Monday, October 26, 2015

Smoked Trout Recipe using the Big Green Egg

As my last post indicated, I've been binging on trout lately. I just can't get enough of targeting them in super clear water using a fly rod. Since I've been catching 20-40 fish a day, I've begun to cull out a few "eating size" fish to bring home for the smoker. I try to keep trout in the 11"-14" range for smoking, that way the smaller ones can grow up and the larger ones can (hopefully) reproduce. Plus, a fillet of that size smokes up very nicely. Although I could eat about 20 pieces, a couple small to medium fillets will typically fill me up.

The beginning product (although this specfic fish was released)

This fall has been my first attempt at smoking trout. Since MM gave me the Big Green Egg for my birthday this summer, it has received a ton of use, and I was hoping it would excel at smoking some trout at low temperatures.

My smoking method is essentially a 3 day process. The daily creel limit in Massachusetts is 3 fish, so I typically fish for 2 days and keep 6 trout. On day 1, I'll simply gut and clean the trout, leaving them whole. After fishing on day 2, I will fillet all 6 fish, remove the rib bones, and wash them again. I leave the pin bones in, because removing them is more of a hassle than it is worth on trout of that size. Plus, they peel right out when eating the finished product.

Chrome...with red highlights

After I have the 12 fillets ready, I brine them. My basic brine recipe is as follows.

1/3 cup salt
1 cup brown sugar
2 tbsp ground ginger
1 tbsp black pepper
6 garlic cloves (or 2-3 tbsp garlic powder)

I mix all of these ingredients in a bowl, then use the mixture to coat the trout. I often add 1-2 tbsp of Old Bay as well for a little more kick. I'll also modify this recipe by cutting the salt down to 1/4 cup and adding 1/4 cup of lite soy sauce. And I should note that I think this recipe has some definite wiggle room, but my one firm recommendation - don't skimp on the brown sugar. It provides delicious sweet undertones to the final product. I pack the fillets in a glass baking dish, coat and cover them in the brine, cover them with plastic wrap, and place in the refrigerator for about 5-7 hours. I prefer a long brine time, but you can likely achieve a solid brine in 2-3 hours.

The freshly mixed brine coating. Over time, it turns into more of a liquid.

After the brine period, I thoroughly rinse the fillets, pat them dry with paper towels, and place them on a baking sheet. The fillets should feel slightly stiffer than normal at this point. I then place the baking sheet, uncovered, into the fridge for about 10-12 hours, but a bit more or less time won't hurt. I typically let them sit overnight to get plenty dry. What you are looking for is for the trout to get a nice shiny surface, which is called pellicle. Pellicle is a type of coating that forms on proteins and is what the smoke adheres to.

The grill is loaded and ready to drop. Note the shiny pellicle surfaces.

I fire up my Big Green Egg using a little bit of "old" lump charcoal, meaning that it has been pre-used/pre-burnt. I also include a bit of kindling and give it about 5-10 minutes to catch. I then start adding a variety of wood chips and larger wood pieces. I pre-soak the larger pieces in water for a few hours before adding them. I typically use cherry wood, which we harvest from our land. Alder is another favorite, but you can use whatever you like. I would suggest staying away from very strong smoke flavors, such as hickory or mesquite.

A little prep, then the BGE is smoking

I prefer to smoke meats on crappy days - those with lots of moisture in the air and plenty of wind. I feel like the BGE really excels in those conditions, particularly in terms of providing a lot of smoke and a maintaining constant temperature. The moisture keeps the wood wet and smoky and the wind keeps the fire consistently stoked in the perfect smoking range. Plus, it is something to look forward to after a day of staring out the window at work at those bleak conditions.

I smoke the fillets at 170-190 degrees for 2-3 hours. If you like your smoked trout a little drier, like I do, go for 3 hours. If you like it a little moister, shoot for around 2 hours. Some folks will smoke at 180-220 degrees for a shorter period of time (closer to 2 hours), but I prefer a slightly lower temperature and longer smoke. The key is that you want the trout to be fully cooked throughout, reaching 150-170 degrees in the middle.

A plate of smoked trout - about to be turned into a delicious appetizer.
The finished product...delicious!

