Wet Fly 101 class, articles, and guiding trips

Busy as usual, but I think there’s some fishing light at the end of the tunnel! Sulphurs, grass shrimp, Block Island sand eels, evening spinner falls, walking some snotty water swinging wets….these are all on my mind right now. And tying. I don’t know about you, but my fly boxes need some serious attention. But first…

Sunday, July 9, 9am-2pm, Wet Flies 101 class through Upcountry Sportfishing. This is both a stream side and an on-the-water class. It’s intended as a basic intro to wet fly fishing. Given our early season water levels, I think this will be a dynamite summer for wets on the Farmington. If you want to catch more fish, the art of the wet fly is a skill set you should have. Please note: you cannot sign up for this class here. You have to do it through UpCountry. For more information, click this link.

Taken on a soft-hackled March Brown on a hot August afternoon. The lengthwise opening of the net is 17″. As your GPS would say, “recalculating…”

20" brown on a soft-hackle

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I recently saw the galley proof for my summer smallmouth article. It’s titled, “Hot Bronze,” and you can read it in the August 2017 issue of Field & StreamMultiple articles coming up in American Angler, too. And if you’re in charge of booking speakers for your club, some new presentations as well.

Finally, if you’re planning on doing a guide trip with me, its a good idea to get out the calendar and pick some date options. Summer is as time-space continuum-challenging for me as the school year, with multiple sports camps/tournaments for the boys and me mostly doing pickup/dropoff. For more information on my philosophy, rates, and contact info, click here.

And as always, thanks for reading currentseams.

 

 

TU225 Awarded the Order of the Triple Jalapeño Cheeseburger (with Octoberfest Clusters)

TU225 in Narragansett, RI, has been a long-time friend. They were hiring me to do presentations when I was a nobody (or at least far less of whatever I am today). I truly appreciate their continuous support and kindness. Last night they treated me to dinner (a fed presenter is a happy presenter), and then we had the debut performance of “The Little Things 2.0.” I think it did not suck. But you’d have to ask them.

Afterwards, I went striper fishing. School bass were set up in the current, ambushing silversides on the outgoing tide. Today I notice that parts of my right index finger, thumb, and palm are destroyed.

Yes, it was a very good evening.

Last night’s power supply brought new meaning to the phrase, “the dangle.”

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Read “The Little Things” on the American Angler site

I wrote “The Little Things” a couple years ago in support of a new presentation I was creating. Since then, it’s become one of my most popular talks. The concept behind “The Little Things” is as simple as it is effective: sweat the small stuff, and you’ll become a better angler. You can read the original piece by clicking here.

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Look for “The Little Things 2.0” this summer in American Angler.

“Soft Hackles For Striped Bass” in American Angler

The November/December 2015 issue of American Angler hit the newsstands and fly shops last week. “Soft Hackles For Striped Bass” covers some salty soft hackle basics, and features six patterns: three from Ken Abrames, and three from yours truly.  I interviewed Ken for this piece, and there are plenty of good quotes to dig into. As always, I try to go beyond straight how-to and inject a little fun into things. I hope you enjoy reading it.

You can find “Soft Hackles For Striped Bass” by Steve Culton in the Nov/Dec 2015 issue of American Angler.

Nov/Dec 2015 American Angler

Fall appearances, articles, and other currentseams-y stuff

Hard to believe it’s September. Especially with this heat. We need rain, we need cool, and we need it soon.

In the meantime, here’s what’s on the fall calendar. As you can see, we have lots of “The Little Things” options all over southern New England. You don’t need to be a TU member to attend, so stop by and say hi.

“The Little Things” Presentation to TU Narragansett 225, Wednesday, September 30, Elks lodge, Coventry, RI. For directions and times, visit narragansett.tu.org.

“The Little Things” Presentation to TU Mianus, Tuesday, October 13, Waveny Mansion, New Canaan, CT. For directions and times, visit mianustu.org.

“The Little Things” Presentation to TU Farmington Valley, Thursday, October 15, (I believe it’s at the Whinstone Tavern at Stanley Golf Course, New Britain, CT). For directions and times, visit fvtu.org.

