Farmington River Report 7/17/18: Big Bang Boom

I guided Paul for four hours yesterday before the fireworks began. Atmospheric, that is — although the fishing was slow, we managed to conjure up plenty of electric action. We fished three locations within the permanent TMA and found players in all of them. The water was down to 237cfs (they dropped the dam 100cfs) but still plenty cold. Wet flies were the first order of business, and we induced a savage strike from a lovely wild brown in the snotty water at the head of a run. Upstream there were trout smutting in that difficult-to-present-to frog water along the edge of a faster current. Then I saw a moth skitter across the surface, and one of the trout snapped at it. We clipped off the SHBHPT on point and tied on a Stimulator. Three trout later, we moved to another spot. This was a very sexy run, but we had no interest in swung wets. I figured there were trout in residence, so we added a BB shot to the middle dropper knot and presented along the bottom. Ding! We have a winner, with Paul landing a gorgeous kyped Survivor Strain brown. Great job by Paul with his casting, wading, presenting, and especially his no-time-wasted landing those trout. They just didn’t stand a chance. A pleasure, sir!

The skunk was off with this lovely wild brown. Man, did he open up a can of whupass on the wet fly.

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Men at work: Paul demonstrating the advantages of a ten-foot rod on the Farmington.

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What the fly saw moments before the take. A good fish, Survivor Strain, well-earned. (There’ll be no pictures of anglers thrusting fish into the camera at arm’s length on this site.)

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Sand Eel Secrets

There are several baits that give striper anglers fits: clam worms, grass shrimp, and truly tiny stuff (like crab larvae), just to name a few. You can also add sand eels to the list. I see the forlorn souls trudging off the beach, beleaguered and bewildered, always with the same mournful complaint: “There were all these fish feeding and we couldn’t catch them.” Sand eels might be the sulphurs of the salt. They’re a plentiful bait, easy to identify, the fish love to eat them — and most anglers approach the situation the wrong way.

I love fishing for striped bass that are feeding on sand eels. Some of my best nights of striper fishing have occurred during a sand eel hatch. Here are some things I’ve observed that will help you catch more bass that are feeding on sand eels.

— Striped bass are very much like trout. They like current, and they will key on certain food sources at certain times at the expense of all other menu options. What’s more, they will feed in a certain manner in a certain part of the water column. Sound like trout taking emergers just below the surface film? Good! Once you grasp this concept, you’re halfway home.

— When confronted with the scenario of stripers crashing sand eels on the surface, most anglers attack the problem with sinking lines and/or weighted flies. This is the equivalent of wading into a trout stream where trout are sipping Trico spinners, then tossing a tungsten cone head Woolly Bugger. (Sidebar: yes, stripers will root along the bottom for sand eels, then eat them as they shoot for the surface. Dredging the bottom with a weighted fly can be productive. But if you see the fish leaving rise rings or splashy boils, that should be your first clue that a floating line and an unweighted sand eel pattern is a good place to start.)

A floating line, a sparse, unweighted sand eel pattern, and a very happy angler. My friend John, who was fishing next to me, caught a bass in this size class on 11 consecutive casts.

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— This is not rocket science. Recall Fly Fishing 101: What are the fish eating? How are they eating it? What do I have in my box that most closely resembles the bait (size, color, profile)? How can I present my fly to mimic what the naturals are doing?

— It’s almost never a bad idea to target an actively feeding bass.

— Aggressive feeders will take a stripped fly with gusto. I like very short (3″ or less) rapid strips. Wait until you feel the weight of the fish before you set the hook. Always strip set.

— There often comes a time in the hatch when the bass will no longer chase. The stripped fly is rendered useless. But the catching doesn’t have to end. The smart angler will change tactics. He or she might use a dropper rig, suspended in the surface, managing it like a dry fly presentation (dead drifting over a feeding lane) or every-so-slightly maintaining tension on the line (not so much a retrieve as it is a gathering of slack). The takes in this scenario will be sublime. Again, strip set.

If the rise rings become softer and the stripers won’t chase a stripped fly, try a dropper rig suspended in the film.

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— Just because you don’t see stripers feeding on the surface doesn’t mean a) they’re not there, and b) they won’t take a sand eel fly at the surface.

— I like to shuffle into a beach trough or across a flat to see if I can roust some sand eels. On the dark of the moon I look for their biolume contrails, or feel for their crazy bounces off my legs. If I’m lucky, a nearby striper will ghost his position by stomping on the fleeing bait. Now I have a target.

— Confidence catches fish.

Find sand eel patterns that you have confidence in, then go forth and prosper. I happen to love Ken Abrames’ Big Eelie, shown here below the glasses and in the left side of the box. Note the vast array of colors; I’ve never experienced that stripers have a preference. I also like Ken’s smaller Eelie, and Ray Bondorew’s Marabou Sand Eel. And for the record, I haven’t caught a striper on sand eel fly that had eyes in over a decade.

Block Island All-Nighter Flies Big Eelies

 

 

 

Farmington River Report 7/11/18: The heat of the moment

Friends, I’m here to tell you that the Farmington River is cold. Readings of 58 and 54 degrees confirm that, as will Mark, my client — and he’ll also testify that the fishing is incendiary!

So. Mark came to me with the request — like so many of my clients do — to tell him “what I’m doing wrong.” In most of these cases, it’s not so much one grand point of error as it is a bunch of little things that could be improved upon. We started out below the permanent TMA for a little indicator nymphing. Mark took to it nicely, and we stuck a pile of fish on both a size 14 Rainbow Warrior (point) and a size 14 March Brown wingless (dropper).

