A shout out to the Squan-a-Tissit Chapter of TU (northern MA) for virtually hosting me last night. We Zoomed and boomed and I presented The West Branch Farmington River: Southern New England’s Blue-Ribbon Trout Stream. A reminder to all the long and longer-distance fly fishing clubs out there: Zoom is great way to get acquainted. If you”re in charge of booking speakers, here’s a link to my current presentation menu.
The question of the day is certainly a fun one. I don’t think I’ve ever had this one before last night. You may find it tongue-in-cheek, but I took it seriously, and there’s a little bonus wisdom in the answer. Q: What’s your favorite fishing cigar and do you find that certain brands help you catch more fish?A: Without getting into specific brands, I like fuller bodied cigars that have a lot of taste complexity. I’m an espresso/dark chocolate/spicy/earthy flavor profile kind of guy. Now, this next bit is true. If I’m having a tough go when I’m fishing wets or streamers (or striper fishing), sometimes I’ll tuck the rod under my arm, leave the fly dangling in the water, and get out a cigar. Several times a year, I hook up when I’m lighting the cigar, doing nothing else. That’s clue #1. Clue #2 is that sometimes when you’re dealing with a riser that won’t bite, rest the fish. Take out a cigar, cut and light it — or, if you don’t partake, take couple minutes to organize your box — and then make a cast and see what happens.
Thursday night was the world premier of director Matthew Vinick’s film, Summer on the Farmington. The venue was Brewery Legitimus in New Hartford. Good choice! They had a large private room reserved for the event, with a dedicated bar, plenty of seating, room to socialize, and a food truck outside for people like me who get cranky if they don’t eat. (I had two delicious chicken tacos for 12 bucks.) The beer was likewise yummy; I thoroughly enjoyed my Dr. Strangehaze NE Style IPA.
We (I was accompanied by my beautiful wife) arrived early so we could socialize. How wonderful to see so many old friends, and to be able to enjoy being out for an evening of entertainment. Thanks again to everyone who took the time to say hello — I often forget names, but I recognize the faces and it’s a pleasure to get reacquainted.
To the film. There’s a certain challenge to being unbiased when you’re judging a creative product that you were a part of. But, viewing a work of art is an inherently emotional experience, so I suppose I’m allowed to think and feel what I think and feel. And I thought and felt that Matthew’s film met — and exceeded — my expectations.
The film remains true to its title as it follows several Farmington River guides and anglers from the first day of summer through the last as they fish the river with dry flies. The footage is outstanding, from sweeping aerials to mayflies dancing on the surface to subsurface shots of trout feeding (worth the price of admission alone — props to Director of Photography John Kozmaczewski). But it’s not all just dry fly fishing. You get segments on the genesis of the tailwater, the creation of Trout Management Areas, the Survivor Strain Program, and more. Vinick has clearly done this homework, drawing on a rich assortment of knowledgeable sources, from DEEP staff to fly fishing store owners/managers. I heard more than one appreciative comment on the crisp pace and excellence of the editing.
While the juiciest bits of the film are the action sequences, Vinick does an exceptional job of showing the fishing experience in its entirety, warts-and-all. You see the refusals. You see the swings and misses. You see the LDRs. Best of all, you get to see the tragicomic reactions when things don’t go according to plan, which tends to happen a lot in fishing. (Overhead, whispered by a nearby audience member during the film: “See, those are professional guides, and they miss fish too!”) Yup. We all put our waders on one leg at a time. And of course, you get to see the triumphs. There are some beautiful fish in the Farmington. Thanks to them for playing.
Many of you will be wondering about future plans for Summer on the Farmington. Here’s what I can tell you. It will probably have another showing , time and place TBD. It may go to DVD or be streamed, but I have no further details. I wish I had better information to share, but when I find out more I’ll let you know.
On Tuesday the DEEP collected broodstock for the next generation of Survivor Strain brown trout. The MDC drew down the reservoir to about 70cfs and the collection crews had at it. Normally, I like to give warning of the event (you can still fish, but you need to stay clear of the collection crews) but I missed that boat. However, I’m happy to report that well over 100 trout were collected — and after the challenging summer conditions these fish made it through, you can rest assured that the survival aspect of their genetic material is exceptional.
