A controversy with no simple answer
First published in The daily Gazette, Schenectady, N.Y., 11/3/11
Trout Unlimited really got people talking last month when it announced that its members may not take part in stocking “non-native, hatchery trout” in streams that already hold native trout.
The directive isn’t expected to curtail stocking, which is mostly conducted by state conservation departments. But it has stirred up a lively philosophical discussion about the merits and perils of adding catchable trout to our streams.
Many — maybe most — New York streams that have been stocked for generations also hold at least a few native trout, meaning trout that were not only born in the stream, but are in fact descendants of the trout that were here before people were here. If the presence of any native trout at all made an entire stream off-limits to stocking, an awful lot of New York trout fishing would simply disappear.
“Does one stop stocking brown trout in Willowemoc Creek, for example?” asked Phil Hulbert, chief of the Department of Environmental Conservation’s Bureau of Fisheries, referring to the storied Catskills stream that holds wild and holdover browns and brookies, no doubt including some natives.
“I’m confident there would be people that have opinions both ways. The way we try to deal with this is in a technical sense, not philosophical. When we decide whether a stream should be stocked, we take into account the abundance of wild trout and we make adjustments for the presence of wild trout, in terms of whether there’s unused carrying capacity for hatchery trout.”
If there are enough wild fish, the DEC doesn’t bother stocking at all, Hulbert noted.
Mike Walchko, president of the Clearwater Chapter of TU in Albany, said the chapter doesn’t take part in any stocking activity, preferring to focus on maintaining and improving trout habitat. He agreed with Hulbert that the issue of where to stock and where not to is complex.
“Since streams are continuous bodies, most brook trout populations are found in the upper, colder, cleaner headwater reaches, while the lower stretches are the sections stocked with hatchery fish,” he said. “Many streams are dependent upon these stockings to support a fishable population in these lower stretches.”
Larry Harris, head of TU’s national leadership council, wrote this week to chapter presidents that he was taken aback by the controversy arising from the new policy. After all, TU has been on record for years that stocking should be avoided if it was likely to harm native trout populations.
“I began receiving calls the very next morning after the resolution was sent to council chairs and chapter presidents,” Harris said. “What I am learning is that some chapters in several states currently stock hatchery trout in streams containing native trout.”
And so Harris and a number of TU leaders from around the country are forming a committee to help state councils and local chapters comply with the policy in a way that makes sense on their local waters.
I’ve complained in this space, and others have complained in other spaces, that some New York waters are stocked with way too many cookie-cutter trout with barely any survival instincts. But I also fish some streams where all the trout are wild, others where most are wild, and still others where there’s a pleasing mix of wild trout and holdover stockies. One of my regular spots even has a few genuine, certified, heritage-strain brookies, their DNA untainted by interlopers from California or Germany. None of these are secret or remote. Even after a century of heavy stocking, New York still offers plenty of “natural” trout fishing.
Native trout can never be replaced, and anything that will protect the ones we have is a good idea.
Morgan Lyle’s commentary appears regularly in The Daily Gazette. Reach him firstname.lastname@example.org
Posted by: Peter Kutzer
Welcome to another installment of “Ask an Orvis Fly-Fishing Instructor,” with me, Peter Kutzer. In this episode, I discuss the best way to grip a fly rod. This may seem ridiculously basic to some folks, but the grip is the foundation on which your whole cast is built. So it’s very important that you establish a comfortable grip that will help you put your fly where you want it to go.
The first thing to keep in mind is that you don’t want to try to squeeze the life out of the cork. A grip that’s too tight won’t allow your arm to move properly, and it will cause you to tire quickly. So if you want to be able to fish all day in comfort, start with a light grip. In this video, I offer three options for how you can hold the rod, but the thumb-on-top is my favorite. If you’re just getting started, it’s your best option. Good luck!
Posted: 11 Nov 2011 08:45 AM PST
I was was nine years old when my brother Scott gave me some advice I’ve applied to all sorts of things since then. On that Saturday, we were playing catch after watching our beloved Red Sox on NBC’s Game of the Week when I made an imaginary relay throw pretending to be the Red Sox’ shortstop, Rick Burleson. Scott, who was already a high school star, caught my near-perfect throw and proceeded to chew my butt for throwing side-armed.
