Farmington River under attack — again. Save Satan’s Kingdom!

Last year it was the jolly old yo-ho-ho University of Connecticut that wanted to divert millions of gallons of water from the reservoir.

Now, it’s a planned industrial park on the banks of the Farmington in the Satan’s Kingdom area. Here’s what I know: the proposed property borders a 2000-foot stretch of the river in Satan’s Kingdom Gorge. Even though the area holds a Wild and Scenic designation, the required setback is only 100 feet.


How can you help?

1) Go to the New Hartford Zoning Commission meeting at the New Hartford Town Hall on Wednesday, May 28, 7:00pm and tell them we don’t need no steenking industrial park.

2) Like this group on Facebook:

We kicked UConn’s butt last year. We can do the same with this threat. Grassroots activism works!

Sunrise on a misty summer morning in the gorge. Do I really need to see an industrial park peeking through the trees?


A kilo of salmon, please

Last week, I was guiding two clients on the upper TMA of the Farmington River when the bucket brigade swooped in. Not meat farmers — at least not in the harvesting sense — but rather, sowers. Their crop: Atlantic salmon fry. Love them (food for big browns) or hate them (annoying beasts that nip at your fly ad nauseum), Atlantic Salmon have been a part of the Farmington River watershed for years.

 Never-ending ringed walls and two alien beings peering in from above. Soon you’ll be free! Each bucket holds one kilo of fry.



A closer look at the biomass. Will they lead prosperous lives and make it out to the sound? Or will they become so many croquettes for Mr. Lunker Brown?


I shoulda gone nymphing

A Farmington River mini-report for 3/11/14: a glorious dose of spring after a hellacious winter. Sunny, 50+ degrees, water running crystal clear and 35 degrees. The Upper TMA was packed for a weekday in early March. The trout seemed fairly cooperative; most anglers I spoke with who were nymphing got into fish, like currentseams follower John Jascot who landed this fine holdover brown:


I had my heart set on dredging up a big ‘ole brown on a streamer, but ’twas not to be. Hard to be sad about a skunking when you’re enjoying an El Rey Del Mundo Flor de Llaneza on a sunny Tuesday.

Slight change in plans for the CFFA Expo this Saturday

I just learned that UpCountry Sportfishing had to pull out of the show; I’m still going to tie, but obviously not at their table. I had planned on focusing solely on wet flies for trout, but I’ll probably do a little saltwater, too. You can find me on Tyers Row.

Also, due to some prior commitments, I won’t be able to tie the whole time. Figure something like 9am to 1pm-ish. Hope to see some of my local followers there.

The CFFA Expo is held at Maneeley’s, 65 Rye Street, South Windsor, CT, 2/1/14.

January thaw on a small stream

I broke one of my cardinal rules today: never go into the woods if you’ve recently watched Deliverance.  There were no mountain men bent on buggery — and sadly, precious few bugs. I was hoping a near 50-degree day and some sunshine would trigger a hatch, but all I saw was one lonely grey big midge/small stonefly thingy flitting over the water. Although the creek was up due to yesterday’s rains, the water had cleared nicely by the time I threw my first cast, around 1pm.

I did the upstream dry thing, then the downstream subsurface thing. No takers on the dry. I wasn’t surprised, given the height of the water and its temperature. (I forgot my thermometer, but I experienced the sting when I had to go up to my elbow to liberate a fly from the bottom.)

A satellite image of the Chesapeake Bay’s frozen tributaries. Well, it could be.


More fun with photography. See if you can find the duck’s head and the hawk’s head.


My only strike of the day came on a downstream presentation with a weighted wet/streamer. A fine brown hen, long and lean, a good size for a brook this small. She was hiding in a deep pool that courses between two boulders. One touch was all I needed, and releasing her was almost as gratifying as catching her.

Your first trout of the year should be a memorable one. What a staggering array of colors on her gill plate. Also note the blemish on her nose. I couldn’t tell if it was an old wound or just a cosmetic oddity. I had not caught her before today.


