Drat this cursed rain! Last year the river was pathetically low. This year it’s disgustingly high. The upper Housatonic has been mostly unfishable this month, and as a result we’ve missed out on what’s normally a very productive period. I’ve been feeling bitter about the whole thing, so I decided to take a drive out to the river and see what the conditions were first-hand, and maybe even wet a line. You know — you don’t know if you don’t go.
Last summer was challenging time to fish for smallmouth: we had the double whammy of heat and severe drought. In “Low & Slow: Summer River Smallmouth,” I talk about some of the strategies, tactics, and flies I used to find success in those truly tough conditions. You can read the article in the current (July 2021) New England issue of The Fisherman magazine.
We’re back! This Currentseams Tuesday Night Zoom is all about you — specifically, your questions. Trout, small streams, smallmouth, steelhead, stripers — flies, rigging, gear, tactics, presentation, how-to — ask away and I’ll do my best to answer. If you haven’t been getting the Zoom links — I send them out Tuesday late afternoon — please check your spam box. If you’re sending a request to get on the list, please don’t wait until 7:45 p.m. Tuesday night…I won’t be checking my email that late. Thanks!
Out favorite dysfunctional — or is that non-functional? — committee met this week to begin formulating its future plans for striped bass. In another insightful essay, Charles Witek asks the question, “How Do you Define Success?” Suffice to say, the ASMFC grades itself on an absurdly low curve.
So where’s that Gurgling Sand Eel pattern you asked for? On its way. No, really. I’m hoping by the weekend.
Also coming soon: the official 800 followers celebration. Get your comments ready!
Last but not least, it’s been a tough summer due to drought and heat, but I fish in cycles, and right now I’ve got smallmouth on the brain. Big time. Nonetheless, to the Farmington I go. Guiding today.
Warm, low water doesn’t bother him. He liked the look of a TeQueely.
It’s another Currentseams Tuesday Night Zoom. My “Pro Tips” part will be brief (and, I hope, highly informative) but the real focus will be you: I’ll be answering your questions on all things fly fishing. So get those topics ready. Note that if you’re already on the Zoom list, you don’t need to re-up. See you Tuesday!
With today’s guide trip cancelled, I turn my attention to reflecting upon the fishing year that was 2019. Here we go, in chronological order:
Fly Fishing Shows in Marlborough and Edison. The Marlborough Show was particularly memorable for the weekend ice storm that paralyzed the region. Let’s just say that — ahem — attendance was light on Sunday. Nonetheless, I had three(!) intrepid anglers at my presentation, “Lost Secrets of Legendary Anglers.” I spent the rest of the morning chortling that I had the day’s biggest crowd, which was accurate until Ed Engle beat me by two. “Lost Secrets of Legendary Anglers” will return in 2020 at 10am, Saturday January 20 in the DT Room C, along with other Seminars and classes. What makes these shows memorable — and appreciated — is the chance to see old friends, connect with peers, and meet you, my valued reader. Please come say hello at the shows in January!
Old friend Tim Flagler is one of the nicest people you’re going to meet at the Fly Fishing Show.
Speaking of Speaking: every fly fishing/tying club gig I did. This may sound like a shameless attempt to curry favor, but I assure you it’s on the level. Teaching and talking about fly fishing is by far my favorite part of this job, and it would not be possible without your support and enthusiasm. So, thank you CFFA Expo, Cape Cod Flyrodders, Legends on the Farmington (I’m doing another class in February 2020 so stay tuned), Russell Library, Hammonasset TU, Thames Valley TU, Capital District Fly Fishers, Farmington Valley TU, and Nutmeg TU for your patronage.
Housy and Farmington River features in Eastern Fly Fishing magazine. Wow. I actually get paid to write about two of my favorite rivers? What a country! And thanks to editor John Shewey for thinking of me.
My new two-handed cannon. Once I figured out the right head configuration, I became a dangerous casting machine. Many thanks to old mate Mike Oliver for his wonderful design and exacting craftsmanship. I now sneer at the wind at the mouth of the Hous. And the west side of Block. So there.
In addition to being a fine rod builder, Mike also brews a delicious cuppa on the beach. Milk is included. Very civilized.
Trophy Smallmouth on the Little Salmon River. We got kicked in the nuts by Mother Nature for spring steelhead, so a-smallmouthing we did go. They sure grow ’em big up north.
Gordo and Row Jimmy with a bronze slob.
Epic June wet fly bites. My goodness, how I love the Farmington River’s Light Cahill/Sulphur/Caddis/Iso bite window of late spring/early summer. Both clients and I enjoyed the thrill of double-digit days.
Figure 1 (of many). Greg’s rod might have permanent bend.
A hot Housy White Fly bite. If you go enough, sooner of later you’re going to hit the summer blizzard just right. I think I missed it last year; this year on more than one occasion I was snow-blinded in August. There’s a certain rush you get from drifting a size 10 White Wulff that you can no longer see, then feeling a sudden crushing blow that resonates down to your fingertips. Wow, wow, wow.
Be sure to keep your mouth shut. White flies do not taste good.
Catching a Scottish trout on a traditional Scottish wet fly. The conditions were disgusting — driving rain and windy — but Cam and I soldiered on and were rewarded with several hefty trout to net. The highlight for me was catching one on a Kate McLaren I’d tied several years before, never dreaming that I would one day be fishing it bob-style on a loch.
Cam with his first fish and guide Graeme Ferguson (wonderful to make a new friend); a kiss for a fellow lover of Kate McLaren.
