Farmington River Report 6/1/23: Spectacular wet fly action, then dry fly doldrums

On Thursday I had the pleasure of fishing with Andrew. Andrew had asked for a wet fly lesson, and he couldn’t have picked a better day: water on the low side of medium and clear & cold, hot, sunny weather…well, maybe it could have been a little bit better on the hatch intensity scale, as we really didn’t see much aerial bug activity, nor actively feeding fish. Nonetheless, the subsurface bite was tremendous. We started off in the PTMA with a stream-side Wet Flies 101 lesson, then headed to the water. In one hour we stuck six fish (while the anglers above and below us blanked). We finished up below the PTMA and were faced with the same situation: very little bug activity and virtually no active feeders. But the bite was off the charts! I have no idea how many trout we stuck. Like many new wet fly anglers, Andrew found it challenging to let the fish set the hook. But he did a great job of casting and presentation. Awwwright, Andrew!

The first of many for Andrew. We fished a three fly team consisting of a sz 16 Magic Fly top dropper, sz 14 tan Diving Caddis middle dropper, and sz 14 tailed Partridge and Light Cahill on point. Unlike my experience Tuesday night, all Andrew’s fish came on the creamy mayflies.
A historical — and hysterical — moment. Andrew took a spunky rainbow, and as we were admiring it in the net, he haphazardly let his leader dangle in the current a rod’s length away. Bang! Another rainbow took the point fly with fierce conviction. I’ve experienced many wet fly doubles, but none like this one!

After our session ended, I headed downstream to meet surfcaster extraordinaire Toby Lapinski for the evening rise. The mark was basically dead at 7pm, which did not bode well — it should have been simmering with rises and the air should have been dotted with creamy mayflies. Absent any action, I headed upriver to swing a team through a snotty run, and was rewarded with 8 fish in a half hour. As with Andrew, all of the action came on the creamy mayflies. The dry fly bite finally happened at 8pm, but it was probably a 3-out-of 10 on the scale, and there was no real dusk feeding frenzy. I’d ended up in the some frog water where the majority of risers were smutting on tiny flies and spinners. Since I was feeling lazy, I didn’t bother tailoring my leader and flies to that situation; as a result, I rose only 7 trout on my size 16 Magic Fly, Usual, and sz 12 Catskills Light Cahill, sticking 2 and landing 1. But that was fine with me. Toby had similar results. This weekend cold front won’t help matters, but I expect the Sulphur hatch to build over the next week. Hopefully, before long, we’ll be in that early summer dry fly nirvana.

A Striper Tying and Greased Line Swing Lesson

Neville has been following me for some time now, all the way from England. While he’s on holiday in the States this week, we had the time to meet up in Rhode Island for a lesson. We met at his rental in Point Judith, and tied a deer hair shrimp, my Grass Shrimp Solution, a Big Eelie, and then a Mutable Squid. That kept us busy for a couple of hours. Then we geared up and headed to an estuary to practice the greased line swing and its associated tactics. The tide was wrong, but we had moving water, and we even had a swing and a miss when Nev was stripping in his line to make another cast. (Teaching moment: the bass that chased his Ray’s Fly was small. Stripping a fly is a great way to attract small striped bass.) Neville is a very enthusiastic learner (he recorded much of our session on his phone) and I have only the highest amount of respect for those who dive into a subject with such eagerness and passion. Well done, Nev!

All the way from Merry Old England! Here’s Nev putting his TFO TiCr five-weight through its paces. He’s well on his way to becoming a dangerous striper-catching machine.

Farmington River Report 5/30/23, or: Gary LaFontaine, you magnificent bastard, I read your book!

Fans of the movie Patton will instantly get the reference. In this case, I’m not talking about military literature, but rather LaFontaine’s fly fishing masterwork Caddisflies, which I have been studying the last couple months with renewed vigor. We’ll get to that in a moment.

