Some wet fly notes and lessons from recent outings

If you want to catch more fish, pay attention to the little things. You’ve heard that from me before — heck, I’ve got three presentations and written several articles on the subject — but it bears repeating. Here are a few lessons I hammered home to both clients and myself (we all have to pay attention to the little things) on some recent wet fly outings.

On the swing and especially the dangle, don’t set the hook. Let the fish set itself. When you feel the strike, ask yourself, “Are you still there?” The answer will always be yes, if you allow the fish to turn away and drive the hook point home.

Look for consistent, active feeders on emergers. You’ll know the bug/feeding stage from the rise form (slashy, splashy, showy) and that there are no duns visible on top of the water. Those are the fish that will rush to eat your wet flies. Just left of center in this photo is what I’m talking about.

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Match the hatch! If you see size 16 creamy/sulphury mayflies coming off, and you don’t have anything like that on your leader, get some on. Now.

Give the fish a choice. Droppers are always the fastest way to find out what the fish want. Different sizes, colors, species, life stages. The fish will always tell you when you get it right.

The Hackled March Brown continues to be a consistent summer big fish producer. It’ll be my default point fly pattern through August.

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Farmington River Report 6/16/20: Wait for it.

Tuesday was shooting day on the Farmington. I met filmmaker Matthew Vinick and his crew around 2pm above the Permanent TMA. They reported an active hatch and feeding session in the early afternoon, but by the time we started filming at 2:30, it was…over. Done. Nada.

You keep hoping that it’s going to pick up — I mean, it will eventually, right? — but we were plagued with five hours of virtually no visible hatch activity and no feeding trout. You’d see a trout come up occasionally. But then, nothing. No rhythm, no continuity, no consistency. I felt awful for Cosmo and Byron and Matt, but when Mother Nature feeds you a poop sandwich, ya gotta hold your nose and eat it. And so we did.

It is my considered opinion that the State of Connecticut chose wisely in the naming of its state flower.

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So, after going oh-for-three, I stepped up to the plate in the bottom of the ninth and hit one out of the park. It was a 17-inch (a true rarity among all the 18-inchers on the Farmy, he said with good-spirited sarcasm) Survivor Strain brown buck who was lazily feeding in about a foot of water six feet off the bank.

See that frog water just off the rocks? That’s where the fish was holding, just at the left edge of the frame. I made a lucky cast, and the brown rose with confidence to the fly, fully committed to the take. Cosmo and Matt were shooting on either side of the rise, and I’m hoping they got a great moment of incidental magic on film. 

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Mr. Day Saver, taken on a size 16 Light Cahill dry. Accurately taped at 17″.

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Of course, after the crew went home the river lit up. Many active feeders beginning around 7:45, and continuing till dark. The trout in the faster water were keyed on sulphur emergers (a Magic Fly or Usual would serve you well), while the trout in the slower water were putting on a spinner sipping clinic. I couldn’t buy a fish for hours; in the last half hour, I stopped counting after six. At one point I had a fish on four consecutive casts.

The rousing finale had me galumphing this 20+” wild brown into my net. Taken on a size 16 Light Cahill dry. Here’s the release.

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Farmington River Report 6/8/20: Our Lady of Blessed Magic Fly, or: spectacular sulphur wet and dry fly action

I fished last night from 5:45pm until 9:15pm, well past when I could no longer see my fly. I started out swinging and dead-drifting wets, sometimes prospecting, but mostly casting to active feeders. I had to work for my fish, but that was OK since some of them were larger wild browns. My rig was a size 12 Squirrel and Ginger top dropper, size 14 Partridge and Light Cahill middle dropper, and Light Cahill winged wet on point. All three patterns took fish. Hatch activity was a 7/10: caddis, sulphurs, Light Cahills, mobs of midges, and a few stray Isos. Around 7pm I switched out the winged Light Cahill for a size 14 Magic Fly after I saw a batch of larger sulphurs hatching. The fish opened their mouths in approval.

You can’t tell from the photo, but this is a high teens wild brown, taken on the Squirrel and Ginger. He was feeding in a narrow slot about a foot deep. The presentation was an oblique angle upstream cast, then dead drift. WHACK! (Editorial: I’m proud to say that on this website there are no photos of trout being thrust into camera lenses, angler arms fully extended. I know my readers are far too intelligent and sophisticated to put up with such shenanigans.)

