Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Part I - CT Broodstock Atlantic Salmon Fishing: Some Thoughts

It's almost that time of year again...

The autumn broodstock Atlantic salmon season Connecticut is almost upon us, possibly a little over one month away. This is the first post in a multi-part series intended to help fly anglers gear up for the 2013 season. In Part I, I will share a few thoughts on how this fishery benefits the fly angler.

Overall, this fishery is very popular with anglers, though it has its share of detractors. Some of the complaints are that the fish don't fight hard enough, it's too "artificial" of a fishery, etc. Maybe some of that is true, but it has been very enjoyable and helpful to me in some very specific ways.

Last year, I  debated the merits of this fishery with another Atlantic salmon fisherman. I am willing to bet that 100% of his salmon fishing experience has been under the watchful eye of a premier guide and probably in a canoe for a significant amount of that time. There's nothing at all wrong with that. I enjoy fishing that way. I also enjoy doing it all by myself though. There's a sense of satisfaction I get from showing up to a pool that is new to me, dissecting it, hooking a salmon on one of my flies and landing it by myself. It's a lot to get just right and it can be hard to do when one doesn't have the luxury of living near a river with a healthy and fishable run of Atlantic salmon. In many ways, the Connecticut broodstock salmon fishery has prepared me for the latter scenario.

Fall of 2011 was a cold, wet and all around strange season. As a result of a freak October snowstorm, the rivers were overflowing with frigid water. We lost power for four days and cabin fever had set in big time. With my wife home to relieve me at generator and sump pump duty, I decided to fish the Naugatuck with a buddy. The river had dropped from something like ObsceneThousand cfs to 1100cfs, which is still a very high flow. The water was bitter-cold from the snowmelt and wading was very challenging.

We were casting from the trees, so having the ability to fish a two-handed rod really came in handy that day. I used my 13' rod with a floating Compact Scandi head, an extra-fast sinking polyleader and an aluminum tube fly (a Flamethrower-type tube in L.T. Special colors, I believe). I was fishing over a reliable lie in a popular pool when a fish took my fly. The fish bolted downstream into the heavy flow. Normally I would have followed her down the pool, but that was impractical in the high water. I fought her from my furthest landing spot downstream and had to haul her, all my line and some backing against the swift current. Ultimately, I landed her and gave her a quick release.

It was a chore landing some of those fish alone that fall, but it was it was great training for my trip to the Kola Peninsula the following spring. Low water in the Kola and Kitza Rivers was an even more challenging wade than high water in the Naugatuck. Safely landing sea-liced Kola springers alone was not easy in some of those pools, but I had practiced for it, so I could take certain tough scenarios in stride.

The example above is how the broodstock fishery helped improve one or two specific skills. There were plenty of other skills I have honed along the way, such as two-handed casting, presenting wet flies and dry flies properly, waiting on the hook set (a critical skill), hooking salmon who rise but don't take, unorthodox techniques, etc...the list goes on and on. Without a salmon fishery close to home, it probably would have taken me a lot longer to figure some of this stuff out, especially when I've found myself on a wild salmon river, unguided and left to figure it out largely on my own.

Atlantic salmon fishing trips can be expensive. Before you go, it pays to be as comfortable as possible with as many scenarios as possible. Obviously, you're not going to see many of the scenarios you'd find on a wild salmon river, but there is more overlap than most anglers think. It only costs as much as a resident or non-resident Connecticut fishing license, so you might as well practice here instead of practicing wherever "there" might be (i.e. Canada, the UK, Iceland, Scandinavia, Russia, etc.). This fishery can be a great introduction to the often bizarre nature of Atlantic salmon fishing. It's a good way to learn how to shut off your "trout brain," an essential skill for anglers without a salmon fishery near home.

...and, along the way, a few of those broodstock salmon have fought pretty damn hard. Hook into enough of the early fish and you'll see what I mean. Though most are lethargic, mixed in are some barren, chrome fish which never spawned and will definitely get your attention when they go berserk, cartwheeling through the pool. I landed one last year that I swore was the hardest fight I've gotten from one of these fish until I hooked (and lost) another demon later that week. It was only in the 8-10 lb. range, which was about average size last year, but I never would have known I was on the Naugy by the way it fought (except for that special Naugatuck "ambience").  That fish fought harder than my first Russian salmon and a few of my Canadian salmon, believe it or not! Water temperature probably has something to do with this, as my most memorable broodstock salmon fights have come in early-to-mid October.

The next installment will be about tackle and gear. There are some changes this year and my tackle choices will reflect those changes. Stay tuned...