I can’t remember the last cold front that came through that was good for fishing. I can, however, remember plenty of times when it was bad. Like just a few days ago. Still, you take what nature gives you, and you do your best. That’s all anyone can ask. And maybe you still manage to have fun.
Tuesday May 17: I guided Herb today. Herb was dedicated to learning the ancient art of the wet fly — gotta love that — so we headed to a stretch of classic wet fly water. This was the morning after the cold front came through, and predictably, the action was slow. Hatch activity was virtually non-existent; we only saw one fish rise in four hours. It was a breezy, gusty day, and we got soaked by a couple of random rain squalls. We moved to a different location within the Permanent TMA. This was a difference maker as we had a couple bumps and then, hooray!, a hook set. Herb landed a lovely fat rainbow in a soft riffle, and there were smiles all around. Great job, Herb, for sticking with it, and I’m excited for you to swing wets under more favorable conditions.
Wednesday, May 18: Fred and Bud joined me for a late morning/early afternoon lesson within the Permanent TMA. Conditions were much better: still gusty, but sunny, warmer, and the water great height for wet flies (270cfs). Both anglers began with drop-shot nymphing, Fred tight line and Bud with an indicator (use the method in which you have the most confidence). Both of them caught fish. There came a point in the early afternoon when bugs started to pop, so we switched to wets. Because of the wind, I kept both anglers to a two-fly team. I think my favorite part of teaching these gentlemen was watching them improve as each hour passed, and doing it in the lovely stretch of water we had all to ourselves. Sometimes you get lucky. Kudos to Fred and Bud for fishing hard and well!
“Every day is different.” That’s something my clients hear from me a lot. Thursday and Friday this week were the proof. I guided Jon and his grandson Jake; Jon’s an experienced fly angler, Jake not so much, but very eager to learn. It was exciting to have two generations of fly fishers on the water, and have the opportunity to teach them.
Thursday 5/5: warm, sunny conditions, and a reduced flow. Hot-diggety! As we arrived at the first mark, below the Permanent TMA, blocky caddis, size 12-14, filled the air. I liked our chances. Our first lesson was indicator nymphing with a drop shot rig. Jake did a great job figuring it out; in no time at all he was casting and making quality drifts.
We moved upriver into the lower end of the permanent TMA for a wet fly lesson. The Hendrickson hatch was decent enough (5 out of 10) and both Jake and Jon connected with fish. I had them both rigged with a Squirrel and Ginger top dropper and a soft-hackled Hendrickson on point. I’d kept it a two fly rig on purpose, hoping to reduce the chance of tangling disasters; while I highly recommend a three fly team, two flies is certainly better than one. Both gentlemen caught fish on each fly. When the hatch matured and the trout wanted the dry, we switched over and had fun trying to fool them on the surface. The run was crowded, with seven anglers, but we all managed to share the water and keep it positive. Everyone got into trout on this glorious early May Day.
Friday 5/6: This is why I hate cold fronts. We carpet bombed the first mark with nymphs; not a touch. We moved to a second mark and tried wets; nothing doing. This was particularly frustrating because I know that particular run is infested with trout. But: the hatch activity stunk. No caddis. No Hendricksons. Over the course of four hours, a visible rising number I could count on a hand. We saw only one other angler hook a fish. Ugh. Jake and Jon deserved far better for their efforts, as both fished hard and well. All you can do on a day like this is make quality presentations and hope things turn. They didn’t for us, but we left the river with our heads held high. Great job, Jon and Jake, and you were a pleasure to guide.
Yesterday was supposed to be a shooting day for a film and some personal projects, but the wind was most uncooperative, so we bailed. Already on the river and two hours to kill…what’s an angler to do? If you said, “fish,” you are correct! I decided that absent any consistent rises, and with the gusty wind, indicator nymphing would be my best bet for hooking up. I fished three marks and found players in two of them. I was asleep at the switch for one of the hits, and dropped the fish as I fumbled and bumbled the late hook set. But I did connect with evidence that even in harsh, trout-stressy warm water, nature finds a way. Believe it or not, this was my first outing on the Farmington since June.
To be fair, it was only a few hours — I fished from noon to 3pm — but the going was glacially slow. I hit four favorite nymphing marks below (450cfs) and within the TMA (390cfs), and I found a trout willing to jump on in only one of them. I used a combination of tight line and indicator nymphing methods, and I even switched out my point fly and dropper — none of it seemed to make any difference. The angler traffic continues, with nine other folks sharing the water with me during my travels. Mine was the only fish I saw hooked all day, which is not to brag, but rather to illustrate how slow the fishing was. I stopped at UpCountry on the way home to do some shopping, and Torrey Collins said that nymphing has been slow for him lately, too. So it goes.
The day wasn’t a total loss. I scored this beautiful, webby dark dun hen cape at UpCountry. Just what I need for my next batch of Dark Hendrickson winged wets.
A lot of anglers leave the river after a nymphing session wondering why they dropped so many fish. It’s the hook set, baby! This is such a simple principle. Adhering to it will result in a noticeable increase in your catch rate. Check out this diagram:
A proper nymphing hook set goes downstream, into the mouth and the mass of the fish.
