Slight change in plans for the CFFA Expo this Saturday

I just learned that UpCountry Sportfishing had to pull out of the show; I’m still going to tie, but obviously not at their table. I had planned on focusing solely on wet flies for trout, but I’ll probably do a little saltwater, too. You can find me on Tyers Row.

Also, due to some prior commitments, I won’t be able to tie the whole time. Figure something like 9am to 1pm-ish. Hope to see some of my local followers there.

The CFFA Expo is held at Maneeley’s, 65 Rye Street, South Windsor, CT, 2/1/14.

The Un-Dead of Winter

One from the archives. I wrote this several years ago to remind myself that Pete Seeger was right. Not to mention Paul.

The Un-Dead of Winter

By Steve Culton

© 2009. All rights reserved.

I was heading out of the office on a freezing January afternoon when the receptionist, noticing how I was dressed, asked me if I was going fishing. I told her yes, and she responded with an incredulous, “In the dead of winter?!?”

I smiled in affirmation, but on the way to the stream, her words got me thinking about the bum rap winter takes when it comes to natural rhythms  — and angling — especially if you plan on forsaking the homey comfort of the ice fishing hut in favor of wading. The reality is, fall is when things die. Winter is when life begins. And it truly is a wonderland, alive and well and overflowing with vitality.

Step into your backyard or some nearby woods. The trees and bushes are already covered with buds, nature’s amazing automated leaf and flower systems, full of life (in the dead of winter!) and waiting for the warmth of spring to pop. As I write this, the mercury is well below freezing, yet my forsythia is as green as a springtime lawn, stems so bud-laden I can only imagine the yellow riot that awaits me in April. Mountain laurel and rhododendrons proudly display the evergreen banner, and from my window I can see a cardinal and his mate searching for seeds in the compacted snow.

An exquisitely parr-marked Farmington River brown. Even on a cold January afternoon, she was more than happy to chase a swung fly.

Image

Even on the small stream I was fishing the day our receptionist questioned my sanity, there was life in the air and beneath the water. Though the high never made it past 30 degrees, size 14 charcoal grey midges flitted about. Wild trout were holding low on the river bottom, ready to gobble any food that came tumbling along. It started to snow, and as my cigar smoke drifted slowly into the windless air, creating a tapestry with the chunky flakes, I felt as alive and happy as I would be sipping lemonade a warm July afternoon.

A few weeks later, I was fishing a salt estuary in Rhode Island. The temperature had plummeted into the low twenties, and a bitter west wind tormented the exposed skin on my face. Yet, there were snails and grass shrimp and, as this was the new moon, perhaps even clam worms doing what they always do: living. (The stripers, sadly, were living somewhere out of casting range.)

What mysteries remain uncovered along the frozen banks of our rivers and shores? You don’t know if you don’t go.

Image

I used to view winter as a time to store the rods and gear and prepare for the reawakening rituals of spring. No longer. I’m out on our streams and rivers and in the salt, almost always gloriously alone, left to my thoughts, the wonders both seen and unseen, and the bounty of life that reminds me spring is on the way.

Farmington River report 1/17/14

Today was a pretty darn nice day for January, and there was no shortage of anglers taking advantage of the last of the thaw. Plenty of vehicles in Greenwoods, Woodshop, along Church Pool, and in the lot. The upper TMA was running about 550cfs, clear, and in the low thirties. High air temp was low forties (no ice on the guides — huzzah!), abundant sunshine, and a good southerly breeze that kept most of the dry fly anglers away. Not much to write about in the way of hatch activity. I nymphed from 11:30am to 1:00pm under an indicator, and the trout preferred the smaller of my two flies, a size 22 (really an 18, 2x short) soft-hackled BHPT. Always a happy moment, landing your first Farmington River brown of the year — or for that matter, landing a trout in January. An angler below me  also did well on small nymphs. Switched over to streamers and ventured to some different water, but could find no takers, though I did speak to another angler (Colin — pleased to meet you) who told me he had gotten into two trout on streamers. The cold is coming, so get out while you can.

Remnants from the last ice age — about two weeks ago.

Image

January thaw on a small stream

I broke one of my cardinal rules today: never go into the woods if you’ve recently watched Deliverance.  There were no mountain men bent on buggery — and sadly, precious few bugs. I was hoping a near 50-degree day and some sunshine would trigger a hatch, but all I saw was one lonely grey big midge/small stonefly thingy flitting over the water. Although the creek was up due to yesterday’s rains, the water had cleared nicely by the time I threw my first cast, around 1pm.