With cooler days and nights upon us, re-stocking the river will begin soon. Then we can pretend that this summer never happened.
What a disaster summer this has been for major river fishing in Connecticut. Pity the poor Farmington: too much rain, too much flow, too much warm water. Its current story is best told by these USGS Waterdata graphs.
I regret being the messenger of such dire tidings, but it is what it is and there’s nothing we can do about it. Suffice to say, please don’t fish for trout. And hope those tropical systems out there right now stay away from Connecticut.
In case you’re wondering why the water is so warm, this article by yours truly may help.
Every year is different, and this year I just didn’t fish the Farmington River as much as I usually do. Part of it was my growing smallmouth obsession. Part of it was the unprecedented number of anglers on the river (thanks, Covid!). But I still managed to connect with some very respectable truttasauruses (truttasuari?). It was a good year for big trout on the Farmy, and there were dozens of reports on the UpCountry site of fish that cracked the 20″ mark. If you’re interested in targeting browns that can be measured in pounds rather than inches, I have two bits of advice. First, fish subsurface. Second, fish in low/no light conditions. And then, hang on.
The belly of the beast, an early April 2020 Farmington River Survivor Strain brown. Please take fish-friendly photos: keep your fish wet until you’re ready to shoot, and then only expose the fish to air a few seconds at a time. (Be sure to wet your hands before handling the fish.) I took this shot with my GoPro, which was set to auto shoot, so the trout was out of the water for less time than it takes you to read this sentence.
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, #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 spent most of today updating one of my oldest presentations. The West Branch Farmington River sports new video, photos, content, and is current with new regs as of fall 2019. If your club is looking for a comprehensive overview of southern New England’s blue ribbon trout stream, this is the presentation you’ve been looking for. You can find out more about this and my other presentations here.
In case you missed it, I have an article about the Farmington River in the most recent issue (Sept/Oct 2019) of Eastern Fly Fishing. You can get a copy direct from them here.
I guided repeat client John yesterday and we were blessed with spectacular weather. Water was low (130/160cfs, permanent TMA/Unionville) but very fishable and cool, even down south. John wanted to work on his wet fly game, so we headed up to Riverton to take advantage of the recent stocking. If the DEEP trucks made a recent visit, we saw no evidence of it: we hit three marks in two hours, and waded hundreds of yards of water without a single touch. Other anglers we encountered also reported blanking. Very curious.
Look like a good place for a SOB-ing trout to be hiding out? I certainly thought so. John covering some very sexy water with a team of three.
Thus spanked, we headed down to the permanent TMA for a nymphing lesson. John had never done any nymphing, but he took to it quickly, and before too long was rewarded with a gorgeous Survivor Strain brown. We took one more rainbow, and both fish came on the top dropper, a tiny (sz 18 2x short) SHPT.
Parr marks, haloed spots, clipped adipose and obstreperous behavior once netted clearly IDed this fish as a Survivor Strain brown. Not a bad first Farmington River brown, nor a bad first trout ever on a nymph!
We finished up swinging wets on the lower river and brought a few more fish to hand. Nice job John in some challenging conditions!
This seems like a good time to mention that I am a teaching guide, and if you’re like John — someone who has had some success in fly fishing but wants to expand their skill set — maybe you should consider a few hours on the water with me. I teach anglers of all levels, from beginner to experienced. You can find out more here.
As I write this, the Farmington is chugging along at a low 120cfs or so within the permanent TMA. Cooler-than-normal temperatures have been a blessing during these extended low flows.
The MDC will be cutting the flow to double digits on Tuesday August 27-Thursday August 29 so that DEEP crews can sample the Farmington River and collect broodstock for the Survivor Strain program. (Here’s another nifty article on the Survivor Strain program, complete with elastomer color codes.) They will be focusing their attention on some popular pools and runs within the permanent TMA. You can still fish the river — you are merely asked to yield to the crews as they work. Better still, volunteer to work on the crew — there’s no better way to discovery where the lunkers live! You can contact the DEEP here.
She’s a big mamma jamma. Just as fine as she can be. Not a Survivor Strain (note intact adipose) but a fine example of the potential of the Farmington River.