How do you set the hook with a striper dropper rig?

Here’s a great question from Will: When you are running your gurgler/eel dropper setup, how are you setting the hook on a dropper take? Trout land tells me to set down and across the direction of the drift, but saltwater land is telling me to strip set. He’s referring to my suspension dropper rig where I’ve got a floating fly on point and two smaller flies on dropper tags.

This is a question to which there is no simple answer. My best attempt at a distilled response would be: Strip set. (Kindof.)

Here’s why it’s a little complicated. There are multiple factors to consider, such as conditions; current; the type of take (feeding frenzy slam, gentle sipping take, greased line swing inhale?); the position of the rig relative to you, etc.

When I’m fishing a suspension dropper ring, I am rarely using a stripped presentation (the closest I’m getting to stripping is something akin to a slow gathering of slack line) — so I’m not doing a traditional strip set. Instead, when I need to set the hook, I most often hold the line against the cork and thrust the rod back toward my hips, essentially mimicking a strip set. Depending on the ferocity of the take and the size of the fish, I may set the hook in this manner multiple times. I always set and reset multiple times with a large bass. Even if I am doing a static presentation like a straight dangle, I have the line in one hand and am ready to spring into action.

Sometimes the striper eats the fly, turns and swims away, thus setting the hook himself. (This is why I preach sticky sharp hooks, and checking your hook points often.) You may need to reset; wait until the fish stops moving, then point the rod at the bass, and set as outlined above.

And sometimes you feel the pressure of the fly being sucked in, or maybe a just a small tap. You should wait to feel the weight of the fish before you do any setting — otherwise you may come up with nothing. This is especially true during a greased line swing or when you’re on the dangle.

A near-slot bass taken this summer on an Orange Ruthless, part of a three-fly team. The strike came just as the presentation transitioned from swing to dangle, about 50 feet below my position in a moderate current. In this case, she was feeding with confidence and blasted the fly, setting herself. I executed a thrust set to drive the hook further home, and a couple minutes later I was taking this photo.

Way Out West, Part One: Cheesman Canyon

Some of the things you’ve never done are accepted as not to be reasonably expected. You’ve never gone skydiving. You’ve never climbed K2. You’ve never dated a Sports Illustrated swimsuit model.

But it seems improbable that until a few days ago, I’d never fished the western United States.

I had my chance in the form of family vacation to the Grand Canyon. We’d do our thing in Arizona, then head northeast to Colorado, where I’d have two days to fish the legendary South Platte River. For years, I’d been reading about the South Platte in books like Ed Engle’s Trout Lessons; Landon Mayer’s The Hunt For Giant Trout; and especially Pat Dorsey’s Fly Fishing Guide to the South Platte River. I’d casually said hello to Pat before, but I got to chat with him at the Edison Fly Fishing show last January. He wasn’t available to guide me, but Chris Steinbeck, another guide at The Blue Quill Angler, was. Done and done.

I have a love/hate relationship with every guide I’ve hired. They’ve all been really good, but as a night owl they’ve all horrified me with lines like, “We’ll meet at the Cheesman Canyon parking lot (over an hour drive from our hotel) at 7am.” Such is the price to pay for fishing in paradise. And paradise it was.

On the drive through Pike National Forest, there were long stretches of wildfire remnants. But you could also see the earth beginning the healing process. Nature finds a way, right? Much of the the drive was a twisting, turning route through the mountains. My wife made the comment that auto brake shops must do very well out here.
The North Fork of the South Platte winds along Rt. 285. Much of it is pretty meadow water like this, but it also has some gnarly whitewater sections. I was told this section is mostly stocked fish, perhaps why I didn’t see anyone fishing it during our drives.
That headline don’t lie! We didn’t gear up in the parking lot; we packed our waders, boots, gear, and food/water into the canyon. The first day we hiked in to Cow’s Crossing, which is a one mile one-way trek. The trail isn’t particularly steep, but it does have ups and downs and rocks and gravel that would very much like to trip you up. There are also some trailside ledges that, if you are inclined to suffer from vertigo, you should not look down! The walk in during the cool of the morning almost seemed fun. It’s the hoof out that gets you. Chris and I went way into the Canyon on the second day. It was an hour walk, one way, and the trip out had me taking frequent water and rest-my-weary-bones breaks.
There are specific access points to the bottom of the canyon from the main trail, and this ain’t one of them. I took this shot from a mark we fished on the second day. That’s a long way up!
Cheesman Canyon possesses a stark beauty, much of it consisting of dreary earth tones: rocks, gravel, truck-sized boulders, and dead vegetation melding into one giant sun-bleached brown-grey blandscape. But it’s also dotted with evergreens and grasses and lovely gems like this wildflower.
And there’s poison ivy. Lots of it. “Irving,” as I affectionately call it, is everywhere. Irving was kind enough to hitch a ride home with me, evidenced by a quarter-sized conglomeration of blisters on my left forearm. It’s ridiculous how easily it finds me.
We have this plant, mullein, in Connecticut. It’s colloquially known as cowboy (or indian) toilet paper. You can do whatever you like with any plant’s leaves, but I would advise against using Irving for this purpose.
Stay tuned for part two of “Way Out West”: The South Platte River.

