Big Eelies and Banana Squid, or: striper soft hackles galore

I went on a wee tying binge, and when the feather dust settled I was left with an 8-pack of Big Eelies. Some are old favorites, and a few sport new color combinations. That’s one thing I love about this pattern: it lends itself supremely well to all manner of color experimentation, and the stripers almost always seem pleased with your work.

Big Eelies hot off the press. Clockwise from lower left: pink/chartreuse/olive, grey/olive, Crazy Menhaden colors, Olive Fireworm colors, black/chartreuse, pink/olive/brown, then the two of the original classic. I can already feel that forceful tug at the end of a twitching strip.

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The Banana Squid, another classic from Ken Abrames. It’s different from most other squid patterns, and it looks nothing like what books would lead you to believe  a squid should be. Add the magic ingredient of water, and it transforms into a living, breathing organism than looks good to eat. Fished slowly and deliberately, it relies on organic movement and impressionism to fool the fish.

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Hook: Eagle Claw 253 3/0
Thread: Black 6/0
Platform: 30 hairs grey bucktail
Tail: Three white saddle hackles tied in flat, then four ginger saddles (I used golden tan) to veil the white saddles, then sparse purple Krystal flash on both sides, then a short badger hackle on both sides, then a webby grey saddle tied in flat, then a full plume of amber marabou
Body: Purple braid tied to 3/8″ from the hook eye
Collar: A sparse layer or yellow bucktail one hair thick to extend to the end of the amber marabou, then a sparse layer of blue bucktail one hair thick, then a sparse later of red bucktail one hair thick
Hackle: Brownish marabou tied in near the butt of the stem, then wound and doubled 3-4 turns

Farmington River Report 6/21/17: A strange start to summer

The official start of summer isn’t beholden to calendars or warmth or maximum daylight. For me, it begins with liberating my cane rod from the confines of its storage tube and tying a Magic Fly to the end of a 12-foot leader. That this all happened on the 21st of June was a happy coincidence.

Monday’s storm left a swath of destruction in the People’s Forest area. Downed trees and limbs everywhere. The river soared a few hundred cfs, and Grady Allen told me the action Tuesday night was not so good. When I drove through New Hartford yesterday, the roads were wet and steaming from a late afternoon squall. Random piles of hailstones in the woods made me glad that I missed it. The river was down to 450cfs, but still carried a stain and some debris.

Not a lot in the way of catching for me, but I did get a low teens wild brown to hand on a size 18 Usual. I also rose fish to the Magic Fly size 18, Catskill Light Cahill size 14 and 16, and size 10 Convertible (look it up).

To the strangeness. Nothing so odd about the hatches proper: Sulphurs came off like clockwork and 5:30 and 7:30, first the bigger size 16 mayflies, the size 18s following, with the usual 6:45-7:00 lull. A few caddis and Isos here and there. The hatch strength was average. Normally this time of year, the Farmington lights up from 8pm to dark. Last night it was a dimpled surface wasteland. No spinner fall, no straggler hatch, no water boiling with feeding trout. How bad was it? I counted seven total rises during the witching hour (I might expect to see that many in 30 seconds on a good night).

I finished the evening by tossing a size 4 Olive Zoo Cougar into the gloaming. A few bumps and one stuck fish, but that’s not a fly made for cane.

Welcome, summer, even if your entrance was a little oddball.

And the heavens parted and a light shone from above, and a voice seemed to say. “Cast thy flies to the bank, Steve, where the current is softer and many trout are lying in wait.”

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Thanks for taking me fishing, dad

My dad took me and my friends fishing on the Salmon River in Colchester — this would have been in the mid-1970s — and upon our arrival he announced, “I’m going to walk downstream and fish. You guys go upstream.” His intent was to find a little peace and solitude away from a pack of 14 year-old boys. Fifteen minutes later, he turns around and sees us in a line behind him, shadowing his every move. Where else would we be? He was catching all the fish.

Thanks for taking me fishing Dad. I wanted so badly to be as good an angler as you. I think the greatest fishing skill set you taught me was reading water and finding where the fish are. It’s come in pretty handy over the years.

Most of all, Happy Father’s Day.

Another generation of Cultons learning from old pro Paul.

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Farmington River Report 6/14/17: Confidence catches fish, Sulphur City

I guided Keith on Thursday and his goal was to leave the river with more confidence than when he arrived. I think we accomplished that. Where to fish, how to fish, which flies to use — keeping it simple is usually a good place to start. So we headed of to a spot below the permanent TMA for some nymphing basics. Spring mornings are almost always a good time to nymph. We did both short line and indicator, and on this day indicator was the more successful method. We took fish on both the dropper (size 18 2x short Starling and Herl) and the point fly (BH Squirrel and Ginger).