I fished last night for less than two hours, but it was almost non-stop, spectacular wet fly action from start to finish. The mark was a section of the lower river, running at 328cfs and about 60 degrees. Hatch activity was at best moderate. Observed: Vitreus size 12, Sulphur size 14-16, midges, and tan caddis size 14-16. Rise activity was minimal. I fished a three fly team of a Magic Fly (heavy hook) size 14 top dropper, a LaFontaine Diving Caddis tan variant size 14 middle dropper, and a tailed Partridge and Light Cahill size 14 on point. My first three fish took one of each. From about 7:15-8:30, I have no idea how many trout I hooked. It was one of those nights where if I made three drifts without a tug, I wondered if maybe it was over. (The the answer was always no, it isn’t.) Here is the magic of the evening: this was the first time I fished the Diving Caddis, and of the over two dozen trout I landed, the vast majority came on the caddis.

Also noteworthy: there were very few visible rises, and not a ton of bugs. But clearly, there was a significant feeding event taking place subsurface — and the featured entree was egg-laying tan caddis.

The idea behind the Diving Caddis is to emulate a female egg layer, encased in a silvery bubble of air. This specific pattern is not in Caddisflies, but obviously the trout appreciated my creativity. My variant was tied with tan thread on a size 14 hook. Body was tan Lifecycle Caddis with a small gold wire rib. Underwing was brown partridge. Overwing 30 fibers of tan sparkle yarn. One turn brown rooster hackle tied hanging back to ward the bend.
I had the Farmington hat trick. Most of the fish were stocked rainbows, but there was also a hefty stocked brook trout, along with a bonus 6″ wild brookie. I also had four wild browns, which was gratifying since this section of river no doubt got torched during last summer’s heat and drought. Love me some paddle pecs! Almost all of the takes came in swirling pocket water on the dead drift, although I did have a bunch on the dangle, too.

Late Farmington River Report 5/26/23: Like son, like father

I guided Jerry and his 8 year-old son Wesley on Friday. Both are very beginning fly fishers, and neither had ever fished the Farmington River before. But, this a great time to fish the river, and we had outstanding weather: sunny, 70 degrees, flows at 270cfs in the PTMA and 435cfs downriver. On that day, 11am-3pm, the story was caddis, caddis, and caddis. Wesley hooked up first, then dad, and we ended up with five in the hoop. What a tremendous job for both anglers. Well done, gentleman and lad!

As you can see, Wesley is a little guy. After I rigged him up, I held his hand as we waded out to the spot, telling him that I had him in case he slipped. “Do you trust me?” I asked. “No,” he replied, without a moment’s hesitation. Too funny! (Photo by Jerry Ezold)
Wesley’s first Farmington River trout! He did a great job of managing his drifts (we started off with indicator drop shot nymphing) and especially with looking for a reason to set the hook on every drift. I had both father and son fishing an Electric Caddis larva on point; Wesely with tan, and Jerry with bright green. Both worked. There are many versions of that fly bouncing around the web, so I’ll try to get you the recipe I use soon. It’s produced every time out.
After spending the bulk of the time at one mark, we moved to a second within the PTMA to finish the session. I switched both anglers to a two-fly wet fly team. I had both fishing Mike Lawson’s Partridge Caddis Emerger in tan on top and both connected. (This was the first time I had ever fished that pattern, which was designed for Henry’s Fork but of course works very well back east.) Jerry scored this gorgeous wild brown on his point fly, my bead head Squirrel and Ginger. A great first time on the Farmington, guys, and you were both a pleasure to fish with. (Photo by Jerry Ezold)

The Farmington River is now moving into late spring/early summer mode. The hatches will begin to transition to heavier in the evenings, although caddis will still come off mornings/early afternoons, with egg layers returning later in the day. As you may have read, I am totally booked for June. Here’s hoping you get out to fish, and if you see me, please come say hello.

The requirements of a successful grass shrimp fly pattern are…well, they certainly don’t include realism

Edward Ringwood Hewitt was one of the leading innovators in American fly fishing and fly tying. The Skating Spider…Bivisisble…Neversink Stone…these are all Hewitt creations. Hewitt was obsessed with finding out everything he could about what made fish eat. To wit, he created a list of seven factors that made a pattern successful, and ranked them in order of importance. Gary LaFontaine, another keen student of feeding behavior and effective fly design, lists them in his masterwork Caddisflies. Number one is the light effects of the fly, above and below the surface. Number seven, the least important, is accuracy of imitation of the naturals.

