Farmington River Report 6/10/20: Verrry interesting…but not funny

Just when you think you’ve got it all figured out, the game changes. Nature’ll do that to you. Yesterday was a perfect example.

We had a warm, humid day with stable flow conditions. The late afternoon/early evening  sulphur hatch was a shell of its Monday self — I’d give this one a 3/10 at best. Very few caddis, thousands of super small midges, and I saw one lonely Iso. Correspondingly, the wet fly action was slower. I landed only a half dozen trout on wets from 5:15pm-7:30pm, although I did have one hot stretch during a micro flurry where I scored trout on three consecutive casts. (Biggest fish, a hefty rainbow, came on the Magic Fly.) And there was the strange trout behavior: I had two incidences where the trout struck at the wet, but failed to grab it. This rarely happens when I fish the subsurface wet during the sulphur hatch. Certainly the feeding activity just wasn’t at the same level as Monday. Yet, that is.

Sidebar: I was also hampered by the fact that I couldn’t move around freely to prospect some prime feeding lanes. Crowding continues to be an issue on the Farmington. (I plan on addressing this problem in a future post.)

One sulphur pattern remained stable: the 7:00pm-7:30pm doldrum. Things picked up as the hour hand moved north, and around 8:00pm the switch was thrown. This hatch was easily a 9/10, with the air and water surface cluttered with size 16 yellow duns. By now I’d switched to dry fly, but I messed up. The hatch was so intense that the trout were gorging on the bugs with the same ferocity as shoppers racing for the hot new toy at Walmart on Black Friday. Usually, the transaction is a more patient process; the Magic Fly or the Usual serve the angler well when the sulphur emerger or cripple is the food. I missed ten minutes of trout dry fly fantasy camp before I realized they wanted the fly high and dry. Once I switched to Catskills Light Cahills, it was a trout on every cast.

Anglers of a certain age will reflect upon the title with a smile. At the time, I didn’t see the humor in the trout ignoring so many perfect presentations. But since I’m willing to learn, the joke ended up on them.

For years, I’ve been using classic Catskills dries like the Light Cahill with great success. I carry them in sizes 10-18. My SOP is fairly consistent: match the hatch size, then move to increasingly larger as the light begins to fade. This makes it easier for me to track the fly, and as the darkness grows the trout become less concerned with size matching. What’s more, if the menu changes to spinners, Catskills dries continue to be effective. Here’s a great tying tutorial from my friend Tim Flagler.

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Farmington River Report 6/8/20: Our Lady of Blessed Magic Fly, or: spectacular sulphur wet and dry fly action

I fished last night from 5:45pm until 9:15pm, well past when I could no longer see my fly. I started out swinging and dead-drifting wets, sometimes prospecting, but mostly casting to active feeders. I had to work for my fish, but that was OK since some of them were larger wild browns. My rig was a size 12 Squirrel and Ginger top dropper, size 14 Partridge and Light Cahill middle dropper, and Light Cahill winged wet on point. All three patterns took fish. Hatch activity was a 7/10: caddis, sulphurs, Light Cahills, mobs of midges, and a few stray Isos. Around 7pm I switched out the winged Light Cahill for a size 14 Magic Fly after I saw a batch of larger sulphurs hatching. The fish opened their mouths in approval.

You can’t tell from the photo, but this is a high teens wild brown, taken on the Squirrel and Ginger. He was feeding in a narrow slot about a foot deep. The presentation was an oblique angle upstream cast, then dead drift. WHACK! (Editorial: I’m proud to say that on this website there are no photos of trout being thrust into camera lenses, angler arms fully extended. I know my readers are far too intelligent and sophisticated to put up with such shenanigans.)

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All the while, I was vastly outfishing the anglers around me. I mention this not as a brag point, but rather as a teaching point. Properly presented wet flies have been, and will continue to be, the best way to fool trout during the early stages of a sulphur hatch. Every other angler was fishing dry, which can work, provided you’ve got the right pattern and presentation. But when trout are on sulphur emergers, I’ll go with a team of wets every time.

However, there comes a time during every hatch where the trout begin want the topwater fly rather than the subsurface wet. So at 7:30pm I switched to surface presentations, mostly the Magic Fly (dusted with silica powder), a few drifts with creamy-colored The Usual, and finishing off with Catskills Light Cahills. Classic spectacular dry fly action: I took trout after trout until darkness enveloped me. By then I was gloriously alone. Well, not really. Just me, the trout, and about a million bugs.

Life is good with a cane rod on a sunny June evening on the Farmy. I thought it both poetic and proper that my first surface Magic Fly trout this year was a chunky mid-teens wild brown.

Mother Nature has spoken: Light Cahills on the lower Farmington

I have not been to the lower Farmington to bear witness, but I know the Light Cahills are coming off because the first rose in my garden bloomed today. On top, a classic Catskills dry or a creamy Usual; subsurface, a legacy Light Cahill winged wet or a Partridge and Light Cahill soft hackle. All will serve you well.

