“What are the best soft hackles (or wet flies) for fishing the Hendrickson hatch?” is one of those questions I get a lot this time of year. As always, the best flies are the ones in which you have the most confidence. I should also make this clarification: technically, with Hendricksons you’re fishing wet flies under the hatch. On the Farmington River, prime time for swinging Hendrickson wets is generally in the 11 am-to-3 pm window. Every day is different. Once you see duns on the water, and trout snapping at them, the wet fly game is all but over. But if you want to catch more trout, you should be swinging wets in this pre-hatch time frame. (Of course, you’re fishing a team of three wets. Here’s how to build a wet fly leader.) And so, in no particular order, these are some of my favorite Hendrickson wet fly and soft-hackled patterns.
Many thanks to the members of the Mid-Hudson Chapter of TU for being my virtual hosts last night. The topic was one of my favorites, Wet Flies 101. We followed up with an excellent post-Zoom Q&A session. I was delighted to meet everyone, and I look forward to being able to do it person in the future! Hope to see some of you tonight for my Tuesday Night Currentseams Zoom, “Almost Anything Goes: Fly Fishing Q&A.”
Thanks to everyone who joined me for last night’s Currentseams Tuesday Night Zoom. We had nearly 60 people, which doesn’t suck, and a splendid time was had by all. I’m sorry about the muting issues — I will have it figured out for next time. Speaking of next time, we’ll do it again next Tuesday, January 12. I’ll be talking about winter fly fishing, and winter fly tying — so be there or be square! I’ll post a reminder early next week.
As John Cleese would say, “And now for something completely different.” I’m going to do my first winter fly tying pay-per-Zoom event on Saturday, January 16 at 1pm. This will be about 90 minutes of fly tying/tie-along instruction. The cost is $10. To “register,” you send 10 bucks to me at PayPal (ID is email@example.com) and I’ll send you the link to the meeting. Our first session will be Tying the Soft-Hackled Fly. This will cover some basic, useful patterns, and will include the North Country Spider template. It would be ideal if everyone had every kind of hackle, but I know that’s not possible, nor is it necessary. But you should have some basics, like different color threads, different hooks, tools, etc. You should have a partridge skin or at least partridge feathers. Starling would be good to have. If you have any kind of hen cape soft hackle, have that handy. The point is, if you don’t have a specific kind of hackle, you can find it later. This is all about tying basics and templates. Oh! I’d like to show you the Squirrel and Ginger, so please find ginger Angora goat, green Krystal flash, Squirrel fur, and high-tack wax. If you don’t have the goat, you can use another kind of dubbing. Wire can be substituted for Krystal Flash. Questions? You know where to find me.
By popular demand, fly tying classes by Zoom! The first will be two Saturdays from now, January 16th, 1pm, and the subject will be Tying The Soft-Hackled Fly. See above for materials list.
I guided Don yesterday for four hours mid-though-late afternoon. His goal was to work on wet fly fishing, and we had some great stretches of water to ourselves in and out of the Permanent TMA. Water was 225cfs, an excellent wet fly height, with a hint of stain, no doubt from storms upstream. Spot A produced two fish, a swing and a miss, and some finks that wouldn’t take. Spot B was a disappointing blank. Spot C held some players, and we had fun fooling them with the Hackled March Brown. While it was a very fishy feeling day, the hatches were terrible. I’m being generous by giving them a 1 on the 1-10 scale. Still, Don done good under some truly tough conditions. He’s going to be a dangerous wet fly machine.
Skunk’s off with this lovely rainbow. Check out that pink band! This fish was in great condition.
Gotcha. I love these smaller wild Farmy browns. See you in a couple years, OK?
Today’s my day in the limelight. Filmmaker Matthew Vinick is making a short feature on fly fishing the Farmington River, and I’ve been asked to participate. I met Matt in the Permanent TMA during the Hendrickson hatch, and he was sufficiently impressed by my wet fly prowess to want to include me. While the focus is on Farmington hatches and dry fly fishing, my part will be largely wet fly fishing. So…everybody send positive hatch waves, please.
Smile! The camera’s on you, miss soft-hackle eating beastie.
Just when you think you’ve got it all figured out, the game changes. Nature’ll do that to you. Yesterday was a perfect example.
