Small Stream Report: First foot instead of last blast

As a creature of habit, I lovingly cling to my routines. So I was as surprised as anyone when I decided to not go small stream fishing on New Year’s Eve. Logic trumped tradition; by delaying a few days, the water would be a little warmer and hopefully any residual ice would be long gone. On the drive up, we did see some sheltered woodland streams where mini-glaciers abounded. But when we (myself and surfcaster extraordinaire Toby Lapinski) arrived at the stream we were relieved to see that frozen water was almost non-existent.

The water was barely into the high side of medium, which is just about right for winter fishing, and the brook was running clear and cold. Overcast skies didn’t hurt, nor did temperatures in the low 40s. Toby started out bottom bouncing and jigging, while I went the dry/dropper route. The action far exceeded our expectations. As you can imagine, going deep won the day, but I had enough action on both the dry and dropper that I kept them on for hours. (If reading this is getting you fired up for small streams, I have a presentation tonight in Danbury, The Eastern Brook Trout; later this month, you can see me present Finding Small Stream Nirvana at the Marlborough Fly Fishing Show, and a week later in Edison.)

The first fish of any year is noteworthy, even more so when it’s a stunning display of nature’s paint box. Taken on a size 14 Improved Sofa Pillow.
When I was a kid, I ruefully wondered why tropical fish had all the cool colors. Cut to 55 years later when I now know better. Since fish like this aren’t ever getting replaced by the stocking truck, it bears repeating: barbless hooks only; keep photos to a minimum (I landed dozens and took shots of only three); make sure your hands are wet; keep fish in the water in your net until ready to shoot; never expose fish to air for more than a few seconds; and never lay a fish down on rocks/gravel/leaves/grass. Thank you. (Photo by Toby Lapinski)
Small stream fly fishing for native trout may be fly fishing in its purest form. (Photo by Toby Lapinski)
Halo, I love you (again). Besides pulchritude, this fish is noteworthy because its thinness indicates a spawned out fish — and therefore a redd may be nearby. It’s a good idea to limit walking within the stream bed from mid fall to mid spring; the last thing anyone wants to do is tread on a redd and make all those future brookies dead. (Yes, I know it.) (Photo by Toby Lapinski)

This week:”Eastern Brook Trout” at Candlewood TU and “Wet Flies 2.0″at Hammonasset TU. Everyone welcome!

I have two speaking engagements this week with local TU Chapters and you are cordially invited to attend (Thanks, groups!) The first is Wednesday, January 11 at 7pm at the Candlewood Valley Chapter of TU. I’ll be presenting The Eastern Brook Trout — Connecticut’s Wild Native. The talk covers the species from habits to habitat, and of course we’ll discuss tactics and strategies for fly fishing for these precious jewels. The meeting is at Edmond Town Hall in Newtown, CT. You can get more details here.

We could all use a little bit of some wild brook brook trout. What a stunner, this one!

On Thursday, January 12, 7pm, I’m at the Hammonasset Chapter of TU. The talk is Wet Flies 2.0, and it takes a deeper dive into this ancient and traditional subsurface art. Matching hatches, using wet flies as searching patterns, tackle, presentations…we’ll talk about stuff like this and much more.The meeting takes place at the Quinnipiac River Watershed Association building in Meriden, CT. You can get more details here. If you’re not a member of the group, I think they want you to get a free ticket online, which you can do here.

Come see “Wet Flies 2.0” and you’ll be one of the few anglers in the U.S. who knows the secret of Smut No. 1….

The Marlborough Fly Fishing Show is just two weeks away.

And I’m getting all fired up! It’s a busy show schedule for me this year, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Here are some details on what I’m doing. Finding Small Stream Nirvana is a new presentation; I’ve only done it once, at Edison last year during a blizzard to a small, dedicated audience. It covers the basics of small stream fishing, and goes into gear, tactics, and even how to find your own little slice of thin blue line heaven. My Featured Fly Tyer appearance, Presentation Flies For Striped Bass, will cover some basic patterns I use that create the illusion of life even when at rest. Sparse, impressionistic, and proven, every one of them. I’ll go into that topic in far great depth, including tactics and gear, at my seminar, Beyond Cast and Strip. I debuted that one last November at the International Fly Tying Symposium, and if you want to start catching more (and bigger) striped bass, this one is not to be missed. All of these are included with your show admission.

