Landlocked Atlantic salmon are probably the most delicate fish I target. Keep them out of the water too long, they go belly up. Fish in warm water, they go belly up. Look at them the wrong way, they go belly up.
To add to the problem, they have no quit in their fight. They make runs, they jump, they bulldog. Once in the boat, they flip, they flop, they spin like sharks. They just don’t know when to give up. They’re too scrappy for their own good.
I started as a 100% netter. Any LLS I brought to boat I scooped up with a net, and brought it aboard. That seemed like the logical approach. Unfortunately, it just opened a new can of worms.
Typically, when you bring landlocks in the boat, they go ape shit. They have no regard for their own safety. They don’t just thrash a bit. They spin, and they spin fast. This snaps leaders, breaks split rings, and sinks in extra hook points. Possibly worst of all, that spinning will often roll the salmon up in the line or leader. That can cause physical injuries, but it also delays the release while you untangle them adding to their stress.
I have tried boatside releases. Just bring the salmon beside the boat, reach down with pliers, and pull the hook out. This can work well in the right situation. Add in a lure with trebles or a fly that you don’t want to destroy, and it’s suddenly a bad idea. Now, I rarely use this method.
The best approach I have found is a hybrid of the two. Net the fish at boatside, but don’t lift it out of the water. The fish will remain calm – relatively speaking. After the hook is removed, lower the net a little to create a pool in which the fish can recover. Once the fish is upright and free swimming, tilt the net below the surface. It will swim off.
If you are in a moving boat, do this at the stern. There will be slack water there. The fish won’t get pinned in the net. Recovery and release will be stress-free
With that bit of advice, here is Number 6 on The List, the Landlocked Atlantic Salmon, Salmo salar sebago.
So back to “The List”. A warm day and a little free time presented the opportunity to chase down another flyrod species for 2019.
Right out of the blocks, I hooked up with a little wild rainbow. A pretty fish, but not what I was looking for. Keep working.
Stoneflies were fluttering around. It was nice to see some insect life. I won’t miss the winter.
A watersnake even came out to catch a little solar energy.
My next catch was a slightly larger rainbow.
Followed by a brown trout,
and another brown trout.
Finally, I hit pay dirt. On my first cast into a big pool that I call the “Chub Hole”, this beautiful specimen ate my nymph. The Creek Chub became number four on The List. The “Chub Hole” lived up to its name by producing several fish like this before it was time to call it quits.
I took one last shot at winter striped bass last week, and pulled some nice schoolies. The local lakes have lost their ice. Other species are readily available, and it’s time to give those stripers a rest.
Hello spring species! Now, I’m working on the early spring patterns that develop right after ice-out. I will see the striped guys again, but not until they are chasing shad and herring later in the spring.
Remove your trolling motor prop. Cut and unwrap any fishing line that may have accumulated last season. I’m told, if left in place, this line can reduce efficiency of your motor and even damage seals. You won’t know its there until you check.
Snow storms, schedules, and single digit temperatures have kept me off the water for a while. I was in need of some therapeutic fishing time. Small stream trout fishing wasn’t going to do it for me this time. I needed something a little bigger and a little more numerous, so I set off to explore a new option.
Normally, I’d say it’s too cold for striped bass in February. Over the years, I’ve heard a handful of magic numbers thrown out – 40, 42, 50 degrees. Fill in the blank for what temperature stripers start feeding. The fact is if a fish is alive and healthy, it eats. They might not eat very often or put forth much effort to do it, but they eat. If you find enough of them you’ll get bit, and if you find a lot you just might get bit a lot.
I tried a few different lures, but fell back on an old standby – the Fishbelly Hawg Shad. I switched back and forth between a 5″ and a 3.5″. They both proved effective. Alewife, Blueback Herring, and Common Dace were the colors I fished on this day, and they all caught fish.
Besides a quality lure like the Hawg Shad, there are three additional keys to success in these frigid conditions. The first and most critical is finding the fish. You can’t catch fish that aren’t there. Fish the best structure on waters that support large populations.
The second is using enough weight to maintain contact with the lure without overweighting the presentation. A little glide is good. Losing touch with your bait is bad.
The third is not over working the bait. Less is more when it comes to winter fishing. Fast, aggressive movements seem to turn these semi-dormant fish off.
My Northkill custom landing net was an important tool to have onboard. Sure a couple fish were held up for a quick pic, but a couple dozen more were released without ever removing them from the water. The rubber net bag was easy on their slime coat, and single barbless hooks came out easily. Winter is tough enough. Let’s not be any harder on the fish than we have to be.
Years ago, I knew a man that worked at a local fly shop. He was a pudgy, gnome-like character; opinionated, and maybe not so well informed. Anyway, he would not strike anyone as the philosophical type – not right off the bat anyway. He told me once that he just needed “one fish”.
This is what he meant by “one fish”. On any given day if he had time to catch one fish, the day was good. After that “one fish” he could recover from or move on to more tedious chores and responsibilities.
That was somewhat puzzling to me. I understood what he was saying, but could not relate to it. To me fish were like potato chips. If I caught one it made me want to catch two, and two made me want three, and so on.
