by Mike Harvell
(Editor’s note: Harvell is a retired engineer with Fluor and has traveled the world and fished extensively in pristine destinations.)
It is hard to realize that 2001 was twenty years ago. I was on assignment at the JFIAT Delta Terminal #4 Design-Build Project at New York JF Kennedy Airport in late February 2001.
It was a mild day in the city and the airport weather seemed to break out of the winter weather that kept people running from building to building. I went outside Friday afternoon to check on the weather and it was so nice, so I called Connetquot State Park Reserve to ensure their opening extended into the weekend. Connetquot River State Park Preserve, Islip New York, is located about 40 miles from Manhattan and contains about 3700 acres of land established for the protection of wildlife. The river itself runs through the state park and is 6 miles long. It is recognized as the Wild and Scenic River and considered one of the longest on the island.
Additional information on flyfishing at Connetquot State Park can be found at https://parks.ny.gov/documents/parks/ConnetquotRiverFlyFishingInformationMap.pdf
On this particular river, one must arrive and stand in line to select a specific fishing beat or area on their spring creek, which is based on a first-come selection. Basically, beats are available twice a day, from 8 am to 12 pm and 12 pm to 4 pm, Tuesdays through Sundays.
The split divided the day in half with the morning and afternoon. I wanted to get on the creek by 10 and fish to 3 but the afternoon section was starting at 12 noon. Faced with an hour’s drive through the city early would be a hardship to arrive to get a good beat.
I arrived about 11:30 and got in line, third place. Was lucky and got assigned my second choice of beat. The snow was deep in the shade and still covered the ground in sunny areas. A Fisherman less than 60 cannot drive to the Hatchery Access about a mile up the road at creek’s mid-point. Older drivers sometimes offered a ride if you stayed on the road. I arrived at the hatchery by host car and still had a nice but long walk to my beat. Fishing is barbless and the weather was below freezing meaning that no fish can be removed from the water for unhooking. My beat turned out to be less productive than I expected. Within a short period, my next beat fisher came up to me and told me that I could fish his beat as he was going home, too cold for him to stay on the river. I thanked him and walked down to his beat which turned out to be a small lake. The water temperature at 1:00 pm was 55 degrees while the air temp was 25 degrees and warming. The host wished me luck and started walking down the creek trail.
I selected a stable winter pattern, an Appalachian pattern called the Sheep fly, and rendered it barbless. The first cast yielded a hard hit and a nice rainbow brought to the bank. Used my rod to dislodge fly and proceeded to cast out some line to the middle of the pond. I noticed some midges over the water and the sun was warming me. I looked up and a uniform person across the pond and upon a slight wooded rise was watching me. Apparently, he was there during my first cast and fish. A couple of strips and into an even bigger rainbow, used the same landing method for him as the first fish, no lifting fish out of water. The uniformed person moved closer revealing himself as a state park warden. After recasting again, fish on, the same action, and repeat performance.
After watching the second fish caught and released, the warden asked ” What are you using? ” Nice fish, now what pattern are getting these hits?” Feeling empowered I replied ” flies, this is a fly fishing only stream.
“Then he said why are you catching fish and no one else is?” Before I could answer he fired the second question, “What fly are you using?” Now I was more than slightly put out with the warden and replied that, “Everyone else is using Northern Flies, I am using Southern Flies?”
He moved next to me and closely inspected the Sheep Fly as if to memorize the pattern for his personal use. I made a few more casts and hooked several more rainbows and released them under cold water as before.
He then asked, ” Is this your beat”? I was firm but honest in a warm response, ” This beat was an older guy’s; he was cold and invited me to come over to fish his beat as he was heading home”.
Bingo! He had me! The warden smiled for the first time during our conversation and said, ” You should go back to your beat”. The day ended there. It was time to go anyway as the Sheep Fly has successfully maintained its reputation. The trail and dirt road back to my car seem shorter and mostly downhill. A successful afternoon on the Connetquot!
Editor’s note: I have extensively fished the Sheep Fly for almost 45 years with great success. I tie in several sizes from size 10 down to size 16, while occasionally changing the body color from a muskrat gray to black. The fly was designed originally by Newland Sanders from Lenoir NC to possibly imitate a large merging mayfly or cranefly larva. It was soon adopted in the Appalachian Mountains as a “go-to” fly. Rumored the Sheep Fly was a favorite fly of George “Cap” Wiese, the first president of Trout Unlimited.
The Sheep Fly Recipe:
Nymph Hook: Sizes 10-14 ranging from 1x-3x long
Weight: Can use lead wire
Tail: Brown or Furnace hackle fibers
Body: Muskrat Fur
Hackle: Brown, Furnace hackle from rooster or hen necks
Wings: Grizzly Saddle tips