Farmington River Report 3/31/16: Beware of the Double-H

You know of the HH: Hendrickson Hype.

Yes, Hendricksons have been spotted on the lower river. No, the hatch has not yet begun in earnest. Of course, as a currentseams reader, you have a measured response to the HH. You know that nature is always on time no matter when she shows up. And that the hatch will happen when it happens, and not a moment before, no matter how much one wishes it were so.

I can tell you it didn’t happen today. I visited four locations on the lower river from Canton to Unionville, and there wasn’t a single subvaria to be found. On the other hand, there were plenty of caddis — the Rodney Dangerfield of early spring hatches — and though there were no risers, the trout were ready and willing to jump on a swung wet fly. On my second cast of the spring with a team of three wets, whack! A fine, fat rainbow on the top dropper, a Squirrel and Ginger. How glorious to feel that tug as the flies dangled in the current below me.

Warm but uncomfortably windy today. I nymphed for about an hour, but had no takers.  The bite dropped off after all those seed thingys blew into the water. 420cfs and clear.

Soon, my friends in fly fishing. Soon.

My top dropper today — heck, it’s usually my top dropper from April through August. Size 12 on a 2x short scud hook.

Squirrel & Ginger

No stripers. Nonetheless, a Good Friday.

Good Friday means it’s time for the traditional, annual currentseams striped basstravaganza. Simon Peter was, after all, a big fisherman. Absent any finned cooperation, one still has the comfort of reacquainting with Ye Olde Striper Emporium. Rust is scraped off the two-handed casting form. And if there’s an EP Carrillo Golossus sending plumes of savory smoke across the water, so much the better.

So, I fished for 90 minutes without a touch. It was a little early in the tide, but in the last half hour I was able to reach the edges of what was a very nice seam along the main current. Water was lightly stained and 47 degrees. Mostly overcast, and only the slightest of breezes. Three other anglers. We all blanked.

Hopefully, this year will be better than last.

 

Match Game (matching the hatch with wet flies)

“Match Game” first appeared in the May/June 2014 issue of American Angler. I’ve included several of the original wet fly portraits; you can find most of the recipes by doing a search on this site.

Match Game by Steve Culton

Next time your attempts to match a hatch with dry flies fail, try matching it with one of these time-tested wet fly patterns.

The words “match the hatch” conjure up images of dry fly aficionados patiently sifting through their boxes, searching for the perfect fly, achieving Nirvana when they make the correct selection. Indeed, there’s nothing I like more than fooling a trout on a dry – unless it’s fooling a trout on a wet fly.

The more I fish them, the more I recognize that wet flies are often the best match for a hatch. That’s because wet flies allow you to fish under the hatch – where the trout are feeding – as insects emerge or lay eggs. You’re fishing, as James Leisenring said, “at the point where the trout is most likely to take his food.”

Matching the hatch with wets isn’t rocket science. Most days, all you need to do is duplicate the size and color of the natural, then drift or swing the fly over the trout’s position. The takes on wets are among the most aggressive hits you’ll experience. What’s more, the fish also tend to be larger (big trout get that way, in part, by being shy about showing themselves).

Here are eight popular, widespread hatches, matched with a proven wet fly pattern, so you can look like a trout savant the next time you’re on the water.

Dark Hendrickson

Dark Hendrickson

Woody Allen said that 80% of success is showing up. It’s kind of like that with the Dark Hendrickson. In the initial stages of this hatch, trout wantonly gorge on the emerging mayflies. The surface erupts with their frenzied slashes and frantic boils. The dry fly will often be ignored, and those casting them can be identified by their grim countenance. This classic American wet will turn those puzzled frowns into mile-wide grins. Target a feeding fish, time his rise pattern (if he has one – I find that trout get reckless during a strong Hendrickson emergence), and drift your fly over his position. Trout will hammer this fly on the dead drift, the swing, and on the dangle (the fly holding in the current below you). Sometimes a slow, hand-twist retrieve on the dangle will draw a strike.

Don’t wait for the mayflies to be visible to fish the Dark Hendrickson. I like to start working it through runs and transition water a good two hours before the duns are scheduled to appear. If there’s going to be an impressive hatch, you’ll know long before anyone else. I like a 12, but go up or down a size if you need to match the profile of what’s hatching. If necessary, a bead head will help sink the fly; fish it as the point fly in your team of wets.