In Saturday’s class, Tying and Fishing Wet Flies, we’ll tie three basic patterns and talk about presentation and tactics. You must pre-register for this class, and you can do that HERE. If you want to become a dangerous wet fly machine, this is a great way to start. As is my 2pm talk, Modern Wet Fly Strategies, a deeper dive into the ancient and traditional art of catching dozens of fish.

Sunday’s 8:30am class, Presentation Flies for Striped Bass, also requires pre-registration, and you can do that HERE. We’re going to tie and talk and get you on the path to catching the stripers that everyone else can’t. We’ll wrap things up with Hot Bronze: Wade Fishing for Smallmouth. Pound-for-pound, smallmouth are among the most belligerent, obstreperous things that swim, and I’m beyond addicted to catching them.

When I’m not teaching (or sitting in on other’s talks) I’ll be walking the show floor. Please come say hello!

Steve Culton Appearance & Class Schedule for the Edison Fly Fishing Show, Jan 27-28-29

It’s no secret that the Edison Fly Fishing Show is the biggest, bestest fly fishing show going! I’m pleased to announce that I will be appearing once again as a presenter, instructor, and fly tier. The Edison Show runs three days, January 27, 28, and 29; I’ll be there on Friday the 27th and Saturday the 28th. Here’s my schedule:

Friday, January 27: 10:15am, Seminar, Catch Room, Finding Small Stream NirvanaNoon, Destination Theater Room BWet Flies 101. 2:00pm-4:30pmClasses With The Experts, Beyond Cast & Strip: Presentation Flies for Striped Bass. You must pre-register for this class. Admission to the show is included in the cost of any class registration for that day.

Presentation flies work even when at rest. I caught my largest bass of 2022 on this presentation fly, the R.L.S. Sure Thing.

Saturday, January 28: 9:45am, Seminar, Strike Room, Modern Wet Fly Strategies11:00am, Destination Theater Room DLost Secrets of Legendary Anglers 12:30pm, main show floor, Featured Fly Tier, Spiders, Winged, and Wingless Wets. 2:00pm-4:30pmClasses With The Experts, Tying and Fishing Wet Flies. You must pre-register for this class. Admission to the show is included in the cost of any class registration for that day.

Overlooked and under-utilized, wet flies are a must-have in your fly box if you want to catch more fish. Learn how to tie and fish these lethal patterns in my class, Tying and Fishing Wet Flies.

As always, I’m hoping for a big turnout from my readers and followers. When I’m not doing a class or demo or speaking, you can find me walking the show floor. Please come say hello! I love putting names to faces.

Hello, 2023! Don’t forget your CT license, and there are some new regs.

2023 is spread out before us, an immense blank canvas upon which we may paint glorious fishing pictures. Yeah, OK, there will be some blanks and some crappy conditions and days where it just doesn’t go our way. Whatever. It all beats the crap out of sitting at a desk.

To start: don’t forget to get a 2023 Connecticut license. (I only mention this because someone who looks a lot like me did.)

There are some new inland sport fishing regs for CT, too. You can get all the fishing regs from the CT DEEP website, but the one that is most meaningful to all of us is that there is now no closed season for fishing on all lakes, ponds, rivers, and streams. That means if you want to fish for trout on an off-the-books thin blue line in March, have at it. A great change and a long time coming.

Catch ’em up!

Here’s to doing what the can says.

Currentseams Best of 2022 #1: Erie Tribs Steelheading

For the second consecutive year, our #1 slot goes to steelhead. Normally, my August trip out west would have been the runaway winner, but what I experienced over the course of two days in December in Ohio and Pennsylvania was nothing short of extraordinary. Let me tell you about it…

Saturday, December 17: Conneaut Creek, OH. This trip was years in the making. I’d originally booked a trip to Steelhead Alley with guide Bob Packey (you can find Bob at Solitude Steelhead Guide Service LLC) for a fall trip, but we got flooded out. We rescheduled for last spring, but when the date all the fish had returned to the lake. That left us with a long wait for mid-December 2022. But oh, my goodness, what a worthy wait.

