Just a quick two-hour session on the lower River last Friday. The sun was shining, the air was warm, the water was low and crystal clear, and there was a strong caddis (size 16-18) hatch. I fished three marks and found acton in only one. I purposely stayed away from areas that I knew had been stocked as I wanted to try to find the Salmo that had made it through the winter. I tried several techniques, each to match the conditions and marks I was fishing: tight/long line micro jig streamer, tight line drop shot nymphing, and then indicator nymphing.
Funny thing! I had just landed my first fish, a tiger of a wild brown, when lo and behold, Ye Olde Stocking Truck showed up. What I found fascinating — and I’ve witnessed this before — was that within minutes, the fresh fish were porpoising and snapping at caddis emergers in a back eddy. It doesn’t take long for them to discover where their next meal is coming from. It’s genetic programming at its finest.
I fish the way I want to fish, and sometimes that means I go fishless. I’m OK with that. When it lines up, I may be doing battle with multiple high-teens browns. When it’s a day like yesterday, I get the not-a-touch trudge through the snow back to my car, wondering if my feet will ever be warm again.
Not that I’m complaining. I had a blast. Due to the inclement weather, angler activity was almost at its Farmington River-winter-ten-years-ago level. You still can’t access the majority of dirt pull-offs (they’re currently snowplow pile pull-offs) so you’re stuck with the major parking areas. That didn’t prevent me from going for a walk to find solitude. I fished three marks within the Permanent TMA (no slush, 370cfs). I started off tight-lining jig mini-streamers, but that was a problem with the 24-degree air temp; frozen beads of river clinging to the exposed leader. So I switched locations and did the traditional full-sink line. I did catch a lot of the bottom. Sadly, it never fought back.
Then, I decided to experiment. What would happen if I fished the mini-jig under an indicator? I could bounce it along the bottom, or suspend it near the bottom. I had one of my bigger home-brew yarn indicators with me, so I re-rigged and had at it. I tried it in different kinds of water, from fast-moving glides to languid dry-fly pools. In the faster water, I had to constantly check the indicator upstream and mend to prevent the fly from moving too quickly, but the rig proved to be the answer to the iced-up leader problem. Just because I didn’t connect doesn’t mean it won’t work on another day. More research to come…and I encourage you to try new things when you’re on the river.
Every once in a while I need a new project. Since I’ve been on a streamer kick, this seemed like a capital idea: try fishing small jig streamers on a long leader. This video featuring Lance Egan had piqued my interest. The point is not to cover vast stretches of river, but rather to work in close and target likely holding areas, tempting trout with a protein payoff. I’d fished in a similar manner for smallmouth on the Hous, bouncing dumbbell eyed streamers or larger jig streamers (like Barr’s Meat Whistle) along the bottom, but I wanted to try the longer leader thing with a smaller bug.
I reached out to fly fisher extraordinaire Devin Olsen for a quick leader formula. He suggested a basic construct like the one in his book Tactical Fly Fishing: 12 feet of 15# or 20# Maxima, 3 feet of 12# Amnesia, 18″ of 0.012 sighter material, tippet ring, then 6′-10′ of 4x or 5x tippet. I kept fly selection simple with this basic black and silver jig streamer, tied on a size 8 hook. Total length is about 2″.
So I hit the water. The winter crowds continue to astonish. I saw more anglers out yesterday than I do during an entire previous typical winter. I stayed within the Permanent TMA, with was running cold and clear at 450cfs. I shared the first mark with four other anglers; I blanked, and the only trout I saw taken came on bait.
I scored a lovely mid-teens wild brown in Spot B. This fish hammered the fly on the drop. This is a video still so the shot really doesn’t do the fish justice. I thought I had a trophy brown in Spot C, but two-thirds through the fight I could tell that something wasn’t quite right. My suspicions were confirmed when I netted a large sucker, foul-hooked in a pectoral fin.
The last two marks I hit were also blanks, but I counted the day as an unequivocal success. I’ll be working on this technique some more this winter, and will also be using it at times for smallmouth. It’s certainly best for in-close work, not only in terms of presentation, but casting as well. (The rig is an absolute bitch to cast; you’re not so much casting as you are lifting, loading, and lobbing.)
It’s been a tough streamer bite my last two outings — another blank, with only two bumps today compared to half dozen on Wednesday. The river is in fine shape, 500cfs and clear, just in time for tomorrow’s deluge. I hit four marks today, all within the Permanent TMA, and had a bump in each of the first two, but neither felt like a good fish. I played around with size, color, and presentation, but whatever I was throwing, and how I was throwing it, the trout just weren’t that interested. So goes the battle. Just a note that if you’re going to fish the Boneyard, there is an active shotgun season, so be safe and wear some blaze orange.
I lost a Barr’s Meat Whistle to the bottom gods in a very deep pool of the Farmington. Even though it’s tied on a jig hook, this happened when my full sink line got tangled around an obstacle.
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.
Don took a wet fly lesson with me in July, and while the bugs and trout weren’t very cooperative, we still had enough action to make things interesting. I always tell my students that if they keep on with this wet fly thing, good things will follow. Don has been in touch since then, asking questions, practicing and tying, and most importantly, spending time with a team of three on the water. That’s how you become a better wet fly angler.
