First and foremost, I hope all the fellow dads out there had a great Father's Day this past weekend.  This is gonna be a long one folks, and less on whats going on in the fishing realm, and more on some rather important issues involving our fisheries.  If that isn’t your jam, then exit now and don’t read on.  I am all but certain that I will have a few unsubscribes from this too, and to be honest, I am completely fine with that.  I have never been a guy who joins the pack, and there is no ill will there on my behalf.   Otherwise, grab a coffee and lets dive in.  

We are at the midway point of the year and 2024 has been a rather interesting one to say the least.  Some good, some bad and some very ugly if we are going to be frank.  The good being that many of the fabled waters in the Catskills that I seasonally frequent have had some fantastic hatches and eager fish.  That doesn’t mean that the fish have been a walk in the park, sometimes they are, while other days they leave you rubbing your forehead but that is the allure, but nonetheless the fishing there seems on point.  

Locally it is a bit all over the place in terms of insects, how many you are seeing and rising fish, at least up until recently that was what was being said amongst fellow anglers.  In my opinion, the Farmington has been it’s consistent self, nothing really changed there other than flows courtesy of MDC.  Let’s see if they actually abide by the legislation passed by our State Government.  I am going to be honest as I have seen this play out before and this is not a dig at the folks who got this measure to come to fruition, we are all thankful there that it did.  Legislation with or without penalty (and this case it seems without) does not mean the issue is put to bed and all parties involved will abide.  There is a lengthy history of this across our country, and one situation not too far away in the Catskills that still goes on today on occasion on the Delaware River Watershed.  The DEC there has routinely done whatever the hell they want in terms of flows despite having measures in place.  If we are being completely honest, I am optimistic the MDC will do the same here, but highly skeptical, and I am not 100%  convinced the State DEEP will do a great job if and when they take the reins of the flow situation on the river.  I guess we will have to wait and see.  

The bad is our Herring populations are still in serious decline. The data collected is staggering, and also upsetting.  A few of the tributaries to the Connecticut river that I have fished over the years have meager runs of these fish that were once a very viable food source for striped bass; yet another negative impact on a species that is on the decline as well.  Many in the fishing industry as a whole refuse to recognize that there are many very serious issues contributing to the decline in overall numbers of Striped bass, and their poor spawning stocks in a few of our main and established spawning watersheds along the eastern seaboard.  Not to beat a dead horse, but I think about this on a daily basis, and really am perplexed at the real lack of meaningful action by all those in charge beating the drums of conservation for these wonderful fish. 

The messages being sent by many of the companies leading the charge have become confusing and often downright rude.  One major company has even gone on social media sending derogatory posts including the phrase “Nobody wants to hear about how the fishing was back in the day”.  I guess the cancel culture phenomenon has caught the flyfishing community as well then eh?  If you cancel history, good, bad or indifferent, you cannot learn from it, nor will you be blind to the perils that are on the horizon if you don’t act accordingly. Many of us life long anglers in the latter half of our lives will tell you that the Striped bass was on a path similar to the Atlantic Salmon; the potential of disappearance in our waters.  Their rebound through conservation measures was considered the greatest success story of conservation in modern history.  Flyfishing tournaments, round table discussions with daily changes of whats best practice, which seemingly have turned into feeble attempts to keep the lights on for guide and captain outfits who still keep fish or practice catch and release is not a sound solution.  The only real means by which to ensure the fate of these fish is to bring back the moratorium.  Let us stop with the double talk, it truly is the only measure we have left that has been proven to work.  Unfortunately, many in the circles of influence just cannot bring themselves to even mention that word, almost as if it were a curse word and they are sitting in a pew at church.  

Enough of that, lets get back on task and look at the data for the Blueback Herring, a once constant and large forage base for those same striped bass that migrate up our coastline.  If you are curious about it, read the links listed here:

high concern:

If this piques your interest, there is a pile of more data on other fish that migrate into our waterways as well and can be found here:

In summary, the decline is steep;  1986 there were 630,000 blueback herring recorded over the Holyoke dam.  In 2024, just 15.  That isn’t a typo, just wrap your head around that number.  The crazy thing is these fish used to spawn in every tributary to the Atlantic Ocean on the East Coast.  Closing on a 30 year virtual extinction north of the Holyoke Dam, not fall, but almost obliteration of the species from the watershed moving upriver.  Primary culprit to their demise, mankind;  overfishing, dams, you name it. In the late 70’s states started installing fish ladders and lifts on many of the dams to help with fish migration.  The numbers don't lie, the spike is huge but so is the fall off, almost like belly flopping into an empty pool. 

