Wednesday, November 11, 2015

November and a Return to Steelheads

About the time the leaves start dropping and the migratory salt water species are beginning to head south to the Chesapeake or west to their Hudson winter grounds, I start getting the itch to fish steelheads. October Salmon Madness has begun to subside, and beautiful chrome steelhead are filling into the Lake Ontario tributaries to winter over. As much as I love striper fishing, I'm ready for a change of pace.   

My love of steelhead on the fly began as I was searching for a winter fix a few years after moving up from Virginia. I read an article in On the Water on my now friend Scott Glazier who described a winter fishery in Upstate NY for those willing to wade in sub-freezing and sometimes sub-zero weather to catch a species I'd never targeted. I thought, "What the hell else am I going to do up here in December."  So I convinced my brother Doug, his old college roommate John and my buddy Dan to join me up in Altmar, NY.  Needless to say, I was hooked, and now take several trips a season up, starting in November right through the spring run. Over the years, Doug and Dan have continued to travel north with me, as have a few other friends to try their hand at landing these silver rockets on the fly or light tackle. 

I've had the first weekend in November circled on my calendar for quite some time.  While last year's run saw the Salmon and other rivers choked with steelhead, the bite never really took off as many dying fish soon had biologist scratching their heads. A diagnosis of a thiamine deficiency was eventually determined to be the likely cause, but regardless, my fishing suffered. ( My hope is that this season will see an improvement in the fishing.

All of the reports from late October into the first week in November, from the DSR to OTW and various guide sites, indicated erratic fishing at best. This is a highly pressured fishery as well, so lower numbers of fish combined with the increasing popularity of the location in early November can make for tough days. However, having just fished up here since  2010, I can hardly blame others for what is sometimes described as combat fishing (I did tell Scott that it's all his fault for his articles in On the Water and Field and Stream, as well as the TV episodes he's featured in).     
Scott wanted to get an early start Saturday morning, as prime location often determines who catches and who doesn't.  Reports had folks getting into their spots in the Altmar fly only zone by 2:30am, and we were on the water in our location well before sunrise.  Scott's knowledge and daily experience paid off and we had the early am bite while those around us got to watch.  It was literally a matter of a few yards of real estate separating catching from not.  The fish were nice and fresh and I had half a dozen shots in the early morning hours. We hit in a few more spots down the river and I got to see a lot of my backing. While some will argue that after years of fishing the river, a guide is really unnecessary, for me when fishing in a limited window and on a scattered bite, the knowledge that a local like Scott provides is priceless. Despite what some reports might say about the day, I can promise you that we had 4-5x the hookups of anyone fishing within sight, and most anglers, as I said, were just watching and hoping we would get bored catching fish and were hovering like vultures.     

Sunday morning didn't leave much time, but my brother and I walked in and managed a couple of hook-ups in the upper section. I'm already jonesing for a return trip! Bring on the cold!  

Monday, October 5, 2015

What's Up with RedneckAnglah?

"You live in Connecticut Dude."
True, I've now lived in CT for over a dozen years, making it back down to Virginia or points further south now and again.  As my site points out, there was no "Wicked Fishahs" where I grew up, and back in Virginia and on the OBX I was just a guy who loved to fish. My accent is Richmond as opposed to Deep South (The Dialect Quiz says I come from either Richmond or Lubbock How Ya'll and Youse Guys Talk). However, move to Connecticut and take the Redneck Quiz, and I certainly qualify. 
My friends and co-workers quickly decided I was the biggest redneck they knew (as if they knew a lot). I'm the only guy at work with a truck full of tackle and a Connecticut Carry Defense League sticker on the back, though I'm certainly not the only one in CT. I can state that I am completely past the novelty of winters dumping feet of snow at a time, the taxes and governance suck, and I often wonder just what possessed us to move up here. My kids are totally screwed up between my Southern accent, my wife's British one and whatever they pick up around here. When I do get back down south, I never want to come back up.

Perhaps the best thing living in New England has done is to expose me to whole new realms of fishing. The stripers that were all but disappearing during my high school and college days are back in the Long Island Sound (and we need to work to keep it that way). I had numerous trips this season where we've brought more than a dozen fish in the mid-30" to well over 40" to the side of the Gemma Rose II. Almost all were released to spawn and fight another day. The chopper blues that I chased up and down the OBX during the fall and spring runs are camped out all summer here. Beyond these old favorites, I've had many new opportunities including a chance to land a couple of bluefin as well as chase northern pike, steelhead and king salmon on the fly on a regular basis. Last year I finally gave in and started ice fishing, and I had a BLAST!  This season I've fished from Southern Florida to Lake Ontario catching nearly 3 dozen species of fish, and I'm still looking for more.  

