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.

Screen Shot 2020-07-19 at 11.15.14 PM

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.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

 

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!)

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

~

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

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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.

Farmington River Report 6/16/20: Wait for it.

Tuesday was shooting day on the Farmington. I met filmmaker Matthew Vinick and his crew around 2pm above the Permanent TMA. They reported an active hatch and feeding session in the early afternoon, but by the time we started filming at 2:30, it was…over. Done. Nada.

You keep hoping that it’s going to pick up — I mean, it will eventually, right? — but we were plagued with five hours of virtually no visible hatch activity and no feeding trout. You’d see a trout come up occasionally. But then, nothing. No rhythm, no continuity, no consistency. I felt awful for Cosmo and Byron and Matt, but when Mother Nature feeds you a poop sandwich, ya gotta hold your nose and eat it. And so we did.

It is my considered opinion that the State of Connecticut chose wisely in the naming of its state flower.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

So, after going oh-for-three, I stepped up to the plate in the bottom of the ninth and hit one out of the park. It was a 17-inch (a true rarity among all the 18-inchers on the Farmy, he said with good-spirited sarcasm) Survivor Strain brown buck who was lazily feeding in about a foot of water six feet off the bank.

See that frog water just off the rocks? That’s where the fish was holding, just at the left edge of the frame. I made a lucky cast, and the brown rose with confidence to the fly, fully committed to the take. Cosmo and Matt were shooting on either side of the rise, and I’m hoping they got a great moment of incidental magic on film. 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Mr. Day Saver, taken on a size 16 Light Cahill dry. Accurately taped at 17″.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Of course, after the crew went home the river lit up. Many active feeders beginning around 7:45, and continuing till dark. The trout in the faster water were keyed on sulphur emergers (a Magic Fly or Usual would serve you well), while the trout in the slower water were putting on a spinner sipping clinic. I couldn’t buy a fish for hours; in the last half hour, I stopped counting after six. At one point I had a fish on four consecutive casts.

The rousing finale had me galumphing this 20+” wild brown into my net. Taken on a size 16 Light Cahill dry. Here’s the release.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Farmington River Report 6/8/20: Our Lady of Blessed Magic Fly, or: spectacular sulphur wet and dry fly action

I fished last night from 5:45pm until 9:15pm, well past when I could no longer see my fly. I started out swinging and dead-drifting wets, sometimes prospecting, but mostly casting to active feeders. I had to work for my fish, but that was OK since some of them were larger wild browns. My rig was a size 12 Squirrel and Ginger top dropper, size 14 Partridge and Light Cahill middle dropper, and Light Cahill winged wet on point. All three patterns took fish. Hatch activity was a 7/10: caddis, sulphurs, Light Cahills, mobs of midges, and a few stray Isos. Around 7pm I switched out the winged Light Cahill for a size 14 Magic Fly after I saw a batch of larger sulphurs hatching. The fish opened their mouths in approval.

You can’t tell from the photo, but this is a high teens wild brown, taken on the Squirrel and Ginger. He was feeding in a narrow slot about a foot deep. The presentation was an oblique angle upstream cast, then dead drift. WHACK! (Editorial: I’m proud to say that on this website there are no photos of trout being thrust into camera lenses, angler arms fully extended. I know my readers are far too intelligent and sophisticated to put up with such shenanigans.)

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

~

All the while, I was vastly outfishing the anglers around me. I mention this not as a brag point, but rather as a teaching point. Properly presented wet flies have been, and will continue to be, the best way to fool trout during the early stages of a sulphur hatch. Every other angler was fishing dry, which can work, provided you’ve got the right pattern and presentation. But when trout are on sulphur emergers, I’ll go with a team of wets every time.

However, there comes a time during every hatch where the trout begin want the topwater fly rather than the subsurface wet. So at 7:30pm I switched to surface presentations, mostly the Magic Fly (dusted with silica powder), a few drifts with creamy-colored The Usual, and finishing off with Catskills Light Cahills. Classic spectacular dry fly action: I took trout after trout until darkness enveloped me. By then I was gloriously alone. Well, not really. Just me, the trout, and about a million bugs.

