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.
I don’t usually double dip my Instagram (stevecultonflyfishing) and Currentseams posts, but I thought this one was worthy of a more in-depth discussion. It’s a video of a smallmouth blowing up on a dead-drifted Wiggly about 70 feet across the river:
Now that you’ve seen it, let’s get to what appears to be a problem. One sharp-eyed viewer made a trenchant comment: “Mend!” He noticed the long downstream belly in the line. It’s a fair point in the abstract, but it doesn’t address the situation or the presention in its entirety.
Let’s begin with conditions. We have very low, clear, slow moving water. That usually means spooky fish. Now, smallmouth are not known as picky eaters, but the longer you fish for them, the more you discover that they can be as difficult to entice as the world’s most finicky trout. I was fishing a Wiggly, which, if you’re a Wiggly purist, is supposed to be presented on a dead drift. Any angler-induced motion should include the legs only. That’s a daunting proposition, especially at 70 feet. It doesn’t mean that the fish won’t hit a waking or stripped Wiggly. It just means that you’re only going to get hits from aggressive, willing-to-chase bass. And sometimes, that eliminates the bigger fish.
Now let’s talk distance and tackle. 70 feet away is a challenging length to dead drift a dry fly. The 5-weight I’m using, although 10 feet long, isn’t enough stick to make a 70-foot mend with an 8-weight, weight forward long taper line. I could, of course, lengthen the leader if I was concerned about moving the fly on the mend. But that’s a moot point if you can’t make that mend in the first place.
So, how did I handle this situation? I began by determining where I wanted the fly to have the longest period of dead drift. I aimed my cast about 10 feet above that point. I made an aerial upstream mend, then a hard, full upstream mend with as much line as I could manage. The fly moved a bit, but that didn’t concern me — I was simply setting it up for where I thought the strike zone would be, well downstream. (I had seen this fish sipping bugs off the surface, and it appeared to be one of the larger bass in the pool.) As the fly dead-drifted downriver, I made another upstream mend with about two-thirds of the line — this was about as big a mend I could afford without disturbing the fly.
That sets up the large belly you see in the video. It’s not ideal, but it’s a necessary evil to obtain the drift I wanted. What you can’t see is me tracking the drift with my rod tip, then pointing my rod downstream, and extending my arm as far out as possible to make that drift last just a…few…more…feet. (I could also have stripped out line and fed it into the drift, but that tactic makes long distance hooksets even harder.) And that’s the rub: with that much line out, and that much slack from the downstream belly, it’s a challenge to get a good hookset. You have to rely on a sticky sharp hook and hope the fish does most of the work.
When it all comes together, as it did here, you understand that while catching isn’t necessarily the best part of fly fishing, it most certainly doesn’t suck. In the end, we are presented with one of the most important questions in fly fishing: “What do you want the fly to do?” If you answer that question, and figure out a way to make it happen, you’re going to catch a lot more fish.
It may seem foolish to drive 90 minutes to fish for 90 minutes, but I have no issues when it comes to irrational behavior in the name of fishing. On the water at 7:30pm (many thanks to the angler from Massachusetts for sharing the run) and was greeted by some sporadic splashy rises. The hatch activity was off-the-charts strong, with vast numbers of sulphurs (16-18), summer stenos (18-20), BWOs (18-20) and midges. Unfortunately, the rises were inconsistent and not as plentiful as I would have liked for that level of bug activity. Still, you get what you get and you don’t get upset.
I was fishing the traditional cane rod in some untraditional dry fly water — this was more of a wet fly run, current moving at a good walking pace and with a very mottled surface. I had swings and misses on a size 18 creamy Usual, a size 20 BWO parachute, and two Magic Flies (18 and 20). Nothing on the big guns (Isonychia). The angler below report similar swings and misses.
Air was dense, overcast, with a sprinkle here and there. The hatch ended around 8:15, and the surface activity wound downward.
One small fish had vexed me for the better part of an hour. He’d come up gently. Then disappear. Then resume feeding. Then stop. Couldn’t get a sniff from him, and the little ones are usually easier to fool. At 8:30, for no reason other than visibility in the rapidly advancing darkness, I tied on a size 20 sulphur comparadun. On the second cast, ker-pow! Good hook set. Felt great to finally be on. But why won’t this fish come to net? The current is strong, but this is ridiculous for a fish that size. Unless it’s not a fish that size. Turns out it was hulking brute of a Survivor Strain brown in the high teens length, hooked neatly in the corner of the mouth.
The photo does not do the fish justice, but my hands were shaking and Fred here wouldn’t stay still. Wild and Survivor Strain browns are a different animal on the Farmington — cantankerous comes to mind. What a bend he put in the cane rod, and I was happy to have 5x on so I could get Medieval on him when I needed to. My best guess is that’s a dark green elastomer, making this a four year-old fish that was planted as a yearling in 2012.