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.