Farmington River Report 6/17/21: Wet Fly Wizardry

I guided Joe yesterday, and while it wasn’t a textbook wet fly day, we experienced some tremendous action (I lost count of how many trout we hooked and landed). Joe is an experienced angler who has dabbled in wet flies, but wanted some serious instruction in the ancient and traditional subsurface art. We fished from 2:15-6:15pm, and visited two marks, one within the Permanent TMA and one below it, 385cfs and 465cfs respectively. It was a strange kind of wet fly day in that there was no voluminous hatch, nor were there frequent, consistent risers to target. Nonetheless, Joe slayed ’em. This speaks not only to Joe’s abilities, but also to the efficiency of the wet fly. It may not look like anything is going on, but there can indeed be mischief afoot underwater. Joe fished a three fly team of a Squirrel and Ginger top dropper, Light Cahill winged middle dropper, and Hackled March Brown on point. All three flies took trout, a mix of rainbows and wild browns. Several of the rainbows we landed had bird wounds — watch out, trout! A great job by Joe and a fun afternoon of fishing and catching.

After our session, I headed north to catch the “evening rise.” The quotes are sarcastic, as the hatch never materialized. Oh, sure, there were a few caddis and suplhurs and some huge creamy duns, but they were few and far between. The river never got to boiling — the best it could muster was a brief simmer around 8:45pm. I had several swings and misses (I was fishing dry fly) and only stuck two trout. A disappointing performance by Mother Nature, but there are worse ways to spend two hours than standing in a river, waving a stick, and enjoying a fine cigar.

This was the scene for much of the afternoon. I told Joe he was going to become a dangerous wet fly machine, and here’s your proof.

Farmington River Report 5/25/21: Spectacular wet fly action

After my Instagram (stevecultonflyfishing) post the other day, I wanted to see for myself. So, following the advice of my rose bushes, I headed for the lower end of the Farmington River to fish the Light Cahill hatch.

The water has come down nicely — in fact, I’d call 445cfs just about right — and it’s still plenty cold. I started off at a favorite mark around 5:30pm, and worked my way down a series of snotty riffles and pockets. The action wasn’t quite what I expected, even though I stuck a half dozen trout. There just wasn’t nearly the hatch activity I’d expected, nor were there many fish feeding near the surface. I’d started out with a Squirrel and Ginger (sz 12) as top dropper, a Starling and Herl (sz 14) in the middle, and a Partridge and Light Cahill (sz 12) on point. After no hookups on the dark middle fly, I made two command decisions: replace the Starling and Herl with a Pale Watery Wingless (sz 12) and move to a new mark.

And those two choices made all the difference. I was in the water by 7pm, and for the next 90 minutes I took trout after trout. It was one of those I-have-no-idea-how-many-fish-I caught nights. What was most interesting to me was the difference a half mile makes. The new spot had more bugs and far more active feeders. The fish were mostly stocked rainbows (and a bonus big brook trout), but I did get a few wild browns in the mix, including a hefty 16″wild thing.

If you’ve taken a wet fly lesson with me, you’ve heard me say that when you hit it right, wet flies will make you look like a fly fishing wizard. I caught every riser I cast to, save for one. I caught them on all three flies. I caught them on the mended swing, the dead drift, the dangle, and the Leisenring Lift. Folks, I hit it right, and you can, too. Wet flies, people. Wet flies.

Lousy picture, nice fish. 16″ of wild Farmington brown taken on a size 12 Magic Fly on a dead drift. He was slashing at emergers at the wrinkled head of a pocket run. It took be a short while to figure out what I’d hooked — it was either one of those fat stocker rainbows or a chunky wild brown. I was glad it was Option B. This guy bulldogged and battled and generally behaved very poorly. I love him for that.

Farmington River Report 5/4/21: North, Miss Teschmacher

I guided Andrew and Brett yesterday and they wanted to focus on wet flies. Monday’s rain was more than I expected, and I didn’t like the height or the color of the Permanent TMA. So we headed north to the friendly confines of WBATSR (West Branch Above The Still River. I just made that up.) This was a good call as the water was running a crystal clear and very wadeable 200cfs. I really liked that height, and I thought there were dozens, if not hundreds of pockets and seams and slots and riffles that would hold trout. Sadly, the trout didn’t get the memo, and we had a very slow day. (We didn’t see any angler other than our group hook and land a fish.) It was the kind of day where I find the next great piece of water, and think to myself, “this is going to be it,” and then nothing happens. These episodes make me throw up my hands and say, “I quit.” Of course, I don’t really mean it, and of course we don’t quit, but I get frustrated just like everyone else.

Andrew had fished with me before, and on that day we had far more active fish than today. Brett is a relative newcomer to fly fishing, and once we smoothed out a few wrinkles he was swinging like a pro. I alternated between both anglers, and we worked downstream, covering several hundred yards of water. Bug activity was very light, with two confirmed Hendricksons and a handful of BWOs, but that was it. As you can imagine, angler traffic was heavy, especially with that section of river the only clear water game in town. With today’s rain and increased flows, I would guess that streamers and nymphing will be, by far, the most productive methods for a few days.

Andrew doing battle with a chunky rainbow. He scored two trout, both on the bead head soft hackle I had tied on in the point position. In my experience, wet fly can be challenging in high flows, so I’d wait for the water to get down to 500 or less before swinging. Great job, Brett and Andrew, for persevering though some tough fishing conditions!

