River Hopping in Connecticut
My initial plan for the weekend before Christmas was the Salmon River. I had the car packed, the flies tied and rods rigged. Just before I hopped in the car for the 6-hour trek across Massachusetts and New York, I checked the water level one last time.
Because of snow melt from the mild temperatures and recent rainfall, the Salmon River changed from 335 cfs on Friday morning to 1500 cfs Friday night. My November trip to the Salmon River had similar high-water conditions and difficult fishing, and based on that I pulled the plug.
I don’t doubt that fishermen caught steelhead in Pulaski last weekend, but rather than deal with a long ride and potentially frustrating fishing, I opted to head back to Philadelphia a couple days early for Christmas, but not before hitting two new-to-me rivers along the way.
The first was the Farmington. Many fishermen consider it Connecticut’s best trout water, and I’d read enough stories from OTW Contributor Kierran Broatch on his Connecticut Yankee blog, that I’d been meaning to fish this water for some time now. I just wish I’d brought some mealworms.
I hit a portion of the river known as the Church Pool at the recommendation of the folks at UpCountry Sportfishing. There were a handful of fishermen there, but plenty of room to move around. I started out with a big ugly streamer, and on my second cast, felt a grab. Two casts later, a fish clobbered the streamer, breaking my 6-pound-tippet in the process. And since I’d only had one of that particular streamer, I proved to myself for the thousandth time why you should never buy just one of any lure or fly. I tried every other streamer I had, and then just about every small nymph, and never felt another fish.
All the while, a fishermen to my left in knee-high boots seemed to be fighting a fish every time I turned his direction. I knew he was using mealworms because I’d seen him buy them at UpCountry while I was picking out flies. But I can’t blame a lack of bait, as a fly guy across the river fishing nymphs under an indicator was regularly hooking up as well.
I scratched at the Farmington, but it won’t be my last trip to that beautiful, fish-filled river.
Totally shifting gears, I went in search of holdover stripers on the Housatonic River with Chris Parisi. Chris, who works in the On The Water circulation department, is a Connecticut native who grew up fishing stripers in the coastal rivers. As I was admitting defeat with the trout, Chris told me to meet him at the Home Depot in Derby, Connecticut at 3:00 a.m.
While the Farmington ran through woods and quiet towns, the Housatonic seemed like more of an urban fishery. Neon lights from nearby buildings lit up the water as Chris, his brother Dan and I began casting soft-plastic jigs on 8-foot surf rods. Surprisingly for December 22, several other anglers were on the water before dawn, but none of them were hooking up. We bounced around a few places with no luck until sunrise when Chris suggested one last stop downriver. There, several boats were already working the middle of the river, and a couple had bent rods. We waded past our waists and launched jigs toward the boats, falling about a hundred feet short. But, for 10 minutes at least, that didn’t matter. A school of holdover stripers cruised past our position, giving us enough time to land a half-dozen before they moved on.
The fish were small and lethargic, but pretty. All of them had a faint blue tint, a color I can’t remember seeing on stripers before. When 30 minutes had passed since we’d last hooked a fish, I bid Chris and Dan a Merry Christmas and did what the holdover stripers had not, and finished the journey south to my hometown.