celebrating a sense of place

James Holland - 
A life-long fisherman and devoted conservationist, Jim Holland brings a dual perspective to The BRJ in his regular column, “What’s Hatching,” which blends a wealth of fly-fishing knowledge and advice with the importance of river conservation as seen through the eyes of a sportsman and outdoor enthusiast. A Delbarton and Rutgers University graduate, Jim’s role as a History, Economics, and Financial Literacy teacher at Villa Walsh Academy, adds an significant educational element to his conservation viewpoint. A recent recipient of the “Ken Lockwood River Hero Award,” Jim and his colleagues at Shannon’s Fly & Tackle in Califon, have garnered numerous honors for their educational efforts, children’s programs, and conservation initiatives, including being named the nation's first "Gold Endorsed Business" from Trout Unlimited.


What a Difference a Year Makes

By James Holland of Shannon's Fly & Tackle

“With the right conditions, Nature herself provides the best and cheapest way of producing trout, and will produce as many as the food in the river will support.”

Dermot Wilson, Fishing the Dry Fly 1970

Every so many years, the stars align and the cool winds bring rain in the late spring. The fields and forests are clad in a deep lush green and by the river you can hear her voice – it is strong and joyous. Deer splash across the fords in the evening and the water laps against the fronds of the tiger lilies.

What a difference a year makes. For the last several years, New Jersey and much of the Northeast has been dealing with dry conditions and last year was a drought by midsummer. All of this had an effect on our woods and waters; reservoirs were dangerously low, but it appears the dry days are behind us, at least for this season.

There are some new regulations on the horizon currently in front of the New Jersey Fish and Game Council, the selected body that develops regulations governing hunting and fishing known as the Fish and Game Code beginning in 2018. The proposal should help wild fish across the northwestern part of the state especially on the South Branch, Lamington and Musconetcong Rivers. The biggest news in the proposal is that Brook Trout Salvelinus fontinalis, our state fish, will no longer be stocked in our local area at least from Route 78 and west of Route 287. This is the area of the state where ninety percent of wild Brook Trout currently live. Angling will still be permitted for Brookies but only on a catch and release basis. Pioneering work by Pat Hamilton of the New Jersey Division of Fish and Wildlife in her doctoral dissertation revealed true “Heritage Strain” Brook Trout in a number of watershed headwaters across northern New Jersey and a small population in southern New Jersey at a stream known as Mason’s Run. This new regulation reverses many years of policy and practice by the Division which has stocked millions of Brook Trout over many decades. Yes, most of the wild fish in many streams may possess genes from hatchery strains of days gone by but further stocking will only continue to dilute the remaining wild genetics that still exist, hence the proposal.

The other part of the proposal takes a look at protecting Brown Trout in the South Branch of the Raritan River. It so happens that the South Branch is our largest wild trout stream. No other river in the state produces such numbers of wild trout of all three species, Brook, Brown and Rainbow Trout. Shannon’s Co-owner, George Cassa and I have volunteered each summer to electro-fish the South Branch with Shawn Crouse, Senior Biologist with the Division of Fish and Wildlife, and the numbers of trout is often remarkable. Starting at the outlet of Budd Lake, the source of the river down to the Schooley’s Mountain Bridge, the waters will no longer be stocked with trout and will essentially become a wild trout stream. Two fish over twelve inches per day may be harvested except Brook Trout which must be released. The state will encourage anglers to harvest Rainbows instead of Browns. Downstream of the Schooley’s Mountain Bridge to the Lake Solitude Dam more normal regulations will apply: a six fish limit from the April Opener until May 31st then a limit of four fish thereafter through December 31st. The major change is that in addition to all Brookies requiring immediate release only two Brown Trout over twelve inches in length may be retained. Although some Brown Trout may be stocked by private clubs and our shop for example, the state is not currently raising Brown Tout at their Pequest Hatchery. It is hoped that these more stringent regulations along with continuing river restoration and streambank habitat rehabilitation will improve wild populations while also contributing to enhancing public awareness of just how productive our local rivers can be.

River restoration projects continue to develop at an exciting pace. These projects are often complex and require proper engineering design as well as adequate permitting from the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection. The Burnt Mills Restoration project on the Lamington River is moving forward according to Bill Kibler of the Raritan Headwaters Association. Two other projects are moving forward; the A Frame property on the Musconetcong River in Asbury is progressing well and there are a number of other projects soon to be announced, including a dam removal on Spruce Run Creek in Lebanon Township, according to Brian Cowden of Troutscapes Restoration, www.troutscapes.com .

This spring, Tim Flagler of Tightline Productions, www.tighhtlineproductions.com and I were out stream seining (or sampling) our local waters on the site of Shannon’s Private waters at the Raritan Inn, where a river restoration was completed in the summer of 2012. The space between the gravel and cobble of the streambed was no longer filled with sand. Instead the rocks were covered with life: Caddis, mayflies scuds cranefly larva. This boost in macroinvertebrate production was quite heartening even after a year of historically low flows.  It is incumbent on all of us to support our local watershed associations and coldwater conservation groups in this continuing work.

Summer fly fishing is often a mixed bag. Water temperatures are key as trout prefer water under seventy degrees. This occurs most often early and late in the day. Look for the tiny mayflies known as Tricos Trycorythodes to be over the water at sunrise. Try a Trico Spinner size 20-24. Summer Blue Quills Paraleptophlebia mollis may also appear; they are slightly larger than the Tricos. Try an Adams or a Blue Quill size 18-20. Caddis, mainly Spotted Sedge Hydropsyche spp. will hatch most mornings beginning around nine am. It is hard to beat a LaFontaine’s Sparkle Pupa #16-18 in fast water from June through early September. I usually tie a tandem rig for this kind of fishing trailing the caddis pupa behind a size 16 Prince Nymph. As the water warms, look for trout to move into fast water pockets full of dissolved oxygen. There are often a variety of creamy white-colored mayflies that hatch on pleasant summer evenings around dusk, especially Stenacron canadense and Maccaffertium modestum both well imitated by either a Light Cahill #14-16 or a Sulphur of the same size. Look for these species to hatch through much of the summer, although like the Isonychia Bicolor or Slate Drake, they will dwindle in numbers in the hottest weeks of July only to reappear in mid-August.

No discussion of summer fly fishing would be complete without mentioning terrestrials. Ants, Beetles and Grass Hoppers all form an important part of the trout’s diet in the summer. Try fishing the famed Hopper/ Black Ant dry dropper and use it to prospect likely runs on our local waters. The quarry may be a trout or perhaps a Smallmouth Bass or Redbreast Sunfish or Rock Bass, all perfect summertime targets. Take an evening on a local pond with a pocket-full of bass popper flies – lots of action and lots of fun.

Take the time to enjoy our local waters this summer. There is an almost endless variety of experiences from trout fishing to warm water species on our rivers and streams. A night on a local pond can be very enjoyable. Bring the bug spray, but get outside and enjoy New Jersey’s great outdoors! 

SBR Sulphur Nymph by Tim Flagler of Tightline Productions

Hook: 2X-long nymph hook (here a Dai-Riki #730), sizes 14-18.

Bead: Gold Cyclops Bead, 7/64″.

Weight: Lead-free round wire, .020.

Thread: Wood duck, brown, black, or yellow 8/0 or 70 denier.

Tails: Wood duck flank-feather fibers.

Body/wingcase: Golden yellow pheasant-tail fibers.

Thorax: Golden stone Australian possum dubbing.

 Legs: Wood duck flank-feather fibers.

Adhesive: UV-cure resin.

 Tools: Plunger-style hackle pliers, bodkin.