Thanks for visiting the website and I hope you enjoy the stories and information. With the holidays approaching, please consider making presents of one or more of my books. The Letters to Mack Trilogy will get a fishing friend through the winter and the 2 “How to” books will certainly help those new to the sport as well as anyone who wants to brush up on things (all available on Amazon.com in print and digital).
Happy Holidays All1
Please note that this is a vertical website format, so you need to scroll down to see the content.
Fish Tales are added periodically during the season (Take a look at #10 - “PHW at the Conny”). These are from Tom’s fishing diary and are meant to give others the specifics of where, how and with what he fishes. No secrets - well not too many. Also look for Tom’s meditation on age and time of life - “Past His Prime”.
Then there are Links to Tom’s Books and YouTube Channel as well as some highlights from Letters to Mack and a recent review from Amazon on How to Fly Fish for Trout, the first book to read.
The LITU Guidebook on Fishing Long Island Spring Creeks is featured as well.
Take a look at Tom’s favorite fly and click to watch Jim Misiura tie one. Other flies, that are mentioned in the Fish Tales, will be added from time to time, so look around!
There are links to Two Podcasts featuring Tom and one of Steve Ehrlich’s discussing the idea that there is more to fly fishing than the fish. Give them a listen.
Thanks for stopping by!
Tom authored his first book, How to Fly Fish for Trout, the first book to read, when a friend wanted to learn how to fly fish for trout and was overwhelmed by the available instruction manuals. Too much information for a beginner was the problem. It has since sold over 5000 copies.
Letters to Mack, Book One: Correspondence on a Fishing Life. Tom shares his fishing and hiking adventures with a lifelong friend named Mack. “Sometimes you have the good fortune to meet a buddy early on and get to share your life with him” says Tom. “At first it’s in school or on the ball field and later through correspondence and a few fishing trips.”
Letters to Mack 2: Correspondence from Montana to Montauk continues the series with western trout and Long Island striped bass, blues and albies.
Letters to Mack3: Correspondence from Islamorada to Pulaski includes tarpon and steelhead adventures.
How to Improve Your Fly Fishing & Catching has 30 brief and easy to read tips to remind an angler of those little things we all so often forget. (Available in Color and Black/White)
All books are available on Amazon.com in print and digital.
See video of an amazing blitz at Montauk on a fly, as well as Tarpon, Salmon and Steelhead. Long Island and Catskill streams with hatches, a typical LITU June Outing, some trap shooting, a few dolphins in the Sound and more.
The most popular video links:
Comprehensive Tour of the Connetquot River - 1hr 14 min
Small River, Big Fish - 2:47
Fall Albies on the Sound - 3:22
Montauk Blitz on a Fly - 1:43
Tarpon on a Fly - 4:28
The Black Nose Dace (BND) is probably the first fly I tied, acquiring the materials from Fireside Angler in Melville in the ‘70s. It has remained my favorite for streamer fishing all these years and especially on Long Island.
I tie it weightless and fish it on a long leader, letting it play in the current and trying to let it naturally sink to the bottom in calmer areas. Pulsing it and adding some short strips, then letting it drift back and repeat.
Black Nose Dace - My version:
• Hook – I usually tie it on a #12 streamer hook like a Gamakatsu S11s-4L2H – but suggest tying them on a variety of hook sizes both smaller and larger.
• Dressing – The key here is to go light – use half of what you think you should use:
• Thread: Black (It is called a black nose dace as it has a black thread nose)
• Tag: A red wool tag – Maybe ¼ inch or less at the top of the bend
• Body: It traditionally is wrapped in silver tinsel, sometimes with an oval silver rib, but I switched to a silver Bill’s Body Braid a few years ago and find it easier to work with and the fly spins less in fast water.
• Wing(s): There are three layers –
1. White Bucktail –Tied so the tips are not perfectly aligned and extend just beyond the Tag. I try to use hair from the middle of the tail.
2. Black Bear Hair – Just a few strands to cover the white bucktail and form a stripe on the side of the fly
3. Tan/Brown Bucktail tied such that it doesn’t hide the Bear Hair – again not too much or too aligned extending about a hook shank beyond the bend (progressively longer than the underwing layers.) I vary this, sometimes making the wing shorter on larger hooks. The splay of the tips gives it some motion when in the water and pulsing.
• Head: Black thread wrapped to secure the wing and end in a tapered nose.
• Whip finish and coat with head cement.
(This is from the Long Island Flyrodders booklet on member’s favorite flies compiled by Bill Smith.)
…They came down from Durango, about an hour away, each with his river boat in tow, Joe and Joshua. An unlikely pair as Joe was unshaven with a beat-up baseball cap while Josh had spiked hair, a loud surfer shirt and jams on. Jerry and I paired up with Joe. Dan and Barry took Joshua.
We put in at the Texas Hole, famous for the largest trout you can imagine, and tons of them. It’s like a Chamber of Commerce thing. Each boat would load and, before heading downstream, at least one person on board would hook up. There were ten, twenty boats all launching and hooking up within a few hundred yards. Upstream guys were standing shoulder to shoulder in waders hoping to get in on the action, without paying the price of admission. I watched as a guy boated a trout that looked like a king salmon. Unbelievable.
Want to read more?
Check out Letters to Mack, Book One by clicking “Learn More”
This was probably the first dry fly I tied and used. A Royal Wulff. Over time I used it less and less although I always had one in my box. Today it is my secret weapon when on the Beaverkill at dark.
…We get settled off Turtle Bay, just outside the casting range of all the surfcasters on the beach, and a school of Albies, with hundreds of birds working over them, appears. My first cast was successful – in hooking a seagull. They were so thick it was inevitable. My next cast went well enough, but I was having difficulty with the pointing and stripping. The boat was in the surf and a tidal drift so even if I pointed my tip toward the fly it wasn’t long before the line was at right angles to the tip.
Paul hooked up first and the fish tore off line and went immediately into his backing. I went to pull my line in so he could work his fish and in so doing hooked up as well. Line flying off the huge reel with knuckles being bashed by the spinning handle, and into my backing.
Paul brought his to the boat as I continued to fight mine. Keep in mind this is a fly rod with a fine tapered tip and no butt section to speak of. The fish has all the leverage. He finally tired out enough so I could bring him to the boat and a fine Albie he was. The three of us were laughing and slapping each other and going on how unbelievable it was, first few casts and two terrific fish. There are days when that just doesn’t happen, as you well know.
Want to read more? It’s all in Letters to Mack 2.
Click “Learn More”.
…I have tried before, several times, three, maybe five times, to catch a tarpon. First was off Marco Island on a charter with bait back in the late 80’s. The wind and tide were wrong and the sky cloudy making it impossible to see so we moved back into the mangrove and caught sea trout which we lunched on dock side.
The next time was while bone fishing off Ocean Reef on Key Largo as they cruised by, but the wrong gear, wrong fly and lack of concentration led to no hookups although both Sue and I took some nice bones. I think there was another time with a guide named Dick out of the Moorings on Islamorada in the 90’s. Two days - no tarpon.
Then about 3 years ago I spent two days on the water off Cheeca Lodge focused on the big silvers and worked hard to present flies with line piled around my ankles on the fore deck of a 16-foot flats boat (once owned by Flip Pallot) with a rolling surf and good wind working us over. We saw them, lots of them, maybe 100 or more. All day, at least as long as the light held high. I flailed away trying to launch a 60-foot cast from that deck in that wind and more often than not failed to reach the target. The few times I did it was either behind them or, a couple of times, right where it should be only to be ignored. I recall about 2 fish that day taking the time to look toward my fly but none had the courtesy to take it or bite.
So I have put in some time. They say tarpon on a fly is tough and up until this point I was living proof.
Wednesday morning, I met Brett at the La Siesta Marina just across from the resort of the same name where we were staying, enjoying the warm sun, cool breeze and soaking in the pool in between grouper sandwiches and dolphin shows. Around mile marker 81 or so, as the Keys are marked. The wind was what they call freshening, straightening out the flags on the ocean side of the Key. I sensed another day of failed casts to fast moving targets was upon me but fought off such negativity in the hope that a positive attitude would make whatever was to happen a great experience.
