Conservation Philosophy Tips And Technique

Enlightening Experiences in Fly Fishing: A Brown in The Finger Lakes


      The Finger Lakes are a truly beautiful place to live and to enjoy fly-fishing.   The area is blessed with many majestic waterfalls, gorges and interesting rock formations and is also graced with a variety of migratory fish which enter the tributaries at various times of the year.  The diversity of tributaries in the Finger Lakes, each having unique beauty and many having a scenic waterfall a short distance from the lakes they feed, gives the fly fishing angler many choices for a day of fly fishing.

      One late fall day back in December of 2000 I made the decision to fish one of my favorites tributaries which was a short drive from my home. At the time I was experimenting with different streamer patterns that are intended to mimic small baitfish and had designed a few that had produced a fish or two.  While fishing the colder water of late fall I would usually put a bb sized split shot or two on the leader a few feet above the fly or use a sinking leader to help the fly sink. I was also experimenting with sinking leaders which I created from a full sinking line I had bought for lake fishing.  I cut the sinking line into different length pieces and put some braided loops on each end creating a variety of weighted sinking leaders. As with most fly anglers, I thought that I needed to get the fly down by using some weight to get the attention of a fish. On this trip, for some reason, I decided to fish a weight forward floating line and a monofilament leader without any added weight or sink tip.  Something told me to abandon the weight and see what happens.   

Quinci Chapple fishing a fly at Ithaca Falls

     This particular day was a fairly cold day with air temperatures around freezing.  As always when fishing for migratory fish,  I imagine I was hoping, what every fly angler hopes, that there were some fish in the stream and they were in a biting mood.   I parked in the small dirt parking lot on the south side of the stream and walked the short rocky trail which meanders just behind a large pipe that must have been part of the local water system at some point. Its always good to approach the stream and see a limited number of anglers, and on this day I was lucky to find I was the only one fishing the entire area possibly meaning any fish in the stream had not been pressured by other anglers.

     As a local angler of this particular stream for many years, I was acutely aware of changes to the stream bottom and changes to the details of the pools.  Being a short run below the falls this creek has very few pools, but the pool just above one of the two bridges below the falls is the easiest to fish due to the very IMG_0594short walk and the opportunity to stand on the stream side gravel to cast without stepping a foot into the water.  The pool has changed significantly since 2000 as a large amount of gravel has been washed down from above the falls during high water events. This gravel has filled in some of the great holding water that once existed at the tail-out of the pool, affectionately called the “Plumbers Pool” by many local anglers.  During the fall season of 2000, I remember the pool having a nice long deep tail-out on the north side along the beautiful shale cliff. This deep tail-out extended far past the eddies created by the cliff at the head of the pool.  The nice deep channel extended all the way under the bridge, so a nice long-line swinging style of presentation could be achieved and a streamer could swim nicely through the tail-out while standing at the head of the pool.

IMG_2385     My streamer experimentation had led me to a great book titled “Smelt Fly Patterns”  by Donald A. Wilson, a fly angler and guide from Maine.  The book contains numerous fly patterns to imitate baitfish, particularly smelt.  I had been tying various selections from the book, but the one that really caught my eye was named “The Supervisor.”  I had heard of this pattern before and was working on my own adaptation.  My nature leads me to use materials I have on hand, so I used the color scheme from the fly but instead of a feather wing pattern, the little streamer became a buck-tail version.

Bucktail streamer pattern influenced by the “supervisor”

    In addition to experimenting with streamers I was also interested in presenting the flies without a sink-tip or any added weight, also referred to as a “dry line” in wet fly fishing.  It definitely makes casting much more enjoyable and of course much easier.  On this day in December 2000, I  decided to fish a weight forward floating line and a simple tapered leader with 3 feet of tippet and then the buck-tail “Supervisor” hoping to entice a fish to move up the water column from it’s lie.


