The Conny: Paying For It - The Fisherman

The Conny: Paying For It

While the rainbows typically grow larger, some impressive brooks trout can be caught as well.

It’s a well-oiled, highly effective machine that ensures that the angler gets the most out of the experience. 

I slipped out of bed, slowly disconnected my phone from its charger, and avoided all the creaky floorboards as I made my way to the hall. Before gently closing the bedroom door, I paused for a moment; my wife hadn’t stirred. An icy wave of relief washed over me, followed by a red-hot wave of anxiety. I padded down the stairs and into my study, carefully closing the door again and pausing to hear if anyone was awake. No one moved. Now, I could get this done without anyone knowing.

My Connection

I was out with a good friend two weeks early for drinks and fish stories. He’d moved recently, and we hadn’t seen each other for a while and hadn’t fished together for even longer. The truth is, we never really fished a lot together, even when he lived four blocks away. I leaned heavily towards saltwater fishing of any variety, and he was a diehard Catskill dry fly trout fisherman. Despite the difference in approach, we would get together regularly and trade fishing stories, and every now and then, we’d join one another on a trip to either of our respective haunts. He’d wade out onto my sandbar to throw tin at cocktail blues in August and I would meet him on the banks of the Roeliff Jansen Kill in late April for some late evening caddis hatches. Since he moved to Long Island, we hadn’t fished together at all, and I was curious if he was still making forays to his beloved small water upstate.

Rather uncharacteristically, he was a little coy about what he’d been up to lately. Usually, I couldn’t get a word in edgewise once he started going on about hatches and stream flows and hackle. Now, he was dodgy and vague. I pressed, but all I could get was that he’d been getting into some good trout and not traveling far for them. He changed the subject rather quickly, and we got to talking about prospects for the coming striper season, which is a really good way to distract me. Eventually, I shifted the conversation back to trout and a particular issue I had been dealing with for some time. While I had my luck with stocked New Jersey rainbows and even a New York brown or two, what eluded me was a good brook trout. My friend offered some advice that I took to heart because when it came to brookies, he had hung more good ones than anyone else knew. Then, the conversation shifted to more mundane things like work.

We ate, we drank, and we laughed. It was good seeing him, and we made vague plans to fish together at some point in the future. I excused myself for a moment before we wrapped things up for the night. When I returned to the table, he had a folded cocktail napkin that he slid across to me. “Call this number. You won’t regret it,” he said in a very hushed tone. I looked at him. “What…” He tapped the napkin. “Just do it, but try not to tell anyone. You understand?”  I didn’t, but I played along mostly because I was tired but partly because I was a little afraid to know right then and there. Once I got home, I looked up the number online, and I immediately understood. I would call it as soon as I could.

The river features some rather scenic locations that are worth the trip in itself.

Making The Arrangements

With every unanswered ring, I felt a little more anxious, a little more worried I’d mess something up, or even worse, someone would wake up and start asking what I was up to. Then she answered. So polite and helpful. I whispered my question. “How much?”  “When?” “Would I need to bring anything special?”  When I felt I had all the information I needed, I repeated it to myself in my head because I couldn’t risk writing anything down. I said goodbye, and she said, “See you Saturday morning!”  That made me both giddy with anticipation and a little queasy.

Getting out of the house wouldn’t be the issue, but I would have to fumble around with the particulars, and I wasn’t in the habit of being vague about my plans. My head spun with a series of permutations on what I could say and how I could say it so as not to arouse too much suspicion. Then, the floorboard next to my wife’s side of the bed creaked. That snapped me out of my spiral, and I made haste to the kitchen. I made a big show of preparing some specialty pour-over coffee and getting the pans out for a “Sit down, I got this, I’m making breakfast for you” distraction that would help explain why I was up and out of bed so early after getting up at 4:00 a.m. all week. And it worked.

There was no need to set an alarm. I was up well over an hour earlier than I needed to be. I showered, ate, and paced until it was time to leave. It was far too early for me to shout goodbye, but I did leave a note with the time I left and when I was set to return. I tacked it to the fridge and left. Even though it was cool out, I started to sweat. As I stared at the car, I looked back at my house and my bedroom window. Apparently, I had left the radio on and tuned into the classic ’80s station because as I pulled away, Squeeze’s “Tempted” was blaring. I pretty much choked on my coffee.

The ride out was quiet and easy. I ran through my game plan in my head again. It would be a good day. The clouds were shuffling in from over Great South Bay, dulling the early morning light. There was the threat of drizzle, too. A very light breeze barely moved the tree tops along the Southern State Parkway. As a kid,  I had spent a lot of time out on this end of Long Island, so each exit was a little trip back to a youth spent fishing with my uncle and dad or going to the beaches as a family. It was a welcoming distraction from the small but nagging feeling in the back of my mind. It rattled forward every now and then. “Am I really doing this? Am I really going to pay for it?”

Paying For It

It’s not seedy at all. As a matter of fact, it’s a well-oiled, highly effective machine that ensures that the angler gets the most out of the experience.

