Farmington River Report 5/17 & 5/18/22: The curse of the cold front, then getting warmer

I can’t remember the last cold front that came through that was good for fishing. I can, however, remember plenty of times when it was bad. Like just a few days ago. Still, you take what nature gives you, and you do your best. That’s all anyone can ask. And maybe you still manage to have fun.

Tuesday May 17: I guided Herb today. Herb was dedicated to learning the ancient art of the wet fly — gotta love that — so we headed to a stretch of classic wet fly water. This was the morning after the cold front came through, and predictably, the action was slow. Hatch activity was virtually non-existent; we only saw one fish rise in four hours. It was a breezy, gusty day, and we got soaked by a couple of random rain squalls. We moved to a different location within the Permanent TMA. This was a difference maker as we had a couple bumps and then, hooray!, a hook set. Herb landed a lovely fat rainbow in a soft riffle, and there were smiles all around. Great job, Herb, for sticking with it, and I’m excited for you to swing wets under more favorable conditions.

Wednesday, May 18: Fred and Bud joined me for a late morning/early afternoon lesson within the Permanent TMA. Conditions were much better: still gusty, but sunny, warmer, and the water great height for wet flies (270cfs). Both anglers began with drop-shot nymphing, Fred tight line and Bud with an indicator (use the method in which you have the most confidence). Both of them caught fish. There came a point in the early afternoon when bugs started to pop, so we switched to wets. Because of the wind, I kept both anglers to a two-fly team. I think my favorite part of teaching these gentlemen was watching them improve as each hour passed, and doing it in the lovely stretch of water we had all to ourselves. Sometimes you get lucky. Kudos to Fred and Bud for fishing hard and well!

Why is this man smiling? A fat, well-fed trout, feeding right where we thought he’d be. My Hendrickson soft-hackle and Fred’s well-placed cast and mended swing did the trick.

Farmington River Report 5/5 and 5/6/22: Hot and then ice cold

“Every day is different.” That’s something my clients hear from me a lot. Thursday and Friday this week were the proof. I guided Jon and his grandson Jake; Jon’s an experienced fly angler, Jake not so much, but very eager to learn. It was exciting to have two generations of fly fishers on the water, and have the opportunity to teach them.

Thursday 5/5: warm, sunny conditions, and a reduced flow. Hot-diggety! As we arrived at the first mark, below the Permanent TMA, blocky caddis, size 12-14, filled the air. I liked our chances. Our first lesson was indicator nymphing with a drop shot rig. Jake did a great job figuring it out; in no time at all he was casting and making quality drifts.

Not bad, kid! A mid-teens wild brown Jake hooked while drop-shot indicator nymphing. Jake’s quote, pre-battle: “I think I’m stuck on a rock.” Nossir. You got a tank of a brown. Jake did a great job playing and landing the fish. We talked about proper release and photo techniques, in particular keeping the fish submerged until ready to shoot, then 1-2-3 lift, and shoot. Note the water dripping from Jake’s hands. This gorgeous fish took the top dropper, a Squirrel and Ginger size 12.

We moved upriver into the lower end of the permanent TMA for a wet fly lesson. The Hendrickson hatch was decent enough (5 out of 10) and both Jake and Jon connected with fish. I had them both rigged with a Squirrel and Ginger top dropper and a soft-hackled Hendrickson on point. I’d kept it a two fly rig on purpose, hoping to reduce the chance of tangling disasters; while I highly recommend a three fly team, two flies is certainly better than one. Both gentlemen caught fish on each fly. When the hatch matured and the trout wanted the dry, we switched over and had fun trying to fool them on the surface. The run was crowded, with seven anglers, but we all managed to share the water and keep it positive. Everyone got into trout on this glorious early May Day.

Friday 5/6: This is why I hate cold fronts. We carpet bombed the first mark with nymphs; not a touch. We moved to a second mark and tried wets; nothing doing. This was particularly frustrating because I know that particular run is infested with trout. But: the hatch activity stunk. No caddis. No Hendricksons. Over the course of four hours, a visible rising number I could count on a hand. We saw only one other angler hook a fish. Ugh. Jake and Jon deserved far better for their efforts, as both fished hard and well. All you can do on a day like this is make quality presentations and hope things turn. They didn’t for us, but we left the river with our heads held high. Great job, Jon and Jake, and you were a pleasure to guide.

