Another back country brookie adventure

The cathedral was built at the end of the last ice age. As the glacier receded, it carved out the path of the stream and dotted its edges with granite boulders. Tens of thousands of years later, I came to worship at its altar.

In one of the Beatles’ Christmas records, John Lennon waxes romantic about the Elizabethan high wall. Here’s to the New England low wall. What was once farmland is now dense woods, and every once in a while you stumble across one of these gems, as if it were part of some random design plan.

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I’ve been fishing this stream for years, and in late May you can always count on a good hatch of yellow sallies. I spent 15 minutes sitting beside a pool watching the char rise in earnest to both midges and stoneflies.

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I started with a dry (Improved Sofa Pillow variant)/nymph (Frenchie variant) dropper and had interest in both. I switched out the nymph for a North Country spider, the Partridge and Orange, to which the answer was a resounding yes. White micro bugger, ICU Sculpin, Squirrel and Herl — they liked them all. Pricked dozens, landed a few less, and spent most of the morning giggling about it.

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I love how the brookies change their colors to match their environment. This guy came from a shallow, well-lit run with a light stone bottom…

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…while his cousin came from the depths of a plunge pool that may only see sunlight for a few days each year.

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A shout out to Matt Supinski

One of my favorite parts of my fishing/writing job is that I get to talk to people who know way more than me. Last week I had the chance to talk to Matt Supinski, author of Steelhead Dreams. The purpose of the interview was to get support quotes for an upcoming steelhead piece for Field & Stream (which should be out late this year). Many thanks to Matt for sharing his time and insights. And now, if you’ll excuse me, I have a deadline approaching rapidly from the east. To the keyboard I go!

We all want to catch more steelhead, and hopefully you’ll find some useful tidbits when the piece comes out.

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Striper report: It’s grass shrimp time, baby

My striper fishing cycle goes through an almost ritualistic pattern, following bass and bait to certain spots at certain times of the year. May and June are always a good time to target stripers feeding on tiny grass shrimp in the many estuaries along the Connecticut shoreline. These diminutive crustaceans swarm to mate, and the stripers know that they’re there, literally queuing up to feed on them. Throw in some clam worms and smaller baitfish like mummichaugs and you’re got a veritable saline smorgasbord.

I’ve been trying to expand my menu of usual places, so last night I ventured out to try two new locations. Both had grass shrimp and stripers. The fish weren’t very big — 16″-20″ — but they weren’t easy to catch, and I like a good presentation puzzle. Wouldn’t you know that I caught my first one when I wasn’t paying attention. My rod was tucked under my arm, flies dangling in the water below me while I was trying to figure out a murderous eddy, when WHACK! Once I had the drifts calculated, the takes began in earnest.

I didn’t shoot many photos — we all know what a school bass looks like — but this is the sweet silly who took the fly on the dangle. My apologies for the focal challenges.

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Droppers give you a strategic advantage when there is a multitude of tiny bait in the water. Last night’s rig: a micro Gurgler, Simpson’s Hairwing Shrimp, and an Orange Ruthless clam worm. For perspective, the Ruthless is 2″ long. The bass liked all three flies, the clam worm in particular.

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Farmington River Report 5/21/18: Working hard on a glorious day

Adam won the weather lottery when he picked yesterday for his wet fly lesson. It was easily one of the ten best days of the year. The river was 415cfs and 58 degrees in the permanent TMA. The trout were a bit less cooperative, but we stuck with it and ended up with several to net.

The plan was to walk a couple long stretches, actively fishing and picking pockets, swinging through runs, and dangling over likely holding areas. This was one of those days where Mother Nature tells you, “Nice try, boys, but today the trout are going to be stuck to the bottom.” High pressure sometimes does that. So after 90 minutes all we had to show for our efforts was a bump and a missed hookset.

We were standing in a run that I knew held fish. We added a shot to the middle dropper for  a short-line deep presentation, and what do you know? We hooked up on our demo cast. Adam went to work and had a customer in short order.

