How planting by the moon can help you catch bigger bass

Some of you may know that I am avid gardener. Right now, I am planting by the moon. What’s that, you say? The basic idea is that just as the moon’s gravitational cycle causes tides to rise and fall, it also affects soil moisture. So you want to plant seeds and transplant during periods when more moisture is being drawn to the surface.

Okay, Steve. But what the heck has this got to do with fishing?

I’m a firm believer in paying attention to natural rhythms.Using stripers as an example, I also believe that the angler who wants to catch more bass, and especially bigger bass, will not be one who places a premium on leader construction or casting distance — but rather one who focuses on things like tides, moon phase, wind direction, bait patterns, water type, structure, location, water temperature, frontal systems, and barometric pressure. What’s more, that angler should pay attention to common natural markers, like hearing the first spring peepers or when flowering trees bloom.

It’s all part of one magnificent puzzle. Every year is different, but nature is always right on time. It doesn’t hurt to be able to cast a plug or a fly line very far. But if you really want to crack the big bass code, pay attention to Mother Earth’s natural rhythms.

Yesterday was herb day. Today it’s peppers. I have it on good authority that this weekend is a great time to plant cukes and squash.

Looking for a place to stay? Legends on the Farmington.

It’s an FAQ I get from my clients: “Can you recommend a place to stay?” The answer is yes. Legends on the Farmington. Located in Barkhamsted, CT, Legends is a gorgeous lodge-style B&B on the banks of the Farmington River. You’ve literally got great water right out the back door (Greenwoods pool). I’ve never stayed, but I’ve held classes there and it’s a fantastic space. It’s run by my friend Sal and his wife, and they’re swell hosts. Tell them Steve sent ya.

Hang your waders on the deck and come on inside. If you want to see the inside of the lodge, visit the Legends website.

Farmington River Report 5/5 and 5/6/22: Hot and then ice cold

“Every day is different.” That’s something my clients hear from me a lot. Thursday and Friday this week were the proof. I guided Jon and his grandson Jake; Jon’s an experienced fly angler, Jake not so much, but very eager to learn. It was exciting to have two generations of fly fishers on the water, and have the opportunity to teach them.

Thursday 5/5: warm, sunny conditions, and a reduced flow. Hot-diggety! As we arrived at the first mark, below the Permanent TMA, blocky caddis, size 12-14, filled the air. I liked our chances. Our first lesson was indicator nymphing with a drop shot rig. Jake did a great job figuring it out; in no time at all he was casting and making quality drifts.

Not bad, kid! A mid-teens wild brown Jake hooked while drop-shot indicator nymphing. Jake’s quote, pre-battle: “I think I’m stuck on a rock.” Nossir. You got a tank of a brown. Jake did a great job playing and landing the fish. We talked about proper release and photo techniques, in particular keeping the fish submerged until ready to shoot, then 1-2-3 lift, and shoot. Note the water dripping from Jake’s hands. This gorgeous fish took the top dropper, a Squirrel and Ginger size 12.

We moved upriver into the lower end of the permanent TMA for a wet fly lesson. The Hendrickson hatch was decent enough (5 out of 10) and both Jake and Jon connected with fish. I had them both rigged with a Squirrel and Ginger top dropper and a soft-hackled Hendrickson on point. I’d kept it a two fly rig on purpose, hoping to reduce the chance of tangling disasters; while I highly recommend a three fly team, two flies is certainly better than one. Both gentlemen caught fish on each fly. When the hatch matured and the trout wanted the dry, we switched over and had fun trying to fool them on the surface. The run was crowded, with seven anglers, but we all managed to share the water and keep it positive. Everyone got into trout on this glorious early May Day.

Friday 5/6: This is why I hate cold fronts. We carpet bombed the first mark with nymphs; not a touch. We moved to a second mark and tried wets; nothing doing. This was particularly frustrating because I know that particular run is infested with trout. But: the hatch activity stunk. No caddis. No Hendricksons. Over the course of four hours, a visible rising number I could count on a hand. We saw only one other angler hook a fish. Ugh. Jake and Jon deserved far better for their efforts, as both fished hard and well. All you can do on a day like this is make quality presentations and hope things turn. They didn’t for us, but we left the river with our heads held high. Great job, Jon and Jake, and you were a pleasure to guide.

Farmington River Report 5/4/22: Making our own luck

I guided Gerry and Sam today, and while Gerry did most of the fishing, a splendid time was had by all. The subject of today’s lesson was wet flies. We spent about 45 minutes on a bench for some streamside classroom, then Gerry and I went to work. Our first mark was in the upper end of the Permanent TMA. Flow was a reasonable 360cfs, but the water is still very cold, and we had rain showers that seemed to bring what little feeding activity there was to a screeching halt. (This was to be today’s pattern: active fish, then stop. Wait a bit. Then more feeding, or no feeding at all. Wait for it.) We managed one hookup, then decided to seek our pleasure elsewhere.