“But Burleson throws side armed,” I objected.
At this, Scott walked right up to me, pointed the finger of his ungloved hand at my nose and said, “He’s not a pro because he can do it; he can do it because he’s a pro.” After giving me a few seconds to process this profundity, he spoke again—in a slightly less intense tone—and explained how throwing overhanded reduces the number of variables in calculating a release point: Overhand throws can miss high or low, but done properly the ball doesn’t end up right or left.
The importance of mastering the basics, as taught by my brother that day, has application in a lot of arenas, not the least of which is fly fishing. I’ve listed below six things that my fellow professionals in our fair sport, namely guides and instructors, do regularly that others might best avoid.
1. They twist their wrists while making a backcast. This is sometimes called “poor tracking.” The effect is such that someone standing in front of the caster sees the side of the reel rather than the line housed in it. It’s something akin to throwing a baseball sidearmed. The problem here is that this little outward twist, magnified over 9 feet or so, does funky things to your rod tip, making it travel in several directions. And, as the truism says, wherever your rod tip goes, the line will follow.
2. They fish without a net. The fact is that a lot of guides fish on their own without a landing net, especially when walk/wading. There is actually a case to be made that landing a fish without a net can be less dangerous to the fish, but only in the case of very experienced hands. But this argument isn’t why guides do it. Usually it’s because they can, and it’s less trouble than carrying a net. For most folks, using a net greatly reduces the potential of injuring fish. It also increases the odds of getting a nice photo.
3. They grab their leaders while landing fish. Want to see a guide panic? Reach for your leader as he or she prepares to net your fish. Grabbing a leader removes virtually all of your tackle’s shock-absorbing capacity, making a broken tippet very likely. Interestingly though, the pros will very often grab their own leaders, particularly if they aren’t using a net (see #2). It can be done, but you have to properly manage a whole bunch of variables. For most people, it makes much more sense to just bring a fish to net by touching only your rod handle and the reel.
4. They carry their lines off the reel in loops while moving along a river. The frustration of trying to get your line free from brush, rocks, boots, and legs is one of the universal experiences of fly fishing. It is not, however, one of the more pleasurable ones. Given that rivers are furnished with all manner of line-grabbing objects (not to mention feet and legs that come with the angler), it’s usually a better use of time to reel in before moving very far.
5. They cast heavy nymph rigs overhead, even when using a series of split shot, weighted flies, and strike indicators. Timing the backcast is tough for lots of fly fishers. An early forward stroke creates snarls for which guides have a name, “do overs.” Nymph rigs, with their arsenal of two or three flies, multiple split shot, and a strike indicator, complicate things all the more. To avoid spending your day on a monofilament Rubik’s Cube, stick with simple flip casts made by letting the current pull the line downstream and then lifting the line in a high arc upstream in one simple motion.
6. They wade and fish at the same time. Wading is inherently dangerous, and doing it well is more of an acquired skill than it appears. Trying to manage line while wading is an unnecessary risk. Do one, then the other. Live to fish another day.
There are easily more than six things the pros do that don’t bear imitation. In most cases, the pros will be the first to tell you what those are; in the end, that’s what their profession is all about. In this case, it’s almost always better to do as I say, not as I do.
Posted: 01 Nov 2011 10:52 AM PDT
Even though the quintessential fly-fishing image involves casting dry flies to rising fish, we spend considerably more time presenting flies underwater to fish we can’t see, and beginning fly fishers learn pretty early in their experience that trout feed on or near the bottom most of the time. This raises an important question: How do you ensure that your flies are getting down to where the fish are? The speed of the current, the depth of the water, and the drag of your fly line and tippet all conspire to keep flies away from the trout’s feeding zone. Here are a few ways—ranging from simple to complex—that you can ensure that your presentations are reaching their targets.
1. Use weighted nymphs and streamers. The traditional way to weight a nymph was to add a few wraps of lead wire as an underbody (there are now lead substitutes available), but some modern anglers thing that this method deadens the action of the fly in the water. I would argue that this depends on the water. In heavy riffles, the extra weight can keep a fly from being thrown around too much and help keep it in the strike zone.
