Farmington River Report 6/19/19: Spectacular hatches, wet, and dry fly action

Just when you thought it couldn’t get any better, it does: another off-the-charts evening session on the Farmington.

Cast three wet fly team. Hookup. Repeat. It was that kind of night. 

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I fished below the Permanent TMA from 6pm-9pm. When I arrived there were a few bugs (sulphurs sz 16, tiny creamy midges, caddis sz 16-18, and the first Isos I’ve seen) and even fewer rises, but that did not discourage me. Conditions were perfect, a magnificent collision of warm, humid air, cloud cover and water height. I tied up the same three fly wet team as yesterday: a Squirrel and Ginger top dropper, Magic Fly middle dropper, and Leisenring’s Pale Watery Dun Wingless on point. First cast, BANG, and it was virtually non-stop action for the next hour. Pow! Smack! It was an aquatic reenactment of a Batman episode. Such splashy, strong takes — these trout were obviously feeding with a vengeance.  Now, if you’ve taken my wet fly class or done a private lesson and the action has been — ahem — slow — you’ve heard me say that when the fish are feeding on emergers and you’re dialed into what they’re eating and how they’re eating it, wet flies can be the most lethal method. This was one of those times. A double-digit outing on wet flies alone.

How good is the Magic Fly? Twice last night I drifted it within a few inches of a natural. Both times the trout chose my fly.

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The dry fly session now seems almost anticlimactic, mostly of my own doing. While the river was boiling around me, I was trying to entice some fish feeding in frog water from a disadvantageous position. (I was doing this on purpose as a personal challenge.)  Suffice to say the usual pattern unfolded: a lull between 7:00-7:30, building activity to 8:00pm, then at 8:30 the trout and bugs go bonkers. Every once in a while I’d treat myself to a fish feeding in the faster water. Magic Flies size 16 and Light Cahills size 14 served me well. Finally, just about when I could no longer see the fly, I made a couple lucky mends and got one of those impossible fish to take.

And so we ended on a high note.

Best fish of the night, a high teens wild hen. She clobbered the middle dropper, the Magic Fly, AKA Pale Watery wingless wet. I’ve made a big deal about fishing the Magic Fly as a dry, but do not underestimate its power as a traditional subsurface wet.

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Farmington River Report 6/17 & 6/18: You should be here. Now.

To say that the Farmington is fishing well would be an understatement. Three outings in the last two days, all of them highly productive. Here’s how it went down.

Monday 6/17/19 6pm-9pm: The 2019 debut of my beloved dad’s cane rod. I always forget how much you need to s-l-o-w d-o-w-n the casting stroke with that rod. Rhythm rediscovered, I quickly got lost in the lyrical motions. Fished below the Permanent TMA, and initial hatch and rise activity was about a 3 out of 10 (Sulphurs size 16, Light Cahills size 12-14, caddis size 16, creamy midges). Swung a single creamy wet for an hour and had two customers. The evening hatch on this river is so predictable: sometime between 6:30 and 7:30 there’s a window of null activity. It can last anywhere from 15 minutes to an hour. From 7:30 to just past 9pm, the river simmered with rises. I switched over to dries (size 16 Magic Fly, size 16 Usual, size 12-14 Light Cahill) and took trout after trout, mostly rainbows and brookies.

A whole lotta shakin’ going on, as the smoke from an EP Carillo New Wave Connecticut torpedo blends in nicely with the fog.

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Tuesday 6/18/19 11am-3pm: Andrew wanted to learn the ancient, traditional, devastating art of the swung wet fly. Soft hackles and three-fly team thus rendered, we hit two spots, one in the Permanent TMA and one below. Rain, fog, drizzle and downpour could not dampen our mood. Hatch activity was low in the first mark, but we nonetheless stuck several fish. The second spot was money, with several lanes of active feeders (the birds were busy, too) that kept us occupied for nearly two hours. We fished a Squirrel and Ginger top dropper, a Grey Watchet in the middle, and depending on water depth and speed, a SHBHPT, Old Blue Dun, or March Brown caddis on point. The fish found favor with every pattern, which is always gratifying. Andrew did a great job navigating some difficult water, mending across current seams, and waiting for the fish to hook itself. Time (wet) flies when you’re having fun.

How to spot a wet fly angler pre-evening hatch. Note bent rod and tight line. Frontal view would reveal a large smile. Good work, Andrew!

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Tuesday 6/18/19 4:15-5:45pm: My turn to play. Walked a 200 yard run in the Permanent TMA that I had not fished in a long time. OUTSTANDING sulphur hatch: duns in the air, birds working, sloppy splashes from trout gorging on emergers. In 90 minutes I stuck double digit trout, a mix of wild, stocked, and Survivor Strain browns with a bonus rainbow in the mix. This was a classic example of how effective the wet fly can be during a hatch. Thus sated, I headed home after taking a final victory puff on a My Father Le Bijou Torpedo.

