Monday, December 28, 2015

Naugatuck Report - December 27, 2015 - A Good Way to End the Year

A good way to end 2015

My trip yesterday was most likely my last of the year. I couldn't have asked for a better day in December. Conditions were excellent. The air temperature ranged from 50º, when I arrived, to about 58º, when I left for home. The water was 48º, a temperature I would expect to see in mid-November, certainly not post-Christmas. Flows were good and dropping, around 369 cfs. It was overcast and gray almost all day long. Most of my trips this season happened in really low water. It was nice to fish a good flow in great conditions. 

The rig for today was my 11'9" Ross Reach, Abel Switch reel, Vision Ace 30' 380 grain float/intermediate Scandi head, a 7 ips Rio Versileader, and about three feet of 17 lb. test fluorocarbon tippet. Why so heavy? I use as heavy as I can get away with and I got away with it today. 

I used pretty much one fly all day long. Well, I did try a few others, but only one fly worked. No was a Picasse, the fly that has caught the lion's share of salmon for me this December. The only difference was that I tied today's fly on a 3/4" plastic tube instead of a Alec Jackson spey fly hook. I was getting tired of the "nippers," which have been getting worse lately. I added a long piece of junction tubing to hold the hook beyond the end of the materials. The same can be accomplished with a loop knot, but I didn't want the hook to flop around too much. It can also be accomplished by tying the fly on a shank and using a stinger hook, but I prefer the flexibility of tube flies. Anyhow, more on tube rigging in a future post. 

Picasse tube fly (aka "the antidote")

The Picasse tube did a great job. I hooked and landed all four of the day's salmon with it. That pushed the Picasse to top fly status for me this year (though my "observations post" reflects only the fall part of the season). The first was caught in a pool that doesn't produce for me most of the time. It is next to a very productive pool, so I figure it's worth a try since it's only a short walk. It's more of a spin fishing pool, but salmon can be found in the tail when the water is high enough. Catching a salmon there is very satisfying and I would have been happy with just that one. 

The next fish, a little guy, came at a pool I used to fish all the time, but haven't as much in these recent drought years. I went to the top of the run and landed one right away. I moved down the run and landed my largest fish of the day shortly thereafter. I was lucky to fish alongside anglers with good manners, something not always found at this pool. They were kind enough to move out of the way and give me room to land my fish. One was kind enough to take some pics and a video. Thanks, guys! 

Since I had an early gig that evening, I didn't want to spend very long at any one place. I left immediately after landing my third fish. I met up with my friend Sonny and we tried taking one pass each through several pools. I landed another little guy at the last pool I fished. What he lacked in size he made up for in the enthusiasm of his take. He tried to rip the rod right out of my hand! After that, I had to leave so I could make it to the gig on time. Sonny stayed and said he picked up one salmon at the very end of the day. 

This has been an incredible December. I never thought I'd see fishing this good this late in the year. Of course, we owe it to the freakishly warm weather we've had. I didn't even use the waders I bought to use in colder weather. That's pretty much over now, as is my fishing for a while. It's time to clean my gear, tie some flies, and work on some other projects. Once the water temps bottom out, I'll probably take a few trips on mild winter days to break cabin fever. Good luck if you go and remember to wear warm clothing. The days of fishing late December in only a light sweatshirt are over!

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Naugatuck River - Fall 2015 - Summary & Observations

Crisis narrowly averted! 

As of today, it is officially winter in southern New England, though we wouldn't know that by the weather. It feels like we never made it past mid-November. My best stretch of fishing happened in mid-December. With temperatures in the 60s, I didn't even wear a jacket. I never would have predicted that. Like the last two autumns, 2015 was another low water season. It hardly rained at all. 2013 was low, but it was a dream compared to 2014. This year made 2014 look somewhat desirable. Every year, we seem to get less rain when we need it the most.

Despite the shockingly low water, I noticed a big difference between this fall and last fall. In my experience, the 2014 fish were extremely skittish and fussy. Fall 2014 was the toughest season I've experienced in years. At the beginning of this fall, I expected the fishing to mimic last fall. It wound up being better than 2014. It wasn't the blockbuster season 2013 was, but I'd say it was about average in terms of productivity. The salmon were definitely more aggressive this year than they were last year. They didn't seem to be as put off by the low water. They were bigger, too. I didn't land any real whoppers, but caught a handful of fish in the 8+ lb. class. I hooked more salmon in fall 2015 than in I did in fall 2014 to spring 2015 and in far fewer trips. I had a couple trips with no action at all, but very few without at least a hookup. 

With the water being so low, the fish didn't have much opportunity to move around. As a result, I caught fish in fewer pools than normal. That was a drag, as I wasn't able to fish some of my favorite pools when they were in prime condition. Case in of my clients texted me two mornings after a rain. He said he was fishing that morning and asked where he should go. I looked at the USGS site and the river was at 250 cfs and it would be clear by then. There is a pool that is dynamite at that level, as close to a "sure bet" as you can get. I told him where to go and he landed two salmon in an hour. It is one of my favorite pools, but I never had a chance to fish it under the right conditions. I didn't even get to guide it at that level. The drought was bad enough the river wouldn't stay at a good level for that pool for more than half a day. So, I fished most of the same old places, day in and day out. They were very reliable, which was great, but it would have been nice to have a change of scenery every once in a while.

Low, clear water made small flies a good choice in the early season. 

I fished a fair amount in October and did well. November was full of guide trips and I barely fished at all. My clients caught salmon on most trips though, so I was very happy about that. After a wave of guiding and heavy music work wrapped up in early December, I was back out there again. It took me a second to get my bearings back, but I was on it in no time. The end of the fall was terrific fishing. 

Throughout spring, summer, and fall of 2015, I barely used a two handed rod. I used the two handers less than I have in any season since I started with them back in 2010. There just wasn't the water for it, even throughout most of the spring. A couple of opportunities presented themselves this fall, but almost all of my October and November fishing was with my 9' 7wt. rod. A couple of my clients had an opportunity to fish with their two handed rods. I have been using an 11'9" 7wt. switch rod most of December, mainly because I have been fishing some of the larger pools and I can get away with using it. A single handed rod would probably be fine though. Overall, it wasn't a great season for two handed rods. 