In the last few months I have frequently thought about what my gnome-like friend had said. I am starting to feel that way more and more myself. There are days when one fish is all I need to make the day complete. I’ve always found peace in fishing, but it has really started taking on a zen quality.
So anyway, the other day I had time for a quick trip for that “one fish”. I chose a local trickle. After a short walk, I began working upstream away from my car. It wasn’t long before one fish ate my fly.
It was a colorful native brookie. It was an exemplary, small stream trout. It could be my “one fish”. There was a bit more to this stretch of stream, so I continued on beyond this one fish. I was content, but not done with the stretch of stream.
A couple of pools upstream, I had another take. An energetic hook set on a short line flung the fish out of the water. I recognized the small fish as a brown trout as it sailed past my shoulder. I tried to keep gentle tension on the line as the fish came down in the water behind me. I wasn’t able to pull it off. The barbless hook came free, and I chuckled to myself at the preceding sequence of events.
The next pool held another hungry fish. This fish had enough body weight to stay put when I set the hook. The head shakes and the bend in my 2 weight identified a solid fish. I worked it out of the depths and into the shallows where I was standing. A foot long brown with big black spots was about to be fish number two, or so I thought.
The trout made one more lunge into the current. It stopped dead for a moment. Something changed. I could see the fish, but the head shakes stopped. The second fly on the tandem rig was snagged on something.
I pulled my net free from the magnetic net holder, and hustled toward the tethered fish. Just as I started to bend toward the trout he shook free of the hook and left me pinned to a trash bag. Oh, the challenges of suburban trout fishing!
This was not followed by any chuckling. This warranted and received a string of expletives, diminishing, but repeated every time I thought about that fish. My satisfying “one fish” from a few minutes ago was no longer so satisfying. I needed a win to make up for that loss. So much for zen.
I was nearing the end of this stretch of stream. Only a couple of pools remained. I blew it on both of them. I hung the fly in shoreline brush and had to walk too close in order the free it. The pools were spoiled. I couldn’t buy a strike. Maybe I was still flustered, or maybe it was just bad luck and a crosswind.
I couldn’t walk away beaten. I hiked downstream, past my starting point, and through the woods. I was going to fish another stretch, working my way back upstream toward my car.
The first few likely looking spots yielded no fish. My muttering self diatribe was starting again. Then I hit paydirt. In about the fishiest looking pool you could imagine I had a take.
Here’s my brown. No wait! It’s a rainbow. I had heard that there were wild rainbows in this stream, but this was the first I had seen myself. I was quite pleased for a moment. Now, here’s where the greed kicks in.
As much as I appreciated catching this beauty of a wild rainbow, it made me crave another potato chip. I had a brook and a rainbow. Now, I needed a brown to complete a slam.
What was that nice fish I lost earlier? Oh yeah, it was brown trout.
The next pool looked as promising as the previous only just a little bigger. Right away I get a take. Here’s my brown. No, it’s not a brown. It’s another rainbow, a beautiful specimen and only the second I have seen in this stream, but not a brown. Talk about conflicting emotions.
The next hole yields a small brookie. Again, it’s almost a disappointment – almost. The next after that offers another taste of defeat as a diminutive brown trout shakes my hook before I can land it. This is turning into work.
Fast forward through the stream bed, sprinkle in a couple more natives, and another lost brown. Let’s wrap this up. This story is starting to drag.
I reached a section with a little different topography. It was a little flatter. There was more sand and wood. There were fewer boulders. I was running out of both time and water.
At the tail of a large flat pool, I see a fish holding just off a log that runs nearly the length of this pool. Like clockwork, the fish takes my fly on the first presentation. As it turns with the fly, I see it is a brown. I pull tight and the fish immediately shakes free and runs under the log. For some reason this one doesn’t bother me. Maybe I’m beaten.
I move a few feet upstream to cast to the head of the pool. The water is flat and crystal clear. I can see everything – almost everything.
I cast above where a fish should be. The fly drifts a couple feet. I see a trout materialize out of nowhere. It turns and I set the hook. It’s a nice one. After a few big head shakes, the fish turns downstream and performs a splashy, wallowing jump. It’s bigger than I thought.
After a crazy tug of war, up the pool, down the pool, under the log a couple times, an absolute beauty of a brown comes to my Northkill net – measuring a smidgeon over 15 inches. That was the fish I needed. It was a big fish for a trickle, a big fish on a 2 weight, a brook-rainbow-brown slam, and compensation for my earlier loss. That was the “one fish” and the last potato chip.
I set out to catch 20 different species on a fly rod in 2018. Although I fell short of the goal, the fly rod species list was probably more of a success than a failure. It was a little distracting at times, but it got me out on some new waters, and to some degree reunited me with fly fishing. A new year is upon us, and I’m wondering whether I should take another crack at it.
Not bad, but I can’t help think of a few species I could have or should have caught on the fly last year. OK – I just decided now. I am going to take another crack at breaking the 20 species barrier. Check in for updates here on the website in the coming weeks.