Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Landlocked Atlantic Salmon - New Hampshire Lakes Region

Took a family vacation for Easter Week and travelled to the Lakes Region of New Hampshire. I targeted salmon in the early morning at a variety of locations on the Winnipesaukee River system, including the main lake itself. The system includes a number of lakes connected by the Winnipesaukee River. The source of the river originates from Lake Winnipesaukee itself and flows into Paugus Bay from Weirs Beach near Laconia, NH. The river flows out of Paugus and through a dam to Opechee Lake. Downstream of Opechee, the river empties into Winnisquam Lake. From Winnisquam, the river dumps into Silver Lake. It reminded me of many of the salmon lakes in Ireland, which are also river systems that empty into the Atlantic Ocean or the Irish Sea. It also reminded me of the Connecticut River system on the Connecticut Lakes near Pittsburg, NH. 

In New England and upstate NY, one of the best landlocked salmon runs of the year occurs in early spring in and around ice out. Ice out usually corresponds with the smelt spawn. The smelt move inshore into rivers to spawn at this time closely pursued by landlocked salmon. For the pelagic salmon, this is one of the few patterns of the year where they can be found congregated in near shore waters. For most of the year, the salmon nomadically roam the open water of these big lakes and can be difficult to find in good numbers. For this reason, they are like saltwater pelagic fish and the rule of thumb for finding salmon is locating smelt schools in the open water. When the smelt congregate, the salmon congregate as well.  

Over five mornings, I fished the main lake, Paugus Bay, Opechee Lake, and Silver Lake. Overall, the fishing was excellent. For the first three mornings, the fishing was inconsistent due to a cold front that had rolled through the day before I arrived. The air temps stagnated, and most of Lake Winnepesaukee was frozen over. The ice shelf was about 100 yards offshore at the beginning of the trip. A warm front and a high pressure system moved in during the third morning, which brought bright weather, softer winds, and much warmer air temps. By the end of the trip, the ice shelf was at least a mile offshore. 

On the first morning, I met up with Ken Mathis of NEKF and we started at Silver Lake, which didn't produce, so we moved to Lake Winnipesaukee and fished the ice shelf. I caught 1 21" salmon and a 17" rainbow trout. Salmon can be quirky - here today, gone tomorrow. I experienced this twice on the trip. The second day, I returned to the main lake and was shut out in the same area that produced for me the day before. 

For the third morning, I explored Lake Opechee on a tip from Ken, who had been successful there in the past and had caught salmon there recently as well. Salmon end up in Opechee unintentionally. In the fall, some of the salmon from Lake Winnipesaukee attempt to spawn in the Winnepesaukee River. The salmon that drop down from Paugus Bay can't get back upstream because of a dam. Because of this, Opechee becomes their home. Most of the fish are spawned-out and thin. Often, they become darker in color as well. I caught on salmon that was a little bit over 22". Although it was still silver, it was definitely spawned out and very thin. It was also a male. During this morning, I lost three salmon as well, one of which felt large. 

On the fourth morning, I returned to Opechee and was surprised to find it completely dead. After two hours, I left and hit the main lake again. The ice pack was almost a mile out now, but I trollled my way out to the edges and worked my way towards the shoreline of the mouth of Merideth Bay. The salmon were very active along the ice pack, and I quickly caught a nice 22" salmon. Later, I caught another 15" salmon on the ice pack. On the way back to the launch, I found a deep water hump between two large basins. I trolled up a nice 20" salmon in this area. In this area, a the shallow water edge of a basin opened up into a larger, deeper basin. 

I had planned to go to Alton Harbor the final day, but decided to say around the mouth of Merideth Bay. I wasn't disappointed and trolled up 5 salmon to almot 23". The fish were very active, and had mostly moved off the ice pack, which was rapidly disappearing and had moved out another 50 yards since the prior day. The deep water hump between the two basins was productive again, and I caught 4 of my salmon in this area. 

