Farmington River Report 5/17 & 5/18/22: The curse of the cold front, then getting warmer

I can’t remember the last cold front that came through that was good for fishing. I can, however, remember plenty of times when it was bad. Like just a few days ago. Still, you take what nature gives you, and you do your best. That’s all anyone can ask. And maybe you still manage to have fun.

Tuesday May 17: I guided Herb today. Herb was dedicated to learning the ancient art of the wet fly — gotta love that — so we headed to a stretch of classic wet fly water. This was the morning after the cold front came through, and predictably, the action was slow. Hatch activity was virtually non-existent; we only saw one fish rise in four hours. It was a breezy, gusty day, and we got soaked by a couple of random rain squalls. We moved to a different location within the Permanent TMA. This was a difference maker as we had a couple bumps and then, hooray!, a hook set. Herb landed a lovely fat rainbow in a soft riffle, and there were smiles all around. Great job, Herb, for sticking with it, and I’m excited for you to swing wets under more favorable conditions.

Wednesday, May 18: Fred and Bud joined me for a late morning/early afternoon lesson within the Permanent TMA. Conditions were much better: still gusty, but sunny, warmer, and the water great height for wet flies (270cfs). Both anglers began with drop-shot nymphing, Fred tight line and Bud with an indicator (use the method in which you have the most confidence). Both of them caught fish. There came a point in the early afternoon when bugs started to pop, so we switched to wets. Because of the wind, I kept both anglers to a two-fly team. I think my favorite part of teaching these gentlemen was watching them improve as each hour passed, and doing it in the lovely stretch of water we had all to ourselves. Sometimes you get lucky. Kudos to Fred and Bud for fishing hard and well!

Why is this man smiling? A fat, well-fed trout, feeding right where we thought he’d be. My Hendrickson soft-hackle and Fred’s well-placed cast and mended swing did the trick.

Farmington River Report 5/5 and 5/6/22: Hot and then ice cold

“Every day is different.” That’s something my clients hear from me a lot. Thursday and Friday this week were the proof. I guided Jon and his grandson Jake; Jon’s an experienced fly angler, Jake not so much, but very eager to learn. It was exciting to have two generations of fly fishers on the water, and have the opportunity to teach them.

Thursday 5/5: warm, sunny conditions, and a reduced flow. Hot-diggety! As we arrived at the first mark, below the Permanent TMA, blocky caddis, size 12-14, filled the air. I liked our chances. Our first lesson was indicator nymphing with a drop shot rig. Jake did a great job figuring it out; in no time at all he was casting and making quality drifts.

Not bad, kid! A mid-teens wild brown Jake hooked while drop-shot indicator nymphing. Jake’s quote, pre-battle: “I think I’m stuck on a rock.” Nossir. You got a tank of a brown. Jake did a great job playing and landing the fish. We talked about proper release and photo techniques, in particular keeping the fish submerged until ready to shoot, then 1-2-3 lift, and shoot. Note the water dripping from Jake’s hands. This gorgeous fish took the top dropper, a Squirrel and Ginger size 12.

We moved upriver into the lower end of the permanent TMA for a wet fly lesson. The Hendrickson hatch was decent enough (5 out of 10) and both Jake and Jon connected with fish. I had them both rigged with a Squirrel and Ginger top dropper and a soft-hackled Hendrickson on point. I’d kept it a two fly rig on purpose, hoping to reduce the chance of tangling disasters; while I highly recommend a three fly team, two flies is certainly better than one. Both gentlemen caught fish on each fly. When the hatch matured and the trout wanted the dry, we switched over and had fun trying to fool them on the surface. The run was crowded, with seven anglers, but we all managed to share the water and keep it positive. Everyone got into trout on this glorious early May Day.

Friday 5/6: This is why I hate cold fronts. We carpet bombed the first mark with nymphs; not a touch. We moved to a second mark and tried wets; nothing doing. This was particularly frustrating because I know that particular run is infested with trout. But: the hatch activity stunk. No caddis. No Hendricksons. Over the course of four hours, a visible rising number I could count on a hand. We saw only one other angler hook a fish. Ugh. Jake and Jon deserved far better for their efforts, as both fished hard and well. All you can do on a day like this is make quality presentations and hope things turn. They didn’t for us, but we left the river with our heads held high. Great job, Jon and Jake, and you were a pleasure to guide.

Farmington River Report 5/4/22: Making our own luck

I guided Gerry and Sam today, and while Gerry did most of the fishing, a splendid time was had by all. The subject of today’s lesson was wet flies. We spent about 45 minutes on a bench for some streamside classroom, then Gerry and I went to work. Our first mark was in the upper end of the Permanent TMA. Flow was a reasonable 360cfs, but the water is still very cold, and we had rain showers that seemed to bring what little feeding activity there was to a screeching halt. (This was to be today’s pattern: active fish, then stop. Wait a bit. Then more feeding, or no feeding at all. Wait for it.) We managed one hookup, then decided to seek our pleasure elsewhere.

