Farmington River Report 6/21/17: A strange start to summer

The official start of summer isn’t beholden to calendars or warmth or maximum daylight. For me, it begins with liberating my cane rod from the confines of its storage tube and tying a Magic Fly to the end of a 12-foot leader. That this all happened on the 21st of June was a happy coincidence.

Monday’s storm left a swath of destruction in the People’s Forest area. Downed trees and limbs everywhere. The river soared a few hundred cfs, and Grady Allen told me the action Tuesday night was not so good. When I drove through New Hartford yesterday, the roads were wet and steaming from a late afternoon squall. Random piles of hailstones in the woods made me glad that I missed it. The river was down to 450cfs, but still carried a stain and some debris.

Not a lot in the way of catching for me, but I did get a low teens wild brown to hand on a size 18 Usual. I also rose fish to the Magic Fly size 18, Catskill Light Cahill size 14 and 16, and size 10 Convertible (look it up).

To the strangeness. Nothing so odd about the hatches proper: Sulphurs came off like clockwork and 5:30 and 7:30, first the bigger size 16 mayflies, the size 18s following, with the usual 6:45-7:00 lull. A few caddis and Isos here and there. The hatch strength was average. Normally this time of year, the Farmington lights up from 8pm to dark. Last night it was a dimpled surface wasteland. No spinner fall, no straggler hatch, no water boiling with feeding trout. How bad was it? I counted seven total rises during the witching hour (I might expect to see that many in 30 seconds on a good night).

I finished the evening by tossing a size 4 Olive Zoo Cougar into the gloaming. A few bumps and one stuck fish, but that’s not a fly made for cane.

Welcome, summer, even if your entrance was a little oddball.

And the heavens parted and a light shone from above, and a voice seemed to say. “Cast thy flies to the bank, Steve, where the current is softer and many trout are lying in wait.”

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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 Report 7/12/15: Nice. I think.

M*A*S*H’s Frank Burns once said, “It’s nice to be nice to the nice.” He’s right. I met some nice people on and off the river last night. Some of them shared water, conversation and positive energy. Some of the fish, though, weren’t particularly nice to me. Nor were my leader and tippet, which insisted on repeatedly wrapping around my rod. Oh. My casting also sucked (I’d rate it somewhere between incompetent and atrocious). A fatalist might offer that the nicest thing about last night was that it proved that every day is different. But to quote George Formby, it turned out nice again.

I fished dries (or wets as dries) from 6:00pm to 9:00pm. The hatches were about a five on the Bug-o-Meter scale: small olives, summer stenos, sulphurs, creamy midges. No caddis that I could see. Sadly, all the consistent risers were either above me or below me for the first 90 minutes. I raised fish on a size 22 BWO parachute, size 20 Magic Fly, and a size 18 Usual. But no hook sets. Surprisingly, I saw some refusals to the Magic Fly. I think a sparse tie on a size 22 hook is in order. I’ll let you know how that plays out.

Jeff, who was kind enough to share the water, was fishing above me and took two trout in the first 90 minutes. By 8:00pm the trout got a little more hungry, and fed until dark.  I switched over to classic Catskills Light Cahils, size 18-12 (I increase the size as dusk deepens) and started hooking trout.

First customer of the evening, a small vessel of a wild brown. Caught him in a — you guessed it — current seam.

And so we ended game one of the twi-night doubleheader. I re-rigged for streamers and tried to warm up (wow, the water is cold for this time of year!) before heading back into the foggy void. Two anglers in the lot said they had done well in the last hour on sulphur spinners. When I got back into the water all signs of feeding (from what I could see) had ended.

I started with a Sex Dungeon (behave, now) which is a dumbbell-eyed, deer-hair headed articulated monstrosity (I use the M-word in a most positive manner). I blanked on it in Run A and Deep Pool B. For Run C, I started with something a little more casting friendly, a horrible black marabou leech mutation of my own doing. No. When I got to some flatter water, I tied on a Zoo Cougar, another one of Kelly Galloup’s patterns (the Sex Dungeon is his). The Zoo Cougar is meant to be fished on a sinking line, but I liked the idea of something quasi-mousy-sculpiny. And what’s there not to like about a commotion near the surface in the near absence of light? Precious little. In a thirty yard stretch of water, I connected with three trout. All of them first whacked the prey to stun it. Two came back for the coup de grace. One, I had a lousy hook set, and since it didn’t feel particularly big, I wasn’t upset when we parted ways. The other was a rather nice way to end the night.