I'm by no means the best angler or the most experienced out there, but I passionate about the sport and want to share it with as many others as I can. Am I a redneck? Depends on your definition. I think of myself more as a jack of all trades when it comes to fishing, always looking to expand my horizons and cross another adventure off my bucket list. 

Bait Bridles for Toothy Critters

When big choppers are in full on blitz mode, what you're throwing typically doesn't matter, so long as it's extra heavy duty. If they're down and I'm live lining, an adult bunker is usually too good for them to pass up. Fishing them on a bridled rig with a stinger or bitch hook practically guarantees a hookset with each bait, or keeps the bait swimming actively for long periods of time. I use this setup on other toothy critters like pike, and barracuda down south. Last weeks big blues were chomping right through 45lb. wire, so these are rigged with 80lb. Berkley Steelon, 8/0 circle hooks and Mustad 2/0 3X Strong trebles. Both the circle and stinger are crimped individually to the swivel. The circle gets hooked through the nose and the stinger can either go through near the tail, or as I prefer for a more durable bait, rubber banded near the tail. This method puts very little stress on the bait and keeps it fresh. You can slow troll as well.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Northern Road Trip

Danny and I had a great fishing road trip to upstate NY. With my boat out of action and Doug coming up to fish, we went to a Plan B - fishing Lake Ontario. I've never fished out on the lake, and thought this would be a fun change of pace. Doug and I are each about 4-1/2 hours drive time from Oswego, NY. Of course Danny and I had to find a new diner for lunch on the way, stopping at Crazy Otto's Empire Diner. We arrived at Feeder Creek Lodge in the mid-afternoon, and after getting settled, headed out for some smallie fishing on the Salmon River. We met up with Uncle Doug at Eddie's for dinner. Today we fished with Capt. Bill VanWormer/Lucky Dutchman Charters. We couldn't have asked for a more beautiful day or better company that Capt. Bill and his grandson Dylan. Yesterday's conditions were described as a washing machine and a non-existent bite, and the wind is supposed to build back tomorrow and Tuesday. We hit a nice window and landed some fish, lost a few. Doug's 23lb. king was the high hook for the day. Watching him bring it in with 500ft. of line out was fun! Danny was ready to relieve him if he wussed out. Ad Danny said afterward, "Dad, this was a whole lot of fun." I can't ask for better than that.

Summer Smallmouth and Pike

August is typically a slower saltwater month in the NE, and since my boat has been out of action anyway, I've had the chance to branch out a bit. Smallmouth bass action on the rivers in the NE has been red hot, so yesterday I drove up to Cornwall on the Upper Housatonic to fish some smallies and pike. This is a great fishery for kids, and while you won't find the 5+lb fish such as at a place like Candlewood, catching a few dozen 1-2lb fish on ultralight gear is a blast. Everything from small spinners, Cleos, Rebel Crawdads to soft plastics will draw strikes. A nearly skunksafe method with kids is fishing live crayfish. Bring a small pail and bait net, and let them have at it. They'll have as much fun catching bait as the fish. The Upper Housy has several fly only sections, and a two pound smallmouth on a 3wt with a crawdad imitation feels like a mini-tarpon. I finished up my day by jumping in my kayak to target some last light pike with bladed spinners. Little rivers up and down the Mid-Atlantic to the North East will have hungry smallmouth, and now is the time to have at 'em.
-Danny with a Salmon River smallie
-Pike on a white/chartreuse willow leaf spinner


Saturday, July 25, 2015


That's how much our two coffees at the Shell station range up as at 3:30 a.m. this morning. The clerk laughed about the devil's number. Should we just buy something else? No, the die had been cast. I joked to Jeff that if we slammed the fish, I'd have to buy $6.66 worth of coffee every morning. We put in at Baldwin Bridge and I tied up as the place was empty, filling my live well and checking out some of the new lighting I had installed. After ten minutes, we began to motor slowly down river. Passing under the bridge, we headed towards North Cove to look for bunker.

