Fans of the movie Patton will instantly get the reference. In this case, I’m not talking about military literature, but rather LaFontaine’s fly fishing masterwork Caddisflies, which I have been studying the last couple months with renewed vigor. We’ll get to that in a moment.
I fished last night for less than two hours, but it was almost non-stop, spectacular wet fly action from start to finish. The mark was a section of the lower river, running at 328cfs and about 60 degrees. Hatch activity was at best moderate. Observed: Vitreus size 12, Sulphur size 14-16, midges, and tan caddis size 14-16. Rise activity was minimal. I fished a three fly team of a Magic Fly (heavy hook) size 14 top dropper, a LaFontaine Diving Caddis tan variant size 14 middle dropper, and a tailed Partridge and Light Cahill size 14 on point. My first three fish took one of each. From about 7:15-8:30, I have no idea how many trout I hooked. It was one of those nights where if I made three drifts without a tug, I wondered if maybe it was over. (The the answer was always no, it isn’t.) Here is the magic of the evening: this was the first time I fished the Diving Caddis, and of the over two dozen trout I landed, the vast majority came on the caddis.
Also noteworthy: there were very few visible rises, and not a ton of bugs. But clearly, there was a significant feeding event taking place subsurface — and the featured entree was egg-laying tan caddis.
If you’re heading away for the weekend, I’ve got you all hooked up for some drive time listening. Or maybe you just want to sit back at home and listen. Long drive to the river on Saturday? Whatever! You can listen to “How to Swing Soft Hackle Wet Flies With Steve Culton” here. My segment starts at 42:39. Many thanks to Orvis and especially to Tom Rosenbauer for letting me play. This was a lot of fun, and I hope it helps.
I’m excited to tell you that today I’m going to be recording a future episode of the Orvis Fly Fishing Podcast with Tom Rosenbauer. I’ve only recently met Tom, but I’m a little beyond thrilled to have this opportunity. We’re going to be talking about tying and fishing wet flies. Of course, I’ll let you know about the release date. Off I go to prep…
That’s all the time I had. But there’s a certain comfort in having a time limit. It forces you to keep moving. To spend more time with your flies in the water. And if you feels the pangs of regret over pools not covered and fish not caught, there’s always next time.
It was a lovely, sunny afternoon, albeit with a slight chill in the air. The water was perfect: dropping after the weekend’s downpours, just a tinge of color, nice and cold. There were the ubiquitous midges, BWOs sz 14-16, and some caddis. I fished with a dry/dropper and a small tungsten bead jig. Although I had a few slashes (and one landed) on the dry, the natives showed a clear preference for the jig. I had great success in deeper, darker holes, and along shaded cutbanks.
I guided Jordan and Chris on Thursday and we started off on the lower river. Given the recent cold, dank weather, I was hoping the morning sunshine would kick-start some bugs, but that was not the case. We plugged away with nymphs, fished drop-shot under an indicator, and although both anglers hooked fish, I wasn’t happy with the action. So we moved upstream to the PTMA.
The next task was getting Chris into some fish. I took him to the same slot where my client Jason had had success the day before, and the fish were still there. Chris did a good job getting his nymph rig where it needed to be, and he was rewarded with multiple hookups. Around 2:30pm, creatures began stirring. This was to be the first major Hendrickson event of the year for me. I hustled down to Jordan’s position and re-rigged him for wet fly with a simple two-fly team. Our Blessed Lady of the Soft Hackle smiled upon us, and Jordan banged up a hefty brown on the dangle. I left Jordan to swing away, and rigged Chris for dry fly. I tied on a Usual, one of my favorite Farmington River patterns, and we got to witness one of those epic Hendrickson dry fly eats: a perfect drift in the feeding lane, the trout committing to the fly, white mouth agape, and the turn with the hook buried in its jaw.