With the single hander, I used a floating line and mono leader throughout all of October and November. I caught a couple fish with a switch rod and Scandi/floating polyleader setup. Most of my two handed fish have come (in December) on a floating/intermediate Scandi head with a slow sinking polyleader. The goal wasn't to sink the fly to the stones as much as it was to hover the fly just above the heads of the salmon. I did have a couple of guide trips where we fished right after a good rain. A floating Scandi head and a 7.0 its Versileader did the trick.

The Catch-A-Me-Lodge caught my largest salmon this fall.

As far as flies go, I didn't rely on my previous favorites that much this season. I don't know why. I found that my "B list" flies, ones that I am not without, but aren't in my top five, were the right ones for the job. I only caught one salmon each on the Same Thing Murray and the Mickey Finn. I had one pull on a Sugerman Shrimp, but didn't hook anything with one. I didn't move anything on a Green Machine or a Snaelda which, along with the Sugerman, tied for best fly last season. I had no hookups with any sort of Sunray Shadow, though I moved a couple of fish with a hitched Sunray.

Because of the low water, I had much less use for tube flies than I normally do. The exception was small hitched tube flies, which I used a fair amount in the early season. I didn't hook any on a hitched tube, but got several salmon to show for it, which is fine with me. Anyhow, here is a list of the flies that hooked salmon for me this season:

Ally's Shrimp, Almost, Grizzly Bug, Split Wing Bomber (green/brown), Golden Shrimp (brass bottle tube), Same Thing Murray, Mickey Finn, Picasse, Undertaker (plastic tube), Catch-A-Me-Lodge, and the Grape (aluminum tube). The Catch-A-Me-Lodge was responsible for catching my largest salmon of the season. 

In order, my top three producers were the Almost (6 salmon), Picasse (4 salmon), and the Grape (3 salmon). 

In terms of numbers, the Almost came out on top for me this fall.

If I factored in flies that were effective while I was guiding, the Mickey Finn would come out on top of all, even the Almost. That is no surprise. It's in the running for top fly pretty much every year. It just caught a lot more fish for my clients than it did for me. The other flies that were winners with my clients were the Green Machine, Gray Ghost, and the Dirty Water Dog. Most of my guide trips fell during a period of time when the salmon were all over Mickey Finns, so the vast majority were caught on them.

Like the Almost, the Grizzly bug is both simple and deadly. 

Without a doubt, the highlight of my season was a day in October which brought two salmon to hand on dry flies. This was the first time I've ever caught more than one in a day on dries. Prior to that day, I had two other occasions this season where salmon came up to nail a dry fly. One of the two felt the hook, got spooked, and never came back. The other one was ultimately caught on a wet fly. I'd love to use the dry fly more often, but it is too inefficient for searching water. When fishing for a specific salmon or a known lie in low water, dries can be very effective and they are always exciting. The dry fly that produced the lion's share of the action for me this season was the Grizzly Bug. 


I am eager to start tying flies for 2016. I need to replenish my stock of shad flies for next spring. Also, I need to tie flies for a salmon fishing trip to the Grand Cascapedia and Bonaventure rivers next June. Until the weather catches up with the calendar, however, I'm going to keep fishing the Naugatuck. The past two brutal winters have been virtually impossible to fish. This year might be a different story. I'll keep you posted. As always, thanks for reading! 

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Naugatuck Report - December 15 and 17, 2015 - Rolling the Dice: Parts II & III

A Picasse, hot off the vise and already into fish

Back on November 5, I tried fishing for an hour while my son was at nursery school. I was convinced I'd catch at least two salmon, but I didn't get so much as a pull. I didn't try another nursery school trip until this week. I actually made two trips, using up both breaks I get while my son is learning his ABCs and playing with cars. It's kind of a crazy trip given that I spend almost twice as much time driving as I spend fishing.

The first trip was from 10am to 11:45 on December 15. It was a warm day. The air was 61º and the water was 50º. The river was up a bit at 194 cfs and the water had a little bit of color. It was sunny and very windy. I don't usually do well on very windy days. This day was no exception. Also, the sun was shining right in my eyes and I had trouble tracking my fly line. I had one pull, but it might have been from a fallfish. That was my second nursery school salmon strikeout.

I figured today would probably be my last chance to make nursery school magic happen. It would either be a strikeout or a home run. Today was cooler, but still a good temperature for fishing. The air was 54º and the water was 50º. The water came down to 154 cfs and was running clear. The sky was well overcast and there was a bit of drizzle. A high pressure system was making its way through, followed by low pressure later in the afternoon.

While still at home this morning, I tied a single Picasse on a #3 Daiichi Alec Jackson 2051. I wanted to tie more, plus a couple more Catch-A-Me-Lodges, but I only had time for one while my son ate breakfast and watched Curious George.

I'm glad I took the time to tie that fly. I started fishing at 10am once again. I had hooked, landed, and released salmon #1 by 10:05 on the Picasse. By 10:12, I had released salmon #2. Another pass through the pool a few minutes later resulted in yet another hookup on the Picasse, then a fish lost. Then I lost my lucky fly in a snag. I texted my wife and asked if she could leave work early and pick up the boy. I saw today going the way of last Sunday, with an obscene amount of action possible. She didn't go for it. Gah!

The clock was ticking. It was 10:55 and I took a final run through the pool with an Undertaker tube fly. BIG grab!! I saw the fish come out of the water. It was much bigger than the last three. To my dismay, the hook never took hold, but the salmon got pricked enough to spook. Oh well. Had I hooked and fought it, it might have made me late for nursery school pickup. Though it pained me to leave a pool full of eager fish, I had to be a responsible parent.

Two for three (and one near hookup) was pretty good for only 55 minutes of fishing. I'd say that was a home run. It makes up for the other two failed trips. If I could be guaranteed one hookup for every nursery school break, I would probably go every Tuesday and Thursday morning, totally shirking any other responsibilities I would normally attend to during that those times. Oh well, gotta get it while the getting's good! Maybe next Tuesday morning?


Maybe not...It looks like winter will be here as of next Tuesday, December 22. I don't think I will get out again before then. When I have a chance, I will post my observations on how fishing was this fall. I have plenty of gear reviews too, so look for them this winter. Thanks for reading and I hope you have a happy Holiday season! 

