U.S. Youth Are World Champs — Again

The land of Gierach and Gordon, Lefty Kreh and Lee Wulff, used to be a perennial also-ran in the world of competition fly-fishing.

The U.S. adult fly fishing team went decades without so much as a bronze medal, while European countries – in particular the Czech Republic – took gold after gold.

That’s all changed in recent years. The men’s team finally medaled this year at the World Championship, winning the silver. Last summer in Colorado, Fly Fishing Team USA won the America Cup, an international tournament very much like the world championship.

The grown-up American anglers have now finished in the Top 5 three years in a row. And the 2016 world championship will be in Vail.

But while the men have steadily worked their way toward respectability, the U.S. Youth Fly Fishing Team has become the world’s best by a mile. The younger anglers won the FIPS-Mouche Youth World Championship over the weekend – the team’s third gold in a row and fourth in five years. Hunter Hoffler of Moreland, Georgia, who at 18 is aging out of the youth team, won the individual gold medal.

Hoffler is the host of “In The Loop: Modern tactics on the Fly,” a comp-fishing inspired show that has aired on cable outdoor sports networks.

Fellow Georgian Mason Sims took the individual silver medal. Cam Chioffi of Massachusetts finished sixth and Hunter Enloe of North Carolina finished seventh.

The youth team beat out Poland and the Czech Republic, the silver and bronze medalists respectively, in what was described as a tough, close contest on the Eagle and Colorado rivers, Sylvan Lake and Dillon Reservoir.

John Gierach and and Lefty Kreh may or may not care for comp fishing. Wulff didn’t have much to say about it, as far as I know (though his wife, Joan Salvato Wulff, was a world champion competition caster), and Gordon flat-out didn’t like it.

Even so, with the U.S. men finding their groove and a dominant youth team aging out of the junior circuit and into the senior ranks, the American anglers’ days as also-rans seem to be over.

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World champion Hunter Hoffler with his his folks, Melissa and Phil Town, and the U.S. Youth Fly Fishing Team’s first-place trophy.

Long Time No See!

Hello again. The Fly Line returns after an extended absence. During the past 20 months, I managed the fly-fishing page at About.com, a fun job but one that took up most of my time. The Fly Line went on hiatus. I’m no longer with About.com, and I’m happy to return to The Fly Line, chronicling the news of the world of fly-fishing.

What happened while I was away? Well, for one thing, I wrote a book. It’s called “Simple Flies” and it’s both a fly-tying manual geared toward beginners and an essay on how and why ultra-simple flies — some made as little as one material, plus hook and thread — can be really effective. It turns out this has been a topic of discussion in the fly-fishing world for at least 150 years. I’ll post more about the book, but it’s available now in paperback, Nook and Kindle versions.

Also while The Fly Line was away, American anglers became a force in the world of competitive fly-fishing. This weekend, the U.S. Youth Fly Fishing Team won its third straight team gold medal at the World Fly Fishing Championships, held this year in Vail, Colorado. In June, the adult team, Fly Fishing Team USA, won its first medal — silver — at the World Championships in Bosnia-Herzegovina. European countries have long dominated the international competition circuit, but the U.S. has now established itself as a major player. Next year’s world championship will also be held in Vail, and no one will be surprised if the adult team takes the gold, too. More on the youth team’s win soon.

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Photo courtesy of Capt. Joe Blados

Thanks for reading, and please don’t hesitate to comment!

Brown Trout Gaining on Esopus Creek Rainbows

Daily Gazette article
Thursday, December 26, 2013

By Morgan Lyle

Rainbow trout were first stocked in Esopus Creek in the Catskills in 1883, and pretty much ever since, the creek has been a rainbow stronghold.

Rainbows are common across New York, and a self-sustaining population of rainbows has flourished in the Delaware River for decades. Still, nowhere in New York has the rainbow dominated a stream so completely as the Esopus — until now.

For reasons that aren’t yet clear, the rainbows of the Esopus are losing ground to wild browns. Stream surveys in recent years by the Department of Environmental Conservation and the U.S. Geological Survey showed wild browns outnumbering rainbows.

“From 2009 to 2013 at our study sites, we see a steady decline in the number of rainbow trout,” said Scott George of Delmar, an ecology and evolutionary biology student at the University at Albany, studying trout habitat on the Esopus with the USGS.

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A U.S. Geological Survey crew counts fish in Stony Clove Creek, a tributary of the Esopus, in July 2013. Morgan Lyle photo.

