Farmington River Report: Fishing under the Hendrickson hatch with wet flies

After’s Wednesday’s hatchstravaganza, I decided it was a moral imperative the go back to the Farmington on Thursday. Unfortunately, the time-space continuum prevented me from attempting another daily double. So I sacrificed a repeat of the morning caddis frenzy for Hendricksons in the afternoon.

Got to my spot at 1pm. Not a bug in sight, not a fish rising, but the Hendrickson hatch on the Farmington is like clockwork. Even though you don’t see anything on the surface of the river or in the air, there’s a lot going on down below. First cast, a mend across some current seams into a pocket, and bam! Just like that, we’re catching trout on Hendrickson wets.

Like yesterday, a good mix of stocker browns, chubby rainbows, and holdovers. This brown has been in the river for a while. It took me several attempts to hook him, but it was well worth the wait.

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The hatch was even stronger today, and as it picked up in intensity, it was harder to catch trout, I think because of the sheer number of bugs in the water. Unlike yesterday, where all you had to do was pick a rise and put your flies over it, there were a good half dozen trout today that I could not entice to strike, and another half dozen that took repeated attempts over the course of an hour. Fortunately, there were plenty of wanton gluttons willing to jump on. I caught trout on the dead drift, the greased line swing, and the dangle.

My rig was a Squirrel and Ginger caddis as the top dropper, a Dark Hendrickson winged wet as the second dropper, and another Hendrickson below it. As the hatched waned, I did see some caddis start to come off, and a few of my last fish took the S&G caddis.

And, like clockwork, it was over by 3:30. Water temp was 53 degrees.

Spectacular wet fly action on the Farmington River

“People tell me I’m the world’s greatest comedian. Ask me why people tell me I’m the world’s greatest comedian.”

“Why do people tell you –“

“Timing!”

Sometimes it’s like that with wet flies. Time the hatch just right, and you can look like the second coming of Joe Brooks. Legions of obliging trout and the right fly don’t hurt, either.

Such was my good fortune on Wednesday. The DEEP had recently stocked the upper TMA with several thousand trout. Armed with this intelligence, I met Todd Kuhrt and his brother in New Hartford, and we were on the water by 10:30am. We had won the April weather lottery, with blazing, brilliant sunshine and temperatures that were supposed to climb into the low 60s. I was rigged up for nymphing, so I wandered off to the head of a deep run while Todd and his brother set up shop a hundred yards downstream.

 A nice holdover brown taken on a Dark Hendrickson winged wet.

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Catching nothing when you’re expecting to bail fish is lesson in humility, and I took my licks for an hour. By the time had I worked my way down to Todd and Scott, I still hadn’t had a touch. They had each taken three on nymphs. The ignominy.

But, sometimes you must endure such hardships to reach Nirvana. I realized that what I really wanted to do on this glorious spring day was swing wet flies, smoke cigars, and relish the fact that I was blowing off all the work to do. So I swapped out my nymph rig for a team of three wets I had tied up the night before: a size 14 Partridge and Green dropper, a size 12 Squirrel and Ginger caddis in the middle, and a classic Hendrickson Dark on point. I had just finished nymphing a run, and now I made a quartering cast downstream. The trout hit just after the third mend. First cast. Wet fly. Squirrel and Ginger.

Life was good again.

It was about to get great.

For the previous fifteen minutes, I had been eyeballing some splashy rises about 50 yards downstream from me. Unfortunately, a spin angler had the area on lockdown. But now he was packing up his gear. I coiled my line in my hand and made a beeline for the trail along the river’s edge. This being a gentleman’s sport, it’s probably uncouth for a middle-aged man to race through the woods with his fly rod just to secure a fishing spot. But sometime we must toss propriety to the wind and indulge our inner barbarian.

 The fly of the morning, my Squirrel and Ginger caddis wet.