Monday, December 14, 2015

Naugatuck Report - December 11 & 13, 2015 - Recalibration

No luck at the new intersection of Ward and Spencer this season

Sometimes it is helpful to take a step back and reassess. It has been a busy season of work for me. I was able to juggle work and fishing throughout the early part of fall, but the end of November into early December was just too hectic and fishing had to take a back seat. Conditions changed and, when I was able to get back to the river again, the old techniques had stopped working. I got skunked one day at the beginning of December. I went out on the 11th, which was a beautiful day, and tried a few different techniques and flies. None of it paid off. 

I hooked up with my friend Bob later that afternoon. Bob has become a devotee of multi-density Scandi heads and a slow presentation. For Atlantic salmon, it seems excruciatingly slow to me, especially when the water temps aren't too cold. With the water low and the air temp high, I was sure I could get a fish to show for a hitched tube. No dice. Bob went at it with his slow swing and plastic tube fly and nailed two salmon that afternoon. I blanked. 

I went home and thought about what I saw. It seemed so odd to me that the fish were taking what I would consider large flies, fished so slowly, in such low water. I kept telling myself, "small flies fished slowly or large flies fishing quickly." Though I wanted to go back to my old tried and true methods, I knew they weren't working at the moment, so I decided to replicate Bob's methods as best I could on December 13. 

I used my Ross Reach 11'9" 7wt. rod paired with a 380 gr. Vision Ace floating/intermediate Scandi head. I added a 10', 2.6 ips Versileader and 3'-4' of 12 lb. test Maxima. I decided to fish flies with as much built-in mobility as possible. The goal was to hang the flies just over the salmon's heads for as long as possible and to let the action of the fly draw the fish into striking.

The start of a good day

December 13 was quite an amazing weather day. The water topped out at 52º and the air reached a remarkable 61º! The water was still quite low (125 cfs), but it didn't seem to bother the fish much, especially in the afternoon. 

Switching to Bob's method was definitely the right move. I got on the board very quickly with an Undertaker tied on a 1" plastic tube. The next three salmon came to hand on a Grape (1.25" aluminum tube), which turned out to be the fly of the day. The second fish was a hot 8 pounder. The salmon didn't jump, but made some very strong runs, which made my Abel Switch reel growl. I kept alternating between marabou tubes and spey-type flies. There was action in almost every pass through the pool. If I didn't hook up, I at least had a pull or had a fish on for a moment. I counted three fish which grabbed a fly, but fell off a few seconds later. One took a Canary and the other two took a sz. 5 Picasse

The Grape tied on a 1.25" aluminum tube

The best fish of the day was the last one. He nailed a #5 Catch-A-Me-Lodge and immediately ran upstream. His back was out of the water and he ran right up into the fast, shallow water at the top of the run. Before I knew it, he doubled back, jumped, then sulked. After sulking, he tore off downstream. It was a pattern which repeated itself several times. Jump, sulk, then big run. I managed to steer him away from a large snag in the middle of the pool and land him well downstream from where he was hooked. It was a fat salmon which I estimate was between 10-12 lbs. He was a very strong fish and I felt lucky to land him. The tough guy came unbuttoned when I bent down to remove the hook from his mouth so, unfortunately, no pic. He swam off like a shot and will be there for someone to catch another day. 

The final tally was five hooked, landed, and safely released, three others on for a few seconds, and several other pulls. It was a great day for any month, but especially for December. Note to self...often times, it pays to shut up and listen. 

The Catch-A-Me-Lodge nailed the biggest salmon of the day.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Getting Into the Spirit

Tying for a trip is my favorite kind of tying

Until this fall, I had never entered a preseason draw on any Quebec salmon rivers. I bought ten tickets for the Grand Casapedia wading sector and five for B sector on the Petite Cascapedia. Though I would love to fish the little river, I really want to fish the Grand. I didn't think I would win anything. In fact, I questioned why I was throwing money away. It's a little easier to stomach throwing money away when the exchange rate is favorable, however.

Anyhow, I didn't come up with much on the Petite Cascapedia. I was reservist #175. To my surprise, I drew #13 on the Grand Cascapedia! I still can't believe my luck. Not bad for my first try. I booked one day on the Lake Branch (89 run w/guide & canoe) and two days on the Salmon Branch. Since I'll be up there already, I'll pad the week with a few days on sectors C and D on the Bonaventure and try to score some more water in the 48 hour draws. 

Usually, I don't plan this far in advance. I like to shoot from the hip. Sometimes it works well, sometimes it doesn't. I decided to take a chance on a last minute trip last season and didn't end up going at all. It's nice to know I'm definitely going next year. 

I'm looking forward to getting my first shot at the big June Cascapedia salmon. I'm glad I bought that 13'9" 9 wt. rod, even if I didn't have plans to use it. I am going to practice with it often this spring. 

I can't wait to start tying for this trip over the winter. I mainly fish Miramichi-style flies everywhere, but I look forward to embracing some styles of salmon fly tying that are less familiar to me. I decided to kick off the trip tying early with a style I know fairly well. The Lady Amherst (pictured above) seemed like the most appropriate place to start. 

I'm not done with fishing yet this fall, but my thoughts are consumed with the anticipation of next June!

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Naugatuck Quick Report - November 20-21, 2015

Excerpted from "Flies For Connecticut Atlantic Salmon"

I don't have much to report. Last season, I lost November fishing days to the flu and a stomach virus. I've stayed pretty healthy this year, thank goodness. Late October and early November have been work, work, work....I'm not complaining. I love working. I love fishing too, though. My recent trips have been limited to an hour here, or 90 minutes there, most of the time during the worst part of the day or on an altogether bad day. I just wish I had more time to fish before winter rears its ugly head. Thankfully, there are few signs of winter on the horizon just yet. 

The last day I had to fish all day long was way back on November 1! I had that chance again on November 20. Too bad Mother Nature wrecked it. I fished a couple of pools and called it quits early. Rain brought the river up quite a bit and the Naugatuck at 1010 cfs and dirty isn't very fun or productive. I've had success in flows near that, but only when the water was relatively clear. Yesterday, I got tired of hooking the floating debris and leaves and went home early. 