Fishing at Connetquot State Park Preserve for trout is not what one would call traditional, but it is certainly an experience and one that any tri-state trout angler should try at least once. But be warned. Once you try it, you will be back. For the nominal fee of $25, an angler can secure one of the 30 “beats” along the crystal clear Connetquot River for access to stocked brown, brook, and rainbow trout. Once a reservation is made by phone, up to a week in advance, you arrive at the park ahead of your scheduled time, line up with other anglers, and once you present your valid fishing license and pay the fee, you get to select one of the beats. For the next four hours, you have a section of the river all to yourself, as well as a shot at some hefty trout.

You can choose either a morning or afternoon session for most of the year, but in summer, they add an evening session. Morning sessions begin at 8 a.m., and you should arrive no later than half an hour before to ensure a good place in line. You will be able to fish until noon if you select a morning session. The afternoon sessions begin at noon and last until 4:00 p.m. In the summer months, you can also secure an evening session that begins at 4:00 p.m. and lasts until 8:00 p.m. The park is open for fishing Tuesday through Sunday, and you can call to make arrangements starting at 9 a.m. on a Sunday before.

There is a bumpy road that leads you to the back parking area, where the access trails begin. Each beat is numbered and has a wonderful casting dock, should you not want to wade. Many of the casting docks have placards bolted to them that allow an angler to hold up a caught trout to determine its legal size. Park rules do state that you are allowed two legal fish, and you should stop fishing once you have taken two legal fish. That is if you intend to keep them. With that, it’s a good rule of thumb to let the first few fish go because the meter is running on your beat, and you would want to make the most of it. There are employees who patrol and ensure the rules are being followed, including the strict fly-fishing-only rule and ensuring that the fishing area is only used by anglers.

The “better” beats tend to be below the hatchery, with numbers 9 through 30 being some of the best. That said, the upper beats do offer some interesting fishing with waterfalls, handicap-accessible docks, and some still-water fishing that allows you to watch fish cruising before making a cast. The higher number of beats does have a unique draw. As the Great South Bay is not far off, some of the brookies that are born in the river make it all the way to the bay and become “salters” – monstrous sea-run brook trout. There is no guarantee you will run into a salter, but there is a small chance that you might catch one working its way back up after chasing baitfish like peanut bunker and spearing.

Abiding by the rules at the Conny is essential for a better fishing experience for all.

No Wrong Time

One of the greatest draws of the Connetquot is that it holds fish all year long, is open all year round, and, as it is spring-fed, rarely, if ever, freezes over. This makes it a great choice for winter trout fishing. While it is an amazing place in the warm summer months, and the spring season is the most comfortable, winter trout on the Connetquot cannot be rivaled. Crowds are smaller. The traffic to and from Long Island is lighter. You will find the casting dock a pleasure in the cold.

No Shame In It

I spent four great hours working my beat that day. I managed three nice rainbows that inhaled olive wooly buggers, but my best and favorite fish of the day was a monster brookie.

My beat, number 13, held some big, sulky rainbows in a deep pool, and I had been trying to get them to bite for a while. They’d eye the fly and even mouth it once or twice, but I could never get a good take. My frustration was building, and I figured now was a good time to switch things up. Opening my fly box, a tan sculpin that had become dislodged tumbled into my hand. Providence. I tied it in and made a few casts at the big bows – nothing. I looked at my watch, and my time was running out. That’s when I noticed something. It was subtle and in the shadows.

For the longest time, I was so fixated on those big rainbows that I pretty much ignored the rest of the river and any signs of other fish. When I looked up from my watch, I broke my focus on that pool and was able to see more of my section of the river. That’s when it caught my eye. On the far bank, a tree hung out over the river; you could see where the river was eroding the soil and creating a nice cut into the bank. It was in that section that I saw a swirl. It looked like a fish holding in place, but it could have been a shift in the river current, something underwater, a trick of the light. It could have been any number of things, but I recalled what my friend had said right before he slipped me the number of the park. He said he found his biggest brookies laying low in the shadows right in front of a bank undercut. The clock was ticking, so what did I have to lose?

I made a cast upstream and worked the sculpin into a good drift. As soon as it hit the shadow line, my line went taught, and I could feel the thrumming of a good fish. It ran upstream against the current, then down, and then back again. When I finally saw the color, I was ecstatic. My brookie was about to come to hand! I reached for my net and wait, where’s my net? I had leaned it against a tree when I was unhooking my last rainbow, and now, with a big brookie nearly in, I couldn’t reach it. It took some swearing, some sleight of hand, and a whole lot of luck to land that fish, but I did, and when I did, I was as happy as I could be.

By the time I regained my composure, it was just about time to leave. I opted to go a little early and just relish a good time on the river.

Driving out of the park, I started to go through the list of everyone I wanted to call and brag to. Then I realized I would have to tell them where I got it, and then they’d know. I pondered that for a moment and then started calling my friends. I may have paid for it, but it was well worth the money.



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