Not super big at sixteen inches, but this wild brown buck (note full fins and intact adipose) gave me a worthy battle as the clock neared the witching hour.

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Farmington River Report 7/9/15: That’ll put a bend in the old cane

It may seem foolish to drive 90 minutes to fish for 90 minutes, but I have no issues when it comes to irrational behavior in the name of fishing. On the water at 7:30pm (many thanks to the angler from Massachusetts for sharing the run) and was greeted by some sporadic splashy rises. The hatch activity was off-the-charts strong, with vast numbers of sulphurs (16-18), summer stenos (18-20), BWOs (18-20) and midges. Unfortunately, the rises were inconsistent and not as plentiful as I would have liked for that level of bug activity. Still, you get what you get and you don’t get upset.

I was fishing the traditional cane rod in some untraditional dry fly water — this was more of a wet fly run, current moving at a good walking pace and with a very mottled surface. I had swings and misses on a size 18 creamy Usual, a size 20 BWO parachute, and two Magic Flies (18 and 20). Nothing on the big guns (Isonychia). The angler below report similar swings and misses.

Air was dense, overcast, with a sprinkle here and there. The hatch ended around 8:15, and the surface activity wound downward.

One small fish had vexed me for the better part of an hour. He’d come up gently. Then disappear. Then resume feeding. Then stop. Couldn’t get a sniff from him, and the little ones are usually easier to fool. At 8:30, for no reason other than visibility in the rapidly advancing darkness, I tied on a size 20 sulphur comparadun. On the second cast, ker-pow! Good hook set. Felt great to finally be on. But why won’t this fish come to net? The current is strong, but this is ridiculous for a fish that size. Unless it’s not a fish that size. Turns out it was hulking brute of a Survivor Strain brown in the high teens length, hooked neatly in the corner of the mouth.

The photo does not do the fish justice, but my hands were shaking and Fred here wouldn’t stay still. Wild and Survivor Strain browns are a different animal on the Farmington — cantankerous comes to mind. What a bend he put in the cane rod, and I was happy to have 5x on so I could get Medieval on him when I needed to. My best guess is that’s a dark green elastomer, making this a four year-old fish that was planted as a yearling in 2012.

Farmington River Report 6/19/15: Fishing with Batman

Those of you old enough to remember the classic 1960s series on prime time — or young enough to know it through syndication —  are familiar with the show’s schlocky fight sequences, complete with comic-book graphics: BAM! POW! OOOFF! Hold that thought for a moment, please.

I got to the river at 6pm last night, and I quickly learned two things. One, one of my favorite wet fly runs that might produce one or two fish in the daytime is infested with feeding trout in the evening. And two, I can enjoy it in glorious solitude. Save for the cedar waxwings.

To the hatch: sulphurs (16-18), caddis (16-18), Isonychia (10-12), and BWOs (18). Midges, of course. Then a tremendous sulphur spinner fall at dark. Feeding came in waves; seemingly long periods of nothing followed by five minutes of boiling water. Every fish I took was an active feeder.

Back to Batman. Remember my last report of fish rising to my flies and coming away with nothing? Not last night. These were some of the most aggressive rises I’ve seen in a while. Acts of pure hostility that kept me delighted beyond measure.  Many of the trout were fat, mid-teens rainbows. One was the smallest wild brown I’ve caught on the Farmington. Another was its polar opposite. This guy absolutely murdered my size 16 Magic Fly. One tremendous leap, then the fish tore downstream like he was late for a job interview. My cane rod is outfitted with a click-and-pawl reel — there’s no rim to palm — so the only drag is my fingers on the line. I applied pressure at the end of his second run, then (to borrow from Batman) PLOINK! Popped the tippet. Now, 6x Frog Hair paired with the forgiveness of cane should be able to handle most Farmington trout. I have no doubt that the loss was a result of compromised material — or the misfortune of nylon wrapped around fin. I fantasized about re-catching him and getting my fly back, but I knew that would be an unrealized dream.