On the writing front, I’m told that my steelhead piece will be in the fall issue of The Drake. I’ll let you know if that’s the case, and I don’t mind saying that I think this is one of the better (not to mention funny) concept stories I’ve written. Look for a feature on striper soft-hackles in the next issue of American Angler. And, as I look over at my writing projects list, I see seven items. I suppose I’d better lock myself in my lonely writer’s garret and hop to it.

Only two more days till the 300 Followers contest closes! If you haven’t already, no better time to enter than now. And wow, just like that we’re up to 320.

Here’s to a tremendous fall season for everyone. (Fish included.)

October Brown 2014

Fishin’, writin’, ‘n’ stuff

Busy is the word here at currentseams, although I have been able to get out a little bit. Due to my schedule it’s all been night action.

I fished the Farmington twice this week with mixed results. The first night was painfully slow; two or three bumps in two hours, all small fish. Last night was far more active with over a dozen bumps. One standard-issue brown to net, and one big mysterious hit that failed to hold. I did do something stupid last night: I walked down a side stem I hadn’t fished in two years to discover it was basically unfishable, then decided to walk back up a different stem that was fast, deep, and should have been the one I fished. What a workout! It wasn’t a total waste of time as I did find some very fishy hide holes that I will investigate on a future outing.

On the writing front, I just submitted a steelhead piece to Mid Atlantic Fly Fishing Guide, and I’m putting the finishing touches on a soft-hackled flies for stripers article for American Angler. There are a few other things in the pipeline at some other pubs; I’ll let you know if they are accepted.

Finally, currentseams has reached 300 followers. Hooray! That means a fly giveaway. Details on that coming soon.

As always, thank you for your loyal readership. Writers aren’t much without readers, so I truly appreciate it.

Come say hello to currentseams. I know it’s my site, but really, most of it doesn’t suck. While you’re here, sign up to follow. You’ll get fishing reports, how-to articles, essays, fly tying, photos, videos, random stuff like this, and the occasional chance to win some flies tied by yours truly. 

Hello

“The Little Things” in the July/August 2015 of American Angler

In case you didn’t know, I have the cover story in the current issue of American Angler, now available at your favorite fly shop or news stand. The piece is called “The Little Things,” and it’s about seemingly small adjustments you can make in your fishing that can have a large impact on the outcome. I have a followup — Son of “The Little Things” if you will — and several other pieces coming up in American Angler.

Read all about it.

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Not a picture of me. But a good photo nonetheless. I love guides who can multitask and make it look easy. 

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Soft-Hackles and Fuzzy Nymphs for Steelhead tying demo at the Compleat Angler February 28

Hope to see you at the Compleat Angler, 541 Post Road in Darien, Saturday, February 28 from 10am-2pm. Like the title says, steelhead soft-hackles and fuzzy nymphs will be the bill of fare. Many of these patterns cross over neatly into trout fishing, so don’t let the steelhead designation scare you off. This is a tying demo, not a class, so all you need to bring is yourself and some questions if you are so inclined to ask. I will certainly be tying some of the flies that were featured in my “Soft-Hackles for Winter Steelhead” piece in the last issue of American Angler. Till then, stay warm!

The Ginger Spider. Yup. It would be safe to say that I have a thing for the magical material humbly known as ginger Angora goat. Teal flank, too.

Ginger Spider

Wet Fly 101: Take the ancient and traditional path to subsurface success

“Wet Fly 101” — an introduction to wet fly fishing for trout — first appeared in the Nov/Dec 2013 issue of American Angler.  I am including the original art for the diagrams that accompanied the text, and most of the photos. Many thanks to American Angler for publishing the article, and for their continued enthusiasm about wet flies and soft-hackles.

Wet Fly 101: Take the ancient and traditional path to subsurface success

by Steve Culton

Wet flies have been fooling trout for centuries. The fish aren’t getting any smarter, a simple truth that is reinforced every time I take a trout on a soft-hackled fly. Once the king of American fly-fishing methods, the wet fly fell out of favor decades ago. But today, a growing number of anglers are discovering what a dedicated few have known for years: the best match for a hatch is often a wet fly.

