24 June, 2011

Summer time

It's summer time and warmwater fishing on the North Shore of Boston has been fantastic. Visited a local trout pond and discovered an abundant and healthy resident centrarchid population; the angling was outstanding too. And all of it in a beautiful place only ~15 minutes from Ichthyographic central. Supposedly holdover and stocked trout in the fall; its on baby.

Rotund L. macrochirus

Average M. slamoides, from "trout pond"

L gibbosus ready for a date
Using Google Earth, I found a series of 2 ponds 1.3 miles from my living room; Holly (my one year old and local fishing guide) and I took a little stroll (literally) and found another fantastic spot to catch all manner of finned quarry. Bank access and fly casting room in abundance too. 

L. macrochirus from secret neighborhood pond

I love summer, how about you?

14 June, 2011

In them thar hills

I have lived in Massachusetts for ~4 years and have landed a single salmonid in that time. This year, in particular, I have been fishing more regularly. And I have done well finding and catching centrachids and cyprininds, but I have yet to find "quality" trout water. 

Earlier this season, I spent my birthday on what was supposed to be a fine trout stream. My intel indicated that the stream was loaded with wild Salmo trutta and Salvelinus fontinalis. However, and try as I might, I was unable to fool any of the salmonid denizens of this pretty little blue line stream. I simply wrote it off as too early and vowed to return in warmer times. 

So, as you can see, my quest for trout--up to this point--in my new home state has been pretty underwhelming. To remedy this, I gathered all of my best google research skills and hunkered down with my copy of An Anglers Guide to Trout Fishing in Massachusetts and began the process of ranking and (hopefully) finding the streams within 1.5 hours of home base that provide good trout fishing. My algorithm, to be revealed at a later date, concluded that I must return too the Quinapoxet and that the Millers River near Athol, MA should provide quality trout fishing opportunities. 

During my recent (and first) trip to the Millers I arrived early, around 8 A.M, and at first glance I noticed a very thick cloud of brown caddis hovering over the bridge near the parking lot. I could barely contain my enthusiasm. And the river itself was...big; much bigger than this Southern Appalachian fly fisher is used to. Full of pocket water, deep pools, boulders, slicks, glides...damn straight....at this point I thought that I had made a good decision.

I suited up and started hiking downstream to one of the catch and release sections of the river. Almost immediately I passed a near picture perfect run; over 50 feet long with the perfect water velocity. I couldn't resist, this piece of water just had to hold a few nice trout. Waded in and began working my way up to the head of the run where a riffle emptied in. And I worked that water well, even switching flies . nada. I told myself that the fishing would be better in the C & R downstream. 

Well, it is a nice looking stream. But the trout never showed themselves. I spent the better part of 4 hours hiking and fishing the first 1.5 miles of the upper C & R section. Saw some great water but never felt so much as a bump and saw no sign of fish, trout or otherwise. I was very surprised that I didn't see any Micropterus dolomieu; the water temperature and habitat were perfect.

A beautiful run on the Millers River
Yeah, the water temperature was a little high for what I would consider quality trout water. And this early in the summer too (Last week of May); I may have some doubts about the potential of this river. My research revealed that many consider the Millers to be "Blue Ribbon" trout water. Habitat-wise I would agree, but the temperatures I saw could limit survival over the summer. For now I will forgo conclusion on this river's potential and revisit this stream in the future before passing final judgement.

Cold, clear tributary of the Millers

Still, I did happen to get a good look at, and briefly fish, a fantastic little tributary stream of the Millers. I spooked at least 2 Salmoniform fishes and was very impressed with the overall quality of this little feeder stream. Cold and clear with gravel substrate and plenty of stream-side cover. I only wish that it was not the height of black fly and mosquito season. I think I might have lost a quart or more of blood before running full speed, hands and arms flailing wildly, through the forest and into the middle of Millers to escape those little vampires. Perhaps the full potential of the Millers depends upon these tributaries; definitely encouraging to find this one in such great shape.

So no fish in the Millers; plan B was then enacted. I decided to revisit the Quinapoxet and pointed the Element east into the noon-day sun. I had lunch on the way and arrived in the little town of Oakdale around 1 P.M. Now, the only trout that I have ever landed in MA came from the Stillwater River; this stream and the Quinapoxet are both direct tributaries to the Wachuset Reservoir in Oakdale. Having been previously skunked on the Quinapoxet and batting a thousand on the Stillwater, I naturally decided to have a quick look at the Stillwater.

The Swift didn't disappoint, but I also didn't catch any trout either. I managed to land Lepomis macrochirus and Ambloplites rupestris. The latter species was a big and welcome surprise; I was unaware that the species existed in Eastern Massachusetts. Anyway, I love catching this species and now know of at least one stream that holds them. However, the presence and abundance of either species, combined with elevated water temperatures, does not bode well for trout existence (wild or otherwise) in the main stem. Perhaps that wild Salmo trutta that I caught (in late fall here) hang out in small(er) cooler tributaries or retreat to the depths of the reservoir in the summer. I know that there is a resident and self-sustaining  population of Salmo salar in this system; I'll be back for them this fall!