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All the while, I was vastly outfishing the anglers around me. I mention this not as a brag point, but rather as a teaching point. Properly presented wet flies have been, and will continue to be, the best way to fool trout during the early stages of a sulphur hatch. Every other angler was fishing dry, which can work, provided you’ve got the right pattern and presentation. But when trout are on sulphur emergers, I’ll go with a team of wets every time.

However, there comes a time during every hatch where the trout begin want the topwater fly rather than the subsurface wet. So at 7:30pm I switched to surface presentations, mostly the Magic Fly (dusted with silica powder), a few drifts with creamy-colored The Usual, and finishing off with Catskills Light Cahills. Classic spectacular dry fly action: I took trout after trout until darkness enveloped me. By then I was gloriously alone. Well, not really. Just me, the trout, and about a million bugs.

Life is good with a cane rod on a sunny June evening on the Farmy. I thought it both poetic and proper that my first surface Magic Fly trout this year was a chunky mid-teens wild brown.

Farmington River Report 6/25/19: Another double-digit wet fly day

Longtime currentseams follower Greg wanted to add the art of the wet fly to his arsenal. Trout should now consider this man to be armed and extremely dangerous. We fished two marks within the Permanent TMA from 3pm-7pm. To say the action was good would be an understatement — we hooked and released a double-digit number of trout during four very productive hours. A tremendous job by Greg casting, mending, and letting the trout set the hook! We got rained on a bit, and the fog was a constant, but we ended the outing bathed in sunshine.

I saw a lot of this today. After an initial slow start, the bite picked up and we never looked back. Here Greg demonstrates the result of mending the whole line (rather than a portion of it) to slow the drift and bring the flies to the trout.

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Incoming, Magic Fly in mouth. We fished a sz 12 Squirrel and Ginger on top, a sz 16 Magic Fly in the middle, and (after I saw a couple Isos) a size 12 Hackled March Brown on point. All three patterns took fish, the majority on the caddis and the sulphur.

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Greg had the Farmy hat trick today, with a mix of rainbows, stocked and wild browns, and a hefty brookie. Here’s one of the nicer browns, a mid teens buck starting to develop a snout and kype.

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We hit the jackpot at the second mark, finding a shaded run with a substantial number of fish that wanted those wets. You can still see the parr marks on this gorgeous creature, with some handsome dots and halos thrown in for good measure. 

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And then, I went solo in search of dry fly pleasure below the Permanent TMA. I found it, you betcha, with a massive sulphur hatch and trout boiling everywhere. I fished until I couldn’t see my fly, and then even past that. One more cast, you know?

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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Needs must have Farmington River flies

The results of a wee tying binge for myself and customers: summer nymphs and dries for ye olde Farmington River. All eagerly awaiting a hungry mouth(s).

Rainbow Warriors, Frenchie variants, soft-hackled PTs, wingless March Browns, Usuals, Catskill Light Cahills, Magic Flies. Be prepared to downsize your dries to 20s this time of year. (Although I had success last week casting big (8-12) stuff to smutting trout in frog water.)

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Farmington River Report 7/11/18: The heat of the moment

Friends, I’m here to tell you that the Farmington River is cold. Readings of 58 and 54 degrees confirm that, as will Mark, my client — and he’ll also testify that the fishing is incendiary!

So. Mark came to me with the request — like so many of my clients do — to tell him “what I’m doing wrong.” In most of these cases, it’s not so much one grand point of error as it is a bunch of little things that could be improved upon. We started out below the permanent TMA for a little indicator nymphing. Mark took to it nicely, and we stuck a pile of fish on both a size 14 Rainbow Warrior (point) and a size 14 March Brown wingless (dropper).

Off we went upstream for the evening rise, which was that and then some. From 5:00 to 8:30 it seemed like there was always a target to cast to, and often multiple options within a couple rod lengths. We stuck fish on the Magic Fly, the Usual, Catskills Light Cahill, and Sulphur comparadun. The bug activity was mostly tiny BWOs, a few sulphurs, but mostly Dorotheas and perhaps some summer Stenos. The trout were on the emergers as well as duns on the surface. It was an easy night to be a guide. Well done, Mark! You were doing a lot of things right, as your fish count confirms.

Mark landed this nice wild brown on a March Brown wingless. The fish were taking the nymphs in the faster water at the head of the pool.