There will come a time late in the emergence where the wet fly is no longer effective. You’ll notice fewer splashy rises, and the trout will stop throwing themselves at your fly. That’s the time to switch over to a dry, like a Hendrickson Comparadun.

Tiny Blue-Winged Olive

Tiny BWOSH

Wet flies are incredibly versatile creations. For proof, look no further than the Tiny BWO. Pat Torrey describes the logic behind his design. “Almost every afternoon from mid-October until the first week of December, the Farmington River has a very consistent hatch of small Baetis mayflies. The extended time frame of the hatch allows the fish to get pretty familiar with this food source. Most anglers fish this hatch with standard dry fly and emerger patterns, which become less effective as time goes on.”

Pat’s use of a soft-hackle on a small fly is traditional and proven. (Sylvester Nemes devoted eleven new chapters to tiny soft-hackles when he revised his masterwork The Soft-Hackled Fly.) While Pat prefers to fish his diminutive wet just under the film, I like to present it as a dry-wet hybrid. Start by giving the hackle a gentle dusting of silica powder. This creates an emerging wings and legs profile on the surface, with a body and shuck just beneath it. As the dusted hackle loses its hydrophobic properties, the fly beings to sink a little deeper into the film. That’s usually when the fun begins.

Flies this small can be a difficult sell in fast-moving, broken water, so try presenting it to rising trout in a glassy pool. The pattern template also works for midges; try black thread and white hackle.

Squirrel and Ginger

Squirrel & Ginger

Dave Hughes said, “Trout aren’t interested in neatness.” I’ll add that ugly, buggy flies catch fish. This fly started out as a fuzzy nymph called the Caddis Larva. I played around with adding a traditional feather hackle, but it wasn’t until I gave the fly a sparse collar of fox squirrel that the fly took on a dramatic new energy. The first time I fished the Squirrel and Ginger was a steaming hot July afternoon. The sun was high, and there was precious little hatch activity. Yet I took trout after trout as I walked the length of a swift two-foot deep run.

Besides being a reliable searching pattern, the Squirrel and Ginger excels at matching the caddis hatch. I like it on a 2x short scud hook; my default is a size 12, but you should alter its size and body color to match the naturals. A few notes about tying this fly: The hero is the fur hackle, so keep the body thin. Less is more with the squirrel. Use a quarter of what you think you need to start, and pull out the longer guard hairs. I like to spin the fur on a dubbing loop, then stroke the fibers back as I wind the hackle. Don’t fret if you end up with a messy head – remember the wise words of Mr. Hughes.

Light Cahill

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They have a seemingly endless parade of names. I just call creamy mayflies Light Cahills, after the old-school American pattern. Like the Dark Hendrickson, the Light Cahill uses a seductive wood duck wing. Its banding pattern whispers to trout, “I’m alive,” and offers an enticing contrast to the pale fur body and hackle.

Selectivity in feeding trout has always fascinated me. I don’t think trout are picky eaters (in the sense that you can’t get your kids to finish their broccoli); they are simply eating what’s hatching. It’s up to us to find out what that is, then properly present it. That’s where droppers become an indispensible tool. One evening I was fishing a hatch of Light Cahills with three flies: Light Cahill winged wets on the top dropper and point, and a soft-hackled bead head Pheasant Tail in the middle. Of the dozen fish I caught, none chose the Pheasant Tail. They were keyed on the lighter colored flies.

Follow Ray Bergman’s advice: “If it were necessary to confine my assortment of flies to only two or three, this would be one of them.” Tie the Light Cahill in sizes 10-20, and you’ll be ready for any virtually scenario.

Pale Watery Wingless Wet

Magic Flies

I don’t believe in magic flies; that is, if you fish with Fly X you’ll become an instant expert. But this fly makes me want to believe. Based on an old English pattern, I dispense with the original’s gold rib, tie it on a 1x fine hook, dust it with silica powder, and fish it like a dry.

Sulfurs are another in a long list of hatches that leave anglers muttering, pondering the error of their ways on the long drive home. But once you examine the science of the hatch, the magic behind this fly is revealed. Sulfurs take a long time to emerge from their nymphal shucks. This is significant for two reasons: it results in a high percentage of stillborns and cripples; and the emerger is sub-surface for an extended period. Absent duns on the water, those rise rings are from fish feeding just below the surface. Like the Usual, the Pale Watery Wingless Wet has a spikey body, and its soft hackle absorbs water, causing the fly to ride in the film, rather than on it.

