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...

Rods:

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...

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