Should I follow the fly tying recipe or improvise?

The answer, of course, is yes.

This weekend, I received a question about tying Leisenring’s March Brown Nymph. The reader wanted to know if I thought three pheasant tail fibers for the body was enough. As you can see from my original writeup, I had a few initial questions (or opinions) about the recipe as well. Here’s a little more about my M.O. when I’m tying a pattern for the first time.

I always like to honor the original recipe — at least in the beginning. I want to see what the the tier had in mind, what his or her vision of the pattern was, and perhaps try to figure out what they were trying to accomplish in terms of materials and look. In the case of Leisenring, a giant in the pantheon of American wet fly fishing, respect to the original was surely due. If Big Jim liked the pattern enough to include it in his book, that carried a significant weight. But, even if the pattern creator isn’t on the fly fishing Mount Rushmore, I still like to stick to the original design.

Now, there’s nothing that says you can’t improvise. Indeed, countless patterns have been improved upon because other tyers asked, “what if I?…” So, for example, if there’s a stone fly pattern I’m tying and I think — do I really need that wing case? — I might leave it out after a few iterations. If you’re really curious about discovering the necessity of certain elements or materials, use droppers. Tie one fly according to the original, and then tie one fly your way. Place them on droppers, change the positions frequently to keep it a fair fight, and see if the fish have any preference. Droppers are always the fastest way to find out what the fish want.

I hope this helps. Tie on, ladies and gentlemen.

The Steelhead Hammer (shown here) recipe I found all those years ago specified stretch floss for the underbody. I hated the stuff, so I don’t use it anymore. The original Tom’s 60-Second Redhead called for a mix of beaver, Angora, and flash. I use plain black rabbit fur, and the steelhead seem to like it. And so on…

From the article archives: Everything You Need to Know About Fly Fishing in Small Streams

Everything You Need to Know About Fly Fishing in Small Streams first appeared in Field & Stream Online in August 2021. It covers basics like rods, flies, finding water, tactics, and C&R best practices.

And that’s a wrap for Wild Trout/Small Stream Week! I hope you’ve enjoyed it. And as always, thanks for reading.

This is my default setting for exploring new small stream water. Droppers are always the fastest way to find out what the fish want.

The single best thing you can do for small streams and wild trout is:

Zip it. Hush. Shaddup. Small streams and wild trout are a finite resource — and more pressure is usually a very bad thing. So for goodness’ sake, never post stream names and locations on social media. Never take photos that clearly identify your location. (Picture this scenario: you make a video and post it on YouTube. The brook is clearly identifiable. Someone sees it and comments on how beautiful the place is. Someone else comments, “I know where that is!” Someone 1 reaches out to Someone 2, and the location is revealed. Someone 2 likes to share locations with his friends, and the cascade begins. Don’t laugh — I’ve seen it happen.)

And if someone asks, you can always use my line: “I won’t even tell my mother where I fish.”

From the article archives: Stalking Wild Trout on Connecticut’s Small Streams

We continue “Wild Trout/Small Stream Week” on currentseams with a deep dive into the archives. Stalking Wild Trout on Connecticut’s Small Streams was one of the first articles I wrote for myself. That is, not for a specific publisher or editor, but for my own personal use. Although it’s nearly 20 years old, and some of the information is out of date, the piece remains worthy. And I’m guessing that many of you newer subscribers have yet to see it. In case you missed the link above, you can find the article here.

To give you an update: I never did catch Gus. But I did catch and release a few of his relations. Sadly, the pool Gus lived in disappeared not long after I wrote the article. Small streams are highly susceptible to change during high water events.

Take the Wild Trout One Photo Challenge

Anglers wielding cameras have killed more small stream wild trout — intentionally or not — in the last 10 years than in the previous 100. You can blame it on the convenience and portability of digital devices. You can blame it on social media. You can blame it on anglers. Or narcissism. Or all of the above.

Whatever the root cause, I still see far too many images on social media of mishandled wild trout. Fish being held in dry hands. Fish thrashing around in landing nets, airborne, nowhere near the water. Fish photographed laying on grass, twigs, leaves, rocks, and other substrate no wild trout that’s going to be released should ever touch.

Let’s assume for a moment that I’m not talking about you. You’ve visited You know the drill for ensuring more favorable catch and release outcomes. I applaud you. And now, I’d like to ask you a small favor.

Stop taking so many pictures of wild trout.

We all agree: wild trout are beautiful. The delicate parr marks, breathtaking halos, and butter-yellow hues of wild browns. The intricate, Faberge Egg-like designs and vivid colors on wild char. They’re all a wonder, and a marvel to look at. But do we need to see a photo of 2…4….6…and more… wild fish from your most recent small stream outing? The answer, I believe, is no.

So next time you’re on your favorite brook, take the Wild Trout One Photo Challenge: You photograph one fish, and one fish only. That’s it. All the others go quickly back into the stream, and you get bonus points if those non-photo subjects never leave the water. Think of how many wild fish you’re not subjecting to additional stress. It’s a win for you. It’s a win for the next angler. And most of all, it’s a win for the fish. Remember, the stocking truck isn’t coming back to replace what wild fish we kill, accidental or not.

I truly thank you for your consideration.