I usually eat a piece or two right away and vacuum seal the rest in packs of 3 or 4. There are a bunch of ways to use the finished product, and it is also a big hit as a gift or at parties. Our favorite way to chow on the trout is either on a bagel or crackers with cream cheese, red onion, capers, dill, and tomato.

Get out there and take advantage of this beautiful fall weather and trout action - you won't regret it! Not only are they a blast to catch, but man are these trout delicious. Until next time, tight lines.

Friday, October 23, 2015

New Blog Article and Partnership with Kayak Angler Magazine

It has been a good month for Kayak Angler Magazine (KAM). They just took home "Magazine of the Year" award, again, from the Yakangler 2015 Kayak Angler's Choice Awards. In my opinion, they are far and away the best kayak fishing magazine on the market.

As an aside, thank you to those who nominated Man Powered Fishing for blog of the year and me for angler of the year. To me, getting nominated by your peers is as big an honor as any. Also big congrats to Wilderness Systems and Bending Branches for kicking butt in the voting again this year!

In addition to the big win, I finally got to meet and fish with Ben Duchesney last week on the Swift River. Ben is a KAM editor who I've been working with for a few years, so I was stoked to finally be able to get on the water with him. The Swift is one of the toughest trout rivers to fish in western MA. It gets a ton of pressure and the flat water sections can be super tough - especially when the surface is littered with leaves and pine needles. Thankfully, we didn't get skunked, but it was a grind. It ended up being a multi-species trip, as we caught trout, bass, and yellow perch. My highlight was landing a jumob yellow perch that qualified for a MA trophy citation/pin at 14.25". It nailed a streamer fished along a weedy drop off.

My first MA citation yellow perch

A couple weeks before, Ben also asked me if I would like to partner with KAM and post some of their content here on Man Powered Fishing. The first article they are circulating is called "Don't be THAT Kayak Fisherman". Below is an excerpt from the article, but you can read the full article at Kayak Angler's website. Click here to read the full article.

6. Please, Tie Down Your Boat Better

If there's one piece of advice that I give more often at the local launch, it's how to tie your boat(s) down on your truck or trailer properly. Even if they don't want my advice, I don't let them leave without first showing them how to do it right and telling them, "Dude, if you don't do this the right way, you're going to kill someone."
Sure, some might think I'm that kayak fisherman spewing tips or facts without people asking for it, but there's nothing scarier than driving down the highway and seeing a kayak on someone's roof dancing and waving in the wind like a hula dancer. Tie down your boats correctly and you'll not only not hurt someone on the road, but you'll look like you know what you're doing.

Tight lines!

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Kayak Fly Fishing - Fall Trout across Western Massachusetts

After our trip to Wyoming I got bit by the trout bug. This isn't that rare for me, as I often have a couple stints a year where I get fixated on a particular species. But this might be different. When I moved to western MA last spring, I thought it would be awesome to somewhat pioneer kayak bass fishing in the area. That is still largely true, but it is easy to see why trout fishing is so popular around here. With flows like the Deerfield, Swift, Westfield, Millers, and many others, it is a trout anglers dream. The last couple of weeks have been a blast chasing a mix of stocked, hold over, and native trout in various ponds and lakes of the Berkshires. Now, I am thinking that maybe the kayak fishing industry needs to start giving trout more love!

Bowed up on a nice fall, New England trout

Trout fishing represents my roots as an angler. I learned to fish on Pine Creek, a small trout stream that flows by my childhood home in central Pennsylvania. I learned to fly fish on historic Penns Creek as a young teen and spent many hours there in my teens and twenties. A 4 month stint in Oregon and northern California at age 21 rejuvenated my love of catching trout on the fly. It also made me realize how much more I had to learn. Since then, I've been lucky enough to chase trout all over the country, including the wilds of New Mexico, Wyoming, and other gorgeous places. I've become a proficient, multi-species fly angler, but still have a long way to go. After all, I only own 7 fly rods - a number I wish was closer to a dozen...better make it a bakers dozen.