Mark #2 was in the lower end of the TMA. By now, the rain had stopped. There were no Hendricksons that we saw, and a few size 16 BWOs here and there. Nothing much was going on in terms of visible feeders — and then, as so often happens, suddenly it was on. A rise here. A boil there. Gerry was fishing a team of a size 12 Squirrel and Ginger, a size 12 Dark Hendrickson winged wet, and a size 14 Old Blue Dun. Fish on! Then another. And another. The fish, a mix of rainbows and browns, ate all three flies. A half dozen trout in an hour doesn’t suck, and we gleefully took our bounty and ran.

Another satisfied customer. Gerry is now officially on the path to becoming a dangerous wet fly machine. Even though the fishing was off today, he kept at it, trusted the method, and was repeatedly rewarded with bend rod syndrome. Way to go, Gerry!

Farmington River Report 4/29/22: Hendricksons, spectacular wet fly action, mystery bug ID

I fished the lower end of the Permanent TMA yesterday afternoon and we had much better flows (under 400cfs) for swinging wet flies. So much, in fact, that after a while I replaced my tungsten bead head soft hackles with non-weighted bugs, the better to target all the slashing risers. Atmospheric conditions were as they have been: chilly, windy, and uncomfortable.

I arrived late, about 1:30pm, and as I approached the mark, I recognized the faces of the two anglers who had beaten me to it. It was Bob and Andy. I’d seen them here last year, introduced myself, and we shared the water. These guys are very giving, and a pleasure to fish next to. I’d like to thank them again for being so matey and kind.

Right away, I was into fish. I’d made the comment earlier to Torrey Collins at UpCountry that if you hit this hatch right, fishing with wets is almost unfair. I took them on the swing. I took them on the Leisenring Lift. I took them dead drifted deep on a short line. Active feeders almost always hit on the first cast. I even managed my first double of the year.

Then, the bugs came. Lots and lots of Hendricksons. I’d give this hatch an 8 out of 10. The point where the trout would no longer take the wet came at 2:45pm. Once I figured out what they wanted — it wasn’t, to my surprise, The Usual, with which I usually do boffo box office — I managed a bunch on the surface. (The winning fly was a Comparadun.) Dry fly was very much a challenge in the fierce gusts. But it’s supposed to moderate, so tight lines to those brave souls venturing out this weekend. I expect the hatch to continue to ramp up and move upriver. Enjoy!

‘Nuff said.

To this week’s mystery bug. I appreciate everyone’s input and guesses. My first thought when I observed them was some kind of early BWO. They were clearly too small for Hendricksons. After I captured a couple specimens, I was able to see that they all had only two tails. I ended up going to two people who have a far deeper technical knowledge of these things than I, and they both independently identified the creature as a Baetis. That’s good enough for me! (In case you’re wondering, my panel of experts consisted of Torrey Collins and Derrick Kirkpatrick. Those guys have forgotten more about Farmington River hatches than I currently know.)

Farmington River Report 4/27/22: I can’t wait for April to get here

Another unseasonably cold, windy afternoon on the river. I decided to check out the lower section below Collinsville, mostly out of Hendrickson curiosity. The water was higher than I’d like for wet fly (755cfs is still chugging; sub-500 would be best) but you don’t know if you don’t go. I began in a faster, snottier boulder-studded section; not surprisingly, it was a wet fly blank. I didn’t nymph it, which might have produced a different result.

Bug activity was, at first, minimal. Ubiquitous midges, then a mystery mayfly (see below), and then a few precious H-words. The mystery mayfly far outnumbered the Hendricksons, probably 10:1 or so. When the sun peeked out, the hatch ramped up. And when the clouds took over, the hatch stopped in its tracks. I managed a good half dozen trout on wets — this was in slower moving water — catching them blind and also by targeting active feeders. While few and far between, the active feeders all pounced on a well-placed wet fly. I fished the same team as Monday, a Squirrel and Ginger on top, followed by two tungsten beadhead Hendrickson soft hackles. I had an accident trying to land a trout by hand, and lost the middle dropper; when I re-tied, I exchanged the point fly for a tungsten SHBHPT.

I wasn’t satisfied with the surface activity, so I did a bit of nymphing. Normally I would use a traditional drop shot nymph rig, but this time I kept the three fly team and added a drop shot section to the point fly and one of my home-brew year indicators to the tapered butt. It worked just fine, and some of the takes were highly aggressive, almost bordering on frantic. After 2 1/2 hours, I’d had enough. I tried for one more trout on a swung wet, and, once successful, headed for the warmth of the car.

