Tip of the week: look for a reason to set the hook on every drift

This is one of my favorite nymphing maxims. It is one of those abstract truths that proves itself worthy of consideration many times over the course of a season — especially if you like to nymph with an indicator. Sure, false positives mean you also end up wearing your line, leader, and nymph rig around your head more than you’d care to. But those comical moments are quickly forgotten whenever hook point finds fishy mouth.

A few days ago, I set the hook for no reason other than my yarn indicator deviated ever so slightly from its course downriver. It didn’t go under. It didn’t stall. It didn’t shudder like it does when the rig is bumping along the rocky bottom. Nope, it just started to move in a way that neither current nor structure could account for. So I set the hook. And there he was, the best trout of the day, a mid-teens wild brown.

The guide I float with on the Salmon River, Jim Kirtland, likes to say, “It doesn’t cost anything to set the hook.” Make an investment in watching your sighter or indicator like a hawk — and watch the dividends roll in.

There was no mistaking the take of this fish, but I’ve had plenty of hookups with steelhead this size and bigger that began without the indicator going under. Once you think you know what you’re looking for — anything that looks like a remotely suspicious move by your indicator — the fun begins. Remember the sage advice of Ken Abrames: “It’s a fish until proven otherwise.”

Steel Cam and Me

Farmington River Mini Report 7/29/15: If only the fishing were this hot

You know it’s hot when you’re standing up to your waist in sixty-degree water and there’s sweat streaming down your face — and it’s only 10am.

I fished from 9am to 1pm today. My focus was on prospecting for bigger trout by nymphing the fast water. No bigguns’, but I did get into an assortment of lovely wild browns, one in the mid teens. I used the drop shot rig under a yarn indicator, with a size 14 olive Iron Lotus on the bottom and a size 16 soft-hackled Pheasant Tail as the top dropper. I adjusted between one and two BB shot, depending on the depth of the water and the speed of the current.

Now that is one impressive tail. Full adipose, nice little kype — this buck is a surely a wild thang. Taken on the SHPT. Why I like indicator nymphing: the indicator never went under with this guy. It was the slightest of takes, almost imperceptible. The indicator just suddenly slowed and twitched. Remember, it doesn’t cost anything to set the hook.

Wild Farmy Brown 7/29/15

Maybe it was the heat. Maybe it was the full sun. Maybe it was the lack of hatch activity. But I blanked in three runs today that I was certain held fish. The other three I hit all produced. Go figure — I did better outside of the permanent TMA. The river was surprisingly busy for a mid-weekday.

If you are heading out in this heat, please don’t forget to hydrate. And while the water is still plenty cold, let’s do our best to get those fish in and released quickly.

A jewel of a mid-summer Farmington brown. I can’t decide what I like better: the halos around the spots, the golden belly, or the parr mark remnants.

Wild Farmy Brown 2 7/29/15

Even if you don’t fly fish for stripers, you should read this

Ken Abrames taught me how to fly fish for stripers. (He taught me a lot more than that, but those are stories for another day.) He would tell you that it all came from within me, but clearly the striper angler I am today was formed by Ken’s hand. That stuff I post about striper fishing with five weight rods and three-fly teams and flies that are not much more than a few strands of bucktail and the hint of a suggestion of what the bait might look like? That’s all Ken’s influence. He recently wrote something on his website (stripermoon.com) that I liked so much, I wanted to share it with you. Even if you don’t fish for stripers, there are many pearls within. So, enough from me. Here it is:

“The tiny crabs are coming down the rivers
One-eighth to three-sixteenths across
They are translucent gold
And Fish eat them one at a time
no matter what you may have heard, they do not take them in mouthfulls
even though our reason says they must.
They are not burdened by reason as we are.
Size sixteen hooks and tiny goldish flies work
trout tackle

Isopods, tiny crustaceans that look like fresh water shrimp are swarming on the rock bars in the open ocean
The bass gorge on them
again, about a half- to three-quarters of an inch long
Dont be afraid of trout tackle.
Heavy leaders wont go throuugh the eyes of the trout hooks.
There is a major clam worm hatch going on in the open ocean too
These worms are of several kinds
One is yellow another is red
and another is red and yellow
They are thin from three quarter to two inches long and move like speed boats
and the squid and the bass are feeding on them.

So now you know
There are other ways to fish in the ocean than with standard gear…
it is always good to think outside of the box that marketing presents.
It doesn’t ever know how to lead
It follows
and when it leads it likes to control opinion
that is business
but it is not fishing.
Fish do not read magazines or blogs.
Fishing is discovery not formula.”

Thirty-pounder on the fly. All because someone took the time to teach me how present a flatwing on a greased line swing.

Thirty pounder

Farmington River Tip of the Week

Yesterday, I went fishing. Sunny, middle of July, and windy. The perfect day for a grasshopper to get blown off its perch and into the water.

I fished some fast water — a mix of riffles and pockets that ranged from shin high to waist deep — with a team of three wets. The top dropper was a just-about-too-small-for-a-hopper-and-way-too-big-for-a-caddis fly I call The Monstrosity. Size 8-10 streamer hook, body of yellow or insect green rabbit fur, gold wire rib, palmered with webby brown hackle. Deer hair wing lashed at the junction of thorax and abdomen, same deer hair strands tied over the thorax, then a caddis-like head. Simple. Impressionistic. By mending the line I was able to keep that fly on or just below the surface.