Friday was play day for me. I found some space in the lower end of the PTMA, which delighted me no end because Friday was sunny and warm and the kind of day that especially draws a crown this time of year. Unfortunately, it was also blustery, and the gusts sent a torrent of tree seeds into the water. To make matters worse, the seeds were about the size and shade of a female Hendrickson, so I made sure my wet fly team had darker flies. It was a bittersweet afternoon for me because I ended up in some water that was a netherworld of activity. Plenty of rises below me — but two anglers, too. Plenty of rises above me — but same angler density. I managed to take several fish on wets using an upstream presentation (and I slipped in a couple downstream victories as well). What was significant about this was the fly the fish ate. On my three fly team (Squirrel and Ginger top dropper, Dark Hendrickson soft hackle middle dropper, Dark Hendrickson winged wet on point) the only pattern the trout ate was the middle dropper. When the hatch indicated that I should switch to dry (the trout will no longer show interest in the subsurface fly) I had one of those days where there were so many duns on the water, I had trouble getting the trout to find my fly. I consoled myself by watching the sheer number of naturals that didn’t get eaten. And the trout that I did hook made those successes seem sweeter.
Many thanks to everyone who shared the water (Jack and Dennis, you should have stayed a bit longer!) and to those who came to say hello. I hope the flies I handed out served you well.
I’ve been fortunate to have had so many fantastic days fishing the Hendrickson hatch on the Farmington River. So naturally, I’m licking my chops in anticipation of this year’s complex action and (hopefully) grand style. Here are some of the things going though my mind on this lovely March morning (which, if it were three weeks from now, would have Hendrickson written all over it).
I hope the water comes down. I’ve had many days where the river was way up — with legions of bugs dotting the surface — and nothing was snapping at them. Oh, sure, the trout gorged below, but is there anything more discouraging than seeing the water littered with Hendrickson duns and nothing is trying to eat them?
So, tailor your presentation to to the water level. Most anglers associate the Hendrickson hatch with dry fly action. But I’ve had some crazy days nymphing when it seemed like it was a fish on every cast. You can use specific Hendrickson nymphs, pheasant tails or something like this.
Don’t neglect wet flies. The earliest stages of this hatch are tailor made for wet flies like the Dark Hendrickson winged wet. You’ll know when to switch to dries because you’re not taking a trout — or multiples if you’re fishing three flies — on every cast.
I’m going to try some new things this year. Here’s a post from years past where I riffed on the Dark Hendrickson theme. I’m curious about soft hackles this year, particularly glass beads vs brass beads. More on that as I get out for some field testing next month.
I do really well with The Usual. Of course, I have Comparaduns and classic Catskills-style dries. But I embrace simplicity, and trout almost always display a wanton eagerness to attack Fran Betters’ classic.
Be aware of other hatches. Little BWOs, Mahogany Duns, and especially caddis can come off at the same time. Woe be to the angler who is unprepared for the trout taking something other than H-bombs. I always have a Squirrel and Ginger as the top dropper on my team of three.
Happy hump day! Just a wee reminder that if you’re not following me on Instagram — @stevecultonflyfishing — you may be missing out on some good stuff. What goes on Instagram doesn’t usually make it to currentseams. Like this website, I try to keep it informative, entertaining, or useful (and on a good day, all three). So, if you’re not following me on Instagram, hop to it. I just posted this nifty little black stonefly soft hackled nymph….
Class was in session last night on the historic Yale University campus. Only instead of pencils and books, there were vises and hooks. And pizza. What would a little Monday night fly tying be without pizza? Anyway, I did two tying sessions with the members of the Yale Fishing Club. We started each one with an abbreviated version of my seminar, “Wet Flies 101.” And then, we hit the vises and tied a simple soft hackle in the traditional North Country Spider format. Some of the members had only rudimentary tying skills, but we made it a no-fail, no-worry zone, and I think everyone had a swell time. I know the instructor did!
The best little fly fishing show in New England made its triumphant return last Saturday, and I was proud to be a part of it. Long held at Maneely’s in South Windsor, the CFFA shifted the Expo this year to Nomads. What the new venue lacks in coziness is made up for in space and a large casting area. It was gratifying to see so many familiar faces — even if I am terrible at remembering everyone’s name (a never-ending source of embarrassment for me). Thanks to everyone for your patience!
What a fantastic Fly Fishing Show in Edison! I was there for two whirlwind days, stretching the space-time continuum and pushing the fun barrier to its limits. Many, many thanks to everyone who came to a seminar, took a class, watched me tie, or simply stopped to say hello. My apologies if I had to rush off mid-conversation — my schedule was literally back-to-back on both days. If I didn’t get to answer a question or talk fly fishing, you know where to find me.