Farmington River Report 6/19/19: Spectacular hatches, wet, and dry fly action

Just when you thought it couldn’t get any better, it does: another off-the-charts evening session on the Farmington.

Cast three wet fly team. Hookup. Repeat. It was that kind of night. 

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I fished below the Permanent TMA from 6pm-9pm. When I arrived there were a few bugs (sulphurs sz 16, tiny creamy midges, caddis sz 16-18, and the first Isos I’ve seen) and even fewer rises, but that did not discourage me. Conditions were perfect, a magnificent collision of warm, humid air, cloud cover and water height. I tied up the same three fly wet team as yesterday: a Squirrel and Ginger top dropper, Magic Fly middle dropper, and Leisenring’s Pale Watery Dun Wingless on point. First cast, BANG, and it was virtually non-stop action for the next hour. Pow! Smack! It was an aquatic reenactment of a Batman episode. Such splashy, strong takes — these trout were obviously feeding with a vengeance.  Now, if you’ve taken my wet fly class or done a private lesson and the action has been — ahem — slow — you’ve heard me say that when the fish are feeding on emergers and you’re dialed into what they’re eating and how they’re eating it, wet flies can be the most lethal method. This was one of those times. A double-digit outing on wet flies alone.

How good is the Magic Fly? Twice last night I drifted it within a few inches of a natural. Both times the trout chose my fly.

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The dry fly session now seems almost anticlimactic, mostly of my own doing. While the river was boiling around me, I was trying to entice some fish feeding in frog water from a disadvantageous position. (I was doing this on purpose as a personal challenge.)  Suffice to say the usual pattern unfolded: a lull between 7:00-7:30, building activity to 8:00pm, then at 8:30 the trout and bugs go bonkers. Every once in a while I’d treat myself to a fish feeding in the faster water. Magic Flies size 16 and Light Cahills size 14 served me well. Finally, just about when I could no longer see the fly, I made a couple lucky mends and got one of those impossible fish to take.

And so we ended on a high note.

Best fish of the night, a high teens wild hen. She clobbered the middle dropper, the Magic Fly, AKA Pale Watery wingless wet. I’ve made a big deal about fishing the Magic Fly as a dry, but do not underestimate its power as a traditional subsurface wet.

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Farmington River Report 6/17 & 6/18: You should be here. Now.

To say that the Farmington is fishing well would be an understatement. Three outings in the last two days, all of them highly productive. Here’s how it went down.

Monday 6/17/19 6pm-9pm: The 2019 debut of my beloved dad’s cane rod. I always forget how much you need to s-l-o-w d-o-w-n the casting stroke with that rod. Rhythm rediscovered, I quickly got lost in the lyrical motions. Fished below the Permanent TMA, and initial hatch and rise activity was about a 3 out of 10 (Sulphurs size 16, Light Cahills size 12-14, caddis size 16, creamy midges). Swung a single creamy wet for an hour and had two customers. The evening hatch on this river is so predictable: sometime between 6:30 and 7:30 there’s a window of null activity. It can last anywhere from 15 minutes to an hour. From 7:30 to just past 9pm, the river simmered with rises. I switched over to dries (size 16 Magic Fly, size 16 Usual, size 12-14 Light Cahill) and took trout after trout, mostly rainbows and brookies.

A whole lotta shakin’ going on, as the smoke from an EP Carillo New Wave Connecticut torpedo blends in nicely with the fog.

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Tuesday 6/18/19 11am-3pm: Andrew wanted to learn the ancient, traditional, devastating art of the swung wet fly. Soft hackles and three-fly team thus rendered, we hit two spots, one in the Permanent TMA and one below. Rain, fog, drizzle and downpour could not dampen our mood. Hatch activity was low in the first mark, but we nonetheless stuck several fish. The second spot was money, with several lanes of active feeders (the birds were busy, too) that kept us occupied for nearly two hours. We fished a Squirrel and Ginger top dropper, a Grey Watchet in the middle, and depending on water depth and speed, a SHBHPT, Old Blue Dun, or March Brown caddis on point. The fish found favor with every pattern, which is always gratifying. Andrew did a great job navigating some difficult water, mending across current seams, and waiting for the fish to hook itself. Time (wet) flies when you’re having fun.