We motored out the back side and were soon on a drift aided by the long pole just south and west of the marina. Brett discussed the mechanics of the strategy:
Want to know what the strategy was? It is all in Letters to Mack 3.
Click “Learn More”
Podcast interview with Christian Bacasa at Fly Fishing Insider
Listen to a chat on what drew Tom to fly fishing and why he stayed, a bit about the books and some of his tips on catching more trout including, at the end, his Greatest Tip!
Reviewed in the United States on March 22, 2020 - Verified Purchase
This is a beautifully written book with valuable and simple to understand basic instruction and very nice stories that illustrate the fishing lessons. It is one of the only fly fishing books I picked up that did not make my head spin with complexities. Moreover, the stories are beautiful and of a literary quality. The author has obviously worked quite hard at his writing. For me, I live in Long Island (where the author lives) and he gives tips about where to fish in and around my area. I highly recommend the book.
Paul McCain is a friend of mine. He also owns a fly shop, RiverBay Outfitters (.com), and does a good job of marketing it with newsletters, events and videos. He promoted my book How to Fly Fish for Trout, the First Book to Read, in a YouTube video.
He asked me to write some tips for fly fishers for his newsletter. That is what got me started.
I wrote them as they occurred to me, triggered by a day on the water or after talking to some friends. They are meant to be fun to read while offering some of the information that new fly fishers need to know but may not know to ask.
I am not an expert. I am just a person who likes to fly fish and has been doing so for a while. Over that time, I have discovered and rediscovered so many things that make my fishing more enjoyable. These tips are meant to make yours more enjoyable as well.
(Please note that these are tips – only tips - a tip is a small but useful piece of information on how to do something. In places I suggest further reading and resources, sometimes suggesting my own books. Please know that my intention is not to bait you into buying a book but only to offer additional resources of which there are many.)
All of these originally appeared in a blog that was on an earlier version of my website – tomsfishingstories.com. I thought putting them all together in a book just seemed to make sense as a companion to How to Fly Fish for Trout which has over 5000 copies out there, somewhere.
For more information click “Learn More”
I hope you enjoy it – and your fly fishing!
November 7, 2022
The first Monday of every month is Project Healing Waters Day at the Connetquot. The Northport branch of the organization, based at the VA Hospital, gets to fish the river. I have volunteered as a river guide for the organization in the past. Pre-Covid it was a regular date on my calendar.
I saw Jeff at the presentation I gave at Art Flick TU on the Catskills, and he repeated his invitation to join them again.
So, I arrive and Bill Smith, Ted Bany, Jim Pungello and some others are there as well as cars of those already on the river. Ted starts talking about all the changes and I ask him to clarify. “A fellow named Dave Turner took over” he says. It’s still the Northport branch-based Vets who fly fish. For those with service-connected disabilities there are additional services and benefits (like 5 days in Montana, all expenses paid, you can apply for), but any vet can be a member. I ask where Dave is.
At his car we say hello and it turns out I had fished with him early on. I inquired about becoming a member. He asked for my email, said he will send me a link. He asked again if I was a vet. I showed him my driver’s license which states that I am, and he encouraged me to join them.
Dave headed off to check us in at the office while the rest of us stayed in the area, sans waders. I walked up as far as Beat 22 and back. Lots of fish in the river at all beats and apparently tons of them down river. Dave later said he had 40 in the net, amazing!
It was a beautiful warm sunny day (too sunny). I started with an Iris caddis and had an immediate rise to my first cast on Beat 19. Then a few more and finally a fish on, self-released. I worked Beat 20 below the bridge and had one while scaring another.
Upstream the fish were very spooky when fished over. I needed to walk past them, give them some time, and then fish down to them. A few more on the Caddis including a three-time jumping rainbow who must have lifted himself 3 feet into the air each time. I lost the caddis and put on another for a few more hits then, the water went quiet, the further up I went.
I switched to a Black Nosed Dace and fished down to several fish getting hits and misses before hooking what I thought would be the fish of the day. A big boy who I got into the net, a rainbow with good color and spirit, 20 inches at least. At the top of Beat 22 I switched to a Joe Stack. I was going to put on an #18 Adams but figured it would be hard to see in the glare. (These new prescription sunglasses are not too fishing friendly. I am thinking of just getting some Ray Bans or Costas and using my magnifiers to tie stuff on.) The Joe Stack worked, as always, hooking more when it sunk but getting the attention of a few surface feeders. I worked some nice holes too long and had to remind myself that it’s better to either give it a rest or move on. I headed back toward the other guys.
Just above where Bill and Ted were chatting, I drifted the fly into a likely riffle and hooked another significant fish. This one less angry and more annoyed than the other, he stubbornly resisted my bringing him in. I struggled to get him to and in the net. Fortunately, he unhooked himself as I went for the final scoop.
Bill was working a long line to an aggressive fish that was making a wake like a submarine. I watched for a bit and headed toward the car, fishing the platforms adjacent the parking lot. Another fish or two and I was done. We all ended up at the cars simultaneously. Dave said it would be okay to fish another hour, but we were all done.
Great day in the new PHW of which I will soon be a part of.
(No photos. I couldn’t handle the camera with the big fish and the small ones I shook off – besides fish pictures are not my thing anymore. I enjoy taking photos of others. I also like river photos and scenery shots, but the leaves are mostly down, the colors muted and so I just walked and enjoyed myself rather than “working” on my photo library.)
October 18, 2022 – Fishing the North Fork
Paul of RiverBay Outfitters often organizes trips to rivers and beaches in the tri state area. He also does Alaska, Montana and more. I have gone with him to Connecticut’s Housatonic and Farmington. Maybe a few others. I like supporting him and his shop as he’s a good guy who donated years of service to our clubs before he opened his shop. Quality guy.
I never went to Truman’s Beach, as many times as I have been to Southold, Greenport and Orient. It’s a two-hour drive; going out isn’t bad but coming home is tough after a day in the fresh air and salt. Luke called and invited me to come with him, his treat! I checked with Sue, and it was a go. We met at McDonalds in Northport so he could save the 11.5 miles x 2 picking me up at home would entail.
I brought plenty of gear, both fly and surfcasting, as well as clothes to keep warm. Temps were to be in the 50’s with 12 mph winds west-northwest. Turned out sunny and very comfortable.
The beach is a big half-moon stretching for 3 miles or so with off season access not a problem (summer season that is). We met at the DEC Oyster Ponds Boat launch as Truman is a private Town beach. Down the road are the Oyster Ponds (a local told us it was really called Mud Pond), and Orient State Park is just up the road - and there is more in the area. Jerry and I had fished Hallock Bay with Rob Thompson years ago and had a 10-striper day on the fly, from a boat. Working the beaches takes a bit more effort.
Luke and I took a look and fished the Pond first as the tide was just coming in and barely a bait fish in sight. After exploring we looked at the bay side which entails a repel down some pretty scary jetty like rocks. Truman’s was looking good. We went to lunch.
That’s the glue for Paul’s trips – food. He cooks anything from hamburgers and hot dogs to chicken to chili, and today - Sloppy Joes. Drinks, salads, and fruit with cookies as well as chips. All you need to fuel up for a day on the water. No one had caught anything yet and everyone was making plans to go to their spots – Paul was an open book, which is the other benefit of his trips, and gave us all the options. We decided to stay at Truman’s and perhaps meet him at the Pond at dark.
Luke and I walked west and worked the water, he with a fly rod and me with my surfcaster. My shoulder tires less with this pole vs the 9-wt. fly rod. It is beautiful and uncrowded (its Tuesday). We came to a huge rock about 30 yards off the water line and I pretty much set up there. Luke likes to wander and went way to the east. We stayed in touch by phone. He ran into some inshore Albies that rocketed by before he could react.
