Farmington River Report 4/29/22: Hendricksons, spectacular wet fly action, mystery bug ID

I fished the lower end of the Permanent TMA yesterday afternoon and we had much better flows (under 400cfs) for swinging wet flies. So much, in fact, that after a while I replaced my tungsten bead head soft hackles with non-weighted bugs, the better to target all the slashing risers. Atmospheric conditions were as they have been: chilly, windy, and uncomfortable.

I arrived late, about 1:30pm, and as I approached the mark, I recognized the faces of the two anglers who had beaten me to it. It was Bob and Andy. I’d seen them here last year, introduced myself, and we shared the water. These guys are very giving, and a pleasure to fish next to. I’d like to thank them again for being so matey and kind.

Right away, I was into fish. I’d made the comment earlier to Torrey Collins at UpCountry that if you hit this hatch right, fishing with wets is almost unfair. I took them on the swing. I took them on the Leisenring Lift. I took them dead drifted deep on a short line. Active feeders almost always hit on the first cast. I even managed my first double of the year.

Then, the bugs came. Lots and lots of Hendricksons. I’d give this hatch an 8 out of 10. The point where the trout would no longer take the wet came at 2:45pm. Once I figured out what they wanted — it wasn’t, to my surprise, The Usual, with which I usually do boffo box office — I managed a bunch on the surface. (The winning fly was a Comparadun.) Dry fly was very much a challenge in the fierce gusts. But it’s supposed to moderate, so tight lines to those brave souls venturing out this weekend. I expect the hatch to continue to ramp up and move upriver. Enjoy!

‘Nuff said.

To this week’s mystery bug. I appreciate everyone’s input and guesses. My first thought when I observed them was some kind of early BWO. They were clearly too small for Hendricksons. After I captured a couple specimens, I was able to see that they all had only two tails. I ended up going to two people who have a far deeper technical knowledge of these things than I, and they both independently identified the creature as a Baetis. That’s good enough for me! (In case you’re wondering, my panel of experts consisted of Torrey Collins and Derrick Kirkpatrick. Those guys have forgotten more about Farmington River hatches than I currently know.)

Farmington River Report 4/27/22: I can’t wait for April to get here

Another unseasonably cold, windy afternoon on the river. I decided to check out the lower section below Collinsville, mostly out of Hendrickson curiosity. The water was higher than I’d like for wet fly (755cfs is still chugging; sub-500 would be best) but you don’t know if you don’t go. I began in a faster, snottier boulder-studded section; not surprisingly, it was a wet fly blank. I didn’t nymph it, which might have produced a different result.

Bug activity was, at first, minimal. Ubiquitous midges, then a mystery mayfly (see below), and then a few precious H-words. The mystery mayfly far outnumbered the Hendricksons, probably 10:1 or so. When the sun peeked out, the hatch ramped up. And when the clouds took over, the hatch stopped in its tracks. I managed a good half dozen trout on wets — this was in slower moving water — catching them blind and also by targeting active feeders. While few and far between, the active feeders all pounced on a well-placed wet fly. I fished the same team as Monday, a Squirrel and Ginger on top, followed by two tungsten beadhead Hendrickson soft hackles. I had an accident trying to land a trout by hand, and lost the middle dropper; when I re-tied, I exchanged the point fly for a tungsten SHBHPT.

I wasn’t satisfied with the surface activity, so I did a bit of nymphing. Normally I would use a traditional drop shot nymph rig, but this time I kept the three fly team and added a drop shot section to the point fly and one of my home-brew year indicators to the tapered butt. It worked just fine, and some of the takes were highly aggressive, almost bordering on frantic. After 2 1/2 hours, I’d had enough. I tried for one more trout on a swung wet, and, once successful, headed for the warmth of the car.

The mystery bug, about a size 14-16. Some kind of olive? Quill-something? Whatever it is, it far outnumbered Hendricksons. I don’t stress when I can’t ID a bug; if you try to match the general size, color, and profile with a wet fly or nymph, you’ll tend to do well. This is why it’s a smart idea to carry soft hackled Pheasant Tails in various sizes, beaded and unbeaded. That pattern looks like a lot of things in general, and almost always like something that’s alive and good to eat.

Farmington River Report 4/25/22: The first wet fly outing of the year

Hoping for Hendricksons, I was on the water before noon. I chose a mark near the bottom of the Permanent TMA. Although ’tis the season, the weather has been most unseasonable; the flows higher (627cfs) and colder than I prefer; and the Hendrickson hatch non-existent. Still, there were mucho midges — signs of life — and there were trout.