My plan was to drive out to Wooster, OH, on Friday the 16th to pick up #2 Son Cam from college. What should have been a nine-hour drive turned into well over ten, thanks to a snow squall in the Poconos. By the time we had dinner and reached our lodging in PA, it was pushing 11pm.

Conneaut Creek reminded me of the Sandy Creeks north of NY’s Salmon River. A medium-sized creek, shale bottom, water with a peculiar greenish-brown tint, and fish that hold in its deeper pockets and runs. Cam, who could hardly be called a fly fisher — his only serious big river foray in the last decade was this summer in CO — was into three steelhead before I even had my rod set up. Such is the teaching acumen of Mr. Packey, who knew the water by rote and had Cam casting and presenting functionally in minutes. I was using Bob’s leader system with one of my yellow yarn indicators, which was a good choice for me since I had great difficulty seeing Cam’s indicator. (I learned and relearned many lessons on this trip, and the first was: always fish the way you are most comfortable/have the most confidence in.) I dropped my first hookup, but before long I was putting my first Erie trib fish in the hoop.

Giving my first Erie Mykiss a kiss. If this had been my only fish of the day — or, let’s get greedy and say the first of five — I would have left the creek a happy man. Little did I know the magnificent bounty that awaited us in the next pool. (Unless otherwise credited, all photos by Bob Packey.)
We hiked/waded upstream several hundred yards to the next mark, a deep slot in the tailout of a faster moving pool. I’ve included this photo to show you the incredible shale walls that surround many of the Erie tribs. We were literally fishing from the ledges upon which you see each of my boots — backs to the wall — it’s only a few feet of wiggle room, and if you make a wrong step you’re into deep, 34 degree water. This mark was phenomenal; we had to alternate casts/presentations, and for the first several it was a hookup on every cast. After that, we took turns, the rule being you presented until you hooked up. We’d been using egg patterns — Bob’s favorite is the Blood Dot with an egg body and apricot supreme dot. I switched over to some of my bugs, and hooked up on a 60 Second Redhead and a Copperhead Stone. You can use two flies in both PA and OH, and that was the setup we fished with over both days.
The third mark was an intriguing maze of ledges and submerged formations that created several fish-holding slots. I remember Bob suggesting we prospect in a mysterious looking pocket not far from our feet. Gold — or should I say chrome — was struck after a few casts. We fished a bit, ate some lunch, then went back at it. I’m good for at least one act of stupidity per trip, and on today it was a missed hook set that went straight over head and sent my leader cascading into the unreachable upper branches of a tree. While Bob was building a new leader for me, Cam hooked and landed this beauty with me handling net duties. We ended the day far downstream casting to a pod of steelhead that suddenly had lockjaw. My best guess was the cold front that was pushing through; the mercury had dropped, the wind had picked up, and it was a classic case of game over. My final tally for Saturday: 14 steelhead. After countless hours of disappointing fishing in near-freezing water and sub-freezing air in rivers and creeks long ago and far away, I had to ask myself: Was it all a dream? I fell asleep that night certain that it was not.

Now, before I continue, the reader must understand that it took me 40 hours of fishing time to land my first steelhead. It then took me over a decade to land 99 more. This will make what I am about to tell you seem positively magical.

Sunday, December 18, Elk Creek, PA. Bob had warned us that the water in Elk Creek was painfully low and clear. This would would make sight fishing easy; the tradeoff would be that the fish might be uber spooky, and their instinct for self-preservation could overpower any primal urge to strike. The weather had turned decidedly colder; air temperature in the 20s, buffeting wind gusts, lake effect snow squalls. We spent the entire day picking ice out of our guides.

The section of Elk Creek we fished is a hydrological wonderland. There are long sections that are literally only inches deep, and long glassy, glides that race over slippery, table-like pitches of shale. The bottom in other sections is a hodgepodge of skipping stones. Sprinkled throughout are small pockets only one or two feet deep; virtually all of them hold fish. Then there are deeper pools, veritable steelhead hotels with room for a hundred or more. Add in the clarity of the water and it’s an aquarium effect on steroids.

