Monday, December 26, 2016

Gear in Review 2016

Sage One 9' 7wt. with "Ol' Faithful"


     I've said it here before. I'm usually not on the cutting edge when it comes to buying the newest tackle. I can't afford to be! I fished with two Sage One series rods this year, a 9' 7 wt. and a 12' 6" 7 wt. I know the Ones are several years old, but they are the nicest rods I've ever owned. I was able to unload a lot of gear this year and I picked up a lot of gear at very good prices. The trick is to not be in a hurry and to wait until the right thing pops up used or on sale. Also, buying gear from Canada (with a very favorable exchange rate) saved me an awful lot of money. 

     The Sage One 790 was a closeout demo model from a local fly shop, UpCountry Sportfishing. At first, I checked it out and decided to pass. Trout fishing was slow that afternoon and I kept thinking about the rod. I wound up driving back to the shop, trading in my old Echo 4106 switch rod, and walking out with the One. My old Sage Graphite II rod is getting long in the tooth, plus I wanted a 7 wt. that would work well with my favorite reel, the Islander IR4. The One and the IR4 balanced well together. This combo is so much lighter in hand than my old 7 wt. outfit. It throws laser loops, but I feel like I have been fishing a 5 wt. trout rig all day long. 

     I was afraid we wouldn't have a salmon season in CT this fall, so I took the rod out for an evening bluefish blitz. I didn't use the IR4. That would have been crazy. I burned out a pawl during the spring American shad season. Bluefish would have destroyed the reel (and my hands). Instead, I used an Islander LX 3.6. Fortunately, it wasn't too windy for a 7 wt. The rod was a little underpowered for bluefish, of course, but it sure was fun. I probably caught two-to-three times as many blues in one night as I did all my salmon this fall. The rod is a keeper, though I just tried the same model Sage X one of my clients happened to buy, so...

Sage One 7126 and Danielsson L5W 8twelve

     I acquired my Sage One 7126 in a straight trade for my TCX of the same size. Though technically I got this rod in 2015, I didn't really use it until a trip to Canada in June 2016. What a rod! It's so light, it felt like I was using a switch rod. Goodbye fatigue. Paired with a Danielsson L5W 8twelve, a 480 gr. Rio Scandi head, and a Rio GripShooter running line, the combo performed admirably, landing salmon up to 15 lbs. I really like having a downlocking reel seat again. I wouldn't mind having a larger, more robust version of this rod, maybe an 8136 or a 9140. 

Redington CPX 9139 and Loop Classic 8-11
Fighting a fish on the Cascapedia's Lake Branch

     I bought an inexpensive used Redington CPX 9139 in case I needed a beefier combo. I paired it with a borrowed Loop Classic 8-11. I wasn't too crazy about this pairing. It felt too clunky and it was tiring to cast. Also, I'm not crazy about classic style, S-handle reels. I suppose I'm glad I have this rig though, just in case I need it. Like I said above, I wouldn't mind replacing it with something like a comparable One or an X (and a different reel), but I'll worry about that the next time I plan on fishing a river with large, early season salmon. 

Beulah Platinum 590 and Abel TR2

     I replaced some trout fishing gear this year too, which was long overdue. For many years, I fished with an Echo II 9' 5 wt. rod. It always felt too stiff. It had no feel. Since most of my trout fishing is with dry flies, I like a rod with a more moderate action. I picked up a closeout Beulah Platinum 590 for a song. I paired it with an Abel TR2. I would have preferred to pair it with an Islander IR3, but I didn't find one in time (I wound up finding one later and paired with my Orvis TLS 4711). Anyhow, I like the Abel TR2 a lot. I wish the drag was adjustable from the outside but, other than that, it's a really terrific reel. The Beulah rod was just what I was looking for. It has way more feel than my old Echo. It's a very nice dry fly rod. My main trout fishing setup is a 4wt., so I didn't use this 5 wt. rig as much as I would have liked to. I caught my personal best dry fly trout with it though, so I can't complain!

     After losing a piece of my Ross Reach 7119 during shad season (then being reunited with it), I decided to get another. I never found one for a good price, so I bought a Ross Reach 6126 while they were on closeout at Sierra Trading Post. This was back when there were still 35% and 40% off STP coupons. The 6126 throws the same lines as the 7119, so I'm safe in case anything happens to one. I never got a chance to try it, so it will have to wait until next spring. It's a shame Ross Reach rods are no longer made.