The river was in much better shape today. The water temperature was between 46º-48º, which is warm for this time of year. The air temperature was about the same. The water was slightly off color, but not too bad. The flow was good, averaging around 350 cfs. I managed to squeeze in a couple hours and made one pass each through four different pools. 

I hooked one salmon in the second pool of the four. It didn't hit very hard and I actually thought I had hooked a branch. Then the branch leaped out of the water. I brought the salmon within a leader length from me before he jumped and spit my sz. 5 Picasse into a tree. It was better than nothing.

The madness continues next week with the most difficult in a series of recording sessions I've had in the past couple of months. Instead of fishing, that's probably what I will be doing. Maybe I can sneak out once during Thanksgiving weekend and get home in time to shower and make it to wherever I'll be playing that night. Like I said, I'm not complaining...just going through a slight fishing withdrawal! Get out there and prick one for me...

Friday, November 13, 2015

Dirty Water Dog

Happy client, unhappy salmon

Well, it's about the midpoint of the fall Atlantic salmon season here in Connecticut. I'm happy with how things have gone so far. Fall 2014 was the worst in recent memory. Even though the water has been dreadfully low this season, the fish have seemed to be much more aggressive than they were last season. Despite the good fishing, I am sad to signs of the upcoming winter. Most of the leaves have fallen off the trees in my yard. The sun sets early enough where evening trips to the river no longer make sense for me. Though I look forward to catching a big fish on a two handed rod and a copper tube fly, I'm going to miss fishing long leaders and small wet flies.I had today off and originally planned wetting a line. The 20-30 mph winds kept me home practicing music for an upcoming record date (which I should be doing anyway) and catching up on some much needed sleep.

You'll notice a lack of regular reports lately. It's not that I haven't been out on the water, I just haven't been fishing. Guiding has been in full swing and many salmon have been caught. Flies of choice so far have been the Mickey Finn (6 salmon!), the Green Machine, and the Grey Ghost. We even had some success on a subpar day, fishing in high, stained water. When fishing highly colored water, I have the most success with large tube flies. When the river is moderately stained, an Ally's Shrimp is my fly of choice. When it's heavily stained, I use a Temple Dog-style tube fly.

Here is a fly that was successful in very dirty water after our biggest rain of the season. It is essentially an all-orange Temple Dog. I sink the fly and fish it slowly to give the salmon ample time to see it. The Dirty Water Dog is an obnoxious looking fly but, if it saves the day, I don't mind one bit.

This particular color variation is new to me this season, but I have recipes for the original Temple Dog and some of its variants in my ebook "Flies for Connecticut Atlantic Salmon: How to Tie & Fish Them." I did not make a Temple Dog fly tying sequence because the best possible source is already out there.

Click here to watch the creator of the Temple Dog, Håkan Norling, tie his original fly. 

Dirty Water Dog - For fishing the filth
(Note: Only single hooks are legal for CT salmon fishing)

Dirty Water Dog

Tube: Nested 3 mm & 1.8 mm plastic or 1.8 mm plastic w/clear junction tubing
Tag: Oval gold tinsel
Butt: Fluorescent orange floss or Uni-Stretch
Tail: Hot orange Fluoro-Fiber
Rib: Oval gold tinsel
Body: 1/3 Holographic gold tinsel; 2/3 UV orange Ice Dub
Body Hackle: Hot orange rooster saddle
Throat Hackle: Orange hen saddle
Wing 1: Hot orange arctic fox with gold Angel Hair
Wing 2: Orange arctic fox with gold Flashabou
Wing 3: Orange snow runner with gold Angel Hair
Cheeks: Jungle cock
Head: Black or conehead (optional)

Note: If I plan on using a conehead, I do not weight the fly. If I don't use a cone, I wrap a layer of lead tape around the tube beneath the space allotted for dubbing. 

Light and dark versions

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Naugatuck Quick Report - November 5, 2015 - Rolling the Dice

Just about out of time

I've had some strong hunches in the past. Some have ended up being big scores. Some have not. In general, the stronger I felt about one of these hunches, the more likely it would pay off. I had one yesterday. The salmon have been all over Mickey Finns my last two trips. First, the trip Sonny and I made resulted in five salmon hooked on a #4 Mickey Finn (and one on the Same Thing Murray). I guided this past Tuesday and my client caught two on Mickey Finns, though slightly smaller than the one that worked last Sunday (#6 and #8).

I wanted to take advantage of this November "heat wave." The only problem was my lack of free time. I saw a window of opportunity. I would drop my son off at nursery school at 9:00am. It would take me almost an hour to get to the river. I would fish for an hour, then head back for a noon pickup. I had convinced myself I would catch at least one salmon, and probably more, on a Mickey Finn. Solid plan, right?

Well, it didn't quite work out. I got to the river on schedule, but they wanted nothing to do with my sz. 6 Mickey Finn. No worries, I'll try something smaller since the river was lower (122 cfs). I tried a small Same Thing Murray, tied on a sz. 10 Mustad 3399A. No dice. I was surprised given the temperatures, 56º water and 64º air. Ok, I would try a small, heavy Snealda, which has been a good "last resort" fly for me. They wouldn't take that, either.

I was out of time. I was shocked that my plan didn't go how I envisioned it. I was due, however. This was my first trip with no action at all. Maybe something would have happened if I got there earlier, stayed later, or just fished longer. It was sort of a crazy plan. I drove twice as long as I fished. The way I figure, it's that kind of optimism that makes the difference during the course of a season. It didn't pan out this time, but I will probably do it again the next time I get a hunch.

I arrived at nursery school with three minutes to spare.

Monday, November 2, 2015

Naugatuck Report - November 1, 2015 - The Big Payback

The only non-Mickey Finn salmon of the day

I owed a friend a big debt. Last spring, Sonny helped me get started fly fishing for American shad. I had a very good spring and caught many shad. Since my normal springtime sea run trout fishing was a bust, I was grateful to have shad fishing there to take its place. I promised Sonny I would reciprocate this fall when the salmon fishing was hot.

I warned Sonny that, unlike shad fishing, salmon fishing is a low numbers game. It's often a lot of work for brief moments of intense excitement. I made sure I stressed that it is not unusual to get skunked, especially when new to this type of fly fishing. Sonny didn't need my warning today, however.