If you accept the proposition — and I feel strongly about this — that most fish are won and lost at hook set — a good set is critical to nymphing success. Picture your fly moving downstream, a few inches off the bottom. The trout is facing upstream, sees the nymph, and decides to eat. You detect the strike (look for a reason to set the hook on every drift) and set the hook. Don’t set upstream. Doing so essentially takes the fly away from a fish that has said “yes” to your offering. Instead, drive the hook point home into the fish’s mouth — downstream — using the mass of the fish against itself. What if you’re indicator nymphing and your drift has the fly 30 feet below you? On the take, sweep set off to one side.
Do this every time and you’ll be netting a lot more fish. And of course, you’re constantly checking your hook points to make sure they’re sticky sharp…right?
I did a series of lightning raids on three spots yesterday within the permanent TMA. (I only had 90 minutes to fish.) The method was nymphing, both indicator and tight line. I found one fish that wanted to jump on. The other two marks were blanks. Even in these low, slow conditions there were anglers everywhere. Usually this time of year, on a weekday, I might see three or four angler cars during my travels. I saw three or four cars in several dirt pulloffs, and multiple solo vehicles. Fishing the Hous the last couple months has clearly spoiled me, as I’ve become accustomed to sharing the water with herons only.
Good news is that the water was nice and cool and there were bugs about. Even with all those other anglers, this was the only trout I saw hooked all day. Lovely halos. She took the Frenchie Nymph variant. Leaves were an issue, and will continue to be with this early foliage drop.
I worked with Bill yesterday on his indicator nymphing and wet fly skills. Water conditions were perfect in the Permanent TMA: 325cfs, cold, clear. The trout and bugs were a wee bit more uncooperative. Hatches (sulphurs, caddis, olives) were spotty and the feeding was inconsistent at best. We fished two marks and saw four trout hooked all day, and since we had two of them, we declared victory. On the plus side, Bill landed his PB non-lake-run brown. He nailed it at high noon (we fished from 10am-2pm) while nymphing. I was observing from upstream, and when he set the hook it sure looked like a fish to me. Bill thought he was stuck on the bottom — that happens sometimes with larger Farmy trout — and then, gloriously, the bottom fought back. Sadly, Bill snapped his rod during the battle, but the fish was landed, much to his delight. To say nothing of mine!
Bill’s new personal best, a gorgeous high teens wild brown. Love those halos. He took the took dropper in our nymph rig, a size 18 soft-hackled pheasant tail. Since that hook was a 2x short, it’s effectively a size 22 fly. Do not underestimate the power of tiny soft hackles this time of year. I almost always make my top dropper on my drop-shot nymph rig a soft hackle. Congratulations, Bill!
Yesterday’s expedition was dedicated to nymphing the lower River. The action was spotty to say the least: six marks visited, three of them total blanks. But…we’ll get to that in a moment.
First, be advised that Monday is the new Saturday on the Farmington. I’ve never seen the river this crowded on a Monday this early in the season. There were anglers in four of the six pools I hit, sometimes three or more. If you value solitude, gird your loins.
The method was drop shot nymphing, about 25% tight line and 75% indicator. I fished a size 18 soft-hackled pheasant tail on top dropper, and a Frenchie variant on point. I took trout on both flies.
It’s semi-sweet to say that you may have already landed your biggest trout of the season, but it is what is. I was nymphing a deeper run when the indicator dipped and I set the hook. The emotional and logical thought protocols immediately kicked into gear: “Is that the bottom? No, it is not, I can feel a head shake. Let me re-set the hook. OK, that’s a decent fish. Wow, that’s a strong fish. Shoot, he’s sulking on the bottom. Gotta keep him away from that submerged boulder. Gotta move him. I’ll do that steelhead side-to-side rod arc thing. Gotta get him out of the current so he can’t breathe. That frog water looks like a good LZ.”
And then, as you get your first visual, you wish for a bigger net. But you’ve whipped the fish fast (remembering the sage advice of Stu Apte: “To play him long is to play him wrong.”) and now the moment of glory is at hand. Swing and a miss. Again…yessir. Wow!
Hunk-a hunk-a burning Survivor Strain love. Wotta tummy! Wotta tail! And shoulders that simply aren’t done justice by this photo. Easily over 20″, but this is a fish that should be measured in pounds.
A trout like that called for a celebration. So I fired up a Rocky Patel The Edge torpedo and did just that.
I guided Drew today, and to celebrate Guy Fawkes’ Day we started off with a bang: two trout on two casts! Drew is new to the Farmington and relatively new to trout fishing, so given the time of year and conditions (cold, 310cfs) our task was to cover some water and work on the nymphing game. The specific method was indicator nymphing, drop shot rig, and we went with a sz 14 Frenchie Variant and a sz 18 SHPT. The trout liked both, the Frenchie being the favorite.
First cast, the indicator merely twitched. Look for a reason to set the hook on every drift!
Second cast. At this point it was proposed that we quit and go get coffee and doughnuts. The motion failed.
Angler traffic was light, and we did not see any other fish hooked today. (Thanks to the one gentleman who offered to share the water!) We hit four marks and found fish in two of them. Four trout to net, a few more lost at hookset, and we called it a very good day. Nice job, Drew!