Housatonic Mini-Report 6/17/21, or: I went smallmouth fishing and ended up catching a bazillion trout

Forgive the brevity, but here’s what happened. I fished from 5:30pm-9:15pm. I started way far below the TMA in search of smallmouth. I managed one on a Gurgler, and a rather large fallfish on a wet fly. The river was lightly stained and running at a normal 575cfs. Water temp was upper 60s. After 90 minutes, I was unimpressed with this mark, so I headed up to the TMA. A massive caddis hatch had occurred, and size 16 tan caddis blanketed the rocks along the shore and swirled everywhere. They were soon joined by a strong showing of sulphurs and Cahills. I managed a stout smallie on a streamer, but the sight of trout eagerly snapping at emergers had me switching to wet fly in a hurry. First cast, bang, and it was all fantastic action until dark. I made the switch to dries around 8pm, and for a half hour it was a trout on every cast. They were greedily feeding just like they do during a Hendrickson emergence, mouths open, launching at the fly. It slowed a bit until I called it at dark, 9:15, but I was still catching on Light Cahill Catskills dries and Usuals. A few rainbows in the mix but mostly browns. With elevated water temps, I used 4x tippet so I could get the fish in fast. All of them looked very healthy. Hopefully they will find the thermal refuges before the water gets too warm.

One of many customers, all of which have been eating well. Spectacular dry fly action!

Farmington River Report 6/17/21: Wet Fly Wizardry

I guided Joe yesterday, and while it wasn’t a textbook wet fly day, we experienced some tremendous action (I lost count of how many trout we hooked and landed). Joe is an experienced angler who has dabbled in wet flies, but wanted some serious instruction in the ancient and traditional subsurface art. We fished from 2:15-6:15pm, and visited two marks, one within the Permanent TMA and one below it, 385cfs and 465cfs respectively. It was a strange kind of wet fly day in that there was no voluminous hatch, nor were there frequent, consistent risers to target. Nonetheless, Joe slayed ’em. This speaks not only to Joe’s abilities, but also to the efficiency of the wet fly. It may not look like anything is going on, but there can indeed be mischief afoot underwater. Joe fished a three fly team of a Squirrel and Ginger top dropper, Light Cahill winged middle dropper, and Hackled March Brown on point. All three flies took trout, a mix of rainbows and wild browns. Several of the rainbows we landed had bird wounds — watch out, trout! A great job by Joe and a fun afternoon of fishing and catching.

After our session, I headed north to catch the “evening rise.” The quotes are sarcastic, as the hatch never materialized. Oh, sure, there were a few caddis and suplhurs and some huge creamy duns, but they were few and far between. The river never got to boiling — the best it could muster was a brief simmer around 8:45pm. I had several swings and misses (I was fishing dry fly) and only stuck two trout. A disappointing performance by Mother Nature, but there are worse ways to spend two hours than standing in a river, waving a stick, and enjoying a fine cigar.

This was the scene for much of the afternoon. I told Joe he was going to become a dangerous wet fly machine, and here’s your proof.

The shortest distance between two anglers is a hello

This has been happening more and more: I’m fishing near people, and later in the parking lot they come up to me and introduce themselves. That’s great, because I love meeting currentseams readers. But invariably they tell me that they didn’t say hello on the water because they didn’t want to “bother” me (the air quotes are mine). Folks, you’re not bothering me. Please introduce yourself.

Sure, if I’m guiding a client, I probably can’t have an extended conversation with you; that would be unfair to my client, who deserves my full attention. But it’s no secret that places like the Farmington River are more crowded than ever. Space in prime fishing marks is often scarce. So instead of me looking at you as a potential hostile invader — and vice versa — wouldn’t it be better if we could share the water without angst? Come say hello. If you’re looking for a place to fish, ask if there’s room. (Maybe if I get there after you, I’ll ask you!) If there is, we’ll make it work. If there isn’t, there’s always next time. And at the very least we now have faces and names connected. That’s a win for everyone.

Speaking of sharing water, I want to thank everyone I’ve encountered this season who has been so darned friendly and accommodating about doing so. I typically expect the worst from people, so it is a delight to be proven wrong about human nature. Kindness from strangers is a blessing. May the river gods bestow the tightest of lines upon all of you!

These gentlemen came all the way from Spain (really) to say hello.

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Farmington River Report 6/13/21: Wet fly doldrums, then all dry fly hell breaks loose

I fished a different section of the lower river yesterday, from late afternoon into dark. The water was clear, cool, running at 460cfs — just about right. As is my my custom, I arrived rigged for wet fly, anticipating a typical very late spring pre-hatch wet fly bonanza. ‘Twas not to be. The early evening hatch never materialized. Well, it did if you count three sulphurs and four spotty rises in 90 minutes. But I was sorely disappointed with the lack of activity. I managed a measly four bumps, and only one of them resulted in a hookup. (Then again, the prime wet fly water in the run was occupied.)

