My son and I were fortunate enough to have the time to join other members of my TU Chapter ( TVTU # 282 ) to tour the Quinebaug Valley Trout Hatchery on October 22nd. My son had a blast and the tour with staff was quite an enlightening experience. There was so much information provided and discussed that it is difficult to remember it all. But, my brain is not entirely full of emergency medicine and can still process other stuff, which for me, revolves around fishing- everything else- there’s not much room…haha. So, I’ll try and pull out the most relevant and useful information from my synapses and pass along what I can recall. I hope it will enlighten you too.
This is the largest and one of three hatcheries within the state of Connecticut. It is primarily tasked, along with the Burlington Hatchery, to provide stockable size trout for recreational trout fishing on our rivers, streams, lakes, and ponds. The Kensington Hatchery is specialized and perhaps in the future I’ll write something about that one.
Connecticut’s trout hatchery system exists in order to provide supplemental trout fishing since natural reproduction would not be able to sustain the pressures of thousands of anglers each year. At best, a wild trout could take up to 3-4 years to reach what is generally considered stockable size ( 9-15 inches ). At this hatchery, trout can reach this size in as little as 16-18 months.
This hatchery was established in 1971 and is one of the largest and most modern hatcheries in the entire Northeast. It produces roughly 500,000 to 600,000 trout per year that are in the 9-15 inch range. It also holds large broodstock fish that can produce around 2.5 to 3 million fertilized trout eggs each year.
It also produces another 250,000 trout each year that gets transferred to the Burlington Hatchery where they will be held until they are stocked in the spring.
The state of Connecticut takes their disease free fishery status very seriously. These are huge barrels of Formalin that they dilute to create the solution that they use to clean the tanks and ponds. They also have tubs, trays, and matts that have this stuff in it and as you move from one building to another, you have to decon your shoes. When you stock, the nets used are to remain contaminant free as well- meaning that they can not touch the water otherwise they are isolated and decontaminated before use again.
Having ” disease free ” fish allows them to produce more quality fish and avoid any mass killing within the tanks or grow-out ponds. It also allows the state to sell the fertilized eggs and trout to be sold to other surrounding states- Rhode Island is one of them.
This one of the 48 or 50 six foot tanks within the Hatch House. This is where the sac fry and fingerlings are moved to after incubation and reared until they are large enough to be transferred to the intermediate building. Each tank has rough 50,000 fish and as they grow it will decrease to roughly 5,000 on down to 300 or so until they are moved again to a grow-out pond outside. From there, they will wait and continue to grow until they are stocked. Unfortunately, we were not able to see the eggs and incubation due to it being beyond that time frame. As you might imagine, it is a very systematic process and kept to a regulated schedule as much as possible.
This is my son, Jacob, in awe as too how many fish are in each tank. I’m not sure how many were in there but, this is one of the 20 foot tanks in the intermediate building. This is where they are feed fed by timer and start to pack on size and weight.
Here he is touching a broodstock rainbow. As I have stated before, this hatchery does hold on to some broodstock. They are kept in these long cement tanks for spawning purposes. Fish are separated out as they spawn so that they can be stripped of eggs and sperm. One of the tricks to see if a female is full of eggs or not is to see within the tank where they are. If they are near the bottom of the tank, then they are full of eggs.
To artificially produce daylight changes as one of the spawning triggers, the hatchery uses these giant curtains.
Jacob is learning what the color of each pipe means. The hatchery is down to using roughly 2200 gallons of water per minute from 5,000. Age of the hatchery, drought, and budgetary cutbacks have all attributed to a decline , somewhat. This hatchery is under the process of reconstruction and modernization which should help in the future.
The water that they use in the hatchery gets recycled a lot and by the time it reaches outside, it is not as clean and pure. The white and light blue colored pipes signifies how clean the water is. The smaller fish in the outside grow-out ponds as well as brookies can not tolerate less clean water and are held in certain tanks.
This is one of the 50 foot grow-out ponds/tanks outside that are covered with nets to combat avian bird as well as other animal predation. From here, the fish are reared until they are stocked.
I love small brooks and streams and cherish fishing for native brookies and browns. I also love traveling throughout this state and fishing new waters each year. This state has a lot of publicly accessible trout fishing , and quality trout fishing, in part due to supplemental trout stocking. Fishing over stocked fish for the first few days and/or weeks after they are put into a river, lake, or stream might not be the most demanding fishing out there but without the hard work from DEEP staff, we as fisherman, would not have nearly the quality of fishing that we are fortunate enough to experience all year long !
