NY, NJ, CT, RI Edition
February 02, 2010
Volume 21 ï¿½ Number 1
|Long Island Winter Trout Fishing
by KEN LEGGE (AKA LEGASEA)
December 15th signifies the official season closure for striped bass fishing on Long Island and what are we to do? Many anglers will focus on catch and release striper fishing or target the tasty herring at their local pier. Others put away their gear and prepare for another spring bass run and start thinking about the local fishing seminars coming up. Sure I will do some herring fishing and maybe hit a local warm water spot looking for a holdover bass or two, but nothing gets my blood boiling more at this time of year than some winter trout fishing. I am on the hunt for the legendary giant sea-run trout and have managed a few "Salters", as some call them, to around 17 inches. Not a giant fish, but landing a trout that big on an ultra light rod and reel in a river that is ripping in the same direction that the fish is running, will put your angling skills to the test for sure.
Last January I was looking at the weather and saw some frigid air coming through with overcast skies in the morning. I took a quick look at the local tides and it was like a perfect storm situation for me. I ran right into the garage that night to set up my gear so I could be out and be casting at first light. The alarm goes off and I crawl out of bed while it is still dark out. Second thoughts enter my mind when I realize that it was a whopping 20 degrees outside and it wasn't going to get much warmer. My first mission for the day was a hot super size coffee at my local convenience store. I see Ray, the night shift guy, and we share some morning pleasantries and he wishes me good luck. I arrive at my location and there is not a soul to be found so I quickly suit up to start my hike downstream. I look at a few interesting spots along the way, but decided to start under the railroad tracks. I sneak into my spot and cast a powerbait into the west tube where I managed some fish a few days earlier. After several casts my excitement started to sink as there was nothing going on. I wade over to the east tube and cast fresh bait right up the middle. As the bait is drifting down current I feel my rig get hung up on something. I lift steadily on the rod and all of a sudden what felt like a log decided to take off like a rocket and swim towards the bay. I was so unprepared for the strike that my hook set was weak and out of nowhere the fish was gone. Man I was ticked off as I knew that was the best trout I ever had on my line. Oh well, another cast into the tube and in just a few seconds I get slammed by another fish, but this time I was ready. It was another big trout and after a great fight and some nice runoffs, this one made it into my net. The trout was a nice silvery sea-run brown and measured just over 18 inches. I cast into that tube and managed five more trout all between 12 and 16 inches releasing all my fish safely. When I got back to my truck all I could think about was the heat thawing my frozen fingers and how I can't wait to do it all over again tomorrow.
Here is a nice brown trout caught under a local bridge.
LONG ISLAND TROUT ARE LEGENDARY
The New York State fish is the brook trout. Brook trout are actually a member of the Char family of freshwater fish and they are the only native trout in our waters. Brookies are a beautiful and hard fighting species that can be quickly identified by the worm like pattern on the upper portion of the fish near the dorsal fin and a slightly forked tail. Rainbow and brown trout are raised in several of our New York State fish hatcheries located upstate and stocked in our Long Island rivers and lakes several times in the spring and then again in the fall. Rainbow trout can be identified by a pink stripe running down the lateral line of the fish and small black speckles on the side, back and fins. The brown trout is identified by their generally brown body color and black and red spots.
Any of these trout can be classified as a sea-run trout if they leave the river system and head out to the bays or even the ocean. I have read unconfirmed reports and stories of legendary sea-runs as big as 19 pounds, but the more common large sea-runs are brook and brown and weigh between 3 and 4 pounds. These fish will spend several months at sea in the spring and normally return to their freshwater estuaries to spawn in either late summer or fall months. I found it pretty hard to gather definitive information specific to Long Island sea-run trout. The information tends to be a mix of hearsay and hypothesis along with comparison to other areas around the world that have sea-run trout where studies have been done. With that being said, I have not been able to fully ascertain why some trout head out to the salty brine or why some never leave their freshwater sanctuary. So here is my hypothesis. I believe that some trout have a genetic instinct to migrate that is purely a spawning process such as salmon. Others just end up chasing bait out of the river and realize that the food choices are very good in the salt water. The fish that survive these treks and avoid becoming a striper or bluefish meal can grow very large and will turn a silvery color in the process, a dead give away that you landed a sea-run. I believe the sea-run trout stay very close to the fresh water tidal creeks during the winter months starting in December, which is why I target them all winter long, right through March.
FISHING TIDAL CREEKS – WHEN, WHERE AND HOW
All my attention is spent on the tidal rivers and creeks of Long Island during the winter months as opposed to lakes. I spend the majority of my fishing at either the Nissequogue River on the North Shore of Long Island or along the South Shore on the Connetquot River since they are local to me. The Nissequogue is our only river that flows from south to north. There are several other locations to choose from on the Island such as the Carmans River so consider your local options. Many of the rivers and lakes have been well stocked in October so there is usually good action to be had all winter long. Both tidal creeks have good public access so getting a legal parking spot is usually not an issue. Each river needs to be fished systematically keeping an eye out for small holes, eddies and drains that hold fish. Both locations also have water falls, bridges and tubes and each have some deep holes to target as well.
It is important that you move around if the bite is not in one area and watch for signs of fish movement as you go. Just because the trout were there yesterday, doesn't mean they will be at that same spot today. One thing for sure is that the fish are around. Trout are easily spooked so stealth fishing is also very important. Stick with camouflage colors or browns and greens for your clothing and take cover when you can behind bushes, tree branches or walls to go unnoticed. Walk slowly when you are wading and be as quite as possible even if you are far from your spot. Keep the talking to a minimum or whisper, some of these little details will make a huge difference and help you improve your catch rate.