Landlocked Atlantic salmon are a very quirky fish and targeting them is both nuanced and technical. Having a good sonar unit with a GPS can be very helpful. My sonar showed me that most of the salmon were holding in 28'. These lakes are extremely clear and the salmon will move deep on bright days. Other than my first morning, every day was bright or at least partly cloudy. The first morning was cloudy and I was marking them at about 20' that day, with a few fish along the surface as well. I marked surface fish on the first two days, but only during the early morning hours. 

The ultra clear water gives these salmon a deep water tendency making a conventional outfit with leadcore line a deadly weapon. The GPS allowed me to time my speed. Based on speed, I can calculate the depth that my line is trolling per color. Traveling at 2 mph, my spoons were trolling at 30' at 4 colors down or 20 at 3 colors. I had my best success with 4 colors on the sunny days. 

Live smelt did not produce for me and I caught all of my salmon and trout trolling spoons. The only two spoons that produced were DB Smelt and Top Gun. Bright orange was the color of choice with a 9' 6lb fluorocarbon leader. 

On the big lake, all of my fish were caught between 65' and 90' of water. My only salmon on Opechee was caught n 40', but cruising at around 30' on a bright day with clear water. 

This was the best landlocked salmon fishery I have experienced. The only two other areas that I have targeted landlocked salmon is the Connecticut River system near Pittsburg, NH and some of the smaller lakes in the Adirondacks. It is kayak friendly and there is always a place to fish in the lee. The moving water caused by the Winnipesaukee River makes it likely that there will be at least some open water in the early season despite colder than normal temps. It is also a great place to bring the family for vacation and the lack of crowds in the early spring only enhance that value. 

Monday, April 14, 2014

Trophy Tautog 2013

Tog fishing was again very consistent for the fall season in 2013. Unlike some other years, there was a lack of big tog early on, and I only saw one really big tog before the big cold came at the beginning of November. This tog measured 22" and was caught on the first weekend of the season. As usual, Stonington, CT was really productive in two trips, and an easy limit of keepers from 18" - 20" was a given in a three hour trip. It was worth the two hour drive. 

But, the area around the Western Sound still produced the biggest tog for me in 2013. Based on fishing for tog for the last 6 years, you won't get me off of Long Island for the last weekend in October or the first weekend in November. Generally, it is during these two weekends that I catch my largest tog on an annual basis. It usually coincides as a prequel to a big cold front that moves them deep. 

This year was no different and during the first weekend of November, my eight largest tog were powerful bulldogs that measured 24", 23, 22", 21", 21", 21", 21" and 20". I totaled 16 NYS keepers for that weekend. All fish were released. Tog grow and inch per year and come back to the same spots year after year. 

The best fishing occurred between November 2 and November 4. It was the last hurrah for the tog season for the LI Sound kayak angler. During that last weekend, a low pressure system coupled with a lunar period made for some excellent bulldog tog fishing. The day before the front, the fishing was fantastic. The day of the front, the temps dropped substantially, pushing the water temp at or below the critical 55 degree mark. I fished three times during this period, and here are the results: 

My first trip was the day before the new moon. The water temp was about 57 degrees. I caught over 20 tog - 11 keepers (16" or greater in NYS), and 5 bulldogs over 20" - 24", 22", 21", 21", 20". Best day of for big tog of the year for me. I fished for about 5 hours. 

The new moon occurred on the second day. The water temp dropped to 55 degrees, or slightly below. There was a big drop in air temp as well. I totaled 4 tog - all keepers and two bulldogs at 23" and 21". The other two were 18" and 18.5". There was a definite decline in bite, and it got worse as the day went on. Fished for a little less than 3 hours. 

On the day after the new moon, I fished in the afternoon for about two hours. It was very slow and I only one hit that turned out to be a 21" tog and that was the only action of the day. Water temp about 52 degrees. Despite 60 degree air temps, the cold nights pushed the water temps a few degrees under 55 degrees, which usually shuts the bite off as the fish move to deeper water.  During this run, I also had a tog that broke my 50 lb braid. I was kicking off structure to get us both out so I could fight the big tog in open water, and between the thrust of pushing off, and the tog's frantic dash towards structure, my line broke. Of course, there could have been a nick in my line, but it was very new so I doubt it. This shows the raw power possessed by a bulldog tautog. 