I had a few guys walk past me and set up at respectable distances. We all worked our patch hoping Luke’s Albies would come streaming past. I had two significant fish boils well within casting range, which kept me interested, not that I wasn’t already. There is something very mesmerizing about casting and watching the lure work the water. Your subconscious reminds you of the time when an explosion you didn’t expect came. You always think it will happen again. And it will, eventually.
I needed a bio break and the porta-potty is by the car, so I abandoned my rock (and someone quickly moved in). When I returned, I found a nice spot closer to the car with a large stranded driftwood to relax on. As with any fishing, it is good to give it a break. To take some time to both rest and observe - always looking for the birds to get organized and the Albies to break.
At Sundown and high tide, which came together, Mark joined me. He doesn’t usually fish this area although he lives near-by. He showed me an Albie Whore he tied, pink and well made, as all of his flies are. All he needs now is for an Albie to come by. He moved down beach.
Another 50 casts and it was getting dark. Luke reappeared with both his fly and surf rod loaded with a Deadly Dick, still waiting for those Albies. We fished a bit more and called it a day. By the time we got to the car I needed my head lamp to break down my gear. Mark went to see if Paul was at the Pond and later reported he wasn’t, but a nice size Schoolie Bass was.
Paul pulled in to show us the 2 nice stripers he had on the other side but mentioned it was a long walk, had multiple Bass and then had to start back, while the Bass were still hitting. Beautiful fish.
It was a most pleasant day, especially for me who has not been out and about much for a year (or 2). Just being here made my day. No fish on the hook required (although it would have been nice.) Luke and I had a pleasant drive home listening to the scratchy AM radio voice of John Sterling calling game 5 between the Yankees and Guardians, winner moves on. Yanks won!
If you are not on Paul’s mailing list, go to www.riverbayoutfitters.com and sign up for the newsletter. Lots of information, YouTubes, Trips and more.
It stopped raining yesterday; the aftermath of Hurricane Ian has passed. Today is bright and warm, well 70’s anyway. The water is cool although I did not use the thermometer and the river full and clear. I took Beat 7 for the morning session and was glad to be out in the fresh, dry air.
I had just sent Bill Smith a description of the Black Nose Dace I tie and started with it hoping to switch to dry flies as the morning progressed. Lisa was at the gate and came over to say hello and collect the fee. She was telling me how they finally have some full-time staff and hope to get projects done during the closed season like repairing the wall on Beat 4 that keeps the river from becoming another pond. I encouraged her to contact LIFR and TU if she wanted volunteers.
Speaking of the pond, the top weeds seem to have been washed out with all the weather we have had and there are large openings to cast into. Also, the foliage is almost at its peak. It’s beautiful!
As I am getting my gear together, I meet a new friend named George. He belongs to Art Flick TU and fishes with Tony and Doug. He shows me the rod Doug made for him. He has been fly fishing a few years and thanks those guys for showing him the ropes. Nice fellow, we walk in together and invite each other to come to our Beats.
I go in at the top of 6 on my way to 7 and have three fish in the first hour. No monsters but lively, strong fish. I work my way down with high hopes but there wasn’t a fish to be scared. I guess they haven’t had a chance to migrate down here from the stocking site.
The river has changed a bit. Perhaps the heavy flows have cleared some debris and filled some holes. After a good bit of time working the bushes on the right of upper 7, I walked up to them and not a fish to be seen. Headed below the weir and worked the rushing water before heading further.
I like it down here even though the fishing can be non-existent most days. It is beautiful and seldom is another person in sight. Lisa had told me of the big brown she caught on 8 or 9 one morning so there is always hope. I also have had a few brookies here on occasion, so I like it.
George comes down and is calling my name. I shout back “Is that you George?” I told him of my luck on 6 and that 7 was not working. He headed back to 3 and, again, invited me up. I thanked him and may have indicated that I would come. I finished my river walk to the end of 9 where I thought I saw a rise, and then saw it again. I snuck up to a casting position that made sense and put on an Iris Caddis. Worked the area with 3 or 4 flips but no reaction. I walked over and no one was there.
I wasn’t sure I wanted to go up to 3. It’s a long walk and I might get lucky on 6 again. I walked the path and took a long look at 6, deciding to go see George. There was a class from Northport HS on Beat 4 doing stream ecology lessons. Good to see young people here (who are not poachers).
George was at the top of 4 and had caught 9 fish using Tony’s Mop fly and others. I walked to the bottom of 2 and worked my way down with a Golden Darter. It was having a hard time getting down in the heavy flow and. I was too lazy to change with only a few minutes left in the session. I worked all the usual spots and ended up catching a root in that deep hole on the left at the end of 3 losing the fly. I reeled in and got out to find George.
He was smiling and fighting his 10th fish above the platform on 4.
It was a nice day. Good to meet a new friend and always a pleasure to be in this park. It closes next week so I bookended my season with fishing Beat 7 spring and fall.
It has been a funky year for me due to various curve balls that have come my way. Actually, the last couple have been off, as they have for most everybody. I wonder when my energy, and more importantly my drive, will return. I find myself slowing down and stepping back from the people and places that I have enjoyed for so long. I ponder the stage of life but then see others pushing through it: Montana, Pulaski, Pennsylvania, and certainly the Catskills are all there for me if I want it, but I don’t seem to have the urge. It’s like I want to hold on to the memories I have and not crowd them out with more. Strange time of life.
I also see it as a time to focus on Sue and all that we have together after 54 years. My whole life I have been on a driven trek to get to the top of whatever “mountain” was in front of me and she has been my main support. Now it’s time for me to be here to support her, spend more time together, gain an interest in things she likes. It is an awkward but rewarding time of life. My fishing will continue and fortunately, my life is about to become more diverse.
Hope springs eternal.
September 19, 2022 – Connetquot on LI Flyrodder Club Day
Times are changing at the Park. Theresa left who always was our interface. Ted Bany called me to say he has to pay for all sessions at 9 am which means those of us who fish later in the day need to get him a check well in advance of the day of the outing. I always wait until a day or two before to call Ted and pay him when I get there. With these new rules that may change, and I will have to plan in advance. Change is constant.
He says not to worry about it but he wanted to make certain that I was really coming. I tell him I will be there around 11 and he says good because they are having a BBQ. That is new too. 17 guys showed up for morning fishing and 13 for the afternoon, a good turnout. It was great to see so many people. This pandemic has really damaged me. Seeing them all and saying hello and bumping fists, hugging with some, was so energizing. Rich Cosgrove and Annemarie were the hosts, and the hamburger was delicious. I will have to ask him where he buys them.
Peter Dubno and Diane were there, and we got to visit. He is a special guy and he and I have a connection. John Fischer, Bill S., Joe H., and John S., and Norm F. and…30 members!
John is going upstream and asks if I would like to come along. I had decided to fish downstream today, in waders. I had not been down there for a month or two, it seems. We would meet up later. Peter was staying nearby, and I will join him at the end of the day.
9-foot GLoomis 4 wt. is the rod. I have been using it lately to accommodate the long leaders summer fishing requires. It is a perfect rod, although not built by the original company as my 5 wt. that Sue bought me was (Shimano bought them out). Its fittings are economical but of good quality. The blank is perfect, the reel seat less so.
I tie on a Beetle that worked the last time I was here and suited up. The waders feel confining and uncomfortable after being used to walking in my short boots upstream. Lots of sunscreen to protect my poor nose which has been through so much and still has dead nerves in it from the Shingles. (If you are over 50 get the vax!). Extra bottle of water and I am off, following Karen S. who is wet wading. I feel like a sissy.
John S. is fishing 16A and playing a nice fish as Karen and I look on. First photo of the day. The Park continues to be tweaked and the old photos I use in my presentations need to be updated. I try to take a few each trip. I also like to show case the nice folks who fish with me as well as send copies of the photos to them and the club. It is all part of being involved, being a part of. It all makes me feel good.