     I don’t remember exactly how long I was fishing that day before “it” happened but I will certainly never forget “it.”  I pulled out my journal while writing this article and it says the water on that day was 35 degrees Fahrenheit. A temperature, in the minds of most anglers, not conducive to a migratory fish moving to a fly.   There is nothing written in my journal about the water clarity, but I remember it being extremely clear. I was rolling out some casts over toward the cliff at an angle down towards the bridge while standing at the head of the pool and putting in some subtle mends in the fly line in order to counteract the main current in the center of the pool which was pushing out from the cliff. Using mends can help slow the fly down in order to let the fly swim across the current in a slower more deliberate manner.  On one of the casts the fly landed slightly above the line due to an underpowered cast.  The head of the fly was actually facing down stream when it landed on the water and due to the underpowered cast the fly paused and was suspended for a few seconds as the slack in the line was pulled by the center current. After the slack had been removed by the water’s current, a large downstream loop from the tip of my fly rod to the fly was created, in the shape of a giant letter U.  Eventually, the current began to pull the fly line and subsequently the fly downstream.  The fly traveled several feet with the head of the fly facing downstream and just as the fly began to turn so that the head of the fly was facing upstream a large fish rose up from the bottom to intercept the fly and it’s mouth opened and the fly disappeared. Similar to dry fly fishing I watched the fish rise and take the fly as it swam just below the surface.  At the moment the fish bit the fly and turned, I try to remember what an old fishing buddy, who has since passed,  once told me.  A little experienced voice in your head and a little mind trick that has proved valuable throughout my fly fishing experiences.  As the fish turns,  subtly say to yourself “Now I’ve got you.” before setting the hook.   That day has resonated with me ever since as a sort of an enlightenment.  An angler does not always have to be overly aggressive with the use of weight because with the right conditions, a certain attitude and an eager unpressured fish, amazing things can happen.

Finger Lakes brown taken on a bucktail Supervisor

     I was able to get a good hook set and to land the fish and take a quick photograph before release.  It was a beautiful girthy brown trout.  I try to be conscious of my impact on the places I fly-fish.   Both my Father and Grandfather taught me to respect the outdoors and strive to never leave anything behind except my own footprints.   This philosophy has also influenced the way I fish.  It is one of my goals to avoid loosing monofilament or flies in the river bed or surrounding areas.  I realize that it sometimes happens, however; by being aware an angler can help minimize these occurrences. One step towards this goal is to work from the “top down” and consider fishing without additional weight or sink tips before adding weight. You just might get the experience of a lifetime.

Biology Conservation Gear History Uncategorized

New York Brook Trout

New York Brook Trout

by Matt Chapple

A beautiful brook trout stream. Photo by Wendy C.

History in New York

The Brook Trout having the scientific name, Salvelinus Fontinalis, is actually not a trout but one of the two species of char that are native to New York State. The other being the Lake Trout. The numbers of Brook Trout have declined greatly in their native range in New York, but populations still exist. There are many miles of small streams in New York that still support populations of Brook Trout, mostly in the Adirondack Mountains, the Tug Hill Plateau, and the Catskill Mountain regions. Due to stocking programs active since the 1800s, the actual genetic lineage of the Brook Trout in many of these waters is vague.

The famous Beaverkill in the Catskills is a prime example of the decline of the brook trout. They were once abundant in the Beaverkill, but due to the river’s close proximity to New York City and increased industry, especially tanning mills, brook trout populations began to decline. Over-fishing by tourists and declining water quality almost completely eliminated the brook trout from the Beaverkill by the end of the 1800s. In much of the native range the brook trout was replaced with non-native brown trout, imported from Germany, or the rainbow trout, which is native to the pacific northwest of north america. Today there are still populations of brook trout in the Catskills and brook trout are also stocked in the region by New York State hatcheries. The Beaverkill is now primarily a brown trout fishery.