All fish were caught on jigs with asian crabs. The end of the season made it a really good year for quality fish, and went out like a lion, but typically shut down really fast. 

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Kayak Fishing Merrill Creek Reservoir - Lake Trout

I finally made it out to Merrill Creek Reservoir near Washington, NJ for a morning targeting lake trout. This was my first trip to Merrill Creek. It is one of two reservoirs in New Jersey with a self-sustaining population of lake trout. It is more kayak friendly than Round Valley Reservoir since it is much smaller and does not allow gas powered boats.

It is a different fishery than Round Valley as well, and I marked more congregated schools of lake trout. I also marked many more bait pods in Merrill Creek. But, all of these fish were marked in very deep water. Since the lakers were holding primarily in the deepest part of the lake, it seems to me that the fish are still in a winter pattern. A water remp of 40 degrees may supports this theory.

I marked most of the fish in at least 150' with most fish cruising between 90' - 115'. I tried jigging some of the more congregated schools without success.  

In any event, I trolled up one 22" lake trout seven cores down over 150' FOW. I also had another hit in the same area. Otherwise, only one other strike fishing the deep water adjacent to an extensive shallow 40' shoal. This hit was in 90'. 

The areas in the 50' - 80' water was completely devoid of lake trout. I believe I marked some smallmouths over some of the shallower 40' shoals.

I will definitely return in the future. Once the water temp reaches the high 40s, I hope that they spread out over shallower water.

Friday, April 4, 2014

First Kayak Walleyes for 2014

I got out fishing on Lake Ronkonkoma last night. The target was catch and release fishing for walleyes.

I fished with Tim MacNamara and we launched to pleasant conditions with an air temperature of around 60 degrees at 7 pm.

The water temperature was 44 degrees. This was surprisingly high and made me optimistic for a good night. About an hour after launching, a big cold front moved through. This dropped the air temperature by about 15 degrees and brought some wind with it. As the night progressed, the water temperature dropped a couple of degrees as well, which is normally a recipe for disaster in freshwater fishing.

The cold front made the fishing tough and I only managed to catch one 17" walleye. I also dropped another  walleye after a brief hookup. In addition, I had several hits, but these hits were soft and almost tentative. They felt like reaction strikes.

Fished for about three hours. Tim had at least one walleye as well.

The pre-spawn walleye fishing is pretty good on Lake Ronkonkoma, and there is a strong population of 15" - 18" walleyes in the Ronk. The forage base in the Ronk doesn't grow many 20"+ walleyes. But, it is very good for consistent action for "schoolie" type walleye during the pre-spawn period at night. I'm sure that there are some larger females in there as well. I will continue to follow this pattern for the rest of the month.

Here is a picture of the only walleye of the night for me.

Monday, March 31, 2014

Ice Out Kayak Fishing for Lake Trout

Ice-out on Round Valley Reservoir occurred last weekend. With cloud cover, a high pressure system, and light winds, it looked like a good day to target some early season lakers.

Targeting early season lake trout can be challenging. Unlike other times of season, most of the lake is the same temperature and the lakers are spread out over greater distances. As a result, an angler is as likely to find them in 10' as 100'. It is easier to target the lakers in the warmer months after lakes stratafy and produce a thermocline of cooler water preferable to lakers. This effectively shrinks the size of the lake and narrows the areas to look.

In the early spring, a brief, but frantic feeding period often occurs slightly after ice out. The melting ice makes the water super oxygenated and lake trout and salmon often go on a feeding binge. This can last anywhere from a few hours to a few days. Unfortunately, it looked like the ice out period had passed since it occurred approximately a week ago.

After the ice-out period, the cold water makes the lakers lethargic. So, the combination of lake trout being vastly spread out coupled with the lethargy caused by the cold water often makes for difficult fishing. Well, the water temperature was 34.5 degrees today and the bite was tough.

I launched at dawn and fished until noon and caught two lake trout and a holdover rainbow trout.

