The Daily Double: Farmington River trout and LIS stripers

No Hendricksons Monday on the Lower TMA of the Farmington River. At least not in the two spots I fished. It could have been the cool, overcast day (there were small olives). Or, perhaps things are simply winding down. One of the nice things about the Farmington is that the hatches move upstream; two friends that fished Monday just below the upper TMA reported good Hendrickson action. I swung a team of wets (Squirrel & Ginger caddis on top of two Dark Hendricksons) and 2/3 of the fish I caught took the caddis.

Back to work and family responsibilities for the afternoon and early evening. Then off to find some stripers at night with Dr. Griswold. There were some signs of herring, and while there were no bangs and pops on the surface, we did find some hungry fish. Bob brought his two-hander, and I went with the five-weight. We didn’t get anything super big, but there were some legal sized fish in the mix. I fished my Rock Island flatwing, which the bass again found to their liking.

Dr. Griswold with a nice 31-incher on the two-hander. Smile, Bob.

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Can’t let Bob have all the fun. A nice keeper bass on the five-weight for me.

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A tale of two five-weights

All five weights are not created equal. I should know. I’ve got four of them. You may ask why I need four of the same rod. The answer is that while they’re all five-weights in name, they could not be more different. Each is a specialist in its field. The two I want to talk about here are my 6’ Fenwick glass rod and my 9’ TFO TiCr.

This all started with a steelhead trip I had planned with my ten year-old. We had to cancel due to weather, and we were were both a little bummed about it. But I told Cam that since we weren’t making the drive to Pulaski, we could spend the day fishing closer to home. I gave him options: trout on the Farmington, stripers on the Hous, or wild brook trout over the hills and far away. Cam decided on brookies. I thought that was a fine choice.

I’ve had the Fenwick for many years now. It’s a sweet 2-½ ounce stick that flexes down to the handle. A five-weight line works just fine on it, and like bamboo it’s an exceptionally easy rod to cast. Cam told me he wanted to do a little more of his own fly casting this year, and this would be a good starter setup for him. Unfortunately, the first stream we hit was turbid with runoff. So we hopped in the truck and took a little drive north. The second stream was in fine fettle, medium high, and clear as an aquarium.

 It took us several tries to hook this fish. She kept whacking the microbugger, but we couldn’t seem to get a good hookset. Classic haloes and Fontinalis fin.

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Cam got to work with on the surface with a size 14 Improved Sofa Pillow, but we had no takers, even over some confidence-is-high pools and runs. Undeterred, I tied on a blackish micro-bugger with a chartreuse bead head. That did the trick. Whereas the brookies were bashful about showing themselves on the surface, they were more than happy to nip and tug as soon as the fly settled beneath the surface. We landed four nice brook trout with glowing blue haloes and dropped a bunch more. It was a tired and hungry but happy hike out of the mid-April woods.

Eight hours later, I was swinging flatwings for stripers with my TFO TiCr five-weight. Where the Fenwick is a flexible birch sapling, the TFO is one of those redwoods you could drive your car through. I mate this rod with a 9-weight Rio Outbound floating line, and even with that night’s ten mile-per-hour crosswind, casting an eight inch fly was effortless – provided I found that sweet spot where the shooting head met the running line. Not easy on a moonless night.

I was mostly greased-line swinging, my favorite presentation with bigger flatwings. Sometimes the takes are nearly subliminal – instead of a tug, you feel a minute change in pressure that exponentially accelerates into mayhem. On this night it was different. The fish were taking the fly moments after I had completed my mends (I was fishing a narrows that only allowed two) and the takes were an adrenaline-produced amalgam of pull, boil, and surface thrash. I took three stripers on the greased-line swing; two of them in the double-digits pound class.

 31″ of pure pleasure on the five-weight. She fell for my Rock Island flatwing, tied about 8″ long.

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Both of those larger fish were quickly played and landed. Both tried to run upstream when I attempted to coax them onto the sandbar I was standing on, and the side pressure I applied with the butt of the rod easily dissuaded both.

