Housy Report 8/1/19: Ladies & Gentlemen, start your White Wulffs!

The White Fly hatch is officially on! I experienced a heavy blizzard last night below the TMA beginning at 8:45pm. Up until then, the fishing was slow, with a handful of bass coming to surface (Gurgler and Countermeasure) patterns. Decent size fish in the 10-12″ class. But not a lot in terms of numbers. Water was 78 degrees, 250cfs and less stained than yesterday. Same bite pattern: waning as it got darker. Then the White Flies came.

It starts like this…

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If you’re a White Fly newbie, this is a big (size 8-12) mayfly that hatches as dusk, then forms a dense cloud of mating activity, such that it looks like it’s snowing big, chunky flakes. If you turn your headlamp on, they will inundate you (they don’t taste very good — ask me how I know). It’s a late July/early August hatch, and when it’s going the bass will key on the insect to the exclusion of larger offerings. Wet flies swung pre-hatch and chunky dries like the White Wulff, Usual, and Light Cahill will serve you well. (You’ll want to tie those dries on stout hooks.) If you’re fishing spinners they have very long tails, twice the length of the hook shaft.

The hatch can be fickle and come and go, so jump on it this weekend.

…and before you know it, it’s snowing in August. All I had to do during last night’s hatch was pick a rise ring, make a drift over it, use the bucket method of strike detection, then set the hook. I took many fish on a flat that was only a foot deep. Don’t let those dainty, tiny sipping rise rings fool you — with the exception of one fish, every smallie I connected with at dark was in the double-digits length class.

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Housy Trout & Smallies in the March/April issue of Eastern Fly Fishing

Hot off the presses: “Upper Housatonic River, CT — The Smallmouth River That Thinks It’s A Trout Stream.” You can read it in the March/April issue of Eastern Fly Fishing. You’ll find a little river history, a little reconnoiter, some trout and smallie basics, and a couple of my favorite Housy fly patterns. Oh. It’s also a pretty good read (said the author modestly). I believe you can get a copy at matchthehatch.com.

Where we set out to prove the O.W. Holmes quote, “There’s no tonic like the Housatonic.”

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Housy Smallmouth Report 8/1/18: No snow day

A short outing last night, from 7pm-9pm, below the TMA. Once again, I had the river all to myself — I haven’t seen another angler in the last week! It was pouring when I left the Jeep, but it was over by the time I was on the water. Steamy, tropical, just disgusting air. The river was 440cfs, still a bit over where I’d like it, but I’d rather have this than 100. The fishing was OK — that is, I caught another bazillion fish, only this time there were a few more pipsqueaks in the mix. Sure, there were a bunch in the 10-12″ class, but the big one eluded me on this night. Favorite moment: stripping a TeQueely, bang!, and then both fly (now out of mouth) and bass go aerial.

Mysteries as yet unsolved (but I have my theories): Why such lousy action on wets? (water height, and the fish are feeding deeper than surface/film). Why the lack of visible surface action? (see above). After the previous night’s blizzard, why only a few white flies? (weather, different location, nature of the beast).

On the way home, I called Ken (Abrames) and we had a good chat about smallies, in particular fly patterns. I will be heading to the vise shortly to hammer out some of our ideas.

I call these fish “scrappers.” They’re just short of being forearm burners, but loads of fun and completely unwilling to come to the net quietly. (C&R fans, note the water still dripping from my hands.)

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Housy Smallmouth Report 7/30/18: Zen and the White Fly

There’s an old zen saying I recently made up that goes like this: “The second white fly cannot come until the first.” Well, the first, second, third, and beyond are here. More on that in a minute.

I spent most of yesterday afternoon banging around the river shooting for my upcoming feature in Eastern Fly Fishing. Evening found me ensconced in a pool that proved to be a challenging wade at 600+ cfs. We had some difficulty, but despite a good-near-soaking stumble, we made it through.

So. At this height the bass were more spread out and definitely not as surface happy as they were last week. I did most of my business from 6:00pm-7:45pm on a TeQueely. The Gurgler was largely ignored. Saw my first white fly at 8:00pm, and although they weren’t thick the hatch built up some steam. As usual, the bass moved into the shallows and frog water as it got progressively darker. They were feeding on the surface (which was also littered with sulphur spinners) but they weren’t keyed solely on the insects. I know this because I did boffo box office with a Countermeasure from first cast to take out at 8:55pm.

