Best of 2019: a fun little fly fishing recap

With today’s guide trip cancelled, I turn my attention to reflecting upon the fishing year that was 2019. Here we go, in chronological order:

Fly Fishing Shows in Marlborough and Edison. The Marlborough Show was particularly memorable for the weekend ice storm that paralyzed the region. Let’s just say that — ahem — attendance was light on Sunday. Nonetheless, I had three(!) intrepid anglers at my presentation, “Lost Secrets of Legendary Anglers.” I spent the rest of the morning chortling that I had the day’s biggest crowd, which was accurate until Ed Engle beat me by two. “Lost Secrets of Legendary Anglers” will return in 2020 at 10am, Saturday January 20 in the DT Room C, along with other Seminars and classes. What makes these shows memorable — and appreciated — is the chance to see old friends, connect with peers, and meet you, my valued reader. Please come say hello at the shows in January!

Old friend Tim Flagler is one of the nicest people you’re going to meet at the Fly Fishing Show.

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Speaking of Speaking: every fly fishing/tying club gig I did. This may sound like a shameless attempt to curry favor, but I assure you it’s on the level. Teaching and talking about fly fishing is by far my favorite part of this job, and it would not be possible without your support and enthusiasm. So, thank you CFFA Expo, Cape Cod Flyrodders, Legends on the Farmington (I’m doing another class in February 2020 so stay tuned), Russell Library, Hammonasset TU, Thames Valley TU, Capital District Fly Fishers, Farmington Valley TU, and Nutmeg TU for your patronage.

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Housy and Farmington River features in Eastern Fly Fishing magazine. Wow. I actually get paid to write about two of my favorite rivers? What a country! And thanks to editor John Shewey for thinking of me.

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My new two-handed cannon. Once I figured out the right head configuration, I became a dangerous casting machine. Many thanks to old mate Mike Oliver for his wonderful design and exacting craftsmanship. I now sneer at the wind at the mouth of the Hous. And the west side of Block. So there.

In addition to being a fine rod builder, Mike also brews a delicious cuppa on the beach. Milk is included. Very civilized.

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Trophy Smallmouth on the Little Salmon River. We got kicked in the nuts by Mother Nature for spring steelhead, so a-smallmouthing we did go. They sure grow ’em big up north.

Gordo and Row Jimmy with a bronze slob. 

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Epic June wet fly bites. My goodness, how I love the Farmington River’s Light Cahill/Sulphur/Caddis/Iso bite window of late spring/early summer. Both clients and I enjoyed the thrill of double-digit days.

Figure 1 (of many). Greg’s rod might have permanent bend.

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A hot Housy White Fly bite. If you go enough, sooner of later you’re going to hit the summer blizzard just right. I think I missed it last year; this year on more than one occasion I was snow-blinded in August.  There’s a certain rush you get from drifting a size 10 White Wulff that you can no longer see, then feeling a sudden crushing blow that resonates down to your fingertips. Wow, wow, wow.

Be sure to keep your mouth shut. White flies do not taste good.

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Catching a Scottish trout on a traditional Scottish wet fly. The conditions were disgusting — driving rain and windy — but Cam and I soldiered on and were rewarded with several hefty trout to net. The highlight for me was catching one on a Kate McLaren I’d tied several years before, never dreaming that I would one day be fishing it bob-style on a loch.

Cam with his first fish and guide Graeme Ferguson (wonderful to make a new friend); a kiss for a fellow lover of Kate McLaren.

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Fun at the Striper Moon film premier. It was in many ways a Who’s Who of southern New England striper fly fishing. What a treat to watch Lori Shankar’s film with Ken in the audience.

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(Finally) establishing a presence on Instagram. If you’re not already following me, please do. I post content on stevecultonflyfishing that you won’t find here.

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Big Fall Housy Browns. After last fall and this year’s winter high water, the resident browns had ample opportunity to feed and grow with very little angling pressure. A lot of the Housy faithful I spoke to declared this the best fall fishing in years. Can’t argue with them!

