Sunday, May 28, 2023

05.28.23 How 'bout them eels...

     I'm not much of an eel guy. Never used them for bait and a only know a little about them. Guys have been slinging eels for big striped bass for decades, maybe centuries. I know the Atlantic City jetty guys are big eel fishermen. You'll find them handling those slippery anguila rostrata from the beach and boat. What prevents anglers from using them are two fold, well three, the cost, keeping them, and the slime. 

     The Delaware River, the longest un-dammed river this side of the Mississippi, has one of the most abundant habitats for the American eels in the United States. I first learned of eels and the Delaware when guiding on the Upper Delaware. It was there that I met Ray Turner who owns and operates Delaware Delicacies. It is there where Ray traps and smokes eels and sells them commercially out of his

shop and ships them around the world to the finest food establishments. I have seen Ray's eel weir on the East Branch of the Delaware and during my earliest of floats there have even taken the wrong line downriver and have knocked over a stone or two. 

     This past week I had a bass regurgitate a live eel. It was about five inches long. I wondered, at that small size, is that eel coming, staying out, or going. The eel has an interesting life story. They are catadromous, born in the salt waters and live in the freshwater. So here's a quick eel story. The eels are born in the Sargasso Sea. The Sargasso is a calm area of the Atlantic Ocean east of the Bahamas and south of Bermuda. They grow into elvers, or glass eels, when they make the transition from salt 

to fresh water. Interestingly elvers can fetch up to $2,000 per pound on the Asian markets due to their medicinal properties. They then grow into juvenile eels, like the one that got spit out by my bass a few days ago. The males spend most of their lives in the mid to lower rivers and the females more up at the headwaters. They can live their up to twenty years before the migration back to the Sargasso Sea to spawn and die. The trip from the Upper Delaware to the Sargasso Sea is over 1,000 miles. The New Jersey freshwater eel record is 6 pounds 13 ounces and was caught in Round Valley Reservoir and the saltwater record is 9 pounds 13 ounces and was caught off Atlantic City in 1988. Makes grow to 24 inches and females can top 40 inches. 

     Where mole crabs, aka sand fleas, have become the bait and even fly fisherman's go-to along the beaches in late spring through the summer, eels have become the staple for boat anglers catching big, like huge, striped bass when they aren't up on top blowing up on bunker. Drifted with the tides in and along the 

channels eels are like crack to striped bass. There's none better at it than Chuck Manny who must have caught over 100,000 pounds of striped bass in his career. He does it off New Jersey and then heads south during the winter to catch even more. Imagine having a day catching over 100 striped bass with the smallest 30 pounds and the largest 52 pounds. Those boys arms must have been ready to fall off. 

     When you spend most of your striped-bass-fly-fishing-life targeting and hopefully catching 30 inch striped bass, and loving it, these behemoths almost seem like they are another species. I'd take a 30-inch fish all day sight fishing on the Vineyard, while wading the Delaware, or by dragging flies through the cuts and troughs along the beach. For me, there's nothing better than standing in the water while trying to fool a fish into biting. But boy are those big bass. Maybe by the fall or next spring I'll have 

the boat ready to go. It's funny, me and these boats, once I have a run of problems or mishaps I just lose total confidence in myself and in the boat. That goes for boats big and small. I need to work on that a bit. I don't know why, it's not like I've ever anything bad happen out there....

Saturday, May 27, 2023

05.27.23 Twilight photo shoot...

     Our plans went to pot for the holiday weekend. Theresa had a client go into labor so leaving on Friday was out of the question, and Saturday didn't happen either. That's okay, sometimes life gets in the way. What I was able to do was finally clear out the truck and get her cleaned up and organized for this 

coming weeks Brokeback Mountain trip with Leif. Relax, I'm kidding. But the trip is going to happen. It was time to get rid of all the big herring type flies anyway. I really need to head back to the vice and crank out small flies for both the fresh and salt waters. While in the tuck I saw I was 5,000 miles over on the oil change. Theresa told me just go and get it done. Not happening. I always laughed at folks that change their own oil, but with an oil change up over $100 now, I'll do that myself. Auto Zone had a special oil, oil filter and air filter for $43, plus the extra quart brought me to just over $50. Now I can

by my New York fishing license. It was worth the 45 minutes it took me. So after that and a quick lawn mow, well like 2 hours I needed to fish. River was low. It was warm. I hated myself but I had to do it. It's snakehead season and allegedly they are on the spawn and protective of their turf. Again, I know zilch about snakeheads and bowfin and haven't landed one, yet. I don't even know if I'm in a good spot. 

     I found my "snakehead" box while trying to find all I need for the Upper Delaware. So I went hunting and didn't see anything, but I have to say the hunt is the fun of it for me. So I'll keep hunting. 

