Saturday, September 28, 2013

Naugatuck Report - September 28, 2013 - Ugly Beauty

Low & warm - this is the type of water you'll want to seek out

Finally! I had the whole day to fish. I think this is my fifth trip to the Naugy this season. Three trips were very brief visits. They were productive visits, but I don't like feeling rushed. Fortunately, that was not an issue today.

I've said it before...the water is just too low. It's still pretty warm, too. I started fishing around 11:00am and the water was around 60ºF. I checked periodically throughout the day and the highest I recorded was 66ºF. Conditions are pretty tough. Be prepared to work for your fish. A lot of the usually reliable pools and runs just aren't holding fish. If they are, the fish aren't taking. 

For my money, the best bet has been to try to find places with strong push of water with as much depth as possible. There is plenty of fast shallow water. I haven't found fish in that water. There is plenty of deep slow water. Those pools are better suited to the spin fisherman (and indie nymphers). 

My first pass through spot #1 yielded no fish. I switched to a #6 Mickey Finn for my second pass and caught a salmon of about 5lbs. It was a very handsome fish, with a nicely shaped tail. The fight was OK. Subsequent passes through the pool produced no action. 

I moved around quite a bit after leaving spot #1. I fished some areas downriver, but a 12" brown trout was all I had to show for my work. After a few hours, I was ready for a nap, but I decided to forge on...

I moved to a popular pool which I don't often fish. At this water level, I can't say it looked very good. I noticed some interesting water in the distance, however. I've said it here before...if you have a hunch, it pays to act on it. I don't always follow my own advice (I actually ignored it earlier in the day), but I figured I'd take a walk this time. 

I came upon a very nice run. It had all the attributes I was looking for. It was also the filthiest pool I've fished on this river and that's really saying something. I counted four shopping carts, a child's bicycle, remnants of a leaf blower, several tires and tons of other debris. The run itself was beautiful though. I ran the Mickey Finn through, but nothing was interested. It was a good push of water, so I figured I should get down a bit. I tried a small all-black Snaelda (.5" copper tube - about 2" total length). That was the ticket! I had an awesome fast water grab. It was the type of take where you fear you might have to swim after your rod (perilous in this debris-laden pool). After a couple strong runs and several urgent jumps, I brought salmon #2 to hand. It was a small fish, probably 3lbs., but it was a much more exciting catch than my first of the day. 

I wish I could say I found more salmon in that run, but I didn't. My first pass through a new run isn't always the most well thought out. Now that I'm familiar with it, I can strategize better next time. 

I continued to fish until sunset, but had no further action. 2 for 2 isn't bad, but I had expected more. The truly odd thing is that those two fish landed were the only salmon I saw all day. I didn't see one fish jump or roll the entire time. Like I said, conditions aren't exactly ideal. They're actually quite poor, so I am happy to catch any at all.

What has been working so far this season? Pretty much two approaches...relatively small flies wet flies (sizes #8-#12) and getting somewhat in their faces with Snaeldas. I don't think its "getting in their faces" so much as it's getting down a little in fast water. Plus, I think it's a fly that gets them riled up a bit, though I'm not sure why. That said, the small flies have also been working in fast water, so go figure. Atlantic salmon are strange creatures who tend to follow their own rules. The last two seasons, the Sunray has been killer for me, but I think this low water is making them shy (though my first fish landed this season took one). 

I used an intermediate polyleader on one of the colder mornings, but everything else has been on a mono leader so far. I'm making a lot of very short casts and I've found a single handed rod easiest to use given the nature of the water I'm fishing. The best runs have been pretty narrow with a highly concentrated flow. 

I promise to post some fish pics soon. I have been waiting on a new net and haven't taken many this season. I usually don't carry a net while salmon fishing, but most of these fish are too small to tail. Plus, the water is fairly warm, so I have been try to get the fish on their way as quickly as possible until it cools down a bit. 

This might be my last report for the next couple of weeks. I am supposed to chase landlocks the next two weekends, but the lack of rain might mess that up too. Keep me posted...please let me know how you do!

Friday, September 27, 2013

Naugatuck Report - September 27, 2013 - A Brief Morning Jaunt

Albeit brief, the most exciting moment of the day was
a result of this Green/Brown split-wing Bomber

Junior was on a overnight trip to Grandma's house, so I got up early and fished for a few hours. As a professional musician, I'd much rather sleep in the morning and fish the afternoon-to-evening shift. Sometimes it has to be a morning affair, I guess.

I fished from 7:00am to 10:30am. As always, the water was really low. I started in a fast run, first with a Blue Butterfly. Nothing wanted the Butterfly, so I went small again with a #10 Almost. I had a strong pull about midway down the run. The fish didn't get hooked and I couldn't get him to come over...I tried a few other flies and presentations, but that was the end of the action here. 

I moved to a slow pool, sort of dreading what the water was going to be like at this level. I knew there would be fish there, so I figure it was worth a chance. This is a strange pool. It's pretty deep in places and can be difficult to fish and wade. Actually, I find it more difficult to fish in low water than in higher water, despite the potential wading hazards. Then, if you can hook a salmon, the next hurdle is landing it, which is not always easy to do while fishing this pool alone. 

I saw a fish roll and I moved down the pool to target him. The fly was the ever deadly #10 M1 Killer. I had another strong pull, but no hookup. Again, I couldn't get this fish to come back. Damn! 

The highlight of the day occurred moments thereafter. I saw a different salmon roll, but this fish was closer to me than the last one. The flow was so slow. Fishing a wet was difficult, so I might as well try a dry. It would be a difficult task given my poor position, but none of my options were very good ones. I pitched a #6 split wing Bomber (green w/brown hackle) towards the lie. The fish immediately rolled for the dry. And that was the end of that...another one who wouldn't come back...

