. I have found the flat braid body to be very durable.

M1 Killer (variation; as tied by me)

Hook: Single, low water or double salmon (typically sizes #8-#12)
Tail: Golden pheasant crest
Rib: Silver wire
Body: Silver Lagartun Mini Flat Braid
Throat: Light Blue
Underwing: Pearl Krystal Flash (midge size); two or three strands
Wing: Fur from a fox mask, dyed black (sub black squirrel tail or stoat tail)
Head: Black