Every year is different, but nature is always on time. This rose is called “Grenada.”

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Farmington River Report 7/11/18: The heat of the moment

Friends, I’m here to tell you that the Farmington River is cold. Readings of 58 and 54 degrees confirm that, as will Mark, my client — and he’ll also testify that the fishing is incendiary!

So. Mark came to me with the request — like so many of my clients do — to tell him “what I’m doing wrong.” In most of these cases, it’s not so much one grand point of error as it is a bunch of little things that could be improved upon. We started out below the permanent TMA for a little indicator nymphing. Mark took to it nicely, and we stuck a pile of fish on both a size 14 Rainbow Warrior (point) and a size 14 March Brown wingless (dropper).

Off we went upstream for the evening rise, which was that and then some. From 5:00 to 8:30 it seemed like there was always a target to cast to, and often multiple options within a couple rod lengths. We stuck fish on the Magic Fly, the Usual, Catskills Light Cahill, and Sulphur comparadun. The bug activity was mostly tiny BWOs, a few sulphurs, but mostly Dorotheas and perhaps some summer Stenos. The trout were on the emergers as well as duns on the surface. It was an easy night to be a guide. Well done, Mark! You were doing a lot of things right, as your fish count confirms.

Mark landed this nice wild brown on a March Brown wingless. The fish were taking the nymphs in the faster water at the head of the pool.

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The sweet sight of success: bent rod, splashy combatant. (Wide smile on client’s face not visible.) Speaking of visibility, we had varying degrees of fog for most of the evening. It didn’t seem to bother the fish.

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Farmington River Report 6/21/16: Cane and able

Gadzooks! Can it be June 21st and I have not yet fished the Farmington with my beloved cane pole during my beloved Sulphur hatch? Begone, oh evil scheming time-space continuum! Here are some notes:

Fished the upper TMA. Water was 313cfs, clear, and cold. So cold, that I was shivering. Got to remember the fleece next time.

Hatches: Excellent! Sulphurs (16-18), caddis (18), a few small BWOs (18-20) and the ubiquitous midge. When I arrived at 5:00pm, there were sulphur duns on the water and the trout were enjoying them immensely. I find emerger patterns like the Usual and the Magic Fly to be less effective when the trout are eating duns, and that was the case last night. A classic Catskills-style dry worked nicely. By 7pm, the duns were off the water and the trout were on a second sulphur emergence (splashy rises) and spinners or something smaller (gentle porpoising). Small comparaduns and the Magic Fly size 20 worked for me.

A summer evening, a bent rod, and a My Father Le Bijou 1922 box-pressed torpedo. For one shining hour, all is right with the world.

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My tastes in dry fly water vary, but I think what I enjoy the most is technical water that requires tricky mends. You know the kind — nasty cross-currents and variable speeds, and if you get one good, natural drift out of ten casts, you’re doing well. My first dry fly session of the year usually exposes the rust — from presentation to hook set — and last night was no exception. I stuck six fish that I lost moments after the strike. I had another dozen quality rises to my fly that came up empty. Still, I landed enough browns and rainbows to keep me chuckling.

I still don’t understand why people leave the river at 8pm. As I point out in the current issue of American Angler, the last hour of twilight in the summer is when the fish go nuts — and get reckless. The rise activity was steady and solid from 5pm-8:15pm, but in the next hour it went off the charts. And I had 75 yards of prime water all to myself. I like a size 10-12 Light Cahill Catskills dry during this time.

Once I can no longer see the fly, I use the bucket method (look it up) of strike detection. That is, unless my line suddenly comes tight because a mid-teens wild brown slaughtered the fly and is now swimming upstream with fierce conviction. Note the kype, haloed spots, white edges and full adipose.

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Farmington River Mini Report 6/7/15: Let the dry games begin

A quick 90-minute session on the river last night from 7:30-9:00. Walked a riffle-pocketed run swinging wets. A couple bumps, but no firm hook sets. I was a little disappointed by the lack of surface feeding activity — there were plenty of bugs (caddis, midges, light Cahills), but nothing on them. That changed once I moved down to some smoother dry fly-type water. Three anglers were just leaving, so I moved in. I witnessed three different rise forms: the showy slash/splash, the subsurface boil, and the spinner sip. Unfortunately, it was one of those evenings where very few of the fish were showing any consistent feeding pattern. Still, I managed to stick a half-dozen browns ranging from nine to about fifteen inches. They liked the Pale Watery wingless (Magic Fly) size 18 and a size 20 Catskills Light Cahill. There was one good fish feeding (spinner sip) in about a foot of frog water on the edge of a impossible-to-mend-across current seam. I had at him repeatedly over the course of an hour. He did not come to net, but getting him to take was the highlight of the evening.

Time to warm up the cane pole for sulphurs.