It was a overcast day, ideal for salmon fishing. The temperature climbed into the upper 50s and the water temp rose by one degree (52ºF). The water has fallen to an acceptable level, one that is just about the minimum needed to fish with a two handed rod (175 cfs). I was happy to be able to use a switch rod again. I was even happier when I got on the board early, landing a salmon within a few minutes on a sz. 6 Same Thing Murray. Sonny turned up shortly after and we gave the pool a shot, albeit fruitless.

Sometimes the smaller ones fight harder than the big ones

We moved to another good pool and came up empty handed. We decided to get back in the car and try a third pool. The water was just right and the fish were really "on." A pass through with my Murray yielded nothing, but Sonny hooked up quickly on a sz. 4 Mickey Finn. He lost the fish moments after its first jump. I got out of the run and made my way back to the top of the pool. Sonny was on again! He landed the second fish on his little switch rod, which started its life as a single handed rod. It was his very first Atlantic salmon!

I figured I should tie on a sz. 4 Mickey Finn, seeing how well it was working for Sonny. Before I could get back to the top of the run, Sonny hooked up again! Crazy!! He lost this fish, unfortunately. I was cracking up. The luck on this guy!

After what seemed like an eternity, I finally got my Mickey Finn in the water Within a few minutes, I was tight to a salmon. This fish wasn't a jumper like Sonny's salmon were. This fish was a runner. It was a white knuckle fight. The salmon ran right past a rock, one which past salmon have successfully used against me. I thought it was over for me but, luckily, the salmon ran past the rock and jumped next to the far bank. Meanwhile, I was running as fast as I could downstream in order to get the fish away from the rock. My scrambling paid off and I was able to steer the crazed salmon into the open water and eventually land it.

Ol' faithful does it again

I went back to the top of the run. On the way up, Sonny yelled that he had rolled yet another salmon. I was giving him the instruction to wait and rest the fish for a moment when he cast again and the salmon took. This fish put on quite an aerial display. Sonny was hootin' and hollerin' with every leap. It was the biggest fish of the day. Sonny fought the salmon like a pro and I netted the fish for him. He was elated and I was very happy for him!

Sonny with his leaper

Hooking up just once is a good day of salmon fishing around here. Going two-for-four on one's first day of salmon fishing is incredible. I told Sonny he should just give up now, because it probably won't get much better than that. My two salmon hooked and landed, a more "normal" result, was my only action. I was perfectly content with my pair. More importantly, I was happy for my friend and was glad I could return the spades!

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Naugatuck Report - October 24, 2015 - Shumakov to the Rescue

Sometimes it pays to bring the oddball flies

I knew better than to expect a repeat of my last trip. Both the air and water temps have dropped quite a bit since last Tuesday. Today, the air temperature topped out around 50º and probably didn't stay there for very long. The water temperature was 51º when I checked it around 11:30 this morning. Going into today, I knew ultra aggressive salmon were not going to be in the cards.

Last night, I thought about which fly might be the one to use. A #10 Almost has been my hot fly this season, but I figured I'd need something a little bigger, heavier, and more colorful to tempt a lethargic salmon. I remembered a tube fly I had tied for a trip Russia's Kola River back in 2012. The pattern is called the "Golden Shrimp." It was created by the late Yuri Shumakov, a very innovative Russian fly tyer. I definitely didn't fish the fly while in Russia. Before today, I'm not sure I had ever fished anywhere. Sometimes a particular fly speaks to us. For some reason, this one spoke to me. I chose to listen and I'm glad I did.

An original Golden Shrimp
Tied by Yuri Shumakov for the Kola River

I almost always make my first run through a pool a conservative one. I fish a relatively small, unweighted fly, hoping to bring a salmon to the surface. I can't remember what I tried first. Maybe it was an Almost, but I'm not sure. Anyhow, it didn't work. I went right to the Golden Shrimp on my next pass. About 10 minutes later, I was tight to a salmon. If I had my druthers, I'd have caught it with a two handed rod, swinging a size 6 or 8 wet fly just under the surface. Instead, I had to settle for putting a small, heavy brass tube fly right in the salmon's face with my 9' 7wt. Sage. I'll take it. 

I explored some other water today, but didn't find much going on. I was even reprimanded for parking on a private road! I've never had an issue there in the past. I've had locals ask me how the fishing was and make small talk. I guess I just ran into the wrong dude today. Oh careful where you park. 

Eventually, I made my way back to the original pool. I fished a sz. 8 Sugerman Shrimp through the run. Normally, I would swing the fly. The flow is still so weak (80 cfs) that I had to strip it. When the salmon are lethargic, don't expect bone crunching takes. Under these conditions, they often nip at the back end of a fly. A salmon grabbed my Sugerman Shrimp, but I pulled the fly out of his mouth while stripping. The fish felt the steel and it was game over. 

I wanted to get home early, so I decided to try the "Hail Mary pass" when I went back to the top of the run. I stripped an HKA Sunray as fast as I could and got another short strike (from a different fish). I rested the fish and tried again. The salmon came back for the fly, despite feeling the hook. I was surprised. I got the fish up once more on a hitched Sunray Shadow. Unfortunately, that was as far as I got before I had to head home. 

Under the circumstances, I'm pleased with how today went. If nothing else, it made me realize I need a better plan for low water salmon who prefer to nip at the back end of a fly rather than grabbing it with gusto. I have plenty of flies for those fish when the water is up (this behavior is common in the winter and early spring), but not as many options for cold conditions in unusually low water. The gears are spinning and I will be well armed next time. 

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Naugatuck Report - October 20, 2015 - Adrenaline!

Yes, they will take dry flies.

Whew! If I provided a fish-by-fish account of today, this post would be way too long! I can't even remember all the details. "Pandemonium" is the best way to sum it up.

Fish were all over the same sz. 10 Almost I used to catch my last salmon. In fact, I hooked five salmon on that fly today. I landed all but one. They pursued it very aggressively. It was really intense.

Better still, I managed to hook and land two on dry flies. One absolutely exploded on a sz. 8 Grizzly Bug, then went totally berserk, cartwheeling all over the pool. The other took a sz. 6 Split Wing Bomber (green w/brown hackle). That fish also went nuts, though the take was a little less explosive than the first.