So, the next time you see anyone from the DEEP in their vehicles stocking fish or game, surveying land, or taking water samples, stop and thank them. They earned it ! Also, I encourage anyone to join their local Trout Unlimited Chapter and get involved to help protect and conserve our fragile resources. With the cooperation of the DEEP, we can accomplish a lot of great things. In addition, take some personal responsibility and pick up after yourselves, ask permission to fish private lands, and if you desire to keep fish, take only a few at a time from any give spot. Every little step helps in the overall effort to maintain quality trout fisheries.
As you can tell I have a special love for fishing small streams and brooks. They, in an of themselves, create a certain peace and serenity that I definitely need often considering what I do as a profession, and what daily life throws at me. They provide an intimacy with fly fishing that larger creeks, streams, and rivers do not have. Also, I feel that natures surroundings look more beautiful even though mountain laurel grows along larger flowing water, too.
” Little B’s ” whether they are named or unnamed waters generate curiosity as you explore them. Are they cool spring fed trickles or are they warmer wetlands drainage from a beaver impoundment or swamp ? Do they hold fish ?
They create casting challenges like no other ! You may think your a hot shot caster on a river like the Farmington or Housatonic but, can you cast 20, 30, or even 40 feet in tight cover and confined spaces ? Even if a stream has a somewhat open canopy above, your never going to have enough space along the edges to cast freely like you would on an open river. I know that in certain circumstances you can get very close and catch some fish but to be more successful more often, distance is the key !
In the above caption, I covered the tail of the pool first and moved off to the side for more casting freedom. I also have shot successive casts further and further up to the head of this pool. That picture is not an optical illusion, it is about 25-30 feet up to the head of it. And, that’s where a few brookies were.
People often ignore casting around structure, whether it is the fact that they don’t want to lose a fly or they are not confident of their casting accuracy, I don’t know. I see it while fishing the larger rivers, too. Structure in any river large or small is apt to hold fish ! So, I’ll fish that stuff hard- behind it, around it, and even over it. Let that stuff help you get better drifts !
Brookies and browns are very structure oriented and if the water has any depth to it then it should hold something.
This time of the year, fish start to gravitate to the pools for water depth and cover. Pools also collect a greater portion of food for the fish.
As they begin to congregate, they develop a hierarchy so that the largest fish take up spaces that offer the most food, greatest water depth, and most oxygen. The smaller ones stay away from the bigger ones for obvious reasons- they could get eaten !
With that said, oftentimes, the largest fish are the most aggressive- they need the most food. So, if you catch a small one or two in the head or tail or even in the middle off to the side, then fish out the pool to see if the largest is still there. But, if you catch the largest and most dominant fish first, then move on- you caught the best fish !
This guy is gonna dominant a whole block !
Little B’s are those tiny little brooks that you see on maps or perhaps drive by in your car on your way to work that seem too small to sustain any life, however, if you stop and actually look, these ” little b’s ” are much more dynamic than they appear even from 10 feet away, looking down from a road or along a ridge line of the forest.
I try and not post pictures that are too revealing in an attempt to protect the fragility of these little jems because they can not support hordes of fisherman seeking to slaughter brook trout for the frying pan. I do realize that there are some small stream die-hards and aficionados that might pick up the location(s) of some of these pictures but I know that they will keep hush, and let me know if one is too revealing !
Here in CT., most of our little b’s start out as tiny trickles from swampy or bogy pockets of water within a watershed area. Or, if they are luck, tiny spring seeps from underground water held within outcroppings of slate, shale, or limestone. Our geologic make-up is mostly a glacial till mess but we do have some small pockets of these special stones. These seemingly meaningless drabs of running water move on and on to become viable streams and brooks. And, they progress onward to become larger and larger waterways to form higher order rivers and eventually end up in our great seas and oceans of the world.
So, you can see that by not paying attention to these little b’s and letting careless pollution or development carry on without strict oversight can harm us all eventually ! Now I’m not here to spout off about global warming, climate change, or any of the other hot bed environmental issue- I’m simply stating that at the local level, we have dramatic implications regarding preserving our cold water sources because without cold water sources that are clean and pure the trout don’t survive and if the trout don’t survive, we don’t survive !