I’d decided on a three-fly team of a Squirrel & Ginger on top dropper, with black tungsten beadhead Hendrickson soft-hackles in the middle and on point. The plan was to cast slightly upstream or across, and mend like crazy to help sink the rig before coming tight on the dangle. That worked well enough, although a proper hatch and active feeders (I saw only two rises during the session) would have made the catching easier. The highlight of the outing for me were the two trout I fooled using the Leisenring Lift. I don’t often use that presentation, but there are times when it is lethal. It’s an arrow any serious wet fly angler should have in their quiver.

On a whim, I drove a good ways downstream, below Collinsville, to see if there were any H-Bombs flying around. Negative. I took a couple what-the-heck-I’m-here casts, but at over 1,000cfs it’s a most decidedly wet fly-unfriendly flow. It’s supposed to remain cold this week, so we’ll see how the hatch unfolds.

A hefty 16″ buck that crushed the fly, a beadhead Hendrickson soft hackle, on the Leisenring Lift. He provided fantastic sport in the over 600cfs flows.

Farmington River Report 5/4/21: North, Miss Teschmacher

I guided Andrew and Brett yesterday and they wanted to focus on wet flies. Monday’s rain was more than I expected, and I didn’t like the height or the color of the Permanent TMA. So we headed north to the friendly confines of WBATSR (West Branch Above The Still River. I just made that up.) This was a good call as the water was running a crystal clear and very wadeable 200cfs. I really liked that height, and I thought there were dozens, if not hundreds of pockets and seams and slots and riffles that would hold trout. Sadly, the trout didn’t get the memo, and we had a very slow day. (We didn’t see any angler other than our group hook and land a fish.) It was the kind of day where I find the next great piece of water, and think to myself, “this is going to be it,” and then nothing happens. These episodes make me throw up my hands and say, “I quit.” Of course, I don’t really mean it, and of course we don’t quit, but I get frustrated just like everyone else.

Andrew had fished with me before, and on that day we had far more active fish than today. Brett is a relative newcomer to fly fishing, and once we smoothed out a few wrinkles he was swinging like a pro. I alternated between both anglers, and we worked downstream, covering several hundred yards of water. Bug activity was very light, with two confirmed Hendricksons and a handful of BWOs, but that was it. As you can imagine, angler traffic was heavy, especially with that section of river the only clear water game in town. With today’s rain and increased flows, I would guess that streamers and nymphing will be, by far, the most productive methods for a few days.

Andrew doing battle with a chunky rainbow. He scored two trout, both on the bead head soft hackle I had tied on in the point position. In my experience, wet fly can be challenging in high flows, so I’d wait for the water to get down to 500 or less before swinging. Great job, Brett and Andrew, for persevering though some tough fishing conditions!

The best soft hackles and wet flies for fishing the Hendrickson hatch

“What are the best soft hackles (or wet flies) for fishing the Hendrickson hatch?” is one of those questions I get a lot this time of year. As always, the best flies are the ones in which you have the most confidence. I should also make this clarification: technically, with Hendricksons you’re fishing wet flies under the hatch. On the Farmington River, prime time for swinging Hendrickson wets is generally in the 11 am-to-3 pm window. Every day is different. Once you see duns on the water, and trout snapping at them, the wet fly game is all but over. But if you want to catch more trout, you should be swinging wets in this pre-hatch time frame. (Of course, you’re fishing a team of three wets. Here’s how to build a wet fly leader.) And so, in no particular order, these are some of my favorite Hendrickson wet fly and soft-hackled patterns.

Bead Head Soft-Hackled Dark Hendrickson
Dark Hendrickson winged wet
Hendrickson Spiders. Size 12, wet or dry fly hook, gray or rusty brown thread, tail material of your choice, a dusting of muskrat fur or dubbing, then brown partridge or dark dun hen hackle.
Bead Head Soft-Hackled Pheasant Tail
Old Blue Dun
Squirrel and Ginger. Yeah, I know. Not a Hendrickson pattern. But on the Farmington, we often get a strong caddis hatch around Hendrickson time. If you place this as your top dropper, you’ll be covered if the trout are selectively feeding on the caddis.

