Farmington River Report 8/5/20: the last second winning drive

I guided Abe yesterday from 2:45-6:45pm. Abe, who said he’d never done particularly well on the Farmington, wanted to focus on wet flies. For the longest time it looked like we’d picked the wrong day. The river was in fine shape, no worse for the wear after the storm. They lowered the flow out of the gate to 160cfs, but the Still was adding another 100 or so to make an ideal summer level, and the water was plenty cold. Getting there was an issue for me: closed roads in Bristol and Farmington turned a 50 minute drive into 90.

We hit four marks and found spotty action at best. Hatch activity was virtually nil, a 1 out of 10. I don’t need to tell you that that meant a paucity of active visible feeders. Nonetheless, we stuck a few fish in the first mark and had an LDR. The second mark was a bust, with only a couple courtesy taps. The third was even worse, without a single fine how-do-you-do? But the fourth…ah, the fourth. We broke out the wading staff and ventured into a snotty, pocketed, riffly run that always holds fish this time of year. I switched out the Hackled March Brown on point for a SHBHPT to give us a little more weight. Time was running out on our session. Whack! Mid-teens rainbow. Bang! Gorgeous wild brown. Bap! JV Atlantic salmon. Three fish in 15 minutes made for a very satisfying end to our session. Kudos to Abe for fishing hard, fishing well, and never giving up!

You’d be smiling, too, if you’d just landed a quality trout on a wet fly on such a slow day. Our quarry was camera shy. Thankfully, Abe isn’t. While angler traffic was light, we didn’t see anyone else hook up all day.

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Some wet fly notes and lessons from recent outings

If you want to catch more fish, pay attention to the little things. You’ve heard that from me before — heck, I’ve got three presentations and written several articles on the subject — but it bears repeating. Here are a few lessons I hammered home to both clients and myself (we all have to pay attention to the little things) on some recent wet fly outings.

On the swing and especially the dangle, don’t set the hook. Let the fish set itself. When you feel the strike, ask yourself, “Are you still there?” The answer will always be yes, if you allow the fish to turn away and drive the hook point home.

Look for consistent, active feeders on emergers. You’ll know the bug/feeding stage from the rise form (slashy, splashy, showy) and that there are no duns visible on top of the water. Those are the fish that will rush to eat your wet flies. Just left of center in this photo is what I’m talking about.

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Match the hatch! If you see size 16 creamy/sulphury mayflies coming off, and you don’t have anything like that on your leader, get some on. Now.

Give the fish a choice. Droppers are always the fastest way to find out what the fish want. Different sizes, colors, species, life stages. The fish will always tell you when you get it right.

The Hackled March Brown continues to be a consistent summer big fish producer. It’ll be my default point fly pattern through August.

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Farmington River Report 7/29/20: “We can catch that fish.”

I guided Andrew yesterday and our focus was wet fly fishing, reading water, and finding productive water. We fished two marks into late afternoon/early evening, one within the Permanent TMA and the other above it. Conditions were as about as good as you could want for this time of year, with a healthy 270cfs flow and the water plenty cold. The first mark was frustrating as we found feeding fish, but not a high percentage of players. Like many beginning wet fly fishers, Andrew needed to learn to let the fish set the hook. In fairness, most of these trout were smaller, their feeding sporadic, and as I told Andrew, the bigger fish don’t miss when they commit to the wet fly.

The second mark was a snotty run loaded with boulders, pockets, and all kinds of rocks that wanted to trip you up if you’re not careful. But Andrew was game and we went exploring. Things began slowly, but then we started to see sulphurs, olives, and Isonychia, along with one giant yellow mayfly (Potomantis?) and a corresponding spike in feeding. We found a big rainbow carelessly slashing at emergers at the end of a pocket run, and I said to Andrew, “We can catch that fish.” And then, “Remember, don’t set the hook.” Second cast, bang! Off to the races.

You can see that smile all the way through the mask. Andrew and his prize, a mid-teens chunker rainbow. Not an easy fish to land in a ripping current, but the trout hooked itself neatly on a Hackled March Brown. (Note arms bent at a 90-degree angle. There’ll be no fish thrusting on this site!)

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The battle won, the fish kept wet in the net until a quick photo is taken, then the release. Always a  highly gratifying moment.