A closer look at this bruiser’s mouth reveals that this isn’t his debut with a hook.

Fat Rainbow Dry

What the Isonychia hatch lacked in numbers, it made up for with gorging trout. It was very much like a good Hendrickson hatch, with dozens of reckless fish lacerating the surface with showy takes.

Between 8pm and about quarter past, the pool was strangely quiet. I had just made the decision to move to another spot downstream when the spinner fall commenced. I moved into some water with a smoother surface, and had at a multitude  that were still taking emergers and gently sipping. I stuck my last brown at 9:15pm, when I could no longer see the fly.

All I could say was, WOW!

Excuse me sir, but is that a Pale Watery wingless wet in your mouth?

Magic Fly Rainbow

Notes: Flies I caught trout on: size 16 Pale Watery wingless wet, size 16 creamy Usual, size 12 grey Usual, size 10 Isonychia Comparadun, size 18 and size 12 Light Cahill Catskills dry.

Jefferson, a former wet fly student, made this report from the permanent C&R section: I had an excellent evening. I was fishing wet blue wing olives, size 12 and size 16. Everyone else thought the fish were hitting sulphur spinners (cus it was evening and it was sulphur season, perhaps?) One of the beauties of fishing wet right at dark is that one doesn’t have to obsessively try to see the  fly on the darkening water. All you have to do is watch the line and have a general idea of where the fly is.

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.

Farmington River Report 5/23/15: The Light Cahills are here.

On Saturday my son had a soccer tournament in Avon, and I had a two hour fishing window between the afternoon and evening games. So I hightailed it to the lower river for a highly productive and entertaining two hours of fishing between 4:30 and 6:30. Caddis were out (mostly smaller, size 16). But the real story was my first sighting of Light Cahills. (Call them what you will — Vitreous, PEDs, whatever — if they are creamy-colored size 12 mayflies that hatch in the late afternoon in May, I go with Light Cahills.) it was a proper hatch — I’d rate it a 7 on a 1-10 scale — and there were plenty of trout having at them, slashing and splashing and making a general spectacle with their showy takes.

The wet fly is a fine default method for covering water when there’s nothing much happening. But when a hatch is underway and the trout are actively feeding, it can be highly productive. And besides, fishing under the hatch is just plain fun.

There was a lot of this going on. I can’t ever remember two hours of fishing time passing so quickly. DCIM100GOPROG0020581.

I fished two kinds of water. The first was a snotty, boulder-strewn run with seams and pockets, about 75 yards long. I walked its length, covering the fishy looking areas with my team of three wets, and connected with a half dozen trout and a JV Atlantic salmon. The runaway favorite fly was the size 12 soft-hackled bead head Pheasant Tail.

Next, I focused on a run with a mottled surface that was moving at a moderate walking pace. The hatch began to pick up in intensity, but I still had no takes. So I swapped out the bottom and middle flies (SHBHPT and Dark Hendrickson, respectively) for a size 12 Light Cahill winged wet and a size 14 Pale Watery wingless (Magic Fly). That made all the difference. I caught trout after trout for the better part of 75 minutes. They took all three flies (Squirrel and Ginger was the top dropper), but the Cahill and the PWW were the focal points.

What was interesting about yesterday’s hatch was that even though I got into double-digit numbers, I had to work for most of them. Sometimes when you’re fishing under the hatch, the trout are so keen on gorging themselves that you just need to swing the right fly in front of their noses. Not so yesterday. I specifically targeting actively feeding trout, and only two of them took on the first presentation. Most took a dozen or so casts, often with a break between presentations, and several wouldn’t give the flies a sniff. Also, I typically like to fish wets across and/or down. Yesterday I had a lot of success targeting active feeders that were upstream of me.

I had to drag myself away to get back to the last game. Cam’s team won.

So did mine.