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!
I guided repeat client John yesterday and we were blessed with spectacular weather. Water was low (130/160cfs, permanent TMA/Unionville) but very fishable and cool, even down south. John wanted to work on his wet fly game, so we headed up to Riverton to take advantage of the recent stocking. If the DEEP trucks made a recent visit, we saw no evidence of it: we hit three marks in two hours, and waded hundreds of yards of water without a single touch. Other anglers we encountered also reported blanking. Very curious.
Look like a good place for a SOB-ing trout to be hiding out? I certainly thought so. John covering some very sexy water with a team of three.
Thus spanked, we headed down to the permanent TMA for a nymphing lesson. John had never done any nymphing, but he took to it quickly, and before too long was rewarded with a gorgeous Survivor Strain brown. We took one more rainbow, and both fish came on the top dropper, a tiny (sz 18 2x short) SHPT.
Parr marks, haloed spots, clipped adipose and obstreperous behavior once netted clearly IDed this fish as a Survivor Strain brown. Not a bad first Farmington River brown, nor a bad first trout ever on a nymph!
We finished up swinging wets on the lower river and brought a few more fish to hand. Nice job John in some challenging conditions!
This seems like a good time to mention that I am a teaching guide, and if you’re like John — someone who has had some success in fly fishing but wants to expand their skill set — maybe you should consider a few hours on the water with me. I teach anglers of all levels, from beginner to experienced. You can find out more here.
I guided Rand and his son Sam yesterday and the break in the heat didn’t seem to do the fishing — make that catching — any favors. We pounded two confidence-is-high runs with nymphs for three hours and only managed to stick one trout. Bug activity was virtually nil. Then we switched to wets and found only one more fish willing to jump on. We didn’t see another trout caught in four hours on the water. Kudos to Rand and Sam for persevering through a tough bite window. Multiple hookups and tight lines for both of you to come!
Rand swinging his wets over some holding water.
Like father, like son. A pleasure, gentlemen!
I had a 20 minute window on the way home so I jumped into some snotty pocket water about 1-2 feet deep to swing wets. Here, the trout were open for business, and I managed three wild stunners, one on each of the flies, a size 12 Squirrel and Ginger top dropper, a size 14 Drowned Ant, and a size 12 Gray Hackle. So maybe that kind of water and method was the key to yesterday, although it was not an appropriate run for inexperienced waders.
The first wild brown came on the S&G.
My wife says the halos are gold. I’d say the entire fish is worthy of such lucre. Last brown, taken on the Gray Hackle.
After last week’s Nymph-o-Mania! post I received a lot of questions about drop-shot nymphing: how to build a rig, can you use it with an indicator, is it better for a tight line presentation, etc. Let’s start with the rig.
A drop-shot nymph rig with sighter for both indicator or tight line nymphing.
And a PDF of the same diagram: SighterDropShotNymphRig
So: I’ve been drop-shot nymphing for quite some time now. Being the curious sort (and a confirmed autodidact and DIYer) I tend to change things around until I find what works best for me. What you see is my current default trout nymph rig. I’ve been using 6X for the drop shot tag to make it the weakest link in the system. I’m lazy, so I build a sighter into the system whether I’m going to indicator nymph or not. Maxima if the water is high or off-color, 5x if it’s skinny and clear. (Please, use your favorite material to build this rig. It will work whether or not you use Maxima, P-Line, or Stren.)
When to tight line and when to indicator? Chapters in books have been written on this. Here are some of my thoughts in brief.
When to indicator:
- When I want to cover longer stretches of water
- When I want to reach pockets and runs farther than a rod-and-arm’s length
- When I want the nymphs to swirl around in a mixer-like pocket
- In conditions where takes may be subtle/difficult to feel (winter, windy days, just to name two)
- When the wind is blowing upstream
Note: The distance from drop shot to indicator on the leader is about 1.5 times what I estimate the deepest water to be. I use my own home brew yarn indicators almost exclusively. They are light, denser that store-bought kinds, don’t spook fish (it seems that every season I have at least one trout hit my indicator) and I am very dialed in to their nuances.
When to tight line:
- When I’m fishing in close
- When the water is low and clear
- When I feel the indicator is difficult to manage/adversely speeding up the drift
Hope that helps. I’m sure there will be more questions and as always, I am happy to answer them.