Housy Smallmouth Report 8/9/17: No big deal

I’m a creature of habit, and that includes fishing. So every once in a while I need to force myself to switch things up, get out of my comfort zone, and try something different. That’s how I found myself last night in what’s probably the most popular pool on the river.

My evening began way above the covered bridge in some snotty rapids. One 6-incher on the TeQueely and done. I moved downriver to reconnoiter some new water. Didn’t like the looks of it, so I headed to my beat for the evening.

I hadn’t fished this run in a few decades. There’s a lot to like about it: substantial riffles that dump into a long pool, good current, ringed by both deep and shallow frog water. It’s fishy as hell.

Alas, it was infested with dinks. Even after it became difficult to see the fly, I was still hauling in pipsqueaks. OK, I was fishing on the wrong side of the river. But I didn’t see many of those telltale big fish bulges. On the positive end, I did boffo pre-hatch business with a Black Magic North Country spider dropper and a white fly soft hackle on point. They loved the flies on the dangle, rod tip raised, with a very slow or hand-twist retrieve. I had a few doubles, but mostly the bass were keyed on one fly or the other. I was intrigued that I would get several bass on the black — consecutively — then 2-3 bass on the white. (You may have heard this before, but droppers are the quickest way to find out what the fish want.)

Finally, you’ll want to know about the white flies. The answer was no. Very weak hatch, maybe a 2 out of 10. This pool is upriver from where I’ve been fishing, so I can’t make an intelligent scientific comparison other than to say it sucked. Black caddis were out again.

Good to meet everyone last night, and thanks as always for sharing the water.

Black Magic was featured in the color plates of Robert Smith’s book The North Country Fly. It works as well on eastern freestone river smallies as it does on English chalk stream browns. Black Pearsall’s silk, peacock herl, black hen.

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Farmington River Report 6/14/15: Just like Summer Stenos

Mid-June on the Farmington means an annual pilgrimage to a popular dry fly pool with the Tonka Queen for the sulphur hatch. I figured the permanent TMA would be jammed — after all, it was a gorgeous weekend day, and the rains were coming — and unfortunately, I was right. The lot was mostly full when I pulled in. I almost bailed right there, but I figured it was worth a look-see. To my surprise, most of the anglers were concentrated in the middle section of the pool. Plenty of room at the head. So in I went.

I fished from 5pm until after it was too dark to see a size 12 Light Cahill Catskills dry. What a strange evening it was.

Sulphurs came off from the time I entered the water until roughly 7:30. It wasn’t a particularly strong hatch, but there were enough bugs to keep me and the trout entertained. I used both The Magic Fly (Pale Watery wingless) and the Usual, sizes 16-20, for the first three-and-a-half hours with mixed results. Oh, I induced a good dozen trout to rise and take — we’re talking some quality boils — but each time I lifted my rod, nothing.

Certainly there was a rust factor in play — first time out with the cane and a long (13 feet) leader — but this felt just like summer stenos, a hatch I love to hate. Present to feeding fish. Perfect drift. Rise. Take. Nothing.

Once dusk arrived, the mosquitoes came out in force. Absent traditional insect repellant, a Gispert Churchill filled in nicely.

Smoke and Bamboo

I did witness several refusals, and this got me thinking that it was possible the trout were feeding on something other than sulphur emergers: size 16-18 BWOs or size 16-18 black caddis. Other factors to consider: multiple rise forms (porpoising gently as for spinners), slashy/splashy rises, and open mouths with a tail kick).

Around 7:30 I finally connected with a nice wild brown on the Magic Fly. The next hour was a puzzling series of casts, mends, and even more swings and misses. As darkness fell, I switched over to the Light Cahill Catskills dry, first size 14, then size 12, and stuck a fish on each, the last when I couldn’t even see the fly.

An outing as frustrating as this one ultimately raises more questions in my mind than I care to mention, but here are a few. Are the fish simply missing the fly? Am I too slow on the hook set (and if I am, how come I hooked those bazillions of trout before tonight with the same speed hook set)? Are the fish committing to the take, then bailing at the last second? How come no one else was catching (over four hours of fishing, I saw six fish hooked, including my three)? What were the trout feeding on besides sulphurs (I suspect it was the black caddis)? How come I didn’t get a sniff on small (size 20 & 22) spinner patterns?

Folks, I guide, teach fly fishing and write articles on the subject, and I have to tell you that I don’t have all the answers. Thankfully. Because now I need to go back and do some more research.

Farmington River report 6/4/14: The return of the hat

Since yesterday’s outing was cut short by cloudburstus interruptus, I returned to the river today to finish the job. A quick in-and-out session before I had to go pick up the kids. Oh. And I had the hat this time. Much better. Life is beautiful. All is as it should be. Spot A was a 100-yard snotty pocketed run that proved to be a treacherous wade (the river came up slightly from last night’s rain, but was running clear). I managed two rainbows and two browns as I swung wets along its length. The size 16 black caddis were massed again, but there were no risers that I could see. Plenty of midges in the air, and a few stray small tan caddis. If you’ve ever taken my classes, or heard my “Wet Flies 101” presentation, you know I preach that absent any hatch activity or actively feeding fish, move, cover water, and present your flies in the most likely holding water. If you want to catch more trout on wets, I cannot emphasize this enough. All four fish came in different sections; all came because I was willing to wade and cover water. Another commonality was that all four took the point fly, a tungsten bead head soft-hackle Pheasant Tail, on the mended swing.

I made one more stop. It’s 50-yard section of river that I haven’t fished in at least five years. Once I remembered where the cafeteria line is, I came tight to a rainbow who thought he was a steelhead. One sky-high aerial, a bit of deep sulking, then another aerial before he spit the hook.

Not a bad way to spend 90 minutes in the mid-day June sun.

Where were you yesterday when I needed you?

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The Black Caddis steelhead hair wing

If you’re the sort who likes things neatly categorized, you can divvy deer hair winged steelhead flies into two groups. The first would be the waking dries, shrimp flies like the Grease Liner and all manner of skating caddis. The second would be the subsurface streamers/wets like the Muddler Minnow or the Muddler Daddy. I took a decided path toward the latter with the Black Caddis.

The Black Caddis

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Hook: 1x short, 2x strong wet (this is the Orvis 1641) size 8-12
Thread: Black 6/0
Body: Lagartun chartreuse mini braid with grizzly hen hackle, palmered
Hackle: 2-3 wraps of the grizzly hen, continued from the body
Head/Wing: Black deer body hair

Tying notes: Lagartun mini braid is easy to work with and comes in a range of spiffy colors. Like a Muddler Minnow, the Black Caddis has a head of clipped deer hair; the wing is an extension of those fibers. Because the fly is intended to be fished below the surface, I’ve kept the wing and head sparse. To form the head and wing, make a few taut wraps of thread to secure the wing, then, while wrapping the thread forward, bind down tightly on the hair (give it 3-4 good wraps). The wing should behave itself, while the hair for the head will flare outward. On your next thread wrap, carefully move the flared hairs up and toward the rear of the fly with your thumb and forefinger, while moving the thread under it and forward to the eye. Whip finish. Trim the hair to your liking.