Cheeseburger after paradise

There are 365 or so days every year when you can fish the Farmington. I manage, on a good year, to do it about 40 times. But of all those days, none is more important than July 21.

I’ve made a pilgrimage to the Farmington on that day for four consecutive years now. It’s not by accident. July 21 is the day the Summer Stenos come out. Whether they appear earlier or later isn’t important; the Stenonema have their schedule, and I have mine. There’s a certain place I go to greet them, and since it’s an evening hatch, a certain time I like to be there. Admittedly, I have an unhealthy relationship with Summer Stenos. At times I hold them in starry-eyed adoration. Others, I view them with extreme disgust and intolerance. No other hatch on the Farmington so charms me that I have the date burned into my mental calendar months in advance. No other hatch baffles me with its rise-to-hookup ratio that frequently exceeds 10:1 – even though I’ve found the perfect fly for fooling the trout.

On Sunday night I got my first three trout of the year on Summer Stenos. But first, there was some swinging to be done.

I hadn’t fished with Jon in almost two months, and for our reunion outing we agreed that wet flies and riffly pocket water were in order. At 630cfs the run was quite wadeable. Jon took the first fish, a smallmouth bass, but after 45 minutes all we had to show for our efforts was a couple of juvenile Atlantic salmon. While it’s nearly impossible to get down on the bite when you’re swinging wets with an old friend on a delightful sunny day in July, I suggested we move to another spot, upstream. I guaranteed Jon he’d catch a trout there.

Such predictions are a minefield. I had second thoughts about opening my big mouth from the time we piled into our vehicles until he took his first trout a half-hour later. I was still swinging wets, working below Jon, while he had switched over to short-line nymphing. Just as my three-fly team made the transition from swing to dangle, I felt a herky-jerky tug. The fish made two quick micro-runs, peeling a small amount of line off the reel. I thought nothing of it at the time, as the take came in the heaviest section of current. No need to get this fish on the reel.

A big ol’ wild Farmington brown. These fish with a scarcity of spots are intriguing. Check out that tummy. Someone’s been eating well. He took a size 14 Drowned Ant soft-hackle.

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Each fight has the potential for comedy, drama, or tragedy – sometimes all three – but this one quickly declared itself a drama. The trout is usually a good one when you never see it during the encounter. Big fish have a way of hugging the bottom and using the current against you. By the time I had negotiated the trout into calmer waters, I could see that I had underestimated its size. A wild brown with an odd scarcity of spots and, despite his length, only the suggestion of the beginning of a kype.

How can you tell that you should buy a lottery ticket that day? You’re just standing in the water, savoring the moment, line dangling harmlessly beneath you, and you hook another trout. Moments later, a Cedar Waxwing lands on your rod as you hold it over the water like some conjurer’s wand. He waits there. Eyeballs you. Looks as if he’s about flee. Then stays long enough for you to call out to your friend to be your witness.

This rainbow looks like it’s been in the river a while. Jon took him short-line nymphing not too far from where he was standing.

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But, lest you think we have forgotten about the Summer Stenos, rest assured. We have not.

Shortly before 7pm, we were wading into a pool where friend Todd was already fishing. Jon spotted a trout rising against the far bank. Since I was already rigged for dry, he suggested I have a go at it. As I began my false casting, Jon predicted that I would stick him on the first drift. I was thinking the same thing almost as he said the words. After all, it was a day where I could do no wrong. But, after my sixth cast, we agreed I had most expertly put the trout down. There’s nothing like fly fishing to keep a man grounded.

While the hatch hadn’t gained any steam, there were a few trout feeding sporadically on the edge of a pocket. The current seam they were rising in demanded a precision cast perilously close to an obstruction. Then a rapid series of mends to keep the fly from looking like it was on the Scrambler carnival ride. I saw a few size 18 creamy mayflies come off, and switched over to my Pale Watery wingless wet variant that I fish as a dry. With a twelve-foot leader that tapers down to 6x, the line hits the water well before the fly. I was beginning to mend even as the fly was slowly settling onto the surface.

I rose trout several times, but came away with nothing but air. Then, in a glassy plate of water three feet from the shore, I saw another active feeder. This trout obliged on the first cast. A fine Farmington brown, probably not stocked. My first Summer Steno trout of the year. July 21st. The universe is in balance. A half hour later, another beauty, lower in the pool, again on the first cast.

Time races when you’re dry fly fishing. Probably because you’re so keenly attuned to the rhythm of the rises, and the limited opportunities presented by a waning hatch. Evenings, there’s also the looming specter of darkness. Can’t see your fly, can’t dry fly fish. Or at least, not easily. Dusk was just crossing the no-man’s-land into night when I hooked my last trout. I had been repeatedly casting to a small riser – or so I thought. The splashy feeding tells were slight enough to suggest a juvenile salmon. But like that big brown, I underestimated the size of this brute, a well filled out rainbow that ignored several entreaties to come to net.

A good day on the river longs for a happy ending. So I am pleased to report that if you leave the Upper TMA, waders off, rod broken down, gear stored, by 9:20, you can make it to Five Guys in Farmington before their 10pm closing. With several minutes to spare.

4 comments on “Cheeseburger after paradise

  1. Jon says:

    A lovely day, well told. It reminds me of a few random things: that my first fly-caught Atlantic salmon rose to a tiny Thunder & Lightning as if it were a 6oz brown (she was c. 12lb, I was surprised); the Farmington River turns purple at about 7.30pm in summer, and this is well worth being present for; that Cedar Waxwings are cool; that wild brown trout are still rare in the Farmington, and caution (and pectoral fins in this case) errs towards the stockie; that your short-line nymphing is what I know to be wet fly fishing (and thus, diversity is the spice); and that I wouldn’t know a steno from a silverside!

    It was nice to fish the old way again. Doing so has more resonance now, somehow.

    Cheers — Jonny

  2. Steve Culton says:

    That was a “Ten Best” fishing day. Great to re-connect and swing wets in splendid solitude. What’s more, beyond old friends, the company of a good cigar is always welcomed. Well done you, on all your fish.

  3. metiefly says:

    Sweet storytelling and what results! You are fortunate to have so many species all in the same river… It’s like a pick n mix of opportunities for adventure. Glad I discovered your site – metiefly.

  4. Steve Culton says:

    I’m glad you did, too. Your enthusiasm is positively refreshing.

    The Farmington is a great place. Then again, so is Five Guys.

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