Housatonic Mini Report 10/29/14: More fun with streamers

After last week’s rains placed her flows into the thousands, the Hous TMA was down to a very wadeable 988cfs. The water, however, still had a moderate stain, and it was noticeably colder than last week. Cloudy conditions with a bit of a breeze. Fished a floating line with a seven-foot leader. I tied up a yellow and white marabou articulated streamer the night before in the hopes that it would discourage the smaller fish from jumping on. That kind of worked. I still had plenty of bumps, but the foot-long fish weren’t making it much past the initial strike stage. I did manage several some-teen-inch fat rainbows that kept me entertained with their cartwheels. In the higher flows, even a mid-teens fish felt substantial. I bounced around to five different name pools, and I had action in four of them. Getting stoked for a steelhead on a streamer next month.

Fat, aggressive, and obstreperous. Just the way I like my rainbows.

Housy Rainbow 1

Do I have something on my lip? I had confidence this streamer would work, but it’s nice to get approval from the target audience focus group.

Housy Rainbow 2

Small Stream Mini Report 10/24/14

A fairly gloomy type of day with drizzle, heavy mist, and fog-covered mountaintops — also known as breathtakingly beautiful. The drive was long, the woods and water chilly, and the creek was up and slightly stained from the recent rains.

The brookies were hunkered down today. I could tell right away that the dry would be unproductive, but I gave the Improved Sofa Pillow and the Bomber a fair shake. After pricking several and landing a couple, I switched to subsurface. That made all the difference. Weighted micro buggers and bead head soft-hackles in both dark and light colors met with approval.

Mountaintop shrouded in mystery. What secrets would her brooks reveal?

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I wouldn’t say it was a banner day, but one thing’s for sure: three hours on a remote mountain stream beats the tar out of sitting at one’s desk. Especially if there’s a Rocky Patel The Edge Corona Gorda in the mix.

Van Gogh’s “Starry Night” vividly rendered on Salvelinus fontinalis flank.

Van Gogh 2

Housatonic Streamer Report: Party Like It’s 1986

I can still remember that October day almost thirty years ago. I had just been let go from my first job, and since I was still living at home (opportunity), I decided to fish my brains out before my parents starting bugging me (motive) about acting like a responsible young adult. One of my adventures took me to the Hous. It was sunny. The flows were perfect. And I had two containers of mealworms and a can of corn to impale on my Eagle Claw snelled hooks. This was at a point in my fishing life where counting fish was critical to defining success. (Idiot.) The final tally was seventeen trout. I couldn’t wait to get home and brag to my father.

These days, the upper Housatonic doesn’t get nearly as much attention from me as it should. Even today, I only managed two-and-a-half hours. But, oh my goodness, what an amazing little session.

The plan was streamers. Last night I tied up a couple old favorites, soft-hackled versions of the classic Black Ghost and Mickey Finn on #6, 3x long streamer hooks. Since I would be fishing with a floating line, I added a large black brass cone head, seated with weighted wire. Ten minutes in, I still hadn’t had a bump. What was a spotty sprinkle hard turned into a steady rain. I was thinking this might not be my day.

Wrong. Once I moved out of the shallows (I still don’t know the river as well as I’d like) and started delivering the Black Ghost into some deeper runs, the hits began in earnest. They took the streamer on the swing. The dangle. And the strip. Sometimes they’d swipe, miss, and come back for more.

After a half-dozen or so, I switched over to the Mickey Finn. Boom! What a pig of a rainbow. Most of the customers were cookie cutter foot-long rainbows, but this wannabe steelhead went on the reel almost immediately. A few of the rainbows today had those telltale wide pink bands, large intact fins, and the disposition of a feral cat. I really wanted that gator brown, but these fish were keeping me well-entertained. I looked at my watch. Two hours in. I had no idea how many fish I had done battle with.

On the way out, I stopped at one of the name pools to watch another angler cast to rising fish. I only stayed for five minutes. Dozens of trout were feeding in a gentle foam line, sipping tiny BWOs.

When I got into my Jeep, the gas gauge said almost empty.

Bullshit. My tank was full.

Long before I started fly fishing, I knew the Mickey Finn was an effective streamer for fall trout on the Hous. While I’ve made a few changes in materials for my soft-hackled version, the color scheme is the same. Yup. Red and yellow and silver and black are tasty.

10:14 Housy Raindow

Return of the Good Night For The Five Weight

Some day, I’ll have to tell you about the two nights in October many years ago when I caught seventy-five striped bass on the five-weight. But for Friday night, one was the number I happily settled for. It’s been a tough fall for me, with many hours put in for very few stripers. Such is the price of exploring uncharted potential big bass waters.

