Farmington River Report 1/10/19: Hook sets and the mystery salmo

I guided Rich yesterday from 10am-2pm. We fished three marks within the permanent TMA, with one of them producing four trout. As so often happens with winter fishing, find one trout and you’ll find another. Many thanks to Jerry for so graciously sharing the water! Since Rich is new to the river, we also spent some recon time at several other pools. The method was indicator nymphing with a drop-shot nymph rig. I didn’t get a water temp, but it was cold — I’ll guesstimate 36 degrees, 420cfs, and the air temp never got into the upper 40s as advertised. Four trout on a January outing is darn good, so well done, Rich!

Rich’s first ever Farmington brown, a lovely Survivor Strain (note clipped adipose). I wasn’t happy with Rich’s hook set motion, so after he struck I asked for his rod to re-demonstrate, not knowing that he had indeed hooked up. Too funny, my bad, good on you, Rich! We spent the rest of the day laughing about that one.

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Rich was on fire after the first trout. I had intended to bring the black latex gloves, but forgot. Folks, this water is unpleasantly cold. We caught fish on the soft-hackled pheasant tail (sz 18) dropper and Frenchy variant (size 14) point fly.

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The mystery Salmo. I had thought due to coloration, spotting, and tail fork that this was a beast of a juvenile salar, but the maxillary extends well past the eye, so that would point to trutta. A fisheries biologist once told me that there may be some cross-pollinating between browns and precocious young Atlantics — could this be the result of such a union? Either way, a lovely fish.

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Posterior of the mystery Salmo. 

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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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Farmington River Report 12/6/19: Dedicated to the (futile) streamer cause

I fished the permanent TMA today from noon to 2:15pm. Air temp was 37, water about the same, clouds and snow showers. The water was flowing at 340cfs. As the title says, I went all in on streamers, but never drew the protein payoff card. I hit three marks, and enjoyed the water (and my cigar, a San Lotano Pyramid) all to myself. There were bugs about (tiny BWOs, midges) and I even saw a few sporadic rises, but that dull thud on the swing and strip was sadly absent. Not much angler activity — one guy 250 yards below me at the second mark, a few hardy souls here and there, but today you pretty much had your pick of water. Fished a Coffey Sparkle Minnow, Hi-Liter, and Deep Threat, all on the full sink tip integrated line. We’ll get ’em next time.

Shooting the streamer line. I had forgotten how a few hours in the cold saps me. I’m wiped out, but looking forward to pizza night.

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Salmon River Report 11/25-26: None. One. Are we still having fun?

For a guy who never plays at casinos, I manage to do an awful lot of gambling. Like planning my Salmon River, Pulaski, steelhead trips months in advance. As with Vegas, the odds always favor the house. Sometimes you win. More often, you lose — and lose big. My trip earlier in November brought me the double whammy of a sub-par steelhead run and an Arctic cold front. I felt lucky to escape with my dignity and fingertips intact, and the two steelhead I landed were a trip-saving bonus.

Two weeks later, here I was again. (See “Go, Weather or Not” in my Great Lakes Steelhead piece for Field & Stream.) Make that we, as this was the annual father-son November steelhead trip — facing moderate flows (350cfs, 500cfs at Pineville) but the same paucity of fish. (2019 was, according to my records, tied for the second worst year in the last ten in numbers of fish landed.)

There’s not much to tell you about Monday. We floated the middle river, as always with steelhead guide extraordinaire Row Jimmy, aka James Kirtland, but the vast majority of steelhead that had been there the previous few days had skedaddled. Not a single touch for me in over eight hours of carpet bombing the river bottom. Cam managed one brown, and Jimmy rolled a steelhead that was quickly off. Here, Cam reflects upon the errors or our ways while considering the merit of Stefano’s garlic knots. 

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The command decision was made to float the upper river on Tuesday. We enjoyed a gentlemen’s start at the civilized hour of 7:15am. Here’s Cam wrangling the Pavati at the Altmar boat launch. The anglers we spoke to at the bottom of the LFZ reported a slow beginning to the day.

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So, let’s change that up. Since we needed to let some boats ahead of us fish through, we parked the boat and Jim (did I mention he’s a guide extraordinaire?) pointed to some likely holding water. A bit of a treacherous wade, but manageable, and it wasn’t too long before I was rewarded with a dipping indicator and a thrumming sensation at the end of my line. The fishing quote of the year goes to Cam, who said, “Well, Dad, now you won’t be grouchy for the rest of the day!”

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I’d like to tell you that my fish was the start of something big, but ’twas not to be. We endured hours of the same non-existent action. So when Cam scored this handsome steelhead around noon, we decided that on this day (50 degrees and partly sunny to boot!) we’d beaten the house.

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Salmon River Steelhead Report 11/11-11/13: Mama Told Me (Not To Come)

Mothers can’t help but worry, and so it was with mine when I told her I was going steelheading during the first real cold snap of the season. Turns out she was only partially right.

Nothing kills the steelhead bite with more indifferent cruelty than a cold front. The fishing had been pretty good the few days and hours before we arrived — lots of steelhead, particularly in the upper end of the river, and fair enough weather and flows. By the time we waded in, things were already going south. (The irony will not be lost on those who recognize the cold front as a wanderer originating from the north.)