The what and why of the wet fly.

Basically, wet fly fishing is an attempt to duplicate subsurface insect life. While many mayfly nymphs emerge and fly cheerfully away, many more never escape their shucks. Wings get wet. Cripples drown. Spinners that don’t get eaten eventually sink. Caddis pupae rise to the surface to emerge; many adults swim to the bottom to lay eggs. Unfortunate terrestrials fall in and become easy meals. That’s an impressive biomass.

Trout know all this, in a programmed-by-nature way. Trout need to eat to live, and they are opportunistic feeders. They see things underwater – particularly food – to which humans are oblivious. The wet fly capitalizes on these factors. As James Leisenring, one of the godfathers of American wet fly fishing, stated, all you need to do is fish your fly “so that it becomes deadly at the point where the trout is most likely to take his food…” The vast majority of the time, that’s subsurface.

The four basic wet fly styles.

Wet flies tend to be highly impressionistic. Many look like nothing in particular, but rather a lot of things in general. In his book Wet Flies, Dave Hughes divides them into four groups: soft-hackles (or “spiders”), wingless wets (sometimes called “flymphs”), winged wets, and fuzzy nymphs. Those four are a good place to start.

Soft-hackles are sparse creations: thin bodies with a soft-hackled feather wrapped at the head. Popular hackling choices include Hungarian partridge, grouse, hen, and starling. By varying the size of the hook and the color of the body and the hackle, you can match just about any hatch.

February Red Soft-Hackle

FebRedPPT

The outstanding feature of the wingless wet is its spikey, air bubble-trapping fur body. Hen hackle, typically 3-4 turns, surrounds the front third of the fly. Wingless wets can be fished deep or in the film like a dry.

March Brown Wingless Wet

March Brown Wingless

The hero of the winged wet is – drum roll – its wing. Winging material varies from natural wood duck fibers to vibrantly colored quill. Likewise, winged wets run the gamut from hatch-specific patterns like the Light Cahill to gaudy attractors like the classic Bergman-style wets.

Dark Hendrickson Winged Wet

Dark Hendrickson

Fuzzy nymphs are buggy creations that bridge the gap between a nymph and an emerger (think Hare’s Ear meets The Usual). They are often underweighted with wire that is smaller than the diameter of the hook wire. Fuzzy nymphs cover much of the water column; they work whether you’re dead drifting them near the bottom or letting them swing up near the surface.

Ginger Caddis Fuzzy Nymph

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While each of the four styles is unique, they all share a common trait: they look – and behave – differently when submerged than they do dry. Sylvester Nemes, another giant of the wet fly, wrote, “Any sunk artificial fly, to be good, must transform itself in the water into something alive, something suggestive and moving, something that looks good to eat.” Wet flies excel at that task.

In the tradition: a team of three wets.

The classic method involves using more than one fly. Back in the day, anglers would sometimes fish a half-dozen or more flies. For our purposes, three will do: a top dropper, a middle dropper, and the point fly. The flies are not connected to each other by their hook bends; rather, they swim freely on short tags. Multiple flies intimidate many people, but the advantages far outweigh the specter of tangle perdition.

Obviously, three flies give you more opportunities per cast to hook up. But the biggest reason it tips the odds in your favor is that it gives the trout a choice. Different sizes. Different colors. Different species. Different life stages. Different depths. Droppers are the quickest way to find out what the fish want. They won’t be bashful about letting you know. You’ll have days where the trout will choose one fly at the ruthless exclusion of all others. When you’re not sure what will be hatching, you can hedge your bets by covering three possibilities. Certain of what’s in the water? Try three life stages, like a fuzzy nymph, an emerger, and something spinner-like.

Beyond probability and biology, fishing a team of wets imparts a sense of wonder. Hooking a trout is like opening a present: you don’t know which fly the fish has taken until you get it in close. What’s more, wet fly fishing connects you with the traditions of our sport. It is poetic to catch a trout on a fly pattern that is hundreds of years old.