     And for the evening as the sun set I ran down to the river to see if anyone was home. Found little pods of small bait so I tied up one of my Hackensack flies and on the first cast I hooked up. He had some buds that followed him into the net and I thought I might wind up with more than one. Done fishing till Tuesday up on the Upper Delaware. Enjoy the holiday weekend and remember was Memorial Day means- honoring those that gave their all so we can enjoy all that we can in this life. 


Friday, May 26, 2023

05.26.23 No one home...

     I was on the phone with Delaware Joe yesterday and as I passed this spot I figured I'll take a look. River is stupid low right now running at 5,480 cfs. It was only a few weeks ago we were over 70,000. 

And there's about a four degree swing in the water temperatures from first light to the midday sun. So we're looking 66 - 70 depending. So I got up at 430 and was at the river at 445 am. This time I took no chances and threw on a life preserver just to be safe. It looked fishy enough but I couldn't find anyone 

home. I strated with a popper, then intermediate line and then 350 gr sinking line tipped with both big and small flies. It's all good looking water but after my big day I haven't been able to find a fish. 

After the tap dance back across the river I packed up and headed down river. Fished the incoming tide dancing between the rocks and going out as far as I could. Didn't find anyone home there but I did find a great bacon, egg and cheese at Ben's Deli for the effort. 


Thursday, May 25, 2023

05.24.23 Best. Day. Ever...

 I've been waiting and needing a numbers day. Didn't know if it would come in the fresh or salt waters. I surely didn't think it would have been today. Started the day in the tidal zone where I broke out the tank and landed three little guys. Coolest thing was one of them got settled into the tank and regurgitated 

a small American Eel from it's gullet. As the fish caught it's breath the eel did laps around the tank. So now I know what other baits are on the stripers menu in the Delaware. I thought I was done but something told me to stick with it. It was high tide and it would be some time for that area to be fishable. I packed up and headed north to the non-tidal zone. After a long hike I found a spot I had scouted out last year but hadn't moved a fish in, yet. Well today was the day. I started out wading WAY out into the river, like sketchy wading out, and found a bunch of rocks and current ands seams, that all 

held fish. By outings end I had landed over 15 fish with the largest over 35 inches and one just below that. These were all good fish, feisty, strong, and in big current water after taking the one fly I used all day on the swing, not easy to land, and surely easy to break off. The fish at the top which started off the day, well there's a story. When I made my cast I noticed the line was all tangled up. I figured I strip it in, find it, and get the loops out and get back at it. But sure as shit the big fish hit and pulled line. The line passed through the big guides but by the time it got to the mid-butt section, well, off it came. I watched my rod tip come up and go under each time the fish made a run. So I fought this fish with half a rod. 

Somehow I got it in. If the fish broke me off I would have lost the top two sections of my rod and my day, my best Delaware day to date, would have been done. "Thank You Jesus" is what I said to myself. I really didn't have to move up or down river much to keep this banner day going. Catch a fish or two, move a bit, come back and someone else jumped back in that seam or behind that rock. It was that good.

     After you catch a bunch, especially if you do this often, you would normally think, "I'm good". But when you're a skunked, or a one and done guy, you want to ride a day like this as long as you can. As long as the fish kept at it I would too. One fish, surely a hybrid striped bass (below) fought 

way harder than it's size. I have noticed their mouths are smaller, body shape is different, and the lines are broken on their sides. The best part, well their were many, was that I was all alone. I just hit it right.

     And now that I think back I may have landed 20 fish as the images above aren't repeaters. I can't put into words how special that day was. It's been five years now of fly fishing the Delaware for striped bass. Yes, I caught a river monster last year. I've had a big fish this year. But most of it has been zero or one and done outings, and there have been many. I started keeping a log, but I just can't. I can say this when most guys count fish, I could count hours. I am easily over 200 hours since March 1st. And it gets frustrating. It gets in your head. And not too many understand it, I know most wives don't get it. 

    So I had wound up in a spot where I hadn't started. The current was, well still moving as it was non-tidal. But for some reason I found myself struggling with the current and the rocks now seem to be Vaseline covered. At one point I was in too deep, my stripping basket filled with water, my feet gave out, and it was over Johnny. I went head over and bounced down the river a bit before I somehow landed back on my feet. And somehow my stripping basket, loaded with water, didn't slip down below my waist to my knees which would have been the nail in my coffin. But somehow, yes shaken for a minute I made my way back to the shore. It would have been the classic, "He went doing what he loved most". As soon as I got righted I dug my phone out of my waterproof sling pack, which works better if you zip up the pockets. I would have hated to not have pictures of this day, plus, who would believe me. 

