In spring a fisherman's fancy doesn't exactly turn to trout—chances are that trout are what he has been thinking about all winter. For thousands of anglers trapped in New York City, thoughts turn to Long Island's Connetquot River. The name is Algonquian for Great River and the tiny Connetquot is indeed great in the numbers of its trout and the improbability of its very existence in Suffolk County, not quite a two-hour drive from Manhattan.
The contrasts are striking. Most of the Connetquot's denizens are brook trout—and few fish are less adaptable to civilization. The epitaph of the brook trout will be the dollar sign, and therein lies the special irony of the river. Dollars have kept it alive; you pay the state $5 to fish a maximum four-hour session. In 1976 some 5,000 fishermen paid for 6,742 such sessions. Each angler caught an official average of 2.5 trout for each session, not counting what must have been a lot of unreported catches. Anybody could average 2.5 with bare hands, if it were legal. Hut the rule is fly-fishing only and the limit is three keepers (eight inches and over) per session.
There are three miles of river to fish, divided into 32 beats. The sandy bottom is thickly grown with large clumps of water starwort, wonderful cover for trout. But if you stand on the bank at, say. Beat No. 17, you will be kept busy counting the trout that do not care or are not smart enough to hide. Head a few feet downstream and you may go blind trying to spot them.
The traditional fly-fishing practice of matching the hatch may be a touch too sophisticated for the Connetquot. Last October the local experts were murdering them with Muddler Minnows, size 8, not because of any hatch, but probably because it seemed like a good idea at the time.
Between Beats 17 and 16 is the hatchery, built in 1895 when the Connetquot ran through the exclusive Southside Sportsmen's Club. The river was opened to the public in 1973, but the hatchery kept hatching. The river's brook and brown trout reproduce naturally, and in 1976 an additional 25,480 trout were stocked, most of them brookies averaging 11 inches in length. But some of the trout were browns and rainbows, which grow much larger. Nearly everyone who has fished the Connetquot has seen at least one monster. There are rumors of a 10-pounder caught last year. To fish for his brothers, call 516-581-1005; fishing is by reservation only. The season runs from April 1 to October 31.