I was running slow until the sky started to lighten more to the east and I could better see the water surface. Having had the worst luck this season with submerged objects in the river, I was in no hurry. By the time we were three quarters of a mile below the bridge, I throttled up with no response. My stern was sitting alarmingly low in the water. Had I put the two plugs in before we left? Yes, I had left them in after yesterday and seen both in before launching. I immediately turned on both bilges, the second having been installed earlier in the season as I was worried about just having one and a hand bilge. We were taking on water rapidly, and my fear was a blown connection in the live well system. Jeff started working the Whale Gusher hand bilge and I turned straight in to shore, praying we could make it up on the flats above North Cove and beach. We were holding our own against the water as we approached the flats. The tide was nearing the top of the flood and as we made the edge of the flats, I slammed a rock with my prop, shearing it off. I knew they were in the area, but it was dark and priority #1 had been to get to shallow water before swamping. I threw out the anchor and went overboard into the waist deep water. My prop was gone, and to my surprise, so was one of the rear plugs. We were at least making headway against the flooding, so I retrieved a spare plug and put it in place. The only explanation I can come up with is that I had unscrewed one of the two plugs yesterday to see if there was any water and perhaps didn't fully tighten it, allowing it to work loose and pop out as we motored down river. If we had been taking on water since the time we launched, I wouldn't have made it 100 yards off the dock.

We were dry again within a few minutes and sitting three hundred yards above North Cove. The tide was still moving in, but nearing slack. I dropped my stern mounted trolling motor and kept my fingers crossed that it could get us back up river before the tide started out. It was no small irony that this was the first time I had brought the trolling motor along in the last month or two. Slogging back up river was going to take forever, so I told Jeff to go ahead and fish. He did manage a schoolie and a few swirls on a top water plug. The Gemma Rose II avoided the skunk! It was touch and go getting past the railroad bridge and up towards Baldwin Bridge as the tide had started to flow out, but we eventually managed to get back to the dock without calling Boats US.

The lost prop was not a big deal, as it was dinged up and a replacement is already sitting in the garage. I get to fish quite a bit, so there's always next weekend. I feel terrible for Jeff, with whom I haven't been able to get out on the water all season as he's always working his ass off. I really hope we get a few more chances before the end of the season.

Obviously, I'll be checking not only that the plugs are in, but also double checking that they are tight. The second lesson is that a spare prop isn't very useful sitting in my garage. Finally, if the morning coffee rings up to $6.66, just turn around, go home and go back to sleep.

PS - Think of how much worse it could have been if there was a banana on board!

Monday, July 20, 2015

Take Me Home Country Road (or I81)

For the first time in nearly forty years, I wouldn't be returning "home" to Fredericksburg, VA. My mom sold her house and moved to Massanutten, a ski area in the Shenandoah Valley outside of Harrisonburg, VA. As we packed to make the drive From Connecticut down 81, my kids were excited to visit Nana's new home with pools, go carts, a waterpark and more to attract the summer crowds. I was thinking about fishing.

As luck would have it, Massanutten Mountain is tucked away amidst some of the best freshwater fishing in the Mid-Atlantic, if not the eastern seaboard.  The Shenandoah River and tributaries are home to large and smallmouth bass, musky, panfish and trout. Spring fed mountain creeks throughout the area offer trout fishing year round. Water from deep within a network of underground limestone aquifers ensure cool waters despite the hot summer days.  The state Department of Game and Inland Fisheries ( stock many accessible waterways, while other more remote areas hold populations of wild brook trout. I could reach any of these destinations within ten to thirty minutes of Massanutten.

My mind was on fishing long before reaching Virginia, as the Hamburg PA Cabela's is located just off interstate 78 at about the halfway point of the journey. A 5am departure from central Connecticut meant that we missed any potential rush hour traffic around the Tappan Zee Bridge and arrived in Hamburg around 8:30, half an hour before opening and in time for breakfast. Don't bother with any of the fast food options nearby, but head about 2 miles into the town itself to the Hamburg Diner ( The short drive between the diner and Cabela's takes you right along the upper Schuylkill River and a linear trail. It looked pretty fishy. As tempting as it was to wet a line, my ultimate destination was another four hours south in Virginia. We'd already crossed the Delaware and would later cross and run along the Susquehanna River and the Upper Potomac River separating Maryland and West Virginia.

The Shenandoah River is actually a tributary of the Potomac. The North Fork begins way up in the mountains near Bergton, VA, flowing east and then north east through the lush, rolling valley before joining Smith Creek in Mt. Jackson near the Shenandoah Caverns. The North River and South River join to form the South Fork of the Shenandoah in Port Republic. This branch flows north east parallel to the North Fork, separated by a small range including Massanutten. These two branches merge in Front Royal before joining the Potomac. The hundreds of smaller feeder creeks and streams present a lifetime of fishing possibilities.

