Fly Fishing in Connecticut: A Guide for Beginners

Fly Fishing in Connecticut: A Guide for Beginners

by Kevin Murphy


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In this book, a long-time resident and devoted fly fisherman imparts a wealth of knowledge about fly fishing in Connecticut. Kevin Murphy teaches novice anglers about the state's trout hatcheries and stocking programs, the differences between brook, brown, and rainbow trout, and offers easy-to-follow instructions on the basics of fly fishing. In this concise text, the reader finds the essentials in fly fishing gear, stream tactics, casting, and a host of related topics. In addition, would-be anglers gain a useful glimpse into the history of fishing in the state, plus important tips on stream conservation, fly fishing etiquette, regulations, and safety. Most importantly, anglers will find a veritable road map to Connecticut's best trout streams and rivers. The book even offers excellent suggestions for comfortable lodging in prime fly fishing locations and—once the day's fishing is done—a few mouth-watering recipes for cooking one's catch. Whether you're in the market for that first pair of waders, thinking of tuning up your casting technique, or just want to know where the fish are biting, this is the book to read.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780819572837
Publisher: Wesleyan University Press
Publication date: 04/02/2012
Series: Garnet Books
Pages: 120
Sales rank: 1,017,548
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.44(d)

About the Author

KEVIN MURPHY is an independent historian and writer who lives in Rocky Hill, Connecticut. He is the author of Water for Hartford and Crowbar Governor.

Read an Excerpt


Connecticut's Hatcheries & Stocking Program

On May 4, 1873, two Hartford men went fishing on the Farmington River in Granby and returned with 341 trout. Around this time, the Hartford Courant ran an article lamenting the fact that American shad in the Connecticut River were "rapidly diminishing in number ... and size." Indeed, Barton Douglas, a longtime fisherman, operator of the Windsor canal, and owner of a ferry business, told the fisheries commission at the state legislature "shad fishing was nearly used up." Atlantic salmon in the rivers and streams of the state were virtually gone. The fisheries commission reported to the legislature that "the restoration of the salmon is the hardest task before the commission. At present they are nearly exterminated." In sum, by the late-1870s, Connecticut was almost fished out. Not surprisingly, the biggest culprits were over-fishing and market hunting. Other factors include the denuding of the forests — the natural canopy ensured cool water temperatures in the streams — and to a lesser extent, the construction of dams during America's great waterpower manufacturing boom of the nineteenth century.

American shad, or Alosa sapidissima, meaning "most delicious," swim upstream from marine waters to spawn in the springtime.

Leading up to the complete decimation of the fish population in the state, the legislature had not been completely idle. In its 1860 spring session, the General Assembly announced a fisheries commission. A year later, Connecticut's first fish and game laws were passed. As regards trout, the statute read, "That any person ... between the first day of September and the first day of January, in any year ... catch ... any speckled brook trout, or speckled river trout, or lake trout, shall forfeit for each trout the sum of one dollar. ..." However, there was no mention of fish size or creel limit.

A creel is a basket used to carry fish. "Creel limit" means the number of fish you can take home in your basket.

In the absence of any fish and game wardens — and recognizing the fast-diminishing fish populations in the state's rivers and streams — a Poquonock father and son team of farmers, Fred and Henry Fenton, petitioned the legislature for a charter for a fish-hatching business in 1872. On Champion Brook, a small tributary of the Farmington River, the two Fentons raised Atlantic salmon and trout. The fish were fed ground sheep's liver, three times a day. This diet dulled the trout's vivid colors, and many of the trout lost their bright spots entirely. Fortunately, the condition remedied itself shortly after the fish were released into the wild.

There are two types of Atlantic salmon, those that spend part of their lives in salt water and those that complete their life cycles in fresh water; but the two types were not recognized until about 1896.

In 1881, the Fenton Trout Breeding Company raised 600,000 Atlantic salmon and 275,000 brook trout, which were sold to the state. Soon thereafter, the Fentons managed three hatchery buildings with a breeding capacity of two million eggs behind their farmhouse. In 1882, rainbow trout were imported from California for streams that couldn't support brook trout because of higher water temperatures. (German brown trout eggs were shipped from Baron Lucius von Behr's private estate in the Black Forest to a newly completed hatchery at Cold Spring Harbor on Long Island in 1883, but brown trout did not show up in Connecticut waters until a decade later.)

The state was a bit gun-shy about starting a permanent fish-breeding business of its own though, as the fish commissioners noted, "it would cost too much to establish a state hatchery." But from the start, Connecticut's inland trout and Atlantic salmon efforts were a bargain. In 1882, a Courant reader complained of the cost of running the state's fisheries. At that time, the cost of the hatchery purchases and the state's stocking program ran $690, while revenues from statewide taxation were $1.7 million. In answer to the subscriber's letter, an editor at the Courant performed some rudimentary math and concluded that the town of Windsor — where the subscriber lived — paid less than $1 a year toward the state's hatchery and stocking program.