There has been a lot of this over the past couple weeks

This month, I've truly come to realize the benefits that a fly fishing and kayak fishing union can have. When the lakes and major rivers receive their fall trout stocking, they can get pretty busy. So, if a spot can be easily accessed by land, you can bet it will be taken by bank bangers chucking fluorescent balls of Power Bait. Other flows, like the Deerfield River in my backyard, are descended upon by every yuppie fly angler in a 100 mile radius. Thankfully, most bank anglers and waders don't stray from those easy access spots. Therefore, as a kayak angler, you can access the bulk of the shoreline, drops, and centers of these lakes or more remote stretches of river. I can get my kayaks loaded and unloaded in no time, make a short paddle to set up a drift, and go right to work on water that hasn't been pounded by other people. Plus, it simply gets you away from the crowds, which is largely what I crave when fishing.

It doesn't get any better than beastly brown trout and beautiful fall MA scenery

Another great reason to kayak fly fish for trout in New England is the wind. The Berkshires are notorious for strong, swirling, everyday winds. They can be annoying for any angler, let alone someone trying to make long, quiet casts in gin clear water. But boats like the Wilderness Systems ATAK 140, my fly fishing platform of choice, do a great job of shedding wind and providing a large, open, super stable platform to cast and fight fish. If needed, you could add an anchor. But keep in mind that many areas are over 20 feet deep and the wind swirls so much that I rarely bother and just drift.

The ATAK is a fly fishing machine

The ATAK is ready to role

I've caught a bunch of rainbows and brown trout ranging from 10"-17" in lakes and ponds of the area. My biggest, a beast of a brown trout, spit my hook on a jump, but would have been in the 19" range and was super fat. Thankfully, later that day I briefly landed a 17-incher, but it didn't fully make up for it. Payback will be mine! Although the rivers of the region get a lot more attention, I love escaping to the tucked away corners of these gorgeous lakes and ponds.

The cool thing about the fall stocking is that the influx of stocked trout seems to get the natives fired up too - certainly more than normal. Granted, they are still much smarter than the stocked fish, but they make more mistakes than they usually do. I have found that flies and techniques have varied a lot from lake to lake, which really surprised me. But, here are my three most productive set-ups so far.

1) Terrestrial with caddis larva nymph dropper
My favorite terrestrials are hoppers and ants. In fact, unless I am seeing something specific going on, they are my go-to bugs, because they simply produce. Fall trout, even hold-overs and natives, will eat some big terrestrials at times. I find those times to be warm, sunny afternoons with some wind, so that they don't get a perfect look at the fly. When the fish are picky or the wind gets sporadic, I go with the ant. The other day, I was noticing that every time the wind blew hard, you would see fish start to boil. Then they would stop. Eventually, I saw that they were eating black and cinnamon ants blowing out of trees. As soon as I made the switch, I started hammering them.

A solid rainbow that ate a hopper variation

Most of the time, I prefer fairly benign nymphs - ones that look very natural and sort of plain. However, lately I've developed a different strategy. On bright, sunny, clear days, I go with a small, natural nymph. The clearer the water, the more I try to use less lighter colors, such as olives, tan, or grey. If the water is a little "stained" (which is a relative term in New England), I go with darker nymphs. But on cloudy, low light days, I've been going to nymphs with some flash, because that is what the fish seemed to want. I think it catches their attention and causes them to eat it out of reaction.

On many lakes, I've been dropping my nymphs 3-4 feet below the dry. It isn't fun to cast, especially in the wind, but the deeper my dropper, the more bites I've had. This is mainly because many of these Berkshire lakes are bowl shaped and drop rapidly from 1-6 feet near the bank to 15-20 feet along the initial drop, with some reaching 50-80 feet in the middle.

This brownie sucked down a nymph rigged below a stimulator

Also, use the wind and weather to your advantage. Often, fish will make more mistakes on dry flies in low light conditions or windy days if the sun is out. Fishing flat water can be tough with dry flies and you really have to slow down and be ever conscious of your casts and presence.

2) Streamers with nymph droppers
Another of my favorite fall rigs is a streamer with a nymph dropper. Typically, I like to set my dropper about 18" behind my streamer. However, there are days I set it closer, as long as 36" or sometimes not at all. I find that when fish are finicky, they will often zone in on the streamer, follow it, and then slurp the nymph. However, some days the dropper seems to distract them in a negative way, so I cut it off altogether.

