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Bob Banfelder

Bob is an award-winning crime-thriller novelist and outdoors writer. "The Fishing Smart Anywhere Handbook for Salt Water & Fresh Water" is endorsed by Lefty Kreh and Angelo Peluso~online at Amazon.

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June 01, 2014

Traveling Long Island for Trout

by Bob Banfelder

From Freshwater Rainbows & Browns to the Suds for Weakfish ~ a.k.a. Sea Trout

Laurel Lake for Rainbows & Browns:

Getting a late start this season, Donna and I grabbed our Mad River Canoe on April 3rd, heading for Laurel Lake to wet a line. People ask me, "Where is Laurel Lake, exactly?" It sounds a bit confusing when you try and explain it to some folks, for Laurel is a CDP; that is, a Census-Designated Place; a hamlet of Laurel, located mostly within the town of Southold, but with a tiny section situated in the town of Riverhead. To confound matters, Laurel Lake is considered to be within the boundary of Mattituck, as it lies within the Mattituck-Cutchogue Union Free School District. Huh? As convoluted as these lines of demarcation are so deemed and mapped, a moment of lucidity shines through in the realization that, "Yes, you can get there from here." From Riverhead, take Route 25 heading east for approximately six miles to the town of Laurel. A DEC access sign to the town park will be on your left; drive to the back parking area.

It was good to be back out on the water after such a cold and snowy winter. As we portaged along the 200-yard path leading from the parking area to the shoreline, I couldn't help noticing deer sign—everywhere: rubs, scrapes, and excrement. For a moment, I was back in a hunting mood, Donna having to remind me that we were here for fishing, not pursuing whitetails. Laurel Lake Preserve and Park is a 480-acre parcel teeming with wildlife. Laurel Lake, itself, is a 30-acre gem.

Laurel Lake DEC Access & Information

Twice in April, the DEC first stocks the lake with 240 rainbow trout then later in the month, 260 brown trout, both species initially ranging between 8½–9½ inches. Come fall, these freshwater fishes of the Salmonidea family reach 14 inches on average. Lunkers lurk in this lake, too.

Not only will the angler find rainbows and browns ranging through this kettle hole (in this case formed by a retreating glacier eons ago), he or she will encounter both largemouth and smallmouth bass, bluegills, brown bullheads (catfish), chain pickerel, pumpkinseed, and white and yellow perch. Now, if that's not a sweetwater smorgasbord found in our own neck of the woods and water, well, let me tell you that it just doesn't get any sweeter than this. If you're a freshwater fanatic, you're going to fall in love with Laurel Lake.

The lake has no inlet or outlet stream, which means that there is virtually no runoff, resulting in one of the cleanest, clearest small bodies of water on Long Island. It is 47 feet deep in its center. Knowing where, how, and when to fish this honey hole is the key to success. A small hand-carry craft such as a canoe or kayak (no motoring), will give you an edge over shoreline anglers for obvious reasons. This is not to say that Donna and I haven't caught keepers from the shoreline.

Spinner baits trailing night crawlers will work wonders for the majority of species mentioned. Of course, if you're a purist, a fly rod employing a streamer fly such as a Muddler Minnow or a deadly dun-colored Gimp will stay the course. I have taken more trout with the Gimp fly than Carter (no not Jimmy) has little liver pills. Since the mid-sixties, it is my go-to fly for all seasons. In my new book, THE FISHING SMART ANYWHERE HANDBOOK ~ FOR SALT WATER & FRESH WATER, I discuss discovering this fantastic freshwater fly, present a brief history, as well as offer a tying recipe for both sweet and saltwater, the latter of which is my own creation. Also, a book that should become your freshwater bible is Tom Schlichter's Long Island's Best Freshwater Fishing, covering streams, ponds, and lakes throughout the Island, and then some. If you are a freshwater fanatic, this book belongs on your shelf if not in the glove compartment of your vehicle.

