Farmington River Report 6/12/22: Frustratingly slow, then fantastically frantic

Every day is different. For proof, I offer yesterday. Yesterday was my worst wet fly fishing outing of 2022. If you had shown me the conditions, the mark, the number of actively feeding fish, the time of day, then offered a bet that would not catch a fish, I would have taken your money without another thought, Then, for over 90 minutes, I would have been frustrated to the point of incredulity. I would have eventually won the bet, as I managed one 11th hour trout, but the lack of wet fly hookups was a mystery that I pondered as I re-rigged for dry fly.

My best guess as to what was happening was that the fish were keyed on really small stuff — and they wanted the fly delivered on an absolute dead drift. Over the course of two hours, I had two bumps, both coming when I raised the rod tip to cast. This kind of reaction strike that doesn’t result in a hook set is clearly the result of a fish not committed to the take. I was fishing with Toby Lapinski, and he was working some slower water below me. Toby had a good dozen bumps on his team of three wets, but no hookups. Clearly, these trout were feeding on something other than what we were throwing, and how we were throwing it. Still, I’d expect at least a few accidents — trout being the small-brained-wired-to feed-opportunistic creatures that they are. The final piece to the puzzle that clued me in to the fact that they would only eat on the dead drift (rather than the mended swing or dangle) was that each of our wet fly trout came on an upstream dead-drift presentation.

A hefty mid-teens rainbow taken by Toby on one of my size 12 soft-hackled Hendricksons, which is a fair stand-in for an Isonychia. The late afternoon Iso hatch was pretty good — I’d give it a 7 out of 10 — and yet the trout were not keyed on that bug. That’s too bad, because if they were I have no doubt we would have caught far more trout on wets. We never heard any of the loud splashy takes that are so typical of trout feeding on Isos. The sulphur hatch was disappointing — that gets a 2 or 3 — but hatches progress and evolve and it up to you to crack the code. Which, as it turns out, I did once the pattern changed. (Photo by Toby Lapinski.)

I often talk about making adjustments to increase your fishing success. But sometimes you’ve got to be prepared to fail, and fail miserably, in order to figure things out. To wit: I kept fishing wets on mended swings and dangles to prove that the trout were keyed on small bugs on a dead drift. I was also fascinated by the prospect that they would not hit any of my wet flies (Squirrel and Ginger, Partridge and Light Cahill, Hackled March Brown) even when presented directly over their lie. It’s all more useful data for the fishing experience bank.

But I’d had enough experiments. By 7:20 I was in position and rigged for dry fly. I started with a size 20 because the rise forms were textbook smutting trout. Remember last week when I told you that I stuck fish on seven consecutive casts? On this night, I rose nine consecutive fish before I could rack up a hook set. By then, it was after 8pm and I’d made the command decision to go with a bigger fly. Our Lady of Blessed Magic Fly (size 16) don’t fail me now! And she didn’t.

Any misgivings I may have had about catching fish during this session were gleefully crushed by the last half-hour of dusk into darkness. Using a mix of Usuals, the Magic Fly, and Catskills Light Cahills, I took a good number of trout on the surface. We stayed until dark; my last two customers came when I could no longer see my fly. One was bucket method hook set, the other a sharp tug as the trout, Mykiss the Leaper, came tight to my reel. Toby was still casting to rising fish as he slowly made his way out of the pool in the indigo darkness.

The Farmington will do that to you.

Lights! Camera! Action! It’s the world premier of “Summer on the Farmington”

Thursday night was the world premier of director Matthew Vinick’s film, Summer on the Farmington. The venue was Brewery Legitimus in New Hartford. Good choice! They had a large private room reserved for the event, with a dedicated bar, plenty of seating, room to socialize, and a food truck outside for people like me who get cranky if they don’t eat. (I had two delicious chicken tacos for 12 bucks.) The beer was likewise yummy; I thoroughly enjoyed my Dr. Strangehaze NE Style IPA.

We (I was accompanied by my beautiful wife) arrived early so we could socialize. How wonderful to see so many old friends, and to be able to enjoy being out for an evening of entertainment. Thanks again to everyone who took the time to say hello — I often forget names, but I recognize the faces and it’s a pleasure to get reacquainted.

Almost showtime. There was a palpable sense of anticipation in the audience before the film. Those are dry fly legends Drew and Don Butler in the third row, third from right and far right, respectively. Between them, Don and Drew have somewhere in the neighborhood of 300 consecutive months of catching a trout on a dry fly on the Farmington. You could learn a lot from those two, which is why I pick their brains every chance I get.

