Odds and ends on a cold January night

I built a fire last night because I didn’t feel like turning on the downstairs heat. While an open fireplace is considered to be an inefficient method of heating, you can’t beat it for ambience. I did manage to raise the temperature five degrees, and it felt rather grand to stand on the hearth. No fire tonight, but I’m staying warm with a nice Italian red (Caparzo Sangiovese Toscana 2013, an absolute steal at $11.99).

Farmington River: If you’ve been out fishing, good on you. Me, I’m saving my chips for warmer weather. And transferring my fishing energy to tying.

Steelhead: There is a sense of derring-do about embarking on a single-digit temperature adventure, but see “Farmington River” above.  If you’re not aware, there’s been a fish kill this season on the Salmon River. Here is the latest theory: http://wrvo.org/post/fish-die-salmon-river-could-be-caused-vitamin-deficiency

Small streams: I’ve driven past a few, and after the last two nights they are looking more like frozen tundra than running water.

Stripers: I used to fish for them in January. Right now, the pragmatist in me is crushing the romantic. Not that the romantic really minds.

Currentseams: I see we have surpassed the quarter-century mark in followers. Thank you all for your readership and support. If you’re new, stop by and say hi. The shortest distance between two people is a hello.

I remember this day. It was about 400 degrees in the shade. Tonight, not so much.

Smallstream canopy

Big Steelhead Spiders

I’ll admit it: I’m a fly nerd. I love poring through books, looking for new patterns, old patterns, and flashes of inspiration. Trey Combs’ Steelhead Fly Fishing is a terrific resource for the steelhead aficionado, with a significant number of pages devoted to flies. That’s where I found these first two spiders. A more elegant offering than the average steelhead fare, and doubtlessly just as yummy. Flies that can be drifted along the bottom, then left to swing up and hang in the current, tantalizing any nearby fish. Combs attributes the Gold Spider and the Purple Spider to Karl Hauffler. I like his use of multiple birds for the hackles. These flies are tied on Tiemco 7999 size 6 hooks with 6/0 Hot Orange thread, save for the Purple Spider which uses red. Of course, you could tie these as large as you like.
Gold Spider
Butt: Peacock herl
Body: Rear half flat silver tinsel (I used Lagartun mini braid), front half golden yellow angora goat
Hackle: One wrap golden pheasant flank behind two wraps brown pheasant (I used Coq de Leon). Finish with one wrap lemon wood duck.
Purple Spider
Tail: Fuzzy purple hackle barbules
Rear half flat silver tinsel (I used Lagartun mini braid), front half purple angora goat
Two turns deep purple hackle followed by several turns black pheasant rump

Thus familiarized with the template, here’s my own creation:
Ginger Spider
Tail: Hot Orange golden pheasant crest
Body: Rear half gold braid, front half ginger angora goat
Hackle: One turn golden pheasant flank behind two turns grouse behind two turns teal flank

Yorkshire, Meet Pulaski: Small Steelhead Soft-Hackles

In The Soft-Hackled Fly, Sylvester Nemes writes about fishing for — and catching — steelhead on traditional soft-hackles like the Partridge and Orange. Here’s my steelhead take on four classic patterns, clockwise from upper right: Tups Indispensable, Snipe and Purple, Partridge and Green and Orange, and Grouse and Orange.

Small Steelhead Soft-Hackles


These are all tied on 2x stout, 1x short hooks. They’re a size 10, so effectively they’ll fish like a size 12. Construction should be fairly intuitive from looking at the photo. But, here are the complete recipes.


Thread: Yellow
Tail: Dun hen hackle fibers
Body: Fluorescent yellow floss
Thorax: Hot pink yarn
Hackle: Dun hen
Snipe and Purple
Thread: Pearsall’s Gossamer silk, purple
Rib: Gold oval tinsel
Hackle: Snipe
Partridge and Green and Orange
Thread: Fire Orange
Body: 1/2 fluorescent chartreuse yarn, 1/2 fluorescent orange yarn
Rib: Gold oval tinsel
Hackle: Grey partridge
Grouse and Orange
Thread: Fire Orange
Body: Fluorescent orange yarn
Rib: Gold oval tinsel
Hackle: Grouse

Two years ago, I hooked (and ultimately lost) what was easily the largest steelhead I’ve ever done battle with. He took in the deeper end of a swift run that becomes a shallow whitewater nightmare at its head. I saw him clearly during his cartwheeling histrionics, and he was massive. We finally parted ways when he found a submerged logjam my leader didn’t get along with.