The winning fly. I like to fish small hybrid wet/streamers with tungsten heads on small streams. It’s a simple fly, easy to tie, and it uses a mix of natural and synthetic materials: A copper tungsten head, some weighted wire on the hook shank, black Krystal Flash tail, black Ice Dub body, palmered then hackled with grizzly hen. This fly is unnamed. (For you detail-oriented folks, that’s not ice. It’s a big chunk of stream side quartz.)


December Dinks

The most difficult part of striper fishing in December isn’t the cold. It’s finding the fish. Once you do, you can pretty much get out the tally sheets.

So I headed south to see who might be out and about. Save for a multitude of sea birds and one other fly angler, I had the beach all to myself. This being a powerful moon tide, there was no shortage of sexy rips and seams to cast into. I was two-handing it with a floating line, a six-foot section of T-11, and a three-foot leader of 20-pound mono. A four-inch long September Night seemed like a fine choice of a fly, although I spent considerable time debating the merits of throwing a sparse bucktail like the Magog Smelt.

I fell into the meditative rhythm of cast, mend, mend, swing, slow retrieve. I was ready for the pull of a hungry fish.

The answer was no.  All I was catching was sea lettuce and marsh grass. The other angler across the way was likewise blanking. Then he got into a small striper. And another. I kept waiting for the hits that never came. Since I had a limited time slot — I was slagging off work — I reeled in and headed for another spot. The distance and brisk pace I kept made me sorry I had put on that extra layer of fleece.

New venue, same results. There comes a point in every skunking where you make peace with the fact that you’re not going to catch anything. So I reminded myself that while most of the world was working, I was fishing. The sun was out. I had the pleasure of a peppery, earthy Churchill. But, I asked, could I please get just one fish? I raised the question out loud, because I find that when you’re alone, that works a lot better than just thinking it. How else to explain the strident bap! at the end of the next swing?

These stripers didn’t know there weren’t any mullet around. Not to worry, for the September Night worked quite nicely on this December afternoon.


And that was the start of the Bass-o-Matic. All small fish, but each of them fresh from the ocean,  flawless and gleaming bright.

With great discipline, I peeled myself away from the frenzy five minutes before my hard stop. So much to do. So little time.

At least now I could cross “catch December stripers” off my list.

Farmington River 1, UConn 0

Those of us who love the Farmington River spoke out — and our voices were heard. UConn will be using the CT Water Company, rather than the MDC, to fulfill their future water needs.

The following is a quote from last Tuesday’s Hartford Courant:  “The selection eliminates a controversial $51 million plan by the Metropolitan District Commission to build a 20-mile pipeline from East Hartford that would have drawn water from the Barkhamsted and Nepaug reservoirs. Opponents assailed the plan, saying it would draw down the watershed of the Farmington River, a popular recreation spot.”

Yeah, baby. That’s us. Opponents. Assailants. Righteous defenders of natural resources. Thanks to everyone who spoke up, signed the petition, wrote letters, and sent emails.

Grassroots activism is so underrated.



And, winner.


Cheeseburger after paradise

There are 365 or so days every year when you can fish the Farmington. I manage, on a good year, to do it about 40 times. But of all those days, none is more important than July 21.

I’ve made a pilgrimage to the Farmington on that day for four consecutive years now. It’s not by accident. July 21 is the day the Summer Stenos come out. Whether they appear earlier or later isn’t important; the Stenonema have their schedule, and I have mine. There’s a certain place I go to greet them, and since it’s an evening hatch, a certain time I like to be there. Admittedly, I have an unhealthy relationship with Summer Stenos. At times I hold them in starry-eyed adoration. Others, I view them with extreme disgust and intolerance. No other hatch on the Farmington so charms me that I have the date burned into my mental calendar months in advance. No other hatch baffles me with its rise-to-hookup ratio that frequently exceeds 10:1 – even though I’ve found the perfect fly for fooling the trout.

On Sunday night I got my first three trout of the year on Summer Stenos. But first, there was some swinging to be done.