Over 20″ of holdover butter.

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A silver lining to a poor Salmon River steelhead run cloud. I only need one steelhead to make me happy, so landing this big buck on a morning where the temperature never got out of the teens had me in a grinning mood.

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So, you’ve made it this far. Please tell us about your 2019 highlights.

 

I’m officially in at the Edison Fly Fishing Show

I don’t have my complete schedule, but I can tell you that I will be appearing at the Edison, NJ Fly Fishing Show next month. I have a seminar, Wet Flies 101, in the Catch Room at 4:40pm Friday January 24. I’m hoping to have another gig on Saturday Jan 25th — as soon as I have details, I’ll pass them along to you. Hope to see you there!

Wet flies have been fooling trout for centuries, and the fish aren’t getting any smarter. This big Housy brown was taken this fall on a simple soft hackle.

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Leisenring’s Favorite Twelve Wet Flies in list form and photos

Last winter I posted a very popular series, James Leisenring’s Favorite Twelve wet flies, from his book The Art of Tying the Wet Fly. What was missing was a single reference list of the dozen. Let’s remedy that. So now you have the list, a photo of each pattern, and a link to the original post with my comments. For those anglers enjoying the Christmas holiday spirit, this certainly beats the snot out of twelve drummers drumming.

Leisenring’s Favorite Dozen. “As every fisherman has his favorite patterns, here are mine…” — James Leisenring

Brown or Red Hackle

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Gray Hackle

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Old Blue Dun

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Blue Dun Hackle

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Coachman

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Black Gnat

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Hare’s Ear

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Iron Blue Wingless

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Light Snipe and Yellow

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Pale Watery Dun Wingless

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Tup’s Nymph

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Iron Blue Nymph

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Dr. Deeplove, or: How to stop worrying and learn to love the full sink line.

I was fascinated by a recent fly fishing forum thread that warned of the dire consequences of using full sink lines for streamer fishing in rivers. What perdition awaited those who had the temerity to throw the heavy, thin line?

Hard to cast.

Always getting snagged on the bottom.

It was like re-imagining the opening of “The Right Stuff” with a fly fishing bent. “There was a demon who lived in the water…” But, that’s a movie for another day.

Nonetheless, I found it disappointing on a number of levels, among them: sinking lines are only hard to cast if you do it wrong; I don’t get hung up on the bottom any more with a full sink line line than I do with a nymph rig (probably less); internet forums can be a minefield when it comes to getting good advice.

Most of all, when you’re asking the question, “What do I want the fly to do?” sometimes a full sink line is a critical part of that answer. Here are a few quick tips to help you navigate the waters with a full sink line on your next streamer outing. For our purposes, I’m using a Teeny T-Series Integrated Line, and I’m fishing in a river.

One good false cast, and boom, out she goes. As Dr. Strangelove asserted, “It would not be difficult!”

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Casting. The key to casting a full sink integrated line is to get the full sink part out of the water. I strip line in (whether I’m using a strip presentation or not) so the head is at the rod tip. A roll cast to get the line out, a backcast to aerialize the line, then bombs away. Maybe a couple false casts. Because of their head weight and thin diameter, I find full sink lines fairly easy to cast. You’ll want to use a shooting basket for the running line. And of course, match the grain weight of the line to your rod and casting style.

Snags (or not). Every day is different, but the last time I used my full sink line on the Farmington River I didn’t get terminally stuck on the bottom once — and I was using a weighted fly. Current speed, depth, mending, retrieve speed, sink rate of the line, fly profile and weight — all are factors. The lower and slower the water, the greater your chances are of getting stuck. So pick and choose your water and conditions. Pools and runs with submerged logs, branches, sharp-edged rocks, and boulder fields are often bad places to throw the full sink. If you do get stuck, try this trick: don’t try to horse the fly out. Come taut to the fly, then do a few roll casts. Often that’s enough to free the fly. Finally, if you’re trying to present along the bottom — as with nymphing — touching the bottom is part of the price of admission. The false positive of a snag is confirmation that you’re getting deep. And remember to check those hook points. Sticky sharp!