2. Use beadhead patterns. A steel or tungsten bead will also help a fly get down in the water column, plus it serves as an attractor and can impart a jigging motion to a retrieved fly. Tungsten is heavier and will help a fly sink faster. (Some fly fishermen consider beadhead nymphs to be a form of cheating, but their widespread acceptance and use argues otherwise.)
A tungsten beadhead adds enough weight to make a nymph sink fast,
3. Add split shot or weighted putty to the leader. For those who want the fly to drift as naturally as possible, weight on the leader is the best option. There are many different methods for adding weight—where to put it on the leader, how much to use, etc.—but the main thing to remember is that you don’t want to use so much weight that you can’t detect a strike. Start with a little weight, and then add a little at a time until you feel you’re getting the fly where you want it to be.
4. Use lighter/thinner leader and tippet. Fluorocarbon sinks better than monofilament, but a thinner tippet can really increase sink rate, for the obvious reason that there is less drag. Instead of simply adding more weight, going from 4X to 5X or 6X might be your answer.
5. Cast upstream of your target. You want your fly to be near the bottom when it enters the trout’s strike zone, so cast upstream of there to give the fly time to sink. The faster the current and the deeper the water, the farther upstream you’ll need to cast. This is where a high-sticking approach really shines. You can cast upstream, raise your rod tip to pick up slack as the fly drifts toward you (sinking all the time) and then feed the slack back into the drift as the fly continues downstream.
6. Fish close. The more line you have on the water, the more drag there may be on your fly, keeping it from sinking as fast as it could. Many nymphing fanatics fish with virtually no fly-line on the water.
7. Lengthen your leader. The longer your leader, the less fly line you’ll need on the water. (See above.)
8. Skip the strike indicator. A buoyant strike indicator may make it easier to see when a fish takes your fly, but it can also prevent the fly from getting to the fish in the first place. Many anglers argue that, with a sensitive rod tip and a close presentation, you can sense a strike better with no indicator.
9. Use a sinking-tip line. This is an advanced technique usually used with large stonefly nymphs in riffled water or with streamers. The key to presenting a nymph with a sinking-tip line is maintaining a semi-tight line, so you can feel a strike. However, you must give the fly time to sink before you tighten up. Cast upstream, and allow the fly and line to sink. Hold your rod tip out over the water, pointing at the fly. When the fly comes tight, follow it with your rod tip until it hangs directly below you. To detect strikes and set the hook, keep the rod tip pointed at the line and follow the drift of the fly with the rod. Cover the water in front of you, adding a foot or two to each cast, and then move downstream.
Learning when and where to employ all these tactics is a book-length project, but through trial and error you can discover which work best for your fishing. One thing to keep in mind is that if you’re not occasionally snagging on the bottom, you’re probably not fishing deep enough, so it’s time to change your rigging or your presentation.
I have a few things I’d like to give you today. The first being a podcast from The Orvis Company, Tom Rosenbauer :
Crisp days in autumn bring another worldly beauty to the forest and winding Matapedia River. This is a time to get to know the river in an entirely new way.
Credit: Charles Cusson/Atlantic Salmon Federation
In the podcast this week, I go on a minor rant about the ethics of crowding on today’s trout streams, and pretty much tell you if you don’t like the crowds, take a hike (literally). I do give some suggestions on how to handle crowded situations if you have no other choice, but there is almost always another choice. And in the main part of the podcast, I share with you some fall fishing secrets. We have touched on this subject before, but since the last time I have received some more tips from all of you that I really should share.
I also announce a very special contest for the best suggestion for next week’s podcast. The prize is an autographed copy of my new book, The Orvis Guide to The Essential American Flies, which is a large format book with spectacular color photos
Click the play button below to listen to this episode. Go to orvis.com/podcast to subscribe to future episodes
If you cannot see the podcast player, please click this link to listen.