And, those tiny trickles pick up volume and size and move on down stream into larger Little B’s.
Now they become Little B’s that are fishable for the most regal of all trout, the eastern brook trout! ( Although technically it’s not a trout but a char )
Each little stream creates little brook trout with distinctive coloring and markings and the true small stream die-hards can tell from pictures which brooks or watersheds they are from. These markings are their name tags and can indicate what type of water quality they have and/or food supply. They also show whether or not they have a good supply of gene pool mixing which can signal if they are going to survive as a species or ultimately perish.
How can they perish ? Well, if a portion of the brook dries out due to a micro draught or poorly designed development drains underwater aquifers, or a new road with poorly designed drainage cuts the species off from one another, the gene pool eventually weakens and the species as a whole becomes weaker and unable to survive the rigor of nature and man’s impact on their existence. In addition, dams, poor viaducts, and other naturally permanent and semi-permanent barriers can cut them off from one another.
Connecticut, through TU chapters and other conservation groups, with the help of DEEP, are making headways into reestablishing headwaters but it is a long and slow process- too long, slow and costly , but it is being done none-the-less.
Also, DEEP with the aid of UCONN, are monitoring some streams and collecting DNA from brook trout to study how all these factors come into play. Fascinating stuff !
Water seeps that squish under your feet turn to trickles like before that ultimately become what we all come to recognize as an eastern brook trout stream with pockets and pools. A pool like this is substantial and surely holds fish if approached and fished properly. Pools create a food supply (a grocery store for the fish), and they have water depth which is one of the most important forms of shelter for them. Pools that remain cool help fish survive the summer and draughts. They also help survive the winter and ice. Finally, they can hide from predators like mink, otter, raccoons, water snakes, bear, and us !
Pools also help the larger brookies survive-they are the ones most apt to reproduce !
The very heads of pools are where some of the best brookies are found. They provide the first available food source, they provide the most oxygen, and often the best shelter in the form of undercut rocks…but…not always ! Sometimes the tail of the pool is the deepest, has the best hiding, and funnels the most food !
This one was in one of those pools, at the very head where the water first comes into it. Sorry for the blur, my camera’s auto focus sometimes does not agree with the ever-changing lighting and stream conditions.
I’m not a gear freak by any means but the rod pictured is perhaps the best small stream rod on the planet. It is an ADG Titanium 7 1/2 foot 6 weight rod. The late David Ahn teamed up with Joe Humphreys, who is perhaps the best mountain stream fly-fisher in American history, to create such a rod. It is light, sensitive, durable, and powerful. A 6 weight in brush you ask? Yes. Joe over decades of fishing the mountain brush feels that the heavier weight of a 5 or 6 weight double taper line helps load your rod quicker, faster, and right off the tip so you can get distance in the brush with some casts and hardly even move the rod while your doing it. Having seen it, been taught by him for many, many years, and fishing myself, I can attest to his beliefs- it works, trust me ! ( I do have to say, that I’m not a fan of the fighting butt on ADG’s newer brush models- sorry Jubie- but, I’m being far with my assessment. Otherwise it’s a top notch brush rod ! ) Even at high noon, the sun has a hard time shining through the forested canopy. This also is a protective barrier (many parts of the Appalachian mountain chain have seen a dramatic degradation of the eastern brook trout through decades of poor lumbering practices). But,
Finally, carry a thermometer with you. You must follow the water temps ! For example, there is a promising looking small brook that should be a great Little B , not that far from my home, but it drains a large beaver dam impoundment so it warms up very quickly. But, as it moves deeper into the woods, it cools down somewhat, picks up some spring seeps and cools down- that’s where the trout will be !
You can’t be a slave it either. Brook trout can be conditioned to higher water temps if they are trapped but, it must have a good food supply, have high nutrient and water quality, and most of all remain highly oxygenated . I know of a Little B in Litchfield County that gets into the low 70’s in the summer yet brook trout thrive in it because it runs through a dark forest with a steep gradient and remains well oxygenated.
It has been cold, raw, gray, and rainy this week but despite that fact, I managed to get a few days of fishing in and enjoy what God has created. My career in EMS has afforded me the time and opportunity to both guide on the side, fish on my own ,or fish with friends and family. It also has given me a unique perspective on life and as a result, I think it has heightened my enjoyment for fly fishing, the surroundings it is done in, and life in general. Don’t get me wrong, I’m as competitive as the next guy – I’m just not wrapped up in posting nothing but size and numbers of fish. For me, it is more of a pleasure to share, write, and teach what I know.