I walk ahead of Karen as I tell her I’m heading for Beat 9. At the crossing at Beat 13, I am thinking about the fish that used to lay in the weeds that were recently removed on upper 12. (A friend mentioned that they may have over done it on some of the stream modifications. I agree with him but share that I try to keep my opinions to myself in deference to the volunteers who turned out to do all the work that was involved in opening up the water. In July there were only weeds and no open water on some beats.) I walk toward 12 in the water and test the Beetle in the shade on the far and near banks, it being high noon with sun on the water.
I can see fish, and some are rising, a few aggressively. Someone is around the corner, so I stay where I am and send long drifts and casts down to the action. Despite decent casts and good placement, no one cares for my fly. I should change but decide to move on as Beat 9 is my goal.
It’s Bill on middle 12, working the hole under the trees. At the crossing above 11, Tommy of “Ken, Lou and Tom,” is playing a fish. I snap a few photos, but the fish gets off before we can do a hero shot. So far, the river has been pretty much occupied, about two on each beat. Crowded but not overly so since these people know how to behave, are courteous and respectful of fellow fishers. It’s a nice Club.
Ken is in Beat 9, but above the sluice, trying to get that fish that always seems to tease us from under the tree. I ask if I can fish below the sluice and he says sure, he is moving back up anyway. He is replaced by another fellow whose name I can’t recall.
I stand, drink some water, and watch the water. No rises. No visible fish. Water approaching 66 degrees. I set my expectations accordingly. Joe Pepe once stood in this spot with a weighted nymph and pulled out 5 fish. I am sure they are here. It’s just too good a hole for them not to be. Besides, most people overlook this section, probably because of the low hanging trees and seemingly shallow water once out of the sluice. The near shore rocks are slippery when you climb in as well.
I start down under the trees by the tail of the current. Work the Beetle in the usual spots but some are really shallow with the river this low. I was talking to Chuck about the problem, and we agreed that some of it is from the weed removal, speeding up the flow and taking volume out of the stream, but the real problem is with the water table which provides the pressure to bubble these springs up to the surface. The drought is partially responsible for this. A quick rain will not fix the water table although run-off would help if it’s cool enough. The water table problem is from too much withdrawal by Long Islanders to water their lawns and flush their toilets. It will take a while to replenish it, if it can be replenished. Scary thought that like the Wantagh Creek that flowed when I was a kid, pumping all treated sewage and wastewater out to the ocean instead of recharging it lowered the water table to dry it out completely above Southern State Parkway. It’s a drainage ditch where brookies once lived. That could happen here as well. Sounds like a long shot, but is it with all the changes we are experiencing?
I take a break and another drink as it is getting warm, and the shallow water isn’t cooling these waders much. What to put on? The Beetle goes on the drying patch and the Black Nosed Dace goes on. I work it as I usually do, and it takes a while to find a fish…but a respectable rainbow comes along. The fish’s fight is minimal due to the warm water (a recent stockie), so I unhook him in the water without a net. Good for both of us. I work the area again and then move up to the sluice, working both sides of it before using it to propel the streamer. I get a surprising hit in the still water just below the rocks but miss him. Then a spunky fish on the other side of the current. I see him and then he is off (I like to think by design). One more and I head upstream. Passing another fisher, I get in at the platform on 11.
It is so beautiful here. Tree covered water, smooth current, ideal dry fly water and there are rising fish, some soft, some not so soft. Too pretty to fish subsurface so I change from the Dace to an Iris Caddis. A most effective fly too few people use. Nothing sexy about it and so easy to tie. A fish rises directly across from me. I have been sitting on the platform and being quiet for a while; the water up and downstream is dimpling and splashing. Flipping to the near fish, he takes a look and says no. I start working the near water below me, preferring to fish dry downstream when practical.
Ed Kohler and Karen come by as does another Flyrodder. They move on down.
A rise right next to the fly and then a hit and refusal. Surface action. Got to love it. The fly does its work and I have a few when I start working the top of 10 from 11. There have been some big swirls down there and I wanted to keep my distance, although setting the hook on a big fish with so much line out can be tough. I hit a small one and then the fish of the day grabs it.
At first not reacting, then swimming toward me, at speed. I am reeling in as much line as I can while playing him, hoping to keep this guy away for the side brush and rocks. He jumps, maybe 18 inches, maybe more, and then he changes strategy – heads downstream like a freight train! I palm the reel as I am close to my backing, and he is still going. I have to turn him. I start moving down toward him stumbling on a branch and then stepping in a hole. I put side pressure even though it may bring him to the rocks. He doesn’t care and keeps going. – Ping! Wow.
The knot gave on the tippet. Damn.
I sit to recover and repair the damage. I have another Iris Caddis and put it on. Go for the one who rose across from me when I first came, and he refused me again. Time to move on.
I have not used the Joe Stack in a while and ever since Joe Odierna started giving me a supply, I have tried to use it on every trip no matter the circumstances and remarkably, it always (as far as I can recall) performs. I walk to 16A by the whirlpool, which has changed. In fact, I put the rod down and take some video, it is that different. The whole shape of the swirl has shifted, probably due to low water. I watch for a while and then some fish come into view. On the bottom, going side to side for nymphs, I think. Joe Stack is dry but fishes well when sunk as well. The first fish comes up and refuses, then I let it sink and move into the current. Nothing. Repeat, repeat, repeat. Switch to casting the far edge and letting it sweep the bank, two more fish appear, but don’t rise. Ok.
I have had a good day and have no complaints. I dry the fly and dress it. Rest my arm a bit and repeated the process. Two on the sunk fly and one, God bless him, came up and bit it dry. Time to move. I walk a bit and am feeling the heat and exercise starting to overtake me. I sit and drink another bottle and eat a nut bar; watch the birds (this is a great park for bird watchers) and continue on to find Peter.
He is sitting on the bank at the foot of Rainbow Bridge flipping his nymph and, when asked, tells me he stopped counting after ten. My man! I fish a platform with the Joe Stack hitting a few including a 5-inch stream-bred Brookie. Peter tells me there is a good one under the two logs on the far side. I work it and as he starts giving me another tip, I hook the fish.
This park is magic as are the friendships this sport provides. Thanks Peter!
August 26, 2022 – Vail Pond
I waited until the day before to make a reservation. The weather report was cloudy, relatively cool night and some rain. As good as you can get this time of year. I call and the morning session is empty. I take Beat 4, where they dump the fish in when they are dumping fish. It is seldom open. They have not been stocking from what I can determine, which probably makes sense given the hot summer and marginally cool water. (Plus you have your summer teenage poachers thinning the stock.) Water temp is high 60s at beat 5. Had to go to beat 3 to find mid 60’s but even it is marginal as the pond in Blydenburgh is overflowing its warm water into beats 1 and 2, discoloring and warming the whole river. I was hoping for a few brookies in the spring holes.
In any case, I started on Vail Pond. It is covered in weed and debris and has few if any visible signs of fish activity, but we know they are there, under it all, hanging in the cool water of the bottom protected from osprey. Heaven for them. Fishing the pond means being able to cast your choice of fly over the top weeds 40 – 50 feet into a small open area. These areas occur at the whim of the wind rather than the weeds. You see, they float and don’t seem to be moored. At one point I am targeting a spot in front of me but over time it closes. I also fish the weed covered water. Its annoying to have to clean the fly after each cast and you always are risking a snag, but I visualize how big bass will blast through all kinds of cover to nail a gurgling frog.
I see a wake. Not like a following fish, more like a turtle cruising near the surface, but it gives me hope. I launch and fail. I have my GLoomis 9-foot, 4 wt. Stream Dancer and have no excuse for not making a decent cast. I look behind to make sure I can clear the bankside bushes and trees and then work the line up and into a double haul with a good 60 feet out. I hit the clear water but short of the place the wake once was. I wait.
When with Joe Pepe up on the Lake I would put a frog popper out and let it sit long enough to light a cigarette, if I smoked. Then twitch it and wait until the smoke was half done, twitch it again and Wham! The same technique did not appeal to whatever was looking up though the weeds in Vail Pond.