Mark #2 was in the lower end of the TMA. By now, the rain had stopped. There were no Hendricksons that we saw, and a few size 16 BWOs here and there. Nothing much was going on in terms of visible feeders — and then, as so often happens, suddenly it was on. A rise here. A boil there. Gerry was fishing a team of a size 12 Squirrel and Ginger, a size 12 Dark Hendrickson winged wet, and a size 14 Old Blue Dun. Fish on! Then another. And another. The fish, a mix of rainbows and browns, ate all three flies. A half dozen trout in an hour doesn’t suck, and we gleefully took our bounty and ran.

Another satisfied customer. Gerry is now officially on the path to becoming a dangerous wet fly machine. Even though the fishing was off today, he kept at it, trusted the method, and was repeatedly rewarded with bend rod syndrome. Way to go, Gerry!

Steve Culton’s Soft Daddy featured in On The Water’s Guide Flies Column

The Soft Daddy is an impressionistic, soft-hackled streamer that imitates the rusty crayfish. It’s currently featured in On The Water magazine‘s “Guide Flies” column, written by Tony Lolli. (Thanks, Tony, for letting me play!) The concept of a guide fly is twofold — it’s a pattern that is typically simple to tie, and is also a consistent producer. Like most of my flies, The Soft Daddy starts as an idea; is rendered on the vise; and goes through extensive field testing. Tweaks are made as needed, and the end result goes into the rotation. Like many of my patterns, you can see the wet fly influence in its construction. Smallmouth eat this fly like candy…or is that crawdads…or crawdaddies…?

Here’s a pdf:

Pearsall’s Gossamer Silk (and other goodies) at UpCountry Sportfishing!

Grady just bought someone’s collection of tying materials, and I’m happy to tell you that it includes Pearsall’s Gossamer Silk. Pearsall’s is no longer made, and nearly impossible to find, so this is a treat for those looking to tie classic North Country spiders with traditional materials. These spools are bargain priced, and as of Friday there were still plenty in stock. Naturally, I helped my self to a bunch, but I played nice and kept my silk gluttony down to a dull roar. Get ’em before they’re gone.

This photo was taken Friday afternoon. As you can see, there’s Pearsall’s Marabou silk as well.

You might also want to rummage through the bins — they’re in the room next to the parking lot — from this collection. Again, I can’t vouch for current inventory, but there were all kinds of game bird skins and other soft hackle delights at bargain prices. As always, please support your local fly shop!

Farmington River Report 4/29/22: Hendricksons, spectacular wet fly action, mystery bug ID

I fished the lower end of the Permanent TMA yesterday afternoon and we had much better flows (under 400cfs) for swinging wet flies. So much, in fact, that after a while I replaced my tungsten bead head soft hackles with non-weighted bugs, the better to target all the slashing risers. Atmospheric conditions were as they have been: chilly, windy, and uncomfortable.

I arrived late, about 1:30pm, and as I approached the mark, I recognized the faces of the two anglers who had beaten me to it. It was Bob and Andy. I’d seen them here last year, introduced myself, and we shared the water. These guys are very giving, and a pleasure to fish next to. I’d like to thank them again for being so matey and kind.

Right away, I was into fish. I’d made the comment earlier to Torrey Collins at UpCountry that if you hit this hatch right, fishing with wets is almost unfair. I took them on the swing. I took them on the Leisenring Lift. I took them dead drifted deep on a short line. Active feeders almost always hit on the first cast. I even managed my first double of the year.

Then, the bugs came. Lots and lots of Hendricksons. I’d give this hatch an 8 out of 10. The point where the trout would no longer take the wet came at 2:45pm. Once I figured out what they wanted — it wasn’t, to my surprise, The Usual, with which I usually do boffo box office — I managed a bunch on the surface. (The winning fly was a Comparadun.) Dry fly was very much a challenge in the fierce gusts. But it’s supposed to moderate, so tight lines to those brave souls venturing out this weekend. I expect the hatch to continue to ramp up and move upriver. Enjoy!

‘Nuff said.

To this week’s mystery bug. I appreciate everyone’s input and guesses. My first thought when I observed them was some kind of early BWO. They were clearly too small for Hendricksons. After I captured a couple specimens, I was able to see that they all had only two tails. I ended up going to two people who have a far deeper technical knowledge of these things than I, and they both independently identified the creature as a Baetis. That’s good enough for me! (In case you’re wondering, my panel of experts consisted of Torrey Collins and Derrick Kirkpatrick. Those guys have forgotten more about Farmington River hatches than I currently know.)