We had a warm, humid day with stable flow conditions. The late afternoon/early evening sulphur hatch was a shell of its Monday self — I’d give this one a 3/10 at best. Very few caddis, thousands of super small midges, and I saw one lonely Iso. Correspondingly, the wet fly action was slower. I landed only a half dozen trout on wets from 5:15pm-7:30pm, although I did have one hot stretch during a micro flurry where I scored trout on three consecutive casts. (Biggest fish, a hefty rainbow, came on the Magic Fly.) And there was the strange trout behavior: I had two incidences where the trout struck at the wet, but failed to grab it. This rarely happens when I fish the subsurface wet during the sulphur hatch. Certainly the feeding activity just wasn’t at the same level as Monday. Yet, that is.
Sidebar: I was also hampered by the fact that I couldn’t move around freely to prospect some prime feeding lanes. Crowding continues to be an issue on the Farmington. (I plan on addressing this problem in a future post.)
One sulphur pattern remained stable: the 7:00pm-7:30pm doldrum. Things picked up as the hour hand moved north, and around 8:00pm the switch was thrown. This hatch was easily a 9/10, with the air and water surface cluttered with size 16 yellow duns. By now I’d switched to dry fly, but I messed up. The hatch was so intense that the trout were gorging on the bugs with the same ferocity as shoppers racing for the hot new toy at Walmart on Black Friday. Usually, the transaction is a more patient process; the Magic Fly or the Usual serve the angler well when the sulphur emerger or cripple is the food. I missed ten minutes of trout dry fly fantasy camp before I realized they wanted the fly high and dry. Once I switched to Catskills Light Cahills, it was a trout on every cast.
Anglers of a certain age will reflect upon the title with a smile. At the time, I didn’t see the humor in the trout ignoring so many perfect presentations. But since I’m willing to learn, the joke ended up on them.
For years, I’ve been using classic Catskills dries like the Light Cahill with great success. I carry them in sizes 10-18. My SOP is fairly consistent: match the hatch size, then move to increasingly larger as the light begins to fade. This makes it easier for me to track the fly, and as the darkness grows the trout become less concerned with size matching. What’s more, if the menu changes to spinners, Catskills dries continue to be effective. Here’s a great tying tutorial from my friend Tim Flagler.
Sal, the owner of Legends on the Farmington, has authorized me to make the following special offer to currentseams readers: you can now attend my Wet Flies & Soft Hackles class for one day only, Saturday, March 14, dinner included, for just $99!
If you want to catch more fish, you should be tying and fishing wet flies like the Squirrel and Ginger.
What: “Wet Flies and Soft Hackles” is a tying and how-to fishing class. We’ll do plenty of tying (bring your vise, tools, and threads and I’ll supply the rest of the soft-hackled magic) and we’ll have a little classroom presentation/discussion here and there.
When: Saturday, March 14. Starts around 9am. Goes all day, then we enjoy a delicious dinner prepared by Sal.
Where: Legends on the Farmington, a gorgeous lodge on the banks of the river.
How: You cannot sign up/resgister through me or my website. Please contact Sal at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit their site at legendsbnb.com.
This class will sell out, so make haste. See you there!
The Sports Illustrated Book of Wet-Fly Fishing came in the mail last week. I’ve wanted to track down a copy for years, and finally got round to it. It’s written by Leisenring’s disciple Vern Hidy, and it lists tying instructions for three patterns, one of which is Leisenring’s Spider.
They (very literally) don’t make ’em like this anymore. A little dog-eared but just as relevant today as it was in 1961.
You don’t hear much about Leisenring’s Spider today. (I first encountered it in a Wingless Wets piece written by Mark Libertone almost 15 years ago.) It’s not listed in his book, which is strange considering it’s got fish magnet written all over it. Leisenring used his version of a dubbing loop to form the body, and I suspect buggier and nastier is better than perfect. A so-simple soft-hackle to help you clean up during the next caddis hatch. Hang on!
The Leisenring Spider
Tomorrow, Friday, January 24 is my only day at the Edison Fly Fishing Show. Here’s my plan:
Arrive noonish or a little before. Walk the floor, make the rounds, say hello. You can always text me if you’re looking for me — you can find my number here. I’m going to try to catch parts of a few presentations before my Seminar, which is 4:30pm in the Catch Room, Wet Flies 101. Of course, I’ll see you there. Right?
Thank you to everyone for your continued support.
I don’t have my complete schedule, but I can tell you that I will be appearing at the Edison, NJ Fly Fishing Show next month. I have a seminar, Wet Flies 101, in the Catch Room at 4:40pm Friday January 24. I’m hoping to have another gig on Saturday Jan 25th — as soon as I have details, I’ll pass them along to you. Hope to see you there!
Wet flies have been fooling trout for centuries, and the fish aren’t getting any smarter. This big Housy brown was taken this fall on a simple soft hackle.