Moved to the next platform, at the south end, where the canal leads to Beat 14. The twitch works and I have a colorful Sunnie on the line. Good fighters those Sunnies. Further south I picked up a little bass whose fight did not compare. One more Sunnie and I moved to the river.
Top of Beat 5 is where I begin. I had reserved #4. I told the ranger I would probably go in at 4 and work my way to 7. She reminded me, which I knew, that the park rules are to stay on the beat assigned. Goes back to a few years ago (or maybe a decade ago) when an old fellow got lost and spent the night in the woods. She reiterated that they need to know where I am if I don’t show up at the end of my session. I suggested the weir would certainly catch me, were I to make my final trip this day. “You can fish a little up and a little down, maybe, but try to stick to the area” she said. A kind accommodation I respected. I switched to beat 5 as I wanted to look at 6.
The water is in the high 60’s and off color. No fish to be seen. None spooked as I move around. None came out of the little secret spots I know to test. I checked myself as I was getting impatient. Sat on a Boy Scout Bench and took some water. The weather person lied again, it’s hot and sunny.
I started with the beetle and stayed with it most of the day, alternating to the Dace and GWB for the deeper holes. Nada. From 5 I went to 6 (the in-stream numbered post is missing) and am glad to see the weeds less obtrusive than in other years. I drift the beetle under the bushes, into the logs, over the grass. Twitched and even stripped trying to get a reaction.
Got out and walked up to 4, went to the bottom of 3 to be honest (I wanted more temperature data points). The water is survivable but there are no fish to be seen. I always assume they are here, somewhere, but today I couldn’t find them. I should have taken Beat 3.
I went back to the pond which had come alive with dragon flies and darning needles. Lots of them, swooping the top of the water like swallows during an evening hatch on the Beaverkill. There is a rise to one that lingered over a spot a little too long. I put the beetle in the vicinity and repeated as before. I then intentionally plopped it here and there hoping the splash-down would get some attention, but no.
I went for some distance, and in the process of false casting and hauling, a dragon fly ate my beetle and was firmly hooked. Spinning the line and the water, I held my breath thinking that if anything is going to bring a fish up, this live bait will – but nothing. I brought the rig in and could not calm the fly enough to get it off. Rather than stomping on it I tossed it back out. Plop and whirr. A good size Sunnie took it, I mean it was big enough to fillet. I cleared the line by clipping off the beetle and sliding the now dead bug off. I took a few casts at the north end and picked up one more small Sunnie.
As I was walking out, I was surprised to see a fellow walking in for the mid-day session. He was not making eye contact and I think he would have walked on by had I not said hello. He grunted some reply. I said he should be ready for a day of target practice and he said “What the hell does that mean?” Rather than explaining, noting a grumpy demeanor, I said good luck and turned for the car.
I love this park in all its phases, even this one. I thought of the nice big brookie Sue and I caught last spring, Joe’s 22-inch rainbow on Beat 7 a few years ago and the football Chuck and I landed on 14. It will happen again. Just not today.
August 20, 2022 – Late August on the Conny
The Theodore Gordon Flyfishers outing was all day, three sessions with breakfast, lunch and even a dinner in a restaurant (several who live a distance away stayed at hotels). I arrived and fished the morning session and stayed for lunch.
Stream temperatures were cool upstream (Beat 28 was 59 degrees at 8:30 am, Beat 17 was 66 and I would assume everything below that was in the high 60’s or low 70’s.
Luke fished the Pond outflow with some action, a bass and a few un-seen but listless fish. He did much better upstream, starting at Rainbow Bridge where he had 3. I walked in at 19 and had no reaction to my Dace, then worked my way up to 30, a good walk. It was to be cloudy with some rain but turned sunny and hot. I walked slow and fished a few spots where fish were visible (Beats 22, 26, 28) and some where they were not. I had high hopes for 27, below Bunces Bridge, but it has been cleared of bushes and debris and perhaps the fish feel more comfortable elsewhere. Either that or my fly selection was not to their liking.
I had lost the Dace, a Stimulator and a Beetle on the way up to the trees. I was trying to cast and flip with a 12-foot leader (which needed to be changed) on the 6’6” rod. Took a while to adjust. I switched to a Black Leech at Bunces and left it on at 28.
I sat for a while taking my gear off and sipping 2/3rds of the water I brought leaving a little for the walk back. Hydration has become important, and I should probably buy a second bottle holder for my Simms belt. My appetite seems to have disappeared. I had a nut bar but no desire to refuel. The bench was in the sun, so I didn’t sit long. I wanted to see if they cut new accesses to the river between 28 and 30 where it would be helpful to the fishing and not hurt the fish, but they didn’t. I watched for a while at each access, and nothing was moving even though the water was cool.
Back at 28 I decided to watch a little longer. Small fish were near the edge across the stream where some weeds remained. I flipped the Leech but poorly and spooked the one I saw. I took another cast and used the open space behind me to use the full range of the rod and line. It landed where I wanted but the fish were gone. I reeled in and watched for a while, cooling off.
A big rainbow came sauntering by heading downstream. He was in the middle of the water column. I flipped the Leech and he turned and took the tail, a tail that was too long, and promptly spit it out and moved on. Closest I have come to catching a fish today. I trimmed the tail and tried again for the small fish on the other side. They were back but not interested. Time to change flies.
I like to fish dry or at least light, but a bead-headed Green Wooly Bugger was what I needed. I had one with titanium bead on a jig hook which should keep it down and free from too many snags. I launched it to the small fish area but another, even bigger, rainbow showed up. I lifted the rod to bring it into his feeding path and he gently took it. Just like that I am connected to a very nice fish. I tightened the line to set but didn’t expect much of a fight. Wrong.
This guy ran up and down and jumped 2 or 3 times. I had to tire him out to get him near the long-handled net even with 4 x tippet - and then he ran again. Remembering the weather, I pressured him over and after one more run, he came to the platform, rod significantly bent. I missed the first two attempts to net him and then put it through the lower bar of the guard rail that surrounds this pier. I was able to reach out further while holding the rod high overhead. The platform is low enough that once in the net I could lay the handle on the deck suspending him in the water. Placed the rod aside with some slack in the line and got down on my hands and knees to unhook him. He took it in his mouth in a gentle gulp and the jig hook lodged in the roof of his mouth. I tried once to get it out with the forceps but then cut him free as he had rolled on his back, not a good sign. I lifted him out of the net, he was heavy, held his wrist and moved him in the current, holding him through the first few shakes to free himself. Finally, he kicked hard and was off.
On all fours, I watched as he found some cover. A good catch and release but I will now be wary of jig hooks that have been touted as the latest and greatest (like the Mop Fly). I will stay with my traditional hooks and hook ups.
It is 11 O’clock so I head back downstream stopping just before the entrance gate by 26. They improved the sluice there and the current and depth has been improved to the point you really can’t see if a fish is lying on the bottom. I worked the flow and into the back eddy a number of times with another Green Wooly Bugger. Then I flipped it midstream, and this monster rose out of the depths and took the fly before it could settle to the bottom. A whopper! One that did not like being fooled and took me for a ride like the other one only with more pressure and a fierce determination not to be led in any direction other than the one he wanted to go in. Downstream. After a worthy duel he took to the bank and found a nice branch the volunteer cleaning crew neglected to remove, and I now was hooked to something less exciting and just as stubborn. He was gone.
I stopped at a few more spots on the way down, looking where they were hiding under logs and in holes. Flipped another GWB to no avail. I finished my water and came upon two nice fish in midstream as I approached the end of the trail. I watched and was about to flip the fly when I saw a fellow watching the water just below the fallen tree below me. I had my fun and wasn’t sure if he had his. I motioned to him that there were fish and he responded that he was watching one too. I walked down to him and his was bigger than mine. I wished him luck and left him to the fish.
I worked the water below Rainbow Bridge thoroughly with no action and headed for the car. I passed Hal who had just left 17. We nodded but didn’t exchange info. I went over to 17 and put on my last Beetle. I always have luck here floating anything down to the end of the run where it enters the hatchery flume. I wasn’t disappointed although the fish were small. I had a few missed rises as well working a line with too much slack.
