Farmington River Report 6/13/21: Wet fly doldrums, then all dry fly hell breaks loose

I fished a different section of the lower river yesterday, from late afternoon into dark. The water was clear, cool, running at 460cfs — just about right. As is my my custom, I arrived rigged for wet fly, anticipating a typical very late spring pre-hatch wet fly bonanza. ‘Twas not to be. The early evening hatch never materialized. Well, it did if you count three sulphurs and four spotty rises in 90 minutes. But I was sorely disappointed with the lack of activity. I managed a measly four bumps, and only one of them resulted in a hookup. (Then again, the prime wet fly water in the run was occupied.)

At 7:30 I re-rigged for dry fly. It took a while for things to happen, but when they did, it was fast and furious. Observed: sulphurs size 16, tiny BWOs, Isonychia size 12, dark gray stoneflies size 12, and mats of midges. I focused on the yellow stuff, and threw Magic Flies, Usuals, and Catskills Light Cahills, all of which were eaten. Noteworthy: the world’s longest refusal (drifting over a gravel bank into a drop-off, and this guy rose and shadowed the fly for a good fifteen feet, nearly taking it several times before saying no); an epic 50-foot drift where I had three(!) different trout commit to the fly with a splashy take, none of which resulted in a hookset; and a comical take where a brown blasted the fly like it was going to hurt him, which, as it turns out, it did — in his haste to dine he fouled himself in his pectoral fin.

I was fishing in some fairly technical water, which I often prefer with dry fly because of its challenges. (We’re talking longer leaders, precision mends, and tricky drift management.) I didn’t connect as many times as I would have liked to, but I did hook fish from as far away as 45 feet and a close as a rod’s length. The frenzied feeding really didn’t begin until 8:30, and when I dragged myself away at 9:15, I’d just hooked a trout on a drift I couldn’t see.

A strange but pleasant evening. The first outing with the cane pole is always a treat.

This one’s worth repeating. There comes a stage late in the hatch where trout are feeding on both duns and spinners. Then, it transitions solely to spinners. You don’t need to stress about which stage they’re eating if you’re using a Catskills style dry like this Light Cahill. Trout will eagerly take it even when they’re on spinners. Every year, some of my biggest dry fly trout come on this pattern when the only feeding tell is the gentle, subtle spinner rise ring. Pro tip: you can upsize the fly so you can see it in the gloaming.

Steve Culton’s Grass Shrimp Solution featured in On The Water’s “Guide Flies”

Another year, another appearance in On The Water magazine‘s “Guide Flies” column, written by Tony Lolli. You’re familiar with he concept of a guide fly — a pattern that is typically simple to tie and is a consistent producer. I’d like to introduce the Grass Shrimp Solution as Exhibit A: some bucktail, a few wraps of braid, palmered wet fly hackle, and then you’re fishing. You can see the wet fly influence in its construction. I like this pattern at night when the grass shrimp are forming mating swarms, and are being carried out of an estuary on current. Make it part of your three fly team, and hang on! This pattern was originally published in the old American Angler magazine, Nov/Dec 2015, “Soft Hackles For Striped Bass.”

Here’s a pdf of the article:

Squirrel and Ginger in the Current Issue of American Fly Fishing

As many of you are already aware, my favorite caddis soft hackle, the Squirrel and Ginger, is featured in the “In The Vise” column of American Fly Fishing (May/June 2021). You get my narrative, materials list, and step-by-step tying instructions. Please support publications like American Fly Fishing, one of the few remaining fly fishing magazines.

Now appearing on a newsstand near you. You can also order a copy from the American Fly Fishing website.

Striper Report: All you can eat (grass shrimp)!