Most predatory fish like structure and moving water; trout are no different. Structure to a trout could be a very small rock to tuck behind as it waits to ambush an easy meal while wasting little energy. I have seen trout stay in one spot without moving for over an hour. When I get to any location I immediately start looking for trout. With a good pair of polarized sun glasses you can usually spot a few holding in the rip or swimming around. In tidal pools you will see them feeding around the surface as they gently break the top to feed on bugs. The key is to keep a keen eye out and when you see something fishy, cast past it or to the side to avoid spooking it. Trout have keen eyesight and are on the prowl for food so they will see it moving, feel vibrations if it's a lure or smell bait from a good distance.
Tide matters according to my log book and it varies by location. I have found that the incoming tide is generally better on the north shore and I usually start fishing around two hours into the rising tide and fish almost until high tide depending on the bite. On the south shore I do better on the dropping tides. When the current begins to move faster you need heavier split shot if you are trying to hold bottom. When predicting the tide at your location upstream, make sure you understand that the difference from a tide prediction at the mouth of a river may be up to an hour later or earlier upstream.
As for regulations, keep an eye out on the NYS DEC website and get yourself an annual freshwater official regulation guide at your local bait and tackle shop or download it from the DEC website link at http://www.dec.ny.gov/outdoor/7917.html
The whitewater around the base of any waterfall is a prime target area for winter trout.
I happen to be a spinning gear angler so I will not be of much help if you are interested in fly fishing. Using a fly rod is next on my agenda so I hope to get some practice this winter. I own several ultra-light spinning rod and reel setups and it is common for me to have two rods with me when lurking around the water's edge. One will be set up for casting artificial lures and the other pre-rigged for bait allowing me to change up quickly since I usually trout fish for only a few hours at a time. My preferred trout rod is a St Croix 5-foot Premier model PS50ULM. The rod is rated for 2 to 6-pound test line and lures from 1/16 to 1/4–ounce which is the most I ever cast. The rod is matched with a Pflueger Trion FX-7 spinning reel and this combo has proven itself for several years now. My go to fishing line is Berkley Trilene XL Smooth Casting Clear rated at 4-pound test. The line casts very well and holds up most of the winter for me.
I enjoy using lures and live or artificial bait equally when targeting winter trout. Each has its place when fishing the tidal creeks so I am always prepared with both. If I find strong sweeping current that is deep enough to keep my lure off the bottom I will always stop and take a few casts with a tin or rooster tail. If I am casting under a bridge I almost always use bait. When using baits I have several hooks and split shot sinker in my bag to choose from. If I am using powerbait or salmon eggs I use 8 and 10 size hooks and if I'm using worms I use 8 or 6 size.
Trout can be pretty easy to spot as I mentioned earlier so pay keen attention to the water. Keep an eye out when you retrieve your lures, many times you will see the "V" wake of a trout come out of the shadows to inspect your lure and if your presentation is right you will be hooked up for sure. Some of my favorite lures are gold and silver 1/16 to 1/8-ounce Kastmaster tins, an assortment of Mepps and rooster tail inline spinners in a rainbow trout pattern or black and gold. I am a huge fan of small Rapala swimmers with proven success and always have a silver, gold and rainbow pattern in my bag. I also keep an assortment of small curly tail grubs that I will put on a small jig head. Dance the jig off the bottom of a deep hole or even under a bridge for best results and if a trout doesn't hit it you have pretty good odds that a white perch will take a swing at it.
Bridges and tubes, like pictured above, are ideal spots to use bait.
Baits for trout are pretty simple and if you get small live minnows they may help you land your largest fish. I tend to fish with worms, grubs, salmon eggs and Berkley Powerbait in natural color during the day and hot pink or chartreuse at night. Yes, I fish for trout deep into the night at times. I know dough balls produce really well, but I just don't fish it that often and find the other choices hold the hook well and land some big trout.
There are several other accessories to consider when winter trout fishing. You will need to have a quality pair of rubber sole neoprene waders. I say rubber sole because there are several restrictions in our local rivers for boots with felt bottoms which are prone to carry aquatic hitchhikers from creek to creek. Also a landing net is a must since we want to keep this fish healthy with as little contact as possible. Keep a quality pair of long nose forceps or small pliers on hand to de-hook your fish safely and if the fish is foul hooked, cut the leader as short as possible and get the fish back in the water quickly. The hook will dissolve in short order and you will increase the mortality of the fish greatly. Bring a fish stringer along if you plan on keeping a few legal size fish. Trout are tasty table fair and keeping a few fish for dinner is your choice. Invest in a quality lure bag that can be worn over the shoulder or around your waist. Ensure it is matched to hold all the lures and rigs you plan on having handy. Since we are talking "winter trout fishing" you will need to dress appropriately. A wool hat will help retain heat from leaving your body and a good pair of water resistant insulated gloves is a must. The water will be very cold so a warm pair of thermal socks and undergarments will help immensely.
We are lucky to live on a beautiful Island with some of the best salt water fishing in the world. Thanks to our tidal rivers and lakes we also have several top notch fresh and brackish water options to choose from. Fishing for trout will help expand your angling scope and you will discover new skills that can be applied to any other type of fishing that you do. If you don't mind a little cold weather, then our tidal rivers will provide you with some solid rod bending action this winter and you might be very surprised when a giant sea-run trout gives you the fight of your life.
Editor's Note: Ken Legge, AKA Legasea, is a contributing writer for Nor'east Saltwater Magazine and Nor'east.com. He is a licensed New York State DEC fishing guide. Visit his website at www.legaseafishing.com.
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