A fellow on 18 hooked a nice fish and was showing his family and friends who seemed all full of wonder. Made me want to make one more cast. I went across instead of down, near the shaded bank and fed it line. Before too long the Beetle got juiced! Wham! And a big one, bigger than all the others I had seen or hooked. He put up a good fight and even managed a jump, but I think the warmer water (66 degrees) played a role in my landing him as he barely fit in the net and was heavy enough to make it awkward to lift him. I hesitate estimating size but 22” would not be a bad guess. Again, on my hands and knees, slipping the net through the lowest rung on the platform rails I managed to net him and keep him wet. I couldn’t get the fly which was in the corner of his mouth as he was still twisting. I reluctantly brought him to the deck and the fly self-released. I grabbed his wrist and took the net away. A few more pulses back and forth in the moderate current were needed to get him to kick but kick he did.
I cut the fly off while still prone on the deck. As I crawled my way to an upright position, suddenly self-conscious, I looked around hoping no one was watching.
I met up with Luke at the car as I considered changing to shorts and a tee in this heat, but we started chatting. I offered him a bottle of water, but he went to get one of his sparking types. We met at the shaded bench overlooking the river and enjoyed each other’s company as the heat of the day left us.
Close to home, fishing the beach with poppers after sunset. Joy in just being here watching the moon rise with friends Walt and Dennis. A fish of unknown species provides my first action, ran a bit of line out, tugged and turned soon freeing himself as I shouted “fish on” with glee.
Made my day!
July 18, 2022 – Club Day at the Park with LI Flyrodders
I took the morning session figuring it would be cooler, especially after Tim told me he took the afternoon and it was too hot. He sent an unbelievable video of fish at beat 14 heading up the artisan well creek. I sent it to the Park Manager and suggested she put up a sign to not fish here in hot weather (it’s not very sporting and the stress will probably kill the fish even when released).
I fished upstream on Tim’s advice and hit a nice rainbow jumper on 20 with a Black Nosed Dace, same fly that worked for Timmy. I walked up but there were no visible fish and the in water vegetation has all been either removed or died. I tried a few likely places dropping the fly back and tugging on it a bit. Let it sink and then darted it across. Nada.
At lower 27 I put on a Stimulator which looks like a grasshopper. Worked a few spots with no response. Moved to the upper platform and had a fish on the first cast across the sluice. More after that as I let it drift downstream, mostly on my side of the stream. I let it sink and had a few, all modest stockies, and switched to a beetle as the stimulator got water logged. Black foam with rubber legs and a tuft of elk hair on the back for visibility. They liked it both floating and sunk.
I took a break on the bench at 28. It was cloudy and light rain but still warm. I was going to work 28 to 30 but heard more thunder in the distance so headed back. I stopped to try the beetle at 25, 24 and 23 with no luck. I headed for 20 to see if that jumping rainbow might like the beetle but the rain picked up.
I was a little tired from the walk and was glad to call it a day at 11 instead of hanging around until 12. Truth is it is too warm to fish for trout, not good for them and maybe not so good for me.
Sick with shingles from June 6 until this very day. Although the scars have cleared up, the energy and twitching nose haven’t so no Catskills this year which is a bummer but accepting what you are dealt is the game these days and I am better for it. Hopefully a fall Catskill trip will materialize. If not, I am still the luckiest man on earth.
May 30, 2022 – Memorial Day
Friends of Connetquot has a fund-raising outing on the Holiday. Beautiful warm sunny day – perfect for a picnic. Rain might have helped their efforts. I fished the morning session. Janet mentions that 10 signed up.
I considered the JD Wagner but chose the Neuner 6’6” 4 wt. and swap the spool in the Hardy to match. I love Chuck’s rods. A Joe Stack tied on for good luck, I head downstream. That’s another big decision – where to fish? I have been walking upstream lately and enjoy the solitude, but I actually thought I would try to be social and go where everyone else seems to go…but only 2 other guys are there.
I wet the fly on upper 12 and have three on and one in the net. There are many fish, I am sure stocked for this occasion. They are not looking up for the most part and I am not going down. Result is walking by many I could have fished to had I been willing to dredge the bottom.
The weed, or watercress, has also become a limiting factor. One needs to find slots and pools where it is not clogging the water. Even then your near line often hangs up while your fly tries to move downstream – oh, that’s another thing – I have become almost an exclusive downstream dry fly fisher these days, at least on Long Island.
Anyway, 3 on the hook and one in the net almost by design. I just as soon shake them off once hooked, at least most of the time. Exceptions being when someone is watching (I can be petty) or when it’s a fish that is a challenge to land, like the last one of the day’s down on 9.
It’s not really 9, but below it. Past the sluice, under the trees, just before the water opens up to that wide, duck loving area of the river which is not a designated beat (until you get to 8). I have found some of the most amazing fish in this area over the years. One time I met a probable sea-run that fought and jumped like a salmon after hitting my Fran Betters’ Burnt Orange Usual. That was memorable. Many times since, a little further down, where it opens up a bit, still is covered by trees to make the fish less spooky of the ospreys, I have gotten lucky.
Floating a nice dry (Joe stack or other suitable choice) works as does a Black Nosed Dace or unweighted Woolly Bugger (its shallow), but with a fine rod I try to stay dry. I mean it’s the whole point of fishing bamboo built like a Leonard, right? The Joe Stack works the near water first, of course. There are rises, but not consistent. I can’t bring them up so move down to the roots of the tree on the left. Wham!
A big boy with friends. The little hole explodes as I press him to come to mid-stream. I am not thinking of landing him and even gave the line some slack. Then he runs and jumps. Heads back to the roots and breaks me off leaving with some lip jewelry. Wow. I wasn’t expecting that. I rose a few more over there and had one on and in the net.
I give it a rest coming back to work the right side. Again, there are rises. Sips even. I am thinking of putting on a spinner or Iris Caddis, the takes are so soft. Instead, I dry off the Joe Stack which has caught every fish so far and add some flotant as I need to get it way down there without it sinking. One float, two floats. Hmmm.
This time I throw it further right and encourage it to swing toward the left, letting it drift after each little tug. Not really a twitch but enough so it looks alive and ready to leave. He takes it and reacts immediately like the other one, disturbing everyone in his hole, jumping repeatedly, 3 - 4 times.
He turns toward me, and I cannot pull line in fast enough. Then more jumps and back downstream. I get him on the reel, not that the drag on this Hardy is going to help much. I decide that I really want to land this fish.
My brain makes a few re-calculations. Memory kicked in. Small rod (6’6”), long leader (12 foot), medium tippet strength (5x). I better look to tire him out before doing anything else. The only way that is going to happen is if I can use what strength the leader and I have to keep him out of the roots and weeds where a break off was assured. Another jump but then he begins to give in. Reeling, I get to the point where the leader is almost all the way in and I cannot bring it into the tip top as I have one of those plastic bead-like connectors which can get hung up and break it. I have been meaning to change that. I lift and move the rod upstream, unhook my net, and wait. He sidles up next to me and he is bigger than the net, handle and all. A headfirst approach would break him off, but a tail first would never happen, as he still had some strength in him – and some fight. When I move the net in the water he takes off, back downstream. Damn.
Patience. I think about what I tell others - be patient. Its May with cold water and no heat stress to complicate things. I can leave him in the water, on the hook at rest, for as long as either of us can take it without compromising his health. As long as we both stay calm. Especially me.
He comes back alongside and there is no choice – I have to swoop him into the little net headfirst, which I do. He is twice the size. I don’t lift but rather follow him with the net, so he swims into it rather than out. I put my rod on a dead branch and grab his tail as I lift the net. (I think this is a first.) He is longer than that big one Chuck and I managed to land in tandem up at Caleb Smith a few Octobers ago but not as fat. They chow down in Vail Pond up there and could use a gym membership to slim down. This guy is a stream fish and has the thick wrist and broad tail to work it well.