Life is good with a cane rod on a sunny June evening on the Farmy. I thought it both poetic and proper that my first surface Magic Fly trout this year was a chunky mid-teens wild brown.

Leisenring’s Pale Watery Nymph (light-colored dun version)

This is the second Pale Watery Nymph listed in Leisenring’s book. He adds the qualifier, “effective when light-colored duns are on the water.” No doubt. Buggy, simple, and highly edible.

Leisenring’s Pale Watery Nymph (light-colored duns)

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

~

Hook: 15, 16
Silk: White, waxed with colorless wax
Hackle: One turn of very short honey dun cock hackle.
Tail: Three strands of very short, soft-blue-dun cock fibers.
Rib: None.
Body: Undyed seal fur or pale buff Australian opossum fur dubbed lightly at the tail and thicker at the thorax.
~
Tying notes: Absent cock hackle, I used hen. I didn’t have the right color opossum, so I used Hareline Dubbin rabbit. This is a very straightforward tie.

Stewart’s Dun Spider

I don’t know if W.C. Stewart had yellow sallies or sulphurs on his wee Scottish burns. But we have them here in the States, and Stewart’s Dun Spider does a bang-up job of imitating those hatches. Try fishing this on a small stream as a dropper off a bushy dry — or as a dry-wet tandem during a sulphur emergence. (You can thank me next time you see me.)

Every fly tier has a good supply of dotterel on hand…uh…hold on…dang! Turns out, not so much, even in Stewart’s time (mid-19th century). You can substitute with webby dun hen, or heed the sage advice of the man himself:

StewartDun

Stewart’s Dun Spider

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Hook: 14-15 (from Leisenring). I used a Partridge SUD2 #14.
Silk: Yellow
Hackle: Dotterel (I used a feather from the inside of a starling wing)
Body: Working silk
~
Tying Notes: The silk body should cover only the front half of the shank. Select a feather with fibers about as long as the shank. To make a more durable fly, Stewart suggested twisting the hackle around a silk tag before winding. Here’s how I did that: Start the silk at the head, winding rearward. Leave a 3″ tag about 3/4 of the way down the body. Continue winding the working silk. At the halfway point of the shank, proceed back toward the head. When you get to the silk tag, tie in the feather at its tip, and continue winding your working silk toward the head. Now, twist the feather around the silk tag, taking care not to break the spine (starling is fragile!). If you look closely at the photo, you can see the silk reinforcement around the spine of the feather. Wrap the feather toward the head, 3-4 turns, preening the fibers so they don’t get covered (a bodkin or needle may help). Tie down the feather and whip finish.

A little Leisenring, a little Culton, a little North Country Spider

Soft hackles and wingless wets ready to swim. Clockwise from upper left: Pale Watery Dun, Grey Watchet, Old Blue Dun (and a random Partridge and Rusty Brown), Squirrel and Ginger, Pale Watery Wingless AKA Magic Fly.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Farmington River Report 6/28/19: The summer pattern arrives

I guided longtime client Mark yesterday and we found the Farmington in its classic summer pattern: long stretches of nothing punctuated by bursts of frantic activity. We fished from noon-7pm. The method for the first five hours was a team of three wets, including some shot-on-the-leader presentations in deep pools. While we found some trout willing to jump on (See that tree over there? There’s always a trout hiding underneath it…) the bug/bird/bite activity was dramatically slower than it has been, no doubt due to the bright sun and soaring temperatures. We fished below and within the Permanent TMA. Late afternoon found us ensconced in one of Mark’s favorite dry fly runs, and as we moved toward evening, it was no surprise that the trout became a little more active. Nonetheless, I found the hatch to be disappointing-to-mediocre-at-best. But we persevered and stuck a few trout on tiny sulphur Comparaduns. (It was sulphurs, caddis, and some guest Isos, but mostly sulphurs, especially after 7:30pm) I fished past the time I could no longer see my fly, and called it quits after the last take. By this time the surface was simmering. Hello, summer!