The trout loved it.

Back you go, Tubby. Thanks for playing. Look at that sky. Ain’t summer grand?

Brown release

I whipped through the run in 45 minutes. No hatch, no active surface feeders, but the fish picked that fly out to the exclusion of all others (Drowned Ant and SHBHPT). None of the trout I brought to hand were under fifteen inches. And I regret to report that I lost a pig of a brown just as I was coaxing him into the net.

Hoppers. Wet or dry, ’tis the season.

Not the fly I was fishing — this is a Hopper Hammerdown, which is a little bigger than The Monstrosity and doesn’t have the soft hackle palmered along the whole body. But you get the idea and the energy of the design.


Fly Fishing for Striped Bass: Meditations, Musings, and Observations

I don’t know about you, but when I’m out fishing I tend to get lost in my thoughts. Some of those thoughts involve the standard issue routine of life. Others, a problem that is currently in want of a solution. Most often, though, I’m thinking about fishing. I’m also doing a lot of observing — conditions, other anglers, how fish are feeding, what the bait is doing. You know. The truly important stuff. Recently, I was fortunate enough to spend eight glorious nights fly fishing for stripers. Here are thirty-six hours and nearly a hundred stripers’ worth of thoughts and observations wrapped up into six hundred words.

~ Stripers often feed like trout. Consequently, you should be prepared to fish for them like trout. Match the hatch (bait). Present your fly (or flies) to the bass in the manner the natural bait is behaving. Target specific rising fish.

~ If you use stealth and caution, you can get remarkably close to actively feeding stripers, especially at night. I have waded to within two rod-lengths of a striper that was rising in three feet of water, and caught him by dapping my sand eel fly in the film.

I love sight fishing on rocky flats at night. After I crept up on his position, I watched this bass feed for several minutes before making a cast. Taken on a chartreuse and olive Eelie.

Block Island Bass

~ Stripers will frequently chase and hit a rapidly stripped fly. The more you fish for stripers, though, the more situations you will encounter where they will ignore a rapidly stripped fly. If you want to catch those fish, you’ll need to have other presentation arrows in your quiver.

One of my favorite ways to catch stripers is by dead drifting a three-fly team. The point fly (in this case a Gurgler) and the floating line stay on the surface; the two droppers are suspended just below. I use this approach when there’s a lot of bait in the water, especially small bait like clam worms or grass shrimp or sand eels. The takes are sublime. Rather than a bull rush smack, the sensation is one of building pressure as the bass, feeding with confidence, sucks the fly into its mouth. The explosion comes moments later at hook set. It is a poetic and beautiful and — when bass are feeding near the surface — highly effective way to catch striped bass.

Sand eel dropper rig

~ A floating line allows you to present deep (and deep in current), on the surface, and all points in between, without having to change lines or tips or flies. You can mend a floating line over the tops of waves along the beach.

~ The notion that a weighted fly is all you need to fish for stripers is like saying that a Woolly Bugger is all you need to fish for trout.

~ Sticky sharp hooks. Always.

~ If stripers are crashing 2”-3” sand eels on the surface, do not be surprised if they ignore a 6” Black Bomber or dumbbell-eyed sand eel fly.

~ Striper fishing spots can be notoriously fickle. The moon changes, the weather changes, winds shift, tides move, bait moves, stripers move. If you’re not getting any action, go find the fish. Make note of the most favorable conditions for a given spot.

~ A fine, hand-rolled Dominican cigar is an effective (not to mention, delicious) way to keep the no-seeums away. Certain botanical sprays, not so much.

~If you want to catch more stripers, fish when other people don’t, fish where other people don’t, and, most importantly, fish how other people don’t.

Pay attention to the little things, and the results can often be measured in pounds.


Farmington River Report 7/18/15: Wet, Dry, Pow!

After the Wet Flies 101 class I wandered off to investigate a snotty, treacherous boulder field with a team of wets. From top dropper to point, a size 12 Partridge and Light Cahill, a size 12 Hackled March Brown, and a size 12 BHSHPT. The sulphurs and Isos were out, as were the Cedar Waxings, who were having a regular airborne feast. I witnessed several sulphurs make it out of the river, only to be snapped up by an open beak moments after their emergence. The wet fly fishing started slowly, but as the hour hand moved past 6pm, things picked up. I ended up with over a half dozen fish, all wild browns save for one recent stockee, that ranged from eight inches to the low teens. I took them on the swing, the dangle, and short line deep. Some of them were active feeders; it’s always fun to successfully target specific fish, but I’ll take the ones that aren’t showing themselves just as readily.

The smallest trout of the day, but surely one of the hardest fighters. He hammered the BHSHPT on the swing.