If you’re getting refusals, try fishing this fly one size down from what’s hatching. Alakazam! Magic ensues.

Hackled March Brown

Hackled March Brown

There are so many wet flies – both caddis and mayfly patterns – called “March Brown” that the name reads like a generic label. This particular March Brown comes from an English book published in the 1930s, Trout Fishing From All Angles. It lists a winged and a wingless dressing; this is the wingless. The recipe calls for a “red ant colour” hare’s ear body; I have been tying this with rusty fur.

While we do get some March Browns on the Farmington, it isn’t a major hatch. There is, however, an impressive late summer Isonychia showing. Since it is likely to be the largest on my three-fly team of wets, I tie the Hackled March Brown on point. Because of its size, this fly shines in swift water: deeper riffles, pocketed slots, and boulder-strewn runs. If there’s no hatch, it also makes a fine searching pattern. I’ve taken some substantial trout on this fly while fishing it on the dangle. The hits are the rip-the-line-from-your-fingers type, the kind that make you wish it was August right now.

Drowned Ant

Drowned Ant

The Starling and Herl has been fooling trout for centuries. It possesses the alchemy created by the natural iridescence of starling and peacock. The fly represents any number of insects, from beetles to dark caddis to little black stones – and maybe ants? Let’s make sure. To create an ant-like profile, I’ve simply added a segment of working thread to the middle of the body.

Each summer, I catch a hefty percentage of my trout on this fly. To increase its durability, I reinforce the herl with a strand of thread, twisting the herl around the thread to form a chenille-like rope. If one of the herls happens to break, the entire fly will not be compromised.

I especially like to fish this fly along shaded wooded banks – prime territory for ants to take an accidental tumble. The dangle seems to produce an inordinate number of strikes. Curious, considering I’ve never seen ants tread water in a three-knot current. Sylvester Nemes said, “Any sunk artificial fly, to be good, must transform itself in the water into something alive, something suggestive and moving, something that looks good to eat.” That is clearly the case with the Drowned Ant.

The Hopper Hammerdown

Culton_Hopper_Hammerdown

A consistent theme of wet flies through the centuries has been impressionism. Wets do not attempt to carbon copy an insect; they simply match its general size, color, and profile. With so many hopper patterns available, why the need for another? In three words: Simple. Impressionistic. Effective.

The Hopper Hammerdown is based on a steelhead fly called the Golden Stone Hammerdown. The fly does not give the fish, as Bill McMillan said, credit for being “more complicated than the rather primitive animal it is.” And it promises a calorie-dense meal to the trout, well worth the fish’s effort. This is another fly I’ll fish near the surface, usually as the top dropper. Sometimes I’ll treat it with floatant and fish it on a dead drift like a dry. It plays well along grassy and wooded banks on warm summer days when the trout instinctively know that something large and yummy might come struggling along at any minute.

No hatch? No worries.

What do you do if you get to the river and there are no signs of a hatch? You fish. With confidence. Wet flies make excellent searching patterns, and with a team of three, you can cover a lot of water quickly. Remember the first rule of droppers: they are the quickest way to find out what the fish want. Give the trout a choice: different sizes, colors, species, or life stages. Hedge your bets by choosing flies that are most likely to be hatching when you’re fishing. For example, on a late summer afternoon, you might fish a Squirrel and Ginger (caddis) as the top dropper, a Drowned Ant as the second dropper, and a Hackled March Brown (Isonychia) on point.

Farmington River Report 3/16/16: Ah, ah, ah, ah, stayin’ alive.

I had the good fortune to spend several hours in the permanent TMA today, and what the catching lacked in numbers was more than made up for in overall size. Three trout, one mid-teens wild brown, and two high teens Survivor Strain browns. You can always tell when you have a substantial fish on from the head shaking and the sulking along the bottom — and if those fish are stream-born or long-term residents, they come even less quietly.  The water was cool, clear, and running about 480cfs. Midges, early grey stones, and some un-IDed spinners about a 16-18. And, lest we forget, a magnificent Casa Fernandez Toro from Miami.