At four locations on the Esopus and five more on tributaries, the USGS team has counted fish for the past five years. Consider these preliminary findings, on a stream where historian

Austin McK. Francis once reported wild rainbows outnumbered wild browns 10 to 1:

In 2009, the USGS crew found 410 rainbows and 814 browns at the nine survey sites. In 2010, rainbows were back on top, though not by much — 428 ’bows, 331 browns. In 2011, there were 175 rainbows and 120 browns.

In 2012, the electrofishing crew found 147 rainbows, 962 browns. This summer, browns outnumbered rainbows, 441 to 59.

It’s an amazing turnaround — from 10-to-1 rainbows to 10-to-1 browns.

The USGS study is being finalized and will be formally released next year. The DEC, meanwhile, has been counting fish in the creek and in Ashokan Reservoir downstream, and it, too, has found a decline in rainbows.

Electrofishing two sites twice a year for the past four years, “in general, we saw fewer rainbow trout and more brown trout,” said Region 3 fisheries manager Michael Flaherty. “We also finished a three-year period of ‘season-long creel surveys in 2012.’ Over those three years, we saw what appears to be a greater proportion of the catch reported as ‘brown trout.’ This is different than what we saw in the early 1990s, when small rainbow trout were more commonly caught than brown trout.” Gill-netting in Ashokan Reservoir produced fewer rainbows than in the past, he said.

The DEC’s findings are also preliminary, with final results expected in the spring. The trend seems clear, but neither agency is ready to declare that browns have permanently overtaken rainbows on the Esopus.

“This is one little snapshot that says there may be a trend there, but we need to look at it from a lot of angles,” Flaherty said.

There’s nothing mysterious about the dominance of browns the past two seasons. We can thank Tropical Storm Irene for that.

The monster storm in late Aug­ust 2011 left behind vast expanses of clean gravel that brown trout used for spawning a few weeks later. By the time the 2012 class of rainbows hatched out the following spring, the creek was full of young-of-the-year browns that out-competed them for food and habitat and probably ended up eating more than a few of them.

The trend, however, was in place before Irene. Then again, Irene was hardly the first big storm to impact the Esopus in recent times. Going back to 1996, the creek and the region have experienced numerous big storms, and the timing of such events can impact the success of year-classes, as in the fall of 2011 and spring of 2012.

Is climate change causing an increase in big-water events which have eroded the rainbow’s trad­itional dominance? Neither agency is prepared to make that claim, though both said it’s conceivable. The current decline of rainbows and rise of browns may also simply be a blip with no long-term significance.

There’s nothing wrong with catching wild brown trout, of course, but somehow it would be a little sad if the Esopus ceased to be a haven for beautiful, feisty, wild rainbows after 130 years.

Shorter Tenkara Rods, by Popular Demand

Daily Gazette article
Thursday, December 19, 2013

Morgan Lyle

Fly-Fishing: Tenkara rods don’t have to be long to be effective

When it comes to nymphing, the longer the rod, the better the fishing.

A longer rod makes it easier to hold your line and leader off the water and stay in direct contact with your fly or flies. You can reach over currents, rather than laying your line across them and risking your fly being dragged off course.

High-stick, tight-line nymphing is probably the single most effective way to catch trout in most circumstances. That’s why the European (and now American) competition anglers do it — and they do it using 10- and 11-foot rods.

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Tenkara USA’s Rhodo, one of two adjustable-length models introduced in December. The Rhodo can be fished as short as 8 feet 10 inches.

Rod length has always been one of the keys to the success of tenkara fishing, too — along with the ultra-soft action that makes it possible to cast a line as light as a 15-foot piece of 12-pound fluorocarbon.

But there’s a paradox. Tenkara fishing is rightly billed as ideal for small streams with lots of pocket water, but those same streams are often covered with low canopies of trees and brushy banks, leaving little room to cast a 12-foot rod.

Now, the best-known seller of tenkara rods outside Japan, Tenkara USA, has rolled out two new rod models, each one adjustable to three lengths. One, the Rhodo, can fish as short as eight feet, 10 inches and as long as 10 feet, six. The other, the Sato, can be fished at 10 feet, eight inches, 11 feet, 10 inches or 12 feet, nine inches.

It’s part of the evolution of tenkara fishing in the U.S. When Tenkara USA introduced the long, telescoping rods with no reels in April 2009, the orthodox view was that all tenkara rods were long — 11 feet was considered a shorty.

But it turns out there are all kinds of telescoping “pole fishing” rods in Japan, including some that are eight feet long or even shorter. They’re technically not tenkara rods, but can be used the same way and are great fun for small wild trout on headwaters streams.