It was in the midst of this steelhead fantasyland that I decided to have one of my worst mornings, technique-wise, of my fly fishing career. Shoddy hook sets, late hook sets, hook sets in the wrong direction — it was embarrassing enough that I made Bob promise not to tell anyone. I wasn’t happy with my casting or my presentations, either. But sometimes you can do everything wrong and still land steelhead. Happily, it was that kind of day. I’m pleased to say that eventually, I got it together, and at one point it almost seemed like the steelhead were being delivered to my feet via conveyor belt. Figuring it all out put me in an even better mood, and I didn’t want to leave this paradise.

Holy aquarium, Batman! This just-released steelhead is 90% submerged, yet it looks like it’s high and dry on the rocks. The astonishing water clarity and cloud cover made for some exceptional sight fishing. I found this steelhead in a pocket the size of queen mattress. Nonetheless, you had to make a precision cast and presentation to get a hookup. At just over 33 degrees, the water had the fish firmly in winter lethargy mode. Thanks to Bob for letting me take this shot without revealing our location. Photo by Steve Culton.
I mentioned a — ahem — less than stellar start. That improved during the morning, and by lunch time I was really dialed in. We were fishing a very slow moving, deep water pool that was loaded with steelhead. At Bob’s suggestion, I’d been using one of his tiny indicators, a mini-corkie in fluorescent yellow and orange. The takes were nearly imperceptible; the indicator didn’t go under. I didn’t even wobble or pause. It just slowed a tiny bit, a subtle enough deviation that you could only perceive it if you were simultaneously watching the tiny foam bubbles alongside it. In water this cold, a few fouls are unavoidable; I was delighted to see that these steelhead were indeed eating, as I hooked fish after fish, fly nestled firmly in the mouth every time.
And that’s a wrap. Sunday’s score: Steve 21. Final tally: 35 landed over two days. Cam was also well into double digits. Well done, Bob Packey. Well done.

Currentseams Best of 2022: #4-#2

#4: Getting Published for the First Time in a Real Book, Surfcasting Around The Block II. Although I was late to it in terms of its bookshelf life, I’m a big fan of Dennis Zambrotta’s Surfcasting Around the Block. So you can imagine my delight when, a couple of years ago, Dennis asked if I wanted to write a couple of chapters for the followup. Like filmmaking, writing a book isn’t an instantaneous proposition. In fact, the journey from idea to manuscript to holding bound paper and glossy cover in your hands can be glacial. (Maybe these days that’s not such a good analogy. But I digress.) Published in the fall of 2022, Surfcasting Around the Block II is a must-read for any fan of this fishery. Modesty prevents me from listing my favorite chapters, but suffice to say there are many pearls within the entire book to be harvested by the keen student.

From the original book. (The text, not the fly.)

#3: A Striper That Could be Measured in Pounds Instead of Inches. It’s been a few years since I caught a striper on the fly this big, and man, I don’t have to tell you how good this one felt. After putting in my time at this general mark over several years, what a gas to finally connect with a good fish. And I did it on a fly with which I’ve never had any success, the RLS Sure Thing. So summon your best General Patton voice and shout along with me, “Ken Abrames, you magnificent bastard, I read your book!” Photo by striper master Toby Lapinski. Read more.

#2: Two Glorious Days in Cheesman Canyon. Good lord, what have I been missing all these years?!? I continue to kick myself for never having experienced fly fishing for trout out west before this year. The river was the South Platte; the beats, sections of Cheesman Canyon; the guide, Chris Steinbeck from Pat Dorsey’s Blue Quill Angler. I spent two days in a state of trout nirvana, one with my son Cam and the other solo. Maybe I simply hit it right. Maybe I was spot-on my game. But I know this for sure: an hour on this tailwater has the potential to beat the tar out of a week on the Farmington in terms of nymphing action and robust, belligerent, hefty wild trout. Wow! (It just occurred to me that I never finished my triptych. So I shall endeavor to give you the last part in early January.) Read the first two installments here, and here.

Ironically, my first fish of the trip was by far the smallest. Still, a powerful fighter.

Coming soon…the #1 event of 2022!