This Almost is ready for retirement.

The grand total was seven salmon hooked and six landed. Interestingly enough, only one took the fly on the first pass (the smallest fish). Every other fished showed anywhere from one to five times before finally taking. Both dry fly fish initially showed for the Almost.

I pricked a couple others on dries, but did not connect. I rose one early in the day on a sz. 10 Cascade, but could not get the fish to come back. I had my hands full today!

The details...air temps topped out in the mid-to-upper 60s. The water was 58ºF. Flows are still excruciatingly low, around 80 cfs. Sometimes the fish can overlook the low water, I guess.

Today's action aside, the water is so low, I've found it difficult to get into a rhythm while fishing wet flies. Because of this, I have been fishing dries more often lately. I hear a lot of anglers say that, in order to catch these salmon, we must fish deep with heavy flies and/or sinking lines. While that can be true under certain conditions, there are times when they are willing to take a fly from the surface. Not every year is conducive to good dry fly fishing. Right now is the time to fish dry flies. Get in on it while it lasts!

My ebook "Flies for Connecticut Atlantic Salmon" provides tips on when, where, and how to fish dry flies for broodstock salmon. Check it out!

Today's trio of winning flies

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Naugatuck Report - October 11 and 16, 2015- Sorry for My Tardiness

The Grizzly Bug is a very effective dry fly.
From "Flies for Connecticut Atlantic Salmon"

I apologize for not getting the first part of this report out sooner. To say that life has been hectic lately would be an understatement. It's all good stuff though. Work is bustling. I'm writing this quickly before I head to the recording studio for the day, then off to the gig at night. I have to force myself to get enough sleep, which sort of goes against my nature. Anyhow, the reports...

October 11 was a late start for me. I had gotten in at 1:00am , so I didn't on the river until about 10:00am. Most of the action seem to happen that morning. My friend Bob was fishing by sunrise. He hooked two and landed one, both on streamers. I seemed to arrive at the tail end of the action. My first pass through the pool raised a salmon on a hitched tube fly. I rested the fish and tried a dry fly, the Grizzly Bug (pictured above). The salmon left his lie and tried to grab the fly. He didn't swallow it whole, but got enough of it in his mouth to feel the bit of the hook. I didn't hook him, but I freaked him out enough to not come back.

I couldn't stay very long, as I had an early gig that evening. That was the extent of my action for the day. It was a very bright and sunny day with no clouds in the sky. The water had dropped back to around 80 cfs. Once the sun lit the pools, the salmon seemed to shut down. Despite a lack of action, it was fun to raise a salmon on surface flies.

October 16 was the first day I was able to get out for a significant amount of time. I didn't take the water temperature, but it definitely felt cooler. I would guess it was in the mid to upper 50s. The water is as low as I've ever seen it, around 70 cfs. I saw a few fish that morning, but couldn't get a grab. It was very windy early in the day and the river was filling with leaves. Fortunately, the strong winds died down eventually.

I moved to my confidence pool and was happy to see it unoccupied. After prospecting with a blue Bomber, I made my way to the top of the run and tied on a sz. 10 Almost, a great fly for when the salmon feel skittish. Within five minutes I was tight to a salmon. It wasn't an explosive fight, but it lasted a lot longer than I thought it would. The fish seemed sluggish at first, but starting turning on the longer the fight went on. He made three strong runs, but only jumped once. I dropped my net, so I had to tail him. It is very difficult to tail salmon under 24" or so. This one was around 28" and 7-8 lbs., so tailing him was not a problem. Since my net was lying on the bank far upstream, I didn't get picture, preferring to get this guy on his way as quickly as possible.

Other than catching a holdover rainbow trout on a black Snaelda, that was the end of the action for me. I left earlier than I planned, around 5:00pm. This low water is frustrating. It is difficult to get into a rhythm when swinging wet flies. The flow is so anemic, most of the better runs can be adequately covered in under 10 minutes. Normally, some of these runs would take 30-45 minutes to fish. It is very frustrating. To make things more fun and interesting, I am making surface flies a priority for now and am fishing mostly hitched tubes and dry flies. We'll see how that goes. 

Friday, October 9, 2015

Naugatuck Report - October 9, 2015 - A Very Small Window of Opportunity

A "slippery hook" Ally's Shrimp

About a week ago, I played a concert at the Palace Theater in Waterbury, Connecticut. Both coming and going, I said to myself, "You're going to be stuck traveling the backroads this entire fishing season." Anyone who drives through the area knows how bad I-84 is. Since the latest Waterbury construction project started, traffic has been much worse than normal. I took Rt. 68 all the way to Naugatuck for my first fishing day of this season. The I-84 traffic must be pushing people out onto the side roads, because Rt. 68 was busier than I'm used to seeing it. Oh well, it's the cost of doing business, as they say.

I got on the water around 4:00pm. It began to rain lightly around 4:30pm. Around 5:00pm, I was fishing in a bonafide deluge. I couldn't even make out the run I was fishing. The water looked like it was boiling. When water began to seep beneath my wading jacket, I figured I would head towards the car. Lightning helped me move more quickly. I drove to an overpass to pack up my gear before heading home with my tail between my legs, but something told me not take my waders off just yet.

Though I had broken down my rod, I headed to another spot. The rain was beginning to taper off a bit. There were muddy streams of water flowing into the river all over the place, but I thought a short window of opportunity might come from this mess.

The best time to be on the water is when it is falling and clearing, though a good (but brief) taking time occurs just as the river begins to rise. I managed to hit that brief period around 6:00pm. I had been fishing with small flies, but switched to an Ally's Shrimp (sz. 6), which is my favorite fly for off-color water.

A salmon grabbed my shrimp within five minutes of my arrival. Judging by all the head shaking, I guessed I had a male on the line. The salmon took off in a slow, but unstoppable run downstream. He didn't turn around until he was about 20 yards into my backing. Prior to hooking this fish, I've had only two other broodstock salmon take me into my backing. Once the fish turned around, I began to gain positive yardage. I didn't get very far before the hook pulled out.

That was the only action I had all night. It's only four hours later and the river has already doubled in flow from where it was when I hooked that fish. The taking window was very short indeed. I don't really like starting my season with a lost fish but, considering all the headaches, I'm happy with how today went.