I had action on the Squirrel and Ginger top dropper, Magic Fly middle dropper, and Leisenring’s Pale Watery Dun Wingless (pictured) on point. 

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Farmington River Report 6/13/19: Fish on!

Mark is a repeat client, and yesterday he wanted to work on his nymphing. We picked a great day for it: moderate-to-high flows, overcast, rain, showers, cold (54 degrees in mid-June? Really?). We hit three marks below the Permanent TMA and found multiple fish willing to play in all of them. The method was a combination of indicator and tight line nymphing, both using a drop-shot rig. We fished a size 16 Starling and Herl top dropper and a size 14 Frenchie variant on point; the trout found favor with both flies.

Trutta buttah, the best fish of the day, a some-teen inch wild brown that hammered the Frenchie. Love those pecs! Great job playing and landing by Mark.

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Pure paar pulchritude. This yearling was my personal favorite, a testament to the fertile nature of the river. He selected the Starling and Herl. Mark also took a half-dozen rainbows of varying size, all of which were more than happy to treat us to aerials and other obstreperous behavior.

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A shout out to Mark who has vastly improved his nymphing skills: line/leader management, quality drifts, and especially hook sets. Well done, and thanks for a great day.

Striper Report: Grass Shrimp Basstravaganza

I love me some topwater grass shrimp action. Even if the bass are on the small side, there’s so much soak in: the metronome-in-molasses turning of the tide; the bottle rocket-like traces made on the surface by hundreds of mating shrimp; and the percussive pops and swirling boils of the diners.

The method was a floating line and three fly team, presented with a combination of swings, mends, dangles, and animating the flies by raising and lowering the fly rod. I took the first fish, then handed the rod over to #2 son Cam, who spent the next gleeful hour catching stripers. Cam reported that he could feel the bass sucking the fly in — the first tap — and then waiting to feel the second tap or the weight of the fish to set the hook. What a great job he did (said his proud papa). Cam had the bonus excitement of his first double hookup, a riot with two feisty schoolies in tow.

Droppers are the fastest way to find out what the fish want, and last night they wanted all of the below. The Grass Shrimp Gurgler was on point; Orange Ruthless clam worm in the middle. If you’re not fishing droppers during small bait/lots of bait events, you are missing out on a proven, strategic advantage — not to mention plain old fun. You can read more about how to tie and fish dropper rigs for stripers here.  

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The Law of the Instrument and the Intermediate Line

I recently came across a reference to the Law of the Instrument, and it reminded me of fly fishing with an intermediate line in surf and current — especially since I recently used an intermediate line for two days on Cape Cod.

If you’re unfamiliar with the Law of the Instrument, it’s basically this: If all you have is a hammer, you see everything as a nail.

And why, you may ask, was I fishing with an intermediate line? It was the ideal taper and grain weight for my new two-hander. For test drive casting, it was aces. For fishing, it reminded me why I never choose an intermediate line for current or surf. (For more on this, read Mainly Misunderstood: Five Myths and Realities About Using Floating Lines for Striped Bass.

“The fundamental thing about fly fishing is presentation. It means that you control what’s going on, so that you can bring your fly to the fish. You’re in control. Not the line. Not the accident.” What Ken is saying is simple: use the right tool for the job.

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Perhaps the Law of the Instrument explains so many of the misconceptions about intermediate lines: they are less affected by surf, they are good for presenting deep, they are versatile. (D: none of the above.)

Expand your toolbox with a floating line — and you’ll begin to notice all the screws and nuts and bolts around you.

Cape Cod Mini Report: Get Shorty

I recently spent two long nights fishing the Cape and as is so often the case, it was good news/bad news: legions of stripers/99% of them shorts (some unworthy of trout size). But the company was fine, the midnight tea lovely, and I got the chance to play around with a line that actually worked on my new two-hander. (Of course, that line is no longer made.) Just getting back to a regular schedule now after 5am bedtimes.

To (again) quote Colin from The Great Escape: “Tea without milk is so uncivilized.” British mate Mike Oliver does the honors, his world famous Kelly Kettle on the right.

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Used to be a September Night. I have no idea how many bass I caught on this fly. We fished moving tides, incoming and outgoing, with great success.

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Farmington River TMA Poachers and the TIP Line

Unfortunately last week I witnessed two incidences of attempted poaching within the Farmington River Permanent TMA.

Use the TIP (Turn In Poachers) line if you witness poaching. Other than the actual creeling of fish, warning signs include: those toting large plastic buckets (and not for storing gear); dragging trout up on the bank and taking a lackadaisical approach to hook removal (all trout are to be returned to the river without avoidable harm); building stone weirs to keep the fish alive and penned in until they make their move. You betcha, I saw all of this behavior, as well as the attempt to walk off with trout.

TIP Line: 1-800-842-HELP (4357). Program it into your phone. Don’t be bashful about using it.

A poacher’s MO from a few years ago. I recovered this after he broke it off on the bottom. Barbless hooks only in the permanent TMA!

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