How to spot a wet fly angler pre-evening hatch. Note bent rod and tight line. Frontal view would reveal a large smile. Good work, Andrew!

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Tuesday 6/18/19 4:15-5:45pm: My turn to play. Walked a 200 yard run in the Permanent TMA that I had not fished in a long time. OUTSTANDING sulphur hatch: duns in the air, birds working, sloppy splashes from trout gorging on emergers. In 90 minutes I stuck double digit trout, a mix of wild, stocked, and Survivor Strain browns with a bonus rainbow in the mix. This was a classic example of how effective the wet fly can be during a hatch. Thus sated, I headed home after taking a final victory puff on a My Father Le Bijou Torpedo.

I had action on the Squirrel and Ginger top dropper, Magic Fly middle dropper, and Leisenring’s Pale Watery Dun Wingless (pictured) on point. 

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Farmington River Report 6/20/18: Going out with a wet fly bang

The last day of spring 2018 was a memorable one for me. The evening wet fly bite was spectacular (where one loses count of fish). I had a Farmington River hat trick (brown, brookie, rainbow). And I landed a porcine high teens rainbow (after it snapped the tip of my cane rod mid-battle).

But let’s focus on the positive. I fished below the permanent TMA from 5:30pm- 9pm. Water was a perfect height and still plenty cold. The bug activity was an 8 out of 10. I had much to work with: midges, a few small (size 18) caddis, lots of size 16 sulphurs and size 14 Light Cahills, and some mongo mayflies (10-12) that were perhaps March Browns or Isos. I fished a three fly team until 7:30pm: Snipe and Yellow size 14 on top, size 16 Magic Fly in the middle, and a winged Light Cahill size 12 on point. All three flies produced. The conditions were perfect for wet flies: bugs, birds working, and a multitude of sloppy, splashy rise forms that went on for hours. I spent most of my time targeting active fish, and often the take came on the first cast. I even caught one dangling my line in the current below me as I walked to the shore to put on my jacket.

Then, disaster. The hit came suddenly and with ferocity. It felt like a decent enough fish, but once I got it in close I could see it was a big rainbow in the upper teens. Fat, spirited, and uncompromising in its belligerence. I didn’t even feel the rod tip snap; suddenly, it seemed, it was just broken. I cursed my luck (as it was). Fortunately, I had brought a second rod stream side: I waded out, re-rigged, and was back at it.

I finished the session throwing dries: Magic Flies, Usuals, and Light Cahills. The trout liked all three. As the gloaming lost its struggle against darkness, I walked back to the truck, unsure how to process the conflicting sensations of delight and regret.

At this size and coloration, most certainly not from the factory. You can’t see it here, but the dorsal side of these fish is dramatically dark. They almost look like chrome steelhead when you’re bringing them in.

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The culprit. The opening of my net is 17″; this little piggy exceeded that. So far, the best trout hit of the year. She took the Pale Watery wingless (Magic Fly), not the Cahill as I previously posted.

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Tying at the CFFA Expo Saturday, Feb 3rd

Come one, come all to the best little fly fishing show around: the CFFA Expo at Maneely’s in South Windsor, CT, Saturday, February 3 from 9am-3pm. You can find me on Fly Tyers’ Row, and as always I’ll be ready to answer questions or just hang out and talk fishing. I’ll be there through 1pm for sure, as we’ll be celebrating Gordo’s birthday later in the day. You can find the Expo details here.

I’m not sure what I’ll be tying, but the Magic Fly (AKA Pale Watery wingless variant) is always a crowd favorite. I’ll do my best to accommodate requests, time and materials permitting.

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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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Monster Delaware brown on the Magic Fly

I received this from Keith A. last night:

Hi Steve,
Want you to know that I just caught a monster brown, at the Delaware river, on one of the flies that you tied for me. Size 18. My guess is 24+”.

Thanks,
Keith

No, Keith. Thank you. And well done!

In proper nomenclature, these would be Pale Watery wingless wet variants. I think, however, that Keith would cast his vote in favor of calling it The Magic Fly.

Magic Flies

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.