Ambloplites rupestris from the Stillwater River, Sterling MA

No trout in the Stillwater either; plan C was then enacted. Its now about 3 P.M. and I wanted to get home before diner time; this has to be hard and fast. I parked at the lower end of the Quinapoxet and hiked upstream, entering the water almost exactly where I started in early April. After only a few casts in likely looking spots, a flash and a solid bump indicated that I had fooled something. Images of Semotilus or Ambloplites immediately appeared in my mind. I set the hook; not a large fish for sure and as I lead the fish to my hand I noticed the characteristic markings of S. fontinallis. Yes, finally, wild trout actually exist in Massachusetts. That I had only been fishing for ~10 minutes was encouraging and had me internally kicking myself; I should have spent the day right here.

Salvelinus, in the flesh

The section that I fished was all pocket water, probably my favorite type of trout water. After landing that first fish, and knowing there were wild fish present, I mentally entered that state; you know, kind of like a trance. I would take a few steps and scan the water, imagining the fish-eyed perspective of the substrate and currents. Find that cushion, the place where a feeding fish makes a living. A quick flick to place the fly in the seam; raise the rod tip high, let it sink, make it drift natural, ever vigilant for that subtle pause--the briefest of moments where a fish takes the offering and before the realization that its fake.

A respectable pocket water S. fontinallis

I was in the zone, working my way up through all of the best holding water. Like a heron I moved and fished, plucking wild S. trutta and S. fontinallis from the currents. Each as brilliantly colored and feisty as the last. A few spunky, hold-over Oncorhynchus were there too. 

A hold-over Oncorhynchus, regaining color a spunk

It was all over after about 1.5 hours. I had gone far enough and had landed a dozen or so salmonids; a respectable grand slam by landing at least one of each species.  It was time to head home. As I packed the Element and headed east, I summed up the day mentally, my conclusion..."there are trout in them thar hills".

Pocket water on the Quinapoxet

06 June, 2011

A stranger in a strange land...

I've been out a few times over the last few weeks. Most of time has been spent trying to find good local waters; streams and/or ponds that I can visit when I have a free hour or two.

The Ipswich River is very close to my home and it receives a fair amount of press--both good and bad--from locals. Recent scouting trips have been underwhelming. The stream just doesn't seem to hold very high densities of fishes (at least in the upper sections). Now, I am not expecting ~500 trout/mile--in fact I am not really looking for trout per se--but I would like to find a wadeable stream/pond that holds decent numbers of centrarchids, esocids, and/or maybe a few sizable cyprinids (e.g., Semotilus and Cyprinus). I've landed a single Lepomis macrochirus and from the looks of things, the stream should hold Micropterus in abundance; where the latter are hiding is a mystery. And the lack of pickerel and minnows is a little more than disturbing...perhaps there are larger water quality issues here than I suspect.

The local pond in Breakheart Reservation is fishing well but has been invaded by weekend warriors. That latter is fine by me, but they set-up camp--with rod, bait bucket, and cooler--in most of the places where casting a fly rod is easy. And every time someone sees me fly fishing, I get that look like..."are you lost? you do know that trout aren't stocked here, right?" Really, I don't mind company while fishing, but two's company and three's a crowd...you know how the saying goes.

The carp flat in Lake Quannopowitt is also devoid of life. Holly and I spent the better part of an hour looking for Cyprinus carpio; we didn't see any. The lake used to have a reputation for holding large Esox niger, so I brought my 7 weight and a few trusty bait-fish patterns and made a few hundred casts in a very "pikey" looking cove...nada. We didn't see any centrarchids spawning in the shallows either; more of mysteries to consider.

Finally, I chose a overcast and windy day to head out to the Parker River. I launched the canoe at Thurlow street and paddled downstream to Crane Pond. I had heard stories of large pickerel and good populations of centrachids. That the stream is also stocked with trout, and might also have holdovers, was a plus.  Long story short, I managed to hook my first pickerel with fly rod, but lost the bugger at the gunnel. I managed to also catch a decent Perca flavescens and explored much of the pond and downs stream reaches (Hemlocks section) of the Parker. The fishing was really slow (no big surprise there, right?); the marsh and surrounding area reminded me of southern Louisiana.

Being in a new place should be exciting. A sense of adventure every time I head out to wet a line. I don't know what it is exactly, but I think I am a growing a little frustrated with the "newness". The poor quality of fishing near home and over crowding of decent spots is probably correlated with urbanization in Eastern Massachusetts. However, I lived smack-dab in the middle of New Orleans and had great freshwater and saltwater fishing 5 minutes from the house; go figure. My time is more limited now; my family is growing and I value spending time at home with my girls. I cant' and won't spend 2-3 days a week fishing, looking for those sweet spots. A lack of patience coupled with limited time makes for a unhappy me.

I am seriously considering heading to the coast and chasing Morone and Pomotamus on the fly; sound like a good idea? After all, the North Shore of Massachusetts has world-class fishing for these species. Gah, learning a new fishery can be a bitch... I see more "newness" in my future...