The Partridge Family

Surely any aficionado of the soft-hackled fly knows the value of the partridge. Although James Leisenring committed the act of understatement when he said, “The English or Hungarian partridge provides the flytier with some valuable gray and brown speckled feathers.” Some? There are enough glorious feathers on a full partridge skin to keep you in soft hackles for decades. I know, because I just bought my second skin. I still have the first one, purchased a decade ago, and it still has many seasons of flies left in it.

Forget the packaged bags of partridge feathers. Then listen to Dave Hughes, who said, “I cannot urge you strongly enough to purchase an entire skin, wings and all.” This one came from UpCountry Sportfishing. I like to buy hackle in person so I can eyeball the skin. And of course, it’s a good idea to support your local fly shop.

partridgeskin1

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I use feathers from all over the skin — for saltwater flies, too — but the hackles I value most are the silver-grey and brownish feathers that line the neck, shoulders, and back. These are the feathers that are used in the North-Country spiders and dozens of other traditional patterns. The closer you go to the neck of the bird, the smaller the feathers. Look for a skin that is densely packed with these smaller feathers.

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A hook, a partridge feather, and some thread. Simple, buggy spiders like these have been fooling fish for centuries.

Partridge and Light Cahills

Farmington River Report 12/28/16: Lockjaw

That was the general consensus up and down the river. Theories abounded, from snowmelt lowering the water temps to a grey, blustery day where the air temperatures never really spiked. I’ll throw in a pitiful amount of bugs and be done with it. I nymphed within and above the permanent TMA from 9:30am-2:30pm. Water was a cold 34 degrees, there were a few minor snow showers, and the river was running at the princely sum of 175cfs. Lots of folks out fishing today. Many thanks to those who kindly shared water.

There was a 15-minute window of consistent sunshine in the early afternoon — enough to get a few bugs going — and that’s when I had my only touch of the day. I often tell people that I’ll always sign up for one fish in the winter, and when it’s a tank of a high-teens brown, all the better.

The winning fly, a Frenchie variant, on the day-saving fish.

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A low-water drop shot nymph rig with sighter

I recently mentioned that in these low, clear water conditions I had temporarily ditched my beloved indicator nymphing for a straight line drop-shot approach. I had many questions about the method, but also about the rig, which is presented below. The template is the same as the one I use in higher water; I’ve simply swapped out some materials to create a leader system that makes strike detection easier and uses thinner diameter nylon.

So, what’s changed?

— The top of the butt section is now Hi-Vis Gold Stren. You can of course use whatever color you like, or even a different material (like Dacron). The yellow jumps out to my eyes, though, and we can all agree that it’s important to be able to see your sighter.

— The bottom of the butt section is P-Line Floroclear (it’s fluorocarbon coated material). I’ve been using P-Line for years in my steelhead leaders. It’s strong as hell and has a thin diameter. Good stuff. I use it on my indicator drop-shot rigs, too.

— I sometimes use 5x instead of 4 lb.  Maxima Ultragreen for the top dropper. It’s strictly a diameter choice I leave up to the angler.

— The drop shot tag goes down a size to 6x. This is to a) insure the weakest link breaks on a shot snag, and b) I typically use smaller patterns for the point fly in the winter, and the 6x is easier to squeeze through the eye of a 16 or 18 hook.

— I’m using round BB shot, no wings. Hopefully that means less bottom hangups.

For your leader constructing pleasure.

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Here’s a pdf: lowwaterdropshotnymphrig

Merry Christmas and Best Fishes

Merry Christmas! I hope you’re doing something fun today. I myself am about to go downstairs and join the family party. Good food, wine, cigars, and most of all, love, await me. I am truly a fortunate man.

The artwork comes from Maurice Mahler. It graced the cover of the final issue of the Mid Atlantic Fly Fishing Guide.