Out west, the tenkara anglers have it easy — many of their streams are wide open, with no trees or brush to interfere with casting or playing fish. Back east, where the mountains are forested all the way to their summits and the wetter climate makes for lusher streamside flora, a shorter rod comes in handy.

I was lucky enough to get my hands on a Daiwa Soyokaze nine-footer from Tenkarabum before the company discontinued the model. It makes it possible to fish in tight spots, and it handles average and even bigger trout surprisingly well.

This 1.6-ounce rod still has the central tenkara characteristics: a tip so flexible it can be loaded by nothing more than a leader and a fly, and an overall action so soft it can protect very fine tippets, even when playing nice trout.

Then again, I’ve never had all that much trouble with my 12-footer in small, backwoods streams. In fact, the challenge of casting in a tunnel of snaggy vegetation is part of the game. These are very often the spots where good trout are found, precisely because the surroundings offer protection from herons, kingfishers, fly-fishers, etc.

Still, it’s a positive development that five years on, the orthodoxy is less rigid and fixed-line fishing is evolving in response to American anglers’ requirements.

The new Tenkara USA rods have gotten glowing reviews from bloggers, such as Jason Klass at TenkaraTalk.com, who were provided them in advance of their release for field testing. They sell for $215, and complete information can be found at tenkarausa.com.

They’re not Tenkara USA’s first adjustable-length rods, by the way. The company’s Ito, which fishes at 13 feet or 14 feet, seven inches, has been available for some time.

Nor are Tenkara USA’s new models the first three-position rods available in the U.S. Tenkarabum.com has offered the Japanese-made Suntech Field Master, a very similar rod except it has non-skid finish on the blank rather than a cork grip, for about a year now, at a roughly comparable price.

All of these rods are excellent trout fishing tools and very much worthy of your attention, if you’re at all interested in fixed-line fly-fishing.

Taking Striper Conservation Into Our Own Hands

2013-06-16 09.15.45When Massachusetts asks for tighter restrictions on harvesting striped bass, you know something’s going on.

The Bay State is a center of commercial and recreational striper fishing. Despite growing concern over the health of the striped bass population, calls to end commercial harvest and curtail the recreational catch have for years been ignored in Boston.

But now, given recent data showing poor spawning success and dwindling recreational catches, even Massachusetts thinks we should ease the pressure on stripers. Paul Diodati, the state’s fisheries director, proposed cutting the recreational daily bag limit along the entire East Coast in half, from two fish to one, and reducing the commercial catch by 38 percent.

The Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission voted no, as it always does. But Diodati’s acknowledgement that stripers are in peril seems like a turning point in efforts to protect stripers from a population crash like the one in the early 1980s, which nearly wiped them out.

“The number of sexually mature female striped bass has slumped badly and there has been a steady drop in the number of young stripers born in the Chesapeake Bay, which is the major nursery for Atlantic Coast striped bass,” said Brad Burns, founder of Stripers Forever, which advocates for the end of commercial fishing in the seven Atlantic coast states that still permit it. “For anglers from Maine to South Carolina, this translates to a decline of approximately 90 percent in the coast-wide recreational catch of wild stripers since 2006.” (Disclosure: I’m a member of Stripers Forever’s board.)

Lou Tabory, the widely read author and guru of fly-fishing for stripers, recently wrote that the decline of the fishery is hurting the recreational fishing business on Cape Cod.

“In the late 1990s in May, the ‘bowl’ just south of Chatham Lighthouse on Cape Cod might have had a hundred anglers fishing — now it’s mostly empty,” he wrote this summer in Fly Fishing in Salt Waters magazine. “Guides I know that specialized in light tackle and fly-fishing for stripers have stopped doing trips or fish for other species.”

The ASMFC did agree to consider tighter limits on fishing – in 2015. Stripers Forever says that’s  too little, too late. Monte Burke writes in Forbes magazine that recreational anglers should take the matter into their own hands.

“For the next two years, all recreational anglers should consider limiting their catches to one keeper a day at a minimum (all catch-and-release would be better, in my opinion),” Burke wrote. He specifically called on “party boat” captains to reduce the number of stripers coming over the gunwales.

“The fishing from these boats, filled with 25 to 100 anglers all taking their two-fish-a-day limit, is just not sustainable. These captains have to know somewhere in their hearts that what they are doing is similar to the actions of the commercial fishermen who eventually fished cod out to the point of near extinction. Catching and killing that many striped bass on every trip is just not in their long term self-interest.”

Didymo: Not Our Fault After All?