To the film. There’s a certain challenge to being unbiased when you’re judging a creative product that you were a part of. But, viewing a work of art is an inherently emotional experience, so I suppose I’m allowed to think and feel what I think and feel. And I thought and felt that Matthew’s film met — and exceeded — my expectations.

The film remains true to its title as it follows several Farmington River guides and anglers from the first day of summer through the last as they fish the river with dry flies. The footage is outstanding, from sweeping aerials to mayflies dancing on the surface to subsurface shots of trout feeding (worth the price of admission alone — props to Director of Photography John Kozmaczewski). But it’s not all just dry fly fishing. You get segments on the genesis of the tailwater, the creation of Trout Management Areas, the Survivor Strain Program, and more. Vinick has clearly done this homework, drawing on a rich assortment of knowledgeable sources, from DEEP staff to fly fishing store owners/managers. I heard more than one appreciative comment on the crisp pace and excellence of the editing.

Lo and behold, there I was, leading off the film. Our shooting day was a challenge; I learned later from cast and crew that my day was, by far, the worst in terms of actively feeding fish. In hindsight, I like that. If life isn’t fair, fly fishing certainly isn’t, particularly on this river. You get what you get and you don’t get upset. Matthew tended to use my interview bits as lead-ins to new subjects, and I liked that, too. Any time you see yourself on camera or hear yourself speaking, I think the tendency is to be overly self-critical, but I was very pleased with how the director used me in his story.

While the juiciest bits of the film are the action sequences, Vinick does an exceptional job of showing the fishing experience in its entirety, warts-and-all. You see the refusals. You see the swings and misses. You see the LDRs. Best of all, you get to see the tragicomic reactions when things don’t go according to plan, which tends to happen a lot in fishing. (Overhead, whispered by a nearby audience member during the film: “See, those are professional guides, and they miss fish too!”) Yup. We all put our waders on one leg at a time. And of course, you get to see the triumphs. There are some beautiful fish in the Farmington. Thanks to them for playing.

Farmington River guides in triplicate. That’s Mark Swenson surrounded by Steves (Hogan on the left); all of us appear in the film. Vinick uses the frenemy banter between Swenson and fellow guide Antoine Bissieux throughout the film, whether they’re gearing up, fishing, or hanging out at UpCountry Sportfishing. If you’ve ever spent any time around them, you know they’re not acting. Hilarity ensues!

Many of you will be wondering about future plans for Summer on the Farmington. Here’s what I can tell you. It will probably have another showing , time and place TBD. It may go to DVD or be streamed, but I have no further details. I wish I had better information to share, but when I find out more I’ll let you know.

All good things must come to an end, and so it was with the premier screening of Summer on the Farmington. The film was shown in two segments with a brief intermission, and when it was over we all rose and applauded. This is your humble scribe with director Matthew Vinick. Many thanks to Matthew and his crew, DP John Kozmaczewski, and applause to those who appeared on-screen to tell the story: Steve Hogan, Mark Swenson, Antoine Bissieux, Torrey Collins, Don and Drew Butler, Brian Eltz, Dave Goulet…and to anyone else I missed mentioning. And of course, here’s to the river. We are blessed to have such a wonderful resource. Well done, all!

New date for “Summer on the Farmington” Film: Thursday, Feb 24

I’m hoping you’ll join me for the new world premier (ok, so no searchlights, tuxes, gowns, or red carpet, but still it’s technically accurate) of Director Matthew Vinick’s film, “Summer on the Farmington.” Same place (Brewery Legitimus in New Hartford), same time (7pm), new date (Thursday, February 24)! You can only get tickets in advance online through the FRAA. Hopefully this current spike will be over and we can look forward to enjoying a tasty craft brew.

Best of 2020 #4: The filming of “Summer on the Farmington.”

When director Matthew Vinick asked me if I’d like to appear in his upcoming film on dry fly fishing the Farmington River, I didn’t think twice. Crew and angler assembled on a gorgeous afternoon in late June for my segment. The trout were gathered too, although they were most uncooperative. Sadly, we’d caught them in between feeds, and rises were few and far between. Finally, we got the shot — and the fish — we were looking for, a healthy 17″ Survivor Strain buck, taken on a size 16 Light Cahill Catskills dry. Wouldn’t you know it? After we broke the set, the river lit up and it was trout after trout from 7:30pm till dark. We had a follow-up interview shoot in October. Now all we have to do is wait for director and editor to do their thing.

I don’t have a projected release date for the film, but when I hear more, I’ll let you know.