The streamer strikes again!

My go to streamer is a conehead bugger/stonefly type bug. I prefer an olive body with some grey or black and a bit of flash, then an olive tail. Of course, you can tie it any color you like, I just often find myself reaching for olive. When the stonies are on, I go darker. And I've found that if fishing are eating crayfish, you can definitely go to a copper/brown pattern. I also like to use muddlers, leech type strip flies, and various others.

The key is to make sure you have enough weight on your fly to get it to the strike zone and keep it there. This often means you need to be patient and let it sink in that clear water. At times, it is a painful task, especially when battling the wind, but it is very important.

3) Match the hatch
This isn't really rocket science. If you see a bug in the air or on the water, try and replicate it. For me, there is no better way to catch trout then on dry flies (although big, gnarly streamers are close). This fall, I've found two flies that have out performed the rest by far. The first has been an October caddis. I haven't always seen a ton in the air, but these fish seem to like the big bug as they fatten up for winter. I've been fishing size 14-18 with success, at times dropping a copper john nymph below them. The second productive dry fly has been a blue winged olive pattern. I've seen a variety of BWO sizes in the air, but I've done best on smaller flies. Interestingly, I've been able to get away with bigger flies mid-day, but then had to go small toward dusk.

A solid MA rainbow that choked a caddis pattern

At times, the fishing was so good that I was catching them two at a time

Another habit I try and practice is to always flip a few rocks near the shore, check out the low hanging tree limbs around the lake, and look down the gullet of any fish I land. Doing this helps me to see exactly what the fish are eating and what is going on under the water, where fish do the bulk of their feeding. One evening I was seeing a bunch of rises, but they weren't sipping or gulping flies, it was mainly just tails. If you see this, it means that fish are eating emergers just below the surface and you are just seeing their tails slap the water on the way back down or as they swirl on the bug. I paddled over to the closest bank, flipped over a few rocks, and found some midge larva, which turned out to be the key fly for the rest of the evening.

I almost always practice catch and release, and release everything on certain bodies of water, but on a few of the lakes I've kept some stocked rainbow trout to put on the smoker. I've quickly become addicted - smoked trout is insanely good and fairly easy to make. I try to keep "moderate size" fish in the 12"-14" range, allowing bigger fish to (hopefully) reproduce and smaller fish to grow up. I will post my recipe, process, and finished product in a blog next week.

Prepping and smoking some fresh rainbow trout

All this trout fishing has also led to the question, can you truly become an expert of more than one species of fish? I mean, I feel like I am a fairly good trout angler, but I see some of the local guides consistently putting me to shame. I'm sure if I spent a few years doing nothing but trout fishing, I would step up my game even more, but then my bass game would slip. Heck, this spring I caught one of the biggest chain pickerel ever caught in MA, only 12 oz from the state record, yet I've given them almost no love since early summer. Chasing giant fish of any species is a full time task and constantly evolving process. There just isn't enough fishing time to go around. I do believe that you can be a very good, mutli-species angler, but multi-species "expert"...I'm just not sure if that is attainable. Maybe that debate will be saved for another day/blog.

Three rainbows that came home for dinner

Before winter sets in, pick up a fly rod (or even a conventional rod) and hit the water. The trout are biting and the scenery is as beautiful as it comes. Until next time, tight lines!

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Our 2015 Wyoming Trip - It Gets Harder to Leave Every Time