Farmington River Report 4/27/22: I can’t wait for April to get here

Another unseasonably cold, windy afternoon on the river. I decided to check out the lower section below Collinsville, mostly out of Hendrickson curiosity. The water was higher than I’d like for wet fly (755cfs is still chugging; sub-500 would be best) but you don’t know if you don’t go. I began in a faster, snottier boulder-studded section; not surprisingly, it was a wet fly blank. I didn’t nymph it, which might have produced a different result.

Bug activity was, at first, minimal. Ubiquitous midges, then a mystery mayfly (see below), and then a few precious H-words. The mystery mayfly far outnumbered the Hendricksons, probably 10:1 or so. When the sun peeked out, the hatch ramped up. And when the clouds took over, the hatch stopped in its tracks. I managed a good half dozen trout on wets — this was in slower moving water — catching them blind and also by targeting active feeders. While few and far between, the active feeders all pounced on a well-placed wet fly. I fished the same team as Monday, a Squirrel and Ginger on top, followed by two tungsten beadhead Hendrickson soft hackles. I had an accident trying to land a trout by hand, and lost the middle dropper; when I re-tied, I exchanged the point fly for a tungsten SHBHPT.

I wasn’t satisfied with the surface activity, so I did a bit of nymphing. Normally I would use a traditional drop shot nymph rig, but this time I kept the three fly team and added a drop shot section to the point fly and one of my home-brew year indicators to the tapered butt. It worked just fine, and some of the takes were highly aggressive, almost bordering on frantic. After 2 1/2 hours, I’d had enough. I tried for one more trout on a swung wet, and, once successful, headed for the warmth of the car.

The mystery bug, about a size 14-16. Some kind of olive? Quill-something? Whatever it is, it far outnumbered Hendricksons. I don’t stress when I can’t ID a bug; if you try to match the general size, color, and profile with a wet fly or nymph, you’ll tend to do well. This is why it’s a smart idea to carry soft hackled Pheasant Tails in various sizes, beaded and unbeaded. That pattern looks like a lot of things in general, and almost always like something that’s alive and good to eat.

Thank you, APTU, for a wonderful wet fly Zoom!

Last night I presented Wet Flies 2.0 to the Ashokan-Pepacton Watershed Chapter of Trout Unlimited. I’m sure we would have all liked to have done it in person, but Zoom being the next best thing, we had at it, and a pleasant time was had by all. (Really good questions, group!) Thanks so much for being so welcoming, and let’s do it again, hopefully in person. Tonight, it’s The Little Things with Philadelphia’s Main Line Fly-Tyers, also via Zoom.

Tip of the week: When you’re matching the hatch with wet flies, pay attention to size and color. These are a bunch of Hendrickson soft hackles (with several variants in the mix). The trout liked all of them, and why not? They generally match the naturals in size and color.

Marlborough Fly Fishing Show postponed — new dates April 22-23-24!

Here’s the official announcement/FAQ: “It wasn’t an easy decision but, after reaching out to our exhibitors, celebrities and staff, we made the conscious decision to postpone the 2022 Marlborough show for a myriad of obvious reasons. The new dates are April 22-24, 2022 We hope you can make it!

Q. What if I already bought an Advanced Show Ticket? A. Your ticket will be good whether you purchased it before or after our date change. Be sure to bring along either a physical or digital copy.

Q. What if I already signed up for a Featured Class? A. If you know you can’t make the show in April, please contact us and we will issue a refund. If you plan to attend you do not need to do anything. You will automatically be transferred unless we have to move a time or instructor. In that case we will reach out once we confirm the class schedule.

Q. How do I purchase advanced tickets for the April show? A. You can purchase advanced tickets by clicking here https://www.eventbrite.com/…/fly-fishing-show….”

I think this was a good decision, and my hope is that those of you who were on the fence about attending will be more comfortable with the new date. I don’t have my revised schedule yet, but I assume that I will still be doing a seminar, class, and tying demo. Note that the Edison Show for Jan 28-29-30 is still on! I’ll be appearing on Friday and Saturday, and I’m hoping for another great showing from my readers.