Fun at the Striper Moon film premier. It was in many ways a Who’s Who of southern New England striper fly fishing. What a treat to watch Lori Shankar’s film with Ken in the audience.
(Finally) establishing a presence on Instagram. If you’re not already following me, please do. I post content on stevecultonflyfishing that you won’t find here.
Big Fall Housy Browns. After last fall and this year’s winter high water, the resident browns had ample opportunity to feed and grow with very little angling pressure. A lot of the Housy faithful I spoke to declared this the best fall fishing in years. Can’t argue with them!
Over 20″ of holdover butter.
A silver lining to a poor Salmon River steelhead run cloud. I only need one steelhead to make me happy, so landing this big buck on a morning where the temperature never got out of the teens had me in a grinning mood.
So, you’ve made it this far. Please tell us about your 2019 highlights.
And so we break the seal on summer smallies. The Hous was stained and rising (450cfs+) and warm, the air was thick and damp, and the smallies were on the hunt. I fished below the TMA — what a walk! — from 6pm to almost 9pm. Started out with a white cone head Woolly Bugger, and its production level was uninspiring. I wondered if they might like something a little darker in the stain, so I tied on a TeQueely. BANG! First cast. So I fished that for a while, cleaned up, then switched over to a Gurgler. Hysterical topwater action ensued. At 8pm I tied on a bug I’ve been prototyping and testing for three years now (I will release it very shortly, so stay tuned!) and the smallies attacked it with extreme prejudice, sometimes moments after it hit the water. No white flies yet, but I made my own hatch at dark with a White Wulff, landed one, and ended on a high note.
And I had the entire stretch of river all to myself.
Fun with Gurglers:
Hello, boys, I missed you! I got into dozens of fish. The pipsqueak factor was very low, with this bass being typical of the evening’s take.
Last night was textbook: increased activity once the sun went behind the mountains, a feeding spike from 7:30pm-8:30pm, then shutdown at dark. Smallies will move into shallows as dusk approaches, and that includes some of the bigger fish. This guy was patrolling in about a foot of frog water. He clobbered the bug as soon as it landed. I can always tell it’s a good fish when my forearm starts to burn mid fight. Lousy photo, but this slob measured in the low teens and was the best bass of the outing.
I fished the Housy the other night from 6pm-8:30pm. Virgin waters for me, below the TMA: some pocket water that dumped into a long boulders-on-the-bottom run, shoulder deep in the middle ringed with frog water. Action: underwhelming. Hatches: underwhelming (mostly tan and black caddis). So it goes, but I did catch fish and I had the place all to myself.
I took the usual assortment of late afternoon dinks. Pre-hatch swung wets produced very little interest (not surprising given the weak evening rise) and all the action came on the Black Magic top dropper. The smallmouth bite window was torturously brief: 8:00pm-8:15pm, then shutdown. I had switched over to a grey and chartreuse Gurgler, and my best fish of the evening came on that fly. Toward dark I did get the largest bluegill I’ve ever landed, but that’s really not why I was there.
Nearly a foot long, this dude whacked the Gurgler upon landing, then hunted it down about ten feet across a current seam. Almost put a burn in my rod hand forearm.
I fished the Hous last night from 6pm-9pm. Things began slowly. The water was up (300cfs and lightly stained) and I’m not sure if that meant the fish were a little more spread out or just hanging on the bottom. I covered some prime runs, long since out of the sun, and only found a few dinks willing to eat. Even once the sun was well below the hills, there was very little surface action, and even fewer fish willing to jump on a surface/film bug. At 7pm I saw two white flies in the space of five minutes. Perhaps the start of something good?
I kept thinking that the pool would light up around 7:30pm. 8:00pm passed and still nothing, nada, bupkis. Then, the first rise ring appeared. I fished a size 8 Convertible on the surface with a size 12 Partridge and White dropped off the bend. The bass liked both flies: dead drifted, swung/waked, and very slowly retrieved. By 8:30 the air was alive with bugs, the water surface cluttered with fluttering white masses (as a fine contrast, there was also a good showing of black caddis, size 16.) I took my last fish at 8:45, and shot the video from the previous post on the wade out.
Some notes: the bass were keyed solely on the hatch. I could coax no interest in a surface bug or streamer. Also, the mosquitoes were fierce once my cigar went out. Bring bug spray or an extra stick. With warming and dropping water levels, I would expect tonight’s action to be excellent.
Best bass of the night, just over a foot long. He took the soft hackle as I performed a slow hand-twist retrieve in some frog water. A really good battle from this fish — he sounded after hookset, bulled and raced, and I didn’t see him until he reached the net.
If you do a search for “best” or “top ten” streamers for smallmouth bass, you are presented with an eclectic mix of patterns, typically opaque, with big googly eyes and using all kinds of new-agey materials — often accompanied by seductive promises of fish-catchess prowess. And oh, by the way, you can’t have the recipe, but here’s where you may purchase the wonder fly.
I can’t claim to be an expert on the lesser pie-holed cousins of the bucketmouth, but when I sat down at the vice this weekend to tie some smallmouth streamers I kept things pretty basic. I have a strong suspicion this selection will be met with approval by the target audience — the key word being selection. Some will ride topwater. Some will swim just below the surface. Some will plumb the depths and jig on the retrieve. They feature colors that range from earth-tones to fluorescents. You know the drill: give the fish a choice.
Now, I just gotta get them wet.
Clockwise from bottom left: Gartside Gurgler variants (size 2), three sets of Woolly Bugger variants (sizes 4-6), Deep Threat variants (sizes 4-6), and in the center, some neutral buoyancy thingy I tied on a whim.