Share my fall fly fishing tips with your fishing buddies:
The second is a neat video about An American Eagle that was raised by some folks after being found blown out of its nest when just five weeks old:
Posted: 24 Oct 2011 08:33 AM PDT
Many anglers are turned off by fly-fishing because they think it is too technical. Oftentimes, experienced anglers try to impress new fly fishers by spouting off about the “Baetis hatch” or talking about the “Ephemerellas” they saw yesterday. It can seem a bit overwhelming for a beginner, and learning the Latin names of all the insects one encounters on-stream seems a daunting task. Fear not, because the fish know less Latin than you do!
What is important when fly-fishing is to be observant. If you see the fish are eating small olive-colored bugs with gray wings, that is all the information you really need to select an appropriate fly. Simply look into your fly box and pick the fly that best represents the natural insects. You don’t need to know that you are in the midst of a Baetis hatch.
Rather than taking courses in Latin, taxonomy, and entomology, there are a couple of things you can do to to find out what available food items the fish might be taking advantage of.
1. Shake some of the streamside bushes, watch what flies out, and match these creatures to an imitation in my fly box. The bugs in the bushes are usually those that have recently hatched or are about to mate and die.
2. Turn over some rocks. If there are no bugs in the bushes and you don’t see any fish rising, then you can look for food sources under the surface of the stream. Shallow areas with some current are a river’s food factory. Try picking up a few rocks from the river bottom or holding a fine meshed net downstream while stirring up the bottom a bit. You will find lots of potential food items on the local trout’s menu. Take a look at these creepy crawlies and select your fly accordingly.
3. Collect some bugs in film canisters filled with rubbing alcohol. (If you use river water, you will be surprised at how much stink can come out of a small film canister filled with rotten bugs!) A local fly shop or club can be invaluable in helping you identify your drunken-bug collection and select those flies that imitate your collection and work for local hatches. Over time, you will begin to pick up the names of the important local bugs, learn when these insects hatch, and know how to be prepared with the right patterns.
This trout was fooled by a pheasant tail nymph, yet it does not know the
photo by Steve May
Before long, you will also begin to recognize the major types of insects that trout eat, as well as what a mayfly, caddis fly, midge, or stonefly looks like in both its adult and nymph form. This will be helpful when you talk with other fly anglers. Put your observation skills to the test and present your fly well, and you’ll be able to tell the old-timer who asks what fly fooled that big fish you just landed, “It ate a little brown fly that looks just like the ones flying around.”
You have to impress the fish, not other anglers, and trout do not study Latin.
Steve May is a fly-fishing guide at Grand River Troutfitters, as well as an Orvis contract fly tier.
By ADAM CLYMER
Published: October 22, 2011
- LEENANE, Ireland — After my years of faithfulness (well, almost) to the religion of catch-and-release fishing in the United States and Canada, I found it heretical to be told that the salmon I caught would have to be killed.
The waters at Delphi Lodge in Connemarra, on Ireland’s northwest coast. Delphi, which got into the hatchery business in 1990, releases 50,000 smolts each year; perhaps 1,500 return.
For the first five days, I fished in continual rain at Delphi Lodge in Connemarra, on Ireland’s northwest coast, it seemed a moot point. One tap, perhaps, but no real strikes. Nothing to test my faith.
But then on my last day, in another steady rain, I had a solid hookup on a Willie Gunn, a tube fly tied with yellow, orange and black bucktail. Two leaps and 15 minutes later, a seven-pound spring salmon was netted by Dave Duffy, the ghillie who rowed me around Finlough, the smaller of Delphi’s two lakes on the Bundorragha River.
Once the fish was in the boat, Duffy was excited to see that it was missing the adipose fin. That meant it was a keeper, not because it was deformed, but because Delphi runs a hatchery and clips those fins off before releasing the smolts. And the fish have to be killed to prevent interbreeding with the smaller stock of natural wild salmon. Indeed, when the season ends each fall, the remaining hatchery fish are netted and killed; the wild fish are released to spawn and return to sea.
Posted: 14 Oct 2011 06:40 AM PDT
Cross-Posted from the Women in Fly Fishing blog:
I also learned that the target audience of the typical fly-fisher was pretty much the polar opposite of me.
