Although I am a devout largemouth bass fan when it comes to the freshwater game, as temperatures drop, and bass become lethargic, I turn my attention to the Island’s winter trout fishery. Once Thanksgiving comes and goes, and most stripers have passed our shores, trout become fair game for Long Island anglers who are not quite ready to hang up their rods. Thanks to the DEC’s fall stocking program, which consists mostly of 2-year-old brown trout measuring 10 to 13 inches, the fishing can be quite good, especially since our lakes and ponds see far less pressure in the late fall and winter than they do in the spring. Add in the revitalized fishery in Connetquot River State Park Preserve, which is now open all year, and there are plenty of reasons to keep on fishing throughout the winter. The fly fishing only Connetquot fishery is also a nice option if and when our typically small lakes and ponds freeze over, as are the tidal reaches of the Connetquot, Nissequogue and Carmans rivers. Ice fishing becomes another option if you are into fishing hard water.
For obvious reasons, the most productive lakes are the ones that received a fall stocking (accompanying sidebar), however there is always the chance at a few holdovers that can measure 16 inches or more from the spring stockings. Also, Bubbles Falls and Rattlesnake Creek on the Connetquot, along with the tidal reaches of Carmans and Nissequogue rivers, all boast sea run fisheries that have the potential to surrender some very large trout, along with some bonus white perch. Overall, the fall stocking saw Nassau County waters receive 3,400 fish, while Suffolk County saw 5,000 trout placed in its lakes and ponds.
The Lighter the Better
Unless you are fishing Connetquot or Caleb Smith State Parks, which are fly rod only waters, ultra-light spinning gear is the way to go. Whether you choose braid or mono, there is no need to spool up with more than 6-pound test, and 4-pound test is usually a better option for most waters. If you do choose braid, which I prefer for its smaller diameter and subsequent casting advantage, add a 6-foot length of 4- to 6-pound test mono connected by a double uni-knot, and topped off with a drop of Berkley line glue or Krazy Glue. This arrangement gives you the casting advantages and sensitivity of braid, with the better abrasion resistance and low visibility of mono. There are dozens of fine rods and reels that fall into the ultra-light category. The key is selecting a reel that features a silky smooth drag. You don’t want your drag sticking or freezing up on you when the only thing between you and that big brown is that whisper of a line.
What to Use
It’s tough to beat the tried and true garden hackle. The simple trout worm or nightcrawler fished under a bobber or cast and retrieved slowly are popular choices and they are available all winter long in most of the tackle shops that remain open through the winter. They also appeal to white and yellow perch that share some of the same waters as trout. Berkley’s assortment of trout baits work great under the float as well. Popular lures include small Phoebe or Kastmaster spoons in gold or silver, with 1/4-ounce models the preferred option. Both these lures swim and cast well. And don’t overlook the effectiveness of little 3/16- or 5/16-ounce marabou jigs on trout. I’d definitely include a couple of those in your trout kit. Inline spinners like the Rooster Tail in chartreuse or white, or a gold Mepps should definitely be included in your arsenal. Some anglers like to replace the hook on their spinners with a #6 long shank and then slip a nightcrawler up the shank of the hook. It makes an attractive presentation when cast and slowly retrieved.
When working standard spinners and spoons, I like to make long casts and immediately get the lure working. Trout can be finicky and often wary, so long casts are sometimes an advantage. Let the lure touch down gently and begin a moderate retrieve. If that retrieve fails to produce any action, change it up, experimenting with slower and faster retrieves until you find what works that particular day.
When it comes to fly fishing, few people know more about it than Paul McCain of River Bay Outfitters in Oceanside, so I turned to him for advice on how flyrodders should approach the winter trout fishery here on Long Island. Paul is an expert on fly fishing who willingly shares his extensive knowledge and experience with anyone who walks into his shop. Here is what he had to say.
Tom: If you could only use three flies this winter, what would they be?
Paul: “If I only had three flies that I could use, the first would be the woolly bugger in black or olive. Streamers like the black ghost or muddler would be second. On those rare warm days I would try to fish a midge pattern like the Griffins gnat in a size 20.”
Tom: I know you fish all over, but what would be your first and second choices on Long Island?
Paul: “My favorite spot for fly fishing is the Connetquot River State Park in Oakdale. For years, every February 1st, when I just started fly fishing, I would be the first on line to get beat 12. Now with the park being open all year, I will be spending more time there. “
“For my second pick, this year it would be the Carlls River in Babylon. I have heard from good sources that there are some really large holdover trout hanging in the river’s deep holes.”
If you can’t stand the thought of not wetting a line for the next three months, these tips should help you take advantage of Long Island’s year-round trout fishery. Recent winters have seen increasing stretches of “mild” temperatures so don’t let the weather discourage you from wetting a line. Also, cold weather clothing has come a long way in recent years and there is no reason to let the cold keep you from “playing” outdoors during the winter months. And, there is even something to be said about fighting a fish as snowflakes dimple the water’s surface amid a wintery landscape.
|FALL STOCKING LIST|
Hempstead Lake – South and McDonald ponds
Upper Twin Lake – Wantagh
Oyster Bay Mill PondSUFFOLK COUNTY
Carlls River – Below Southards Pond, Babylon
Southards Pond, Babylon
Argyle Lake, Babylon
Connetquot River, Oakdale
Twin Pond, Centerport
Nissequogue River, Smithtown (tidal portion)
West Lake, Patchogue
Swan River, East Patchogue (tidal portion)
Carmans River, Yaphank (south of Sunrise Hwy.)
Upper Lake, Yaphank
Deep Pond, Wading River
Kahlers Pond, Center Moriches.