I chose a smallish Eastern Connecticut stream to fish today. It has good water quality, plenty of woody debris, cool springs and seeps, and boggy areas to maintain a water table which will become very important later in the season. It does receive some stocking from the state but the area I fished today is a distance from any convenient stocking point and I am not aware of it having been float stocked in some time. Fish do tend to spread out over time but it is a misconception that stocked trout will always migrate out of an area unless heavy rains, spawning urges, or stream temperatures moves them faster. Therefore, I suspect that the brookies I caught today were either native born and/or from a previous stocking(s) and were given the time to gravitate to suitable water for them.
Come along with me and read the captions as I explain them. I hope that you enjoy them and learn something, too.
This water temp was actually 46 degrees and taken from the spring in the previous photo( my fingers holding the thermometer started raising the temperature while I was trying to get a clear photo ).
One of the greatest pleasures a guide can experience is seeing the look of joy in a new fly-fisher’s face when they catch their first fly-caught trout. Today I had that pleasure.
I met up with a new client of mine, Louis, and fished the Natchaug River together. The mid-morning started off slow but as the water and air temperatures climbed, the action started to heat up. Fortunately for me, the fish were cooperative and there was a fantastic Quill Gordon spinner fall.
Congratulations Louis and welcome to the club- the crazy obsessed fly-fishing club- because, the look in your eye revealed that you are hooked !
As the old saying goes: ” If you don’t like the weather in New England, wait a minute ! ” Well, it’s not like that literally but close to it. 2015 and the start of 2016 weather has been crazy to say the least. We had March like weather in February, May like weather in March, and now February like weather in April ! Ugghhh…
I traveled to the Farmington today despite the cold temperature and blustery wind to get my fill of fishing before I start my 3 day rotation and the start of fishing season. I went to a patch of water in the Burlington section of the river to see if the Hendrickson hatch would come off in this weather. I anticipated that it would- very sparsely- even though the water and air temps were down ( once it starts, it comes off regardless of the weather but, weather does affect how it progresses ). The hatch started recently due to the prolonged warm winter and early spring. However, it has been very slow, sporadic, and not lasting very long each day. Today some came off around 3 pm and lasted for about 45 minutes. In addition it them, midges and winter caddis were about – also sparsely.
I borrowed a friend’s Scott Radian to try it out. I chose a 6 weight in case I needed to CHUCK streamers, but my intent was to use nymphs, wets, and possibly dries if any fish were on top. I don’t like to carry multiple rods with me so I like to use a rod that can do it all. I normally fish Orvis Helios 2 series and/or ADG Titanium rods-with my first choice usually being an ADG.
I dabbled with a bit of everything regarding tactics but the most productive was running a cast of three wets spaced 30 inches apart and deep in the softer seams and worked up slowly through the water column using a long leader and a thin running line to combat the heavy winds today. I didn’t exactly put huge numbers up- I didn’t expect it with our current weather- but I did get enough to put my mind to rest and savor another day on the Farmington completely by myself ! I know that won’t happen again any time soon after Saturday. That being said, I wish everyone a successful opening day and fishing season.
By the way, as you can see from the pictures, some of the trout ( browns ) were holdovers and the rest were recent stockies straight out of tank # 2 at some point during the past week or so….A fish is a fish though !
I’ve mentioned it before that we have been lucky with a mild winter this year since the past two or three had been pretty rough. Even though the groundhog predicted an early spring, mother nature has its own way of determining that. The past couple of days have been demoralizing but I still have to think it could always be worse. According to my journal notes from last year we had frigid temperatures everyday for over a month so a few days isn’t that bad. Despite that fact, cold snaps like these past few days make me think back and relive in my head nice days on the stream. This is a video clip of one of them. I was nymphing for brookies on an eastern Connecticut stream.
Insomnia the night before you start your three day work rotation is never a great way to start your shifts, but I had this blog on my mind among other things so I decided if I can’t sleep I might as well be productive.