Trout fry are baby trout. Fry, borrowed from the French word frai, literally means spawn.

By this time, Henry Fenton was the state's de facto fish-culture expert. Accordingly, the fish commissioners named him superintendent of the state's hatchery operations.

Beginning in 1880, as part of a new fish-stocking initiative, the state accepted applications for free trout fry from state farmers and sportsmen. One hundred and fifty applicants were each given 5,000 trout fry — in an eight-gallon can — at no charge. The state's only rule was that the fish could not be put into private waters; they had to be released into public rivers and streams. Five years later, thirty-five-year-old Henry Fenton was elected to the state legislature and became the conduit for all applications for free trout fry.

Finally, in the late 1880s, the fish commissioners — perhaps in a reassessment of Henry Fenton's fish-hatching monopoly — decided that the state should have its own trout breeding facilities and set up a temporary hatchery in the old Hathaway Mill on River Street in Poquonock. Fenton was placed in charge of this facility. Meanwhile, the fish commissioners badgered the General Assembly for the land and buildings to build a permanent structure.

Anglers often refer to brook trout, Salvelinus fontinalis, as brookies, hinting at a bit of playfulness — maybe because they are fun to catch, and plentiful.

In 1889, the legislature appointed Abbott C. Collins, an actuary with Connecticut Mutual Life Insurance Company and a fish commissioner, to the post of Game and Fish Warden of Hartford County for a period of two years. At the same session, the legislature set the catchable size of brook trout at six inches. They also noted, "It is unlawful to catch brook trout from July 1 to April 1, and then only by hook and line."

Fish Commissioner Abbott Collins started the state's first permanent hatchery in 1897 on an eminently suitable 16-acre piece of land on Spring Street in Windsor Locks — a little over a mile west of the town's train depot. On a mile-long stretch of Kettle Brook, the state erected a crude, temporary hatching house with 15 tanks. That fall, hatchery employees released 35,000 brook and rainbow trout from 6-to 8.5-inches long, 20,000 lake trout from 5- to 6- inches long, and 60,000 Atlantic salmon from 2- to 3.5-inches long. A permanent hatchery building was finally completed in the fall of 1899. By December, the new facility set 1.5 million eggs a year, which produced 250,000 trout. (At this time, the state also had two shad hatcheries at Joshuatown in Lyme and at Peck's Pond on the Housatonic River below Shelton.)

Thirty-gallon cans of trout and Atlantic salmon fry were shipped from the new hatchery in the fall of 1899 and the diversity of fish was remarkable — 75,000 brookies, 40,000 lake trout, 6,000 rainbow trout, 15,000 steel head, 2,000 Loch Leven trout, 50,000 Atlantic salmon, and 15,000 of the land-locked variety.

The Windsor Locks hatchery on Kettle Brook was an enormous success thanks to its fabulous water supply. A number of underground springs supplied 300,000 gallons of water a day to the hatchery before it finally spilled out into Kettle Brook. The water was crystal clear and its temperature was a constant 53 degrees Fahrenheit yearround. Each November, the hatchery's 5,000 breeding trout delivered two million eggs, half of which would hatch out the following spring.

Suckers have no teeth and big lips, so they feed by vacuuming their food from riverbeds. They prefer clean, unpolluted waters and often swim with trout.

An important distinction between the fishing of the late nineteenth century and the early twentieth century, and that of a much later period, lay in the economic importance of trout, Atlantic salmon, and shad to the family table. The fish commissioners were proud of the fact that these fish were often sold in local markets cheaper than "suckers" (freshwater fish of the Catostomidae family). Moreover, they wrote, "it cannot be many years before good edible fish will be produced (in Connecticut waters) in such abundance as to be within the means of the poorest." Beyond that, the fish commissioners were keenly aware of the symbiosis of good fishing and tourism, stating, "the state needs but plenty of fish and game to make it still more attractive to summer and fall visitors from other states."

In 1905, the legislature approved funds for a lobster hatchery at Noank. In the first two decades of the twentieth century, the state's hatcheries furnished brook, rainbow, and lake trout along with small-mouthed bass, yellow perch, American shad, and 125 million lobsters. A total of 130,585,830 and fry were added to the natural compliment of fish and crustaceans.

"Fingerling" means very young fish. The term most often refers to a baby trout or salmon that has reached the length of a man's finger.