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We finished up in another long pocket run that was populated with trout feeding on sulphur emergers. They proved to be tougher customers, but we landed a few on the Partridge and Light Cahill and called it a day. Great job, Andrew! I took a break and then got in a little wet then dry fly session. Hatch and feeding was about a 5/10. But you get what you get and you don’t get upset, especially when you have and entire pool to yourself at dusk.

Tip of the Week: Find the moment you should switch from wets to dries

Late afternoon into early summer evenings can be a highly productive time to fish wet flies, especially if you have a strong hatch and active feeders. Of course, it’s a good idea to fish a team of three (give the trout a choice) and match the hatch (you can match multiple hatches with a team of three wets). If you hit it right, you’ll be the angler that everyone wants to quiz in the parking lot.

Wets will often out-fish dries during the early and mid-stages of a hatch. But there comes a time when you should stop fishing wets and switch to dries. Some of the cues are visual: you begin to see trout taking insects off the top of the water, or the rises leave a bubble (indicating the fish has broken the surface while eating). Others are self-evident: you’ve been pounding up fish on wets for an hour, the feed is still in full swing, but you’re no longer getting hits. Learn to find this moment in time consistently, and you’ll be on your way to catching more fish. Keep a dry fly leader in a handy pocket so you can make the switch even faster.

I have not been fishing Stewart’s Dun Spider nearly enough this summer. This soft hackle has sulphurs written all over it. Change the silk to a light olive for Attenuata? Hmmm…

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Farmington River Report 7/14/20: A learning experience (for me, too)

I guided Michael yesterday from 2pm-6pm. Michael is new to fly fishing, so we had a lot to work on. We stayed within the Permanent TMA, where conditions were excellent:  280cfs flow and water plenty cold. Hatch and feeding activity was again low, although we did experience a 15-minute window where there was something going on underwater and the feed was on. We spent the first half of the lesson on indicator drop-shot nymphing. Once Michael got used to the nuances of the rig, he stuck four fish. Great job, Michael, on a day when the bite was slow. (A seasoned angler remarked to us as we were gearing down that the fishing “stunk today.”) We finished up swinging wets and managed a juvenile Atlantic Salmon. So, while I was disappointed in the activity, I was excited to watch Michael’s skills develop in a matter of hours.

Hey, this indicator nymphing thing really works! Our first fish was a rainbow that treated us to a couple of aerials. 

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After our session I headed upriver where the water was even colder. The evening rise was OK — 5/10 for feeding and hatch activity. What was a learning experience for me was my success presenting a team of three wet flies upstream to feeding fish. I caught four of the six trout I took on wets this way. All the takers were in faster water with a broken, curling surface, all were active feeders, and all took my Light Cahill winged wet or Partridge and Light Cahill flies. Most success I’ve ever had fishing that way. At 8pm I switched over to dries and caught trout well into dark.

This chunky rainbow was slashing at emergers about 30 feet above me. First cast, upstream presentation, dead drift, bang! Light Cahill winged wet. As you can see, this guy’s been caught before. What a handsome fish! Love the spots and coloration.

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Farmington River Report 7/9/20: what a way to go!

I worked with Bill yesterday on his indicator nymphing and wet fly skills. Water conditions were perfect in the Permanent TMA: 325cfs, cold, clear. The trout and bugs were a wee bit more uncooperative. Hatches (sulphurs, caddis, olives) were spotty and the feeding was inconsistent at best. We fished two marks and saw four trout hooked all day, and since we had two of them, we declared victory. On the plus side, Bill landed his PB non-lake-run brown. He nailed it at high noon (we fished from 10am-2pm) while nymphing. I was observing from upstream, and when he set the hook it sure looked like a fish to me. Bill thought he was stuck on the bottom — that happens sometimes with larger Farmy trout — and then, gloriously, the bottom fought back. Sadly, Bill snapped his rod during the battle, but the fish was landed, much to his delight. To say nothing of mine!

Bill’s new personal best, a gorgeous high teens wild brown. Love those halos. He took the took dropper in our nymph rig, a size 18 soft-hackled pheasant tail. Since that hook was a 2x short, it’s effectively a size 22 fly. Do not underestimate the power of tiny soft hackles this time of year. I almost always make my top dropper on my drop-shot nymph rig a soft hackle. Congratulations, Bill!

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Tuesday Night Zoom! “Matching the Hatch with Wet Flies” May 5, 8pm

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Thanks to everyone for all the excellent Zoom topic suggestions. This one showed up (in various iterations) multiple times — and so by popular demand, you shall have it.