At present in New York, the Department of Environmental Conservation, manages many lakes and ponds specifically as Brook Trout waters, many of these are known to support natural reproduction. Each year fish of four pounds are landed. Although, the populations of naturally reproducing Brook Trout is low compared to those that existed in history, a handful of “heritage” strains are said to exist in New York and these strains are being protected.

Adirondack Native Brook Trout


Brook Trout prefer cold water and will not survive in water with a sustained temperature above 65 degrees Fahrenheit. They typically spawn in streams October through November, but may also successfully spawn on the bottom of a lake or pond. They will spawn at the young age of 2 years old. They are a beautiful species of fish, characterized by wavy yellow markings, called vermiculations, on the back and dorsal fin. Along the sides are red dots surrounded by blue halos scattered amongst yellow spots. The underside can range from crimson, on a spawning male, to yellow or pink and the fins display a range of colors with black and white borders. In small streams brook trout will not grow to very large sizes rarely reaching 12 inches long. They mostly feed on aquatic insect nymphs and larvae.

Fly-fishing for Brook Trout

Fly-fishing for Brook Trout in small streams is a truly fun endeavor. A 6-7 foot 3wt rod is perfect for casting small wet flies and dries and maneuvering the fly rod in tight spots . Brook Trout are opportunistic feeders and will feed when food becomes present and will often take a swinging fly. The streams in New York that harbor Brook Trout don’t usually have sustained insect hatches, so Brook Trout are typically eager to attack a fly. A small Hare’s Ear Nymph or an Adams dry fly are a good start when choosing a fly. One of my favorite flies that I used to fish for Brookies as a kid was a red ant pattern. Have fun with these little guys, if you find them you will most likely have the stream to yourself.

Articles Biology Conservation Fish History Tips & Technique

New York Atlantic Salmon

Landlocked Atlantic Salmon caught and released in the fall of 2003

History in New York

Of all the salmon species that exist in New York’s waters today, including Chinook, Coho, Pink and Sockeye,  only the Atlantic Salmon is native to the state.  Lake Ontario once supported a population of wild Atlantic Salmon.  This population may have originated from the anadromous form which is one that lives a large part of its life in the ocean and spawns in freshwater.  The anadromous form may have migrated up the St. Lawrence River to Lake Ontario and into its tributaries and never returned to the Atlantic Ocean but used Lake Ontario or the Finger Lakes as a substitute for the ocean.  This form of Atlantic Salmon is referred to as “Landlocked”, and this population of Landlocked Atlantic Salmon was once quite large and there were major spawning runs that existed in the Salmon River system, Oswego River system, and the Genesee River system as well as others.  The loss of suitable spawning habitat caused the decline and subsequent extinction of New York’s Atlantic Salmon population. Some of the major contributors towards the loss of spawning habitat were, dams which blocked access to prime spawning areas, agricultural run off which covered spawning areas with silt, and the removal of stream-side trees which caused increased water temperatures, over harvesting, and water pollution.  By the late 1800’s the native Lake Ontario salmon were gone.

Releasing a male Landlocked Atlantic Salmon

New York at Present

At present there are many lake and tributary systems across New York State that have populations of Landlocked Atlantic Salmon.  Unfortunately these populations are maintained by annual stocking programs.  There is very little if any natural reproduction due to the presence of a small  fish commonly called an alewife, which is not native to Lake Ontario or the Finger Lakes. The Alewife invaded the Great Lakes and reached a peak in the 1950’s.  Two examples are Lake Ontario and Cayuga Lake which both harbor populations of Alewives.  The skin of the Alewife contains an enzyme (thiaminase) not found in the natural forage base of the Atlantic Salmon.  This enzyme causes the breakdown vitamin B-1 (thiamine) which is essential to successful growth of the alevin stage of the atlantic salmon. With this vitamin deficiency the alevin usually die.  Although natural reproduction does not occur, many stocked Atlantic Salmon return to the streams were they were stocked  and can be viewed as they spawn from mid October to mid November during the peak of spawning activity. Unlike pacific salmon such as Chinook and Coho which have also been introduced into some New York’s waters, some Atlantic Salmon may return to their home lake after spawning and may return to spawn again. So they can sometimes become quite large, which is a good reason to practice catch and release.  There is research being conducted in a combined effort between Universities, state and government agencies to determine the feasibility of Atlantic Salmon restoration to New York. At present through stocking programs Atlantic Salmon can be found in Lake Ontario, the Finger Lakes, some Adirondack lakes and Lake Champlain.  Recently programs to re-introduce the native forage fish of Atlantic Salmon are being investigated.

A bright Landlocked Atlantic Salmon that took a swinging wet fly

Fly-fishing for Atlantic Salmon

The Atlantic Salmon is still regarded as one of the top game fish in New York.  They are known for their hard runs and incredible leaping ability which makes fishing for them an exciting experience.  New York anglers can use a variety of fly-fishing techniques at various times of the year to fish for Atlantic Salmon.  In the spring when off shore water temperatures are still cold salmon can be found along shorelines feeding on bait fish and they also may enter the lower stretches of tributaries to feed on schools of bait fish, such as the rainbow smelt or alewives.  In the Lake Ontario tributary system they may enter a river in the spring and stay in the river until spawning in the fall.  Streamer patterns that mimic  small bait fish are effective at this time.  A 9 to 11 foot 6 weight fly rod or even a longer 12 foot plus rod are good choices for battling the wind and casting streamers in the early spring conditions.  Sink tip or sinking lines work well but at certain times a floating line can be used when salmon are in close to shore chasing bait fish near the surface.  When salmon move into the lower stretches of tributaries following the smelt or other baitfish  they will often feed furiously,  but the action often does not last long  as they move out as quickly as they entered the tributary, which will require being in the right place at the right time.   Swinging the streamer as well as varying the retrieve with quick stripping motions will entice salmon to strike when they are chasing baitfish.

During the spawning season when salmon move upstream in search of a mate, the fly-fishing strategies are somewhat different.  The salmon are not moving into the stream in search of food as they are in the spring, but enter as a result of an instinct to spawn.  Although it is commonly thought that they are not feeding, they will still strike a variety of flies possibly out of aggression and territoriality, including dry flies, as they protect their spawning areas or hold in a pool during their migration.  Post spawn salmon may also resume feeding and can become veracious feeders.  Salmon can be taken using a variety of  techniques and patterns in the fall.  Stripping and swinging streamers is one method as salmon can violently strike a streamer as it moves through the area in which the salmon has taken temporary residence or where the female has prepared a spawning bed.  Swinging small wet flies and nymphs will also produce strikes.  When the water temperatures start to drop in late fall and winter and the salmon in the tributaries become less active and the salmon will be less likely to move aggressively and will be more likely to strike a nymph on the dead drift, but will occasionally grab a well presented streamer pattern.

Atlantic Salmon, the only native salmon to New York, is a prime example of how the pressure of modern human civilization can cause the decline of wildlife.  Although the wild salmon are gone from New York, there is still opportunity to see salmon as they take part in their annual spawning migration.   As they are truly one of the most exciting fish to pursue with a fly rod.

Effective Wet-fly Nymph

  The soft partridge hackle has lifelike action in the water, making the fly appear alive, like a swimming, struggling, or emerging  nymph or small fish.  This fly can be fished using various techniques including the dead drift, the wet-fly swing, and in slow water they can be retrieved using a very slow stripping action.  All of these techniques I have found to be effective at various times and conditions while fishing for New York’s Atlantic Salmon.

Olive Bead-head Wet

Hook: curved nymph hook 4-12

Thread: olive 6/0

Tail: pheasant tail fibers

Abdomen: Olive hare’s mask spun in a brush

Rib: fine gold wire

Thorax: peacock herl

Collar: Hungarian partridge two turns

Head: Two turns peacock herl and gold bead

Releasing a beautiful Landlocked Atlantic Salmon back to the stream