Time to tie up some September Nights

I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but suddenly it’s fall. The shadows have started getting longer earlier. There’s an early morning nip in the air. (At least my wife tells me so — I’m still sleeping when she’s out running.) There are even a few leaves on the ground, although that can be attributed to drought as much as anything. Nonetheless, fall has begun, and for striper anglers in the northeast fall means finger mullet. The September Night pattern can be found in Ken Abrames’ classic Striper Moon. It was one of the featured patterns in my 2015 American Angler article Soft Hackles For Striped Bass.) You don’t even need long flatwing saddles to tie it — I’ve gotten away with stung hackle in a pinch. Just look for chubby, webby feathers.

Ken Abrames’ September Night

Hook: Eagle Claw 253, 1/0-3/0; Thread: white 6/0; Tail: 30 gray bucktail hairs, then two white saddle hackles tied in flat, then two strands silver Flashabou; Body: silver braid; Throat: sparse, long white bucktail tied as a 3/4 collar, both sides and bottom; Collar: white marabou, folded or doubled 3-4 turns; Wing: 30 long white bucktail hairs, then 15 purple bucktail hairs, then 2 strands blue Flashabou, then one natural black saddle hackle.

Grinnin’ like a ‘possum eatin’ a sweet potato

Why is the man smiling? Heck, why is he positively ecstatic? He just landed his first South Platte River trout! (Yup. On a scud.) I’m back from a whirlwind tour of the southwest, and while it was mostly a family vacation, two days of fishing were had on Colorado’s famed South Platte River. Naturally, there will be details forthcoming, but suffice to say I have a new favorite nymphing-for-trout river. Hint: this was the smallest fish I landed all trip. Stay tuned — you’re not going to want to miss this one. (Photo by Chris Steinbeck.)

Re-thinking this whole scud thing

Scuds are everywhere. In case you don’t know what they are, scuds are freshwater invertebrates. They look a lot like tiny shrimp. You find them on the bottoms of rivers, and where they’re prevalent, they’re an important food source. Scuds are common in many tailwater systems, and I’ve recently come to the realization that I haven’t ever fished them much. That’s been a mistake.

For example, the Housatonic River is loaded with scuds. That I haven’t ever fished a scud fly there seems foolhardy at best. I can imagine the same for the Farmington River. Although the Farmington isn’t known for scuds, a good scud fly will look alive and like something good to eat — so why wouldn’t a trout partake?

To get you started, here’s a great little scud fly from renowned Colorodo guide and new friend Pat Dorsey. It’s called the UV Scud, and you can find the recipe in this tying video. Fish on!

Breaking News: Thermal Refuge Restrictions for the Farmington

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: The Farmington River is so low, and the weather so hot, that the DEEP has announced thermal refuge areas that are closed to fishing. My opening reference was to a similar decree in the summer of 2016. The difference this year is that the water coming out of the dam is significantly colder.

This would be the good news.

Rather than parrot the temporary regs, here’s a link to the DEEP site that will tell you everything you need to know. The decree goes into effect today, Saturday August 6. As always, I urge you to carry a thermometer, don’t fish if the water is above 68, stick to the upper end of the river, and fish early or late.

Weird scenes inside the white fly hatch

Just a couple of photos from the recent White Fly action to entertain you on a Friday. Enjoy the weekend and please do a rain dance!

Ugh! Why do I smell so bad? Turns out it’s not me, but rather the hundreds of dead White Fly spinner carcasses stuck in my net from the previous night’s expedition. White fly spinners have a knack for finding their way into/onto your clothing, gear, glasses, and, very regrettably, into your nose, mouth and ears. This bears repeating: White flies taste really, really bad.
Not the shot I was hoping for, but it’s interesting enough to share. This stacked image has some nice scribbly abstracts of the moon over the trees and its reflection on the water, and the white fly tracks are reminiscent of jet contrails.