I moved to a pool which was very good to me last season. This pool is not stocked, so I was hoping to find some fish who might have moved in with the last raise of water. I didn't find them. 

Then it was time to go home. Oh fish hooked despite some interest. I just tied up some very small low water flies to deal with the sluggish flow and the reluctant takers. Hopefully I can give them a shot tomorrow.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Announcing "Salmon School" Guided Tutorial Program & New Flies Available

A salmon, a Mickey Finn and a happy angler

I'm happy to announce I will be offering guided salmon fishing tutorial sessions on the lower Naugatuck River this season from October to December. These are not conventional guide trips, per se. They are an on-the-river extension of my "Traditional Methods for Broodstock Atlantic Salmon" presentation. It is a thorough and comprehensive introduction to Atlantic salmon fishing, mainly intended for the trout fisherman who wants to become a more knowledgeable and proficient salmon fisherman. Weekdays and weekend bookings are available. For details, please visit the "Salmon School" page on my website.

In other news, the Fly Shop page on my website has been revamped with an expanded selection of my favorite flies for Connecticut's broodstock Atlantic salmon season. I am offering several patterns (conventional as well as tube flies), tied in the size or sizes I have found most effective over the years. If you want flies which are not in the Fly Shop, please feel free to contact me and I will be happy to accommodate you.

Thank you for your support and I hope you have an enjoyable and productive season!

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Naugatuck Report - September 25, 2013 - Small Guy, Small Fly

The M1 Killer - a new favorite "toy"

Cabin fever in September? With an 8 month old baby boy at home it certainly is possible. I decided to do something about it. I found a used Kelty BackCountry Child Carrier on Craigslist for $50 and I thought it would be a good investment for the both of us. It's a beefy backpack style carrier with a canopy, used to keep the sun and the rain out, but also flies I suppose. After a day of testing it out and getting the right fit at home, we decided to head to the Naugatuck this afternoon.

I had two runs in mind, both with little-to-no wading involved. With help from my Echo switch rod, the little wading we did was no more than ankle deep. Less than ten minutes into the trip, before I even had a chance to process any thoughts about the usefulness of the carrier, we had already hooked and released a 6lb. salmon. I wish I could have seen the little guy's face when a fish almost as long as himself jumped out of the water a half dozen times (I need to buy a rearview mirror). Unfortunately, I couldn't get a pic of the fish and release is safely, so I opted for only the latter. We'll have to persuade mom to go with us sometime to act as camerawoman.

The salmon took my favorite low water fly, the M1 Killer (#10). My first multi sea-winter Atlantic salmon took an M1, tied on a #10 Sprite double, in low, clear water under a bright noontime sun. Conditions were pretty similar today and the M1 worked its magic again.

After a little while, I stopped hearing the rustling of toys and the back of my hat was no longer being pulled. That little turkey fell asleep! I certainly could have used my guide's expertise. I had two pulls on a small, all-black Snaelda, but I couldn't get the fish to come back. I think it might have tasted a bit too much of the hook on the second pull. Oh well...

I think I needed a break before he did, so we went back to the car. After our 90 minute fishing session, a fresh diaper and lunch was in order. He enjoyed a refreshing stretch and a ripe banana mush lunch. The lunch break recharged his batteries and he was ready for more.

We moved to our second spot of the day, but not much was happening. He managed to unfasten his teething ring and drop it into the river. I retrieved it with the bottom handle of my switch rod. That was the extent of the action for the next 45 minutes or so.

I decided we had a good enough day and it was time to head home. Actually, I didn't expect it to go nearly as well as it did, so I was very pleased at the outcome.

Fishing is nice and peaceful, so it was time to release a ton of pent up energy by the time we got home. He was totally hyper for the next couple of hours, but I figured he earned it. I tipped my guide by letting him rip up a Carter's Catalog on the floor of my fly tying room, which he did with gusto.

It was fun day, though I have to say I enjoyed interacting with him during lunch more than the actual fishing, so we probably won't make this a regular least not for now. I think I'll be more inclined to use the Kelty pack for walks and/or short hikes. Also, I think it will be more fun with mom around so someone can see how he reacts to all these new sights and sounds.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Naugatuck Report - September 23, 2013 - Snaelda Time

Snaelda fish #1

With the water falling and clearing, I thought today would be an ideal day to go. I dropped off the little guy at mom's work and got to the river with just under three hours before sunset. I usually like to have a little more time to work with, but I felt lucky to even go at all today.

Pool fish showed and nothing moved for my standard flies and presentations. I moved quickly and thoroughly, but didn't move a fish. It was a bit frustrating, but you can't make the salmon react if they don't want to.

Pool #2...I thought I'd finish the evening here. It's a popular pool, but I'm not used to seeing it that crowded on a weekday. The spin fishermen occupied their normal spots in the slow water. One fly fisherman planted himself 3/4 of the way down the run and never moved. Further frustration ensued...please refer to several previous posts where I stress the importance of mobility. I fished as far as I could go and headed back to the top of the run only to get low holed by another fly angler (click for definition). Given that a decently function rotation has seemed to establish itself at this pool over the past few seasons, tonight was disappointing, though not surprising. Well, that was enough for me. Getting pinned into one spot while fishing for non-migratory salmon does not interest me.