The river meanders through rolling farmland, broken by the occasional set of riffles and class 1 rapids. Click the link for a list of put-ins and descriptions along the South Fork. 

The last stop on our road trip, and first of my fishing trip, was Mossy Creek Fly Fishing (, the go to fly shop in the area and an excellent source for local information. I picked up some beetle and emerger patterns that had been producing locally, as well as a few other odds and ends.  

Now, I've traveled up to this area countless times to visit friends, while my brother attended JMU (on the extended plan), and to visit my grandfather who lives in Bridgewater. I'd just never really had the opportunity to get in much fishing. This trip I would have five mornings to pack in as much as I could. I'd brought along my yak, a ton of both fly and spinning gear, anything I could think I might possibly need. The tough decisions were really going to be based around what to fish and how to fit in as much as possible around family commitments. The weather had been rather sketchy, with thunderstorms every afternoon and a lot of flooding in some of the smaller creeks.

Fifteen minutes after my 4:30am alarm, I hopped in my truck which was ready and waiting with my yak and gear, and was putting in on the South Fork in the town of Shenandoah above a small dam by the time the sky was getting light. Without a chase vehicle, I was limited by a return trip, so I set off up river casting at blow downs here and there along the way. I threw some big swim baits and spinners, hoping to attract a musky with no luck. I landed a few smaller largemouth on senkos. A mile or so up river I ran into the first set of rapids and decided to get out of the yak and fish for some smallmouth. Over the next hour I landed half a dozen small fish before needing to head back down to make a lunch gathering at my grandfather's in Bridgewater

The scenic Shenandoah River provides excellent paddling and fishing opportunities, particularly if you an arrange for a drop off. 

Bridgewater is a small college town located just 10-15 miles south of Harrisonburg, bordered by the Dry and North Rivers, and a few miles from Mossy Creek. After lunch and a few hours at my grandfather's, I decided to do a little scouting rather than head back to Massanutten. It was mid-afternoon on a hot day, so my expectations weren't high, but I wanted to get the lay of the land. To fish Mossy Creek, you have to get a special permit giving you "public" access to private property thanks to an agreement by the landowners and TU.  Anglers are limited to fly only, and this privilege is based on the continued respect for the rules shown by those who fish here. I scouted the more accessible lower meadows section as well as the upper access off Kyle's Mill Rd. While I did a bit of casting, I was mostly looking, taking in the scenery and well as a few photographs. My game plan was to return here Friday for a shot at some of the big browns and bows it is so well know for.  

Wednesday morning came, and I was up early again, grabbing coffee and ham biscuits at Sheetz, this time heading west on 33, past Harrisonburg and towards the West Virginia line to fish up in the Shenandoah National Forest and the Dry River for wild brook trout. According to the US Forest Service, the Dry River is one of the most densely populated brook trout rivers on the eastern seaboard, with your typical fish in the 8-10" range and some caught up to 14". There's a ton of access along 33 north of Rawley Springs, and most of the places that look fishy hold fish. Fishing a 2wt setup, I landed beautiful little brookies in most of the pools I fished and all types of top water presentations from ants, and beetles to emergers.   These little fish were super aggressive, slamming anything that came across them, regardless of size. What a fun morning!

Thursday was a trip I'd been looking forward to since earlier this spring. I would finally get an chance to take my 10 year old son Danny out on the James River with my friend Capt. Jim Garrett for a shot at some true river monsters. This meant a 4:00am departure from his marina in Hopewell, VA, and an even earlier 1:30 one from Massanutten. Danny shuffled to the truck and was soon back to sleep. My son loves fishing for channel cats in CT, having landed some nice double digit fish, and was super excited for this trip. When we arrived at four, he was ready to go. We made a run down river to a location that had yielded several citation fish for me on previous trips, and set up to fish. It wasn't too long before Danny was reeling in his first blue cat. By the time the sun was up over the horizon, he'd landed four fish, and the hours were taking a toll on him. I promised to wake him if anything exciting happened, and he was soon fast asleep on the couch seat. Those four fish were it. The bite just shut down. We tried several more locations over the next five hours with no luck. Danny just slept in the sun, not stirring much until we started back in.  I told him he didn't miss much, to which he replied that's Jim's couch was way more comfortable than the beanbag on the Gemma Rose II. We didn't land any river monsters, but in Danny's words, "This trip was awesome!" That's all I needed to hear.   