The fly he took was the one at lower left.


Steelhead soft hackles Rogues’ Gallery:

Snipe and Purple, November 2016


The Black Caddis steelhead hair wing

If you’re the sort who likes things neatly categorized, you can divvy deer hair winged steelhead flies into two groups. The first would be the waking dries, shrimp flies like the Grease Liner and all manner of skating caddis. The second would be the subsurface streamers/wets like the Muddler Minnow or the Muddler Daddy. I took a decided path toward the latter with the Black Caddis.

The Black Caddis


Hook: 1x short, 2x strong wet (this is the Orvis 1641) size 8-12
Thread: Black 6/0
Body: Lagartun chartreuse mini braid with grizzly hen hackle, palmered
Hackle: 2-3 wraps of the grizzly hen, continued from the body
Head/Wing: Black deer body hair

Tying notes: Lagartun mini braid is easy to work with and comes in a range of spiffy colors. Like a Muddler Minnow, the Black Caddis has a head of clipped deer hair; the wing is an extension of those fibers. Because the fly is intended to be fished below the surface, I’ve kept the wing and head sparse. To form the head and wing, make a few taut wraps of thread to secure the wing, then, while wrapping the thread forward, bind down tightly on the hair (give it 3-4 good wraps). The wing should behave itself, while the hair for the head will flare outward. On your next thread wrap, carefully move the flared hairs up and toward the rear of the fly with your thumb and forefinger, while moving the thread under it and forward to the eye. Whip finish. Trim the hair to your liking.

Steve Culton’s The Fisherman LLC Guide Service

My name is Steve Culton, and I’ve been fishing Connecticut’s Farmington and Salmon Rivers for nearly 50 years. My areas of specialization include wet fly fishing, dry fly fishing, streamer fishing (fresh and salt), and indicator nymph fishing. Small streams are also a passion, as they give us an opportunity to catch wild trout in a natural, more intimate setting. And let’s not forget those cantankerous Housatonic River smallmouth bass. My approach to fly fishing for striped bass is quite different from most other anglers’: I use a floating line, traditional trout and salmon presentation methods, and sparse, impressionistic flies like flatwings and soft hackles.


I am a teaching guide. (I have had many clients ask me if I am a teacher for my regular job. The answer is no, but I am flattered by the question.) We all like to catch fish, but if your immediate goal is sheer numbers you’ll probably be happier with another guide. If you’re interested in learning new methods, building your skill sets, fishing new flies, expanding your general knowledge, or exploring a river, small stream, or salt pond, I might be the right guide for you. Of course, I will do my best to put you onto fish. I think you learn more when you’re catching.


My teaching philosophy is pretty straightforward. There are no experts — we all have something to learn. I’m really just a guy who loves to fly fish. I’ve done a lot of it, read a lot about it, written a lot about it, and I’m very enthusiastic about sharing what I’ve learned with others. I sometimes take a spiritual, zen approach to the lessons of the day. Fly fishing has a soul, and I encourage my clients to explore and expand upon whatever that means to them. There are many, many ways to catch fish on a fly rod. People fish best when they use methods and flies they have confidence in. Since I am a self-taught fly fisherman, I know the struggles of learning the game. When you’re fishing with me, there are no such things as dumb questions – or for that matter, too many questions.


Above all, we’re out to have fun. James Leisenring wrote, “We fish for pleasure; I for mine, you for yours.” It is important to me that you enjoy yourself during our time on the water. Before any outing, I like to talk to my clients so I have a clear understanding of what their goals and expectations are.

So – let’s go fishing. You can reach me at 860-918-0228 or at swculton (at) yahoo.com.


For information on striped bass guiding and lessons, click here.

Due to other commitments, my weekends are almost always booked. The good news is that weekdays usually mean far fewer anglers.

2022 Rate Schedule  (Subject to change. Does not include gratuity.) Rates may vary for non-Farmington River outings. Clients are responsible for their own gear (rod, reel, leaders, waders, boots, etc.), food, and drink. For lessons, I strongly suggest half-day sessions.

                         Half day (4 hours)                   Full day (7 hours)

One person                $325                                       $425

Two persons              $375                                       $475

For client testimonials, click on the comments button below.