     I picked up a couple of inexpensive reels, too. I found an old Scientific Anglers System 10 (same as Hardy Marquis Salmon 1) and paired it with my Sage Z-Axis 6110. I wish I had a chance to use it more, but I'm sure it will get a workout next spring. I also got a cheap, used Orvis Battenkill IV as a backup for my Abel Classic Switch. It seems like an ok reel. It's definitely not as nice as the Abel, but it is a lot less expensive. The click drag is a little too tight, so I fiddled with the spring to loosen it up. Next shad season, I'm planning on keeping a different density line on the Abel, Orvis, and SA reels, then bringing two rods with me to make experimenting with depth easier.

    It sounds like a ton of gear, right? I have all the drum gear I need, plus I was good about selling an item of fishing gear almost every time I bought a new item. Like I said, I had to wait for my price on a lot of items, but I saved money in the end (as much as possible when spending it on this silly stuff). I don't have much more gear than I had at this time last year and my wife is none the wiser!

Other Gear

Patagonia Foot Tractor Wading Boots...don't use on wood floors!

     This was the first full season I used my Patagonia Rio Gallegos zip-front waders. I got these at the very end of last season, so they are the previous generation. They are very roomy up top, but that made them perfect for cold weather layering. I was very impressed with how comfortable they are. The Rio Gallegos are much more comfortable than my old Simms G4 Pro waders (stiff). Sometimes I forget I'm wearing waders.  Time will tell if they are as durable as the Simms but, at the moment, I much prefer the Patagonia waders. I will probably buy a new pair of the current generation Rio Gallegos next year. Supposedly, Patagonia refined the fit so they aren't as baggy as the old ones. I'll save the old ones for late fall through early spring and use the newer model throughout the warmer months. I am really glad I made the switch to Patagonia. 

     I just got a pair of Patagonia Foot Tractor wading boots a couple of weeks ago. So far, I like them almost as much as the waders. I have always been a felt boot fan, so I was a little skeptical. Man, those aluminum bars grip! If I had them a week sooner, I might not have fallen onto those rocks, bashed up my left leg, and tore a calf muscle. Sometimes I feel the bars slide a tiny bit, then they catch. They are much easier to get on and off than my old boots, which is a plus. My complaints are minor. They are sort of heavy, so I will probably use other boots for long hikes. Also, I wish they drained a little better. They grab hold of the bottom so well, it's easy to forget those two things. The Patagonia Foot Tractor wading boots will get their real test in the spring when the American shad, striped bass, and seatrout ascend their gnarly rivers.

Fishpond Nomad El Jefe net with a nice landlocked salmon

     Last season, I left my Fishpond Nomad mid-length net on the roof of my car, only to have it fall off and get crushed by an eighteen wheeler. I was bummed. It was a little too small for my needs, so it was the perfect time to replace it with the Fishpond Nomad El Jefe net. The El Jefe is a little longer than the mid-length net and has a slightly larger, deeper basket. Otherwise, it is pretty much the same great wading net as my last one. It also doubles as my wading staff. The largest fish I fit into the El Jefe was about 28". That salmon had to be "folded" a little. I don't think it would work for a fish much longer than that. As a sidenote, the El Jefe didn't fit into my Smith Creek net holster as well as its predecessor did. The El Jefe slid around too much. I'm going to go back to the drawing board on this one and figure out a solution in the spring.  

     In addition to making great products, both Patagonia and Fishpond should be commended on their ethical business practices and their commitment to keeping our environment as pristine as possible. If you have a moment, click the following links to read more about the respective corporate responsibilities of both Fishpond and Patagonia. I am very grateful to be affiliated with such socially responsible companies. 

At long last, a double-sided Tacky fly box!

     I'm a big fan of Tacky Fly Fishing's fly boxes. When I get the periodic Orvis $25 off $50 purchase coupons, I use them to buy hooks. I had just received a coupon in the mail and was looking at the Orvis site when I noticed their joint venture with Tacky. Double-sided Tacky boxes! There is one with the normal Tacky slit material on both sides. The box I bought has the normal material on one side and the Tacky Big Bug slits on the other. I could finally cram almost all of my broodstock salmon flies into one Tacky box. Plus, with the coupon, it was pretty inexpensive.


    Well, that's it for 2016. Thanks again for reading and I appreciate the feedback. Let's hope for more water in 2017. Have a happy New Year! 

Monday, December 19, 2016

Naugatuck River - Fall 2016 - Summary & Observations

It was a short fall, but not without its highlights. 

