Farmington and Housatonic River Conditions: Got them late summer, low-water blues

Despite yesterday’s storm showers, the northern part of the state is officially in a stage 2 drought. You don’t need me to tell you that — one look at the brown, desiccated patches (formerly known as lawns) in your neighborhood is the signature. Some rain tomorrow from Laura remnants may make a slight dent.

The Farmington remains viable, if a little low. MDC reduced the flow to 125cfs out of the gate. The Still is warm and painfully low, so it isn’t offering any help. At least the water coming out of the dam is still cold! The Hous isn’t much better flow-wise; this week it was in what I call “rock garden mode.” Naturally, not being a tailwater, the water temps are vastly higher than in the Farmington.

Challenging conditions for angler, for sure. I have a few tips to offer.

Pick and choose your time slots wisely. Earlier, later, and dusk/dark are the best times to target. I’ve recently experienced situations where I couldn’t buy a late afternoon strike; at dusk, the same water begins to simmer and it’s a fish on nearly every cast.

Go deep. It’s almost counter-intuitive: the water is low, so the fish must be looking up, right? Sometimes it doesn’t play out that way. If you think you’re uncomfortable in low water, the fish are even more so: stacked into deeper pockets, slots, runs, and pools. Holding on the bottom. And that B-word can be a difference maker. Sometimes a strategically drifted bottom presentation is your best bet.

Fish the hot water. You’ve heard me mention this before. If the water is white, bubbling, roiling, and boiling (think riffles and pocket structure) you should be fishing there.

Old Reliable dry/dropper — big/small. Get a Wiggly, Chernoble ant, hopper, cricket, big Isonychia dry — and drop a small (16-22) soft-hackle or nymph off the hook bend or on a dropper tag. This is a great searching method and a very effective way to cover two parts of the water column.

Catch ’em up!

Loch fishing, Scotland, August 2019. We need a few soakers like this.

Gettin’ Wiggly with it.

I’ve been doing some reading on low water smallmouth and trout tactics — ’tis the season — and I came across a fly family known as wigglies. In case you’re a newbie like me, they’re basically long foam-bodied spiders on steroids. They go by all kinds of names (Ol’ Mr. Wiggly, Mr. Wigglesworth, etc.). They’re not poppers; rather, they’re meant to be strategically cast and drifted. You let the bug sit on the film, and the current (and all those rubber legs!) do the work. If you move the bug, it’s only to move its legs — not the body. Work that one out.

I have to confess that at heart I’m a natural materials purist. But I’m also not above trying new things. And I embrace the concept of there being many, many ways. So while I basically dislike rubber legs, I see the parallel here with soft hackles.

I’m also obsessed with learning. This has been a difficult summer for smallmouth — the painfully low flows aren’t helping — and being able to conduct experiments in a laboratory known as a river is its own kind of wonderful. Yesterday the bass were indifferent to the Wiggly as a searching pattern. At dusk, when I cast to a rise ring, they bull-rushed the fly.

Speaking of experiments: anyone imagining a smaller, black Mr. Wiggly with a piece of yellow sighter material on top and a soft-hackle or nymph dropped behind it? Black cricket season is almost upon us…and the trout are hungry.

Ol’ Mr. Wiggly, size 2 and 4. You need some in your box.

Tip of the Week: Fish the hot water

Hot’s got nothing to do with water temperature. Thankfully, the Farmington is running cool even thought they’ve dropped the level (currently about 170cfs in the Permanent TMA). No, I’m talking about the bubbling, boiling (figuratively), riffly whitewater sections of the Farmington. That water is is oxygenated and loaded with food. It’s also studded with small pockets and micro boulders — places trout like to hang out. If it’s at least a foot deep, it’s fair game, and you might be surprised to discover what’s living there. Swing wets, drift nymphs (no indicator), hopper/dropper — all of those are good choices for covering the hot water. Oh. And hold on. The chance of a big fish is always there.

This is what I’m talking about. The angler is one of my clients from a few years ago. On this day the water was far lower than it is today  — I think the flow was only double digits, and the riffle was barely a foot deep. Normally you’d shoot past it without another look. But on this day we banged up trout after trout. Note the method: tight line nymphing. Indicators aren’t necessary here because of the water depth; plus, you’ll feel the strike or see your sighter lag a bit. That’s when you set hard downstream. Please use the strongest tippet you can, and get those fish in fast.

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