Henry Fenton and a local worker, Gilbert Sterling, originally ran the Windsor Locks plant, but were replaced by William Tripp, who had been manager of the hatcheries at South Wareham, Massachusetts. Tripp was head of the Fisheries Division from 1898 to 1923. At that time, John Wheelock Titcomb — a man with thirty-four years experience in fish breeding in countries as far away as Argentina — became superintendent and William Tripp stayed on as the foreman of the facility at Windsor Locks.

The Kettle Brook Hatchery in Windsor Locks was a great success, but eventually deteriorated for the exact reason that it was such a world-beater from the start — the water supply. By 1923, the copious spring water had dwindled to a fraction of the 215 gallons a minute it furnished in 1897. Beyond this insuperable problem, fertilizer runoff from nearby tobacco fields despoiled the dwindling supply. Pollution regulation and source-to-sea cleanups were decades away. It was time for a new hatchery.

Attempts to build hatcheries in Salisbury and Waterbury proved fruitless, and in the fall of 1923, the state bought land for a second facility in Burlington. The main hatchery was fabricated from the former dance pavilion at Electric Park in Rockville.

John Wheelock Titcomb's tenure was notable for the construction of the new state hatchery at Burlington and the leasing of trout streams throughout the state. While it was quite fashionable for farmers and sportsman to maintain their own trout streams and ponds, this behavior was circumvented in great measure by the leasing of streams for public use. "Gentleman George" McLean, governor of Connecticut from 1901 to 1903, had his own private fishing pond on his estate in Simsbury. Ineligible for statebred trout, he paid $4 per thousand trout brought in from a hatchery on Cape Cod.

On the financial side, in the first ten months of 1924, there were 44,671 angling licenses sold in Connecticut. Residents — totaling 33,583 — paid $1; non-residents — 715 with land in the state — paid the same; another 4,312 non-residents paid $2. The $49,013 in licensing revenues completely paid for the state's hatcheries program.

Titcomb's successor, Dr. Russell Hunter of Wethersfield — whose tenure stretched from 1938 to 1953 — summed up the role of head of the Fisheries Division succinctly in 1951 when he stated that his primary job was "enforcement." He also went on to say, "One of the biggest problems ... is to rearrange nature to please fishermen ... lakes and ponds are so equipped as to support practically a fixed weight of meat (fish) at all times. The ponds provide algae and plants for the plant-eating fish and enough plant-eating fish to sustain the fish-eating fish. Year after year, this underwater battle for survival goes on and the weight of fish in the pond stays about the same. The problem ... is to rearrange all of this so that the fixed amount of fish will be in the right species, weights and limits to please the fishermen." During Dr. Hunter's time, only half of the trout needed were supplied by the hatcheries at Windsor Locks, Burlington, and Kensington. The rest were purchased from commercial breeders. By the early 1950s, enforcement officers spot-checking anglers' catches throughout the state had risen to thirty-five.

In order to meet the growing need for trout, small rearing stations were built in Farmington and Voluntown. Still, by 1970, the existing hatcheries could only meet half of the state's trout stocking needs. Another 30 percent came from commercial growers, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service supplied the last 20 percent. Since the state was raising trout for half the cost of those bought from commercial growers, it seemed like a particularly opportune time to erect another hatchery.

The Burlington Hatchery worked the western part of the state, and the Windsor Locks facility — older and smaller — stocked the northern reaches; so an enormous new trout-breeding plant in eastern Connecticut made sense. On 1,200 acres between the Quinebaug and Moosup rivers, the massive Quinebaug Valley Hatchery in Plainfield was completed in 1971. At the time — and even as late as the mid-1980s — it was the biggest fish hatchery east of the Mississippi River. That same year, the Kettle Brook Hatchery closed and the Town of Windsor Locks bought the land. Not long after, the Kensington Hatchery began raising Atlantic salmon as Connecticut's part of an interstate/federal program to re-introduce Atlantic salmon back to the waters of the Northeast. Connecticut essentiallyhas only two trout hatcheries now — Burlington (15 miles west of Hartford) and Quinebaug Valley (38 miles east of Hartford) in Plainville.

If Connecticut is the gold standard in hatcheries and trout stocking, how do neighboring states fare? For many years, a New York visitor's fishing license permitted angling in many trout streams in the Adirondacks on a whirlwind expedition to the Empire State's northernmost reaches — the fabled Battenkill (on the New York side), the lovely and exciting West Branch of the Ausable, the North Branch of the Saranac, the Salmon (near Malone, where mobster Dutch Shultz once stood trial for bootlegging) and finally the Chateauguay River, in the apple country near the Canadian border. This fishing tour of the Adirondacks is not what it used to be. Sad to say, trout fishing is on the wane.