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What you leave out of a fly may be as important as what you put in

Here’s to impressionism in fly tying. Here’s to creating the illusion of mass without adding bulk. Here’s to using water as a key ingredient in a fly pattern. Here’s to tying flies that try harder to look like something that’s alive and good to eat than try to carbon copy the bait or insect.

I often think of the discussions anglers have about herring or menhaden patterns. The chief complaint seems to be that a given pattern doesn’t mimic the deep belly profile of the bait. The next question that should be asked is, “Is that really necessary?” Anyone who has fished a large flatwing on the greased line swing to stripers feeding on herring knows the answer.

If you talk to Ken Abrames, he’ll tell you about how an angler will come to him and complain that he’s not catching any fish. One of the first things Ken will do is ask to see the fly. If it’s up there on the opacity meter, Ken will start pulling bits of hair and flash out of the fly. Often, the angler then begins to hook up (ask me how I know).

By all means, tie and fish the patterns you have confidence in. Just consider the sage advice of Bill McMillan, who doesn’t like to pretend that a fish is anything other than the primitive animal it is.

I don’t see any big honking bellies or ultra-realistic 3D eyes on these flies. Funny thing! Stripers eat them like candy.

Rock Island Flatwings

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Doesn’t look like the any of the grasshoppers I used to catch when I was a kid. Yet this fly is in grave danger any time I drift it past a grassy bank on a sunny summer day.

Culton_Hopper_Hammerdown

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For hundreds of years, the ultimate in sparse impressionism. And the fish haven’t gotten any smarter.

FebRedPPT

“Building a Better Trout Stream” in the Jan/Feb 2017 issue of American Angler

“Building a Better Trout Stream,” written by yours truly, is a neat little conservation piece. It’s about Hatchery Creek, a man-made — yet sustainable — trout stream built in south central Kentucky. Cool stuff, and you can read all about it in the current issue of American Angler.

You can create a perfect little trout stream out of dry land. Find out how on page 8.

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Yes, Virginia, there are more projects in the article pipeline. Details on those as they near printing stage in 2017.

I also have a busy appearance schedule this winter, including The Fly Fishing Show in Marlborough, MA. Updates to come in January 2017.

Farmington River Report 12/13/16: Subsurface spectacular

Going to be mighty chilly later this week, so I thought I’d get my licks in today. Good call. I fished within the permanent TMA from 9am-1pm, and found very cooperative fish in two of the three runs I fished — not to mention precious solitude. Here are the day’s notes:

Nymphing was incredibly productive for me. Those of you who are currentseams regulars know that I am a huge fan of indicator nymphing, especially in winter. However, in this low (100cfs and falling) and cold (34 degrees) water, I’ve gone away from the indicator to a basic short-line approach. The trout are beginning to stack up in their winter lies, and since the water is so shallow, those lies are very accessible via the long rod. I still like the indicator for covering water and for fishing faster, deeper runs, but in these conditions I’m doing better with the short-line approach. Still using the drop-shot rig, only I’ve added a yellow sighter.

Most of today’s trout were foot-long wild fish like this beauty. I did manage a well-fed rainbow and a mid-teens brown. 

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I fished two flies today: a size 16 2x short Frenchy variant on point and a size 16 March Brown wingless wet dropper. The trout were just about evenly split on both. But it’s interesting to note that my first half-dozen fish came on the top dropper. This came in advance of another strong morning W/S caddis hatch. It could have been that the trout were keying on emergers 1-2 feet off the bottom, or simply that they were looking up. Regardless, droppers continue to be the fastest way to find out what the fish want.

A fascinating mix of strike styles today. Some were oh-so-subtle pauses in the vertical line, others were sharp tugs. Good stuff.

Don’t let the exquisite red spots and delicate parr marks mislead you: this fish fought like a badass. I’d like to rumble with him again in a couple years.

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Finally, support your local fly shop. UpCountry Sportfishing is a good friend of currentseams, and they have a tremendous selection of just about anything you’d need for fly fishing or tying. Make sure Santa knows where to find that new rod, reel, vise, or whatever it is you don’t have — or need more of.