Fast Water Wild Brown

Part Two of the evening was dedicated to the dry fly cause. At least in theory it was. I fished a spot that has seen declining numbers in fish in recent years, and sadly, that trend continued last night. I saw only handful of rises over the course of two hours. (I think I saw two dozen rises as I drove over the bridge at Church Pool earlier in the day.) Some olives and stenos, but not many of them. I was able to get two offers to the dry, but no hook sets.

Now well into dusk, the dry skunk would have been a bummer way to end the day. So I took the long way home and walked a pool with a nameless cone head black marabou streamer tied to the end of my leader. Plenty of bumps as darkness fell kept me entertained, but no hookups meant the fish were smaller than the foot-and-a-half-plus browns I was after. Off to Spot B where I couldn’t see squat due to the dense fog bank that had settled over the river. A bit of a disappointment with only one bump and no hook sets. (I know there are some bigger fish that live there. Where you at?)

Finished up at Spot C with an olive Zoo Cougar. The fog enveloped me with its chilly fingers, but I could now see some stars in the clearing skies. It was quiet.

Quiet enough to hear the sound of the brown as it tracked the streamer down and across the current. Bump! No return strike. A second cast to the same general area, same swing, same retrieve, same sound effects…Whack! There he is, a mid-teens brown that put a smile on my face and a skip in my wading step.

Then, a few minutes later…plop. I heard the fly hit the water. CRASH! The sound of the take came before I felt the tug or even managed to get the rod into post-cast position. Another good fish, not quite a bruiser, but aggressive enough to charge headlong at what must have looked like a most satisfying dining experience.

Speaking of food, I was famished. So I sped off to the McDonald’s in Unionville, which I discovered is closed at 11:30 on a Saturday night. Really? Closed? Saturday night? Contrary to the corporate tagline, I wasn’t lovin’ it.

That last brown must have felt the same way.

Thank you UpCountry and everyone who attended my Wet Flies 101 class

The rains held off and we had a fine (if not humid) overcast day to swing some wets on the Farmington. BWOs, Sulphurs, and Isonychia joined in the party. Many thanks to UpCountry Sportfishing for hosting me. Many thanks to Dick, Matt, Mike, Rhonda, and Wayne for participating, and for asking so many good questions (as you learned, I love talking about fly fishing). You were a great group to spend the afternoon with, and a pleasure to teach. The trout were semi-cooperative, and we found several willing to jump on. Keep on keepin’ on, gang, and you’ll see the subsurface dividends start to roll in. Special thanks to fellow Farmington River guide Antoine Bissieux for so generously sharing the water.

We like bent rods at Wet Flies 101. That’s a seven-foot 3-weight fiberglass stick Mike is doing battle with.

WF101 Fish On


One of several trout brought to net. Good job, group!

WF101 Brown

Farmington River Report 7/16/15: It must be magic

I guided Jim yesterday afternoon into evening, and we started in some faster water in the permanent TMA with a little Wet Fly 101. While we found a few feeders, they were reluctant to jump on. So we headed up river to get situated for some topwater action during the evening rise.

A sulphur emergence of sorts. No editing legerdemain here; some funky macro setting on the camera did this. We had a nice assortment of bugs last night: Sulphurs (14-16), Summer Stenos (18-20), Isonychia (10-12), BWOs, (14, 18-20), and midges. However, the spinner fall was not what I had hoped for. Every day — or evening — is different. Cold again! Water temp in the permanent TMA was 58 degrees. Sulphur Emerger


A nice brown that absolutely hammered Jim’s size 20 BWO Comparadun. Terrific hook set by Jim on this fish. Jim BWO Brown


Same fish, moments before release. Jim's brown release


I waited until what I thought was the right moment during the hatch to introduce Jim to The Magic Fly. This is what happened on his second cast ever with that pattern. Another fat, beautiful wild Farmington brown to net. Jim did a great job, and was a pleasure to fish with.

Jim Magic Fly


After Jim left, I banged around the river in the dark from 9:30 to almost 1:00am. While I had plenty of action — close to ten bumps — most of them were smaller fish, with no resulting hookups. Here’s a fifteen-inch brown who did stick. I like the play of water and flash along his flanks.

Monster Delaware brown on the Magic Fly

I received this from Keith A. last night:

Hi Steve,
Want you to know that I just caught a monster brown, at the Delaware river, on one of the flies that you tied for me. Size 18. My guess is 24+”.


No, Keith. Thank you. And well done!

In proper nomenclature, these would be Pale Watery wingless wet variants. I think, however, that Keith would cast his vote in favor of calling it The Magic Fly.

Magic Flies

Guest blogging on J.Stockard: Three Great Wet Flies for Summer

Yours truly makes another appearance on the J. Stockard Fly Fishing site blog, Thoughts On The Fly. This month’s topic will be nothing new to my regular readers, but it is a worthy subject nonetheless: “Three Great Wet Flies For Summer.” You’ll pardon the highly unimaginative title.

Here’s the link to “Three Great Wet Flies For Summer”

This amazingly marked wild Farmington brookie took a late summer wet fly.

Farmington Wild Brookie

Speaking of wet flies and summer, my Saturday “Wet Flies 101” class at UpCountry Sportfishing is sold out. Maybe I’ll see some of you there.

And we are getting tantalizingly close to 300 followers…and a fly giveaway.