I did the upstream dry thing, then the downstream subsurface thing. No takers on the dry. I wasn’t surprised, given the height of the water and its temperature. (I forgot my thermometer, but I experienced the sting when I had to go up to my elbow to liberate a fly from the bottom.)

A satellite image of the Chesapeake Bay’s frozen tributaries. Well, it could be.

Image

More fun with photography. See if you can find the duck’s head and the hawk’s head.

Image

My only strike of the day came on a downstream presentation with a weighted wet/streamer. A fine brown hen, long and lean, a good size for a brook this small. She was hiding in a deep pool that courses between two boulders. One touch was all I needed, and releasing her was almost as gratifying as catching her.

Your first trout of the year should be a memorable one. What a staggering array of colors on her gill plate. Also note the blemish on her nose. I couldn’t tell if it was an old wound or just a cosmetic oddity. I had not caught her before today.

Image

The winning fly. I like to fish small hybrid wet/streamers with tungsten heads on small streams. It’s a simple fly, easy to tie, and it uses a mix of natural and synthetic materials: A copper tungsten head, some weighted wire on the hook shank, black Krystal Flash tail, black Ice Dub body, palmered then hackled with grizzly hen. This fly is unnamed. (For you detail-oriented folks, that’s not ice. It’s a big chunk of stream side quartz.)

Image

Wet Fly Tying Demo at the CFFA Expo

I will be tying wet flies at the UpCountry Sportfishing table at the CFFA Expo, Saturday, February 1. The event runs from 9am-3pm; unfortunately, due to some prior commitments, I won’t be able to tie the whole time. Figure something like 10am to 1pm-ish. Hope to see some of my local followers there.

Image

The CFFA Expo is held at Maneeley’s, 65 Rye Street, South Windsor, CT.

Steelhead streamer: The Grapefruithead Leech

The Grapefruithead Leech is the creation of steelhead guide Kevin Feenstra out of Michigan. I first saw this pattern a couple years ago in John Nagy’s Steelhead Guide. I remember thinking it was a horrible fly. You know, over-the-top, unapologetic, in-your-face, clearly inspired by the egg-sucking leech. I was thumbing through the book this past fall, looking for some ideas, and there it was again. Over the next few weeks, I kept coming back to it. It was kind of like drinking a new bottle of wine that you’re not sure you like; as you’re trying to decide, you realize the bottle’s nearly empty. So I tied some up for my November 2013 trip. Wouldn’t you know, I caught my first steelhead on the swing on this horrible, beautiful, wonderful fly. Feenstra says he likes this pattern whenever there’s snow on the ground. I can tell you that steelhead also like it near dusk on a snowless day, dangling in the current near the tailout of a shallow run.

The Grapefruithead Leech

Image

Hook: Daiichi 2461 or 3XL streamer hook, size 4-2/0
Tail: Black Marabou with sparse red flash
Body: Black marabou, palmered
Overbody:  Black or purple schlappen, palmered
Collar: Mallard flank, one turn
Flash: Green, silver, and blue flashabou
Head: Large fuchsia cactus chenille with a veil of chartreuse ice dub
~
Tying Notes: This fly looks huge out of the water; however, the lion’s share of the bulk comes from soft-hackled feathers, so it will slim down dramatically when wet. Before you tie the body, remember to leave enough space for the head. I left a good 1/3 of the shank. To make the body, first tie in a large blood marabou quill by the tip, and a schlappen feather by the tip. Palmer the marabou up the shank; leave enough space between wraps so that a single feather covers the shank. Be sure all the marabou fibers are floating freely. Wrapping the schlappen is the hardest part of tying the fly; take care to mat down as few of the marabou fibers as possible. I used a swaying, back-and-forth motion with the feather as I wrapped, and a bodkin to pick out the marabou when necessary. This fly has way more flash than I typically use in my ties, but subtlety not being its strong point, what the heck. I used 3-4 stands of each color, cut them in half, then tied them in one color at a time. Three turns of cactus chenille, then cover the head with a sparse veil of chartreuse ice dub. (Get it? It looks like a slice of grapefruit.)