This was my first non-solo steelhead trip (other than with my sons) in years, as I had the company of the illustrious Peter Jenkins, owner of the Saltwater Edge in Newport, RI. If Jenks looks cold, he probably is. I know I was. The thing about a boat in winter is that there’s a pernicious, unexpected kind of cold — you’re not able to walk around, and if it’s windy you’re exposed to the gusts as they whip off the water.

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We hit the river with positive resolve at 2:30pm Monday, and although we gave it a good effort, no steelhead made it to the hoop. In fact, I didn’t have a single touch. Jenks had, at least, the excitement of a few takes. Timing is everything, though, and we clearly missed it (Sal from Legends on the Farmington was fishing across from us and reported many earlier fish to net from his group.)

Tuesday was float day with my friend James Kirtland of Row Jimmy Guide Service. There’s a technical description for the conditions we experienced — I think “shitty” is the term. We had snow and wind and cold, and let’s throw in a disaster bite for good measure. Jenks had a few touches, but no love on the hookups. My single take of the day produced a newly-minted coin of a skipper, and given the conditions, I took my 1-for-1 and ran with it.

So much depends upon a propane heater, glazed with snowflakes beside the white pizza box. (I love how often that poem lends itself to fishing situations.) Speaking of food, here’s a hot dining tip for those heading up to Pulaski: 11 North Bar & Grill. We visited on Taco Tuesday, and enjoyed three stuffed beefy tacos each for the grand total of $9. That’s not a misprint. Yummy wings, plus a good beer on tap list.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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We performed seemingly never-ending eyelet triage as the mercury never made it out of the 20s for the entire trip. Stuff like Loon Outdoors Stanley’s Ice-Off Paste works…for part of an hour, then it’s back to ice patrol. 

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And then, there was Wednesday. On the river early: 17 degrees. Off the water at 3pm: 19 degrees. Hookups up and down the line were few and far between, with landings even scarcer. And it was just plain suck-the-warmth-out-of-you cold. So when my indicator dipped, I was happy that I got a good, hard, downstream hookset. That’s breath coming out of my mouth, not cigar smoke. Please also appreciate the lake effect snow shower, and Jenks’ fine photography.

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I fouled one more, lost another to a tippet failure (had to have been nicked), and had a couple of bumps that never resulted in a tight line. But any day you can land a steelhead is a good day. And from the look on the angler’s face, regardless of the weather, that is the way to have fun, son.

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A civilized outing at the private fishing club

Being an internationally famous fly fishing personality (or not — but let’s go with the former for the sake of the story) gets me all kinds of cool invites. Yesterday I took advantage of the opportunity to fish some private club-owned waters.

It’s a challenging stream at this time of year, with no canopy, low flows, clear water, and brilliant sunshine. The stream wanders through the woods, mostly longer flat runs and shallows, but pockmarked with intriguing bends, riffles, deep dark holes, and plunges. It’s on the large side of small, or the small side of medium, depending on your point-of-view.

The fishing today was tough. I fished a dry/dropper and streamers. One bump on an olive Squirrel and Herl, and one nose bump on the dry, but I was finally able to connect with a hefty rainbow on spider dropper. My host, John R, managed three. Many thanks for a glorious day on this gorgeous piece of water.

My catch has a great fish story. See that pile of rocks to the right? I had made a cast into the center of the pool from the back side of the pile, and was crawling forward a few feet to get into a better position to manage my drift. When I looked up, my dry fly was gone. So I set the hook, and to my delight found a fat rainbow attached to the North Country spider dropper. Painfully slow currents and mirror-like surfaces made the fishing a triple black diamond challenge.

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Here’s my host John doing battle in the same spot. Many thanks for the invite, kind sir. And if you, dear reader, have issued a similar invitation, I plan to take you up on it — this is simply the one that worked best for me on this day. I appreciate all the offers!

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They’re called classics for a reason. Once again, Our Lady of the Blessed Snipe and Purple did not fail me. Funny thing! On a day where hatches were at a bare-bones minimum, I saw a little black stone, size 18, crawling on my waders moments after I took this photo.

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Farmington River Report 11/5/19: Early fireworks

I guided Drew today, and to celebrate Guy Fawkes’ Day we started off with a bang: two trout on two casts! Drew is new to the Farmington and relatively new to trout fishing, so given the time of year and conditions (cold, 310cfs) our task was to cover some water and work on the nymphing game. The specific method was indicator nymphing, drop shot rig, and we went with a sz 14 Frenchie Variant and a sz 18 SHPT. The trout liked both, the Frenchie being the favorite.

First cast, the indicator merely twitched. Look for a reason to set the hook on every drift!

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Second cast. At this point it was proposed that we quit and go get coffee and doughnuts. The motion failed.

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Angler traffic was light, and we did not see any other fish hooked today. (Thanks to the one gentleman who offered to share the water!) We hit four marks and found fish in two of them. Four trout to net, a few more lost at hookset, and we called it a very good day.  Nice job, Drew!

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