Starting in 2011, Mary May and I have made it out to Wyoming every other year. My sister and her family live in Gillette and MM's uncle grew up about an hour west of there in Buffalo. In fact, his family were Basque immigrants who have a long history in the area as sheep ranchers. The main focus of this trip was elk hunting. We were fortunate enough to have a chance at a non-resident cow elk tag on private land in a management area which the state biologists determined has an over abundance of elk. Thankfully, Mary May's aunt and uncle have about 6,000 acres of range land in that specific management area. They lease the land to cattle and sheep ranchers as well as a hunting guide, who was willing to take us on our 5 day excursion. In addition to hunting, we wanted to visit family, fish, hike, and soak in the mountain air. We didn't harvest an elk, but we had an absolutely amazing trip. After every trip out there, it gets harder and harder to come home. This blog is picture heavy, with some text mixed with lots of lengthy, informative captions.
After flying cross country and sprinting through the Denver airport, we made it to Gillette fairly late and immediately crashed. The first portion of the next day was spent with my sister and nephews in Buffalo. The town has an amazing park for kids (and us big kids), where I learned that you better be in shape to keep up with kids on a playground. We even spotted a few trout lying in Clear Creek. Eventually, MM and I headed out to Worland where we would meet up with Daylen Carrell, our guide for the week. We got to meet some of his friends and family, check out some photos of their recent (and amazing) caribou hunt in Alaska, and start prepping for the hunt.
4:00 AM came awfully early the next morning. After an hour or more of driving to the Falxa properties, we slowly started scoping and listening in hopes of seeing a herd or hearing a bugle. Right off the bat, we were seeing a lot of mule deer and wildlife, including the group of 6 batchelor bucks pictured below. However, elk were proving to be elusive.

To make a long story short, we hunted from before sun-up to dusk for 5 days. Unfortunately, it was unseasonably warm, with day time high temps ranging from 80-90 degrees. This meant that the elk were active for about 2 hours early and late and spent the bulk of the day sleeping in steep, densely vegetated canyons. Still, we managed to see quite a few elk, but almost always on properties we couldn't hunt. Thankfully, the scenery was absolutely amazing and we filled our days with glassing, looking for antler sheds, searching for Native American artifacts, learning about the properties and the history of the area, and snoozing in the shade.

A panoramic shot MM took of me glassing a valley

A small elk rub...we saw some on trees pushing 20' in diameter


And more glassing!

Stalking some elk that were, briefly, in the right area

A beautiful WY sunset
As you can tell from the shots above, we did a lot of glassing. In fact, on day 1, I could barely spot anything. By the end of the trip, I was getting pretty good. Daylen is on another level with his optics - just unreal. We were regularly glassing animals that were 2-3 miles away. By day 5, spotting anything under a mile was becoming second nature - much different than hunting here on the east coast.

On the second evening of the hunt, we had our closest encounter with an elk. They were slowly (very, very slowly) making their way up a canyon toward the property we could hunt. There were numerous bulls in the herd, including a giant herd bull, as well as 20+ cows. Unfortunately, only a couple of the cows were headed our way. Finally, they got to the fence they needed to cross, but it was getting dark fast. They would even tease us, putting their front legs up on the fence, but not crossing. Eventually, one did cross, but she was around 425 yards away. By the time she got to a more manageable distance, in this case 350 yards, we just couldn't get a clean shot and dusk set in. I was really excited about the encounter and figured it was a sign that we would get a better chance later in the week. In hindsight, it became the "what if" moment of the trip.

Putting a cow in the scope at 400+ yards

This was a cave that we hiked to and explored one afternoon. There were elk, deer, bear, racoon, and other tracks and beds all around/in it and inside it was quite large.

One morning before sunrise we could hear elk sparring in the distance. Sure enough, when the sun came up there was a group of 6 batchelor bulls across the canyon. At times, two sets were fighting simultaneously...incredible!

A nice 6x6 bull that Daylen spotted and hiked out of a canyon bottom

Beautiful dragonfly that MM found

This is a view of the Bighorn Range heading west from Gillette to Buffalo. I've always loved the difference in scenery as you drive through different parts of the state.

A bunch of arrowheads, scrapers, tools, miscellaneous pieces, and cool rocks that MM and I found during the trip, as well as my new Rep Your Water hat from WY
On the fourth evening of the hunt, we had another close call, but the wind did a 180 degree turn while we were hustling to get closer to a small group of elk who were walking a canyon edge. Unfortunately, they were moving away from us, scented us, and the rest is history. Not harvesting an elk was a real bummer, but we had so much fun and learned more than we ever expected. A huge thanks to Daylen of D&D Outfitters for a fantastic trip, as well as his amazing family for being gracious hosts.
After the last evening of hunted, we headed over to the Middle Fork of Clear Creek to the Falxa cabin. It was late by the time we arrived, so we went straight to bed. The next day we slept in, went into town for licenses, flies, and food and then headed to the Cloud Peak Wilderness for a day hike and fishing trip. Since our time was limited, we decided to hike to Sherd Lake, which is about a 50-60 minute almost entirely uphill climb from the trailhead. As usual, its beauty and fish population did not dissapoint.
It is some sort of ritual to take a picture of this sign on each hike
MM doing work at Sherd Lake in the Bighorn Mountains

