Upcoming articles for Field & Stream, and warm water caution

Good Monday afternoon! A bit of a late start for me today as I was out chasing fish last night and didn’t get to bed until the wee hours. August is traditionally viewed as a prime vay-cay month, but here at currentseams we are busy-busy-busy. First up: I have three new articles in the pipeline for Field & Stream Online. In no particular order (these are just working titles): Tactics and Strategies for Fishing High and Low Water; Seven Best Flies for Smallmouth Bass; Small Stream Fly Fishing 101. As I have not yet begun to write, I have no pub date other than ASAP. I’ll get that information out to you when I know it. In the meantime, it’s not all chained-to-my-writer’s-desk energy. I still have fishing — lots of fishing — to do.

To the Farmington River. August is typically an active guide month for me, but I’ve had to make the difficult decision to suspend lessons on the Farmington until further notice. The issue is one of elevated water temperatures, which begets limited time and access. This graph of the water temp out of the gate at Hogback says it all:

A short week ago, you had just a shade over 64 degrees out of the gate, with a spike of a still trout-friendly 66. Today we’re already over 68 degrees (keep in mind that this is Riverton) and it’s not even a scorcher kind of day. With a heat wave projected for this week, it doesn’t take a degree in environmental science to recon that the trout will be experiencing stressful conditions. So please: give the trout a break. Protect the resource. It sucks, but it’s the right thing to do. And, as with gravity, what goes up must come down.

Farmington River Report 5/17 & 5/18/21: Caddis, Cold Water & Red Hot Wet Fly Action

Mark contacted me over the winter about learning the ways of the wet fly. He booked two half day sessions, a brilliant move on his part, as we experienced a mixed bag of weather and catching on the first day, and then the Farmington River at its finest today. We fished both days from 11am-3pm. Water was 425cfs in the Permanent TMA, and 600cfs below it. The water is a little colder than usual, due to not only the weather but also the greater percentage influx of water from the dam. Caddis is king right now, and we saw good numbers both days, particularly today. Midges, too, and some tiny olives on Monday, par for the damp day course.

Monday 5/17: We started out with brilliant sunshine, then got poured on. Our first mark had the dreaded guide-catches-on-the-demo-cast (I’d rather the client do that), but we eventually connected with a couple fish, though none of them made it to the hoop. There was a decent amount of bug activity, but little in the way of consistent risers.

We had our first taste of success at Spot #2 with a gorgeous little wild brown. I never get tired of these jewels, or the way they attack a wet fly with primal fury.

Thunder eventually drove us off the water. Rather than wait it out, we solved the problem by driving miles away from it. We finished up below the Permanent TMA, and this set the stage for Tuesday. We found some trout that were willing to eat, and even though the numbers were not what I expected, the day absolutely qualified as a good one. Mark was a solid caster, a dedicated student, and best of all, a strong wader. That meant we could get into some areas that many anglers would find a challenge to navigate.

This is how we do it. One of the biggest challenges a new wet fly fisher faces is how to let the trout do the hook-setting work. After dropping a few fish Monday, Mark began to figure it out. By the time we finished up on Tuesday, he was sticking every trout. Awesome job, Mark! I spent Monday night ruminating where we should fish Tuesday, and decided that on…

Tuesday 5/18, we would pick up at the same mark where we left off Monday. I wanted to see if the warmer air temps and sunshine would kickstart the hatches –and the trout — and that’s exactly what happened. Caddis, caddis, everywhere, size 12-14 — and then huge swarms of micro caddis. We didn’t fret about those, since the trout were more than eager to jump on the bigger flies. We took them on Squirrel and Gingers (top dropper), Starling and Herl (middle dropper), and generic bead head gray soft hackles on point. We took them on the dead drift, the mended swing, the dangle, and with upstream presentations. I lost track of how many trout, which is always a good day on the river. On Monday, I had kept telling Mark, “You’re doing everything right. You just need to find some cooperative trout.” I’ve made that speech to numerous clients, so it was gratifying to be there when the cooperative trout showed up. We played through the run, then walked 500 yards upstream where Mark — now a dangerous wet fly machine — connected with a spunky rainbow. Great job, Mark!

Mark’s best fish of the trip was this mid-teens wild brown that we witnessed repeatedly slashing at caddis in a feeding lane. Or, as Mark said: See the fish. Present to the fish. Catch the fish. He did just that, and his instructor couldn’t have been prouder. A Squirrel and Ginger did the trick.

Farmington River Report 1/14/21: Jiggin’ and Strippin’ and Catchin’

Yesterday I fished with Toby Lapinski, a long overdue payback for all the striper outings he treated me to this fall. We decided to go for big instead of numbers, so streamers it was. We started in the Permanent TMA, although we first bounced around looking for a mark that didn’t have the equivalent angler population of Manhattan. (Hint: stay away from the big name pools.) Conditions were perfect for winter streamers: 325cfs, clear, no slush ice, 40 degree air temp and overcast with occasional mists and drizzle.

Rule one of winter streamer fishing: find the fish that want to eat. We decided to mix it up at the first mark. I was long-leader-tight line small black jig streamer in faster water; Toby was traditional fly line with a white jig streamer in slower, deeper stuff. I blanked, but Toby scored a big, bad brown. You can’t see it in the photo, but that’s just over 20″ of trutta buttah. Awesome trout. Observed: a modest midge hatch and trout rising to them in the frog water. We started with the place all to ourselves; by the time we left, there were five other anglers.

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Although anglers were seemingly everywhere, we had the second mark all to ourselves. Oh. This guy was there, too. He was hanging out in some faster water and hit on the drop as the streamer was jigged downstream. I missed him on that first take, but fortunately I didn’t deviate from the presentation, and he came right back and struck on the drop again. Here’s to second chances! Great photo by Toby. I had one more hit on the jig, then I switched over to a traditional streamer winter streamer setup: full sink tip line and short leader with a weighted fly (Coffey Sparkle Minnow).

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Winter fishing requires attention to detail. If you’re not ready, you might miss it. Here’s a hawk-eyed Toby focusing on his sighter. I had one little bump on the Sparkle Minnow, then we moved to the third mark. Only one angler there, but he left after 5 minutes and again we had a long section of river all to ourselves. I managed a fine 13″ wild brown and then we called it a (victorious) day. We fished from 11:30am-4:00pm, and I was grateful for the time spent on the water, the action, and the good company.

Farmington River Report 12/2/20: The high water streamer tease

One question I get a lot is, “How do you determine how you’re going to fish the Farmington?” The answers can be complicated, but sometimes it’s simply dictated by conditions and, especially yesterday, what I feel like doing.

First, conditions. We had a high water event Monday night, the river spiked, and now it was coming down. 875cfs in the Permanent TMA is not for novice or foolish waders, especially in very late fall. That water is moving and it’s cold. You need studded boots and a wading staff, and especially you need to stick to wading slower, shallower stretches (that’s often where you’ll find the fish).

I liked yesterday’s overcast, and we even had a few snow showers to boot. Or is that to glove?

Next, method. I felt like swinging streamers. I fish for my own pleasure, and even though winter streamers on the Farmy can be dicey — the trout are either biting or they’re not — when it’s on, it’s good. And fun. I was using an integrated full-sink tip line with a short (3 feet) leader and a mix of weighted and neutrally buoyant streamers. I also played a bit with different colors.

So, how was the fishing? It started off great, with a bump on my first cast. I made the same cast and the fish hit it again. But no real grab. Sadly, this was to be the pattern of the two-hour session: lots of bumps, but no real takes. I fished two marks hard, then packed it in around 4:30pm.

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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