What do you want the fly to do? This is the million-dollar question that many anglers never consider — but should. I’ll pull out the full sink integrated line for streamer fishing when:

  • It’s summertime and the river has come up and is off color, and I want to get a neutral buoyancy effect from the heavy line (consider it split shot) and a deer hair head fly. (Leader length would probably be around 7 feet.)
  • The water is cold and I suspect the the fish are holding close to the bottom. (Shorter leader, usually no more than 3 feet.) Check out this streamer leader diagram.
  • I want to get the fly, even if it’s weighted, to sink as quickly as possible. This usually indicates a very deep hole as the target zone. Again, shorter leader.

High late summer water, full sink line (weight) + Zoo Cougar (wants to float) = neutral buoyancy. Oh. And this trophy trout, too.

DCIM100GOPROG0013068.

I hope that helps, and as always, if you have questions I’m happy to answer them.

 

 

 

Farmington River Report 12/13/19: Hot Butter from the Icy Cold

That’s the thing about winter streamer fishing — you just never know what you’re going to get. Last week, I fished without a touch. Yesterday, it was hit city. I visited three marks within the permanent TMA between noon-2:30pm, and found players in two of them. All told, a half dozen good bumps with three that stuck. These were quality wild browns that looked to be in fine shape. I fished the full-sink integrated Teeny line, and the streamer of choice was Coffey’s Sparkle Minnow. Most significant, the hits came on the mended swing or dangle, with not a single strike on the strip.

You know the holiday song about traveling on foot through wondrous snowscapes? Here you go. Flow in the permanent TMA was about 550cfs, which I love for streamers. Water was a shocking 34 degrees, and there were a few ice chunks floating by now and then. Imagine my displeasure when I discovered a leak in the crotch of my neoprenes.

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First fish of the day, a mid-teens wild brown that struck on the mended swing. I love that dull thud of a winter streamer take.

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Numero deux, this one on the dangle in about two-and-a-half feet of water. The most spirited combatant of the day. Sadly, fish number three was camera shy, which is my way of saying I fumbled the shot in the cold.

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The winning fly, Coffey’s Sparkle Minnow. I threw the Hi-Liter for a few minutes, but by then the bite window had closed. Tied on a #2 Gamikatsu B10S. Good on ice or neat.

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The best winter nymph patterns are the ones that inspire confidence

I’ve got nymphing on my brain. I’m hoping to get out this week and scratch that itch, but right now I’m chained to the computer. So here are some of my favorite winter nymph patterns. It’s a short list — I like to keep things simple. These are all high-confidence patterns, which makes them the best nymphs for me. What nymphs do you like to fish in the winter?

You’ll find a lot of tiny bugs in the cold months, especially on a tailwater, so going small with your nymphs is usually a good idea. This late winter beauty fell for a size 18 (2x short) BHPT.

3-10-14 Brown

Frenchie Nymph Variant. A little flash, a little color, a little contrast, a little natural brown means a lot of good nymphing mojo

Squirrel and Ginger Beadhead. Sans bead, one of my favorite caddis emergers. Add a black brass bead and deepwater magic ensues.

G-R Blue Bead Midge. Love this fly in winter when the flows aren’t too high or fast. Make it your top dropper, and if the trout are on small stuff, hold on.

Rainbow Warrior. I like this fly on brighter days. (That’s a general rule of thumb for me: if a fly is based on flash and shine, it won’t do its job as well on overcast days). The Rainbow Warriors are on the cork to the left in the linked shot.

Soft Hackle Pheasant Tail. Sizes 12-14, with a bead, this is my point fly on a two-fly nymph rig. Size 16-20, no bead head, it’s a terrific top dropper. Looks like a ton of bugs in general.

Hare and Copper Variant. What’s there not to like about Pheasant Tail, Red Fox Squirrel, and Hare’s ear? Oh, and there’s a copper bead, too. Sign me up!