Farmington River Report 4/26/21: fun with the Hendricksons

On Monday I fished from 11:30am to 3:30pm. It was cold and crisp and the wind was honking. I started off on the lower River, swinging a team of three wets (Squirrel and Ginger on top, Dark Hendrickson winged middle dropper, tungsten bead head Hendrickson soft hackle on point. I fished both faster pocket water and slower, deeper pools. Both produced, despite the lack of hatch activity (I saw only two Hendricksons and no other bugs.) The takes were savage, all the them from recently stocked rainbows. It never ceases to amaze me how quickly these fish adapt to their new home. While I can’t get super excited about them, I have to say that these fish are quite powerful, not to mention great leapers. But with no signs of a hatch, I decided to head to the Permanent TMA.

Good call. By the time I arrived, the emergence was over, and two anglers, Andy and Bob, graciously allowed me a quick spin through their mark just to be sure. Wet flies are great way to determine the stage of the Hendrickson hatch; if you see fish rising, and you feed them the wets, and they mostly or completely ignore the flies, you know they’ve switched to the dun. (This is why you can be pounding up fish on Hendrickson wets, and then suddenly, despite visual evidence that the fish are still feeding, your catch rate slows dramatically. You’re fishing in the right place at the right time, just the wrong way.) I connected with only one fish on the wet, but I could also see the adults on the water, and the trout began snapping them up. So I hastily rigged a dry fly leader and had at it with some Hendrickson Usuals. Boom! All you had to do was mark a rise, then drift over it. There were so many trout rising, I was cackling with glee. By the time I left, the activity was waning. I wonder how the spinner fall was with this wind?

Despite cold and medium high water, I had plenty of takers on theSquirrel and Ginger top dropper. If you hit it right, this is a fantastic time of the year to swing a team of wets.

Currentseams Tuesday Night Zoom 3/23/21, 8pm: “Tying Wet Flies”

It’s getting to be that time of year when we can think about not dredging the bottom and start fishing in the upper reaches of the water column. We’re talking wet flies for this Currentseams Tuesday Night Zoom, and I’ll be telling you about the materials and hooks I use to tie these simple, traditional, and devastatingly effective flies. Bonus: I’ll throw in a tying demo. If you haven’t been getting the Zoom links — I send them out Tuesday late afternoon — please check your spam box. If you’re sending a request to get on the list, please don’t wait until 7:45 p.m. Tuesday night…I won’t be checking my email that late. Thanks!

Last night’s Zoom, next week’s Zoom, and the inaugural Fly-Tying Zoom (Sat. Jan 16)

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 swculton@yahoo.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.

Best of 2020 #3: Hendrickson Wet Fly Mania

When I give a wet fly lesson, I always tell my clients this: “If you hit a hatch just right, you can have one of those days you’ll never forget.” And it so it was for me on a cool afternoon in April. Hendrickson season can be tough on the Farmington, especially if you’re looking for an unoccupied mark. But sometimes luck smiles upon you, and on this day it was so. The run I wanted to fish was on lockdown, but just as I arrived, an angler left, leaving a prime lie open. Armed with a three fly team of wets, I proceeded to wreak havoc upon the residents. This was one of those days where I quickly lost count of fish, but it was easily in the multiple dozens range. (Fresh fish + epic Hendrickson hatch + wet flies = stupid good.) I had doubles galore. I finally quit because it was so ridiculous for so long. Really. You can read about it here.

I had several evenings of spectacular wet fly action during the sulphur hatches of 2020, but nothing that equaled the craziness of this day of Hendrickson mania! If the water is 450cfs+, or if you want to sink your team a little more, try this tungsten bead head Dark Hendrickson soft hackle on point.

Props to a keen student of wet fly fishing

Don took a wet fly lesson with me in July, and while the bugs and trout weren’t very cooperative, we still had enough action to make things interesting. I always tell my students that if they keep on with this wet fly thing, good things will follow. Don has been in touch since then, asking questions, practicing and tying, and most importantly, spending time with a team of three on the water. That’s how you become a better wet fly angler.

In my report from that day, I stated that if Don learned wet flies, he would become a dangerous fish-catching machine. Although conditions have been challenging in the last couple months, Don has kept at it. Last week he scored this gorgeous brown on a Squirrel and Ginger. I think it’s a Survivor Strain broodstock — that looks like a left-eye elastomer and clipped adipose. Way to go, Don!

Farmington River Report 8/12/20: Howling back at the dog days

While it’s positively tropical across the rest of the state, the Farmington continues to offer respite. True, they’ve lowered the flow (165cfs within the Permanent TMA) but the water is plenty cold. This can be a tough time of year to fish: hatches are sporadic and sometimes light at best; and in flows this low the fish are concentrated in certain areas and can be downright spooky. Nonetheless, Dave wanted a wet fly lesson, and off we went.

At this height, the river is still quite agreeable to the wet fly. You’ve got water that’s deep enough to swing, enough water to create a good current, and as a bonus the fish are always looking up. Dave did a great job, and his enthusiasm was palpable. We fished three marks, and found players in one of them, a nice mix of brook trout and a jewel of a wild brown. All of our fish came in faster water/riffles. Dave is awarded the Currentseams Order of the Straight Line: he is my only student this year to make it through a wet fly session without a tangled leader! Well done, good sir, under some challenging conditions (we did not see another fish caught all day).

Guides love bent rods (although I must’ve got him between strips). Fish on, baby!

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This was a stocked brookie, but he’s been in the river long enough to regain some lost lustre and begin to grow some proper Fontinalis fins.

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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.