So Friday night I returned to some old haunts in Rhode Island. Even on the inside, a steady 15mph southwest blow made casting a chore. The first place I fished was a blank. I wasn’t feeling it from the start. So I went back to the truck for for Plan B, swapping out my three-fly rig for a single fly, a Crazy Menhaden flatwing/bucktail hybrid.

I spooked a bass on the wade out, so that was encouraging. Inside of five minutes, I had a follow and a missed hook set. Also encouraging. Then nothing during a half hour of casting, mending, swinging, and dangling. Weeds were a minor nuisance. Suddenly, bang. I was on. A twenty-four inch bass in a ripping current on a five-weight is about as much fun as you can have wearing nylon pants and rubber boots. If this were a Hardy Boys book, I’d say I chortled.

The last stop was anticlimactic. How far the mighty have fallen: this used to be a place I’d visit when I absolutely positively needed a striper. I don’t think I’ve taken a bass here for three years now. But the heavens were lovely and deep, and a shooting star was my reward for looking up at the right moment.

The wind was still blowing when I climbed into bed at 3am.

Crazy Menhaden flatwing/bucktail. Friday night, one of these in the 7″-8″ range made a crazy good-enough mullet.

Crazy CU

Fall colors

The woods were ablaze this late morning/early afternoon. A substantial leaf hatch, though, is a lot easier to deal with on a small stream. The char certainly had no problem picking out my size 16 Improved Sofa Pillow and size 16 Elk Hair Caddis.

Spooky fish today — most of them gave the fly a single whack, and that was it — no return business. Not surprising given the recent low water levels. A good number of them were hanging out in tailouts, making an upstream dry presentation challenging. Many more were locked into the whitewater plunges and deeper runs. I induced a few larger members of the tribe to strike, but most of what I raised was smaller, which I always like to see, recruitment being critical to the next few years’ outings.

Went subsurface on the way downstream, and as usual, stuck some brookies where none were forthcoming on the dry. Even after yesterday’s rains, the water was medium-low, cool, and clear. Creamy midges and size 18-20 tan caddis out today.

I am fortunate to be able to say, “I feel like going fishing today.” And then actually doing it. What a nifty little dark horse. He took the caddis in a seam just off a pocket plunge.

IMG_2458

A Team of Three Wets

This article, written by yours truly, first appeared in the July 2014 issue of Mid Atlantic Fly Fishing Guide. Many thanks to MAFFG for allowing me to share it on currentseams.

Wet fly anglers know something you don’t: three flies are better than one. Presenting a team of wets is an ancient, traditional practice. It is also a highly effective way to fish. Many people shudder at the thought of casting multiple flies. They picture wind-blown leaders twisted into snarls only Alexander the Great could solve. There will undoubtedly be times when you’ll have to do a little tangle triage. But the benefits of fishing three wet flies far outweigh the downside.

Droppers are the quickest way to find out what the trout want.

Let’s say you get to the river and find swarms of caddis. The water around you is simmering with feeding trout. Yet they will have nothing to do with your caddis offerings. I faced this situation a few years ago on the Farmington River. Turns out the trout were keyed on small mahogany duns. I had a caddis pattern as my top dropper, a size 18 February Red in the middle, and a Pheasant Tail on point. I took trout after trout on the February Red – a perfect match for the mahogany duns. If I didn’t have that fly on, I might still be cursing the day, instead of fondly recalling its multiple hookups.

And that’s the beauty of the three fly team. You’re giving the trout a choice. Different flies, colors, sizes, and even life stages. If you’re not sure what’s hatching, you can pick out three different species that might be on the water. Perhaps size – or lack thereof – will be the trigger: a big, fat, juicy drowned hopper on point, an ant in the middle, and a tiny midge or BWO on top. The trout will always tell you what they like. Some days, they’ll have specific preferences. Others, they will be equal opportunity feeders. With a team of wets, you’ll be ready for either situation.

A Farmington River brown that picked out this Pale Watery wingless wet from a team of three during a hatch of creamy mayflies.

Brown PWWwet

Which flies, and where?

There are no hard rules about fly placement. While I occasionally mix things up, this is how I usually order my flies.

Top dropper – Almost always an emerger pattern, for the simple reason that this fly will be closest to the surface. Soft-hackles excel in this position. A good rule of thumb is to make the top dropper the size and color of what’s hatching.

Middle dropper – Make it a high-confidence fly, like a pheasant tail, or a fly that offers a contrast in size and color to the other patterns you’re fishing. Or, if you’re unsure of what’s in the water, try something you suspect might be hatching.