How to build a three-fly wet fly team. At first glance, building a multi-fly dropper rig looks complicated. But basically, you’re just tying three triple surgeon’s knots. You’ll need a 9-foot, 3x or 4x tapered leader for the butt section, and some 4 or 6-pound Maxima (I prefer Chameleon [AUTHOR’S NOTE: I used UltraGreen four-pound in 2014 and it worked just as well as Chameleon]) for the droppers. I’ve tried a lot of different leader materials, and Maxima is by far the best because of its stiffness. I use the 4-pound in lower, clearer flows. 

Wet Fly Three FLy team

Step 1: Cut off the bottom three feet of the tapered leader. Discard this bottom section.

Step 2: Knots are not worthy of your trust. Wet every knot before you pull it tight, and test every knot by giving it a good tug. The heat of battle with a trophy trout is a bad time to discover you tied a substandard knot.

Step 3: Tie just over a foot of Maxima to the tapered leader with a triple surgeon’s knot. The bottom of this section will form the first dropper. Trim both tag ends.

Step 4: The ideal length between wet flies is somewhere between 18 and 24 inches; I prefer my dropper tags between 4 and 6 inches. If you’re going to build a dropper rig with the flies 24 inches apart and the tags 6 inches long, you’ll need a 30-inch section (24 + 6 = 30) of Maxima for the next step.

Step 5: Take the first, shorter section of Maxima (the one you tied to the tapered leader) and hold it 6 inches from the end. This will be your first dropper. Join the 30-inch section to the shorter section at this point with a triple surgeon’s knot.

Step 6: Trim the excess of the second section above the knot (the part you trim is on the butt side of the leader). You should now have a dropper tag about 6 inches long, pointing away from the butt, and about 30 inches of Maxima below it.

Step 7: You’re in the home stretch. This is basically a repeat of step 5. Grab the second section of Maxima 6 inches from the end, and join another 30-inch section of Maxima to it with a triple surgeon’s knot. As with Step 6, trim the excess above the knot.

Step 8: You should now have a rig that looks like the one the diagram: two shorter tags, to which you’ll tie dropper flies, and a longer end section, to which you will tie the point fly.

Which fly goes where?

There are many theories on what works best; I’m just going to give you my take on positioning. The largest or heaviest fly goes on point. It makes your team of wets easier to cast, and it gives you the option of using an underweighted or bead head wet that suggests a nymph. On a dead drift presentation, the point fly will be the deepest fly. Point position is also where I’ll place an attractor fly, like an Alexandra or a Woolly Worm.

The top dropper is almost always a soft-hackle or other emerger-like fly. This fly will always be closest to the surface. It’s rarely a bad choice to make your top dropper the size and color of what’s hatching.

The middle fly is a bit of a wild card. I want it to be something that’s likely to be in the water – for example, in the summer, a Drowned Ant. If I have a caddis pupa on point and a caddis emerger on top, I might mix things up and put a soft-hackled Pheasant Tail in the middle (give the trout a choice). Most of all, I want it to be a fly in which I have complete confidence. With a little experimentation, you’ll soon find what works best for you.

Learn to recognize classic wet fly water.

If you enjoy solitude, you’re going to love wet fly fishing. The water you’re targeting will be sections of river that most anglers ignore. The Hendrickson hatch is a crowd magnet on my home water, the Farmington River. But I usually have my pick of spots because everyone else is jockeying for a place in the named pools. Ignore water with mirror-like surfaces and languid flows. Rather, fish your wets in the transition water above them. Look for what I call the snotty water: pockets, riffles knee-high or deeper, and runs with a broken surface – any water moving at a brisk walking pace. Look for bottom structure. Look for current seams around rocks and logjams. With wet flies, where you fish is often as important as how you fish.

Don’t be afraid to move around. One of the biggest mistakes I see beginning wet fly anglers make is flogging the same water over and over without a strike (remember Einstein’s definition of insanity?). Unless trout are visibly feeding, or I know for certain they might become active at any moment, I won’t give a spot more than a dozen casts. Sometimes taking a few steps up or downstream makes the difference. While it is true that you can sometimes goad a trout into striking, your primary quarry is the aggressive fish. You’ll be surprised how many trout will offer at your first cast.