The day, besides the fishing, was just perfect. Bluebird skies with spring like air temps. The water was gin clear so a lot of the takes could be witnessed. The water and sun made for a great back drop to take some really cool pictures of my favorite fish. I really enjoy taking images of these fish. They are beautiful. It's not easy with the one hand to hold and the other to shoot as your options are limited. It 

was just all good. So, now what? Was it a fluke? No pun intended. Do unicorns reappear? I would have to say I'm good now for a while. Yes, I will fish, but that drive for a numbers and good fish kind of day has been satiated. I will mostly likely go back to the skunk or one and done trips. River fishing isn't like boat fishing. And fly fishing isn't like spin fishing. So when that magic happens, it's really magical. Below is the fly that got it done. All. Day. Long. That will go into the display case in my fly tying room.  

If this day was my last of the season on the Delaware I would be good. In the next week or so I'll re-cap the 2023 spring season. Of course, many lessons learned and easy to Monday morning quarterback it all. But, one things for sure, I can say I didn't make a wrong move on Wednesday, May 24th, 2023. 

Tuesday, May 23, 2023

05.23.23 Three counties and one little bass...

     There's something just better about fishing the evening then first light, at least if you're driving an hour to fish. It just seems like the window is open a little bigger and longer later in the day. In the morning there's that window, and then it's shut. So I planned my day around fishing in the evening. The day started with a Nat Geo moment when this doe plopped down and delivered twins just below our

kitchen window. What was wild was watching the mom deliver the placenta and then eat it. I guess there's a lot of nutrients in it, or, I was thinking, that maybe she eats it to hide the evidence from predators that may be drawn in to the scent of the nastiness of birth. I know my dog Luke was. 

     I got down about 7 pm with a few hours left on the incoming. Water was clean and green and there was a stiff ESE wind. Didn't see anything for bait or wildlife so it was cast and retrieve, cast and retrieve. I went with a smaller fly but then switched over to something more juicy and on the second 

cast came tight on the above fish. When I went to land it the fly popped out but from where I was I was able to retrieve the fish but not the fly. After a quick release Leif and I pounded the same area with only one touch. 

     I took the ride south and stopped at the Shark and Manasquan Rivers to see if there was any signs of life. I fished one for about a half hour before taking the ride west. I made a pit stop in the river but found 

no love there either. I don't why it just does me better getting home at 1 am rather than 1 pm. Maybe it's because as you get older there's nothing like a nap or bedtime after a fishing session. After I got home I laid my head on my pillow and was asleep in 10 minutes. 

     Yesterday, well it seems like I catch these guys like clockwork each year, I watched the guys from the PA Fish and Game Commission electrofishing the river around Trenton. What they do is have a set of electrically charged probes that are powered by a generator that hang from the bow of the boat. The captain drives and two biologists or fishery managers man the nets and collect the stunned fish. 

     The PA Fish and Boat Commission does this annually in May, collecting fish and data from around 20 sites from Trenton down to Raccoon Creek. In addition to collecting data about the size, sex, and 

May 2021 survey
May 2021 survey

location of the fish they will also stick in a US Fish and Wildlife tag to study the migration of these fish. What is interesting is that data shows there is a lot of fish movement between the Chesapeake Bay and the mid-Delaware River, up to around Trenton, by fish using the Chesapeake and Delaware Canal. The C & D Canal is at river marker 60 and Trenton is around 130. 

     Now I'm not trying to be a striped bass Karen. But two years ago I had some concerns when I witnessed the same operation. Then the fish were stunned, data collected, and they were returned to the water. I saw at least one go belly up after being tossed, yes tossed, back in. Some may say a little post stunning love in the way of a slap into the non-aerated tub of water may get them going again. Kind of like smacking a baby on the bottom like they used to do back in the day, now we just do a chest rub. 

     The net releases kinda reminded me of when you try and shake a crab loose from a net. Now, again, I'm not trying to be, but, I don't know. Let me say it this way, electrofishing or not, stunned or not, if you saw anglers in a private boat doing this and then having the fish in a tub for a ride downriver before they were, measured, weighed, photographed, ect, and then "released" you would be, well, let's just say you would be concerned. Listen, I know it's a job, a good and important job, and after making pass after pass on 20 survey sites along the river it gets old and I'm sure boring. "Male, 24 inches, USFWS tag # 34674537"...kerplunk. Next.....I get it. But, there is no doubt that there is fishing mortality in the data collection and tagging process. That's if PFBC is doing it, the USFWS, or anglers that are hooked up with the Gray Fishtag Striped Bass Study. 

     You can read the PFBC 2022 Striped Bass Survey results HERE. New Jersey does a seine study of juvenile striped bass. They are supposed to post it. On their website the last I find is 2019, but The Fisherman Magazine had an article discussing the 2022 Delaware River results, HERE. The state of Delaware also does fish and data collection in the lower river and Delaware Bay.