Monday, September 28, 2015

Cascade: Video Step-By-Step

Here's another video tutorial, this time a shrimp/longtail pattern made famous by Scotland's Ally Gowans. Forgive the dog barking and telemarketing calls...

Monday, September 21, 2015

"Flies for Connecticut Atlantic Salmon - How to Tie and Fish Them" Ebook available now!

Over 300 pages of tying instruction, fly recipes, and fishing tips

Flies for Connecticut Atlantic Salmon
How to Tie and Fish Them
by Ben Bilello

    Connecticut’s broodstock Atlantic salmon fishery is the only one of its kind in the United States. For local anglers, broodstock Atlantic salmon fishing is one of the most reliable ways to catch a large fish in fresh water. For anglers interested in Atlantic salmon fishing, this fishery is a great resource for learning and practicing the techniques used to catch Atlantic salmon around the world.

    “Flies for Connecticut Atlantic Salmon” has recipes for 75 effective wet, dry, and tube fly patterns, as well as 11 in-depth, step-by-step tutorials. Instructions on how, when, and where to fish these flies can be found throughout the book. The premium edition has embedded links which allow the reader to easily jump between pages, chapters, and a fly pattern index. Other premium edition links allow the reader to examine flies, tying techniques, and fishing strategies found on external websites. “Flies for Connecticut Atlantic Salmon” is a valuable resource for fly tyers and non-tying anglers alike. 

Premium Edition (for Mac OS X, iPad, and iPhone) - $19.99

PDF Edition (compatible with all operating systems) - $14.99

Monday, August 31, 2015

Classic and Modern Fly Shop Update - Now Live

New flies, like this Temple Dog, are now available.

The Classic and Modern Fly Shop has been updated and is now live. Check it out by clicking here. 

The Paypal cart is gone and all orders will be done through email. Though this seems like a step backwards, more flies and sizes are will be available. Since each order is now a custom order, consider ordering in advance of the Connecticut salmon season for fastest service. 

Thanks for checking out the fly shop! 

Monday, August 24, 2015

Gearing Up for Fall

...and I still feel like I don't have enough

Well, we could be salmon fishing in Connecticut in as little as month from now. Let's hope the weather cooperates. In the meantime, I am getting my fly boxes together, oiling my reels, and making sure all my ferrules are clean. Also, I am going to disinfect my boots and waders, so as not to spread any harmful aquatic species, such as didymo. I suggest you do the same! 

Fly Shop Update

For the past few years, I have kept a small inventory of salmon flies in stock for the CT broodstock season. Because of the time it took to write my forthcoming ebook, I didn't have a chance to replenish my stock this summer. I will still take orders, though it won't be as easy as adding them to your PayPal cart from my website. In the next week or so, I will post pics of flies and prices in the Fly Shop page on my site. If you are interested in buying flies for the upcoming season, just send me an email. Let me know which flies you'd like, the sizes, and the quantity of each. If you need help choosing flies, I would be glad to offer suggestions. 

If possible, get to me early for the fastest service. Once fall gets rolling, I will be fishing, guiding, and doing a lot of performing and recording sessions. 

Book Update

The book is pretty much done. It is being proofread and edited now. After that, I need to submit it to online vendors, which shouldn't take long. I'm aiming for a release date around the first or second week of September, which should coincide well with the upcoming salmon season. I'll be posting more updates as it gets closer to launch, so check back often. 

Still missing Sugerman Shrimps, size 10. Time to get on it! 

Monday, August 17, 2015

New "Flies for Connecticut Atlantic Salmon" ebook Available Soon!

Sorry I have not posted in several weeks, but I have been busy putting the finishing touches on a new ebook. The book, at the moment called "Flies For Connecticut Atlantic Salmon: How to Tie and Fish Them," accurately reflects the working title. Here are some details:

Over 300 pages of fly patterns, tying tips and instructions, and recommendations on how and when to fish each fly

11 step-by-step tutorials for the most valuable broodstock salmon flies (5 wet fly tutorials, 1 dry fly tutorial, and 5 tube fly tutorials)

Over 50 additional pattern recipes 

Extensive breakdown of tying and fishing tube flies

Detailed explanations of salmon wet, dry and tube fly anatomies 

Advice on selecting the proper tools and materials 

Broodstock salmon fishing tips and strategies 

Clickable links to bring the reader to external websites 

Clickable links to navigate to external fly tying tutorials and videos

...and much more!

The book will be a valuable resource for fly tyers and non-tyers alike. It will also prove useful for those who live elsewhere, but wish to learn tying techniques for Atlantic salmon and steelhead. 

A premium, feature-rich version will be available for Apple OS and iOS devices (Mac, iPad, and iPhone). For those who don't use Apple products, the book will be available in PDF form at a lower price. I hope to have the book ready before the start of the Connecticut broodstock Atlantic salmon fishing season, most likely the beginning of September. 

Stay tuned for more information in the coming weeks! 

Monday, July 13, 2015

Gray Ghost Bucktail & Good News! (re: Kensington Hatchery)

Blasphemy, perhaps, but it works 

There's not much to say about this one. The Gray Ghost is a classic New England streamer we all know and love. This rendition liberally substitutes both natural and synthetic materials. The way I figure, if you're going to tie a big streamer, it might as well be flashy.

This fly is a small piece of a project I have brewing. I'll post more specific news about that as it takes shape. Until then, here is the recipe...


Gray Ghost Bucktail

Hook: Daiichi 2271; sz. #1-#2 or Mustad 9672 (R74); sz. #2-#6
Thread: White 6/0 & Black 6/0
Tag: Silver mini flat braid
Rib: Oval silver tinsel (wide)
Throat: White bucktail and yellow hackle 
Wing: Grey bucktail with UV Pearl Krystal Flash (optional); topped with peacock herl
Shoulder: Silver pheasant body feather
Sides: Jungle cock (optional)
Head: Black with red thread band (optional)


Good News!

Autumn can't get here soon enough

Yesterday morning, I checked the Connecticut River Salmon Association's website like I do from time to time. They are a great organization and I high recommend browsing their site and learning about all the great work they do. Anyhow, I noticed a headline about how the Kensington hatchery has made it back into the state's budget. There is more information about the recent legislative session on the CT River Alliance's website

This is great news! Thank you to all who wrote letters, emails and made phone calls on behalf of the Kensington hatchery, its staff and its trout and salmon. It looks like we'll have another salmon season in Connecticut in 2015. Start tying flies now. Fall will be here before you know it! 