But there are other reasons to actively wade and fish. When you walk the length of a run, you get to know it on a more intimate level. Where are the submerged pockets? Where is the sunken debris? What is the structure like behind that boulder? It is intel like this that will make you a better angler.

A 20-inch brown that liked the looks of a Hackled March Brown, an old English pattern.

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Basic wet fly presentations.

You can make wet fly fishing as complicated or easy as you like. Since this is Wet Fly 101, we’ll stick to three presentations. Use a floating line you can mend (a longer rod makes that easier, too). I find fast-action rod blanks contrary to the true nature of the wet fly. Think of the slower bamboo rods of days long past. Two things to avoid: high line speed/ultra-tight loops, and dumpy, pile-like casts. Both are recipes for tangles.

By all means, seek out and target rising trout. It’s almost never a bad idea to drift a wet fly past the nose of an actively feeding fish. Look for splashy rise forms where you don’t see the trout’s head. More often than not, they’re taking emergers just below the surface. Match the hatch, present your wets like the naturals, and the trout will make you look like a savant.

The Upstream Dead Drift. This presentation gives you the advantage of the fish not being able to see you, and the flies being delivered to them in a natural manner. The key is line management. Immediately after making your cast, your line will form slack loops in the uneven current as it floats downstream. Gather in this slack as it forms. Take care not to strip the line faster than the current – this is a dead drift. Watch the tip of your fly line like a hawk. If it stalls, you’ve got a customer. Set the hook.

Short-Line Deep. Another upstream presentation, much like short-line nymphing, that is ideal for presenting flies in deeper holding water. Again, you have the advantage of being out of the trout’s line of sight. This is where a longer rod shines. I have a rod’s length or less line out when I present this way. Make an upstream cast, and immediately raise your rod tip to ensure the fly line is off the water. Match the track of the flies with your rod as they drift downstream. You’ll know when you have a fish – your leader will come tight and thrum with energy. Set the hook. If the water is particularly fast or deep, I’ll sometimes fix a BB shot to the leader just above the knot that forms the middle dropper. While untraditional, I assure you the trout don’t care.

Downstream Mended Swing and Dangle. Plenty of days, I’m feeling lazy. I’m content to walk a stretch of river, cast, throw a few mends, then let the currents take my flies where they will. It is a peaceful, organic, relaxing way to fish. It also works like the dickens. Make a quartering cast downstream. Throw a series of upstream mends to slow the swing of your fly. Absent a strike, let the flies swing down below you. Let them dangle in the current. Your soft hackles and spikey bodies will move even while at rest, tantalizing trout. Because your flies will have planed up near the surface, you may see a strike before you feel it. Don’t set the hook! The biggest mistake beginners make while fishing on the swing or the dangle is striking too soon. They take the fly right out of the fish’s mouth. When you see the swirl of the take or feel the tug, wait a moment. Ask yourself, “Are you still there?” Then, lift your rod tip, and the trout will be, having neatly hooked itself in the corner of its mouth.

A Simple Mended Swing: This basic wet fly presentation is an ideal way to cover water and find aggressive fish. Make a quartering downstream cast (A). Throw a series of upstream mends to slow the speed of the flies as they swing down and across (B). At the end of the drift, leave the flies suspended in the current (C). This is called the dangle. Be ready for explosive strikes.

WetMendedSwing

For those interested in an advanced degree in wet fly, I recommend Dave Hughes’ Wet Flies and Sylvester Nemes’ The Soft-Hackled Fly. But for now, class is dismissed. Head for your favorite stream. And catch some trout the way your great-great-great-grandfather did.

“Soft-Hackles for Winter Steelhead” in the current issue of American Angler

Calling all steelhead fanatics and soft-hackle aficionados: this article, appearing in the Jan/Feb 2015 issue of American Angler, is right up your alley. It features six of my favorite winter steelhead soft-hackles, including detailed photos, pattern recipes, and a little story about each fly. Also included is my winter steelhead indicator setup.

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I have several more articles in the pipeline for American Angler this year. Stay tuned.

Also, I just finished a piece for the Mid Atlantic Fly Fishing Guide on fly fishing the Farmington River in winter. That should appear in the next issue, out in early 2015.