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The air was teeming was caddis, and the surface film was being punctured by the slashes of feeding trout. I couldn’t see any bugs on the water, so I figured the trout were taking emergers just below the surface. That’s the cool thing about newly stocked fish on the Farmington. They discover pretty quickly that those food pellets aren’t on the menu anymore. I picked out a rise, and made a cast. Bap! On the caddis emerger. In fact, the first eight trout I caught all picked that Squirrel and Ginger out of my lineup of three. I clipped off the Hendrickson and tied another caddis on. I soon had my first double.

Crazy kids. My first double of 2013.

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OK, so they were just dumb stockers. But, it’s hard to embrace self-loathing when you’re having so much fun. I waved Todd and his brother down so they could get in on the caddis orgy that was – hard to believe – building in intensity. I can’t say it was a fish on every cast. But I also can’t remember too many drifts that didn’t draw a strike. All you had to do was look for a rise, then swing your fly over it.

It would have been unfair to expect a repeat on the lower TMA. I really just wanted to see if the Hendrickson hatch was in full swing. Turns out that it was. We got to our target pool around 2:00pm. Same intense, splashy rises, and the air thick with windblown Hendrickson duns. Same drill, too: find a rise. Swing your fly over it. Come tight to the take that was sure to follow. Unfortunately, Todd and his brother had to leave at the height of the action, but I stuck it out for another 45 minutes until the hatch wound down. Upstream, it had been all stocked browns; here, the fish were bigger, with a substantial number of fat rainbows and a few big holdover browns in the bargain.

 Ending on a high note: the best fish of the day was my last, this chubby holdover brown hen. 

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That night, I noticed a little sunburn on my hands. My arm was pretty sore, too. Life’s tough, you know?

A tale of two five-weights

All five weights are not created equal. I should know. I’ve got four of them. You may ask why I need four of the same rod. The answer is that while they’re all five-weights in name, they could not be more different. Each is a specialist in its field. The two I want to talk about here are my 6’ Fenwick glass rod and my 9’ TFO TiCr.

This all started with a steelhead trip I had planned with my ten year-old. We had to cancel due to weather, and we were were both a little bummed about it. But I told Cam that since we weren’t making the drive to Pulaski, we could spend the day fishing closer to home. I gave him options: trout on the Farmington, stripers on the Hous, or wild brook trout over the hills and far away. Cam decided on brookies. I thought that was a fine choice.

I’ve had the Fenwick for many years now. It’s a sweet 2-½ ounce stick that flexes down to the handle. A five-weight line works just fine on it, and like bamboo it’s an exceptionally easy rod to cast. Cam told me he wanted to do a little more of his own fly casting this year, and this would be a good starter setup for him. Unfortunately, the first stream we hit was turbid with runoff. So we hopped in the truck and took a little drive north. The second stream was in fine fettle, medium high, and clear as an aquarium.

 It took us several tries to hook this fish. She kept whacking the microbugger, but we couldn’t seem to get a good hookset. Classic haloes and Fontinalis fin.

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Cam got to work with on the surface with a size 14 Improved Sofa Pillow, but we had no takers, even over some confidence-is-high pools and runs. Undeterred, I tied on a blackish micro-bugger with a chartreuse bead head. That did the trick. Whereas the brookies were bashful about showing themselves on the surface, they were more than happy to nip and tug as soon as the fly settled beneath the surface. We landed four nice brook trout with glowing blue haloes and dropped a bunch more. It was a tired and hungry but happy hike out of the mid-April woods.

Eight hours later, I was swinging flatwings for stripers with my TFO TiCr five-weight. Where the Fenwick is a flexible birch sapling, the TFO is one of those redwoods you could drive your car through. I mate this rod with a 9-weight Rio Outbound floating line, and even with that night’s ten mile-per-hour crosswind, casting an eight inch fly was effortless – provided I found that sweet spot where the shooting head met the running line. Not easy on a moonless night.

I was mostly greased-line swinging, my favorite presentation with bigger flatwings. Sometimes the takes are nearly subliminal – instead of a tug, you feel a minute change in pressure that exponentially accelerates into mayhem. On this night it was different. The fish were taking the fly moments after I had completed my mends (I was fishing a narrows that only allowed two) and the takes were an adrenaline-produced amalgam of pull, boil, and surface thrash. I took three stripers on the greased-line swing; two of them in the double-digits pound class.