Daily Gazette article
Thursday, June 27, 2013

When the “rock snot” didymo algae started blooming in beloved trout streams across the region and around the country in the mid-2000s, most of us believed the theory that the nuisance was being carried from river to river in the damp felt soles of anglers’ shoes.

It seemed perfectly plausible, since didymo spores had been shown to live a long time in damp felt, and many of us have been known to fish a stream while our felts were still wet from the last one.

An article in “Fisheries” mag­azine in 2009, titled “On the Boots of Fishermen: The History of Didymo Blooms on Vancouver Island, British Columbia,” seemed to cement the idea in the trout fishing establishment. The next thing you knew, states were banning felt soles, advoc­acy groups were begging anglers not to use them and tackle companies all but stopped selling them.

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Wading shoes with so-called sticky rubber soles became the norm.

Now, the author of “On the Boots of Fishermen” has changed his mind.

Further research has led Max Bothwell of Environment Canada to a new conclusion: Didymo is native to all of North America and already present in many streams. What’s new are the blooms, and Bothwell and colleagues have discovered the blooms are caused by a change in the environment — low levels of phosphorous in the water, which causes didymo to grow the long stalks that become streambed-smothering mats in the worst cases.

“I no longer believe the problem with didymo in North Amer­ican streams is the result of it being moved around” by fishermen, Bothwell told me for an article in the July/August issue of “American Angler” magazine.

In fact, Bothwell and other scientists added phosphorous to a badly affected stretch of stream in South Dakota, and the didymo bloom there shrank.

Bothwell said he does not regret his influential “On the Boots of Fishermen” theory. In fact, he said, anglers should still avoid felt, since it has been shown to carry all kinds of invasives, including whirling disease (which, by the way, thrives in streams with didymo blooms.)

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Not all anglers were willing to take the blame for the didymo blooms in the Battenkill River, the branches of the Delaware and Kayaderosseras, Esopus and Schoharie creeks. Many pointed out that wildlife and non-angling humans could also spread spores from stream to stream.

They were also annoyed at the idea of being forced to buy a new piece of gear, and one they didn’t trust, at that. After all, previous attempts at non-felt soles were a bust. They just didn’t grip underwater rocks as well as felt.

One of them was Ed Ostapczuk of Shokan in Ulster County. Ostapczuk is no skeptic of environmental science in general; on the contrary, he played an important role in the passage of a state law in 1976 that required releases from New York City reservoirs that would protect the trout fisheries downstream, and helped kill a disastrous idea for a pumped water storage power plant in the Catskills.

I wasn’t surprised that Ostapczuk found the new thinking about didymo fascinating. But in view of his reluctance to abandon felt for safety reasons, I was surprised to hear his view on modern rubber soles.

“I am a CONVERT,” Ostapczuk said in an email. “I love the Simms Vibram sole wading shoes with studs. I personally believe that these grip the stream bottom better than felts.

“So who knows what the true cause [of didymo blooms] is? I don’t … but I’ve shifted from felt wading shoes to Vibram soles cause I think they are better for fishing/wading.”

I do too. I’ve been wearing Vibram-soled shoes for several seasons. They grip well enough in the water, and they’re much nicer for walking to the water.

And while I may not, in fact, have helped halt the “spread” of didymo, it’s nice to know I may have helped keep other nasty invasives out of our trout streams.

The next step is to figure out why rivers across North America and elsewhere are suddenly starved of phosphorous. And correcting that problem is likely to be much more complicated than getting anglers to wear different shoes.

We’re Up All Night to Get Lucky

It was 10 p.m. on Father’s Day at the Nissequogue River, and five-pound striped bass were rising like trout in a Hendrickson hatch for as far as I could see in the dim ambient light.  I landed five,  and I left ’em biting because I had to work in the morning. The fly was… what to call it? A Woolly Bugger with a tail of olive-dyed grizzly saddle hackle instead of marabou, tied flatwing style.

What they were rising to, I have no idea. There were tiny baitfish around, but the bass were rising, not rushing bait schools. The stripers’ behavior made me wonder if there was a worm hatch, but when I shined my light on the water I didn’t see any. All I know is the wide river was full of fish grabbing stuff that drifted down to them on the outgoing tide.

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The bass were big enough to put a hell of a bend in my 8-weight and pull off lots of backing. But once they had made their point, they grudgingly allowed me to drag them over, switch on my headlamp and pluck out the hook.

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This wasn’t a blitz. It was individual bass feeding at or near the surface, and the tide made it easy to swing a fly over the rises. Rising or swirling at the the surface isn’t unusual behavior for schoolie bass, but you seldom find so many doing it so consistently. It’s nice to hit it just right once in a while.

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