Next up: Wet Flies 101. I was disappointed with this second location, downriver from the first. Our drifts were good and we covered some fishy water, but you can’t catch what doesn’t want to eat — or what isn’t there — so we headed off to trout central, AKA the permanent TMA.

Good call. As we worked our way downstream into some slower water, we saw active feeders. Even though the water was better suited for dries, properly presented soft hackles can be deadly during a hatch. Caddis was the bug, and we had two caddis patterns on our team of three (S&G top dropper and Winter Brown on point) with a dark fly (Drowned Ant) in the middle.  It wasn’t long before Keith’s line came tight to beautiful brown.

Keith shows us how it’s done, much to the delight of his instructor.

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We took fish on all three flies, but only one on the dark middle fly. We got nearly into double-digit numbers, a mix of stocked browns, rainbows, a Survivor Strain brown and a few wild ones. I was intrigued by the parr marks on this rainbow. He wasn’t all that delicate, though, putting on an impressive aerial display during the fight.

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Finally, I fished from 5pm-7:15pm way downstream in an area that got torched by last summer’s drought. I wanted to see what the Sulphur hatch was like, and, more important, was anything taking advantage of it? Good news, bad news: tremendous sulphur hatch (I’d give it an 8 out of 10) with swarms of yellow bugs everywhere. Bad news: like my experience in April in the same area with Hendrickson, precious little surface activity. Sure, there were a few trout that were feeding, but the rises were infrequent and seemingly random. I rose three trout but failed to get a hookset. Also witnessed were caddis, tiny BWOs, and a few Isonychia. I think we’ll have to wait another year or two for the trout to re-establish.

Hello, old friend. Always happy to see your face.

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Wet Fly 101 class, articles, and guiding trips

Busy as usual, but I think there’s some fishing light at the end of the tunnel! Sulphurs, grass shrimp, Block Island sand eels, evening spinner falls, walking some snotty water swinging wets….these are all on my mind right now. And tying. I don’t know about you, but my fly boxes need some serious attention. But first…

Sunday, July 9, 9am-2pm, Wet Flies 101 class through Upcountry Sportfishing. This is both a stream side and an on-the-water class. It’s intended as a basic intro to wet fly fishing. Given our early season water levels, I think this will be a dynamite summer for wets on the Farmington. If you want to catch more fish, the art of the wet fly is a skill set you should have. Please note: you cannot sign up for this class here. You have to do it through UpCountry. For more information, click this link.

Taken on a soft-hackled March Brown on a hot August afternoon. The lengthwise opening of the net is 17″. As your GPS would say, “recalculating…”

20" brown on a soft-hackle

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I recently saw the galley proof for my summer smallmouth article. It’s titled, “Hot Bronze,” and you can read it in the August 2017 issue of Field & StreamMultiple articles coming up in American Angler, too. And if you’re in charge of booking speakers for your club, some new presentations as well.

Finally, if you’re planning on doing a guide trip with me, its a good idea to get out the calendar and pick some date options. Summer is as time-space continuum-challenging for me as the school year, with multiple sports camps/tournaments for the boys and me mostly doing pickup/dropoff. For more information on my philosophy, rates, and contact info, click here.

And as always, thanks for reading currentseams.

 

 

Why I love fishing for stripers with big flatwings on the greased line swing

After three very slow springs, things turned around a bit in 2017. It wasn’t as good as the old days. (Is it ever?) But the skunks were few, and the keepers more plentiful than in recent years. I wish I could say the baitfish were making a comeback. Sadly, I saw precious few swirls of mating herring. But enough with the negative. This is a celebration  of elegant flies fished with a traditional method — and the brute force of striped bass that can be measured in pounds.

The Rock Island flatwing saw plenty of swim time. It may not look it, but this is a legal fish, one of three I took that night.

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Another old favorite, the Razzle Dazzle. The Razzle Dazzle is responsible for my biggest striper on the fly from the shore, 30 pounds. This one is a wee bit less than that. Still, a good keeper bass on the long pole.

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We’re getting there. 15 pounds of power. I landed her at 1:00am after two hours of fishing without a touch. Since it was raining, I decided to end on a high note. A JR Cuban Alternate Cohiba Robusto was lit in celebration, and smoked on the long walk back to the truck.

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I don’t handcuff myself to the dogma of black flies at night. But occasionally, I do fish them. This spring I prototyped and tested a large, mostly black multi-feather flatwing (patience — recipe and photos to come). My intent was to have a big fly to silhouette against the dark of the moon sky in stained water. Here are my test results — all 20 pounds of it.

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Following the tides is a tough job, but some damn fool needs to be out while the rest of the world is sleeping.

401AM