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Early Season Trout
By Rich Johnson

While many of our saltwater fishermen look for something to do this off season, attending the winter show schedule of boat shows and outdoor expos is a good place to start. However, many of the old salters who fish and read this column monthly, also dabble on the sweetwater side of things and for those who don't, you don't know what you’re missing. When it comes to trout fishing, this next destination is very close to my heart. Being a licensed NY State fishing guide and living on Long Island, I fish this world class trout stream with my clients on a regular basis. How can readers pass on a chance to catch brown and rainbow trout in excess of 10 pounds on the fly, just an hour’s ride from the Big Apple?

The Connetquot State Park in Oakdale, NY (Long Island) opens a special no-kill fishing season February 1 each year, well ahead of the regular season opener for the state of April 1st. This no-kill season means all fish must be released from February 1 to April 1. The Connetquot offers fly fishermen a chance to catch the trophy of a lifetime. Trophy trout are caught by anglers traveling from all over the world to fish the spring fed water of the Connetquot River. Flowing through the park (3,473 acres), she makes her way to the saltwater estuaries of Long Island’s South Shore. Fishermen battle natural sea run browns and rainbows as well as monstrous hatchery fish raised on the premises, for stocking this park and other locations around the region.

In a call to Park Manager Environmental, Gil Bergen, he tells us, The Connetquot was originally a private sportsmans paradise in the 1800’s with the South Side Sportsman Club of Long Island officially forming in 1866. The rich & famous came to fish, hunt & play in privacy here on a regular basis and I began serving the charms of this pristine river as guide in 1945. Mr. Bergen adds, the preserve was sold by the South Side Sportsman Club to the state of New York for six million dollars in 1963. There’s a wonderful aspect to this unique history. The club turned down a bid over 30 million dollars, selling to New York State for much less on the promise New York keeps the park in its pristine and wild condition. The state kept its promise and the park remains intact with original buildings as well. There is hiking and bird watching for those non-fishermen and wild deer and turkey roam at will, although there’s no more hunting on the premises.

RULES & PRIVILEGES. Inside the park, the river and ponds are split into 30 areas to fish. Fishermen call ahead for reservations to privately fish these beats in four (4) hour sessions. The Park runs two sessions per day with times of 8 a.m. to 12 p.m. and 1 to 4 p.m. Once daylight saving's time arrives, the park expands to three sessions of 7-11, 12-4 and 5 to sunset. It’s fly fishing only and all hooks must be barbless. Mr. Bergen has set strict park rules and no natural baits, plastic grubs, lead heads, power baits or egg patterns are allowed. All flies must be made of natural or synthetic materials. Mr. Bergen has banished anglers in the past who were caught cheating.

TACKLE CHOICES. I recommend 4 to 6-weight fly rods of 8 to 8-1/2-foot. These will subdue the 10-pound brutes, but anything heavier will take away the sport of smaller fish. Weight forward, floating line is preferred, while sink tips may be used in the main pond. Successful flies for the area include woolly buggers in black, olive or gray and a large assortment of nymphs. Gold ribbed Hare’s ears, stoneflies and Montana’s of black & gold or caddis larvaes are among the most successful. Surface action on dry flies this time of year can be phenomenal. For more information on this park or its fishing call 516-581-1005.

OUTSIDE THE PARK. Across the street from the park is Bubbles Falls. This small area is the tidal section of the Connetquot River and outflow of the park where other methods of tackle are allowed, such as the use of natural and/or scented baits. Large sea run trout mingle here before heading into the park to spawn on their return trip home. No freshwater license is needed here because of the tidal waters here, where fresh meets salt. Just slightly east of Bubbles Falls is Rattlesnake Creek, another entry way to the park for trout looking to fulfill nature’s way. Here, you follow the same rules as Bubbles Falls with no license needed and natural baits allowed with a variety of angling methods permitted.

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