I found the trout in deep open water. The first laker hit in 65' and the last two fish hit in 75'. All trout were caught trolling Suttons on leadcore at a pace of approximately 1.4 mph. These fish were very deep, and the clicker on my leadcore read 250. I was surprised to find the rainbow so deep, but I've found brown trout swimming with the lakers in the past at Round Valley. Trout definitely associate more with the bottom at RV than other areas. The rainbow was bright silver like a salmon and definitely a holdover. It measured 16". My largest laker was 22", and the smaller laker was 16" and released.

I found a nice area with a deep water hump where the depth dropped from 90' to 75', and I was getting hits right on the ledge. This hump wasn't in the contour map and I marked it for future use with my GPS. Sometimes a subtle change in contour can congregate lake trout.

I didn't mark any fish during the outing except for one isolated thick school of trout moving through the flats in 20'. The fish were gone before I could jig them.

Tough weather day out there. Late morning rain coupled with a stiff wind made for cooler conditions. I was happy with the cloud cover and light chop for the fishing.

Next week or two will be more lakers. Salmon this month too.

Last Licks on Holdover Stripers

Fished the upper Housatonic River again today for holdover stripers. 

I met up with Hogy Pro Eric Harrisson and Gary Innes of KFA-NY. We launched around 8 am and fished until approximately 11 am. 

It was a much warmer day with very fast action on the stripers. We found a big school slightly upstream of the launch and stayed over them for the entire tide. We fished the last three hours of incoming until about slack tide. The school only moved slightly upstream over the three hours. 

The water temperature was 35 degrees. There were plenty of boats on the water but they were all heading downstream to fish the motherload heading towards the Long Island Sound. Some of the boats stopped  to look at the mark we were fishing and would quickly head down stream. 

We were fishing over a huge pile of stripers so you can only imagine the size of the school downstream. 

Tagged several stripers during this
Most of the fish were cookie-cutter schoolies in the 17" - 22" class. With the cold weather, this was great action. All fish caught on plastics. I tagged about 20 stripers on this trip for ALS.

It seems like the stripers are transitioning despite the cold weather. It appears that they are being pushed more by calendar than water temp. Other than the school we found, the remainder of the area we were fishing was barren. At the peak, there are almost always several big schools moving around there.With ice-out in NJ, this will be my last trip to the Housy.

Alas, I still believe it will be about three weeks until striped bass start to show around Long Island in good numbers. 

So, for at least the next two weeks, I plan on targeting lake trout and salmon in some lakes within driving range in New Jersey.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

First Stripers of 2014

It has been a long time, but I figured I'd start up the blog again, and try to be more diligent in my postings. 

The last quarter of 2013 was a good one, and I had very good fall fishing for a variety of species. Hope to post some final pictures down the road of highlights from 2013. 

I hit the Housatonic River in CT on Sunday and caught my first stripers of the year.

For me, it was the first time I didn't catch a January striper in nine years and the latest I've caught a striper in that time period, which just reflects how brutal that this winter has been in terms of weather even for me on Long Island. Normally, I take a 4 week break from fishing from mid-January to mid-February, but this year it was exactly two months since I caught my last fish.

I got to the Housatonic at around 8 am to an empty parking lot and 29 degree air temps, with a stiff northwest wind cranking at 15 knots. With the lack of activity, I almost went home, but went out anyway since it was a long trip.

Well, there were plenty of stripers there and I caught my first within a half hour not far from the launch - the same biomass moved up and downstream in the area around the launch for the next two hours before I quit at 11:30 am. I think that there were two distinct schools moving about in the area and I caught quite a few in a limited amount of time.

It ended up being a pretty good bite in cold weather, but the wind and cold were brutal, and I was constantly battling the ice freezing on my guides while I was fishing. I was not all that unhappy to go back into the warm jeep.

Only two boats out there and no other kayaks - not even the die-hard Uncle Duke! The lack of fisherman surprised me, but the cold weather and incoming tide were likely factors.

Next weekend is going to be my last weekend of the season up there until probably mid-November. It is ice out in downstate NY and northern NJ and I plan on hitting a couple of nearby lake trout and landlocked salmon spots in Jersey over the next three weeks before the stripers start showing up in salt around Long Island. Best part of living on Long Island other than the beaches is the proximity to both good fishing spots in CT and NJ. 

Anyway, here is the picture of my first striper of the year: