Farmington and Housatonic River Conditions: Got them late summer, low-water blues

Despite yesterday’s storm showers, the northern part of the state is officially in a stage 2 drought. You don’t need me to tell you that — one look at the brown, desiccated patches (formerly known as lawns) in your neighborhood is the signature. Some rain tomorrow from Laura remnants may make a slight dent.

The Farmington remains viable, if a little low. MDC reduced the flow to 125cfs out of the gate. The Still is warm and painfully low, so it isn’t offering any help. At least the water coming out of the dam is still cold! The Hous isn’t much better flow-wise; this week it was in what I call “rock garden mode.” Naturally, not being a tailwater, the water temps are vastly higher than in the Farmington.

Challenging conditions for angler, for sure. I have a few tips to offer.

Pick and choose your time slots wisely. Earlier, later, and dusk/dark are the best times to target. I’ve recently experienced situations where I couldn’t buy a late afternoon strike; at dusk, the same water begins to simmer and it’s a fish on nearly every cast.

Go deep. It’s almost counter-intuitive: the water is low, so the fish must be looking up, right? Sometimes it doesn’t play out that way. If you think you’re uncomfortable in low water, the fish are even more so: stacked into deeper pockets, slots, runs, and pools. Holding on the bottom. And that B-word can be a difference maker. Sometimes a strategically drifted bottom presentation is your best bet.

Fish the hot water. You’ve heard me mention this before. If the water is white, bubbling, roiling, and boiling (think riffles and pocket structure) you should be fishing there.

Old Reliable dry/dropper — big/small. Get a Wiggly, Chernoble ant, hopper, cricket, big Isonychia dry — and drop a small (16-22) soft-hackle or nymph off the hook bend or on a dropper tag. This is a great searching method and a very effective way to cover two parts of the water column.

Catch ’em up!

Loch fishing, Scotland, August 2019. We need a few soakers like this.

Farmington River Report 8/12/20: Howling back at the dog days

While it’s positively tropical across the rest of the state, the Farmington continues to offer respite. True, they’ve lowered the flow (165cfs within the Permanent TMA) but the water is plenty cold. This can be a tough time of year to fish: hatches are sporadic and sometimes light at best; and in flows this low the fish are concentrated in certain areas and can be downright spooky. Nonetheless, Dave wanted a wet fly lesson, and off we went.

At this height, the river is still quite agreeable to the wet fly. You’ve got water that’s deep enough to swing, enough water to create a good current, and as a bonus the fish are always looking up. Dave did a great job, and his enthusiasm was palpable. We fished three marks, and found players in one of them, a nice mix of brook trout and a jewel of a wild brown. All of our fish came in faster water/riffles. Dave is awarded the Currentseams Order of the Straight Line: he is my only student this year to make it through a wet fly session without a tangled leader! Well done, good sir, under some challenging conditions (we did not see another fish caught all day).

Guides love bent rods (although I must’ve got him between strips). Fish on, baby!

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This was a stocked brookie, but he’s been in the river long enough to regain some lost lustre and begin to grow some proper Fontinalis fins.

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Farmington River Report 7/9/20: what a way to go!

I worked with Bill yesterday on his indicator nymphing and wet fly skills. Water conditions were perfect in the Permanent TMA: 325cfs, cold, clear. The trout and bugs were a wee bit more uncooperative. Hatches (sulphurs, caddis, olives) were spotty and the feeding was inconsistent at best. We fished two marks and saw four trout hooked all day, and since we had two of them, we declared victory. On the plus side, Bill landed his PB non-lake-run brown. He nailed it at high noon (we fished from 10am-2pm) while nymphing. I was observing from upstream, and when he set the hook it sure looked like a fish to me. Bill thought he was stuck on the bottom — that happens sometimes with larger Farmy trout — and then, gloriously, the bottom fought back. Sadly, Bill snapped his rod during the battle, but the fish was landed, much to his delight. To say nothing of mine!

Bill’s new personal best, a gorgeous high teens wild brown. Love those halos. He took the took dropper in our nymph rig, a size 18 soft-hackled pheasant tail. Since that hook was a 2x short, it’s effectively a size 22 fly. Do not underestimate the power of tiny soft hackles this time of year. I almost always make my top dropper on my drop-shot nymph rig a soft hackle. Congratulations, Bill!

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Farmington River Report 4/23/20: Fishing with Montresor

“I have my doubts.”

“And I must satisfy them.”

Aficianados of classic American literature will know the reference. As for me, my doubts yesterday hinged on weather and flows: cold, overcast, 45 degrees and 750cfs. Not exactly the stuff that gives me confidence in the swung wet fly. So I ventured forth to satisfiy them.

I fished in the Permanent TMA from noon to a bit after 3pm. I started off nymphing, which, as I suspected, was the most productive method. Hatch activity was virtually nil. (I’d give the Hendricksons a 0.5 on the 1-10 scale, if seeing two Hendricksons in three hours warrants even that.) I also spent a good portion of my time on situational filming for future presentation/projects.

Tip of the week: if you must swing wets in higher flows, try adding a tungsten bead head pattern on point. With a few strategic mends, you’ll be able to sink your team to a greater depth. It’s often the difference between fishing and catching: yesterday all of my wet fly trout took the point fly, a tungsten beadhead Hendrickson like this one.

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I finished up at a reliable wet fly mark and was able to get a few browns and rainbows to hand. All the action came in a 15-minute window when I could see some fish working emergers near the surface. Doubts cast aside, I decided to end on a high note. Later, I celebrated with a highly satisfying Montepulciano.

Amontillado would have to wait for another day.

NOTE: If you value solitude, the Permanent TMA will try your patience. There were six(!) vehicles in the dirt pullout by Woodshop. Greenwoods was a gauntlet the length of the pool (I stopped counting at 15 anglers). Also, be careful wading at these flows. I’d consider myself a sure-footed, confident wader, and I struggled to keep my footing at the last mark. A wading staff is your friend. As always, if you see me on the water and have questions or just want to say hello, please do. Thanks to everyone who did so yesterday — always a treat to put faces to subscriber names. Be safe and be healthy!

Farmington River Report 4/17/20: Hendricksons & spectacular wet fly action

“Do you always fish three wet flies at the same time?” I get this question a lot. “Almost always” is the answer. The “almost” comes from days like today when I had to remove the middle dropper because I was catching multiple trout on every cast.

I certainly didn’t expect it to be that kind of day.

Wind was an issue. Cold was another. The Hendrickson hatch I experienced was nothing extraordinary — I’d give it a four out of ten. But I hadn’t done a session dedicated to wets this year, and the start of the Hendrickson hatch seemed as good a time as any.

Spot A below the permanent TMA was a blank. Off to Spot B inside the permanent TMA, which was fully occupied. (If you haven’t been to river yet, you may be shocked by the number of anglers. Church Pool was as close to looking like the Riverton Opening Day Fishing Derby as I’ve ever seen it.) But then, as luck would have it, one of the anglers decided to leave, and I took his place in the lineup. Thank you, generous stranger, because I discovered a pod of ravenous trout that showed themselves the moment the hatch began.

Today’s lunch, fresh from a captured brown’s mouth. 

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So, for two hours, I bailed trout. The tally was surely in the multiple dozens. I know I had close to ten doubles, even after I took one fly out of the mix. Business was about 10% on the Squirrel and Ginger and the rest on the Dark Hendrickson Winged Wet, which, if you don’t tie, you should. (You can thank me later.)

Having so many active feeders was certainly a plus, but the guy above me was nymphing and I didn’t see him hook up. Ditto the guy below me, who, after I waved him up and he changed to wets, began catching in earnest. I’d say most of my fish came from placing my team over the positions of active feeders. The trout did the rest.

This is great time of year to be swinging wet flies. Hit a prolific hatch (like the Hendrickson) just right, and you’ll be giggling in your waders, too.

Farmington River Report 3/30/20: Bump. But no WHUMP!

I thought this would be a great day for streamers with the river up (615cfs in the permanent TMA) and the substantial cloud cover. ‘Twas not. I fished four marks from noon-2:30pm, and could manage only two bumps in one of them. At least the river was not the mob scene I expected — I had three runs all to myself. So, the whump will have to wait for another day. Hatch monitors, take note: lots and lots and lots of tiny (size 22-26) BWOs on the water. Thanks to everyone who took the time to say hello!

This was supposed to be a picture of a gator brown, but my quarry was most uncooperative. I’m still really surprised I didn’t get more action, at least from smaller trout. Today’s streamers were Coffey’s Sparkle Minnow (pictured below) and the Hi-Liter. This Sparkle Minnow is the size of a good shiner, one of my favorite baits from my spinning days.

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Farmington River Report 1/10/19: Hook sets and the mystery salmo

I guided Rich yesterday from 10am-2pm. We fished three marks within the permanent TMA, with one of them producing four trout. As so often happens with winter fishing, find one trout and you’ll find another. Many thanks to Jerry for so graciously sharing the water! Since Rich is new to the river, we also spent some recon time at several other pools. The method was indicator nymphing with a drop-shot nymph rig. I didn’t get a water temp, but it was cold — I’ll guesstimate 36 degrees, 420cfs, and the air temp never got into the upper 40s as advertised. Four trout on a January outing is darn good, so well done, Rich!

Rich’s first ever Farmington brown, a lovely Survivor Strain (note clipped adipose). I wasn’t happy with Rich’s hook set motion, so after he struck I asked for his rod to re-demonstrate, not knowing that he had indeed hooked up. Too funny, my bad, good on you, Rich! We spent the rest of the day laughing about that one.

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Rich was on fire after the first trout. I had intended to bring the black latex gloves, but forgot. Folks, this water is unpleasantly cold. We caught fish on the soft-hackled pheasant tail (sz 18) dropper and Frenchy variant (size 14) point fly.

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The mystery Salmo. I had thought due to coloration, spotting, and tail fork that this was a beast of a juvenile salar, but the maxillary extends well past the eye, so that would point to trutta. A fisheries biologist once told me that there may be some cross-pollinating between browns and precocious young Atlantics — could this be the result of such a union? Either way, a lovely fish.

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Posterior of the mystery Salmo. 

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Farmington River Report 11/5/19: Early fireworks

I guided Drew today, and to celebrate Guy Fawkes’ Day we started off with a bang: two trout on two casts! Drew is new to the Farmington and relatively new to trout fishing, so given the time of year and conditions (cold, 310cfs) our task was to cover some water and work on the nymphing game. The specific method was indicator nymphing, drop shot rig, and we went with a sz 14 Frenchie Variant and a sz 18 SHPT. The trout liked both, the Frenchie being the favorite.

First cast, the indicator merely twitched. Look for a reason to set the hook on every drift!

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Second cast. At this point it was proposed that we quit and go get coffee and doughnuts. The motion failed.

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Angler traffic was light, and we did not see any other fish hooked today. (Thanks to the one gentleman who offered to share the water!) We hit four marks and found fish in two of them. Four trout to net, a few more lost at hookset, and we called it a very good day.  Nice job, Drew!

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Farmington River Report 6/28/19: The summer pattern arrives

I guided longtime client Mark yesterday and we found the Farmington in its classic summer pattern: long stretches of nothing punctuated by bursts of frantic activity. We fished from noon-7pm. The method for the first five hours was a team of three wets, including some shot-on-the-leader presentations in deep pools. While we found some trout willing to jump on (See that tree over there? There’s always a trout hiding underneath it…) the bug/bird/bite activity was dramatically slower than it has been, no doubt due to the bright sun and soaring temperatures. We fished below and within the Permanent TMA. Late afternoon found us ensconced in one of Mark’s favorite dry fly runs, and as we moved toward evening, it was no surprise that the trout became a little more active. Nonetheless, I found the hatch to be disappointing-to-mediocre-at-best. But we persevered and stuck a few trout on tiny sulphur Comparaduns. (It was sulphurs, caddis, and some guest Isos, but mostly sulphurs, especially after 7:30pm) I fished past the time I could no longer see my fly, and called it quits after the last take. By this time the surface was simmering. Hello, summer!

Mark has a knack for this: I tell him I’m going to shore to put on my jacket, and that I’ll recognize him from a distance due to the bent rod. Yesterday I took about ten steps and suddenly I heard splashing. True dis: it’s happened two years in a row. In the same spot. Way to go, Mark!

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Farmington River Report 4/18/16: that was fun

Spent three hours below the permanent TMA, from noon to 3pm. Some caddis and a few stray Hendricksons in the air. Water cool, clear, and about 300cfs. Walked a snotty run and swung a team of three wets (from top to bottom: Squirrel and Ginger, Dark Hendrickson, BHSHPT). One recent ward of the state liked the point fly on the dangle. Ended up at the pool the run dumps into and that’s when things got fun. Landed a dozen fish — including a double — that were a mix of stocked browns and rainbows, all on the S&G and the PT. Two of the fish were active risers that I targeted; the rest were holding in likely places. Took them on the dead drift, the swing, and the dangle. Some friends fishing nearby had great success nymphing during this same period.

I thought we might be in the midst of a day to remember, but sometime around 1:30 someone hit the off switch. An hour later, some more Hendricksons came off, and a few fish began slashing at the emergers. But whatever mojo I had earlier in the day disappeared, and I could only manage one more trout.

Poor me (he said, tongue planted firmly in cheek).

What are they doing in the Hendrickson House? I’d give today’s hatch a four out of ten.

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