I hadn’t fished with Jon in almost two months, and for our reunion outing we agreed that wet flies and riffly pocket water were in order. At 630cfs the run was quite wadeable. Jon took the first fish, a smallmouth bass, but after 45 minutes all we had to show for our efforts was a couple of juvenile Atlantic salmon. While it’s nearly impossible to get down on the bite when you’re swinging wets with an old friend on a delightful sunny day in July, I suggested we move to another spot, upstream. I guaranteed Jon he’d catch a trout there.

Such predictions are a minefield. I had second thoughts about opening my big mouth from the time we piled into our vehicles until he took his first trout a half-hour later. I was still swinging wets, working below Jon, while he had switched over to short-line nymphing. Just as my three-fly team made the transition from swing to dangle, I felt a herky-jerky tug. The fish made two quick micro-runs, peeling a small amount of line off the reel. I thought nothing of it at the time, as the take came in the heaviest section of current. No need to get this fish on the reel.

A big ol’ wild Farmington brown. These fish with a scarcity of spots are intriguing. Check out that tummy. Someone’s been eating well. He took a size 14 Drowned Ant soft-hackle.


Each fight has the potential for comedy, drama, or tragedy – sometimes all three – but this one quickly declared itself a drama. The trout is usually a good one when you never see it during the encounter. Big fish have a way of hugging the bottom and using the current against you. By the time I had negotiated the trout into calmer waters, I could see that I had underestimated its size. A wild brown with an odd scarcity of spots and, despite his length, only the suggestion of the beginning of a kype.

How can you tell that you should buy a lottery ticket that day? You’re just standing in the water, savoring the moment, line dangling harmlessly beneath you, and you hook another trout. Moments later, a Cedar Waxwing lands on your rod as you hold it over the water like some conjurer’s wand. He waits there. Eyeballs you. Looks as if he’s about flee. Then stays long enough for you to call out to your friend to be your witness.

This rainbow looks like it’s been in the river a while. Jon took him short-line nymphing not too far from where he was standing.


But, lest you think we have forgotten about the Summer Stenos, rest assured. We have not.

Shortly before 7pm, we were wading into a pool where friend Todd was already fishing. Jon spotted a trout rising against the far bank. Since I was already rigged for dry, he suggested I have a go at it. As I began my false casting, Jon predicted that I would stick him on the first drift. I was thinking the same thing almost as he said the words. After all, it was a day where I could do no wrong. But, after my sixth cast, we agreed I had most expertly put the trout down. There’s nothing like fly fishing to keep a man grounded.

While the hatch hadn’t gained any steam, there were a few trout feeding sporadically on the edge of a pocket. The current seam they were rising in demanded a precision cast perilously close to an obstruction. Then a rapid series of mends to keep the fly from looking like it was on the Scrambler carnival ride. I saw a few size 18 creamy mayflies come off, and switched over to my Pale Watery wingless wet variant that I fish as a dry. With a twelve-foot leader that tapers down to 6x, the line hits the water well before the fly. I was beginning to mend even as the fly was slowly settling onto the surface.

I rose trout several times, but came away with nothing but air. Then, in a glassy plate of water three feet from the shore, I saw another active feeder. This trout obliged on the first cast. A fine Farmington brown, probably not stocked. My first Summer Steno trout of the year. July 21st. The universe is in balance. A half hour later, another beauty, lower in the pool, again on the first cast.

Time races when you’re dry fly fishing. Probably because you’re so keenly attuned to the rhythm of the rises, and the limited opportunities presented by a waning hatch. Evenings, there’s also the looming specter of darkness. Can’t see your fly, can’t dry fly fish. Or at least, not easily. Dusk was just crossing the no-man’s-land into night when I hooked my last trout. I had been repeatedly casting to a small riser – or so I thought. The splashy feeding tells were slight enough to suggest a juvenile salmon. But like that big brown, I underestimated the size of this brute, a well filled out rainbow that ignored several entreaties to come to net.

A good day on the river longs for a happy ending. So I am pleased to report that if you leave the Upper TMA, waders off, rod broken down, gear stored, by 9:20, you can make it to Five Guys in Farmington before their 10pm closing. With several minutes to spare.