What the hellgrammite? I fished him out of the water as he was making his way downstream. As General Patton would say, you are one ugly sonuvabitch.

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All my fish today came on the top dropper, a size 14 Hare-and-Copper variant (you can see the fly here). This was my second Survivor Strain and the last fish of the day. No mistaking the takes today, as the indicator went under hard each time.

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Stayin’ alive. You can identify a Survivor Strain brown from its clipped adipose fin.

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Off you go. One of the more satisfying aspects of landing a nice fish is giving it the opportunity to swim away. When next we meet…because I know where you live.

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About that steelhead report from last November…

Yeah, I know. It’s early March. Maybe I was subconsciously trying to forget the worst November since I started this madness. To tell the story in numbers: 5 days, 3 fish. And I felt like I was doing well. Day 1: one touch, one fish landed. Day 2: one touch, one fish landed. Day 3: 0-for-3, including a foul that I broke off. Back up for more abuse two weeks later. Day 4: 0-for-2, including another foul I disengaged. Day 5: one touch, one landed. Here are a few photos to keep you entertained.

I go on a tying binge the few weeks before a trip. Here’s my stash for the second one. You’ll recognize the usual suspects, but I added a few new (for me) patterns into the rotation, including a Montana Stone variant and Barber’s Chartreuse Head Stone.

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 Semi-chrome from day two, my favorite fish from both trips. After blanking the entire morning, I hiked out to find some solitude, and hopefully some action. I came upon several steelhead holding in smaller water, but they had no interest in what I was selling. Not too far away was a location that I’d had success in before, albeit in much higher water. I channeled my inner ninja and crept up on the hole. Third cast. 60 Second Redhead. Life was good.

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A variant of Jimmy Hunnicutt’s Blood on the Waters. This may seem like far too noble a fly to fish under an indicator, but I loved its energy, and I needed a little magic. I’d like to tell you that the fly produced on this occasion, but alas, it is resting comfortably somewhere on the bottom of the Wire Hole as you read this.

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Can you tell who was catching the most fish? Cam was my fishing buddy for the last two days. We both blanked on the first one, but that night, Cam announced that he had a good feeling about tomorrow. What prescience! He landed four fish that second day. And now he’s a real steelheader, having lost his first steelhead (after going 5-for-5 over his previous three trips). 

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More rock snot in the Farmington

The Didymo hits just keep on coming. It’s all over the local media, but in case you missed it, here’s the story that appeared in this morning’s Courant.

While the news is discouraging, the sky has not yet fallen. If you fish the Farmington River, please use safe wading practices and common sense. I have a dedicated pair of boots and waders for the Farmington. If you don’t want to go to those lengths, be sure to clean/dry your gear before you venture elsewhere. You can learn more about preventing the spread of Didymo by doing an internet search.

Fred says: “A new species of rock snot? That blows.” This photo was taken well downstream of the invasive algae blooms.

Wild Farmy Brown 7/29/15

Farmington River Report 3/8/16: Enough to keep me interested

I fished multiple locations today above and within the permanent TMA. The purpose of my forays above were to see if I could locate some pods of recent wards of the state. Those efforts were a failure, unless you count one brown, a delicious cigar, 60-degree March sunshine, and not working to be the benchmarks of success. Wait. Hold on a minute here. I may need to recalibrate my thinking…

The fishing today was mostly streamers, save for about a half-hour of nymphing. Nothing on nymphs, but given the water I fished, I wasn’t surprised. The trout have not yet spread out into the faster sections. All my action today came in slower, deeper pools and runs. They liked the Hi-Liter and the Deep Threat in olive/grey. The lone fresh stockee I caught took the Hi-Liter as it was wallowing in the current below me; the other more seasoned residents came on very slow retrieves in fairly deep water, some of it over-head deep. The flow was 480cfs, 40 degree water temperature. Lots of active early grey stones, sz 14-16. Nothing rising to them.

It was mobbed for a Tuesday in early March. If you’re heading out over the next few days, gird your loins. It may look more like a weekend in late April. Perhaps the warmer weather will get the bite going. Every angler I spoke to today reported little to no action. Thanks to those who struck up conversions and introduced themselves. It’s always a pleasure meeting people who read my stuff or follow currentseams.

Is it me or are we missing an R?

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