I went to my club stream yesterday to fish for an hour or so in the morning since it was the only day this week I was able to get out. The two previous days were bitter cold and windy with gusts up to 50 mph in the Coventry/Mansfield area. I chose my club stream over a local freestone one because it is spring fed and therefore does not freeze over. It is stocked in the spring with a substantial number of browns, rainbows, and a few brookies. The browns and brookies tend to survive the best due in part to the fact that they like to be around structure more. However, I have seen some natural reproduction of rainbows as well over the past 3-4 years. Despite that fact, our members tend to harvest a lot of fish, too. Luckily, the natural reproduction on this particular stream is fantastic and any fish under 12 inches is native. It has become an increasingly tougher brook to fish as the wild populations increase each year.
Very few members fly-fish this stream so I tend to have somewhat of an advantage when it becomes ” difficult ” during certain times of the year when the trout are turned off of bait. That tends to be when the stream is at a summer low and very little in the way of runoff occurs except when it rains heavily or thunderstorms deluge the area. That being said, it is a stream primarily composed of fine gravel, clay, and silt and has a low amount of insect biomass. What makes it such a great fishery is entirely due to the fact that there is a lot and I mean a lot of woody structure and of course it’s spring fed.
The stream gets over grown in the summer and makes working a long rod harder but in the winter and early spring a 9 foot rod is wonderful because you have so much line control and ability to reach over pucker bushes, downed tree limbs, and keeps your nymphs, wets, streamers or dries in drift lanes or thalwigs better. That is a big advantage when you only have one shot at getting a good drift. Also, I nymph traditionally without indicators or sighters, and use weighted nymphs and/or shot so I want that long rod to control my drifts precisely even if it is a small brook or stream.
As I have mentioned previously, this stream does not harbor a huge amount of insect biomass so any generic wet, nymph, or streamer works well at any time of the year. But, egg patterns and any of their derivatives like sucker spawns, etc., are excellent because fish have seen eggs of all types since they were fry and know what they are. Although I’ve use all kinds of colors in the past, natural fleshy tones have out produced everything else and proved so again on this trip.
Yesterday was the first day of my 2016 fishing season. I journeyed to the Yantic to see how it would fish with higher water levels since we received a goodly amount Sunday. Plus, I had some success on it earlier in the fall after the state stocked it and wanted to see if it remained productive.
I arrived mid-morning with the sky partially sunny, temperature around 30 degrees, and the wind mild. However, within an hour or so, that drastically changed and the temperature with the wind chill made it uncomfortable. I don’t mind fishing in colder temperatures so long as it isn’t windy. Besides, I have never done well in the winter when a cold front is approaching and the temps continue to drop from cold to colder. With that said, I thought I might be able to get a fish or two in some deeper, softer water before it really changed.
The river was higher than it has been in quite some time, cold in the mid-30’s, and slightly stained but still very fishable in sections. I chose an inside bend where a riffle cuts deep into a gut/drop-off and then turns abruptly and creates a deep and slow corner seam. I figured the trout that normally would be nose to gravel on the edge of the riffle/drop-off would move closer to the shoreline and softer water. And, I was right. I ended up catching two rainbows back-to-back within an hour. One took a white minnow pattern fished dead drift nymphing with a brown wooly worm dropper. The other bow took the dropper. Each fish was a decent stocker that the state put in this fall. The male one might even have been a hold-over from a previous stocking.
With two caught and released in a pretty short amount of time for winter fishing ( mind you that every few casts I’m placing my hands in my waders and holding hand warmer packets ), and with the wind gust getting stronger by the minute, I took that as a sign to quit while I was ahead and revel in the new year’s successful outing.
We have been blessed with fantastic weather since summer. However, it has come with a price- little to no water ! We have received some back like my previous blog mentioned, but we are still inches short from what we normally should have. November turned out to be one of our warmest ever on record. And, December has been very mild, too ! I’m not complaining though since it has made for some very comfortable fishing days even on our ” frosty ” mornings.
Yesterday was predicted to be another 50 degree day so I decided to hike and explore some more water on this side of the state to assess the damages from our persistent drought. I went to a stream that is stocked in some sections, and may have had some fingerlings put in at some point, but remains predominantly wild in the majority of it. It doesn’t appear to receive much pressure based upon what little trash I came across. I hope it stays that way. It is a jem of a stream and will do my best to protect it. As you can see, it holds decent size wild fish. I’m glad that they survived the summer and hope they’ll survive this winter, too. We definitely need to keep chipping away at our drought. Anchor ice is one of the greatest winter threats to a trout stream- especially if it is low and the bitter cold hangs in for weeks at a time like last winter. Perhaps mother nature will be kind this winter.