 31″ of pure pleasure on the five-weight. She fell for my Rock Island flatwing, tied about 8″ long.

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Both of those larger fish were quickly played and landed. Both tried to run upstream when I attempted to coax them onto the sandbar I was standing on, and the side pressure I applied with the butt of the rod easily dissuaded both.

Miss Cow never showed up. But she’s out there, somewhere. And one night, on a moon tide, she and I and one of my trusty five-weights are going to go for one hell of a ride.

Guten tag cows mit der Herr Blue flatwing

It’s getting to be that time of year: herring moving upriver with plenty of cow bass along for the ride…or at least a meal or twenty. A floating line, a greased line swing, a Herr Blue flatwing swimming broadside or just hanging there, hackles undulating in the current — I can almost feel the sensation of the strike.

To the fly: my nine-feather flatwing translation of the R.L.S. Herr Blue bucktail, tied about 11 inches long. I really like the colors on this one.

The Herr Blue Flatwing, nearly a foot long.

Hook: Eagle Claw 253 4/0
Thread: White
Platform: Ginger bucktail
Pillow: White
Support: White neck hackle
Body: Silver braid
Tail: 2 white saddles under 1 pink saddle under 2 strands pearl flash under 1 violet saddle under 2 strands silver flash under 1 pink saddle under 1 blue saddle under 2 strands light green flash under 1 orange saddle under 2 strands purple flash under 1 olive saddle under 1 blue saddle.
Collar: White and ginger bucktail, mixed
Wing: 20 hairs dark blue bucktail, 15 hairs olive green, 15 hairs grey, 15 hairs orange, mixed.
Cheeks: 3 hairs each of orange, chartreuse, pink, turquoise bucktail, mixed
Topping: 7 strands peacock herl
Eyes: Jungle cock

A closer look:

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And a proven performer. Not quite a cow, but easily into double-digit pounds. The fly is same as the one in the top picture. This striper was taken last spring on a greased-line swing.

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Steve Culton

Becoming an instant expert

I stole that phrase from Grady Allen, who used it to describe fishing on the Farmington after the stocking trucks had done their work. For a shining hour or two, it’s a fish on every cast. You can do no wrong. You savant, you.

It’s kind of the same with early season stripers. The water temp shoots up 10-15 degrees in the course of a month. The fish are on the move. And they’re hungry. All you need to do to catch bass is find them and put a fly in their area code. Find a big enough school, and your arm can get tired right quick. And the thumb on your landing hand looks like someone took a belt sander to it.

Like casting to freshly stocked trout, the fishing isn’t very technical. But for the first few trips, Lord is it fun.

Friend Todd with one of his 400,000 stripers. Dusk can be a magic time.

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Six of us ventured out to an old stomping ground to catch the bottom of the tide, which conveniently fell at dusk. We quickly found stripers, and the fishing was stupid good for several hours. I was using my 10 and 1/2-foot switch rod with a floating line and a 4-foot T-11 tip. Fly selection was irrelevant. I fished a Ray’s Fly-like bucktail till it was ground to kibble and a September Night. Everyone else used their own favorites. I caught them on the strip, the swing, and the dangle. Wonderfully easy to please, this lot. The only negative was a 10-15mph wind out of the northwest. But that’s the price of admission along the shore, isn’t it?

My original plan was to fish until full ebb, then seek my striper pleasures elsewhere. But the wind had picked up. And I had had my fill.

Besides, It’s good to go out on top.

Turning Gray-Green Water Into Red Wine

There was nothing miraculous about it. I simply switched liquids. Let me explain.

I had an invite to a casual gentlemen’s (gentlemen being used in only the broadest terms) dinner at my brother-in-law’s Friday night. He was baching it for the weekend, and a few of us were gathering to enjoy the pleasures of food and wine. Since Ye Olde Striper Spot was on the way, I figured I’ve give it an hour before I made my way to Kevin’s house.

