Fly Fishing

A Pumpkinseed's Colors Rival Any Fish
Fresh, Salt, Tropical or Temperate

I wish I could fly fish for trout more often. Unfortunately, good trout fishing isn't nearby. On top of that, the summer is my time to fish. And during July and August, New Jersey's major trout rivers push 70 degrees and it's best to lay off.

That's why a lot of my summer fly fishing is on local lakes and ponds. I love casting to panfish, bass, and if I can find them - carp. I fish from the bank, from my SUP, or from a belly boat.

No matter what I'm fishing for, I keep the striped bass work ethic alive.

Getting up in the dark and fishing first light is common when chasing striped bass. But many anglers don't do the same on trout streams or when fishing local freshwater ponds and lakes. Dawn patrol fishing, combined with a midweek morning, provides solitude and a better shot at fish. Not to mention beautiful sights and sounds. The world is a different place at dawn.

Here are some of my catches and takeaways.

A Summer Fly: Dave Whitlock's Hopper

Terrestrials, like hoppers, ants, and beetles, are a major food source for trout in the summer. They're also eaten by panfish and largemouth along the shoreline of lakes and ponds. Plus, they're a lot more fun to cast than big, air resistant bass poppers. Dropping a hopper next to a grass-lined bank and twitching it slightly to imitate a panicked grasshopper can result in some incredibly fun visual fishing.

Summer Largemouth
Egg Eater, Maybe This Fish Took It For A Berry
Closer Look

Across the street from my home is a lake with water quality issues. It's victim to a large population of geese and receives a tremendous amount of storm-water runoff. With minimal water flow, it sits stagnant throughout the summer. Water temps are high and visibility is low.

I love urban fishing, but I don't think this lake can support bluegill or largemouth. The only fish I've ever seen are carp. They're tough as nails.

This Carp Turned and Ate A Black Bead Head Mini Bugger

The lake was recently dredged to hold more water and prevent flooding. Now the only shallow areas are along the shoreline, many times underneath overhanging trees. That's where I find carp rooting around in the mud for food, usually on calm mornings or evenings. If the wind is up, they seem to be either deep or just difficult to see.

Although bait fishing for carp is popular, if you're after them with a fly rod, it's a sight fishing game. Blind casting is a waste of time. I haven't caught many, but I've had success with small streamers like mini buggers. Another option is fishing an egg pattern. Carp are known to be omnivorous. They eat mulberries and cottonwood seeds. So an egg fished under a tree is probably mistaken for a berry or seed.

Carp are known to be selective and spooky, but the fish near my home are not pressured. When fishing, I've learned to lookout for reaction strikes. A reasonable fly, dropped in front of their nose, can result in a quick take.

Closer Look

It's cliche, but time flies. And the older I get, the faster the flight.

We're halfway through August. Soon I'll be going back to school to prep and grind my brain back to bells and lesson plans.

Rubber Legged Popper Eater
Keep 'Em Wet - All Fish Like It

But it ain't over yet. There's still time for a few more dawn patrol sessions, fueled by strong coffee and visions of big fish on a long rod.

Keep 'Em Wet - All Fish Like It

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So proud to have my writing in a magazine I've read for years. On The Water Magazine's Angler's Almanac for 2019 is out and will be on shelves until the end of March. Consider picking one up!

Angler's Almanac Cover
A Fly-Fisher's Panfish Defense

To celebrate and honor these fish, I took advantage of a warm Saturday (1/5) and threw a soft hackle at a local pond. It felt great to cast and a few little jewels came to hand.

Remember, ice fishermen connect through the ice. So if we get a warm day and there's open water, you can panfish with a fly rod all winter long.

Those fin rays remind me of the summer sun.

Date: 8/24/18

Time: 3:30 - 5:30 pm

Location: Local Lake

Weather: Sunny and Warm, Air Temperature 80 - 85, Water Temperature 75+, Water Was Cloudy Brown, Maybe a Foot of Visibility or a Little More, Wind SSE 7 mph, Moon 93% Visible, Pressure 30.21 and Rising

Catch and Thoughts: After fumbling, losing flies, and feeding my feet to local mosquitoes, this turned out to be a great trip.

These largemouth were a year in the making. Last summer I hooked a bluegill on this lake. When it was close to me and my SUP, a solid bass came straight up from the bottom and took a swipe. That fish got burned in my brain.

I'm not surprised that quality largemouth bass are in this spot, but they're tough to reach with a fly rod and floating line. This lake is large, deep, and dark. The water's never clear. And even though there's ample shoreline structure, I believe the bass stay deep, especially in the heat of summer. For example, when fishing panfish poppers first thing in the morning, you'd expect a bass every once in a while. That has yet to happen. 