Off we went upstream for the evening rise, which was that and then some. From 5:00 to 8:30 it seemed like there was always a target to cast to, and often multiple options within a couple rod lengths. We stuck fish on the Magic Fly, the Usual, Catskills Light Cahill, and Sulphur comparadun. The bug activity was mostly tiny BWOs, a few sulphurs, but mostly Dorotheas and perhaps some summer Stenos. The trout were on the emergers as well as duns on the surface. It was an easy night to be a guide. Well done, Mark! You were doing a lot of things right, as your fish count confirms.

Mark landed this nice wild brown on a March Brown wingless. The fish were taking the nymphs in the faster water at the head of the pool.

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The sweet sight of success: bent rod, splashy combatant. (Wide smile on client’s face not visible.) Speaking of visibility, we had varying degrees of fog for most of the evening. It didn’t seem to bother the fish.

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Farmington River report 7/9/18: Presentation is Everything

I guided David yesterday afternoon into the evening. David wanted to work on his presentations — a man after my own heart — and we began by swinging wets through some choppy water in the permanent TMA. Bug and surface activity was light — nonetheless, I was surprised that we didn’t find any players. We then headed upstream to some classic dry fly water to prepare for the evening rise. We had surface activity from around 4pm through darkness, and a lot more bugs in this pool: sulphurs, Light Cahills, mats of midges and a few caddis. The fishing wasn’t easy — David had dozens of quality drifts that went unscathed — but we fooled quite a few trout and netted some beauties. We fished with a 13-foot leader (9′ 5x) and tippet (4′ 6x) system, and took fish on the Pale Watery wingless (16), Catskills Light Cahill (14-16) and Sulphur Comparadun (18). Great job, David! And man, was that water cold. 56 degrees. I haven’t shivered that much since the winter. Double layers next time.

Mr. Presentation, getting it done.

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The size of the rise doesn’t always belie the size of the fish. This high teens Survivor Strain brown was making tiny swirls along the edge of some frog water. David did an exemplary job with his hook set and landing. All the fish we hooked were fat, healthy, and happy.

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Olive Fireworm Big Eelie Fireworks

Flies don’t catch fish — anglers do. Still, I sometimes like to fish by feeling, and the Olive Fireworm Big Eelie is my traditional choice on the 4th of July.

On our nation’s birthday, this 15-pound striper said yes to the Olive Fireworm Big Eelie. What a tremendous battle. I’m always in awe of the power of Block Island bass.

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Olive Fireworm Big Eelie Variant

I was going through currentseams the other day and was surprised by how few fly patterns I’ve actually posted. Take the Big Eelie. I’ve been tying it in a seemingly endless series of colors for — well, for as long as I’ve been tying it — but I haven’t posted many of those variants. Let’s begin to remedy that with the Olive Fireworm Big Eelie. It draws its palette from the single feather flatwing of the same name found in Ken Abrames’ A Perfect Fish. The result is an explosion of bass-tempting pyrotechnics. Fish it on or around July 4th to celebrate Independence Day — or the fact that you’re out casting a fly to striped bass. Aw, heck. Fish it when ever you like. It is, after all, a free country.

The Olive Fireworm Big Eelie

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Hook: Eagle Claw 253 3/0
Thread: Black 6/0
Platform: 10 hairs each orange, yellow, and chartreuse bucktail, mixed
Tail: First, a red saddle; second, 4 strands copper Flashabou; third, an orange saddle; fourth, a gray saddle; fifth, an olive saddle. (All saddles pencil thin.)
Body: Chartreuse braid
Collar: Hot orange marabou, tied in at the tip, 2-3 turns

 

 

Farmington River Report 6/26/18: Subsurface Success

Chris wanted to work on his subsurface game, so we spent the morning nymphing and swinging wets. Success! We fished three spots below the permanent TMA and found players in two of them.

We started off indicator nymphing (using my homebrew indicators) with a drop shot rig, and I continued my catching-a-fish-while-doing-a-demo streak. (If you want to look cool, pretend you meant to do it.) Chris took over and made a bunch of quality drifts with no love. All of a sudden, it happened. An unseen hatch was underway, the trout were feeding, and we hooked a bunch if fish in 15 minutes.

Wets were next. Run A was a blank, and Run B did not produce in the areas it usually does. No worries — Chris kept a positive attitude (confidence catches fish), and it rapid succession he stuck a bunch of trout tight to the bank. Great job, Chris! The trout should be worried.

We won the weather lottery: Bluebird skies, warm sun, cool air. Of course, a tight line makes any day sunnier.

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We spotted a distressed rainbow in the shallows. It had been hooked, lost, and had the terminal tackle and a short length of mono still attached. Unfortunately, we failed in out attempts to net it.

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Chris kept pounding the banks in a shade line, mended swing presentation, and was rewarded with several slashing strikes. This gorgeous wild brown took the top dropper on his team of three wets, a Squirrel and Ginger.

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After our session, I spent two very entertaining hours swinging wets. I fished a Squirrel & Ginger (caddis) on top, a Drowned Ant middle dropper, and a Light Cahill on point. I saw all three insects out and about, as well as tiny BWOs, midges, inch worms, and sedges. Among the players today were three wild brookies. Funny thing! They all took the Drowned Ant. I don’t think it was a coincidence. This stunner is clearly from the Farmington River hatchery.

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Another hat trick today, thankfully without a broken rod. This low-teens wild brown was feeding just along a shade line in about a foot of water. First cast, bang! Squirrel and Ginger. Catch-and-release works in the wild, too — note the long-ago healed bird wound just above the gill plate. I bounced around to three spots, found hungry fish in all of them, and lost track of both time and fish landed.

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