Quickly back to Pool #1...which I ended up having to myself save for a few spectators. I tried a Red Butt, but no dice. Fish still weren't showing, which is rare for this pool. The air temperature was a good bit cooler than the water temperature and that can make salmon fussy. With time running out, I decided to get in their faces a bit. I don't normally fish this way until later in the fall, but watching Henrik Mortensen fish a Red Francis to reluctant salmon on his DVDs made my gears turn a bit. The Francis isn't one of my "confidence flies," but the German Snaelda is. I tried a Snaelda (.75" copper tube) I had just tied, substituting arctic fox for bucktail in the rear of the fly.

Fishing deeper and more slowly paid off within a few minutes. The fish pictured above came to hand after several jumps and a couple modest runs. After releasing the fish, I went back to it and hooked another, more spirited fish within ten minutes or so. The second fish was a leaper and a runner. My reel was screaming and I had to run downstream after it. I didn't realize how far it ran until it jumped further away than I expected it to be. That definitely increased my sense of urgency. I fought this fish for a few minutes before the hooked pulled loose. Oh well, I'll take 1 for 2 just about any day, especially given how this evening started.

The second salmon made me realize my Vision 9' 6wt. rod is not totally up for this job. It was fine with all the salmon I hooked this season prior to this one. Who knows, that might have been my toughest scrap of the season, but I'd prefer a bit more ammo in case I tie into another hot fish. Like I said, hook enough early season salmon and you'll get some that fight pretty damn hard. I know it's sounds hard to believe, but it's true. Anyhow, I think it's time to go back to the Sage Z-Axis 11' 6 wt. switch rod and the Sage Graphite II 9' 7wt. single hander (ol' faithful).

Remember, keep moving and always enter a pool or a run above the rest of the anglers!

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Naugatuck River - September 21, 2013 - First Report of the Season

The big 3 season opening flies

Today was the first chance I've had to fish the Naugatuck this season. Conditions were tough! The water is very low. It's probably as low as I've ever fished it. A lot of water that is fishy at normal levels is vacant when the river gets this low. As of 3:00pm, the water temperature was 66ºF, which seems sort of high for this time of year. Low and relatively warm can be a challenge. My first two Atlantic salmon fishing trips (Miramichi River) were under similar conditions, so this scenario is not new to me.

I decided to use my Vision GT Four 9' 6 wt. single handed rod, a 12' long leader, 6# test Maxima and small flies. Shortly after arriving at one of my favorite pools, I had a fish rise to #10 Green/Red Butt Butterfly. The fish seemed to lose interest in that fly, so I switched to a diminutive Same Thing Murray, tied on a #10 Mustad 3399A. That did the trick and the salmon soon went airborne. It was a bright fish of about 4 or 5 lbs. Unfortunately, he threw the hook after a minute or so.

I switched to my "last resort fly" before leaving the pool, an H.M. Sunray. I tied this one a little smaller than normal and in a black/white color scheme. Before very long, I had landed the smallest non-parr salmon I've ever caught. Oh well, I'll take it...

The smallest fish of the day took the largest fly

I made the rounds to several other pools (stay mobile!). There was really nothing going on at most of them. I caught a smallmouth bass on the Murray. I saw a few rise in some dead slow water, but I decided to fish better looking water rather than fish for them. I made up my mind to head home early, but hit one last spot before leaving.

There were two anglers in this pool when I arrived. I sat down on a rock, put flies away and tied on a new tippet while I waited for the pool to open up. It cleared out pretty quickly, but I decided to rest the pool a little while longer and give the salmon a chance to settle down after being hammered. I opened my box and spotted a #8 Red Butt, which was larger than most of what I was throwing this afternoon. I don't know what it is about this particular fly, but I knew this very fly was a winner while I was tying it. I tied it on and went to the top of the pool.

No more than five minutes had passed when I saw a fish roll just downstream from me. Perhaps resting the pool a bit was a good idea after all. I swung the Red Butt through the lie and a salmon absolutely hammered the fly. This fish was about 5 lbs. and I landed it in a few minutes. It was a bright silver fish, very reminiscent of the fresh grilse I have caught in Canada. It even had the uncontrollable nervous quiver of a bright salmon.

2-for-3 is not a bad way to start the season, especially considering the less than favorable conditions. We need rain! Cooler temperatures would help too as we're sort of approaching the danger zone in terms of heat. The cooler temps will happen soon enough, but we should all do a rain dance to help spread out the fish (and anglers) and open up more of the river.  

UPDATE: Thankfully, heavy rains came overnight and the river is up quite a bit. It seems to have already crested and is dropping very rapidly. With falling and clearing water, I think Monday 9/23 is going to be a good day to fish. Tuesday...maybe. After that, I think we'll be back to dead low water as there is no rain in the forecast for the next week or so. Go get 'em! 

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Part V - CT Broodstock Atlantic Salmon Fishing: Miscellaneous Tips

Many CT salmon anglers concentrate on the slowest water,
but the fast water also holds fish

Where to Fish:

With a little sleuthing, it is possible to find just about all the salmon stocking locations online. When the water comes up, some of the salmon move around, so it pays to fish spots which aren’t stocked. If a you have a hunch about a new spot, investigate it! I looked one particular pool for two seasons before I finally made the hike. I don’t know why I didn’t do it sooner. It's centrally located, but doesn’t see very much fishing pressure. I landed three salmon on my first trip through the pool. 

Be as mobile as possible. I might fish half a dozen pools in an average day. If I was inclined to get out of bed earlier, I might fish even more pools. Standing in one spot for hours, trying to convince a particularly stubborn salmon that he should take my fly is not my thing. I want to put my fly over as many fish as possible in a day with the hopes of finding one (or more) really aggressive fish. 

