“Winter Fly Fishing on the Farmington River” in the current issue of MAFFG

The latest article from yours truly, this is a basic primer on winter fishing on the Farmington River. You can read it in the February 2015 issue of the Mid Atlantic Fly Fishing Guide, available free in many fly shops from Connecticut to North Carolina.

Free to you. Such a deal.

MAFFG 2:15

Currentseams Q&A video debut: Adding weight (or not) to striper flies

Welcome to the inaugural edition of Currentseams Q&A videos.

I really like the idea of answering questions in a video/podcast format. It allows me to provide more comprehensive answers, and include visual elements in my explanations. Everyone learns differently, and I hope this covers more bases for more people.

What’s more, while the internet is a terrific way to connect with people many miles away, sometimes the written word can’t compete with a little face time. (Although you may see now why I have a great face for radio.) Victor Borge said, “The shortest distance between two people is a laugh.” I hope these will be fun as well as instructive.

If there’s a question you’d like answered, send me an email or leave a comment. In the meantime, I hope this helps.

Partridge and Light Cahill soft-hackle

Some more production tying last night at currentseams HQ. Partridge and Light Cahill soft-hackles. So simple. And so effective during an emergence of the creamy mayflies we get on late spring evenings on the Farmington. A size 12 or 14 will do nicely. Hold on, now. Trout get reckless during this hatch.

When I started tying wet flies, I made two full rows of Partridge and (insert Pearsall’s Gossamer Silk color here) in my box. Later, on a whim, I bought some Uni Light Cahill thread and tied up a few of these soft-hackles. They sat unused for at least one season. I don’t remember the exact circumstance, but I do know that the first time I fished this fly, I cleaned up. I still have one of those original Partridge and Light Cahills; I fished it last spring, caught a trout on it, then retired it. It barely had any hackle left, but it still worked.

Such is the power of the impressionistic soft-hackle.

Filling corks with Partridge and Light Cahill soft-hackles. These are tied on a 1x strong, 1x long size 14 hook.

Partridge and Light Cahills

Stopping by Woods on a Sunny Afternoon (Farmington River report, with apologies to Robert Frost)

Whose woods these are – the state’s, I know.

But I have bought a license, so;

They will not mind me stopping here

To swing my streamers in the flow.

~

That little bird must think it queer

For I’m the only angler here

Somewhere within the TMA

My first fly outing of the year.

~

The big brown gives his head a shake

To ask if there is some mistake.

The only other sound’s the scrape

Of line through guides of ice all caked.

~

The river’s lovely, dark and deep,

But I must get back to my Jeep,

Three trout today, none did I keep,

Three trout today, none did I keep.

~

Remnants from the last ice age. The river was clear of shelf ice, running at 550cfs, 35 degrees.

Ice Field

~

First customer of the day. Lovely colors.

Wild Brown 1:15

~

Saved the best for last. Some-teen inches, just hammered the fly as it swung across a seam.

Streamer Brown 1:15

~

Articulated streamers with jaunty names that push water catch trout. So do unnamed single hook streamers tied with a slim profile. I’d used this fly before — it’s a one-off from a couple years ago — and the trout found it to their liking today. Fished on a full sink line with a three-foot leader, swung and stripped. It opens up a bit in the water, but it’s still a fairly sparse tie. Tungsten bead head, so it rides hook point up.

Highlighter Streamer

Salmon Fishing for Striped Bass

Salmon Fishing for Striped Bass first appeared in the October 2014 issue of Mid Atlantic Fly Fishing Guide. Many thanks to them for allowing me to share it on currentseams.

Most striper fly anglers have never heard of A.H.E. Wood or the book Greased Line Fishing For Salmon. That’s a pity, because Wood’s greased line swing is one of the most elegant, pleasing – not to mention effective – ways to fish for striped bass in current.

Wood fished for Atlantic salmon in Scotland over a hundred years ago. Greased Line Fishing for Salmon, a technical how-to based on his extensive letters and notes, was first published in the 1930s. It was re-issued in 1982 by Frank Amato Publications with “[and steelhead] “ added to its title. While the writing style is a bit moldy, the content will transform the way you fish for stripers. You may never approach an estuary or a breachway the same way again.

The greased line and the fly rod.

Before the advent of the modern floating line, anglers were compelled to use lanolin dressings (grease) to keep their silk lines on the surface. Why grease the line? A floating line allowed them to mend. Mending meant they could harness the power of the current, rather than have the current dictate the fly’s path. As Wood wrote, “The basic idea is to use the line as a float for, and controlling agent of the fly; to suspend the fly just beneath the surface of the water, and to control its path in such a way that it swims…entirely free from the pull on the line.” It is a concept, Wood observed, “entirely opposed to that of the normal sunk fly procedure.” If you fish for stripers but don’t use a floating line, here is your chance to break free from the shackles of the sinking line – and use your fly rod as a fly rod, rather than a glorified spinning rod.

You can perform the greased line swing with a standard-issue nine-foot rod. But a longer rod makes mending a delight instead of a chore. And mending is at the heart of the greased line presentation.

Open wide. That’s about all this fifteen-pound Block Island striper had to do to eat my sand eel fly.

Mouth

Why greased line swing?

Like their salmonid cousins, striped bass love current. They will take up feeding positions, holding on station, moving no more than a few lateral inches while they dine. Often, the stripers will not chase a stripped fly. Why would they? The current is conveniently delivering their food. All they have to do is rise to meet each morsel with an open mouth. Those morsels can range in size from minutia like crab larva, to inch-long grass shrimp, to more substantial fare like mullet, menhaden and herring.