Farmington River Report 9/30/21: Nature finds a way

Yesterday was supposed to be a shooting day for a film and some personal projects, but the wind was most uncooperative, so we bailed. Already on the river and two hours to kill…what’s an angler to do? If you said, “fish,” you are correct! I decided that absent any consistent rises, and with the gusty wind, indicator nymphing would be my best bet for hooking up. I fished three marks and found players in two of them. I was asleep at the switch for one of the hits, and dropped the fish as I fumbled and bumbled the late hook set. But I did connect with evidence that even in harsh, trout-stressy warm water, nature finds a way. Believe it or not, this was my first outing on the Farmington since June.

This YOY wild brown fought like a tiger and almost refused to sit still for a portrait. Taken on a size 18 soft-hackled pheasant tail. It’s always gratifying to discover that even seemingly fragile creatures have the genetic programming to make it through the most challenging conditions. See you in a few years, OK?

The 2021 Smallmouth Season that Wasn’t. Or Was It?

I had big plans for this summer. I was going to go on smallmouth fishing binge the likes of which I’ve never experienced. I was going to conduct a bunch of experiments with presentation and techniques and different flies. I was going to find and learn some new water, and I was going to do some in-depth study of water I discovered last year.

And then the rains came. And came. And came. And kept coming. It was one of the wettest summers on record. The Housy was stuck on a black or blue dot on the USGS page for the entire month of July. August wasn’t much better.

But I’m a stubborn sort and I wanted to fish for smallmouth. I was damned if little things like flood stage and water the color of chocolate milk was going to stop me. So I went fishing. I managed well over a dozen outings, for which I am giving myself a gold star. I mostly had fun. I even got into fish. Here are some of the things I learned and re-learned.

Not only can you catch fish in high, heavily stained water, you can catch some big fish in high, heavily stained water. This slob could be measured in pounds. It was one of three fish in the 16″ or bigger class that I landed, on — get this — surface bugs in a 2,300cfs flow. As it turns out, it was my biggest Housy bass of the summer. All fish were taken in water about three feet deep about a rod’s length from shore. I highly recommend that you don’t wade in water that you’re unfamiliar with if you can’t see the bottom. And don’t forget the wading staff! My apologies for the substandard photo. But it’s a nice smallie.
I’d rather fish in very high or very low water than in medium-high to high flows. In the latter, there is no consistency to where the fish are from day to day, as they have enough water to virtually go anywhere. So one evening, I’d bang up a dozen quality fish in a pool. And the next, in the same mark, I’d blank or only get one or two. It’s also frustrating to have the river at a level where you just can’t wade into certain very fishy areas due to depth and current speed. I still managed to go exploring, and I fished two brand new marks with varying degrees of success. Pro tip: whether you’re fishing in high or low flows, structure is your friend, as are current breaks between faster water and slower water. Here’s the proof.
In high water, hatches go on. Not only did this’s years White Fly hatch happen, it was one of the stronger showings I’ve witnessed, and it went well into August. Sadly, the surface action was virtually nil, although I did manage a few bass on dry flies over the course of the summer. Wet fly action was a little better, but if you know there’s likely to be a strong hatch, fishing well under it — AKA nymphing — will put a very big smile on your face. I didn’t see that many black caddis this summer, but there were a bazillion sedgy-white caddis, size 18, most afternoons and evenings. The bass liked them a lot.
Some things didn’t change. There continued to be a shutdown moment right as dusk transitioned to darkness. And the Countermeasure continued to produce quality fish at that moment. I had several foot-plus bass on that fly as my last bass of the outing. Here’s to better conditions in 2022!

Farmington River Report 8/1/21: Let’s be careful with those water temps

In a normal summer, August water temps are not an issue on a tailwater like the Farmington. When you get into an extended heat/drought matrix, it’s easy to see how water temperatures can get dangerously high for trout. Less obvious is our current situation. As a result of blowing so much water out of the reservoir — July was the third wettest month on record — the lake is now less temperature stratified. What’s coming out of the bottom isn’t in the upper 50s, but rather in the mid-60s. The issue becomes one of day and night-time air temperatures, and sunshine. Lower and lesser is better. The one current saving grace is that there is still a lot of water moving through the system, and more water means it’s harder to heat up. (Yesterday was 540cfs in the Permanent TMA, and 610cfs in Unionville.)

