Matt's experience on this river shows, he places the mealworm perfectly, and he's in. The drag is singing as the fish, larger than any we'd caught that morning, takes off in the current. After a spirited battle we snap a photo of the impressive brown trout, definitely a highlight of the trip, before watching it swim away.
Matt's experience on this river shows, he places the mealworm perfectly, and he's in. The drag is singing as the fish, larger than any we'd caught that morning, takes off in the current. After a spirited battle we snap a photo of the impressive brown trout, definitely a highlight of the trip, before watching it swim away.
Week four on the road began on the Farmington River in Connecticut with Matt Wettish. Wettish has been stalking big brown and rainbow trout in the Farmington for a few years now, and was kind enough to let me tag along Monday morning. CLICK HERE TO SEE THE VIDEO >>
We employed a technique that was somewhat of a hybrid between spin- and fly-fishing. Using ultra-light, 6-foot, 6-inch rods and 2-pound test Seaguar Fluorocarbon leader, we drifted live mealworms through the river on tiny nymph hooks. It’s a delivery method Matt has been toying with and perfecting for years, and it’s pretty lethal on big browns.
Like fly-fishing, it’s all about presentation. You’re basically sight-casting to these fish, looking for shadows on the more shallow flats of the river, and dropping the worm just upstream and executing the perfect drift. It’s amazing how close you can put your worm to these fish without eliciting a strike. But when you land it perfectly, the ultra-light fluoro makes your presentation appear very natural, and the fish don’t hesitate to inhale. The scaled-down tackle makes every fish fun, and the larger fish a blast.
It takes me a while to get the hang of the technique, but once I do, we’re bringing trout, like this beautiful brown trout, to net. Hearing the drag sing as the fish bolt into the current on the light gear is the kind of fun fishing that just makes you laugh out loud.
Barbless hooks and careful handling ensure a healthy release of these beautiful fish.
Just before mid-morning, we spot a big brown holding in a current seam close to shore. We sneak up so as not to spook the fish and I take several shots at executing the perfect drift. The fish is seemingly disinterested, so I tell Matt to take a crack at it.
Matt’s experience on this river shows, he places the mealworm perfectly, and he’s in. The drag is singing as the fish, larger than any we’d caught that morning, takes off in the current. After a spirited battle we snap a photo of the impressive brown trout, definitely a highlight of the trip, before watching it swim away.
As the morning grows warmer, these fish stage and move into shallower water, and we target them upstream in faster water. Here, getting the right drift is more challenging, and I miss more than my share of fish, but manage to land a few.
After thanking Matt for the incredible morning on the Farmington and the lesson in ultra-light fishing, I’m headed south to Long Island. There’s a last-minute change in plans, and within an hour I’ve gone from planning to fish Jamaica Bay, to an overnighter to the Canyons out of Merrick, Long Island, in search of bigeye and yellowfin tuna. There’s not even time to wonder how I wound up on this 42-foot Chris-Craft, I just thankfully accept the invitation, from Gene Schettini, and hop aboard for my first overnighter.
We’re steaming way south, about 110 miles off, where a bigeye tuna bite has been rumored. It’s a five-hour haul from the port in Merrick, and my farthest ever run offshore.
The crew consists of (from left) Fred, Gene, Anthony, “Pink Floyd” Lloyd, and myself. These are the type of guys that could have fun fishing in a puddle. There’s baked ziti, there’s chilled wine, there are no shortage of stories, and although an overnighter takes a lot of work, this type of fishing isn’t exactly roughing it. These guys have put in years of hard work, and are reaping the benefits, and they know how to have a good time.
We go loaded for bear, ready for anything, from marlin to bigeye to bluefin.
We drag our spreader bars everywhere the first afternoon, changing colors, freshening the rigged baits, and changing course, without a knockdown.
When the sun sets, it’s time to chunk. We’ve got everything: bunker, butterfish, sand-eel chum, and mackerel. We set our slick and wait.
One by one the crew retires, until it’s just me, my head bobbing on deck, trying to soak in every minute of my first overnighter. At about 3 a.m., finally there’s some action. A slow click-click-click turns into a sizzle, and after pinching myself I’m on the rod. Not the yellowfin we were looking for, but a blue shark makes the night interesting anyway.
The next day’s trolling proves equally frustrating, and eventually we head for port. It’s hard to complain, though, about one of the finest meals I’ve been treated to on this trip, one of the nicest boats I’ve been on, and a starry night in the Canyons. There’s something about being 100 miles offshore, under all the stars you’ll ever see, that sort of puts the fish, or lack thereof, in perspective. I thank Gene as many times as I can and it’s back on the road. I’m headed for Hancock, New York to fish the west branch of the Delaware River.
