First Tom’s Bio followed by Fish Tales (Just added the 7th - “Conny with LI Flyrodders”). 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. Then there are Links to Tom’s books and YouTube Channel as well as some highlights from Letters to Mack. The LITU booklet on fishing Long Island Spring Creeks is featured as well as a recent review from Amazon on How to Fly Fish for Trout, the first book to read. Take a look at Tom’s favorite fly and click to watch Jim Misiura tie one. There are links to my Two Podcasts and one of my friend Steve Ehrlich’s discussing the idea that there is more to fly fishing than the fish. Give them a listen.
Thanks for stopping by!
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.
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!
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.
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 water fall. We took the 12 to 4 session. The walk was fairly easy although there are a number of board walk 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 ear-shot. 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.
May 20, 2022 - Carmans River
May is when the Brown Drake, Green Drake, March Brown and whatever other large Mayflies emerge on the Carmans 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 Carmans 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’s 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 half way 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 down-pour.
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 rain coat 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.
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
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 try’s 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 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 floatant 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 head first 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 head first, 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.
Check out the story in Letters to Mack 3, Correspondence from Islamorada to Pulaski (click “Learn More”) and on YouTube channel too
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.
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.
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!
Check out the story of this Montauk Blitz in Letters to Mack 2, Correspondence from Montauk to Montana - click “Learn More”. Also on the YouTube Channel.
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 thought 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.
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.
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 is (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 walked ahead of Karen as I told 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, but 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 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 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 the same position on 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 him 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 he is close to my backing and still going. I have to turn him. I started 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 4–5 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!
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.