Currentseams Best of 2022: #7-#5

Three down, seven to go. Without further ado…

#7: The Return of the Slot Bass. For me, 2021 was a bad year for bigger bass. Now, to be fair, I didn’t go balls-to-the-wall in my search for larger linesiders. But I did get out enough times to enough big bass marks to warrant at least a few courtesy slot fish. I don’t think I caught a striper over 28″ in 2021. 2022 was a different story. Again, I didn’t put in the time that I did 10 years ago, but I had enough slot fish (28″-35″) throughout the year to keep me happy. I won’t list them all, but here is one report; and here’s another.

#6: Tying, Teaching, and Presenting at my First International Fly Tying Symposium. When Chuck Furimsky called me in late August to ask me if I’d be a featured player at the IFT, I was totally stoked. I’d always wanted to do the show, but my annual father-son steelhead trip with Cam got in the way. This year, it was a different weekend, and I immediately said yes. Being a featured presenter/teacher/tyer is a lot of work, but I had way more fun than I could have imagined. As expected, it was a very well-run show, with lots of talented people, and I made many new friends. If you took my class or saw me present or stopped by to say hello, thank you again! Read more.

One of the two new presentations (the other is Beyond Cast & Strip: Presentation Flies for Striped Bass) that debuted at the 2022 IFTS. You can see both of them next month at the Fly Fishing Shows in Marlborough and Edison.

#5: Spectacular Late April Hendrickson Action. Now, don’t get me wrong. I love when the surface of the water is littered with Hendrickson duns and the trout are so gleefully snapping them up that you can see the whites of their mouths. But for me, the wet fly action is what I treasure about this hatch. There may be nothing visibly going on, yet there I am, pounding up trout after trout with my team of three. Or, the surface may be simmering; the dry fly anglers are presenting on the surface to no avail, and there I am, swinging wets, rod bent, with a “Sorry!” grin on my face. When you hit it just right, the Hendrickson hatch and a team of wet flies is pure magic. Read more.

Currentseams Best of 2022: #10 – #8

Gather round, currentseamsers, as we kick off our traditional best-of-year-in-review! These are what I consider to be my most notable moments of 2022. Some of them are about fishing trips; others, my writing; maybe it’s an appearance I made or some kind of recognition. Whatever the reason, it’s a chance for me to take stock of the year and celebrate the good times. And we could all use some extra good times, yes? I’ve linked the original reports if you want to read more. So let’s make our first cast…

#10: The Summer Blizzard in August. This was a monumentally disappointing year for smallmouth bass. The numbers and size just weren’t there, and the drop has been so precipitous, I remain alarmed. But there were a few bright moments, and I can tell you this: the white fly population is in tremendous shape. White flies are a remarkable hatch, as it really doesn’t get going until you can no longer see your fly. But fishing under the hatch at dusk can mean the bass-o-matic, and once night falls, seeing your fly becomes irrelevant. Be advised: white flies will find every opening on your face, so keep your mouth closed. White flies taste really, really bad. Read more.

#9: The World Premier of the Film “Summer on the Farmington.” After many months of shooting and editing — these things take time (and we had a Covid spike that forced a postponement) — what a midwinter treat to gather at Brewery Legitimus in New Hartford to view director Matthew Vinick’s homage to the West Branch. I was delighted with my bits, and as a whole I thought Matthew did an excellent job covering the subject in an informative and entertaining way. Read more.

#8. Currentseams Makes “40 Best Fly Tying Blogs and Websites” List. Sometimes I wonder if all the work is worth it. Are people actually reading — and, most of all, enjoying — what I’m doing here? Certainly it’s a labor of love (I don’t get paid for any of this), and while I do occasionally get positive feedback from you, it’s nice to be recognized by an outside source. I’ll try to get even more quality fly tying stuff out for you in 2023. Read more.

Season’s Greetings from Currentseams

Like me, you’re probably busy today. But let’s spend a minute together so I can tell you how much I appreciate your readership. Loyal followers like you are a wonderful gift. I’m looking forward to sharing more fly tying and fly fishing adventures and advice with you in 2023. Stay safe, be well, and I hope you have the happiest of holidays.