I see many fly anglers fishing dead slow water. You’ll definitely find some salmon there, but those spots require a lot of work (stripping) to fish thoroughly. In my experience, salmon tend to cruise instead of hold in this water. You’re fishing to moving targets, which makes hooking one all the more difficult. I like to let the spin fishermen have this type of water. I prefer to fish water with enough current to swing a fly. Broodstock salmon, holding in classic salmon water, can be very receptive to a well presented swung fly. 

As I said in Part I, most of these fish don't hold in as strong a push of water as wild salmon do. Sometimes they do though, so it pays to familiarize yourself with what good salmon water looks like. Look for large rocks, spots were two speeds of current intersect, pockets, signs of depressions and changes in depth. Find a book with diagrams of where salmon hold at different water levels. More often than not, you'll find CT salmon holding in spots that look just like the diagrams. 

Try the L.T. Special when fall colors are at their peak

When to Fish:

It’s a cliché, but fish whenever you can. I like overcast days, but it seems like I end up going mainly on bluebird days, so I make it work. My favorite time to be on the water is the dusk-to-sunset period. 

The fish fight better when the water is warmest. I would be very happy if the water stayed in the mid 50s to lower 60s (ºF) all season long. Some anglers claim this fishery doesn't get good until there is snow on the ground. The way I see it, this opinion exists because it's the point where salmon behavior begins to intersect with the knowledge base of the local angler (many of whom travel to the Great Lakes to fish for steelhead). If you're an angler who has spent some time chasing wild Atlantic salmon, you will feel right at home in October and November. Please realize that I'm not knocking local anglers who are not Atlantic salmon fishermen...just that many fail to draw a distinction between the two species. If I went steelheading, I'd struggle to not think like a salmon fisherman. 

As the days get shorter and colder, I find the early morning bite less productive. At this time, the salmon seem to “wake up” in the late morning or early afternoon, making an already short fishing day even shorter. 

Always fish falling water as it starts to clear. Keep your eye on the USGS streamflow website

With a good variety of techniques at your disposal, fishing the top of the
rotation (behind several other anglers) is no reason for concern

How to Fish:

This relates to mobility...unless you’re working a specific fish, don’t stand in one place for more than a few casts. These fish aren’t actively running so you don’t have the benefit of new fish moving into the lie you’re covering. Besides, anglers who plant themselves in one spot tie up the pool for everyone else!! Getting boxed-in is incredibly frustrating. Usually I'll move out, as the salmon aren't as likely to take when they're getting whipped to death. The key to hooking more CT salmon is to be as mobile as possible. Most of the spin fishermen already know this, but many fly fishermen plant themselves in one place for some reason. It's not like we're waiting for a hatch to commence...

Refer to this post about rotating a salmon pool. Not only is it proper etiquette, but it will be a more efficient use of your fishing time. Chances are you’ll hook more salmon. Unless I'm fishing behind a hotshot or two, I never feel like being last in line is a bad thing. Don't be afraid to school other fly fishermen on rotational etiquette. It really benefits everyone. 

Though there are some similarities, remember that Atlantic salmon are not trout. Steelhead are not your everyday trout, but they are still trout. Many anglers approach this like they are steelhead fishing. Atlantic salmon are not steelhead. Even though these CT salmon haven’t spent much time in the wild doesn’t mean that wired any differently. I might have been raised by wolves, but that doesn’t make me a wolf. A CT salmon might have been raised in a hatchery, but that doesn’t make it a trout. They're only one generation removed from (parent) salmon who survived the long trip to the winter feeding grounds near Greenland, so it's not like they've had enough time to "evolve." I'm not saying that trout/steelhead tactics won't work. Day in and day out, the more you learn about the Atlantic salmon, the more successful you will be. 

It is built into a salmon’s DNA to chase food that swims or hovers above them. If you’ve ever fished a river full of salmon parr, you know how hard it can be to keep them from taking your dry flies. I’ve heard many local anglers insist that we must swing flies right in front of a salmon’s nose to anger him enough to strike. Though it probably works now and then, nothing could be further from the truth. I don’t know of any fly anglers who prefer to fish with sinking tips/lines and/or weighted flies. If you don’t have to, why would you? The good news is that you really don’t have to get down to them until the water gets pretty cold. Exceptions would be fishing high, fast and/or dirty water. I don’t fish with anything heavier than an intermediate polyleader until I absolutely have to. The same goes for weighted tubes. I don’t use weighted conventional flies at all. 

One very important benefit to fishing a fly on or near the surface is that you're able to see potential interest in the fly. If you fish very deep, you might not see the fish move for the fly at all. When a salmon takes my 1.5" copper tube Willie Gunn on a sinking line or tip, I generally don't see the take. When a fish takes my #6 Same Thing Murray on nothing but a mono leader, not only do I see the rise, I might see the fish's back come out of the water as he chases the fly. The visual aspect is especially important if the salmon rises for your fly but does not take it. Without seeing anything, you might keep moving despite the fact there's a player right in front of you. 

I don't believe most of these salmon are feeding in the fall. Fish that size need a lot of food to grow. If they fed heavily, I think they would be a lot easier to catch. The exceptions are the barren salmon I referred to in Part I. Most of the barren fish I've hooked have chased and attacked the fly traveling downstream, not circling around and taking in typical salmon fashion. Most have taken fish-like patterns, be they bucktails or tubes. Since they're not interested in spawning, I believe they're still hungry. Eventually, they'll all start to feed as they prepare to leave the rivers. I believe this is primarily a late winter to spring occurrence. 