A few years later, I ended up marrying a fly-fishing addict—one who works at Orvis and has the sport so ingrained in his being that when he isn’t actually fishing, he thinks about it all day, and then comes home to write about how others can learn the sport at night and on weekends. Can you imagine? Before we were married, I was asked, “Are you sure you can live with this? This is just how I am.” so I knew what I was getting into before taking the next step.
But I still did not want to learn to fish. “Nah, not for me,” I said whenever I was asked if I wanted to try. When my husband would fish, if I came along, I would read or hike. I never actually picked up a fly rod. This fact seemed to stun most people I know, but I was actually secretly proud of my steadfast resistance over the last decade.
Recently, though, I had a change of heart.
Earlier this year, I felt I was in a rut. I needed to get out of my comfort zone and learn something new. I set a goal for myself to try a few activities I have always assumed I would hate. These activities were primarily centered on fitness. But one day this spring, when my husband broached the subject of whether our son was ready to learn to fly-fish, the topic of me finally learning as well resurfaced.
Instead of replying with my typical “Nah, not for me,” I actually thought about the learn-something-new goal I had set earlier in the year. I thought about the activities I didn’t think I would ever like, but which I now love, and realized this just might be the right time to give in to my stubbornness and give fly fishing a try.
A few months later, I took the next step. Because women always need a partner-in-crime, I enlisted my friend Kiernan to take the Orvis Manchester Fly-Fishing School with me for two full days last month.
The Verdict? I had a blast!
This was against my expectations, as you can imagine. I had many preconceived notions of what fly fishing would be like from watching from afar all these years. I had expected that the class would be filled with all men (aside from us), and that I would feel out of place. This was not so at all—the class was actually half women and half men.
I thought the instructors would be kind of boring and stuffy and serious, and that laughing, not-very-serious women might be judged as “not authentic enough” for the sport. Again, I found the opposite was true. Those people who teach the sport love it; they want you to do the same.
I expected I would be terrible at casting. What I learned? It takes practice, and basically it doesn’t matter what your cast looks like. The fish do not care if your cast looks like it came out of “A River Runs Through It.” What is important is that you cast so you can get the fly where you want it to go.
I had expected that hanging out in the water waiting, waiting, waiting for the fish would be boring. Actually, I was incorrect there, too. Time went quickly as I was thinking of some key things: keeping myself from slipping and falling, not spooking fish, what fly I was using, if I had tied the right knot on the end of the line, not hooking trees. You may not look like you are doing anything out there, but I realized there is a lot of active brain power being used.
I really enjoyed learning to cast. There are a few rules for success, and once you get the hang of it, it’s easy to tell the difference between a bad cast and a good one. I felt the same satisfaction when getting the line where I wanted it to go, as I would if I were aiming for any target, like a soccer ball in a net. For any competitive, driven person, it’s really cool to see the gradual improvement with every new cast.
There were other parts I liked, as well. I liked that we could look around by the stream and see what the fish were eating and try to mimic those insects with the flies. I enjoyed trying to look at the water and anticipate where a fish might be. I enjoyed wading in the water, taking in the scenery on a beautiful day. Most of all, I loved spending the day like this on the water with a great friend.
Did I think I would catch a fish? Never. Actually, catching a fish never even crossed my mind. I was having too much fun doing everything else. I was told by the instructors that this will change after my first catch, but I’m not so sure.
So, what didn’t I really get into? Well, honestly, I didn’t really want to think about the nitty-gritty details. I know fly fishermen love to talk about which rod specifically they need to use, which reel, which leader and tippet, sizes, shapes, lengths….to me, I say, “Whatever.” All the knots, and all the different flies? I don’t think I have the patience to learn any more than two or three knots and do not really want to think about all the fly choices or learning all the names of each.
I would just want someone to give me the right rod, set it up for me, tell me which five flies might do the trick, and send me on my way. And from what I learned from this experience, that’s okay, too.
I came to realize we can embrace the details if we like, or we take the parts of the sport that are enjoyable to us and make it our own. I’m not sure what my next step is in the learning process, but I just ordered my waders and boots, borrowed a rod from the basement, and started casting practice in the yard. My new fishing license is only valid for a few more weeks—I have some work to do!
Robin Kadet is a former Orvis employee and is married to Tom Rosenbauer.
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