The lake has a population of stocked, hold over, and native Yellowstone Cutthroat trout. From what I was told, the lake is stocked every few years. That strategy seems to be working, because our rods were bowed up nearly all day. The key flies were fairly small terrestrial patterns - ants, small hoppers, bees, beetles, etc. I almost always drop a nymph behind my terrestrials, and we caught quite a few on nymph droppers as well. Most of the fish weren't overly chunky, but they were long, strong, and super fun to catch. The bulk of the fish that were reachable from shore were situated along weed or lily pad edges. In deeper areas, they would streak out of the depths to hit our flies. In shallow areas, you could often stalk and sight cast individual fish. I didn't want to leave!

A beautiful 16.5" male cutthroat that ate a black ant

Another gorgeous cutt that ate a copper john nymph 

Another gorgeous cutt...I love these fish!
It is always tough at this alpine lakes, because you typically have very little room to backcast and the wind is always gusting. Kudos to MM, because she did a great job casting and landed a bunch of trout. Overall, I would say we landed around 30 between us in about 4 hours of fishing.

MM's first cuttie of the day

MM's biggest of the day - a beautiful 15+" trout

As is our tradition, we kept two trout to eat.

But the trout would have to wait until breakfast, because we had to hit the Winchester Steakhouse before skipping town. Their prime rib is other worldly!
A trout and potato breakfast with some garlic and lemon
After cooking breakfast and cleaning the cabin, we headed down to Buffalo. We had about 2 hours to fish before our ride arrived to take us back to my sister's place in Gillette. So, we fished Clear Creek right there in the middle of Buffalo. After spending some time scouting after our trip, we should have fished further downstream. But, we still managed about 20 rainbow and brown trout ranging from 8"-14". 90% of these trout came on nymph rigs, but a few did eat ants and hoppers.

Hooked up on Clear Creek

This Clear Creek rainbow trout had much different color than the fish we catch much further upstream in Middle Fork Clear Creek
My biggest brown trout of the trip. In fact, this was the first day I had caught brownies in WY due to where we typically fish.

 We grabbed a quick lunch at Rollin' Coals, a new BBQ joint on Fort St. in Buffalo. Wow, was it good! We had wings, brisket, and sides. Their sauces were particularly tasty, especially the Missouri BBQ sauce, which was a mix of thick and spicy, with a heavy vinegar taste. We spent the rest of the day visiting with family and were up early the next day to fly home. In fact, we were awake before 4:30 AM on 6 days of the 9 day trip.

On our flight from Denver to Boston, we got off the ground and were in the air for about 20 minutes before our plane had to turn around and do an emergency landing. One of the air seals around a cockpit window was leaking, causing a high pitched screeching noise for the pilots. We landed to all sorts of flashing lights, emergency vehicles, and general fan fare. Thankfully, it was all for show and after another 2.5 hours in the airport we were back on our way.

A big thanks to Betty and Martin Falxa for helping us figure out transport, giving us places to stay, and letting us hunt the Falxa land, but most of all, for allowing us to create these amazing memories of the wild west!

Now, when can we carve out some time to head out west again? Tight lines!

Monday, September 14, 2015

Beginner Tips for Choosing and Using a Baitcaster

Since moving to New England last year, I have had a surprising number of questions about baitcasting gear. Actually, I shouldn't find it that surprising. I very, very rarely used a baitcaster until about 2008. Now, I use them the vast majority of the time. Not only has it expanded my horizons in terms of techniques, but allowed me to use a much wider variety of baits and is much easier on my gear (and therefore my wallet). The key to becoming good at anything is practice, and using a baitcaster is no different. You will backlash. You will ruin some line. You will want to quit at least once. But if you are a serious angler, it is a great skill to learn! I put together the following video about beginner baitcasting tips, which includes choosing a reel, adjusting your brakes, casting tips, and more. If you have any questions, please feel free to give me a shout ( or comment below. Tight lines!