The mystery bug, about a size 14-16. Some kind of olive? Quill-something? Whatever it is, it far outnumbered Hendricksons. I don’t stress when I can’t ID a bug; if you try to match the general size, color, and profile with a wet fly or nymph, you’ll tend to do well. This is why it’s a smart idea to carry soft hackled Pheasant Tails in various sizes, beaded and unbeaded. That pattern looks like a lot of things in general, and almost always like something that’s alive and good to eat.

Farmington River Report 4/25/22: The first wet fly outing of the year

Hoping for Hendricksons, I was on the water before noon. I chose a mark near the bottom of the Permanent TMA. Although ’tis the season, the weather has been most unseasonable; the flows higher (627cfs) and colder than I prefer; and the Hendrickson hatch non-existent. Still, there were mucho midges — signs of life — and there were trout.

I’d decided on a three-fly team of a Squirrel & Ginger on top dropper, with black tungsten beadhead Hendrickson soft-hackles in the middle and on point. The plan was to cast slightly upstream or across, and mend like crazy to help sink the rig before coming tight on the dangle. That worked well enough, although a proper hatch and active feeders (I saw only two rises during the session) would have made the catching easier. The highlight of the outing for me were the two trout I fooled using the Leisenring Lift. I don’t often use that presentation, but there are times when it is lethal. It’s an arrow any serious wet fly angler should have in their quiver.

On a whim, I drove a good ways downstream, below Collinsville, to see if there were any H-Bombs flying around. Negative. I took a couple what-the-heck-I’m-here casts, but at over 1,000cfs it’s a most decidedly wet fly-unfriendly flow. It’s supposed to remain cold this week, so we’ll see how the hatch unfolds.

A hefty 16″ buck that crushed the fly, a beadhead Hendrickson soft hackle, on the Leisenring Lift. He provided fantastic sport in the over 600cfs flows.

How to become an instant expert, or: Fun with truck trout

The Salmon River in Colchester holds a special place in my heart. It’s where my dad taught me to fish for trout. It’s the first place I ever fly fished. And, it’s just about the prettiest little big river around. I used to fish it all the time; the general plan was to hit the Salmon early season, then switch to the Farmington by late spring. Gradually, the pull of the Farmington and its bigger, wild trout took over, to the point where before yesterday, I couldn’t remember the last time I fished the Salmon for trout.

The day I chose to make my triumphant return was chilly, breezy, with a mix of sun and clouds. The water was crystal clear, and running about 300cfs, which I consider to be the perfect height for that river. There was a decent caddis hatch, about a size 14-16, and some 14-16 BWOs. And, to my delight, there were piles of fish to be caught. I fished from 12:15pm-3:30pm, all within the Fly Fishing Only section. While catching trout after freshly stocked trout holds a limited interest to me, I decided I’d just go with the flow and enjoy the moments. And so I did.

I had originally planned to nymph, but then decided to try the tight line long leader micro streamer thing. I wasn’t connecting, but I figured there were trout near the bottom of the run, so I tried a little cast-and-strip, et voila! Casting that long leader with a heavy fly is a bear, but it can be done once you figure out how to wrangle the setup. I ended up catching many fish at another mark on the tight-line hop-and-drop presentation, as well as the strip. Rats! I forgot I only had 5x tippet on the rig, and a broodstock beastie surgically removed the fly. Here’s a chunky low-teens brown that gave me a fine battle for a truck fish.
Some pretty nice haloing for a non-wild char. I’d say my action was 50% browns, 30% rainbows, and the rest brookies. (The high percentage of brook trout surprised me.) I supposed a hat trick is worthy of mention, but you know, I was only a dace or a sucker or even a smallmouth away from the salami. Once I got tired of bailing fish on streamers, I decided to rig for wet fly. Unfortunately, surface activity was sporadic and limited, so no tugs were forthcoming. However, Hendrickson time is coming. Thanks to everyone who took the time to say hello. It’s great to be able to put faces and voices to screen names.

A Tardy Mid-March Steelhead Report

Two weeks ago, Gordo and I floated the Salmon River with guide to the stars Row Jimmy, aka James Kirtland. Conditions weren’t great, nor were they dreadful, and that’s about as good as you can hope for in mid-March in upstate New York. That time of year can be a real mixed bag in terms of action: pre-spawn fish, spawning fish, largely indifferent fish, stale fish, fresh fish, cold or high water. You just never know what you’re going to get. We floated mid-river both days. Here’s what went down.