     This was definitely a strange fall. With water levels at historic lows, we were lucky to have a salmon season at all. I'll admit, I was not optimistic. I canceled my guide insurance policy in early October only to request it be rewritten a few weeks later. This was the first season I guided significantly more hours than I fished. Once the season started, I had only a couple of days to get my bearings before my first trip. After that, it was a whirlwind of activity until Thanksgiving weekend.

     The ultra low water made the salmon behave in ways I wasn't used to seeing before. When river was at its lowest levels, the fish seemed to favor depth over all else. If they could have moving water too, that was preferred. If the moving water was too shallow, they seemed to hide out in any deep depression they could find. A lack of rain stalled their usual movement into the secondary pools. The few times it did rain, fish moved out quickly. Since we had a low number of salmon in the river this year, they became harder to find once they spread out.  

     I figured we might have epic dry fly fishing given how low and clear the water was. This was not the case. It was the first fall in a while I haven't at least moved a fish with a dry fly. I think they were too freaked out to come up, though maybe I just had bad luck. I don't think I tried fishing a hitched fly at all this season. 

     Luckily, the salmon were still happy to take wet flies. As the water dropped, our flies got smaller and smaller. After watching several people lose fish on larger flies, I switched to flies tied on very fine wire hooks. It worked and the vast majority (90%!) of the fish either my clients or I hooked were landed. In the lowest water, a size 14 Mickey Finn did the trick! 

The infamous sz. 14 Mickey Finn

     I had several clients hook, land, and release their very first Atlantic salmon. That is always exciting for me. A couple of them said it was the largest fish they had ever caught on a fly. I was very happy to be a part of that. It is one of the highlights of the job. 

     I guided two clients into the same fish in the span of nine days. The salmon had a very distinct tail. The first time I saw it was in an unstocked pool in Naugatuck on November 8. Six days later, we had enough rain to move fish around. The salmon turned up again, this time in Beacon Falls, on November 17. It moved about five miles on one relatively small bump of water. Assuming it hasn't already been eaten, that fish is probably in the Housatonic now. Practice catch and release so others can enjoy the sport! 

     The fishing seemed to slow down as we got into late November. I pinpointed some salmon in a pool that is very difficult to fish with a fly. Unfortunately, my unorthodox presentation experiments didn't pay off. I have some ideas for next year, though. 

     As always, there were many anglers who refuse to follow rules. Some of them seem legitimately ignorant of the seasonal regulations. Others just don't care. There is a definite lack of signage on the river, especially pertaining to salmon season. Because of this, some conservation officers let people off with a warning instead of fining them. If there is no fear of consequences, what is stopping offenders from breaking the rules again? I'm getting pretty sick of this and I am going to write letters and emails over the winter. It is time to be proactive. The squeaky wheel gets the grease and I plan being very squeaky. If I have to, I will print my own signs, bring a ladder, and hang them up around the river. 

This guy put on a show his first day of salmon fishing!

     I used a two handed rod less this season than in any other season since I started fishing with one. There just wasn't enough water for it. Fortunately, I got some time with a switch rod at the end of November and the beginning of December. I sure do miss the good old days of normal water levels and fishing with a two handed rod.

     The last day I fished was December 8. I went out for a couple of hours, but had no luck. Last year, fishing was productive into January. That was a lot of fun, but the warm temperatures were the main reason why our season was so short this year. I guess it balances out over time, at least hopefully it does. The cold weather came the second week of December. If these fish fought like fresh springers, I would go throughout the winter. They get too lethargic for me to bother, so I felt okay hanging it up early. I had the best action I'm likely to get and I'm satisfied with how the season went. I might give it another shot if we have a warm stretch in the winter or spring. We'll see how bad cabin fever gets...

Ally's Shrimp caught the lion's share of my own salmon this fall.

Top Flies

     Since I guided more than I fished this season, I should factor that data in with my personal top flies. In past years, I didn't include the flies used in guide trips, but they are a large part of the data now. Here are the top three:

Mickey Finn - 10 salmon
Ally's Shrimp - 6 salmon (5 conventional, 1 tube)
Cascade - 6 salmon (3 conventional, 3 tube) 

     Between myself and my clients, we hooked almost 50% of our salmon on flies between sizes 10-14. I've had small fly years before, but never 50%. Conversely, we caught fewer on tube flies this season than during a normal fall. Almost every fish we hooked was while using a floating line and untapered mono leader.  

     My typical "Hail Mary passes" (Sunray fished fast or Snaelda fished slow) didn't work at all. This fall, it seemed like they either wanted a fly or they didn't. If they wanted it, they usually wanted it on the first pass. As such, we moved around quite a bit to find "players." Really working a pool seemed to have either no effect or a negative effect (you lose valuable time) this season. "Run and shoot" the 1990 Houston Oilers. 