So it should come as no surprise that The Grass Shrimp Solution, a ridiculously simple pattern constructed of a few strands of bucktail, some braid, and a hen feather, excels at fooling striped bass. It has no eyes, no tail, no carapace. But it does have the essential bite triggers that stripers are keying on. In Caddisflies, LaFontaine makes a very big deal about what fish are looking for when they’re feeding; it’s often a single, essential characteristic of the natural. The Grass Shrimp Solution offers a translucent silhouette when viewed from below; the soft hackle and sparse feelers provide movement; and when held on the dangle, the fly creates a wake just like the naturals. Impressionism. It’s what’s for dinner.

If you placed the Grass Shrimp Solution in a shop next to patterns with shells and eyes, no one would buy it. Fortunately, striped bass don’t browse through fly bins.

First Rose Bloom, Creamy Mayflies (with some entomology notes), and I’m totally booked for June

Every year, like clockwork, the first rose bloom (almost always the hybrid tea rose Grenada) signifies that creamy mayflies are beginning to hatch in volume on the lower Farmington River. And thus, it is now so. “Creamy mayflies” is certainly a broad term, and it covers a bunch of species. In the past, I’ve used the nouns “Vitreus”and “Light Cahill” to describe creamy mayflies in the collective, rather than the individual species they truly are. I’m trying to up my entomology game this year; henceforth, I’ll try to be more accurate with the bug names I toss out to you. What’s happening right now, to the best of my knowledge, are Vitreus, aka Pink Ladies, and the first push of big Sulphurs. Vitreus are big, a 12-14, two tails, an evening hatch. Big Sulphurs are a 14-16 and their latin is Ephemerella invaria. Again, two tails, evening hatch, and a much brighter color than the Vitreus. I’ve been calling the Vitreus the colloquial “Light Cahill” for years, and while that’s technically wrong, please give a size-color-profile guy a break!

Every year is different, but nature is always on time.

Which brings us to lessons. If you were lucky enough to book a wet fly lesson with me in June, congratulations! It’s one of the best times of the year to swing under the hatch. Sadly, I am completely full from now through the end of June. So July it will have to be. That’s going to book quickly, too, so best to jump on it early. The reason for the logjam is simple: I’ve gotten a lot guiding requests from anglers all over the country since the Orvis Podcast “How to Swing Soft Hackle Wet Flies with Steve Culton” was released a couple weeks ago, If you haven’t heard it, I humbly suggest that you do.

Reminder: New CT Striper Slot Starts May 26

This is from an email sent out today by the CT DEEP:

“Greetings fellow fishing enthusiasts. CT DEEP is sending you this email to let you know that the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC) took emergency action earlier this month to implement a 31-inch maximum size limit on recreational striped bass fisheries along the Atlantic coast. For more information about the ASMFC emergency action, please read the ASMFC news release available at as well as the informative FAQ page that was compiled by the Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries available at

To come into compliance with the ASMFC emergency action, CT DEEP will implement a new 28-31” harvest slot limit for striped bass effective May 26, 2023. The new 28-31” harvest slot limit that will become effective on May 26th means that any striped bass that is less than 28 inches or greater than or equal to 31 inches must be released without avoidable injury. This regulation will apply to all waters of the state (marine and inland district).

Questions on the new striped bass harvest slot regulation can be sent via e-mail to , or call 860-434-6043 and leave a voicemail and someone from DEEP Marine Fisheries will return your call as soon as possible.

ASMFC is required to hold four public hearings within 30 days of any emergency action to provide information on the action and obtain public comment. ASMFC will hold four virtual hearings and has released a hearing schedule. Members of the public may also submit written comments by sending an e-mail to or by mail to:

Emilie Franke

Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission

1050 N. Highland Street, Suite 200 A-N

Arlington, VA 22201

The virtual public hearing schedule is as follows:

Wednesday, May 17 5:00 – 7:00 p.m. (Completed)

Monday, May 22 6:00 – 8:00 p.m.

Tuesday, May 23 5:00 – 7:00 p.m.

Wednesday, May 31 6:00 – 8:00 p.m.