On this trip I left the 5 weight at home. The floating line stayed back too. I committed to an 8 weight, a full sinking line, and a 6 foot 1X tapered leader. My plan was to use unweighted streamers and strip them deep. After struggling for a solid hour or more, I found some structure and had a take.

I'm really excited about this presentation. Mostly because I know I'm showing fish something they rarely, if ever, see.

It's the line that's sinking the fly, not the fly itself. When retrieved, these unweighted streamers track basically straight. When stripped, they're not jigging up and down because of dumbbell eyes, a bead or a conehead. And the fly isn't getting constantly pulled to the surface by a floating line. Also, with no weight on the shank, the feathers and bucktail are left to breathe and flow. These flies scream life. That's a different look compared to a crankbait or a jointed plastic plug that you'd throw on spinning or baitcasting gear.

The two fish pictured ate a fly that was given to me by my friend and coworker Kevin Freeman. His flies are beautiful. He knows nature and has a really artistic eye. I'm totally into his color combinations. This particular fly was a dead ringer for a small bluegill. I dig it. So did the fish. Mission accomplished.

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Date: 7/31/18

Time: 6 - 9 am

Morning glass.

Location: Assunpink Lake

Weather: Scattered Clouds, Morning Air Temperature 70 - 75, Water Temperature In The Shallows Felt Like 80+, No Wind Early, Picked Up Around 8:15 Out of the East 5 - 10 mph, Moon: Waning Gibbous Approximately 80% Visible, Pressure 30.14

Damselfly nymph on the deck of my SUP.

Catch and Thoughts: Fly fishing local ponds and lakes is an absolute blast. Today I fished from my stand up paddle board (SUP). The conditions were ideal. No wind. Instead of getting blown around, I easily stayed in one place. I could also stand and fish, instead of casting from my knees.

When I put in at the boat ramp, I paddled north, straight across the lake. Once I reached the opposite shoreline I turned right. I figured I'd take advantage of my SUP and slowly paddle the shallows, casting poppers and small streamers close to shoreline structure. I was in water most boats couldn't access.

I ended up with two bass. One ate a large popper. The other I hooked on a small streamer that I tied off the hook bend of a different popper. This second set up is just like the dry dropper rigs used when trout fishing moving water. Similar set ups can be used in still water, whether you're chasing trout or bass and panfish. When bass fishing, popper dropper rigs have a lot going for them. First, they allow you to suspend your dropper fly over weeds in shallow water. Also, the bass popper works double duty. It can fool fish on its own while also acting as a bobber/indicator that lets you know when a fish eats your dropper fly.

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Date: 6/26/18

Time: 6 - 10 am

Location: South Branch of the Raritan River, Ken Lockwood Gorge

Weather: Partly Sunny Sky, Morning Air Temperature 56, Water Temperature 64 - 65, Flow: 51 CFS (Mean for the South Branch: 211 CFS), Light Wind, Moon 98% Visible

Catch and Thoughts: I thought of today as my last Jersey trout fishing trip before summer sets in. In July and August, our freestone rivers can get low and warm. This might be old news to readers, but you don't want to fish for trout when the water reaches 70 degrees or higher. A lot of fly fishers, including myself, lay off once it hits 68. At these higher temperatures, water holds less oxygen and the fish get stressed. Even if you catch and release a trout in warm water, they may die.

On this day, cool temperatures were predicted. I arrived at 6 am and my dashboard was reading an air temperature of 56. Good stuff. The water was 64 - 65, so I was in the clear. But at 51 CFS, it was low. I stuck to my plan of contact nymphing and given the low water, I ended up doing pretty well. That's what I tell myself anyway.  

I landed 3 fish and lost another to a bad knot. Live and learn. I also either pricked another fish, or just bumped it with my rig. I thought I had a take, I set, and knocked a good size fish off balance and saw it.   

The two flies that worked were weighted and tied on size 14 jig hook - a Frenchie with a pink hot spot and a Sexy Walt's Worm.

Now's the time to either travel for trout or fish for other fish.

Date: 4/13/18

Time: 5:00 - 5:45 pm

Location: Local Pond

Weather: Sunny, Warm, and Windy, Air Temperature 75, Water Temperature 62 - 63, Wind WSW and Stiff, Moon 11% Visible, Pressure 29.91

Catch: After another week of unseasonably cold days, today felt incredible. I'm writing this on Saturday, 4/14, and it's another beauty - sunny and warm. Unfortunately, the temperature is dropping tonight. The upcoming week isn't supposed to break the low 50s.

During this short trip, I managed a beautiful little pumpkinseed sunfish, a small largemouth bass, and a black crappie. I was connected to a better largemouth, but he shook my barbless fly. I fished a black bead head mini bugger on 3X tippet.

Last summer I was encouraged to fish mini buggers by the crew at the Housatonic River Outfitters.

I fished the Housatonic on September 3, 2017. My New Jersey brain was still in summer mode. I expected to be targeting smallmouth bass in a warm river. But by September 3rd, Connecticut was already well into a string of cool days and cold nights. The river's water temperature was falling. This caused the trout in the thermal refuges to spread back out into the main river.

After getting a license, some flies, and guidance at the shop, I swung bead head mini buggers and had a blast with both smallmouth and trout. The mini bugger has become a favorite fly.

Here's my best picture from that Housy trip, 9/3/17.

Date: 3/31/18

Time: 8:00 am - 1:30 pm

Location: South Branch of the Raritan River, Ken Lockwood Gorge (parked on the downstream end and worked upstream)

Weather: Bright Sun and Clear Sky, Air Temperature 57, Water Temperature N/A (forgot my thermometer), Flow: 166 cfs (Mean for the South Branch: 211), Light Wind, Moon 99% Visible

Catch: With bad weather predicted for the rest of the week, 3/31 looked like the best day to fish. It turned out to be a really satisfying trip.

I lost a lot of flies and tied a lot of knots. I scared myself with some of my wading decisions. I almost buckled my wading staff. But in the end, I landed 4 or 5 fish and connected with a few more that came unbuttoned. All stocked rainbows.

Today finally felt like spring. There were multiple bugs in the air, but dark caddis flies were the most conspicuous. I didn't see a fish rise. All my fish were caught subsurface. Everyone I chatted with said the same.

Since we've had such a cold spring, I approached the day like winter. I fished double fly rigs under an indicator in deep, walking speed water. My favorite indicator nymph rig right now is straight from George Daniel's incredible book, Dynamic Nymphing. I take a 7'6" 4X Rio Powerflex leader and cut 8" off the tippet end. This makes the leader 6'10" overall, but still quickly tapers down to 4X. To this 4X tippet I knot a tippet ring. The strike indicator goes above the ring. Now I can attach long sections of 4X, 5X, or even 6X tippet directly to the ring and still maintain a proper taper. Plus, since it's just tippet below the indicator, the flies sink more quickly.

Like I said, I lost a lot of flies throughout the day. Here are the flies that worked for me.

These were freshly tied after I got home, left to right: #18 Zebra Midge with a Caddis Green Hotspot and 3/32 Tungsten Bead, #22 Midge Emerger (with this style of hook, it's a big #22), #14 Jig Prince with a CDC Collar (this fly is heavy), #16 Pheasant Tail and Partridge and a #16 Hare's Ear and Partridge with a Caddis Green Thorax.

With all the caddis in the air, I fished the soft hackles tied off the bend of the Prince Nymph and had some fish really take it hard.


And if periodic hang-ups didn't let me know I was on the bottom, this guy did.

Date: 2/21/18

Time: 4:45 - 5:45 pm

Location: Local Pond

Weather: Sunny and Very Warm, Air Temperature 76, Water Temperature 64, Wind SW and Light, Moon 23% Visible, Pressure 30.26

Catch:

I didn't catch a fish, but fish were active. It was incredible to see water temperatures so high. It made sense because today was a record breaker. Some parts of New Jersey pushed 80 degrees.

It was like a summer evening as I slowly approached the water. Far from the water's edge, fish felt my boots and darted into deeper water. As I fished, I saw other swirls in deeper parts of the pond.

I got a phone call during this session from Shop Rite Joe. He's going to handle beer and wine for my wedding. It was a call I had to take.

Even though I didn't connect with a fish, I was glad I went. At this stage in my fishing, casting a fly rod is all about feel, timing, and muscle memory. I love getting to know my equipment. Style comes with comfort.

You get better by going.

Date: 1/27/18

Time: 3:30 - 4:30 pm (Time Stamp on Picture Is Wrong)

Location: Local Pond

Weather: Patchy Clouds and Warm, Air Temperature 58, Water Temperature 46, Stiff SW Wind, Moon 70% Visible, Pressure 30.33 and Steady

Catch: 

You don't get better at fly fishing by not fly fishing.

The winter months in NJ aren't consistently cold anymore. To me, winter has become a time when we have stretches of freezing cold days. But between cold snaps, temperatures can run in the 40s. And within the 40 degree periods, we'll experience a day or two of freakish warmth, with highs pushing 60. Weeks ago this pond was frozen, but today it felt like spring. I knew I had a shot at something. I would've loved to trout fish, but I didn't have the time.

I managed one tiny largemouth bass. He ate a beadhead mini bugger. I fished my 9 foot 6 inch 5 weight rod with a floating line and a 9 foot 4X leader. It was tough to have the discipline to do it, but I crawled my fly close to the bottom. This pond is not deep, so I was confident that I was getting pretty close. That was confirmed by the occasional hang up and hooked leaf.

I'm glad I had one grab.