     I will have some gear reviews coming up soon, as well as some fly tying stuff over the winter. I already have a couple orders of flies to tie for the upcoming season in Canada, so I might post a few of the interesting patterns here. In the meantime, thanks for reading this blog. I got a lot of great feedback this year. Have a happy holiday season! 

Monday, December 12, 2016

Them's Fightin' Words! - 7 Fish Fighting Tips

The three slashes represent 32nd notes, you big dummy. 

 Around the time I began teaching drum lessons, one of my favorite students was a middle aged school teacher. She was a beginning drummer, but a very enthusiastic student. We worked through the material in Breeze Easy vol. I, which is the drumming equivalent of learning how to tie a Woolly Bugger. One day, she asked me a very basic question about drum roll notation. It was something I had known how to play for many years, but never considered the theory behind how it was written.

     "Is it notated this way because,..?" she asked.

     "Uh...yes, exactly," I replied. What I was actually thinking was, "Wow, I never thought of that before. It makes total sense! How could I miss that? I'm a conservatory-trained embarrassing!" A few minutes later, I said all of this out loud and we had a good laugh.

     Besides the notation tidbit I learned that day, I learned another important lesson. Teaching is a two-way street. The teacher often learns as much as the student. I had heard it said before, but that was the first time I experienced it myself.

     When I guide anglers, I try to focus on education. Often times, I learn as much as they do. In my experience, fish fighting technique is one of the more difficult things to teach. First, the angler must remain calm immediately after the excitement of the hookup. I try to explain the basics before a fish is hooked, then gently reinforce the points throughout the fight. Trying to coach someone while a fish is going bananas isn't easy, though. Over the past few years, I've noticed some technical areas which can be improved upon, resulting in more fish landed and safer releases for the fish. The following tips pertain mainly to freshwater fishing in rivers.

Henrik Mortensen displays several of the fish fighting tips below

Tip #1: The Game Plan

     Before fishing a run, pool, etc., form a fish fighting/landing game plan. It can be hard to think clearly with a big, strong, leaping fish at the end of the line. It pays to scope out the area to find suitable spots from which to fight and land fish. This is especially important when fishing solo. Once the game plan is in place, try your best to stick to it. Fish can be unpredictable and they don't always follow the script. However, with good technique, a fair number can be controlled with solid technique and a good strategy.

Tip #2: Be Mobile

     This one baffles me. If the fish moves throughout the fight, why doesn't the angler? The fish struggles to get a good position so it can free itself. The angler should attempt to gain a favorable position on the fish so it can be fought as quickly and efficiently as possible. Whenever possible, I prefer to stay parallel with the fish, not downstream of it and definitely not upstream of it. If I keep the fish on a  relatively short line, I can see the moves it makes and adjust instantly, keeping the maximum amount of pressure on a fish.

     Of course, it's not always possible to move around. Deep water or big obstructions can block our downstream movement. My favorite spring fishing spot is like this. Fish must be hauled upstream against a heavy current. As a result, I lose more fish than I'd would if I could reposition myself. Also, some anglers might not be as steady on their feet as others. Older anglers often have to fight fish from one position. For the young and able bodied, however, it pays to keep moving.

Tip #3: Call the Shots

     Assuming we're not fishing with really light tackle, the angler has the advantage most of the time. We shouldn't let the fish dictate the terms of the fight. With good technique, we can make all but the most crazy and unruly fish go where we want them to go. When we pull hard, the fish wants to pull hard in the opposite direction. When we ease off the pressure, the fish usually backs off. Use light pressure around treacherous obstacles like boulders, downed trees, bridge pilings, etc. If the obstacle is downstream, get below the fish and pull like hell. Often times, the fish will move upstream, clear of the obstacle. When it runs back down, ease up until the fish can be brought back upstream. Then pull like hell again.

     Don't let the fish call the shots. The longer it's on the line, the more time it has to get free. Even if it's landed, a fish fought for a long time might be exhausted. Call the shots. Fight them fast and hard. The angler is in charge!

This angler applies heavy pressure and pulls the hook into salmon's mouth.

Tip #4: Pull the Hook Into the Mouth

     If a fish can be kept relatively close, the angler can see which direction the fish faces at all times. If the fish is facing upstream, pull the hook into its mouth by angling the rod downstream. If the fish changes direction, make a smooth change of direction with the rod. We want to prevent pulling the hook out of the fish's mouth. Keeping the line tight pulling the hook into the fish's mouth (whenever possible) helps keep the fish on the line. This gets trickier with small hooks, so be careful.