Point fly – This is where I typically place the largest or heaviest fly, such as a bead head pattern or an underweighted fuzzy nymph. The point fly will always be the deepest fly on the team. Occasionally, I’ll tie on an attractor fly like a Peter Ross. I find a three-fly team easier to cast if the largest, heaviest fly is on point.

How and where to fish a team of wets.

One of the things I love about wet fly fishing is that I can walk hundreds of yards of river, cast down and across, throw a few upstream mends, and let the current do the rest of the work. It’s called the mended swing, and it is a beautiful, relaxing way to cover water – and catch fish. The mends slow down the speed of the swing, forcing the flies to travel at a more natural pace. At the end of the swing, let the flies hold in the current below you, especially if they are hovering over likely holding water. This is called the dangle, and during it you’ll experience some of trout fishing’s most powerful takes. Resist the temptation to make a sudden reaction hook set. All you’ll do is pull the fly out of the trout’s mouth. When you feel the tug, ask yourself, “Are you still there?” In the time it takes you to do that, the trout will have turned away with the fly, neatly hooking himself in the corner of the mouth.

On any given river, the best wet fly water is often overlooked and under-fished. I call it the snotty water – swift riffles, runs with a mottled surface, boulder-strewn pocket water. Look for current that is moving at a good walking pace. Target seams, eddies, shadow lines, transition water between depth and shallows, and especially what I call “the cafeteria line” – the main drag clearly marked by a line of foam. Be sure to present your flies on both sides of it.

Mottled surfaced and boulder-strewn runs are an ideal place to swing a team of wets.

Swinging

Even the most experienced casters suffer the occasional wet fly dropper disaster. To minimize tangles, keep false casting to a minimum. Pile casts are a sure recipe for trouble – you want your team of wets to lie out neatly in a line. Check your team often; once a compromised rig runs downstream, the tangle gets exponentially worse. On windy days, try to cast during lulls between gusts.

Building a three fly team.

Rather than being attached to each other by the hook bend, each fly swims freely on its own tag, further enticing trout – and making it easier for them to take the fly. I like to start with a six-foot section of tapered leader, then add three sections of Maxima four- or six-pound for the droppers. Maxima has a large relative diameter, which helps the flies stand out from the leader.

If it looks complicated, think of it as simply tying three triple surgeon’s knots, two of them with extended tags. Of all the leader materials I’ve tried, Maxima is by far the best for dropper tags. I use both Ultragreen and Chameleon.

WetflyDropper_Culton

Farmington River Report 10/14/14: Beware the leaf hatch

From my perch twenty-five feet above the river bank, I could tell I was going to be up against it. Hundreds and hundreds of orange and yellow swimmers. And that was just one run. Still, I was all in for swinging wets on this overcast, humid, decidedly August-in-October morning.

At first it seemed like I’d made a poor decision. Nearly every cast produced a hook-to-foliage connection. Finally, a bump that was readily distinguishable from the benign pressure of ex-flora. A recently stocked rainbow on the soft-hackled BHPT. Moving on, I was having a rather uncoordinated wading day. Even though the river was down, it seemed like it was my destiny to stumble. After recovering from one near swim, I discovered my rig was hung up on a submerged rock. I gave the line a roll cast to try and free it, but no. With a temper just short of rage, I gave the rod an upward set. The rock thrummed with energy. Now, surprised glee. Another rainbow, this one broad of shoulder and cantankerous, on the Hackled March Brown. One more trout a hundred feet down, then back to the truck to rig for depth charge.

They sure look pretty on the trees. But oh, what a pain-in-the-ass once they’re in the river.

Farmington Foliage

There was another angler in the run I wanted to nymph, so I watched him throw his streamer for a few minutes. As he moved a polite distance downstream, I entered the run where a disorganized series of riffles formed the head of the pool. First cast, the indicator stalled, I set, and an acrobatic rainbow cleared the water like a proper steelhead. Sadly, his leap was sans hook. I gave him a few minutes to rest, then went at him again. This time, hook set. Off he went, peeling line. I didn’t think he was fish-on-the-reel big. Turns out he wasn’t. Foul hooked just below a pectoral.

I was going to visit another spot in the TMA that I hadn’t fished all year, but you can’t lie to yourself. I wanted to go to that other place. So I hurried to a favorite deep, mysterious hole where, as the poet said, stone is dark under froth. Only a juvenile Salmon seemed willing to eat. Three more casts, I said. And on the second, the indicator dipped.  A wild Farmington River brown, some-teen inches long, on the size 16 soft-hackled Pheasant Tail dropper.

I valued that fish above all others today. But the rainbows reminded me that Pulaski and November are coming soon.

A credible summary of today’s conditions.

October Brown 2014