Farmington River Report 4/27/22: I can’t wait for April to get here

Another unseasonably cold, windy afternoon on the river. I decided to check out the lower section below Collinsville, mostly out of Hendrickson curiosity. The water was higher than I’d like for wet fly (755cfs is still chugging; sub-500 would be best) but you don’t know if you don’t go. I began in a faster, snottier boulder-studded section; not surprisingly, it was a wet fly blank. I didn’t nymph it, which might have produced a different result.

Bug activity was, at first, minimal. Ubiquitous midges, then a mystery mayfly (see below), and then a few precious H-words. The mystery mayfly far outnumbered the Hendricksons, probably 10:1 or so. When the sun peeked out, the hatch ramped up. And when the clouds took over, the hatch stopped in its tracks. I managed a good half dozen trout on wets — this was in slower moving water — catching them blind and also by targeting active feeders. While few and far between, the active feeders all pounced on a well-placed wet fly. I fished the same team as Monday, a Squirrel and Ginger on top, followed by two tungsten beadhead Hendrickson soft hackles. I had an accident trying to land a trout by hand, and lost the middle dropper; when I re-tied, I exchanged the point fly for a tungsten SHBHPT.

I wasn’t satisfied with the surface activity, so I did a bit of nymphing. Normally I would use a traditional drop shot nymph rig, but this time I kept the three fly team and added a drop shot section to the point fly and one of my home-brew year indicators to the tapered butt. It worked just fine, and some of the takes were highly aggressive, almost bordering on frantic. After 2 1/2 hours, I’d had enough. I tried for one more trout on a swung wet, and, once successful, headed for the warmth of the car.

The mystery bug, about a size 14-16. Some kind of olive? Quill-something? Whatever it is, it far outnumbered Hendricksons. I don’t stress when I can’t ID a bug; if you try to match the general size, color, and profile with a wet fly or nymph, you’ll tend to do well. This is why it’s a smart idea to carry soft hackled Pheasant Tails in various sizes, beaded and unbeaded. That pattern looks like a lot of things in general, and almost always like something that’s alive and good to eat.

Farmington River Report 4/25/22: The first wet fly outing of the year

Hoping for Hendricksons, I was on the water before noon. I chose a mark near the bottom of the Permanent TMA. Although ’tis the season, the weather has been most unseasonable; the flows higher (627cfs) and colder than I prefer; and the Hendrickson hatch non-existent. Still, there were mucho midges — signs of life — and there were trout.

I’d decided on a three-fly team of a Squirrel & Ginger on top dropper, with black tungsten beadhead Hendrickson soft-hackles in the middle and on point. The plan was to cast slightly upstream or across, and mend like crazy to help sink the rig before coming tight on the dangle. That worked well enough, although a proper hatch and active feeders (I saw only two rises during the session) would have made the catching easier. The highlight of the outing for me were the two trout I fooled using the Leisenring Lift. I don’t often use that presentation, but there are times when it is lethal. It’s an arrow any serious wet fly angler should have in their quiver.

On a whim, I drove a good ways downstream, below Collinsville, to see if there were any H-Bombs flying around. Negative. I took a couple what-the-heck-I’m-here casts, but at over 1,000cfs it’s a most decidedly wet fly-unfriendly flow. It’s supposed to remain cold this week, so we’ll see how the hatch unfolds.

A hefty 16″ buck that crushed the fly, a beadhead Hendrickson soft hackle, on the Leisenring Lift. He provided fantastic sport in the over 600cfs flows.

FVTU Awarded the Legion of the Cheeseburger with DIPA Clusters — and on to Marlborough

Many thanks to the FVTU gang for hosting me last night. This dedicated, passionate group of anglers has been supporting me for a long time, so it’s always a pleasure to return — especially since they embrace the concept of, “A fed presenter is a happy presenter.” (Sounds like something B. Franklin would have written in Poor Richard’s Almanac.) Fortified with a sumptuous burger and a lovely DIPA draft, I presented “Tactical Advantage: Trout vs. Angler,” followed by an engaging Q&A session. Thanks again, FVTU!

And now I’m off to Marlborough for the Fly Fishing Show. Today at 2:30pm, I’ll be the Featured Fly Tier. Come watch me tie up Spiders, Winged & Wingless Wets. (I had a blast doing this in Edison!) Don’t go away, because at 4:30pm I’m presenting my new seminar, Modern Wet Fly Strategies. I think this is my best program to date, and I’m counting on you to be there. Both are included with the price of your admission ticket. On Saturday 4/23 I have a class, Tying and Fishing Wet Flies. This is a chance to get some basic tying instruction, along with tips on rigging and presentation, geared toward making you a dangerous wet fly machine. It’s a paid class; you have to pre-register to attend. I’m hoping to see plenty of currentseams readers at the show — please come say hello!

It’s getting to be that time…