“To play him long is to play him wrong” redux

Glass houses, stones, and all that. So this week when I hooked into a 20+” Survivor Strain brown on the Farmington, I started the clock. 93 seconds — hand-stripped, no reel — from hook set to net. (And it was only that long because I had trouble fitting him into the net first swipe.)

Unfortunately, I had camera disasters. I was using my main shooter for a different project earlier in the day and hadn’t changed the setting, so I ended up with out-of-focus mush. Then I attempted a GoPro movie of the release, only to discover that the battery was dead. So you’ll have to use your imagination: kype, clipped adipose, leopard spotting, brawny, and no match for an angler with a sharp hook and a reliable leader.

Farmington River Report 8/4/17: “To play him long is to play him wrong.”

The quote is from Stu Apte. Before we get to its relevance, a quick Farmy report.

I fished the Farmington from 8:15am to noon, dedicated to the nymphing cause. The action was spotty. I started on the lower river, and the first run produced two trout. Spot B was a blank. Up to the permanent TMA. Same deal: the first spot was a two fish pool, the second run a blank.

But why I remember most about the outing was the gross overplaying of a trout I witnessed within the permanent TMA.

I was wading into position when the angler across from me, who was nymphing, hooked the fish. My first notion that this was going to not go well was when I realized that several minutes had passed and he still hadn’t landed the fish. So I set my watch and began timing. Nine minutes later — that’s an accurate time — and the fish had still not been landed! The longer you play a fish, the more things can happen — and most of them are bad. This manifested during minute ten of the timing when the fish popped free. The end result was two very frustrated anglers — and very likely, a dead trout.

Clearly, this gentleman was ill-equipped to battle a large trout. (I saw it at one point, and it appeared to be a brown in the 20-inch class. Big, but certainly manageable and landable.) So, enough criticism. What would I have done differently?

  1. Don’t let him breathe. (The fish, not the angler. Though I was tempted.) This guy spent extended periods with his rod tip high in the air and the trout lounging in the current. All a Mexican standoff does is give the trout a steady supply of oxygenated water. I repeat, don’t let him breathe. If the fish wants to run, let him. When he stops, crank that reel.
  2. Find a better LZ. This guy chose to play the fish in the hot water where it was originally hooked. He completely ignored the plentiful frog water below him, which was a much better place to attempt to net the fish.
  3. Fight the fish with the butt and the reel. The angler had his rod way too high the entire time. Get the fish off balance by arcing the rod in a plane from side to side. That can help move a stubborn fish.
  4. Use a tippet you trust. I never nymph with anything less than 5x. That’s strong enough to handle anything I’m likely to hook.

Finally, keep cool. Fish can’t think. You can.

Farmington River Report 7/26/17: “Get out the chapeaus!”

Or so Jack Edwards might have said if were calling my fishing game. An odd Farmington River hat trick, consisting of browns, a rainbow, and…what? Smallmouth bass? Read on…

I value my fishing solitude as much as anyone. Many days, I choose where I fish as much for alone time as I do for fish-catching potential. I started off yesterday at 6pm on the lower river in a stretch where I might expect to see a dozen anglers all season. Holy mob scene, Batman! Six cars and ten anglers later, I was dragging my horrified self to parts less populated.

For a guy who’s fairly well-known for wet fly fishing, I haven’t done a lot of it in the evening. Most summers, I’m content park myself in some dry fly water and wait for the evening rise. I’m doing things a little differently this week, swinging wets as afternoon transitions into night. Same three fly team as yesterday: S&G, Magic Fly, hackled MB. The hatch activity in this second location was about a 3 on the 10 scale. Sulphurs were the prominent bug. Very little bird activity and even fewer risers. The smallie came first, plowing into the March Brown on the dangle. A few aerials for my viewing pleasure, and for a moment I thought that maybe I was on the Hous. A few minutes later, I was saying out loud to myself (it’s OK, I do that) “There’s really nothing going on here,” when WHACK! Also on March Brown.

I had been dead-drifting the wet fly team through some water better suited for dries when my line came tight with a vengeance. You could count the spots on this guy, and the pattern is about as linear and symmetrical as I’ve seen on a brown. 12″ long and the parr marks have yet to vanish. Full adipose.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA


Next, I fished a steep riffle that rushes into a deep, compact pool. No bugs, nothing rising, and I was thinking that maybe I should rig for depth charge when a stout rainbow clobbered the fly as it swirled near the surface. Here’s a trippy low-light shot that begs the question: Is this what C&R looks like at a rave?



I‘ve said it before and I’ll say it again: dusk can be a magic time. The trout went bonkers on the surface just at the moment when you could no longer see your fly. This brown measured 17″. Full adipose, and look at the size of the anal fin and tail.



Farmington River Report 7/25/17: The method and the madness

Let the binge fishing begin!

I started fishing at 6:30 last night in a run I usually reserve for mornings and afternoons. The hatch activity was immense: sulphurs, small BWOs, caddis, Isos — and the cedar waxwings and swallows were going to town on the duns and spinners. I’ve never seen so many birds over the river. It was like being an observer in WWII dogfight. I lost count of the number of birds that flew so close I could hear their wings.