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The sweet sight of success: bent rod, splashy combatant. (Wide smile on client’s face not visible.) Speaking of visibility, we had varying degrees of fog for most of the evening. It didn’t seem to bother the fish.

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Farmington River Report 7/16/15: It must be magic

I guided Jim yesterday afternoon into evening, and we started in some faster water in the permanent TMA with a little Wet Fly 101. While we found a few feeders, they were reluctant to jump on. So we headed up river to get situated for some topwater action during the evening rise.

A sulphur emergence of sorts. No editing legerdemain here; some funky macro setting on the camera did this. We had a nice assortment of bugs last night: Sulphurs (14-16), Summer Stenos (18-20), Isonychia (10-12), BWOs, (14, 18-20), and midges. However, the spinner fall was not what I had hoped for. Every day — or evening — is different. Cold again! Water temp in the permanent TMA was 58 degrees. Sulphur Emerger

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A nice brown that absolutely hammered Jim’s size 20 BWO Comparadun. Terrific hook set by Jim on this fish. Jim BWO Brown

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Same fish, moments before release. Jim's brown release

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I waited until what I thought was the right moment during the hatch to introduce Jim to The Magic Fly. This is what happened on his second cast ever with that pattern. Another fat, beautiful wild Farmington brown to net. Jim did a great job, and was a pleasure to fish with.

Jim Magic Fly

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After Jim left, I banged around the river in the dark from 9:30 to almost 1:00am. While I had plenty of action — close to ten bumps — most of them were smaller fish, with no resulting hookups. Here’s a fifteen-inch brown who did stick. I like the play of water and flash along his flanks.

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.

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Farmington River Report 6/14/15: Just like Summer Stenos

Mid-June on the Farmington means an annual pilgrimage to a popular dry fly pool with the Tonka Queen for the sulphur hatch. I figured the permanent TMA would be jammed — after all, it was a gorgeous weekend day, and the rains were coming — and unfortunately, I was right. The lot was mostly full when I pulled in. I almost bailed right there, but I figured it was worth a look-see. To my surprise, most of the anglers were concentrated in the middle section of the pool. Plenty of room at the head. So in I went.

I fished from 5pm until after it was too dark to see a size 12 Light Cahill Catskills dry. What a strange evening it was.

Sulphurs came off from the time I entered the water until roughly 7:30. It wasn’t a particularly strong hatch, but there were enough bugs to keep me and the trout entertained. I used both The Magic Fly (Pale Watery wingless) and the Usual, sizes 16-20, for the first three-and-a-half hours with mixed results. Oh, I induced a good dozen trout to rise and take — we’re talking some quality boils — but each time I lifted my rod, nothing.

Certainly there was a rust factor in play — first time out with the cane and a long (13 feet) leader — but this felt just like summer stenos, a hatch I love to hate. Present to feeding fish. Perfect drift. Rise. Take. Nothing.

Once dusk arrived, the mosquitoes came out in force. Absent traditional insect repellant, a Gispert Churchill filled in nicely.

Smoke and Bamboo

I did witness several refusals, and this got me thinking that it was possible the trout were feeding on something other than sulphur emergers: size 16-18 BWOs or size 16-18 black caddis. Other factors to consider: multiple rise forms (porpoising gently as for spinners), slashy/splashy rises, and open mouths with a tail kick).

Around 7:30 I finally connected with a nice wild brown on the Magic Fly. The next hour was a puzzling series of casts, mends, and even more swings and misses. As darkness fell, I switched over to the Light Cahill Catskills dry, first size 14, then size 12, and stuck a fish on each, the last when I couldn’t even see the fly.

An outing as frustrating as this one ultimately raises more questions in my mind than I care to mention, but here are a few. Are the fish simply missing the fly? Am I too slow on the hook set (and if I am, how come I hooked those bazillions of trout before tonight with the same speed hook set)? Are the fish committing to the take, then bailing at the last second? How come no one else was catching (over four hours of fishing, I saw six fish hooked, including my three)? What were the trout feeding on besides sulphurs (I suspect it was the black caddis)? How come I didn’t get a sniff on small (size 20 & 22) spinner patterns?

Folks, I guide, teach fly fishing and write articles on the subject, and I have to tell you that I don’t have all the answers. Thankfully. Because now I need to go back and do some more research.