Friday morning was my final day to fish, and I was headed out to Mossy Creek. I was there before sunrise and had the entire place to myself. In fact, I had not fished any of the trout streams with another angler the entire trip. It was pretty obvious that all of the rain over the past several weeks had really raised and clouded the water from the previous Tuesday. Mossy Creek, fed by underground limestone streams, had turned a milky white. I fished the entire meadow sections for a few hours, seeing only two fish break the surface. Despite throwing everything in my arsenal, I had no takers. While it was disappointing not to land one of the trophy browns the creek is famous for, it was a beautiful morning none the less. You can be sure that I will be back up next spring. 

My dive back to Massanutten reminded me of some of the other things I love and miss so much living up in Connecticut. Of course I had to stop by Mossy Creek Fly Fishing again, and as I left driving east on 33, I stopped less than a mile up the road in front of the Tractor Supply to get some BBQ from Via & Via Catering, who are set up Fridays and Saturdays roadside. Now, you just don't see much good roadside BBQ up here in CT. If you are ever down fishing in the Valley and stopping by Mossy Creek, don't be tempted to eat in any of those nearby fast food joints. Get ya' some good BBQ!  I had a tender brisket sandwich with a nice bark on the outside of the meat. Mmmm. Bev and Herm "Bootie" Via  had sides including mac and cheese, collard greens, beans and more. The sandwich wouldn't be complete without some of Herm's Bootie Sauce. I could eat this stuff every day! What a way to finish up a week of fishing.

                                        Herm "Bootie" Via with his sauce and a happy customer.

My kids can't wait to get back down to Nana's new playground, and with hundreds of miles of streams left to fish and a trophy brown still to land, neither can I.

Via & Via Catering (Facebook)
Harrisonburg Tourism Department

If you're planning a trip down the fish this area, note that permits are available online from the DGIF. Not only will you need a freshwater license, but also a trout license for all stocked bodies of water between  October 1 and June 15. A further National Forest permit is needed to fish the federal lands in the Shenandoah National Park (which holds some of the best wild trout). Information can be found at Additionally, local access rules may vary from stream to stream, so check at Mossy Creek Fly Fishing. 

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Night Fishin' with the RedneckAngler

Fishin' with my Baby Bro'

I had the chance to take my brother Doug out today for some striper action. We get to fish together 3 to 4 times a year, planning trips to upstate NY for steelies, the James River in VA for blue catfish, down to Florida for a bit of everything, etc. These outings account for Doug's entire fishing season. His drive up from Philly followed an overnight flight in from London Heathrow, and I hit him with the idea of leaving at 12:30 am for what I hoped was a good night bite. Who needs sleep, right? After a four hour nap, we hit the road. The last time he came up to fish my boat was the summer before last, and we spent most of the day sitting in dense fog. After talking up my solid striper season thus far, the pressure was on to produce. My plan was to take advantage of the flood tide peaking around 4:00am, fishing eels against a breakwall. As we got to pre-dawn we would net some bunker and then head to a few more locations for the next tide cycle or two. My first cast at 2:20 am and I was tight! I get to do this all the time, so I handed off to Doug who brought in a nice 32" fish. Over the next hour and a half, we landed two more keepers in the low 30s, and a bunch of shorts. I wanted to have a loaded baitwell by the time the sun broke the horizon. We located a big school of bunker and I landed a nice pancake, drawing a blank. I have no idea how I missed every single fish. My next cast faired much better, filling my livewell to capacity. It didn't take Doug too long to land his next keeper at location #2, a beautiful 38" fish. While we didn't spend the day doubled up, we worked up a good bunch of fish, many hookups coming in spurts. Doug lost a few going Bassmaster with circle hooks, and I broke a pair off. Those always make you wonder. In all, I couldn't have asked for a better way to spend the day, and thank God I found some fish!

Quality Time

The good fishing continues. Got some quality father son time in with Danny, who left the house at 2:30 am with me. He's a real trooper and my first mate! I can't let him spend his entire summer playing Minecraft. Get you kids out of the house and on the water. Not sure how to get started? Send me a message. I'll help you out or put you in touch with folks who can. It doesn't matter whether you're chasing stripers in the salt or doing some urban angling. You will build a lifetime of memories, and pass the love along for another generation.