A cold front had moved through, bringing with it torrential rains and a biting easterly wind. The water was the aforementioned colors, stained, high, and chopped to pieces by the broadside gusts. To make a long story short, I saw one striper landed in 55 minutes of fishing, and that by a spin angler who was bombing casts a ‘way out there.

So, I decided, if I cannot catch stripers this evening, I shall now drink spectacular wine.

First, you need a brief introduction to Kevin. Kevin is passionate about wine the way I’m passionate about fishing. Which is to say it rules his life. I am likewise vino-infected, but only fractionally compared to Kevin. He has a stupid good wine cellar, and the only thing Kevin loves more than his wines is sharing them. Luckily, I am on the A-List.

The first wine we made love to was a 1999 Opus One. I certainly can’t afford it, but it is opulence in a bottle. If you’ve had it, my next sentence will blow you away: It was my least favorite wine of the evening. Of course, that’s like saying Giselle Bundchen isn’t as attractive as Brooklyn Decker. It’s all a matter of personal taste.

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Next on the decadence docket was a 1997 Niebaum-Coppola (yes, as in Francis Ford) Rubicon. Utterly spectacular. We all thought that there was just a little more there-there than the Opus. Sorry, Bob and Phillipe.

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I have to tell you at this point that I make a Tuscan-style steak that most definitely doesn’t suck. How much does it not suck? One of the guests had told Kevin that he wasn’t coming unless I was going to be manning the grill. (Isn’t that right, Joe?) It’s a simple combination of NY strip and flame and garlic and salt and pepper and olive oil and fresh rosemary and lemon juice. The wine we drank with it was a 2001 Fontodi Flaccianello. Wine Spectator only gave this bottle a 97 — churls — but if there is a more perfect bottle-to-food pairing, I have yet to experience it. The bite of the lemon and the rosemary and the texture of the beef melt seamlessly into the wine as it fills your mouth. I have goose bumps just thinking about it now. Absolutely stunning wine. My favorite of the evening.

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Last but not least, a humble little 1998 Ornellaia to go with our pasta and sausage and veal. Since I can’t afford this bottle either, it was wonderful to create the illusion between sips that I was independently wealthy and dining in a private little restaurant in Bolgheri.

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I don’t recommend that you drink several glasses of fine red wine and then go fishing. But the other way around — now that’s something I can heartily endorse.

Industrial-Strength Wild Browns

Not all trout streams are created equal. There may have been a time when this one could have been called pristine. But that was a good industrial revolution and dozens of deserted factories ago.

This river may have hit every branch on its way down the ugly tree, but it is not without its charms. If you can get past the cinder blocks, broken glass, and discarded aluminum siding, you’ll find ducks. Plenty of invertebrate life. And wild brown trout.

Just look at those pecs. Someone’s been working out. My best fish of the day.

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I had originally planned to go striper fishing today, but unfavorable reports, unavailable cohorts, and a nasty south wind put that idea to rest. Still, I needed to fish. So I decided to head over to a Class 1 WTMA. Before this past March, I hadn’t fished this stream in years. Buoyed by my success 10 days I ago, I thought I would explore it a little further.

Nothing says “wild trout” like urban factory blight. You could hit this building from the stream with a good enough cast.

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Second cast, and I was into the fish pictured above. Today’s fly was a white beadhead min-bugger, and this lovely brown clobbered it on the downstream strip. It’s funny how you find fish in the same sections of river over the years. This one was sitting in — where else? — a current seam. I took a few more smaller fish in parts below, then headed up to another section.

I find that old heater hose gives any fly fishing experience that romantic je ne sais quoi. Don’t you?

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That was a mistake. Most of the river was densely overgrown with saplings that made even roll casting impossible. The bottom was covered with fly-eating branches and in one pool, some kind of evil magnetic-to-tungsten bead flies metal grate.  By the third snagging encounter, I decided to pack it in.

I did notice that the suckers were in for spawning. There was also a strong midge hatch. Most of all, there were gloriously-colored wild browns, alive and well in living in their own little version of paradise.

Beauty truly comes from within.