Monday: We started off below freezing, and we had to do the clearing-ice-from-the-guides dance until very late morning. Although Gordo and I fished hard and well, we had nothing to show for our efforts. The dam release was 1.2K, dropping to 900 at noon; the water was lightly stained and very cold at 34 degrees. Around noon we anchored in some fast, surging water, and I was stunned when my indicator dipped; this was the last place I expected to find fish. I never got a hookset, but it was definitely a bite. A few casts later I hooked up proper. So proper, in fact, that I was stunned when the steelhead came unbuttoned about 20 seconds into the fight. (Insert heavy sigh here.) A couple casts later, I was on again. We could tell it was a good fish because it ran upriver in a blazing 1.4K flow. But we realized something was amiss when the fish turned downstream and ran…and ran…and ran…I was far into my backing when I finally pointed my rod tip at the fish and terminated the connection. (Insert second heavy sigh here.) I reminded myself that the nice thing about multi-day steelheading trips is that there’s always tomorrow…

A low-res capture from video that shows — I think — the speed and chop and power of the current where I had those three touches. That was our action for entire day. We carpet bombed the bottom of several higher-percentage pools where Jim had been finding fish, but there was to be no love. I was exhausted and hungry; wings and pizza and Yeungling from Stefano’s took care of the latter, and a 9pm lights out the former.

Tuesday: “@#$% guides make you get up so &^%$ early.” Those were my words to Jim, uttered in mock disgust (but not inaccurate) as we sat in the boat in the dark and rain at 5:30am. Jim wanted us to lock down a prime spot, hence our early start time. Even though I’d already had my coffee, I felt like I could easily nod off. The fishing began as a duplicate of Monday: good drifts over worthy water, with nothing to show for it. Then, I had a strike. It was a big, chrome steelhead, but the take was 60 feet downstream of me. I set the hook as best I could, and began to clear my line in preparation for the battle. The thing about being tired and cold — 36 degrees and raining is, in my opinion, far more chilling that 20 and not raining — is that you might not have your A-game dexterity. The line fouled against my fingers, the fish surged, and then I was forlornly reeling in a limp line to check my hook point.

Our perseverance was rewarded at the next mark. Gordo landed one, then lost a beast of a steelhead inches short of the net when the leader snapped. So go the accidents of war when you’re steelheading.

Big fish + strong current = a good bend in the rod. Gordo was bummed that we didn’t get this one in the hoop, but he got his money’s worth with the fight. In another time and place, he’d have better luck. I’m so fortunate to be able to enjoy moments like this with my sons. Maybe the equation is: Fishing + your sons = treasure.

Then, it was my turn. I’d just finished giving myself a pep talk that went along the lines of: You’re a good angler. You’re fishing in a spot that holds steelhead. You’re fishing with a high-confidence pattern (Copperhead Stone). You can catch a steelhead. The very next cast was a hookup, and a few minutes later I was releasing her 50 yards downstream. Jim did a great job getting into a position where he could net her — they’d been fishing about 75 yards below me — and since all I need is one to make my happy, you can understand the smile on my face.

All I need is one steelhead. She’s a beauty, this one. Thus sated, we fished about one more hour, blanked, declared victory, and headed home.

Last night, while you were sleeping…

…I was catching my first striped bass of 2022. The conditions weren’t great — rising barometer, gusty winds, cold, rain showers — brrrr! But you don’t know if you don’t go, and she was right where she was supposed to be. She hit the Rock Island flatwing like a ton of bricks and gave me a couple powerful, short runs. The presentation was a greased line swing, and the hit came about halfway through the delivery.

Not huge, but 10 pounds is 10 pounds. This is the first slot fish I’ve taken in a long time.

Farmington River Report 3/10/22: Slow she goes

I fished the Farmington yesterday from 1pm-4pm, dedicated to the streamer cause. We had bright sunlight and seasonal temperatures; the water in the Permanent TMA was 480cfs and clear. While there were a few bugs in the air (midges and and a very small dark un-IDed mayfly) I didn’t see any surface activity. Angler traffic was moderate; there were people fishing in two of the three pools I visited.

The first mark was a riffley dump-in to a larger pool; the method was long-leader jigged mini-streamers. That was a blank. I had the second mark to myself. Again, I went the jigged streamer route with no love. I switched over to a more traditional streamer (Coffey Sparkle Minnow) and my full-sink integrated line and hammered up zero-point-zero trout. Not one measly touch.

The third mark was by now in the shade, which I hoped would work to my advantage. I worked downstream in a long pool with the same results. A walk upstream a 150 yard through the woods warmed me up a bit, and I cycled through again. Finally, a dull thud, a hookset, and soon a chunky rainbow was in the hoop. This is tough time of year to fish (I did not see another trout hooked all afternoon). Happy with one, I called it a day.

Capture! It felt so good after 2 hours and 55 minutes of blankness. Pre-celebrated with a San Cristobal Quintessence Churchill.