Farmington River Report 4/27/21: trading numbers for size

Monday’s Hendrickson hatch in the lower end of the Permanent TMA was a solid 8 out of 10. (The pre-hatch bite was slow, and the duration of the duns-on-the-surface feeding frenzy was brief, otherwise I would have graded it higher.) So I headed back yesterday to see what secrets the river would reveal. Crowds continue to be a factor; if you’re looking for solitude within the Permanent TMA, you will be disappointed. I chatted up my new buddies from yesterday, Andy and Bob, who were likewise back for more, and when some water opened up — people do leave — I jumped on it. Conditions were as nice as you could hope for, with a clear flow of 275cfs and hazy sun and far less wind than Monday.

The section I fished was perfect wet fly water: moving at a brisk pace, mottled, multiple current seams. Wet fly continues to be a highly productive method for fishing under the Hendrickson hatch, especially when it appears as though nothing is going on. While many other anglers are lounging on the river bank, or standing mid-stream like statues, I am working the water with a team of three wet flies. Wet fly anglers will always discover that something is afoot subsurface before dry fly anglers, and that was proved again yesterday. Around 1pm, I had an intense flurry of activity for 15 minutes, including hits on four consecutive casts. Then the action slowed.

This 16″ Survivor Strain brown crushed my BH Hendrickson soft-hackle on the mended swing. In heavier current, trout will set the hook if you let them; you feel the hit, wait, and ask “Are you still there?” The answer will always be yes.

Then, just like that, it was over. I added a shot above my middle dropper to see if I could tight line nymph up some trout, but they weren’t having it. (This is something I teach my clients: when you walk into a pool, you simply don’t know what’s been happening. The trout may have had the feed bags on for the previous hour, and now they’re simply just done.) So I got out of the river to warm up a bit. With the pool rested and my legs a little less frozen, I waded back in around 2pm.

Since I was hoping to find the fish that were already looking up, I switched out the bead head on point for a fly I’d never fished before. It was the Old Blue Dun, one of Leisenring’s favorite twelve. I’d always thought it would make a fine Hendrickson, and since to this point I’d seen more olives in the air than Hendricksons, it seemed like a proper why not? moment. It was a good decision, as a rugby ball-shaped survivor strain brown hammered the fly on the dangle.

With superabundance of meat on his flanks, this 16″ Survivor Strain brown gave me a challenging battle in the swift, cool waters of the Farmington River.

On Monday, the Hendrickson duns were on the surface thick by 3pm. That was not the case yesterday; we probably had about two-thirds less mayflies. Still, I brought several trout to net on Hendrickson Usuals and Comparaduns, two patterns I like in choppy water as they provide a good profile when viewed from below. I had to be off the water by 3:30, so reluctantly, I pulled myself away from pleasure and headed off toward responsibility.

Farmington River Mini-Report 4/21/21: First wet fly fish of the year

I only had 90 minutes to fish, so I chose the lower Farmington because it was closer to my house, and also to where I needed to be at 2pm. Plus, there was that front bearing down on us. Didn’t want to get stuck in that mess, especially after witnessing a foreboding fork of lightning slicing through the sky. After waiting for the dark clouds to disperse, I was on the water a little before noon. The plan was to swing wets and see if there was any Hendrickson action. Conditions weren’t great — 600cfs is a little high on the Farmington for wet fly, so I used a tungsten bead head Pheasant Tail soft hackle on point to sink things a bit. Still, the water I fished was fast and heavy, and if I was interested in numbers, nymphing would have been the way to go. I had a half dozen whacks in the fast water, with no hook sets, before I connected in a deeper slot. The wind was also a factor — forget roll casting for any distance — and I had to be vigilant to keep the rig from tangling. But by the end of the outing, I had three trout to hand, two on the BHSHPT and another, the biggest, on the top dropper, a Squirrel and Ginger. A My Father Le Bijou 1922 Gran Robusto proved to be a fine companion. Speaking of fronts, I can’t believe how much the temperature has dropped.

It always feels good to land the first wet fly trout of the year, even if it is a stocker rainbow. This one treated me to two aerials. The last two were fatter, and took a bit of forceful coaxing to come to net. I didn’t see any Hendricksons or caddis, but then again I only fished until 1:30pm. My wet fly box desperately needs a restocking!

Farmington River Report 5/2/18: Cold, slow, crowded and beautiful

Believe it or not, before yesterday I had not fished the Farmington since January. I had 15 minutes before I had to head north for my gig with Jeff, so I shook off the rust with a fat rainbow in some prime water below the permanent TMA.