My original plan was to fish the Neversink River, but the river is running so low that I change plans, thanks to the advice of guide Captain Joe Demalderis of Cross Current Guide Service. Joe has been fishing the region for decades, and knows every pocket, pool and riffle on the west branch.
Fishing from a drift boat on the Delaware is a blast. Joe guides the boat, we hop out along the way and stalk monster brown trout that we can see from a distance. The wild fish are finicky and my fly-fishing technique isn’t yet good enough to reach or entice many of them, but it’s incredible sneaking up on these shadows and trying to hit them with a dry fly from 30 or 40 feet. If I had caught one out of every five big brown trout I had a shot at, I’d be elated. Joe’s fly-fishing instruction is top-notch, but I’ve got a ways to go before I’m fooling wary fish like these on the Delaware.
We take out in Deposit, New York, I get a ride to my jeep, jump in and head south. Next up is Montauk, New York, where I’ll be surfcasting for big spring stripers.
In Montauk I’ve chosen to fish with Mike Coppola. Why? See above. The guy catches enormous striped bass. I could give you a laundry list of the tournaments he’s won, but the above fish, a mounted 55-pound bass taken out of the surf last season, should be all the proof needed. The 34-year-old leaves his office in Manhattan on the weekends to work the rocks of Montauk, and he doesn’t fool around.
At age 17, Mike got into his first wetsuit, to reach more stripers than the other fishermen in waders, and he’s been wet-suiting ever since. The wetsuit provides a dry seal, allowing the fishermen to swim to rocks and boulders without getting soaked or freezing. Think surfing with a spinning rod.
Mike lends me a spare wetsuit and takes me deep into the heart of Montauk’s South Side. The stretch of shoreline is a mess of rocks that range from pebbles to house-sized boulders. It’s treacherous walking. We begin the night at 10 p.m., with the intention of fishing through sunrise. Stripers will feed in close to shore under the cover of darkness.
To say wet-suiting is difficult is like saying the sun is warm. You’re swimming to boulders, you’re climbing on, and then waves are knocking you off. You get back on and repeat. The trick, I find, is to stand at the front edge of the rock, and lean forward into the surf, so that the waves only knock you to the back of the boulder, not clean off. I manage to stay on a rock long enough to land my first wetsuit striper. Not a cow, by any means, but I’m thrilled. The beating from the surf slowly wears me down until I’m drenched sore and exhausted.
We pick a few more fish throughout the night, but a bright moon creates almost day-like conditions, making the fishing difficult. The brighter the light, the more easily spooked the stripers are. But about a half-hour before sunrise we trek to one last boulder field, and it’s like a flip has been switched.
Breaking right at the end of our casts is a school of stripers reaching at least 36 pounds. Mike lands a 36-pound fish and deposits it on the rocks and is back to casting. He lands and releases another fish in the 30-pound range shortly thereafter. There are plenty of decent-sized stripers mixed in.
After a long night in the surf, we take the prize catch to Paulie’s. Paulie’s Tackle is the surfcasting hub in Montauk. It’s where to go in the morning to find out what happened the night before. There’s fresh coffee, no shortage of rumors and stories, and usually a lot of laughter.
Mike is weighing in his fish for the spring locals tournament, a tournament that runs through the 4th of July and is open to Montauk residents only. It’s prestigious, competitive, and features some of the best surfcasters in the Northeast. We’re both slack-jawed when we see that a 51-pound bass, caught from the sand beaches in Montauk, is brought to scale the same morning. It’s impossible to be disappointed about a 36-pound striper, but it looks a lot bigger not lying next to a fish that’s 15 pounds heavier.
With our wetsuits drying on the rack, we call it a day… or night. I make it about an hour down the road before falling asleep in a parking lot, and with that, week 4 comes to an end. Monster brown trout on 2-pound-test line, an overnighter in the Canyons, drift-boat fishing one of New York’s most challenging trout waters, and an entire night spent in the Montauk surf have left me exhausted but grateful for another amazing week on the road. Next week I’ll take a shot at some Jersey bluefin, head to Fire Island for some surfcasting, and finally end my stay in the Northeast before heading south.
If you go… Upper Delaware River: Joe Demalderis, Cross Current Guide Service and Outfitters. Joe is a class act and first-rate fisherman. Montauk: Paulies Bait and Tackle.