At 7:30 I re-rigged for dry fly. It took a while for things to happen, but when they did, it was fast and furious. Observed: sulphurs size 16, tiny BWOs, Isonychia size 12, dark gray stoneflies size 12, and mats of midges. I focused on the yellow stuff, and threw Magic Flies, Usuals, and Catskills Light Cahills, all of which were eaten. Noteworthy: the world’s longest refusal (drifting over a gravel bank into a drop-off, and this guy rose and shadowed the fly for a good fifteen feet, nearly taking it several times before saying no); an epic 50-foot drift where I had three(!) different trout commit to the fly with a splashy take, none of which resulted in a hookset; and a comical take where a brown blasted the fly like it was going to hurt him, which, as it turns out, it did — in his haste to dine he fouled himself in his pectoral fin.

I was fishing in some fairly technical water, which I often prefer with dry fly because of its challenges. (We’re talking longer leaders, precision mends, and tricky drift management.) I didn’t connect as many times as I would have liked to, but I did hook fish from as far away as 45 feet and a close as a rod’s length. The frenzied feeding really didn’t begin until 8:30, and when I dragged myself away at 9:15, I’d just hooked a trout on a drift I couldn’t see.

A strange but pleasant evening. The first outing with the cane pole is always a treat.

This one’s worth repeating. There comes a stage late in the hatch where trout are feeding on both duns and spinners. Then, it transitions solely to spinners. You don’t need to stress about which stage they’re eating if you’re using a Catskills style dry like this Light Cahill. Trout will eagerly take it even when they’re on spinners. Every year, some of my biggest dry fly trout come on this pattern when the only feeding tell is the gentle, subtle spinner rise ring. Pro tip: you can upsize the fly so you can see it in the gloaming.

Conservation-minded anglers: everything you need to know about our May 5th ASMFC meeting win

If you took the time to send in comments to the ASMFC prior to their May 5th meeting on Amendment 7, congratulations! After years of feeling like no one was listening, your voice was heard. The American Saltwater Guides Association (ASGA) has a fantastic summary of the meeting on their website. If you’re not familiar with the ASGA, you should be. We’re one of the good guys in the fight for striped bass conservation. We need your support!

We’re putting the heat on the ASMFC.

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Farmington River Mini-Report 6/7/21: I think I’m done with that spot (for now)

I can be a massive creature of habit. But sometimes I like to return to a mark several times within a short period of time simply because I’m curious how things change, evolve, or otherwise go chaotic. I had a little over two hours Monday night, so I revisited an old favorite place on the Lower River. This is where I slayed them two weeks ago, and had a slow night last week. Monday was a repeat of last week: little-to-no hatch activity and even fewer fish rising. I got into a half dozen trout, including some lovely wild browns, but I had to work my butt off for them. I was most disappointed in the lack of a hatch. You’d think with a warm, sunny day, cool water, and not too much of it, you’d get a gangbusters sulphur emergence. Nope. So off to parts elsewhere, when I can, that is. Busy rest of the week. I would think that the vast majority of the Farmington above Collinsville is in its very late spring wet fly wheelhouse. Catch ’em up!

No, I have not forgotten about you. Your time is coming.

Farmington River Report 6/2/21: Hard wet fly times

I guided Larry yesterday and we fished from 2pm-6pm within the Permanent TMA. The river was a very manageable 500cfs, with good water clarity. Angler traffic was light, so we had our pick of pools. Unfortunately, hatch activity — and especially feeding activity near the surface — was also light, and we struggled to find fish that were willing to jump on. We fished three different marks and managed only one hookup. So I had to give Larry the speech that I hate to give. It goes something like this: “You’re not doing anything wrong. Those are fish-worthy drifts. If you do these same things on another day, you will be a wet-fly fishing catching machine.” Kudos to Larry for sticking with it and maintaining a positive attitude! I’m looking forward to getting that email from him where he tells me he hit it right and it all came together. It’s going to happen.

After our session, I ventured upriver to inspect the evening rise. It was a slow wet fly experience there as well (that should make you feel better, Larry!) as I could only manage one trout from 6:30-7:30pm. Hatch activity was solid, with midges, small caddis, and sulphurs, but again the surface activity was not where I would have liked it to be. I switched to dry flies at 7:30 and fooled fish on a mix of Magic Flies, Usuals, and Light Cahill Catskills dries. My two best fish came very late in the game during the spinner fall, both on the Light Cahill, both chunky mid-teens wild browns. A fine finish to a challenging day.

There comes a point in the battle where I wonder, “Is this one of those fat stocked rainbows, or a big wild brown?” No disrespect to the rainbows, but I am highly pleased when the answer is the second choice. Here’s the last fish of the evening. I saw him sipping spinners in some frog water along the opposite shore. Both of these last two browns were hefty, spirited, and refused to come quietly to net. You know you’ve got a decent fish when it sounds and heads for the deepest part of the run. See you soon, fellas.

Steve Culton’s Grass Shrimp Solution featured in On The Water’s “Guide Flies”

Another year, another appearance in On The Water magazine‘s “Guide Flies” column, written by Tony Lolli. You’re familiar with he concept of a guide fly — a pattern that is typically simple to tie and is a consistent producer. I’d like to introduce the Grass Shrimp Solution as Exhibit A: some bucktail, a few wraps of braid, palmered wet fly hackle, and then you’re fishing. You can see the wet fly influence in its construction. I like this pattern at night when the grass shrimp are forming mating swarms, and are being carried out of an estuary on current. Make it part of your three fly team, and hang on! This pattern was originally published in the old American Angler magazine, Nov/Dec 2015, “Soft Hackles For Striped Bass.”

Here’s a pdf of the article: