Farmington River report 5/30/14: Persistence pays off

Despite two strong caddis hatches, yesterday was a slow day on the Farmington River for swinging wets. I guided Jerry and Steve, and both of them did a great job presenting their wares over likely holding water. We fished hard and long, but in the end, the trout just weren’t in the mood to play. On a positive note, both guys got into trout, and the weatherman totally kicked the forecast (“numerous rain showers/thunderstorms, heavy at times” — it was sunny most of the day, and we had only one five minute-long sprinkle). Water was running cold (about 50 degrees) and 482cfs in the upper TMA. In addition to the caddis, we saw some size 16 BWOs, charcoal and cream midges, and one big honkin’ stonefly.

Stream-side meadow wildflowers, 11:30am

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Late afternoon, we saw a trout rise in about two feet of water. Steve put some casts over him, and a few minutes later he was playing tug-of-war.

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Steve’s co-conspirator, a halo-spotted wild brown. He took a size 10 soft-hackled bead head Pheasant Tail.

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Walking through the woods carrying a stick

A bit of a late start this morning. At 10:15am I was making haste into the woods through a phalanx of poison ivy. It was already sweltering, even below the canopy. Midges swarmed me. But I only had one cigar, a short robusto, and it would have to wait. The game plan was upstream dry, then downstream wet. In addition to the aforementioned midges, there were little black stones, some creamy mayflies, and (always) regrettably, mosquitos. Summer can’t be far off, for the sulphus had also made an appearance; I saw two spinners captured in spider webs. While the air was steamy, the brook was cool 61 degrees and running at an ideal height.

Never eat anything bigger than your head. This little guy made seven attempts at the fly before succeeding on the eighth.

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Today’s dry was a size 16 Improved Sofa Pillow, and after a slow start, the brookies began to show themselves in earnest. Pricked far more than I landed, but that was just fine with me. Mostly smaller fish in the mix, although I did land a titan of a wild brown. As usual, there were a few runs were I had no takes on the dry that left me scratching my head. I made note of those pools for the return trip. Halfway up the stream, I decided my patience with the nuisance gnats was at an end. Wonderful thing, a cigar. You introduce its tip to flame, and the entire universe of winged insects ignores you.

Why a small piece of fluorescent green chenille tied to a hook works so well on a small stream. Dozens of these dangling from trees everywhere.

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On the way back downstream, I didn’t do as well subsurface as I thought I would. But I still managed to get into plenty of char. Three hours was about all I had in my tank (today’s word should have been “hydration”) so I called it at 1:15pm. A shower beckoned. Besides, I needed to try out that poison ivy soap my wife put in my stocking last Christmas.

This breathtaking wild brown absolutely hammered the dry. She was so powerful she momentarily put herself on the reel, peeling off a foot of line into the bargain. 

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The sulphur hatch has started. This spinner was still squirming in the web when I walked by.

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I spent a good chunk of time yesterday planting hydrangeas, amending the soil, taking out all manner of rocks and pebbles so my shrubs would have a nice home. What a kick in the groin to find plants growing green and strong on top of boulders. This gives new meaning to the phrase “rock garden.” Once again, nature finds a way.

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The White Mini-Bugger

This time of year I redouble my efforts to visit small streams. The canopy is in full, providing cover and shade for bashful trout. Water temperatures remain moderate (especially after a cool, rainy spring like this year’s). Food sources are plentiful.

I don’t always manage to get out as much as I’d like, but small stream dreaming has me thinking about one of my favorite flies for wild trout, the White Mini-Bugger. Oh, it’s a Woolly Bugger alright. But I’ve made several strategic changes to the classic template. For starters, it’s just smaller, the easier to be eaten by trout measured in inches. The tail is shorter and sparser, which cuts down on nips away from the hook point. The hackle and collar is soft hen, which flows and breathes. With a tungsten head and wire underbody, this fly sinks like a stone, causing it to rise and fall like a jig when you strip it. If the light is right, you can clearly see this fly even in a deep plunge pool. Try not to laugh when you watch the shadowy marauders surround and pummel the fly as you work it through the depths.