The fly is neatly sitting in the netting, no need to remove it. I hold him a moment, in the water, dropping the net to hang on its leash. Take a phone shot or two to show my wife, none too professional but under the circumstances they are the best I can do without taking him out of the water.
I lead him into the current and hold that huge wrist as he wavers back and forth, seeming not to mind the personal attachment – like a feral cat who will let you pet him, but not for long. Then off he goes in a shot.
May 20, 2022 - Carman’s River
May is when the Brown Drake, Green Drake, March Brown and whatever other large Mayflies emerge on the Carman’s and at times in great numbers driving the fish crazy. I have been in it once when it was running at full tilt and a few times when it was spotty. But you have to go in May and you have to stay late. Dark usually, with the action starting at dusk. It is an amazing sight to see and worth the travel and the odds.
I have not been there in a while and kind of made a promise to myself that I would at least try this year. I have talked to Chuck about it, and he is always willing to meet out there. Jim wanted to go when we met at the Fly Fishing Expo in March but we haven’t talked since. I ask Joe.
The weather is another issue. Weather and flow and time of day all matter. I have curtailed my fishing this season for a number of reasons, mostly my lack of energy and drive. I have lost the need to go fishing but still love to go. Other things just get in the way. So, I am looking for a day and I see Friday open (that’s today) but there is a good chance of showers as evening falls. 35% it says three days out. Starting at 8 it says.
Well, if I go at 4 and hang out until 8 who knows what will happen. I mean I have a rain jacket. I call Joe and he is taking Friday off to fish the Conny in the morning and will meet me there for the evening. Actually, he gets there early and waits for me at Gate A. I send a text with some suggestions.
I arrive at the check in about 10 minutes before they close. I wanted to pay the fee for this first 2022 session I fish although later in the year when I arrive after 4 no one seems to care. $4.00 for the day. $38 for the season. I have never fished the Carman’s enough in a season to make the $38 worthwhile except that it relieves my conscious of not paying when I go after 4. With gas at almost $5 a gallon I won’t be driving out here too much so I just pay the $4. Guilt relief.
I drive in the campsite entrance and ride the fence road turning down the wrong road and wandering through the mulching and tree removal area and then come to Joe’s car at the top of the lake. Oh no. I hope he didn’t go in here. Too much mud. I park and walk up to the usual parking for A where the old cement foundation is.
He wades out and I suggest we move the cars as others will come and if they see no cars will think the water empty of fishers. Then a car pulls up, proving my theory. We walk back toward the river when the driver calls out “Are you guys just going in?” It’s Michael who I hardly recognize as he has trimmed down and is as tan as a cabana boy in August. I introduce Joe and we chat. He has been busy between hiking long trails down south and fishing both here and in the salt. “My wife is in the city” he says meaning, I assume, he has bachelor privileges. As we talk the next car pulls in.
It is cloudy but no rain. We all know we have to wait for the action but go fishing anyway. Ken was the new arrival, nice fellow. Michael went to West Meadow to try for some stripers. Joe went up, I went down, and Ken stayed in the middle. No rises but a few bugs. March Browns. Some spent spinners along with many little bugs, none of any interest to the fish, yet. I get out and move my car to A.
I take the trail up to B rather than crossing behind Ken, walking the planks to the river leaving my rain jacket in the car. It is about 70 degrees. Mucky entrance but I see Joe as I emerge from the weeds. There are some thunder rolls in the distance and Joe checks the radar. Looks like it’s in Islip. We have about a half hour and Joe moves his car to B while I work the far bank heading downstream slowly.
I put on a fly Chuck recommended. Well not exactly…he just said go big. It produced a small bass which was a delight, still no rises. I got halfway to Ken when the skies opened up. I hear Joe shouting behind me as he turns to head for his car. It’s a 50/50 call for me so I head toward Ken who seems to have his fly hooked on his back. I help him untangle and we both shuffle toward the cars, the rain now an official downpour.
I had backed in, so the open tailgate provides a nice dry seat to watch the rain and the river. Ken went into his car and Joe came and sat with me. I guess it was about 40 minutes before the sky began to brighten. The radar showed it as a temporary break – I am thinking we were not going to make 8 pm if the next rain is anything like the last one. Maybe it will be drizzle. Ever the optimist.
Ken and I head toward the river as the sun comes out, but it is still a heavy rain. Joe heads back to B. I stand with Ken, and finally say I am going to work upstream if it’s ok with him. He doesn’t have a raincoat so he will be sticking nearby. I work under the trees where I always have some luck, even if the fish are usually small.
Looking for rises but none are to be seen. As I approach just below where I caught the bass, I work a section in a little cove. I am using the JD Wagner 8-footer which I need to adjust to. It has a powerful butt with a soft tip designed to lightly land dry flies. Takes a few casts to get the hang of it. I am thinking I need to put a heavier line on but after a few casts, it performs nicely. I need more time with the rod to figure it out. I don’t take it often as I have so many others I like.
There is a rise at the base of a tree. I switch from the big fly, which the bass made a little gooey, to a BWO with CDC wing. Nothing. Rainy day fly, the BWO, what is wrong with these fish? I put on a Joe Stack I had on the patch rather than digging out a March Brown emerger. I put it where it should be, and again, and again. Try another spot for a while. Another rise under a downed branch which is impenetrable.
Go back to the first one by the tree, sure I will get a rise. What I got instead was a good roll of thunder. One more cast. I am fishing with bamboo so no lightning rod to worry about. Then I realized I am standing in the middle of a stream, and its thundering. I head for Ken but he is already gone. (He moved up to C dam and caught a nice trout above it in the bushes. Sorry I can’t report on Joe’s fishing, but our departure was too hurried to swap fish tales.)
Once at the car I break down my gear but can’t take the rod apart. My grip is not what it was. I just put it on the seatbacks up to the dash. Joe comes and says a quick goodbye as it is raining harder yet. I let Sue know I am on my way and drive up a spate stream of a road to Gate A and home. Joe calls to make sure I got out ok.
Glad I went. I have a smile on my face while I drive home with my wet waders on.
I may not need to fish these days but damn, I sure enjoy it.
My Honey and Me!
April 13, 2022 – Special Day in so many ways
54 years ago, Sue and I were in Puerto Rico thanks to the US Navy. Today we are going to Caleb Smith State Park together. It’s the first time she has accompanied me to one of the trout parks on the Island.
I reserved Beat 7 as it has a nice place to sit by the waterfall. We took the 12 to 4 session. The walk was fairly easy although there are a number of boardwalk sections and a bridge or two to cross. Her foot has been acting up, so we just took our time.
Once there and settled I fished the downstream section staying within sight, or at least earshot. I managed a nice Brookie from under the bank side boards just below the first diverter, walking back to show her before netting it. Next, I walked up to the top of 7 via the trail and worked down, again within sight.
There was a fish under the brambles by the little island but no way for me to get anything in there. I passed him up. Fished the far bank under the trees working the small Green Woolly Bugger into the hole under the bushes. Very patiently. I think I spooked one fish.
Took a break, standing in place, then returned the bugger to the hole. Gently pulsing it and covering the area, letting it sink back I hooked…a stick. Once retrieved, I worked it again getting some roots this time. The third time is the charm. I felt a monstrous grab, a quick roll and bolt as the fish, a Rainbow I think, headed toward the opposite bank and broke me off. I headed over to Sue for some PBJs and water explaining that we needed to give the hole a good rest.
I tied on an Iris Caddis and walked quietly upstream before cutting over and going back under the trees. Casting side arm, allowing the current to carry it in, helping it with some gentle tugs before it got too close. When it was in the hole it sunk, and I gave it some more line. Hand twisted it out and let it go back a few times before recasting.
I got it to go back to the hole and drift deep under the bush risking hanging it up on the branches that lay on the surface. It sunk and again I gave it line. I channeled Clark and his favorite saying “Sometimes you have to annoy them into a strike.”