To register for a virtual hearing, please go to this link:

and use the dropdown menu to select the hearing date you plan to attend. Hearings will be held via GoToWebinar, and you can join the webinar from your computer, tablet or smartphone. If you are new to GoToWebinar, you can download the software by ( or via the App store under GoToWebinar. We recommend you register for the hearing well in advance of the hearing since GoToWebinar will provide you with a link to test your device’s compatibility with the webinar. If you find your device is not compatible in advance of the hearing, please contact ASMFC at (subject line: GoToWebinar help) and we will try to get you connected. We also strongly encourage participants to use the computer voice over internet protocol (VoIP) so you can ask questions and provide input at the hearing.”

Gotta let the big girls go.

My 10am-2pm slot Tuesday 5/23 just opened up. Who wants it?

My client had to cancel and it’s first come first served. Be advised that I have limited availability in May and June, so jump on this. It’s a great time to work on nymphing or start to learn the nuances of wet fly fishing. Please contact me directly via phone or email.

Farmington River Report 5/16/23: Things are starting to heat up

Last night’s cold front notwithstanding, the hatches, the water, and (finally!) the action are all starting to heat up on our favorite tailwater. I guided Alan yesterday from 10:30am-2:30pm, and we bounced around to three different marks below the PTMA. The Unionville gauge was reading 507cfs, and the river was running cool and clear. Our focus was drop-shot nymphing under an indicator, a good strategy for that time window this time of year. To give you an idea of how a typical lesson goes, we try to start in some water that isn’t too technical. (Great minds think alike, as Farmington River guide extraordinaire Antoine Bissieux showed up with his client at the same mark.) I showed Alan how I build a drop shot rig, then we moved to fly selection.

Right now, the hero hatch is caddis, caddis, and more caddis. I put an Electric Caddis with bright green caddis LifeCycle dubbing and no bead on point, size 12. For a top dropper I used one of my experimental caddis pupa (as yet un-named, details to come soon) soft-hackles, green body, size 14. Alan did a good job of getting his rig where it needed to be; casting that unwieldy shebang takes a bit of getting used to. Much of nymphing success hinges on managing drifts and setting downstream; those can also be challenging because there’s a lot to think about and tend to in a short period of time. I guess Alan did OK (he said, tongue planted firmly in cheek) as he brought a half dozen trout to net at the first mark!

I remain one of the last holdouts when it comes to client fish photos. There’ll be no arms locked, fully extended, thrusting fish into the camera on this website. This was our first fish, a spunky rainbow that taped between 15 and 16″. Nicely done, Alan! We took two trout on the Electric Caddis, and I’m delighted to report that the rest came on my experiment, which has yet to let me down this spring — every time I’ve tied it on a client’s rig, it has produced.
The second mark was a blank. I think the bulk of the feeding activity took place before noon. We did score this lovely wild brown, about 9″ long, haloed spots and parr marks, in a section of river that got torched last summer. Nature finds a way! This was a good nymphing lesson fish because he took ever so subtly — the indicator never went under, it simply stalled — and Alan, who by now was looking for a reason to set the hook on every drift, drilled it. Great job, Alan!

Happy Mother’s Day and Farmington River Report 5/12/23

Happy Mother’s Day to all!

To the river: On Friday I guided Lance and Alex from 11am-3pm. The goal was to get some more experience on the river, learn some new spots, reading the water, and work on presentation and casting and hook sets. Drop-shot nymphing under an indicator was the method. River conditions were just about perfect: 380cfs in the PTMA, running cool and clear. I would have liked to have seen a little more bigger bug activity, but midges were out in force, along with a few casual caddis and a smattering (micro-smattering?) of various mayflies. We hit three marks in the PTMA. We had one touch in the first, blanked in the second, and the third was the charm with both Lance and Alex connecting multiple times. I was lucky to have two students that were both eager to learn and unafraid to make mistakes. I could see them both improving as the lesson progressed. Great job, guys, during a slow bite, and you connected more than any other anglers we saw all day.

We turned over a few rocks and found cased caddis and crawler nymphs, but when I crane fly flew into my face, I put a size 12 Gummy Crane as Lance’s point fly. The trout said, “yes.”
Alex peering into the net to check out his prize. He connected on both the Frenchie variant on point, and in this case, an experimental caddis glass bead soft hackle dropper. Great job, guys. Persistence pays off!