Nissequogue River for Rainbows & Browns:

Heading west on April the 14th, Donna and I had signed up for the late morning 11:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. session on sections (beats) #4 and #5 of the Nissequogue River. That section of water, eight beats in all (#2–#9), is run by Caleb Smith State Park Preserve in Smithtown. Fly-fishing only on that stretch of the Nissequogue River is available from April 1st to October 15th. A New York State freshwater fishing license and reservations are required. A four-hour session (7:00 to 11:00, or 11:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. is $20. Years ago, they had an evening session, too. It would not be unusual for me to sign up for all three sessions, bring lunch, and fish for brookies, rainbows, and browns the whole day through. The permit fee was only $5 back then. The cost, of course, went up as times certainly do change. What has not changed, however, is the beautiful, serene setting. Give this north shore wonder a shot. Although designated a river, the section of water covered here (beats #2–#9), may arguably be considered a stream; unarguably, stream-like. Hey, I didn't say a brook. Anyhow, if you're not into wading this relatively shallow flow in hip boots or waders, the area has pond platforms #10–#14 on Vail Pond. Donna and I have taken good-sized pan fish from those platforms. Stick with the Muddler Minnow for some serious fun on the pond.

The Gimp Does its Duty for Dinner

Selecting the aforementioned Gimp fly, then later the Muddler Minnow that mid-April day, Donna had a ball with a series of rainbows measuring 13 inches and 13½ inches. I stayed with my Gimp and nailed a few nice browns, also in the 13-inch category. A 19-inch rainbow appoints a wall in our home, taken on the Gimp from days gone by.

The Peconics (river and bays) for Weakfish:

Moving from the freshwater scene at Laurel Lake and the Nissequogue River to the briny side of the Peconics (namely, its river and bays), Donna and I launched our boat in mid-April. With the water surface temperatures above 50º Fahrenheit, it was prime time. Striped bass season had opened on the 15th; however, the big boys and girls were not in our area as of yet. Schoolie bass were the name of the game from the 105 Bridge area and eastward. Big bluefish were being taken out at Shinnecock. Schoolie-sized bass to eighteen inches gave us action through the third week of May. Then, suddenly, members of the Cynoscion regalis family, namely weakfish (a.k.a. sea trout, tide runners, gray trout, yellowmouths), entered the area in numbers, whereas the action had been rather spotty and sporadic in 2012–2013.

We went from targeting schoolies (all you wanted, truly) with our go-to lure for most species (Kastmasters with eyes that I epoxy upon the tin), to breaking out our arsenal of pink deceivers for the prettiest fish that swims in our waters—the venerable weakfish. Our go-to lure (a lead head teaser rig) for those prize-worthy swimmers was tied for me by Nick Posa, one of finest fishermen for virtually all species in the northeast. Nick is the proverbial "walking encyclopedia" of angling, be it fresh water or the suds. On top of that, he is one of the nicest people on the planet. What more can I say about Nick than to share with you the basics of a special rig he ties, which is an absolute killer for weakfish.

Secure a Spro Prime or Spro Prime-type ¾ ounce lead head jig with a 3/0 hook tied with pink bucktail atop the shank, white bucktail tied along the bottom; same basic color pattern as the lead head. Secure a Spro Prime or Spro Prime-type ¼ ounce lead head jig with a 1/0 hook tied with just darker pink bucktail for the smaller lead head; silver iris with black pupils for both pairs of eyes. Study the photograph. Note the modicum of flash material along its skirt.

Nick Posa's Deadly Lead-Head Tandem Rig for Weaks

As I haven't tied this deadly duo in tandem as yet, I'll simply give you the general specs. You'd begin the procedure with approximately 48 inches of 20-pound test monofilament line. Eighteen inches down from the top of a barrel swivel is a 2-inch dropper loop tied to the Spro Prime-type ¾ ounce lead head jig. Twenty-one inches down from the dropper loop, is the ¼ ounce lead head jig. You should wind up with a three-foot tandem rig. Good to go.

As of this writing, that is, right on through this last day of May, Donna and I are nailing these beauties. As my reports appear on the first of the month, in this case, June 1st, don't lose a second by waiting till the 2nd; get out there today and get in on this great action. Grab anything pink for openers. No, I don't mean pants and/or shirt, fellas; people will talk. Set your drag slightly lighter than you normally would because these fish have tissue paper-thin mouths that will easily tear a lip when setting the hook; hence, they're aptly named weakfish. Finesse that fish. Oh, and have that landing net handy. Also, when you unhook the fish, be careful of those sharp fang-like teeth at the top of its jaw. I've seen veteran anglers forget . . . Ouch!

See you out there.

Robert Banfelder
Award-Winning Thriller Novelist, Outdoors Writer & Creator of a Unique Writing Course Guide
Senior Editor, Broadwater Books
Cablevision TV Show Host, Special Interests with Bob & Donna

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