A large White Wulff is an effective and highly visible dry fly 

Like their wild brethren, these salmon will take a dry fly with the proper set of conditions. If you want to catch one on a dry fly, you have to commit to fishing one.The main problem with that is the season in which the salmon are stocked. It gets colder every day. Dries will be most effective at the beginning of the season when the water is warmest.  Ideally, you want low and clear water. Late fall is not exactly the prime time of year for dry fly salmon fishing. It’s tough to get all the variables in sync with one another in the fall, so some years it doesn’t make much sense to fish dries. Even if conditions are somewhat right, dry fly fishing is not very efficient unless you’ve spotted a salmon (holding or rolling, not jumping) or you fish reliable, dry fly friendly lies. A swung wet fly or tube is a more efficient method of searching water at this time of year. It gets dark early and you want to cover as much water as possible! 

The bright day-bright fly, dark day-dark fly method is a good enough rule to follow, but don’t feel like you have to. Overall, I find bright flies most effective for these fish. They work on dark days too. Even my dark flies have some bright butts or are mixed with bright colors, so keep that in mind. My favorite dark fly is the Same Thing Murray. It has plenty of bright accent colors. I do carry a few drab flies on me, just in case. 

In my opinion, size matters a lot more than color does. I pick my size based on the height, speed, clarity and temperature of the water. Fly speed should be in proportion to the size of fly you're fishing in a given set of conditions. Try fishing one slower swing and one faster swing, then step downstream and repeat. After you hook enough fish, you’ll get a feel for what the right swing speed is at any given time. 

If a fish comes up for a fly but doesn't take, you're in good shape. Even if he pulls on the fly but doesn't get hooked, you're still in good shape. If he hooks himself, feels the steel of the hook and the tension of the rod and line pulling on him, it's game over. If you raise a fish, do not change the amount of line you have out by either reeling up or stripping line. That is your marker to the fish's location. Work the fish, but do so carefully. It helps to rest the fish for a few minutes after a few unsuccessful casts. If I decide to change flies, I usually switch to progressively smaller flies. It also pays to experiment with different swing speeds. When all else fails, end with the pattern with which you originally raised him. If there's no one else around, I'll leave the fish and come back to him after fishing through the pool. I usually hook him that second time around, so I do think resting the fish helps. If you're fishing in a rotation and you can't get the fish to take, after a reasonable amount of time, you should move on so as not to hold up the other anglers. 

When all else fails or when a pool has been pounded, I try fish the extreme ends of the spectrum. Most often, I fish a Sunray Shadow-type tube fly as fast as I possibly can. It’s not a silver bullet, but you’d be surprised how well it works when nothing else seems to. The other end of the spectrum is very small flies. These fish don’t see many small flies, so it pays to give them a shot now and then, especially when the water is low. Many people ask about fishing nymphs...I suppose it can be effective but, to me, it’s not efficient enough. It eats up too much time when fishing blind. Swinging wets and tubes lets me cover a lot of water with maximum efficiency. It all comes back to the mobility thing...

Salmon caught on the orange Sunray "Hail Mary pass"

If you like to fish with a partner, consider fishing where you can spot the salmon from a vantage point above (be stealthy though). I know plenty of anglers who fish the smaller water in pairs and do quite well. One angler acts as a "spotter" for the other, trading jobs from pool to pool. Seeing how a salmon reacts to a fly is the most interesting facet of this type of fishing. I mainly fish alone, targeting likely lies in bigger, darker water, but I can see the appeal of fishing in this manner. 

It's said that a salmon either is or is not a "taker." I don't think it's that black and white. If we had a "salmon taking spectrum," we'd have a fish that would take absolutely anything you throw at him on one end and one who will take absolutely nothing on the other end. I believe that most salmon fit somewhere in the middle of that spectrum, but tend to lean to one end or the other. The key is making sure each and every cast counts. You might be fishing a slow day, but you make just the right cast with a presentation that coaxes a reluctant salmon to take. That might be your only action for the entire day. This scenario happens all the time. Sometimes the most rewarding day on the river is the one which, by everyone else's account, should be a skunking, but for you is a one-fish day.

Just like anything else, you have to put your time in to be successful. Just because they're hatchery fish doesn't mean they're easy to catch. At this point, I expect to hook at least one fish every time out, but usually more than one. That said, I still experience days when absolutely nothing happens. Then there are days when everyone is nailing them, seemingly blindfolded and with their hands tied behind their backs. Sometimes the craziness only lasts thirty minutes, sometimes it lasts all day. That's the unpredictability salmon fishing.

The best thing an angler can do is to pick a book about Atlantic salmon fishing. It baffles me how few people actually do this. If I was to delete everything from this post, this piece of advice would be the one thing I'd save. Here are three relatively current-to-current titles that would be extremely helpful to any Atlantic salmon angler:

“Atlantic Salmon Flies and Fishing” by Joseph D. Bates - 1970 (easy to find used on Amazon)

“Salmon Fishing” by Hugh Falkus - 1984 (eBay is your best bet)

I have more useful information than I can possibly give out here. I will be offering guided tutorial sessions on the Naugatuck River this fall as well as posting periodic fishing reports. Check back soon for info on both.
This post concludes my series on fishing for Connecticut broodstock Atlantic salmon. I hope you found it helpful. Please feel free to contact me with any questions you might have. 

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Part IV - CT Broodstock Atlantic Salmon Fishing: Tube Flies

A November salmon on a b&w Sunray Shadow (aluminum)

As I stated in Part III, none of my flies tied on conventional hooks are weighted in any way. If I feel I need to get down, I let the line/tip do it for me. If I’m fishing fast water and I want to get down quickly, I might use a fly tied (sparsely) on a brass or copper tube. I use thin brass and copper tubing, so even my heavier tubes don’t weigh all that much. When the water gets cold, I do well on large tube flies. They may be big, but they’re not too heavy or hard to cast. For this fishery, the vast majority of my tubes flies are tied on aluminum hobby store tubing. On to the feature...