At one time there was a herring management plan that was devised by the Connecticut River Atlantic Salmon Commission.  You will have to dig to find information on it, so I attached the document here if you are interested:

Unfortunately, I think the plan might be defunct as you cannot find anything else about it today, and the straight line of data collection that clearly shows a massive decline from 1998 to present with very minimal ticks in growth might be the reason for abandoning the management plan;  very reminiscent to the Atlantic Salmon program that was given up on not too long ago.The state of New York devised a plan for the preservation of their Herring runs as they at one time experienced a decline and are making efforts to sustain the population.  Proposed Moratoriums for streams on Long Island, Bronx County, the southern shore of Westchester County, and the Delaware River and its tributaries north of Port Jervis NY have been in the works to monitor the status of those areas Herring Runs;  data can be found here:

So you if you are still reading this, you are probably wondering where the hell I am going with all of this, and how this pertains to many of you who primarily target trout as their species of choice.   Well, here it is;  maybe those in control of our states fisheries division should start to consider a shift in management strategy.  The Farmington river is often times the singular focus for trout recreation in our state, despite there being many many more rivers that hold trout of all walks of life, both wild, stocked and holdover.  Understandably, the Farmington is arguably the best trout fishery in our state as a result of a dynamic management program that evolved over decades of work, and could very well rival anything in New England.  But I often wonder if it is long overdue for a management change as there isn’t a day that goes by where I see an angler boasting about another “wild brown” caught and released, usually with a picture to accompany the proclamation.  And we all love those fish, myself included.

I recognize that brown trout are not native to Connecticut, and am not going to go down the invasive species rabbit hole here.  They aren’t invasive, merely an “introduced national success story” that dates back to 1884  although some would argue this.  The brown trout as an introduced species has flourished as it’s tolerance to many variables, most notably higher water temperatures which have made it a very viable gamefish in places where the native trout species have become endangered or extinct due to severe changes in water temperature as a result of our (mankind’s) negative impacts on a watershed (most notably industrialization, deforesting and dams).  

Things change, they aren’t black and white, and sometimes change can be for the better.  Brown trout and rainbows for that matter in some instances are the few species that have proven their worth to the trout angler and fisheries biologists for a sustainable recreation species for anglers of all disciplines.  In many cases across the United States, after introduction in the late 1880’s they have established naturally reproducing strongholds of fish in numerous watersheds, so much so that some states ceased stocking them into some waters as they are self sustaining populations.  The best practices seemingly hem from putting the resource first, and everything else a far second.  

Author and retired Fisheries Biologist for the state of Vermont Doug Lyons has some very good information on the subject in his recent book, Fly Fishing Guide to the Battenkill.  In the forward written by Kenneth Cox, retired Fisheries Biologist, Vermont Fish and Wildlife Management he states the following: 

“My fishery management philosophy has been that of putting the resource first with emphasis on wild population sustainability and fitting recreational needs with that rather than the other way around. Trout stocking is an important management tool and appropriate whenever one of three general outcomes is the goal: (1) establishment or restoration of a self-sustaining population where one had not existed previously or had become extirpated; (2) maintenance of a population in habitat that is inadequate to support trout survival through all life stages, such as absence of sufficient spawning habitat or low survival of young fish to spawning age; or (3) provide "put-and-take" fishing opportunities in waters incapable of either of the two preceding management goals. Unfortunately, it is a tool that can be easily overused to provide a quick fix to fishery problems rather than fully understanding what limiting factors), such as habitat deficiency, is preventing wild trout populations from meeting their natural potential and fishery biologists taking appropriate measures to address problem areas. Another aspect of stocking that is usually overlooked in debates of whether to stock or not stock is the cost of producing and distributing the hatchery-reared trout.”

I have highlighted these two key areas as I feel that our fisheries division should at the very least consider implementing the same mindset on the Farmington.  A lesser emphasis on stocking, and a greater emphasis on habitat conservation and restoration with influence and assistance from our conservation groups would not only help to enhance our wild fishery on the Farmington, but help sustain it.  There is obviously a great deal of what is highlighted already in place on our Farmington river, so we would be remiss in not trying to enhance the overall experience by putting more time and effort into both facets; protecting those wild fish, and increasing/enhancing habitat rather than stocking more.  In retired Fisheries Biologist Neal Hagstroms last progress report that you can find online, which I understand is a decade old now, he clearly states that in recent years the wild population in the Farmington TMA is ~50% with fluctuations in either direction each season of sampling due to a variety of limiting factors.  If the numbers of wild fish sampled are clearly that high in the TMA, maybe it’s time to rethink the management plan from extending the TMA to possibly stopping stocking that area entirely?  

If that information intrigues you, you can read that full Farmington River Progress report on fish here:

I don’t say these things to create discord, ruffle feathers or point fingers at anyone so please do not take my statements that way.  I pose the question with the utmost respect for those who have helped provide us all with the wonderful fishery we have today, but like many of you wonder if it is time shift the management mindset on that particular stretch of water to a wild management strategy with an emphasis on sustainable habitat  for increased survival  of river born brown trout?  I love catching wild fish, and from what I read daily I am not alone including my friends up at Upcountry.   Angler surveys found the same amongst fellow anglers that the possibility of catching wild trout far surpasses any other facet for most anglers.  I also think that stocking should be shifted to other areas of the watershed; not doing away with it entirely.  But although that is another topic, it is still a big part of the overall equation.