Amidst the heat, the August Blizzard arrives

The Hous is low (175cfs in Falls Village) and getting dangerously warm. I’ve recently taken readings over 80 degrees in the late afternoon; 78 degrees is the threshold where smallmouth begin to stress, so if you must fish, pre-dawn to a few hours after sunrise is best, with evening/night the second choice. You should carry a thermometer and use good judgement. (The bite stinks in full sun, anyway, so you’re not missing much.)

Overall, the fishing continues to be generally poor, with the bass in numbers so small (compared to, say, 2016) it’s hard to realize it’s the same river. The fish are scattered in isolated pockets, so if you do find a bronze crew, please don’t fish it (literally) to death. I’ve been doing best with low, slow presentations and smaller (about 2″) jig hook/bead head mini-streamers in rusty crayfish colors.

The white fly hatch has started and in some areas is already winding down. I have experienced two hatches this summer that were an easy 10 out of 10, with so many flies whizzing upstream that leaving the river without eating/breathing in/wearing them was next to impossible — and spinner falls so heavy it looked like the surface of the river was paved with spent white carcasses. Ironically, these mega hatches don’t offer the best fishing; there’s so much protein in the water that it’s hard to get your fly noticed.

For now, I’m giving the bass and the river a break. I encourage you to do likewise.

This is what I’m talking about. Madness!
I’ve found the August White, swung on a team of two, to be its usual wonderful self. I use it during the emergence and the spinner fall. One night I had to cut one fly off after my second double. Wet fly hook size 8-10, white hackle fibers for the tail, white silk or thread for the body, white hen cape soft hackle.

Farmington River Report 7/26/22: Low, cold, getting going at dusk

I guided Matt and his son John yesterday afternoon from 3:15-7:15. We started off nymphing in the PTMA. Water was 115cfs, a tad low for my liking, but plenty cold! Matt went tight line and John fished under an indicator, both drop shot. The fish, however, weren’t very cooperative, so we moved to another mark. Here we found some smaller fish, smutting. Whatever they were eating, we failed to duplicate the process. We held council and decided to try our luck at the evening rise.

The mark I wanted to fish was on lockdown, so we headed to Plan B Spot which we had to ourselves. The pool was dead as Julius Caesar, but summer evenings on the Farmington being what they are, I knew it wouldn’t be long before the natives got restless. To make a long story short: we had a modest hatch. Midges, sulphurs, caddis, but mostly attenuata. Attenuata can be a very frustrating hatch to fish — the rise-to-hook-stick ratio can be maddening — but we kept at it and had a blast fooling trout. I stuck around after the session and fished until dark. I rose a good two dozen trout, but had only one partial hookset. (Sigh.) The spinner fall was not that great, and we called at dark.

We like tight lines. So, like father…
…like son. We a treat to be able to guide two enthusiastic anglers. We got to cover nymphing and dry fly basics, plus a little bit of wet fly for good measure. Excellent job, Matt and John, in some very technically difficult conditions. Dry fly tip of the week: longer leaders make for better drifts. Think a minimum of 13 feet, and you don’t need to go below 6x.

Up…down…what’s with these Farmington River flows?

It’s a fair question, and unless you’re in the know (and sometimes even if you are) it can be confusing. The current situation is that the bottom release flow was increased over the weekend…and now it’s back down. Here’s a good explanation from our friends at UpCountry: “The MDC just emailed us, the CT DEEP is providing another 25cfs from their bank of water, which means the dam release went up by another 25cfs (they were already adding an additional 25cfs to the minimum flow that MDC has been running this Summer, so now they are adding a total of 50cfs). They were releasing 96cfs (was reading 113cfs at the USGS gauge)- this morning, this increase brings the dam release up to 121cfs, and by the time it hits the Riverton gauge (about 2-2.5 miles downstream) it will read closer to 140cfs, and with about 20cfs additional water coming in from the Still River the total flow below that will be around 160cfs, putting us closer to a normal late August level (200+ cfs) this weekend. This flow bump is being done to help lower the water temps- predicted highs this weekend of 94 for Saturday, low of 72 Saturday night, 96 high for Sunday, and a low of 77 Sunday night- the heat wave breaks on Monday/Tuesday. A big kudos to the DEEP for taking this action, it will keep the entire river cooler, and especially help the downstream trout in Canton, Collinville, Unionville & below make it through this hot weather. I suspect the DEEP will drop their 50cfs contribution down to 25cfs sometime soon after the weekend, as they don’t have a very big “bank” of water to use.”

That was posted before this most recent weekend. The dam flow on Monday noon is 122cfs and the release temperature is under 50 degrees, which is fantastic. Hopefully we’ll get some rain today, which will raise the Still River (currently under 20cfs) and temporarily add some water to the system.

Please, sir, may I have some more?