Tube Flies:

For brevity’s sake, I’m not going to go into why tubes should be more widely used. Read this for an explanation of the benefits of tube flies. As stated above, when the water gets cold, I tend to use fewer flies tied on hooks and more tube flies. The first fly listed here is a very notable exception.

Sunray Shadow and Variations

I caught more CT salmon on an orange Sunray variant than any other fly last season. I caught a good number of fish on conventional wets, but I probably caught nearly twice as many on a Sunray than the next top pattern. This fly rounds out my top three, vying with the Mickey Finn for the number one spot. Every year, I catch an increasing number of salmon on Sunrays. It’s a great “change-of-pace” fly and one they don’t see too often. I never start out with a Sunray. I usually finish with one, however. Sometimes I fish it as fast as I can strip with two hands. Even when fish don’t take it, often times they’ll show for it and take a smaller, more conventional fly. It’s a tremendous “fish locator.” Tied in a variety of sizes, it is an extremely versatile and deadly fly. It’s also one hell of a trout fly, believe it or not. I carry a bunch of them, tied on plastic and aluminum tubes, anywhere from .5” long to 2” long (total fly length around 1”-5”).

Sunrays - a deadly family of tube flies for both salmon and trout

Some Sort of Shrimp or Flamethrower-type Tube Fly

I use this type of fly when the leaves fall and the downward pointing hook on a conventional fly constantly snags everything floating by. I rotate the single hook 180º in the junction tube so it gets buried in the tail of the fly (it will be pointing upwards). It’s not 100% “weedless” by any means, but I definitely snag fewer leaves. I don’t find these flies any more useful than any of the others in the catching department, but what I save in frustration is worth having a couple on me, especially when it’s windy. I usually tie these on a .5”-.75” aluminum tube. 

Two Red Butt Flamethrowers and a Shumakov-style Cascade.
Rotate the hook 180º for a "leaf guard."


This Icelandic oddity happens to be a pretty killing fly. A medium small Snaelda is my intermediate step between conventional flies and the big stuff tied on longer, heavier tubes. The yellow, orange and black of the so-called "German Snaelda" are classic cold water colors. For me, this fly has been most effective on a slow swing, though I have heard of anglers stripping them with great success. I most often use a Snaelda tied on a .5”-.75” copper tube. 

The German Snaelda might look a little funny,
but the salmon seem to love it nonetheless

Willie Gunn

This is one of the big guns. It’s the quintessential yellow, orange and black salmon fly. I use the Willie Gunn in cold, fast water. Last November, I fished a pool full of large salmon. It was heavily fished, but everyone seemed to gravitate towards the slower water. In under a half hour, I had already landed two on a gold bodied Willie Gunn. The smaller of the two was about 12# and the larger 18# and very acrobatic. I have done well with the classic black-bodied WG, though I prefer the gold bodied variation. I typically tie this on a 1.5" copper tube. 

The Willie Gunn is a killing fly in both gold and black

Temple Dog Type Fly

Here is another big gun. I tie one of two ways:
  1. Tied on plastic tubing with a turbo cone in front. The cone is there to balance the weight of the hook and neutralize the buoyancy of the wing more than to add weight the fly. The turbo cone also helps to push water.
  2. Tied on a Shumakov-type Long Range or Skittle tube. I find these to be more durable than the style above, plus they take a little less time to tie. 
I really only fish two patterns, a Phatagorva (dark) and a Green Highlander (bright). The Phatagorva has worked well in colored water, though I have probably been more successful with the Highlander overall. The soft, mobile wing is excellent in slower water. It’s a sort of hypnotic fly to watch in action. These are both time consuming and material-intensive flies to tie. It took much trial and error to find the right materials in the US. Not all arctic fox is created equally. If you’re interested in tying these type of flies, watch this video of Hakan Norling tying his original Temple Dog.

GH Tube - *double hooks not for use in CT salmon waters*

Most of the patterns listed here will be on sale this season. I have sold CT broodstock salmon fly assortments in the past, but I plan on making a wider variety of flies available starting this season. They should be ready just before the first group of salmon arrives, so check back soon...

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Part III - CT Broodstock Atlantic Salmon Fishing: Wet and Dry Flies

Waaaay too many flies, but there are still some
open spaces, so I should probably tie more

Since this blog is primarily focused on salmon flies, much of this information has already been covered here before. I will try to distill it as best I can and provide a little insight into each fly pattern. If you look through the archives of this blog, you’ll see old entries about my favorite CT broodstock salmon flies. Some patterns have worked well for a season or two. Some have worked consistently well through several seasons. Consider this post the updated list of consistent winners. 

I’m an avid fly tyer, so I carry way more fly patterns than I really need. Sometimes I try new flies as an experiment, sometimes I just want to catch a fish on a particular pattern. If I was so inclined, I could whittle down my box to a handful of patterns in various sizes and I wouldn’t feel like I was at a disadvantage. 

Please note - none of my flies tied on conventional hooks are weighted in any way.

Hairwing Wet Flies and Bucktails:

Butterfly w/Green & Red Butt

This is the fly with which I usually catch my first CT salmon of the season. I find it works best at the very beginning of the season, particularly in slightly off-color, falling water. The Butterfly has a bit of a wobble to it, so I think the fish can really feel it coming. I like to use it when fish are holding in relatively slow water. Under normal conditions, a #4 or #6 is perfect for the first couple weeks of the season. 