The fishery already checks many of the boxes that make me pose this question, as our neighbors to the north and west have done so on some of their fisheries to include the Battenkill, Neversink, and Delaware watersheds which all have self sustaining wild populations of brown trout.    Granted I do not know the exact answer and there are a myriad of other issues and considerations to be discussed and made, but I feel it’s time we start talking about it.  If you want to read some older publications on the management history in Connecticut check here: 

older data:

Older data with a good read on the history of management in CT:

In the past couple of years, the state has also implemented a Wild Trout Plan for the state of Connecticut.  I applaud the effort and often wonder if the Farmington TMA would fit into this category at some point.  You can read about the Wild Trout Plan CT 2022 here:

As a result of that plan there are a bunch of  Proposed Changes:

If you pan down a few pages you will note that there are 19 streams proposed to be added to that class 1 wild designation.  Four of those are tributaries of the Farmington, one of the four, Morgan Brook is smack in the middle of the TMA.  

If the state were to consider shifting its strategy on the upper river to a wild designation, and the habitat enhancement concept were to be implemented, who knows how much positive impact on our wild fish it would have.   There have been a number of projects that have been implemented over the state in prior years.  One of which was on the Farmington in the early 2000’s but was a bit of a failed attempt.  Some of you may recall the purposely downed and anchored tree project that the remnants are in the Boneyard.  Several high water events in the years following pushed them up onto the banks or completely removed them unfortunately, but the idea was a valiant effort.  I am just spitballing ideas here, but maybe some habitat studies would benefit future habitat enhancement projects.  I would be all for this idea and would gladly help as would many other anglers in the community might too.  

Habitat enhancement program:


Some very much needed habitat discussions that are long overdue from being addressed relate to our riparian zone degradation in our state, and not just on the Farmington River either.  Much of which is human induced due to the lack of enforcement on the riparian zone buffer regulations that are in place.  When you remove trees and vegetation from a streams riparian zone, you not only increase the rate at which it can erode, but you also will take away likely cover for the creatures that inhabit its water; especially trout.  There are many areas on the Farmington where this has happened over the last few decades.  One of the most notable ones is just below the Church pool as the river splits into a pair of channels; one running along 181 across from the Fence company.  The town of Barkhamsted and the state of Connecticut cut a swathe of trees and vegetation over the guardrail all the way to the streams edge in that riffle at the top of the island.   Every spring and summer many trout would hold in that riffle as they had a small canopy of overhead cover that provided some security for those fish. Since the vegetation has been removed the number of fish that hold along that bank is greatly reduced.  There are similar instances of the same along the river that many of the folks who frequent the river regularly can attest to.  This is not only a noticeable issue on the Farmington, it is statewide across many of our rivers and streams.  

Riparian zones from my experience are a very touchy subject on every level, as all entities (private, local, state and federal) seemingly violate their regulations regularly.  Guidelines have been in place for Riparian zones on perennial streams that state a zone of 100 feet on either side should be maintained.  This is rarely if ever enforced, I can think of countless areas of many of the rivers in our state that I frequent where this is being violated regularly.  

For those of you who fish the Housatonic, the State of Connecticut did this a couple seasons back when they contracted a private entity to cut the old growth trees down lining the monument pools riverbank in Housatonic Meadows Park.  Those trees were well within the 100 foot riparian zone buffer and assisted in slowing down erosion on that particular bend of the river.  None of these trees had posed a hazard, or appeared to have any rot that would lead to their removal.  Somebody made out with a fortune in hardwood, and now with their absence, erosion along that particular bank has already increased.  If  we have another historic flooding event(s), it could be catastrophic for that stretch of river bank.  If you are interested in some more information on Riparian Zones check the following links:


Look, I know I just hit you with a lot of information to digest, but I put this out there as a lifetime member of the Farmington River Anglers Association, a frequent angler of the river and once guide on the watershed.  I like many of you who read this care about the resource and only want to see it continue to flourish.  I can bet that the late Dave Goulet, and even Dick Lowry one of the founders of the club, two very  influential people  in prior programs that led us to where we are today in regards to the state of the fishery,  are undoubtedly looking down from the heavens wondering what is next for this great fishery.  I honestly believe we have been there for a bit of time and need to start looking at these ideas long and hard and devise a sustainable plan for those wild fish everyone all seems to cherish, otherwise you could argue that the data the states collected is either vastly incorrect, or there is some other reason not to protect what the river is naturally producing.

I am not proposing a complete shutdown of stocking the river either; I think the idea of limiting or phasing out the stocking from the dam to Canton might be a viable option as it has been noted to have the highest concentration of wild fish and natural reproduction.  A logical concept might be to stock the river from downstream of the dam in Collinsville as the rivers makeup from there  downstream experiences the highest fluctuations in water temperature in a season as well as the fact that it is designated as a put and take fishery most of the year.  This mind you is just a thought, like I stated earlier I do not have all the answers, merely suggestions that seem to have some potential, but it is however very evident that we are currently at a time where the fishery has evolved and conversations need to be had as to where we go from here.