I don’t know how many wild brookies I landed on this day, but I do know that this was the only one I photographed. 1-2-3-lift-shoot, then back into the water. Less isn’t always more, but it usually is when it comes to small streams and wild trout.

The Responsibilities of Chasing Wild Trout

If you love and value wild fish — especially native fish — you have a responsibility to preserve and protect the resource. Yes, fishing is a blood sport. Yes, no matter how careful we are, some of what we catch may perish. But there are ways to dramatically minimize loss. And there are certainly ways to ensure the next angler has the opportunity to enjoy the stream as much as you.

So, I’m declaring this “Wild Trout/Small Stream Week” on As you know, small stream fishing is an experience that is sacred to me. My goal this week is to educate and inform as much as possible. And this wonderful essay by a Pennsylvania angler named “Fly Tier Mike” is a good place to start. In The Responsibilites of Chasing Wild Trout, Mike outlines four best practices for those who fish for wild trout on small streams: Proper wading techniques (staying off of redds); proper fish handling; minimizing damage while taking photos/videos; and the pitfalls of social media that can lead to over-pressuring a stream.

Anyone who fishes for wild trout should read it, if only as a refresher. Thanks for your consideration.

I was gratified and encouraged to see someone else taking a stand for small streams and wild trout. Way to go, Mike!

An (incomplete) update on Farmington River flows

In case you don’t know, here’s a micro-brief recap: since last summer, the MDC has, for whatever reason, been releasing only the minimum amount of cfs required by law from the Hogback dam. This has resulted in, at times, unnecessary ultra-low flows, transforming the Farmington River from a lush aquatic playground into a pathetic rock garden, and certainly damaging fish and wildlife populations. To my knowledge, no one knows what the MDC’s end game is.

Right now, a group of state senators is crafting legislation that seeks greater transparency from the MDC, albeit in the form of such things as an ethics code and approval on water rates. This doesn’t really help anglers; however, the Connecticut League of Conservation Voters and the Rivers Alliance of Connecticut are also involved. I plan to reach out to those groups and to the biartisan state senator group to voice my concerns. I’ll let you know what, if anything, I find out.

I do know there is going to be a specific forum in the future for concerned parties to express their concerns about the unconscionable way the MDC is treating the river. When I get data’s on that public comment event, you can be sure I’ll post more about it here.

Man, I really need to get out and fish.

The river should look like this. You know, where you can’t see the bottom half of those boulders…

TGIF, or: A little bit of this, a little bit of that

Today is potpourri post day. To start, other paying work has been getting in the way of posting here — and it’s been getting in the way of fishing. That’s just fundamentally wrong, man. Remedies are being planned and schemed as you read this.

So let’s start with fishing. The Farmington River flows are just about perfect at about 300cfs in the PTMA. Two sections of the river were stocked this week, so there’s a whole crew of newbies in the system. My spies tell me that the more experienced anglers are getting into some nice wild and holdover fish, mostly with nymphs. This can be a tough time of year to fish, but with all this warm weather it could be a better than average March.

The book project continues to chug along. I’m talking to a publisher, and am working on some sample chapters for their review. You can be sure I’ll give you updates as they happen.

While my show season is over, I’m still out and about presenting. My next gig is next Wednesday at TU225 in Rhode Island. The topic is the Farmington River.

I’ve also got an upcoming article for Surfcasters Journal on fishing two-handed rods in the salt.

I hope all is well with you, and that you’re getting a chance to fish.

“That is all.”

Soft Hackles at the Yale University Fishing Club

Class was in session last night on the historic Yale University campus. Only instead of pencils and books, there were vises and hooks. And pizza. What would a little Monday night fly tying be without pizza? Anyway, I did two tying sessions with the members of the Yale Fishing Club. We started each one with an abbreviated version of my seminar, “Wet Flies 101.” And then, we hit the vises and tied a simple soft hackle in the traditional North Country Spider format. Some of the members had only rudimentary tying skills, but we made it a no-fail, no-worry zone, and I think everyone had a swell time. I know the instructor did!

The first session was SRO. I’d like to the thank the Yale Fishing Club again for being so enthusiastic and welcoming. Special thanks to their advisor, my friend Sean Callinan, for the invite. This is my second time presenting to the YFC, and I’m already looking forward to the next one.

Getting started on that book project…

I get “When are you going to write a book?” all the time. Trust me, it’s something I’ve asked myself just about every week for the last however many years. It’s not a question to be taken lightly, given the commitment, time suck, and high standards I’d be setting for the finished product. But I’m pleased to say that I am officially getting started.

While I’m not ready to go into specifics, I can tell you that I have decided on a subject. It will be freshwater oriented, and it will be a fly pattern book. Right now I’m in the research and development phase. After that, an outline, a few sample chapters, and the details of publishing. I’m going to do my best to devote a substantial amount of my time for the rest of this month to the project, so that may mean only a couple posts per week on currentseams.

It’s all very exciting, and of course I’ll give you updates with milestones as they happen. Thank you everyone for your continued readership and support!

Here’s another clue for you all…the walrus was not the Pale Watery Wingless variant, AKA the Magic Fly. I apologize for all the mystery. Once I get a bit more organized, I’ll tell you more.