The same is true of other once-famous trout fishing areas of the Northeast. Anglers and state biologists suspect that acid rain, pesticide runoff, silt from stream bank erosion, and even geese have taken a toll on the streams and rivers. At present, states that are twice the size of Connecticut are stocking about half as many trout. The fisheries divisions of the New England states and New York are all trying to rebuild habitat and reinvigorate their trout fishing programs, but acid rain, deforestation, and budget cutbacks are impeding these efforts.

Stocking in Connecticut

Raising 800,000 trout a year would be of little value without tank trucks and the manpower to equitably release fish over the lakes, rivers, and streams of Connecticut. The Inland Fisheries Division has used basically the same model aerated tanker trucks to relocate trout since the late 1930s. It's a long process. Weather permitting, the first round begins in early March and lasts until the end of May. In 2009, for example, 55 to 60 percent of the full year's supply of trout was stocked by opening day — the third Saturday in April (6 a.m.). The remaining 231,000 trout are distributed in different ways on a variety of streams during the remainder of the season. In some places, there is only a single follow-up stocking, while in others, where the heaviest fishing pressures the fish population, trout are stocked until Labor Day.

All of the trout-stocking numbers can be found in the State of Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection's Connecticut Fish Distribution Report, but let's dissect a few number from the state's 2009 account just for the fun of it. Firstly, the number of trout stocked annually on the east and west sides of the Connecticut River are almost identical (West side–346,461; East side–356,287). Secondly, by watershed, trout are stocked as follows: Connecticut River watershed–211,245 (30% of the total); Thames watershed–195,056 (27.7% of the total); and Housatonic watershed–172,245 (24.5% of the total). Thirdly, the five towns (or town combinations) in Connecticut that received the most fish in 2009 were: Cornwall–18,000; Salisbury–14,316; Danbury- Milford–13,550; Eastford-Chaplin–12,824; and Thompson- Norwich–12,098. Lastly, if you add up all the trout stocked in the Housatonic River and the West Branch–Farmington River, it comes to about 22 percent of all the fish stocked in 2009 on the west side of the state.


Excerpted from "Fly Fishing in Connecticut"
by .
Copyright © 2012 Kevin Murphy.
Excerpted by permission of Wesleyan University Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Connecticut's Hatcheries & Stocking Programs
Connecticut's Trout Streams & Rivers
Trout & Their Habits
Getting Ready
Hitting The Stream
Fishing Conservation & Etiquette
Trout Food
Finding Fish
Cooking Your Catch
An Angler's Glossary
A Few Recommended Web Sites
Fly Fishing Canon
Illustration Credits

What People are Saying About This

Lefty Kreh

“Anyone fly fishing in Connecticut will profit by reading this book. It lists, in incredible detail, known and little known fishing places. Better still, there is a schedule of when to fish or avoid fishing certain streams and lakes. Murphy gives practical information about tackle and tactics. It’s a complete job.”

Duane Raver

“I don’t know how many fly fishing books have come and gone over the better than 70 years since I picked up my first fishing rod, but this one is genuinely special. The wide variety of information just keeps coming. It centers around Connecticut, but will be helpful to fly fishing folks just about anywhere. If there is a book on this topic that contains more interesting and useful information on such a wide variety of subjects, from aquatic biology to fishing technics, I haven’t seen it.”

Tom Brokaw

"I've often waded into the ancient streams of Connecticut on a pristine summer or autumn day and thought, 'This is trout heaven with a New England accent.' Fly Fishing in Connecticut is the next best thing to landing a tiny mayfly on a promising riffle on one of the many promising streams of the Nutmeg State."

From the Publisher

"I've often waded into the ancient streams of Connecticut on a pristine summer or autumn day and thought, 'This is trout heaven with a New England accent.' Fly Fishing in Connecticut is the next best thing to landing a tiny mayfly on a promising riffle on one of the many promising streams of the Nutmeg State."—Tom Brokaw

"Anyone fly fishing in Connecticut will profit by reading this book. It lists, in incredible detail, known and little known fishing places. Better still, there is a schedule of when to fish or avoid fishing certain streams and lakes. Murphy gives practical information about tackle and tactics. It's a complete job."—Lefty Kreh, fly fishing guide, author, and America's best-loved casting instructor

"I don't know how many fly fishing books have come and gone over the better than 70 years since I picked up my first fishing rod, but this one is genuinely special. The wide variety of information just keeps coming. It centers around Connecticut, but will be helpful to fly fishing folks just about anywhere. If there is a book on this topic that contains more interesting and useful information on such a wide variety of subjects, from aquatic biology to fishing technics, I haven't seen it."—Duane Raver, nationally known fish artist and former editor of Wildlife in North Carolina

Customer Reviews