Bug activity was about a four on the 1-10 scale: small (size 18) caddis, midges, BWOs, and a couple larger un-IDed mayflies. We did see some smutting trout in a classic dry fly pool. Our persistence paid off in the second run we walked through, with the trout nodding their approval to Adam’s soft hackles. Well done, young man!

What we like to see and hear: a bent rod and a singing drag.

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A rambunctious rainbow moments before capture. With the warm of the air and the refreshing splash of cold water on your hands, all is right with the world.

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Revisiting the Herr Blue: a three-feather flatwing-bucktail hybrid

Many years ago I adapted Ken Abrames’ R.L.S. Herr Blue bucktail into a large nine-feather flatwing. I was pleased with the result, and that fly produced many large bass for me. But the recent acquisition of a ginger saddle brought out the tinkerer in me. And since I never did a three feather flatwing-bucktail version of the Herr Blue, I went to work.

If you’re unfamiliar with the concept, a flatwing/bucktail hybrid combines the seductive motion and swimming action of a flatwing (using three contrasting saddles) and the color-blending deliciousness and adding-the-illusion-of-mass properties of bucktail. I originally started tying these not only as a way to conserve precious flatwing saddles, but also to use bucktail in place of saddle colors I did not have. The template is Razzle Dazzle, with all strands of flash extending at least 3/4″ beyond the longest feather. (See the Rock Island and Crazy Menhaden three-feather flatwings.)  Bonus: they’re easy to cast for their size, and they swim beautifully on the greased line swing.

Obviously this fly is intended to imitate a river herring or alewife; it could also easily pass for other larger baitfish like menhaden. I tied two, one 8″ and the other 10″. So without further ado, I present the Herr Blue three-feather flawing. DIA. (Danke In Advance.)

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Hook: Eagle Claw 253 3/0
Thread: White 6/0
Platform: White bucktail, 30 hairs
Tail: First, a white saddle; second, 2 strands silver flash; third, a pink saddle; fourth, a ginger saddle; fifth, 2 strands light green flash; sixth, 15 hairs light blue and 15 hairs pink bucktail, mixed; seventh, 10 hairs light blue and 10 hairs violet bucktail, mixed; eighth, 2 strands purple flash; ninth, 10 hairs orange and 10 hairs emerald green bucktail, mixed.
Body: Silver braid
Collar: White and ginger bucktail, mixed about 5:1 respectively
Wing: 15 hairs smoky gray bucktail and 30 hairs dark blue bucktail, mixed
Topping: 7-8 stands peacock herl
Eyes: Jungle cock

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A closer look at the blend of nine different colors of bucktail.

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Salmon River Steelhead Report: Turn and burn

The plot is simple enough: drive five hours. Sleep for four-and-a-half. Up at 4:30am, on the river by 5am, fishing at 5:30am. Hard stop of noon. Drive home six hours (traffic and construction accounting for the added time). Collapse on couch.

Madness, you say? Perhaps. But this is, as Guinevere sang in Camelot, the month “when everyone throws self-restraint away.” There is something quite liberating about shedding your fleece and breathable jacket — not to mention responsibility — then standing in a river in the sunshine in your shirt sleeves catching steelhead.

I had this pool to myself for a couple hours. It produced a nice drop-back, already shedding its winter color for brushed aluminum flanks, and two skippers. The skippers were fun, taken during a caddis hatch on a mended wet fly swing with a Partridge & Orange soft hackle. The fish were slashing at emergers in the slack water along the far bank. There was a big steelhead doing likewise in the tailout, but I couldn’t get him to take. Now that would have been something to write about.

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A rusting skeleton that served a more dignified purpose in a previous life. I still can’t believe I was catching steelhead in the middle of May. What a contrast to the skunk and freezing rain of the April trip. 

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Three-Feather Flatwing/Bucktail Hybrid Preview

For the uninitiated, a flatwing/bucktail hybrid combines the seductive motion and swimming action of the flatwing (three contrasting feathers here) with the color-blending deliciousness and adding-the-illusion-of-mass properties of bucktail. (See the Rock Island and Crazy Menhaden three feather flatwings.) So, just a taste for now.  Details to come soon.

I don’t know how important color is to a striper at any given moment, but I really like the blends on this fly.

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