Last week, while you were asleep — certainly some of you were, as the tide widows crept into the wee hours — I was banging around several marshes and estuaries looking for stripers feeding on grass shrimp. I found substantial numberqs of grass shrimp in every mark I visited, and varying numbers of bass. Grass shrimp are present year round, but they spawn when the water warms, and it’s getting to be that time of year. You can find grass shrimp swimming around if you shine your light in the shallows, but they mostly prefer to skulk along the bottom. They’re translucent creatures, so they’re not as easy to see as, say, a green crab. Their eyes reflect your headlamp beam, so that’s an easy way to spot them.

I see your beady little eyes. These guys are in less than six inches of water.

I almost always fish the grass shrimp swarm with a team of three. The patterns vary, and sometimes I’ll throw a clam worm like the Orange Ruthless into the mix, but last week I fished a deer-hair head on top dropper, a black General Practitioner on middle dropper, and Micro Gurgling Shrimp on point. I took fish on all three flies, although I was intrigued that I only caught bass on the black GP on the one night when I had bright moonlight. (The lessons are never-ending.) The fish weren’t very large — 20″ was the best I could manage — but I could tell from some of the feeding pops that there were bigger bass around.

My most recent three-fly grass shrimp team. L-R: Black GP, Caddis Shrimp, Micro Gurgling Shrimp. This gives you a good idea of the size of the naturals, which are the size of these flies or smaller. Note that none of these flies attempt to be a carbon-copy of the actual bait. They’re simply designed to match size and profile, to look alive, and create a favorable impression on the stripers. Ultra-realistic flies are to be admired for their craftsmanship, but not necessarily for their fish-catching ability.

Farmington River Report 4/9/21: Nature (quickly) finds a way

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.

Love these holdover/wild fish. They just refuse to come to net without a furious argument. This guy fought way above his weight class.

Last Currentseams Tuesday Night Zoom of the spring, 3/30/21, 8pm: “Traditional Striper Flies”

I’ve got stripers on the brain, and so we’ll be talking about the traditional-style striper flies I like to tie and fish: sparse bucktails, soft-hackles, and flatwings. The discussion will include materials and hooks I use, and I’ll throw in a tying demo of something tbd. If you haven’t been getting the Zoom links — I send them out Tuesday late afternoon — please check your spam box. If you’re sending a request to get on the list, please don’t wait until 7:45 p.m. Tuesday night…I won’t be checking my email that late. Thanks!

Thank you, Mid-Hudson Chapter of TU!

Many thanks to the members of the Mid-Hudson Chapter of TU for being my virtual hosts last night. The topic was one of my favorites, Wet Flies 101. We followed up with an excellent post-Zoom Q&A session. I was delighted to meet everyone, and I look forward to being able to do it person in the future! Hope to see some of you tonight for my Tuesday Night Currentseams Zoom, “Almost Anything Goes: Fly Fishing Q&A.”

The Hackled March Brown from one of Nemes’ books. Responsible for one of the biggest brown trout I’ve ever landed.
You can check out the fly-tying video here.

A simple Cased Caddis pattern

During last night’s Zoom we talked about Cased Caddis being an important food item for trout this time of year. Here’s a dirt-simple pattern you can try. If you don’t use a bead, just make the body longer before you add the green wormy head. If you wanted to underweight the fly with heavy wire, that’s another option. Have at it, and catch ’em up!

Culton’s Simple Cased Caddis

Hook: 2x strong, 2x-3x long, size 10-14

Tail: Brownish mottled game bird feather fibers

Body: Underweighted with heavy wire (optional); pheasant tail fibers ribbed with copper wire

Head: Green dubbing

Bead: Copper, to size (optional)

Currentseams Tuesday Night Zoom 3/2, 8pm: “Transition Trout: Late Winter/Early Spring Tactics”

The transition from late winter to early spring often means hard times for the erstwhile trout angler. This Currentseams Tuesday Night Zoom will focus on some of the conditions and bugs you may encounter, and how to best unlock those pesky salmo jaws. If you haven’t been getting the Zoom links — I send them out Tuesday late afternoon — please check your spam box. If you’re sending a request to get on the list, please don’t wait until 7:45 p.m. Tuesday night…I won’t be checking my email that late. Thanks!