Wet Fly Questions Answered

I’ve been getting a lot of wet fly questions, and I thought I’d share my answers with the group. I’m excited that so many of you are interested in this ancient and traditional art. So here we go:

Q: What size and length rod are you using on the Farmington? A: My dedicated wet fly stick is a 10-foot 5-weight Hardy Marksman II. I don’t hate it, I don’t love it. It’s got a good backbone for helping manage bigger trout in snotty currents, but I wish it were a bit softer in the flex. What’s important is that it’s a 10-footer, which I find useful for mending. Note: I still take the 7’9″ Tonka Queen out for an occasional wet fly jaunt, albeit in moderate/slow currents. That cane pole is a dream for mending.

The Queen in action. This rod gives me an ultra-fine level of line control.

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Q: Do you use an indicator? A: My joke answer is “yes” — the splash of the take, the spray of water, and the jolt of the rod tip all indicate a strike. The real answer is no, not in the traditional sense. The vast majority of time, you need no visual aid to tell you the fish has taken the fly. An exception would be when you’re fishing upstream, drawing the line toward you as the rig moves downstream. I’m watching the tip of the line like a hawk for stalls, shudders, or stoppage that would indicate a delicate strike well below the surface.

Q: Do you use a floating line? A: Yes. (I’m a line control freak.)

Q: When you’re casting and mending, is it basically a dead drift, then the flies start swinging and rising? A: Kindof. Unless you introduce slack into the presentation, you’ll never really have a true dead drift. So even when I’m doing a quartering down or straight across cast and mend, the flies are moving downstream and across, albeit in a slower manner than they would with a traditional wet fly swing.

Q: You’ve said that in spring, you focus more on pool-type water, and faster water in the summer. I’m having trouble finding the right type and depth of water. Any advice? A: Generally speaking, the colder it is, the greater the chance that trout will be in deeper pool-type water. That doesn’t mean you won’t find trout in 1-foot deep riffles in December. The bottom line is: there is no substitute for experience on the water. Get out and explore. Keep a log. Where and when did you fish? Were you catching? Were others catching?  What was the weather like? What was the water height? You can see where this is going. And finally, a wee plug for myself: take a lesson. I hear this a lot from clients: “I’ve driven past this spot a hundred times and never thought to fish it.”

Q: I fished wet flies and only had one bump. What was I doing wrong? A: (This person was out on the Farmington this week.) You’ve got a lot of elements working against you. For starters, I don’t like to fish wets in the Permanent TMA in any flow over 500cfs (it’s been 750cfs and higher). 250cfs-400cfs is the wheelhouse. Hatch windows also have a lot to do with the wet fly bite. For example, right now (Hendrickson and caddis hatches) you want to be swinging anywhere from 11am to 3pm-ish. You’re trying to entice the trout that are taking the emergers. And this cold, wet weather isn’t helping, either.

When you hit the emergence just right, the results can be magical.

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Keep on swinging.

Booming and Zooming! Thanks, and up next…

Booming and Zooming. That’s what the test pilots called it when they broke the sound barrier while flying in a parabolic arc. We did our own version of B&Z last night: 50 attendees at the inaugural Currentseams Zoom — Wet Flies & Soft Hackles in case you missed it — and only one big boom! (thanks for your patience) that we sorted out. So: thanks to everyone who took the time to participate. I had fun. I hope you did, too. I know some of you arrived late and I didn’t see you in the entry queue. Mea culpa. And apologies. I appreciate your patience as I sort through this technology.

We’ll do another one of these, hopefully next week, date TBD. I like the 8pm EST start. I’m  hearing a lot of interest in a striper talk, so that’s probably where we’re headed. Figure the same format, a presentation then Q&A.

If you have not yet gotten on the official Currentseams Zoom email list — please send me an email — not a comment here — to swculton @ yahoo so I have a valid email url. I’ll get you on it lickety-split. Thanks again, and please stay safe and well.

Did somebody say stripers on Zoom?

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Hackled March Brown Tying Video

The Hackled March Brown is one of my favorite big fish wet flies. Long time readers may recall the first time I wrote about it — you can read that piece here. I don’t have much to add, other than this has become a supremely reliable pattern for me when the Isonychia are flying. (Next time you’re fishing sulphurs, and you hear a rise that sounds like someone threw a bowling ball into the river, betcha your lunch money it was a trout eating an Iso.) The Hackled March Brown is almost always my point fly on a three fly team. Fish it this summer and you’ll see why I recommend you tie it on a 2x strong hook.