So much water the stream was on fire

I had taken about six steps into the brook when I fell in. A poor foothold, a little water ballet in a desperate attempt to regain my balance, then flat on my seat, left forearm soaked and a shot glass-worth of water into my waders.

Well, I thought, things could only get better.

They did. The creek was up, but at a perfect medium-high level, almost imperceptibly tinged, and running at a cool 63 degrees. What’s more, the skies were a grey block of granite. Rain was coming. But for now, it was just me, the woods, the brook, and the trout.

How you can tell it’s mid-June in the Connecticut woods. Our state flower, the mountain laurel, grows wild anywhere there’s shade. Some of the shrubs don’t produce flowers, but plenty of them were decked out in their white streamside finery.


I spent the better part of the morning committed to the dry upstream cause, even though I knew it was costing me fish in some of the deeper pools. Most of the trout I raised were small — three inches or less — and very few of them were actually hooked. That was OK with me, though. Just to know they’re there tells me the brook is in fine shape, and those fish will be seven-inch lunkers in a few years.

My best brookie of the day took a dry presented upstream in a dappled seam that rushed along the side of a large boulder. She ran all the way into the bottom of the next pool. Terrific little fighter, this one.


One product of receding high waters is that the fish are spread out in the brook. I found trout almost everywhere I went, including some places where I usually don’t. Many times I could see them bull-rush the fly (a size 16 Improved Sofa Pillow) as soon as it hit the water. When the water’s up like this, I like to plop the fly in the middle of a glassy micro-pond at the edge of a plunge pool or current seam. The brookies suddenly  materialize from beneath the maelstrom, or the inky protective edge of underwater structure. I had a lot of first cast hits today.

Not much going on hatch-wise: midges, mosquitos, and a few stay caddis.

On the way out, I decided to take a page from my recent Upstream, Downstream, Small Stream article and fish a few of the deeper pools with a downstream weighted wet. The fly was a beadhead Grey Hackle Peacock, and among the trout that found it to their liking was a spiffy brown, who tracked the fly on the retrieve before striking.

Halo, I love you. Nice brown, lousy photo. This is what happens when your good camera runs out of battery and you’re forced to go with a quickie from the phone.


I was able to coax the better part of two hours out of this morning’s cigar, a Gispert Churchill. The air was still enough to blow smoke rings over dark waters, where the fishing was incendiary.

Industrial-Strength Wild Browns

Not all trout streams are created equal. There may have been a time when this one could have been called pristine. But that was a good industrial revolution and dozens of deserted factories ago.

This river may have hit every branch on its way down the ugly tree, but it is not without its charms. If you can get past the cinder blocks, broken glass, and discarded aluminum siding, you’ll find ducks. Plenty of invertebrate life. And wild brown trout.

Just look at those pecs. Someone’s been working out. My best fish of the day.


I had originally planned to go striper fishing today, but unfavorable reports, unavailable cohorts, and a nasty south wind put that idea to rest. Still, I needed to fish. So I decided to head over to a Class 1 WTMA. Before this past March, I hadn’t fished this stream in years. Buoyed by my success 10 days I ago, I thought I would explore it a little further.

Nothing says “wild trout” like urban factory blight. You could hit this building from the stream with a good enough cast.


Second cast, and I was into the fish pictured above. Today’s fly was a white beadhead min-bugger, and this lovely brown clobbered it on the downstream strip. It’s funny how you find fish in the same sections of river over the years. This one was sitting in — where else? — a current seam. I took a few more smaller fish in parts below, then headed up to another section.

I find that old heater hose gives any fly fishing experience that romantic je ne sais quoi. Don’t you?


That was a mistake. Most of the river was densely overgrown with saplings that made even roll casting impossible. The bottom was covered with fly-eating branches and in one pool, some kind of evil magnetic-to-tungsten bead flies metal grate.  By the third snagging encounter, I decided to pack it in.

I did notice that the suckers were in for spawning. There was also a strong midge hatch. Most of all, there were gloriously-colored wild browns, alive and well in living in their own little version of paradise.

Beauty truly comes from within.