So, please try to use common sense. Check water temps before fishing, and pick and choose your locations (closer to the dam is better) and times (morning is best, cloudy days, and after the sun goes behind the hills also works) — not to mention your tippet and landing strategies. With that in mind, I was curious about both water temperatures and trout vitality. I fished a mark below the Permanent TMA for an hour yesterday, late afternoon. The water temp was below 70. It was a fast-moving, riffly/pocket water section that was sure to be highly oxygenated. I was fishing a team of three wets with Maxima Ultragreen 4#, which is strong enough to quickly land any Farmington River trout. Finally, I resolved to strip in anything I hooked fast. I stuck four fish and landed two. The two I landed were brought to net in under 15 seconds. They both looked and behaved like very healthy fish, with no signs of stress.

This was a surprise. Given the conditions, I debated the merits of taking a photo, but I can tell you this with certainty: the char was landed in 10 seconds, kept within the net in moving, oxygenated water, then removed for 3 seconds for the photo. All we can do is our best.

To bead head on point or not? A simple rule-of-thumb for a three-fly wet fly team

The more you fish wet flies, the more you’re going to encounter situations where you want your team of three to behave in a very specific way. This can happen from day to day, location to location, and even from moment to moment within a single run. As always, ask yourself the question “What do I want the fly to do?” Let the answer be your guide.

If you want to sink your rig, then a bead head on point is good choice. Of course, the size of the bead, the material (brass or tungsten), the speed of the current, your leader length, and your mending skills will all factor into how much depth you can achieve. I’ll use red thread at the head to help me identify the tungsten beads in my fly box should I choose to go heavy. I like to keep the heaviest fly on point; I find it easier to cast, and as the heaviest member of the team it will want to pull the entire rig down.

Say you’re fishing a bead head pattern on point, and you notice an active riser above your position. The fish is taking emergers just below the surface. In this case, a sinking rig may not be to your advantage — you want to make it easier for the buyer to buy.

To keep the team of three near the surface, I’ll switch out a bead head point fly for a soft hackle. If I’m making an upstream presentation to a fish that’s feeding just below the surface, I want the flies on my team likewise just below the surface. Of course, match the hatch if you can. We did this yesterday with a trout that was feeding on caddis in some slower, shallower water. Off came the bead head point fly, on went the unweighted caddis, and a few well-placed casts later, bingo! Fish on.

Last night’s Zoom, next week’s Zoom, and the inaugural Fly-Tying Zoom (Sat. Jan 16)

Thanks to everyone who joined me for last night’s Currentseams Tuesday Night Zoom. We had nearly 60 people, which doesn’t suck, and a splendid time was had by all. I’m sorry about the muting issues — I will have it figured out for next time. Speaking of next time, we’ll do it again next Tuesday, January 12. I’ll be talking about winter fly fishing, and winter fly tying — so be there or be square! I’ll post a reminder early next week.

As John Cleese would say, “And now for something completely different.” I’m going to do my first winter fly tying pay-per-Zoom event on Saturday, January 16 at 1pm. This will be about 90 minutes of fly tying/tie-along instruction. The cost is $10. To “register,” you send 10 bucks to me at PayPal (ID is swculton@yahoo.com) and I’ll send you the link to the meeting. Our first session will be Tying the Soft-Hackled Fly. This will cover some basic, useful patterns, and will include the North Country Spider template. It would be ideal if everyone had every kind of hackle, but I know that’s not possible, nor is it necessary. But you should have some basics, like different color threads, different hooks, tools, etc. You should have a partridge skin or at least partridge feathers. Starling would be good to have. If you have any kind of hen cape soft hackle, have that handy. The point is, if you don’t have a specific kind of hackle, you can find it later. This is all about tying basics and templates. Oh! I’d like to show you the Squirrel and Ginger, so please find ginger Angora goat, green Krystal flash, Squirrel fur, and high-tack wax. If you don’t have the goat, you can use another kind of dubbing. Wire can be substituted for Krystal Flash. Questions? You know where to find me.

By popular demand, fly tying classes by Zoom! The first will be two Saturdays from now, January 16th, 1pm, and the subject will be Tying The Soft-Hackled Fly. See above for materials list.