Jeff wanted to work on his subsurface skills, particularly nymphing. We met up at a favorite spot of his and I looped on the same drop-shot rig I had used earlier. Wowee, crowded everywhere — we were one cog in a wheel of a half-dozen anglers on this stretch. And cold! My thermometer wouldn’t budge above 43 degrees. Hatch activity was decent (mostly caddis) but there was very little in the way of surface activity, not surprising given the water’s height and temperature. We done good, though — we saw three fish landed, and two belonged to Jeff. We tried some wet fly, but found no love, before moving downstream to another favorite run. Two anglers from Maryland were happy to share the water (thanks for the positive energy, guys!), but they likewise reported very slow action (only two fish all day for them). And yes, we did see a couple of the H fly.

Great job by Jeff, who is turning into a dangerous subsurface machine.

What a gorgeous wild brown — haloed spots, kype starting to form, full, unmolested fins, intact adipose. All our fish today came on the top fly in the nymph rig, a black bead head Hare & Copper, size 14.

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After catching such a beauty, is there anything more satisfying than releasing it?

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Two more spaces are open for the class I’m leading on Saturday, May 5. From the UpCountry website: There are two spots still available in “Fishing Wet Flies & Soft-Hackles” class this Saturday 5/5 – Steve Culton will be teaching this one, – call the store at 860-379-1952 to sign up.

 

Farmington River Report 5/6/16: Hendricksons (and then some)

Sometimes I have no idea what I’m talking about.

Exhibit A: As we waded into the Farmington at 2pm, I remarked to my client Paul, “We’re going to out fish those guys four-to-one.” Some splashy rises had me convinced we were going to clean up with wet flies in this snotty run. The two anglers below us were casting dries in a more moderate flow. Cue game show wrong buzzer sfx. They got one, we got one.

Exhibit B: On Wednesday, I said to Paul, “The Hendricksons are pretty much finished here,” “here” being near the bottom of the permanent TMA. Yesterday, we were fishing well downriver, and the splashy rises were due to an outstanding Hendrickson emergence. The water surface soon became littered with Hendrickson duns. How strong was the hatch? It was raining steadily, and the flies were still easy to pick out on a mottled surface flecked with raindrops. The problem was there was nothing feasting on these easy meals. Paul persevered, and induced a rainbow to eat the middle dropper, a gray/brownish wingless wet.

We decided to head upstream. This is where it got good. The hike to our spot took us past some glassy water where a large pod of trout were picking off Hendrickson duns at will.  We gave them a brief sniff of the wets — nothing. Then I suggested that we clip off the subsurface patterns in favor of a dry. The Usual size 12 was the fly, and the trout loved it. (Apparently, sometimes I do know what I’m talking about.) All you had to do was drift it over a feeder, and BANG! Game on. It was one of the better Hendrickson hatches I’ve experienced on this river. I know Paul had fun.

We went back to the wets for the last hour and managed a couple more trout. A very productive four hours, in terms of both catching and learning. Paul is well on his way.

Water was 275cfs, 49 degrees and clear. Air was 60, clouds and rain. The fishing was quite a bit hotter.

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This isn’t the best underwater shot I’ve taken, but I do like the reflection of the spots on the surface film. Since I know where you live, see you sometime this summer.

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Farmington River Report 4/19/16: “I suck at nymphing.”

That’s how my client David summed up his subsurface skills on the phone.

It may have been true a few days ago. But not today. No sir.  Today, friends, David was a steely-eyed nymphing missile man. He put a hurting on the trout with a yarn indicator, a single BB shot, some Pheasant Tails, and a fierce resolve to overcome that northern banshee we call wind. I don’t usually count fish, but we surpassed the dozen mark today. Way to go, David!

It must be the height of Hendrickson madness if the UpCountry lot is full at 8:45am on a Tuesday. We fished two spots outside the permanent TMA, and did well in both locations. (You know it’s going to be a good day when you hook a fish on your first demo cast.)  We fished a drop-shot rig under one of my home-brew yarn indicators; the top dropper was a size 16 soft-hackled Pheasant Tail, and our point fly was a size 12 BHSHPT or an Eagan’s Frenchie (thanks, Pete!) We took fish on all three flies.

Wind was a constant challenge, but I think we’ll take unfavorable conditions if a good bite is part of the package. Hatches were meh. There was a micro burst of Hendricksons shortly before 3pm, but it was over in a matter of minutes. David capped off his day by swinging a team of wets and hooking his first trout on that setup.

Yup. Today did not suck.

A portrait of a dangerous nymphing machine.

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