Monday, July 6, 2015

Urban Fishing...why not?

Fishing for Atlantic salmon in Shonguy, Russia.
Some buildings look like they are straight out of a WWII movie.
(Picture courtesy of J. Springer)

I've been fortunate enough to fish some truly spectacular places. The Colorado River, in Lee's Ferry, Arizona, is deep within Glen Canyon, the entrance to the Grand Canyon. The scenery was spectacular enough for me to miss a few wild rainbow trout, being totally memorized by the height, color and textures of the canyon walls. Staring into the crystal clear water of Quebec's Bonaventure River can be just as hypnotic. The beautiful blue Pacific off the coast of Hawaii's Big Island is truly a sight to behold. If I had to pick one place to spend the rest of my life, it would probably on one of the Hawaiian Islands.

It can be just as easy to get wrapped up in the beauty of my local water. What's prettier than the Housatonic River in autumn? My hometown shores of Narragansett, Rhode Island are beautiful and have enormous sentimental value to me. When a bald eagle flies over the Farmington River, I always stop what I'm doing to watch it glide by.

Many of us fish to be in places like the ones mentioned above. It's a great escape from a hectic office or life in a frantic city. The air is clean, the colors are vivid and they are places where we can clear our heads and appreciate the beauty of our surroundings.

Having said all of that, I'm not one to let the grit of what has come to be called "urban fishing" bother me one bit. In fact, I spend more time than ever fishing in urban environments. It's remarkable how good urban fishing can be. In fact, some of my most memorable fishing experiences have been in cities. For anglers willing to swap beautiful meadows and beaches for rundown industrial parks and highway overpasses, there is some excellent fishing to be had in cities across the globe.

Jock Scott and trash

Like a lot of fly fisherman, I was initially put off by the noise commonly found in urban fisheries. The traffic sound is probably the biggest aural distraction, followed by the occasional sounds of sirens. One of my best days of fishing anywhere was on the Dutch side of the island of St. Maarten. I fished behind a police station, which happened to be next to a busy traffic circle. The ever present sound of roaring engines, police and ambulance sirens, and car horns was enough to drive a fly fisherman mad. Hitting concrete walls with my backcast didn't help, either. Despite the less than idilic setting, the place was loaded with small tarpon who were on the feed. It was pretty easy to block out the noise when 10-25 lb. baby tarpon were busy inhaling topwater flies.

Some places have a "unique" scent, which can be even more off-putting than the sounds. The Naugatuck River has a slight aroma. It bothered me a little at first. I have since learned to ignore it. I've fished there so much, I'm not sure I can detect it anymore. It's not bad in most places. There is one area, however, that I won't fish due to its proximity to a sewage treatment plant. The smell is just too much for me. It's a shame. There are some nice pools there although, as tolerant as I am, I just can't stomach it for any length of time.

This dragon reminds me of old Powell & Peralta skateboard graphics.
I have to say, I actually like some of the graffiti.

Then there are the eyesores. My newly found shad fishing spot fits into this category. There is trash almost everywhere. There are tires in the water, liquor bottles all over the banks, graffiti on most flat surfaces, and abandoned factory buildings all around. I only started fishing there this year but, since I have been conditioned by other urban fisheries, the setting rarely bothered me. When the fishing was red hot, as it was on a few occasions, all I saw was the water, the fish, and my line flying out of my reel.

Finally, there are the people. In some cases, there are lots of people, many of whom offer unsolicited fishing tips any chance they get. Most wouldn't know which end of a hook to tie on their line. However, for every five or so delusional "experts," there is someone who will offer really helpful advice. The best tips usually come from conventional fishermen, not other fly anglers. The delicate sensibilities of the fly angler usually keeps him or her away from such locations, but spin fishers are no strangers here. Many are totally keyed into what's going on in their urban fishery. Every season on the Naugatuck, the information I find most reliable comes from a small group of spin fishing friends who know the river inside and out.

Then there are the impoverished. Sometimes I find it difficult to enjoy my leisure time when I'm looking right at a homeless person who is sick and living under a bridge. It's an image that can be difficult to witness, especially in cold weather. If I know I might come across someone who has fallen on rough times, I pack an extra sandwich in case I bump into him or her.

Old friends, catching up behind an abandoned waterfront factory

So they are the people you might want to talk to. How about the ones you'd rather avoid? Some are more irritating than others. The graffiti artists vandalize public and private property, but some of their artwork is pretty cool. The dog walkers can be a real problem, especially if they let their dog swim into the pool while people are fishing. Drug addicts and dealers are an unwelcome part of urban fishing, but most keep a low profile and are rarely a problem.

As far as directly affecting the quality of fishing goes, the worst culprits are the rule breakers and poachers. Never have I witnessed such overt displays of poaching as I did when fishing northern Russia's Kola River. When a pair of camo-clad poachers stretch a net right below your pool, you might as well pack up and move, because not much is getting through. The worst part was seeing that activity go unpunished in the less regulated sectors of the river. It happens at home, too. Maybe not as frequently or on such a grand scale, enough to be a real downer.

Kola River poachers hard at work
(Picture courtesy of J. Springer)

Spectators can be another annoying byproduct of urban fishing. Did you just land a really big fish right next to a park's walking path? Have you ever caught fish after fish within view of passersby? Having a great day of urban fishing can be a longterm kiss of death if people see you and call their friends. It happened to me earlier this season. Other than giving up when the fishing is good, which is silly, I'm not sure how to prevent being watched.

Despite the drawbacks, I've had enough positive  urban fishing experiences to keep me going. Unless it's downright dangerous, I'd never turn down a chance to experience good fishing just because it wasn't in a wilderness, or even suburban, setting. I spend virtually all spring and fall fishing in urban settings. I have made memories and new friends while urban fishing. I have taken some interesting pictures that really tell a story. Best of all, I have caught some serious fish right in the middle of the city. All this and very few mosquito bites to show for it!

The payoff: A beautiful springer caught between a
water treatment plant and train tracks.