The method was wet flies. Given the amount of bug activity, I was expecting to catch 20 trout in this 300 yard stretch. The final number was a bit more modest, but I found plenty of fish willing to jump on. One of them was a camera-shy, low teens rainbow that had been in the river a while: dense spotting, intact fins, wide pink lateral band. I found players on all three flies (Squirrel & Ginger, Pale Watery wingless, hackled March Brown).

Dry was the next method, practiced from 8pm to dark. I rose a half dozen fish on tiny rusty spinners and Magic Flies, but my hook points found no purchase. Back to the truck for the streamer kit, and I walked out of the pool drifting/swinging a mouse, then a conehead Woolly Bugger. A few bumps, but no takers.

I was disappointed with the dry and streamer action. This may have had something to do with the fact that we had October temperatures; hopefully things will pick up as we get into a warming trend. At least we have water! Speaking of which, 340cfs and 54 degrees.

Swinging a team of wets in pocket water during a hatch is like this handsome brown: butter. He chose the Magic Fly, fished subsurface.



Farmington River Report 7/12/17: Jungle Boogie

It was positively tropical on the river today. The only relief from the heat and humidity was provided by the random cooling waves of fog that swept across my face and arms. The method was wet flies — and the trout weren’t having it. I fished three “gotta have a fish” spots and I blanked in all of them. (Well, kind of. We’ll get to that in a minute.)

Spot A was a run in the upper reaches of the permanent TMA. It’s a long stretch that features shade, structure, boulders, depth, and riffles. Today it offered a couple courtesy taps from a JV salmon. Ugh. Off to Spot B, a ways downriver but still in the PTMA. This is a dump-in to a larger pool. It’s loaded with trout. Not a touch. Ugh squared. Off to Spot C, the snotty riffles, swift current and treacherous footing above B. There’s always a fish behind that rock, or in that black hole tight to the bank. Blanks, both of them. Do I hear a third ugh?

So I got stubborn and walked down to B, attached a BB shot above the middle fly of my team of three (S&G, Drowned Ant, Hackled March Brown) and bounced the flies along the bottom. Second cast, fish on the Drowned Ant. Then one on the March Brown. Suddenly, things were looking up.

All because I decided to get down, get down.


Farmington River Report 7/9/17: Swell fishing. Catching? Ummmm….

My Wet Flies 101 class won the weather lottery yesterday. Sadly, the price of the ticket was one of the worst bites I’ve seen all season on the Farmy. (I’m going with the cold front coming through the night before theory.) There was enough hatch activity (Isos and caddis) to keep our hopes up, and a few splashy risers here and there, but folks, it was tough sledding. The guys did a most excellent job of staying positive and refining their newly learned craft. Keep at it, gents, and you’ll have enough days that will make you chuckle when you think of yesterday. (Really.)

As an instructor, I find sessions where everyone blanks as frustrating as the students. So I fished the lower river on the way home. The run I targeted was located in a section that got annihilated by last summer’s drought. Yet, I took two beautiful wild browns in 30 minutes. The water was swift and snotty (not well-suited for a class) so maybe that was the difference.

Nature finds a way. This is the first fish. He clobbered the Squirrel and Ginger on the dead drift in a deep pocket. Love the way the wild ones hit and battle, and you just don’t get coloration like this at the factory.


Farmington River Report 6/21/17: A strange start to summer

The official start of summer isn’t beholden to calendars or warmth or maximum daylight. For me, it begins with liberating my cane rod from the confines of its storage tube and tying a Magic Fly to the end of a 12-foot leader. That this all happened on the 21st of June was a happy coincidence.

Monday’s storm left a swath of destruction in the People’s Forest area. Downed trees and limbs everywhere. The river soared a few hundred cfs, and Grady Allen told me the action Tuesday night was not so good. When I drove through New Hartford yesterday, the roads were wet and steaming from a late afternoon squall. Random piles of hailstones in the woods made me glad that I missed it. The river was down to 450cfs, but still carried a stain and some debris.

Not a lot in the way of catching for me, but I did get a low teens wild brown to hand on a size 18 Usual. I also rose fish to the Magic Fly size 18, Catskill Light Cahill size 14 and 16, and size 10 Convertible (look it up).

To the strangeness. Nothing so odd about the hatches proper: Sulphurs came off like clockwork and 5:30 and 7:30, first the bigger size 16 mayflies, the size 18s following, with the usual 6:45-7:00 lull. A few caddis and Isos here and there. The hatch strength was average. Normally this time of year, the Farmington lights up from 8pm to dark. Last night it was a dimpled surface wasteland. No spinner fall, no straggler hatch, no water boiling with feeding trout. How bad was it? I counted seven total rises during the witching hour (I might expect to see that many in 30 seconds on a good night).

I finished the evening by tossing a size 4 Olive Zoo Cougar into the gloaming. A few bumps and one stuck fish, but that’s not a fly made for cane.

Welcome, summer, even if your entrance was a little oddball.

And the heavens parted and a light shone from above, and a voice seemed to say. “Cast thy flies to the bank, Steve, where the current is softer and many trout are lying in wait.”