Miss Cow never showed up. But she’s out there, somewhere. And one night, on a moon tide, she and I and one of my trusty five-weights are going to go for one hell of a ride.

The Magog Smelt Striper Bucktail

Long before breathable waders and UV-cured resins, fly anglers began fishing the salt for stripers. They brought with them their corpus of freshwater knowledge – and also their flies. Saltwater fly fishing (and therefore saltwater fly tying) was in its infancy. So it only makes sense that they would borrow tackle and tactics and flies from whence they came.

I have a particular interest in traditional fly fishing and tying methods, whether for trout or stripers. For several years now I’ve been tying and fishing these legacy striper patterns, and I’d like to share one of my favorites with you: the Magog Smelt Bucktail.

The Magog Smelt Striper Bucktail

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The Magog Smelt is an old landlocked salmon fly. It takes its name from Lake Memphremagog, located between Vermont and Quebec. It was the favorite striper fly of an old Rhode Island sharpie named John Abrames, who taught his son, Ken (you may have heard of him) to fish for striped bass with it. Ken in turn told me about the Magog Smelt, and now it’s one of my favorite bucktails and color schemes.

Hook: Eagle Claw 253 1/0
Thread: Black
Body: Silver braid
Throat: Red marabou
Wing: 30 hairs white bucktail, under 2 strips silver flash, under 30 longer hairs yellow bucktail, under 25 hairs longer purple bucktail, under 5-7 strands peacock herl
Cheeks: Teal flank tip

Tying notes: I tie the Magog Smelt Bucktail the Ray’s Fly format, from three to five inches long. The fly here is about 3 ½ inches. Keep each group of bucktail nice and sparse, and make each progressively longer. I treat the teal almost as a veil over the body braid. Back in the day, the old-timers painted white eyes with a black pupil on the head, but you could use jungle cock or leave it blank as I did here. I’ve never tied this fly with eyes, and the stripers love it au natural.

Thanks to the Saltwater Edge for tonight’s flatwing class

I spent a very enjoyable two hours tonight at the Saltwater Edge tying flatwings. We kept it simple with single-feather and two-feather patterns, like the Morning Glory and the September Night. Another great group, very enthusiastic, with lots of good questions. It is a privilege and a pleasure to be able to teach tying these magnificent flies. Thanks to Peter Jenkins and his gracious crew for having me. And thanks to Ken Abrames for leading the way.

Some flatwing-bucktail hybrids. Even at rest, they have a palpable energy.

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A new flatwing from the Culton bench: the Rock Island

Rock Island Flatwings

Depending on your cultural exposure, Rock Island Line is a blues, country, or skiffle song. I won’t go into the details of the story, but there’s a railroad and a train involved. It takes place ‘way down south, miles away from the Metro North line, but that’s the route I take when business calls in the City. That train parallels the shoreline, and it goes over plenty of marshy, salty estuaries — you know, the kind stripers like to hang out in. If you’re a bass angler, you can’t help but notice them, especially that rocky island right next to the channel that’s just got to be holding some decent size fish.

The Rock Island is a flatwing bucktail hybrid about 8″ long. Like a lot of the flies I make up, the tying process wandered around a bit before the pattern discovered where it wanted to be. For example, I started with black thread, then switched to purple. Then changed some of the bucktail color blends. I really like the contrast in this fly from bottom to top.

The Rock Island will get fished on a greased line swing on a cool May night when the herring are in. A’board!

A closer look at the head detail:

Rock Island CU

Thread: Purple
Pillow: Pink
Platform: Gray bucktail
Tail: Pink saddle, under 2 strands blue flash, under lavender saddle, under blue saddle, under 2 strands red flash, under 30 total hairs royal blue, amber, and olive bucktail (mixed), under 20 total hairs dark blue and red bucktail (mixed), under 2 strands purple flash, under 20 strands purple bucktail.
Body: Purple braid
Collar: Pale blue, light blue, and gray bucktail, mixed
Wing: 15 strands purple and 30 strands black bucktail, mixed
Topping: 7-8 strands peacock herl
Eyes: Jungle cock