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. 

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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.

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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.

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Leisenring’s Favorite Twelve Wets: Iron Blue Wingless

The Yorkshire influence returns. The name “Iron Blue” (Baetis muticous and Baetis niger) is decidedly English. But here’s where I get confused. I don’t ever recall anglers in the states waxing poetically about Iron Blue hatches. Did Leisenring see them (or something like them) on his home streams in Pennsylvania? And it’s hard for me to reconcile this as a BWO with materials like claret silk and honey dun hackle. Or is Leisenring focusing on the iron blue hues he created with silk and fur? Clearly he had great confidence in the Iron Blue Wingless. Leave it to the trout to solve these mysteries — and simply enjoy the pattern’s incongruous colors with a knowing wink as you admire it in the corner of a wild brown’s mouth.

Iron Blue Wingless

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Hook: Dry or wet fly, 14-15
Silk: Crimson or claret
Hackle: Honey dun hen hackle with red points, or a very dark honey dun
Tail: Two short dark honey dun cock fibers
Rib: Fine gold wire optional
Body: Dark mole fur spun on crimson silk; very thin at tail to expose silk
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Tying Notes: The “honey dun” hackle can be found in a medium or dark ginger hen neck, although you may have to paw through several in search of the precious red points. I made this body a little blockier than the photos in Leisenring’s book and Sly Nemes’ Two Centuries of Soft-Hackled Flies. I intend to tie a few that are sparser, and with the gold rib. You can find a general North Country spider video tutorial here.

Leisenring’s Favorite Twelve Wets: Blue Dun Hackle

First cousin to the Old Blue Dun, the Blue Dun Hackle trades buttonhole twist for gold tinsel and muskrat for mole fur. While the North Country spider influence is readily visible, you can see how Leisenring is taking these flies firmly into wingless wet territory with the spikey body and prominent ribbing. Imitator or attractor…or both? You decide, and let the trout kibbitz.

Blue Dun Hackle

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Hook: Dry or wet fly, 12-14
Silk: Primrose yellow
Hackle: Light blue dun hen
Tail: 2-3 blue dun fibers optional
Rib: Very narrow flat gold tinsel
Body: Mole fur spun on primrose yellow silk, a little of the silk exposed at the tail
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Tying Notes: A mole skin is pretty cheap and will keep you in wet flies and nymphs for years. You want a natural colored fur (kind of a dark blue-grey dun), not a dyed skin. XS tinsel works. I did a better job on this fly of letting the yellow silk show through at the tail.

Leisenring’s Favorite Twelve Wets: Old Blue Dun

The Old Blue Dun would make a fine representation of those bigger early season BWOs we get on the Farmington. Use a darker blue dun hackle and it’s easy to imagine it as a Hendrickson. Clearly, Leisenring thought highly of this pattern. And the trout you present it to will, too.

Old Blue Dun

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Hook: Dry or wet fly, 12-14
Silk: Primrose yellow
Hackle: Blue dun hen
Tail: 2-3 glassy fibers from a rusty blue dun cock hackle
Rib: One strand yellow buttonhole twist
Body: Muskrat underfur spun on primrose yellow silk, a little of the silk showing through at the tail
Wings: Starling (optional)
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Tying Notes: We’re back to the DMC embroidery floss (#744) as our buttonhole twist substitute. Make sure you pick out the muskrat guard hair — you want the soft, dark underfur. I didn’t leave a lot of the yellow silk showing through at the tail here; I wonder if Leisenring’s intention was to craft the illusion of an egg-layer? Nonetheless, this fly will hunt.

Leisenring’s Favorite Twelve Wets: Gray Hackle

Some questions simply cannot be answered by mortal man: Why do fools fall in love? Should I stay or should I go? But I digress. Consider Leisenring’s Gray Hackle. Why would you specify “yellow or white creamy furnace hackle” and then name the fly…well, you can see where this is going. Maybe Big Jim’s stash of said hackle had a gray cast to it. Maybe it looked a certain way when wet. We may never know. But we do know that there’s a little magic in this design. See for yourself.

Gray Hackle

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Hook: Dry or wet fly, 12-14
Silk: Primrose yellow
Hackle: Yellow or white creamy furnace
Rib: Narrow gold tinsel
Body: Bronze peacock herl
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Tying Notes: This hackle came from a bag of strung feathers I bought a long time ago for probably a couple bucks. I used two strands of herl to wind the body, and I used the technique of pressure from the thread in front of the herl to make a nice, compact wind (you can see that technique in Tim Flagler’s excellent Squirrel and Herl video.)

Wingless Wet Fly Video Sampler

A short tour through the art form that features classic wingless wet fly patterns developed by James Leisenring and others. This clip will be part of my revamped “Wet Flies 101” presentation.

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The sulphur hatch seems a long way off on this frigid January day. Still, an angler can dream…

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