Butterfly w/Green & Red Butt

Mickey Finn

The good ol’ Mickey Finn could be the most popular fly used and for good reason. It really works. I would put it in my top three, and perhaps tied for the number one spot. It works on sunny days, it works on cloudy just works. When I’m tired of experimenting and I just want to hook a fish, the Mickey Finn is what I use. I carry them in many sizes, though primarily #4-#8, with #6 being my all around favorite. The hottest CT salmon I ever hooked came up twice for a #4 Mickey Finn but didn’t take. I switched to a #6 and he was all over it. 

This #6 MF caught a lot of salmon, some fairly large.
The dressing lasted longer than the hook did.

Same Thing Murray

The Same Thing Murray is also in my top three list. When I need a medium-to-small dark fly, this is what I use, almost exclusively at this point. Though it’s predominantly dark-colored (peacock and black), it has red, orange and fluorescent green “hotspots,” all great colors for salmon. My all around favorite salmon fly is the Sugerman Shrimp, which has worked for me in CT, but not nearly as well as the Murray. I carry the Same Thing Murray in #2-#10, with #4-#8 being my most commonly used sizes. 

A pair of small Murrays, #8 & #10

L.T. Special

This is a bright fly in the quintessential autumn colors. This fly has been most useful to me in the peak of foliage season. When the trees are all colored up, the L.T. Special does a good job of blending in with its surroundings. When I need a dark fly, the Murray seems to get the job done. When I need a bright fly, sometimes I need something other than a Mickey Finn. The L.T. is a fantastic companion and, unlike the Mickey Finn, it’s a fly these salmon don’t see very often. I carry it in #2-#6, with #2 being the most successful size. 

The L.T. Special hard at work

Ally’s Shrimp

Besides being one of the most successful salmon flies ever created, it also works well on trout (incidentally as well as intentionally). The first CT broodstock salmon I ever landed took a #2 Ally’s Shrimp. Two seasons ago, I caught a beautiful, well conditioned, kyped and colored up 18” brown trout on a #2 Ally’s Shrimp. It’s a big, bright fly which tend to use in the morning before the water warms up (on an intermediate tip). I mainly use this tied on a #2 salmon iron, though I also tie it on tubes. 

Ally's Shrimp is one of my top "confidence flies"

Some Sort of Small Wet Fly

I don’t think the specific pattern matters all that much. As long as you have a small fly or two, you’ll be covered. By “small,” I mean #10 or #12, which is considered a pretty small wet fly for this time of year. There are three major scenarios when I decide to go to a fly this size:

  1. Very low water...even when the water is quite cold. It’s important to get the fly right in front of the fish in cold water, so you might have to use a sink tip even if the water is low
  2. Water that has been heavily pressured, especially when a lack of rain has kept the fish from changing pools
  3. When a fish rises to larger flies but won’t take, sometimes a very small fly does the trick

Even large fish take small flies. I landed a 15# salmon on a #10 Same Thing Murray. He rose twice for larger flies, but would only commit to taking a small fly. The Murray was the smallest fly in my box at the time. I keep a few different small patterns in my box. My favorite is a silver bodied fly called the M1 Killer. It also pays to have a small dark fly such as the Almost or Undertaker. 

Top to Bottom: M1 Killer, Red Butt Butterfly, Almost

Dry Flies:

Yes, it is possible to catch CT salmon on dry flies. I don’t fish dries often, but they can be effective under the right conditions (more on that in part IV). From what I hear, last season was great for dry fly salmon fishing on the Shetucket River. I know of at least two anglers who caught salmon on dries. One of them, a buddy of mine, had landed seven when I last saw him in mid-November. I wouldn’t be surprised if he went into double digits on dries. 

I really don’t think color matters as much as size. These fish hardly ever see dries since very few people will attempt to fish with them. I like a bright green, split-wing Bomber with brown hackle or a large White Wulff, both in a #6 or so. 

These dries weren't specifically meant for CT salmon,
but they do work now and then

Most of the patterns listed here will be on sale this season. I have sold CT broodstock salmon fly assortments in the past, but I plan on making a wider variety of flies available starting this season. They should be ready just before the first group of salmon arrives, so check back soon.

Part IV will focus on tube flies, so check back soon. 

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Part II - CT Broodstock Atlantic Salmon Fishing: Tackle and Gear

Ol' faithful...Sage Graphite II - 9' 7 wt.

Part II of the Connecticut broodstock Atlantic salmon series deals with what you'll need in the tackle and gear department. It is possible to travel really lightly. That said, I love to tie flies, so I tend to have more with me than I'd use in the next sixty seasons. I am constantly thinking about scaling back, but it never actually happens. Maybe this year...

Most of the CT salmon I have caught in the past have averaged about 8-10 lbs., give or take. In an average season, I probably catch about as many small salmon (3-6 lbs.) as I do large salmon (15 lbs. +). Some years, salmon in the 25-30+ lb. range were stocked. Even a lethargic 25 lb. salmon would be a chore to land on a 5 wt. rod. A spirited fish that size might break your rod or even die from being overplayed, so please don’t try to be the next Lee Wulff. Try to fight them fast and hard with tackle matched to the size of your quarry. 

There is one important bit of information which needs to be addressed before I get into specific tackle recommendations. As a result of the recent conversion of the Connecticut Atlantic salmon program from a restoration program to a legacy program, there will be some changes. The good news is that we will still see roughly the same number of salmon stocked in the Naugatuck and Shetucket Rivers (and perhaps even more stocked than in years past). The somewhat bad news is that the majority of fish will be stocked a year younger than they have been in past years. If my memory serves me correctly, there was a problem at the Kensington hatchery in the fall of 2009. All the salmon were stocked at one time and they were all smaller fish. I think they averaged between 3-6 lbs. I think that's what we'll see from this point on. That's still a fairly large fish to most southern New England trout fishermen. Those of us who are used to chasing larger fish might have to temper our expectations, however. 