I let it sit there gently pulsing it a bit. Time passed by, maybe 4 or 5 minutes. A long time. I pulled it softly toward me and WHAM! A very large Brookie. I managed to get him out from under the bush and into center stream. He gave a good fight as I shuffled over toward Sue.
I didn’t have to remove the fly as it came out and was stuck in the netting. What a beautiful fish. Colored as if it was in spawn although brookies spawn in the fall as far as I know. Perhaps he was from Vail Pond that he grew so big and pretty. Hatchery fish can be big but are seldom pretty. I held him in the current and he kicked, but not much, choosing to settle at the bottom by the weir. After a bit he moved to center stream.
Sue said, “I knew you were going to catch him.” She is a bit of a witch like that, knowing things that is. I told her how much I appreciate her and especially her sharing this with me. She said it is great to be here.
I told her that I had enough fishing, and we should pack up and head out. I was thrilled in so many ways with the day, I didn’t want any more. I wanted it to be just as it is right now. Capture the moment as they say. She said we could stay which I appreciated but it was time to go.
A fellow came by who had Beat 4 but worked his way down since the river was empty. It is not yet 3 pm. I asked him to take our picture which he gladly accommodated. I told him to feel free to fish 7 since we were leaving. He offered us beat 4, if we’d like.
We chatted about the river, and he asked how long I have been fishing it. I told him since the mid 70’s…and he said, “Me too”. Looking at him, he must have been in diapers then, but he clarified that as a boy he rode his bike to the park in the summer and fished it. We said our goodbyes as Sue and I headed out.
On the way home we stopped at Carvel for “2 for 1” sundaes. It was like a real date. She said then and has repeated since that it was the best day she has had in a long time.
This fish was caught in Caleb Smith State Park, one of many spring creeks on Long Island. For a guide to all of them click “Learn More” which will bring you to the LITU website. All proceeds from the book benefit trout conservation.
We made it to Roscoe in time for breakfast, then headed for the fly shop. Dennis was on the quarried stone stoop having a smoke and greeted us with “Uh oh, look who’s here.”
“What’s happening?” says Jerry.
“Not much. The rivers are high.”
“A little yesterday, more the day before, hard to tell with this water.”
Action means flies and sometimes you hit them and sometimes you don’t. It doesn’t alter the joy of being here, at least not much. We come every year and every year it is different. Moving inside, Dennis takes his place at the tying bench where he greets all, whether buying or not. Jerry watches as sulfur emergers fill a cup next to the vise.
He tells Dennis what he has been torturing me with for the last few weeks. “First time since 1952 I missed the Hendrickson hatch.” It is already June. Drakes, Isos and Sulfurs, maybe a left over March Brown. June. “1952. Damn.” Dennis admires his tenure. “You must know every rock in this stream by now.” I countered, glancing over my shoulder, “He’s past his prime.”
It blurted out. I didn’t mean it harshly, just jousting with him as we often do, but the words struck me as unintentionally cutting, probably because there was truth in them. This man who taught me so much, my mentor and friend, has lost his edge. He can’t see the drag of the fly, his tremulous hands keep him from tying a blood knot, and tying on even a size 12 is difficult.
He doesn’t react to my words. We buy some weighted stoneflies for the high water and say our good-byes. As we are leaving I ask “Where should we start?” We both know the answer.
Earlier this year Jerry was in the ICU bedridden, attached to more machines for monitoring, elimination and nutrition than I care to think about. Nothing was working. He looked me in the eye and said “I don’t think I’m going to walk again.” A plain statement. No real emotion or search for sympathy. Just his professional assessment of the situation, being the clinician that he was. I stumbled for words. “You need to think of a place you want to walk to, get the image and hold on to it.” He looked at me as his wife listened to the plan. One word came out of our mouths at the same time, “Barnhart’s.”
Sometimes people go suddenly, unexpectedly. That is more difficult as you are left with this wretched void, totally unprepared. Watching someone go through the later stages of life, the decline, is difficult in a different way. It is better than the alternative but you find yourself marking how close the nearest medical facility is and thinking about how you would get him there. He gave up river crossings some time ago. I knot on a fly or add some tippet, give him the first shot at a rise. All of us who fish with him quietly do whatever we can to make it easier without being obvious about it – but he knows.
We play out the roles.
Just last spring the two of us worked Barnhart’s from the riffle at the head, down past the portal, all the way to the big bend toward Horse Brook Run. He quit when we hit Hendrickson’s and made it on his hands and knees up the steep bank. No small feat. Leaning on the guard rail, watching, he cheered the catches and misses as I fished the other side. That was just a year ago.
Later that summer, on Slough Creek, he got upset with himself like never before, frustrated and cursing at hanging a fly in a tree on the first cast after struggling to tie it on. I turned and made like I didn’t see. That image haunts me.
Barnhart’s is where we went after leaving Dennis and he walked in with no assistance. It is something we have done a hundred times over our 30-year partnership but this time it was a big deal, his walk in, manifesting the image he had conjured. He cast his last fly on the Beaverkill the fall of that year and caught his last Catskill trout, falling as he swooped it into the net on Sunoco Pool.
Once home he drove himself to the Nissequogue where we usually close out the season together. He called that evening making it clear that regardless of what he was about to tell me, I need to know that he thoroughly enjoyed the day. He had walked to the lower beats, the path not in sight of the river, and got turned around. “Stumbling through the woods, I broke the tip of the Granger, suffered a few significant scratches from the underbrush, and once I found the river couldn’t even fish.” Sure, he enjoyed it. He was in his element.
That was over a decade ago.
Last year a buddy used a walker to cross the West Branch at Stilesville. Another lost his balance at Ferdon’s and feared he might drown, not being able to get up. Manny didn’t remember the wild Delaware rainbow that broke him off a few hours before, he too is gone now. My legs don’t feel like they used to. Stamina no longer allows for more than a few hours on the stream. The hike into the Neversink Gorge is out of the question. Rock hopping, once a natural act, is suicidal.
We know when we pass our prime. It is obvious. What is difficult is knowing when to hang up the boots. Like the cowboys of old, most of us hope to go out with our boots on. Friend and short story writer Richard Dokey and I were planning a trip to Silver Creek when his son called. They found him in his waders. He had just published his final work – Fly Fishing the River Styx.
So keep those boots on as long as you can, even if only to be in your element, like Jerry on the Nissequogue. After all, being in one’s prime is not the point, being there is.
I have followed this path before
And know to where it leads.
Friends try to intervene,
Life continuing to recede.
The time of life, our future fate,
Is not to be denied.
Though if we embrace this very day,
We can all enjoy the ride.
Steve also has a new website, but it is important to note:
He is more of a “life-guide” than a fishing guide - although he could be both.
He caught his first trout before he was 10 in Catskill Creek. He camped at the Beaverkill as a boy, fishing with bait and lures before attaching a fly reel to his spinning rod and flailing away hoping against hope to hook a trout.
In the 1970’s he attended a Trout Unlimited casting clinic and bought a $15 rod and $20 reel, beginning his pursuit of this sport in earnest.
Since then he has fished mountain streams north, east, south and west. He also loves the saltwater and has fished it from his home base on the Long Island Sound to the Florida Keys and beyond. Thanks to a travelling career, he has been fortunate to fish in 21 states and 5 countries – so far.
He recently was co-editor for a team responsible for updating Trout Fishing on Long Island’s Spring Creeks, a Long Island TU publication, and has been included in the beautiful book America’s Favorite Flies, as well as TU’s Trout Tips, Florida Fly Fishing Magazine, the Catskill Fly Fishing Center and Museum’s An Anthology of Angling Experiences along with other regional publications.
A life time member of TU, he also supports Theodore Gordon Fly Fishers, The American Museum of Fly Fishing, The Catskill Fly Fishing Center and Museum, The Adirondack Mountain Club (ADK), The Peconic Land Trust and other conservation oriented organizations. He is a member of the Long Island Flyrodders and Friends of Connetquot River State Park.
He is fortunate to be surrounded by his family and many friends.