Lost in all this white fly madness (sure, it’s fun!) is the black caddis. Size 16, and they were out in force. And I think the smallies like them as much as the white flies. Fish a Black Magic top dropper over an August White on point, and see which the bass prefer. Smallmouth always tell the truth.

That’ll put a good bend in the old five-weight.

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Coming soon to a stream near you

Tied for a client, this neat little collection will drive smallmouth bass (and trout) out of their minds. We have the subtle (size 12 August White soft hackles), the traditional (size 12 Black Magics, tied as a 14-16), the horrible (size 4 TeQueelys), and the noisy (Gartside Gurglers, size 2 and 4).

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Housy Smallmouth Report 8/9/17: No big deal

I’m a creature of habit, and that includes fishing. So every once in a while I need to force myself to switch things up, get out of my comfort zone, and try something different. That’s how I found myself last night in what’s probably the most popular pool on the river.

My evening began way above the covered bridge in some snotty rapids. One 6-incher on the TeQueely and done. I moved downriver to reconnoiter some new water. Didn’t like the looks of it, so I headed to my beat for the evening.

I hadn’t fished this run in a few decades. There’s a lot to like about it: substantial riffles that dump into a long pool, good current, ringed by both deep and shallow frog water. It’s fishy as hell.

Alas, it was infested with dinks. Even after it became difficult to see the fly, I was still hauling in pipsqueaks. OK, I was fishing on the wrong side of the river. But I didn’t see many of those telltale big fish bulges. On the positive end, I did boffo pre-hatch business with a Black Magic North Country spider dropper and a white fly soft hackle on point. They loved the flies on the dangle, rod tip raised, with a very slow or hand-twist retrieve. I had a few doubles, but mostly the bass were keyed on one fly or the other. I was intrigued that I would get several bass on the black — consecutively — then 2-3 bass on the white. (You may have heard this before, but droppers are the quickest way to find out what the fish want.)

Finally, you’ll want to know about the white flies. The answer was no. Very weak hatch, maybe a 2 out of 10. This pool is upriver from where I’ve been fishing, so I can’t make an intelligent scientific comparison other than to say it sucked. Black caddis were out again.

Good to meet everyone last night, and thanks as always for sharing the water.

Black Magic was featured in the color plates of Robert Smith’s book The North Country Fly. It works as well on eastern freestone river smallies as it does on English chalk stream browns. Black Pearsall’s silk, peacock herl, black hen.

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Housy Smallmouth Report: White flies on the wane?

I fished from 5:30pm to 9:00pm. The hatch was decent enough, but nowhere near the numbers I saw last Thursday. Here are some of the lessons I’m learning.

Spot A was an area I’ve never fished before, below the 4/7 concrete bridge. A big, gnarly riffle that dumps into deep pool, then an even deeper pool, before transitioning into a placid run. I was disappointed to hook only one bass. I can’t imagine that there aren’t a lot of fish living in that stretch. Spot B was within the TMA. I tossed my TeQueely into some frog water on the edge of a riffle. The bass slammed into the fly the moment it penetrated the surface membrane. Best hit of the year, any species. Always investigate that transition water between current and frog.

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Think a Housy smallmouth might like a white fly soft hackle like this? (Size 10 hook, cream hackle, fibers, and white Pearsall’s.) You betcha. Trout, too. I took a pretty foot-long brown on this fly (no picture — quick landing and release), as well as numerous bass. Fishing a team of wet flies pre-hatch is sound in practice, but it can get problematic with smallies. I was fishing a team of two and had to cut one fly off due to excessive doubles. Same problem with the soft hackle I had dropped off my White Wulff and Convertible dries: too many doubles. I know, life’s tough.

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White flies get all the juice, but let’s not neglect their smaller photo-negative, the black caddis. Swarms of these flies everywhere. I even took a dozen home with me in my Jeep. Going to tie up some Black Magic soft hackles, about a 14-16.

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Last year, the bass would attack a streamer even if they were feeding on something small on the surface, and especially as dusk made its way toward night. Not so this year during the white fly hatch. So maybe smallmouth are more trout-like than I give them credit for. I was targeting one bigger fish that kept rising in some shallows — I got him to bump the streamer, but it was at best a half-hearted attempt. This dude came to net on a White Wulff size 12. 

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