Since we probably won't see many (any?) fish in the teens and up, I will probably scale down my tackle accordingly. I used five different rods last season. Here is a list:

9’ 6 wt. Vision GT Four (used when only smaller fish were present)
9’ 7 wt. Sage Graphite II*
11’ 6 wt. Sage Z-Axis switch rod*
11’3” 7 wt. Redington CPX switch rod*
13’ 7/8 wt. Korean-made spey rod

*rods most often used

What I use from this point on is largely dependent on how hard these smaller fish fight. I use my 11’ 6wt. Sage switch when chasing lake-run landlocked Atlantic salmon of a similar size, but those fish can be very energetic fighters. Both single handed rods will probably see more use as I intended on fishing hitched flies more this season. 

So, at least until I land a few fish, here’s what I recommend...


9’-10’ single handed rods for 6-8 wt. lines
10’-11’ switch rods for 5-7 wt. lines
12'+ spey rods for 5-7 wt. lines

Even with the larger fish around, I never felt too under gunned with the 9’ 7 wt.  I’ll probably continue to use that and my 6 wt. switch. Unless I really feel like casting it, my 13’ rod will most likely stay in the closet until my next trip to Canada. 

This 13' spey rod came in handy in very high and cold water

Reels, Line and Backing:

Any fly reel with a decent drag will be just fine. If all you have is trout gear and you don’t want to break the bank, check out the Orvis Clearwater large arbor reel. It’s inexpensive, reliable and the drag is enough to get the job done on these small salmon. I use one on my 10' 6" Echo 4 wt. switch rod for light two-handed trout fishing. I'm very happy with it. 

For single handed fishing, I prefer WF floating lines.

In the switch/spey department, I prefer fishing Scandinavian heads. There are many spots I fish where I’m “in the trees” and a Scandi setup allows for fairly long casts with little-to-no backcast room. 

Backing...I can only remember one CT salmon that actually took me into my backing.  A few others have come close. In this case, your backing is mainly there to help you pick up line faster. I use some of the same gear I use for Atlantic salmon fishing abroad, so I usually have no less than 150 yards of backing on any reel. You can get by with 80-100 though. 

Leaders, Tippet and Sinking lines/tips:

These fish are usually not too leader shy. With my single handed rods, I use hand-tied, 9’-10.5” mono leaders. When fishing a fly just under the surface with the switch or spey rod, I use a mono leader about 1.5 times the length of the rod. If I’m too lazy to tie a mono leader, I use a 10’ polyleader in either floating, hover or intermediate. To that, I attach anywhere from 4’-8’ of tippet (ballpark figure). 

Tippet size depends on the size fly you’re throwing. I don’t think I’ve ever gone below 6# test. I think the highest I’ve ever gone was 20# test (for turning over large, heavy, copper tube flies). I usually carry a spool of 6#, 8#, 10# or 12#, and 15# test on me at any given time. If I need something lighter or heavier, I get it from the car. 

As far as leader/tippet material goes, I only use Maxima Chameleon. It is stiff enough to turn over bulky flies relatively easily. I don’t find fluorocarbon tippet a necessity in this fishery. Maxima works as well as anything and is inexpensive. 

As far as fishing further down in the water column goes, I’ve never needed anything more heavy duty than the fastest sinking polyleader or Versileader. I don’t use an integrated sinktip line as I tend to change the depth of the fly depending on the water I’m fishing. I constantly move, so somedays I tend to swap polyleaders multiple times. 

Also, most of these fish don’t hold in as good of a push of water as wild salmon do. If they did, I would probably use an intermediate or sinking head more often. Typically, I only fish until December. You really don’t have to get down too far then. They will come up for a fly quite readily. If I had to guess, I probably don't fish much deeper than 8"-12" down from the surface, if that. 

A 2/0 Jock Scott w/sinking polyleader and Maxima Chameleon

Other Gear:

Warm clothes/layers - It probably goes without saying, but this is a necessity for fishing cold weather. Don’t forget your hat and gloves. 

Studded Boots - I find them very helpful, especially since I rarely carry a wading staff.

Polarized glasses - There are some spots where salmon can be sight fished, so it pays to have a good pair of sunglasses.

Net - I have never carried one. A net capable of handling a 25lb. fish is too bulky for me to carry around while wading. If the new fish max out at 6#, I might consider carrying a large trout-type net (smaller salmon are much harder to tail than larger salmon).

Wading Staff - As stated above, I don’t often bring one. With the spey/switch rods, I don’t need to wade too far out. If I am fishing water that is new to me or I have to make a tricky river crossing, I do bring one with me. I recommend you use one, especially if you don’t do this often or are unfamiliar with the water. 

Dry Fly Flotant - Yes, they can be caught on dries under the right conditions.

Forceps/Pliers - I tend to lose these, so it pays to have extras in the car.

Hook Hone - Keep those hooks sticky sharp!

Tube Fly Accessories - I always carry extra hooks and junction tube in case of accidental loss or damage.

Thermometer - Helpful in the beginning...Usually by mid-November it is cold all of the time, so I don’t feel the need to keep checking.

Tape Measure - Make sure it was calibrated by a fisherman (so it lies in your favor!)

Camera - You never know...

If I wanted to, I could fit all my flies into one box and all my gear in a small sling pack or wading jacket. I tend to move around a lot though, so I like to use a Simms Dry Creek Day Pack. I can pack a drink, extra fly boxes, warm clothes and some snacks or a lunch. 

Well, that’s about all I can think of at the moment. It looks like a long list, but it's much less than I carry when trout fishing anywhere other than small streams. Feel free to ask any questions if you have them. Stay tuned for Part III, coming soon...