And therein lies the genius of the greased line swing. Regardless of the size of your fly, you are sending it on a pathway to a hungry striper’s mouth. She doesn’t have to work hard to eat. What’s more, during much of its drift, the fly is presented broadside to the fish. This gives the predator a full profile of what’s for dinner, rather than a fleeting glimpse of a tail or head.

 Presentation flies like these Crazy Menhaden flatwings are an excellent choice for the greased line swing.

Crazies

Performing a simple greased line swing.

Use the greased line swing in tidal rivers, breachways, sand bar rips – any place stripers hold in current to ambush bait. Make a cross-current cast with your floating line. The moment the line hits the water, begin throwing a series of upstream mends. Be sure to mend the entire fly line, from the rod tip to the line/leader junction; half a mend is no mend. While you are mending, the fly will be travelling downstream at the natural speed of the current, while appearing to slowly swim toward the shore behind you. When the fly is nearly two-thirds of the way down and across from your position, stop mending, and hold the line so the fly can complete its journey with a wet fly swing. Keep the fly in the current below you for a few moments, then retrieve and cast again.

Obviously, if you see signs of an actively feeding fish, be sure to present your fly over its feeding lane. The greased line swing is also an excellent searching tactic. “Backing up a pool,” another traditional presentation method, involves working a stretch of water by moving upstream. Backing up a pool with the greased line swing allows you to cover a tremendous amount of water.

To execute the greased line swing, cast cross-current and throw a series of upstream mends (A-C); hold the line so the fly makes a wet fly swing (D); at the end of the swing, retrieve and re-cast (E).

Culton_Greasedline_Currentseams

Hooking stripers on the greased line swing.

The take of a big striper on a greased line swing is sublime. Rather than the blunt force hit with a stripped fly, the angler initially feels only a presence – a mere building of pressure. This is the striper acquiring its target, flaring its gills to suck the fly into its mouth. You might be tempted to set the hook at this point; but that would be a mistake. You’ll pull the fly right out of the striper’s mouth. Instead, let the bass hook itself. It is feeding with confidence, and does not yet sense that it has been deceived. Simply hold the line, and let the bass come tight as it turns away with the fly in its mouth. All this happens in a matter of seconds, or less. The hook point (of course, you constantly check your hooks to make sure they’re sticky sharp) will find purchase in the corner of the striper’s mouth, just like your father taught you it should.

When you present on the greased line swing, the stripers you catch will be neatly hooked in the corner of the mouth every time.

Culton_Greasedline_2

You may be thinking, “But I like the way that big hit on the strip feels!” Not to worry. The adrenaline rush you crave is coming.

Now, the striper realizes that this baitfish bites back. The water erupts as the fish’s primal reflexes of fight and flight kick in. This is where you set the hook. Point your rod directly at the fish, hold the line tight to the rod handle, and thrust rearward with conviction. I cannot emphasize enough the importance of a solid hook set. If you’re fishing with a strong leader – mine is always twenty, twenty-five, or thirty-pound nylon, substantial enough for any inshore striper I’m likely to encounter – you can dictate terms to the fish. From this point, the striper will be fighting a losing battle.

And you’ll have Arthur Wood to thank.

Filling some corks with soft-hackled flies

A little production tying here at currentseams HQ — as much as I can be said to be a production tyer, which is very little. But stocks need replenishing for personal use, guide trips, and maybe a few to sell here and there. First up was the Squirrel and Ginger, my favorite caddis emerger from April through mid-summer.

You drink the wine. You save the cork. You stick a dozen wet flies into it. You win twice.

Squirrel and Ginger cork

~

People tend to use far too much fur to hackle the Squirrel and Ginger. Think sparse. Think less is more. Like this. Dust the thread with fur. Your next step is to form a dubbing loop, then wind the hackle, stroking the fibers toward the bend of the hook.

Fur hackle dubbing loop prep

~

The same fly, ready to whip finish. Note (again) the imperfect head. Guess what? Trout don’t care about neatness. In fact, I think they like messy wet flies. Yeah, I’ll clip away that schmutz under the eye, but this fly is basically good to go.

S&G ready to finish

Dear Angler: Did you know you were a terrorist?

This is an excerpt from a letter to the editor of The Courant, Saturday, January 17, 2015. The author is referencing a story the paper ran on ice fishing:

“Selective human empathy, such as humans for their pets, is a fundamental shortcoming to evolving a sustainable civilization. To the victims of slaughter or pleasure sports, whether fishermen, hunters or ISIS, there is no difference. Classic reaction: A fish with feelings? Ha.”

I’m not sure where to begin here. We’ll start with the glass house metaphor. Let’s give the writer the benefit of the doubt and assume he doesn’t eat meat or own a single leather item.

The assertion that a civilization that keeps some animals for pets and eats others is retarding its evolution is patently absurd. Dogs have been domesticated for over 10,000 years. How much longer have humans have been eating animal flesh, and where would we be on the evolutionary calendar today if we were all vegans?

We could move on to politically incorrect sexism next. “Fishermen?” Not “anglers?” That’s a fairly substantial liberal thought spectrum faux pas. If you have a dick and you fish, you’re bad person. Female anglers, apparently, are exempt from such judgement. (April Vokey will no doubt be relieved.)

The “fish have/do not have feelings” argument is ultimately a cul-de-sac. I could offer up such pearls as, “What would be a trout’s reaction if you played Tchaikovsky’s ‘1812 Overture’ for it?” “Are bigger fish evil because they prey on smaller fish — and do those smaller fish feel bad when they get eaten?” Or even, “If a fish has the capacity to feel, why doesn’t it swim toward you when it is hooked rather than away?” No one is going to convince me that fish are anything other than rather primitive animals, and I’m not likely to convert the other side.

But equating me with ISIS because I fish?

That kind of thinking makes fish look intelligent.