In my report from that day, I stated that if Don learned wet flies, he would become a dangerous fish-catching machine. Although conditions have been challenging in the last couple months, Don has kept at it. Last week he scored this gorgeous brown on a Squirrel and Ginger. I think it’s a Survivor Strain broodstock — that looks like a left-eye elastomer and clipped adipose. Way to go, Don!
Yesterday was a spectacular day for the tiny blue winged olives of fall: overcast, cool, drizzly. The bugs were out in force, and they had neither avian nor aquatic predators to contend with.
I guided Matt and his son Theo from 10am to 2pm. I know the fishing has been slow, but yesterday was ridiculous given the conditions and the hatch activity. We hit three marks, and managed only one 11th-hour hookup (which went quickly south when the trout melted the 5x leader I had tied on). Ugh. We focused on nymphing, and I had Theo doing some wet fly swinging and dangling when we saw some all-too-brief surface action. They both did a great job working hard, covering water, persevering, and I hope they’ll come back for a chance at revenge in the spring. It’s great to see a young generation fly angler who’s so enthusiastic!
Theo’s indicator dipped, and he set the hook. Not a fish, but rather this rig. I’ll give the creator bonus points for ingenuity, but I must also deduct points for using braid. Oops! That’s also a barbed hook, verboten within the permanent TMA. Boo-hiss on you.
Yesterday, #3 son Gordo drew three names at random out of the proverbial hat (it was actually a small cloth laundry container). And the winners of the 800 Followers drawing are….drum roll…Alton, Tom M, and Chase M. The winners have already been notified by email. Congratulations! Thank you to everyone who entered, and thank you to everyone period for reading and subscribing. I literally couldn’t do it without you.
To the vise I go…
Last night’s rains were much needed, but don’t be mislead. The ground was so parched and the plants so thirsty that the river flows have only come up moderately. Still, we won’t complain. More, please. (And please stay off the thin blue lines. Remember, the stocking truck doesn’t visit wild trout streams.)
DEEP crews recently electrofished the Farmington and were able to cart off enough broodstock in a single day. These fish, chosen for their wild attributes and potential genetic elasticity, will be taken back to the hatchery, spawned, then re-released into the river in late fall. You can learn more about the Farmington River Survivor Strain here.
Farmington trutta tanks like this are captured, then placed into a live well until they can be transported back to the hatchery for breeding.
Finally, I’m continuing to get Zoom speaking requests from clubs everywhere. I appreciate both the interest and the business. If your group is out-of-state (and especially way out-of-state), this is the perfect time to see what this Steve Culton guy is all about. You can view my current presentation menu here.
I guided Abe yesterday from 2:45-6:45pm. Abe, who said he’d never done particularly well on the Farmington, wanted to focus on wet flies. For the longest time it looked like we’d picked the wrong day. The river was in fine shape, no worse for the wear after the storm. They lowered the flow out of the gate to 160cfs, but the Still was adding another 100 or so to make an ideal summer level, and the water was plenty cold. Getting there was an issue for me: closed roads in Bristol and Farmington turned a 50 minute drive into 90.
We hit four marks and found spotty action at best. Hatch activity was virtually nil, a 1 out of 10. I don’t need to tell you that that meant a paucity of active visible feeders. Nonetheless, we stuck a few fish in the first mark and had an LDR. The second mark was a bust, with only a couple courtesy taps. The third was even worse, without a single fine how-do-you-do? But the fourth…ah, the fourth. We broke out the wading staff and ventured into a snotty, pocketed, riffly run that always holds fish this time of year. I switched out the Hackled March Brown on point for a SHBHPT to give us a little more weight. Time was running out on our session. Whack! Mid-teens rainbow. Bang! Gorgeous wild brown. Bap! JV Atlantic salmon. Three fish in 15 minutes made for a very satisfying end to our session. Kudos to Abe for fishing hard, fishing well, and never giving up!
You’d be smiling, too, if you’d just landed a quality trout on a wet fly on such a slow day. Our quarry was camera shy. Thankfully, Abe isn’t. While angler traffic was light, we didn’t see anyone else hook up all day.
From the moment I arrived at the river — about 6:00pm — till the moment I left — about 9:20pm — the water and air above was crackling with mayflies and midges. After enduring several recent outings marked by poor hatches, this was Mother Nature’s make-good outing. As a bonus, this was a working session, as I’d planned to shoot video for a new wet fly presentation I’m building. Conditions could not have been better. First it was sulphurs, size 16-18, then an influx of olives, size 18. Micro midges were everywhere. The fish were still feeding when I left the water.
This is a video still, so the quality is not great, but splashy rises like this were everywhere for the first 90 minutes. I enjoyed some spectacular wet fly action, swinging a team of three (Squirrel and Ginger, Partridge and Light Cahill, and Light Cahill winged wet). I took numerous fish on all three patterns, presenting upstream, downstream, and across. There came a time when the fish no longer took the subsurface fly, about 8pm. That’s when I switched to dries.
Another video still. I can’t say that I can get too excited about domestic rainbow trout, but the Farmington rainbows this year are in a new class of fun. They’re fat, they’re feisty, they’ll bulldog you the entire fight, and many of them are taking on holdover characteristics like intact scales, deep coloration/pink bands, and well-formed fins. Corpulent mid-teens inches rainbows like this one are in faster water everywhere. Most of the browns I took came after 8:30pm.