Mark has a knack for this: I tell him I’m going to shore to put on my jacket, and that I’ll recognize him from a distance due to the bent rod. Yesterday I took about ten steps and suddenly I heard splashing. True dis: it’s happened two years in a row. In the same spot. Way to go, Mark!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Farmington River Report 6/25/19: Another double-digit wet fly day

Longtime currentseams follower Greg wanted to add the art of the wet fly to his arsenal. Trout should now consider this man to be armed and extremely dangerous. We fished two marks within the Permanent TMA from 3pm-7pm. To say the action was good would be an understatement — we hooked and released a double-digit number of trout during four very productive hours. A tremendous job by Greg casting, mending, and letting the trout set the hook! We got rained on a bit, and the fog was a constant, but we ended the outing bathed in sunshine.

I saw a lot of this today. After an initial slow start, the bite picked up and we never looked back. Here Greg demonstrates the result of mending the whole line (rather than a portion of it) to slow the drift and bring the flies to the trout.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

~

Incoming, Magic Fly in mouth. We fished a sz 12 Squirrel and Ginger on top, a sz 16 Magic Fly in the middle, and (after I saw a couple Isos) a size 12 Hackled March Brown on point. All three patterns took fish, the majority on the caddis and the sulphur.

DCIM100GOPROG0033417.

~

Greg had the Farmy hat trick today, with a mix of rainbows, stocked and wild browns, and a hefty brookie. Here’s one of the nicer browns, a mid teens buck starting to develop a snout and kype.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

~

We hit the jackpot at the second mark, finding a shaded run with a substantial number of fish that wanted those wets. You can still see the parr marks on this gorgeous creature, with some handsome dots and halos thrown in for good measure. 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

~

And then, I went solo in search of dry fly pleasure below the Permanent TMA. I found it, you betcha, with a massive sulphur hatch and trout boiling everywhere. I fished until I couldn’t see my fly, and then even past that. One more cast, you know?

Farmington River Report 6/19/19: Spectacular hatches, wet, and dry fly action

Just when you thought it couldn’t get any better, it does: another off-the-charts evening session on the Farmington.

Cast three wet fly team. Hookup. Repeat. It was that kind of night. 

WetFlyTrout

I fished below the Permanent TMA from 6pm-9pm. When I arrived there were a few bugs (sulphurs sz 16, tiny creamy midges, caddis sz 16-18, and the first Isos I’ve seen) and even fewer rises, but that did not discourage me. Conditions were perfect, a magnificent collision of warm, humid air, cloud cover and water height. I tied up the same three fly wet team as yesterday: a Squirrel and Ginger top dropper, Magic Fly middle dropper, and Leisenring’s Pale Watery Dun Wingless on point. First cast, BANG, and it was virtually non-stop action for the next hour. Pow! Smack! It was an aquatic reenactment of a Batman episode. Such splashy, strong takes — these trout were obviously feeding with a vengeance.  Now, if you’ve taken my wet fly class or done a private lesson and the action has been — ahem — slow — you’ve heard me say that when the fish are feeding on emergers and you’re dialed into what they’re eating and how they’re eating it, wet flies can be the most lethal method. This was one of those times. A double-digit outing on wet flies alone.

How good is the Magic Fly? Twice last night I drifted it within a few inches of a natural. Both times the trout chose my fly.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA~

The dry fly session now seems almost anticlimactic, mostly of my own doing. While the river was boiling around me, I was trying to entice some fish feeding in frog water from a disadvantageous position. (I was doing this on purpose as a personal challenge.)  Suffice to say the usual pattern unfolded: a lull between 7:00-7:30, building activity to 8:00pm, then at 8:30 the trout and bugs go bonkers. Every once in a while I’d treat myself to a fish feeding in the faster water. Magic Flies size 16 and Light Cahills size 14 served me well. Finally, just about when I could no longer see the fly, I made a couple lucky mends and got one of those impossible fish to take.

And so we ended on a high note.

Best fish of the night, a high teens wild hen. She clobbered the middle dropper, the Magic Fly, AKA Pale Watery wingless wet. I’ve made a big deal about fishing the Magic Fly as a dry, but do not underestimate its power as a traditional subsurface wet.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA