Farmington River Report 8/4/17: “To play him long is to play him wrong.”

The quote is from Stu Apte. Before we get to its relevance, a quick Farmy report.

I fished the Farmington from 8:15am to noon, dedicated to the nymphing cause. The action was spotty. I started on the lower river, and the first run produced two trout. Spot B was a blank. Up to the permanent TMA. Same deal: the first spot was a two fish pool, the second run a blank.

But why I remember most about the outing was the gross overplaying of a trout I witnessed within the permanent TMA.

I was wading into position when the angler across from me, who was nymphing, hooked the fish. My first notion that this was going to not go well was when I realized that several minutes had passed and he still hadn’t landed the fish. So I set my watch and began timing. Nine minutes later — that’s an accurate time — and the fish had still not been landed! The longer you play a fish, the more things can happen — and most of them are bad. This manifested during minute ten of the timing when the fish popped free. The end result was two very frustrated anglers — and very likely, a dead trout.

Clearly, this gentleman was ill-equipped to battle a large trout. (I saw it at one point, and it appeared to be a brown in the 20-inch class. Big, but certainly manageable and landable.) So, enough criticism. What would I have done differently?

  1. Don’t let him breathe. (The fish, not the angler. Though I was tempted.) This guy spent extended periods with his rod tip high in the air and the trout lounging in the current. All a Mexican standoff does is give the trout a steady supply of oxygenated water. I repeat, don’t let him breathe. If the fish wants to run, let him. When he stops, crank that reel.
  2. Find a better LZ. This guy chose to play the fish in the hot water where it was originally hooked. He completely ignored the plentiful frog water below him, which was a much better place to attempt to net the fish.
  3. Fight the fish with the butt and the reel. The angler had his rod way too high the entire time. Get the fish off balance by arcing the rod in a plane from side to side. That can help move a stubborn fish.
  4. Use a tippet you trust. I never nymph with anything less than 5x. That’s strong enough to handle anything I’m likely to hook.

Finally, keep cool. Fish can’t think. You can.

14 comments on “Farmington River Report 8/4/17: “To play him long is to play him wrong.”

  1. David Bennett says:

    A minority (but still plenty of them) are carbons of this situation and really don’t want to hear about it. Sad.

  2. Dan T says:

    I see this quite often on the Farmington.Then they walk over to the bank and manhandle the fish for picture time.Sad for sure.

  3. Alton Blodgett says:

    Excellent advice.

  4. Chris says:

    What do you mean by Frog Water?

    • Steve Culton says:

      Frogs love to live in ponds. So on a river, any section of flat, stagnant, or low/no current is called frog water. Some of that nomenclature is literal. If you’re familiar with the Farmington, there are reedy, flat, pondlike sections of Greenwoods that are loaded with frogs.

  5. joseph ganun says:

    Excellent post. Also, too often fishermen/women show up under equipped for the task at hand. If you step into a creek with a rod meant for 5″-7″ fish and tippet to match, knowing full well that mama lives there, you are not doing any favors for the fish. We should be asking ourselves,”what is my target?”. If the answer is a 5# brown in the west branch, equip yourself accordingly.

    • Steve Culton says:

      I agree on the tippet end of things. Even something like Frog Hair 6x is plenty strong, though. And I’ve landed king salmon over 20 pounds on 6# Maxima. As far as rods go, I’m a firm believer in point #3 above. Not that I’d bring a fiberglass 6′ 2-weight to nymph the Farmington. But as you may know, I often use a five-weight to catch stripers up to 15 pounds. With many things fishing, most times it’s the indian, not the arrow.

  6. Steve M. says:

    Even 6x will do the job quickly on a large fish if you make him work. If I lose him, and I have, thanks for the memories! Put the wood to em!

  7. Dwight says:

    What about water temperature? I met a guide this spring who told me he won’t book clients when the water is 71 or above. I understood him to believe that, at 71 or above, even a short time on the line could be fatal to the fish. What do you think?

    • Steve Culton says:


      If you’re asking me what my policy is, I don’t take people out, nor do I fish for pleasure, if the water is too low and/or warm and the chance is high for mortally stressing the fish. This happened most recently on the Farmington last August/September.

  8. Greg says:

    I think too many people use tippets that are way too small. My observation after many years of fly fishing (especially with dries) is I always use 5X or 4X ( fluorocarbon) tippet with a nylon leader. The key is to always use a minimum 12 -15 foot leader with the tippet. I think it is much more important to use a long leader than a a thin tippet.

    In a article in one of the fly fishing magazines they interviewed a number of professional fishing guides on the Delaware River. They all agreed with that philosophy that to be successful with those wild and very picky fish, a long leader 12-15 feet was critical along with 5X at a minimum.

    I do not do nymph very much but if so typically use a dry and a dropper so cannot comment on length of leader for nymphing nor what tippet to use.

    It really irritates me when people brag about using a 6X or smaller tippet. Any trout hooked would have to be played endlessly to bring them in without breaking the line, and oh they typically say they use a 9 foot leader.

    Further, look around at your fellow fisherman. They almost all use a traditional trout net with a 12 inch or so handle. I extended my handle on my net to 24 inches and can easily shorten the time to bring a fish to the net. A simple solution to keep a trout from being over played.

    • Pete says:

      @ Greg, that’s interesting claim going longer leader vs. smaller tippet. It makes some sense to me though not 100 percent. I’m going to experiment with that set up and see how it goes for dries.
      That being said, (and I’m relatively new to fly fishing – about 5 years now), I’ve broken off exactly 2 fish over that time – 1 was a large trout on a self-consciously poorly tied surgeons knot, and the other (again a large trout) was on a tippet I hadn’t inspected or changed out over several outings.

      3 Of the largest trout I’ve ever caught (20″ range) were landed on a 7′ 3 wt rod on probably 4 or 5 x tippet. They were landed in 2-3 min tops. I don’t think I’ve ever fought any trout for much longer than that.

      I’ve lost PLENTY of fish both large and small – way more than I’ve landed, but aside from the 2 noted above, all shook the hook.

      I can’t comprehend taking longer than 3 minutes to land a fish and 9 minutes plus blows my mind. There either has to be something wrong with you or you just don’t care. I’m 100 percent self taught. I’ve never had a guide or been out with anyone more than a beginner like me, but I think you just instinctually turn the rod parallel to the water and pull the fish out of the faster current (if there is one), and then swing it over towards you, slightly upstream, and then let it drift naturally into the net. You shouldn’t be fishing in a TMA if you can’t handle that.

      • Steve Culton says:

        My best guess is that the fish was played for 12+ minutes. Ugh.

        Using a longer leader to get a better drift is one of the points in my first “Little Things” presentation.

        I subscribe to the notion that if the fish is reacting negatively to your leader diameter (within reason, of course) you’re doing something wrong.

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