    Pulling the fish in either an up or downstream direction requires using side pressure. Bend the rod to the cork and put the wood to 'em! This is essential with big, powerful fish. We have to fight these fish hard or else we'll never break them.

Tip #5: Keep the Line Tight

     The angler should keep a tight line however possible. If a fish is always pulling downstream, this usually isn't difficult. I see many fish lost when an abrupt change of direction happens. The fish runs downstream, then stops and runs right towards the angler. There are times when we can't reel up the slack fast enough to stay tight, even with a large arbor reel. When this happens, I strip in line with my reel hand.

     It is a risky move. The fish can take off downstream again and the loose line might get stuck on something. I try to strip in line while pinching it against the cork and keep pressure on the fish. As soon as I feel the fish stop moving towards me, I reel up the slack as quickly as possible. Sometimes the fish starts to move towards me again before all the line is reeled up, forcing me to go back to stripping. It can be a delicate operation, but it often is the difference between a fish lost and a fish landed.

This fish would not have been landed without stripping in a lot of slippery
running line. Sometimes we have to take risks. 

Tip #6: Low Rod

     When guiding, I see this mistake more than any other, trout anglers being the main offenders. When fighting a fish, the angler keeps his or her rod up in the air. No, no, no! First of all, the fish will be fought from the tip of the rod, which is its weakest section. We want to fight the fish from the butt end of the rod. Also, unless you're Inspector Gadget, there is nowhere to go once an arm is fully extended. What if the fish runs around a rock? The angler can't lift the line any higher to clear the rock. The default rod position should be low. Use the fighting butt!

Tip #7: Fight Them Hard, Take Risks

     If you plan on releasing the fish, fight it hard. Don't mess around. Get that fish in as quickly as possible so it can be released safely. You might lose some, but you'll probably lose more if you let the fish control the fight.

     Take risks. The worst that can happen is that the fish will get off. It might get off if the angler doesn't take the risk. Any day might be your lucky day, but you'll never know if you don't test your luck regularly.


      I've lost some pretty nice fish. One in particular will be forever burned into my memory. Years later, I still replay the scene in my mind, thinking of what I would do differently now. That salmon dictated the terms of the fight. I complied. Ultimately, she broke me off on a rock. If I had moved with the fish, applied more pressure at strategic times, and controlled the fight, I might have landed her. I lost a beautiful, bright salmon, but the experience taught me a lot. These are some of the lessons I hope to pass on when guiding. When I'm just an observer, I can watch both the angler and the fish and, often times, I become the student.

Had I taken some risks, this one might have been landed...lesson learned

Saturday, December 3, 2016

Naugatuck Report - December 2 & 3, 2016 - Some Water...It's About Time!!

Salmon and Dirty Water Dog

     It rained hard for two days straight. After letting the river fall for a day and a half, I had high hopes for December 2 and 3. The water was cool, about 44ยบ. I predicted 350-400 cfs by the time I was fishing on the 2nd. It dropped to 369...good guess! I thought the water would have been clearer than it was, so bad guess on that one. It was okay, I came prepared. 

    I used a F/I/S2 scandi head with a 7.0 ips Versileader. I lost a Lady Amherst on a snag at the top of the run, which was a drag. I decided to use a larger, but lighter fly. I chose the Dirty Water Dog to deal with the murky water. It paid off, bringing one salmon to hand in the two hours I fished. I was satisfied with how my short trip worked out. 

     Today, the 3rd, was a different story. The river was still flowing at an ok level, 269 cfs. I had four hours to fish today. I had high hopes for today, figuring the water would be clearer. It was clearer, but still sort of colored. I lightened up on my line selection, using a F/I scandi head and a 5.something ips Versileader. 

     Today was a day I felt like I couldn't do anything right. I lost flies. I made bad casts and lots of them. I made a really poor detour choice in Naugatuck and added way too much time in the car trying to get down to Beacon Falls. It was cold and windy. My left leg has been really sore as a result of falling onto some rocks last Friday. I just couldn't dig myself out of the hole today. I figured a hookup might turn things around for me, but it never came. 

     Regardless of results, it was nice to fish a two handed rod again. I've only taken two fish on a two hander this season. The rest have been on a 9' 7wt. That was fun for a while, but I missed throwing a longer line over a wider piece of moving water. Hopefully we've seen the worst of this drought and Mother Nature will start to turn things around. I really miss fishing a two hander in early October, swinging flies just under the surface, and watching a salmon chase a fly halfway across the river before nailing it. The good ol' days!