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White Mini-Bugger
Hook: TMC 5262 10-12
Thread: White 6/0
Bead: Copper tungsten, seated with weighted wire
Tail: Short marabou wisps over pearl Krystal flash
Body: Small fluorescent white chenille, ribbed with pearl flash, palmered with soft white hen
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Tying notes: Of course, you can tie the Mini Bugger in any color your heart desires. I tend to be boring, so I mostly stick to white and black/grizzly. Same deal with beads: I have a thang for copper. (Thinking of tying some of these up in black with a copper bead for Salmon River steelhead? You should. It works. And with a chartreuse bead. And orange. And…) The shorter, sparser tail has absolutely increased my hookup percentage. To form the tail, I use a single piece of Krystal Flash, and double it/cut it multiple times to get a 16-strand tail. The body hackle is Whiting hen neck, the same I use for standard-issue wet flies. Tie the feather in by the tip, and if you have enough hackle after winding the body, try to form a collar.
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The White Mini-Bugger Rogues’ Gallery:
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Farmington River under attack — again. Save Satan’s Kingdom!

Last year it was the jolly old yo-ho-ho University of Connecticut that wanted to divert millions of gallons of water from the reservoir.

Now, it’s a planned industrial park on the banks of the Farmington in the Satan’s Kingdom area. Here’s what I know: the proposed property borders a 2000-foot stretch of the river in Satan’s Kingdom Gorge. Even though the area holds a Wild and Scenic designation, the required setback is only 100 feet.

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How can you help?

1) Go to the New Hartford Zoning Commission meeting at the New Hartford Town Hall on Wednesday, May 28, 7:00pm and tell them we don’t need no steenking industrial park.

2) Like this group on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/savesatanskingdom

We kicked UConn’s butt last year. We can do the same with this threat. Grassroots activism works!

Sunrise on a misty summer morning in the gorge. Do I really need to see an industrial park peeking through the trees?

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A kilo of salmon, please

Last week, I was guiding two clients on the upper TMA of the Farmington River when the bucket brigade swooped in. Not meat farmers — at least not in the harvesting sense — but rather, sowers. Their crop: Atlantic salmon fry. Love them (food for big browns) or hate them (annoying beasts that nip at your fly ad nauseum), Atlantic Salmon have been a part of the Farmington River watershed for years.

 Never-ending ringed walls and two alien beings peering in from above. Soon you’ll be free! Each bucket holds one kilo of fry.

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A closer look at the biomass. Will they lead prosperous lives and make it out to the sound? Or will they become so many croquettes for Mr. Lunker Brown?

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“We can’t catch a break.”

This just in from Farmington River Anglers Association president Drew Butler: “Sorry guys, but I just received word they are bumping the release from the dam back up to 500 from the current 330 cfs level. Combined with the slowly dropping Still River the total flows through the upper TMA will be back over 800 again. We can’t catch a break lately. I was kayaking on Hogsback Reservoir on Sat and you would not believe the amount of water coming directly into the reservoir from the surrounding hills.”

(This is where we join in a rather large collective sigh.)

Tying flies in the noon day sun

So I pulled up to the pavilion at Mathies Grove around 9am and no one’s there. Except the lone sentinel in her sand chair who informed me that she was saving it for the softball players. Say what? I looked northward, and there was the Spey Clave in the field. I hadn’t planned on tying in the sun — I was wearing a long sleeve rugby shirt — but as the father of a Marine, I know that you adapt, overcome, and improvise. A few volunteers later, we were lugging a picnic table 150 yards across a field, and there I was, all set up and ready to tie.

Several thank yous are in order. Thanks to everyone who stopped by to chat, watch, and ask questions. The old faces were comforting, and the new ones a pleasure to meet. Thanks to Ben Bilello for tying such beautiful salmon flies. Thanks to Mother Nature for making the sun warm and the air cool. Thanks to Scott from the Compleat Angler for grilling up a storm (that burger hit the spot). And thanks to Fred and Jerry from Spey Casting North East for hosting me. (I’ll give them a from-the-heart — and head — plug: if you are interested in two-handed casting, you will not meet a nicer, welcoming, experienced team of instructors. Brilliant, both of them.)

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