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 7/29/20: “We can catch that fish.”

I guided Andrew yesterday and our focus was wet fly fishing, reading water, and finding productive water. We fished two marks into late afternoon/early evening, one within the Permanent TMA and the other above it. Conditions were as about as good as you could want for this time of year, with a healthy 270cfs flow and the water plenty cold. The first mark was frustrating as we found feeding fish, but not a high percentage of players. Like many beginning wet fly fishers, Andrew needed to learn to let the fish set the hook. In fairness, most of these trout were smaller, their feeding sporadic, and as I told Andrew, the bigger fish don’t miss when they commit to the wet fly.

The second mark was a snotty run loaded with boulders, pockets, and all kinds of rocks that wanted to trip you up if you’re not careful. But Andrew was game and we went exploring. Things began slowly, but then we started to see sulphurs, olives, and Isonychia, along with one giant yellow mayfly (Potomantis?) and a corresponding spike in feeding. We found a big rainbow carelessly slashing at emergers at the end of a pocket run, and I said to Andrew, “We can catch that fish.” And then, “Remember, don’t set the hook.” Second cast, bang! Off to the races.

You can see that smile all the way through the mask. Andrew and his prize, a mid-teens chunker rainbow. Not an easy fish to land in a ripping current, but the trout hooked itself neatly on a Hackled March Brown. (Note arms bent at a 90-degree angle. There’ll be no fish thrusting on this site!)

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The battle won, the fish kept wet in the net until a quick photo is taken, then the release. Always a  highly gratifying moment.

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We finished up in another long pocket run that was populated with trout feeding on sulphur emergers. They proved to be tougher customers, but we landed a few on the Partridge and Light Cahill and called it a day. Great job, Andrew! I took a break and then got in a little wet then dry fly session. Hatch and feeding was about a 5/10. But you get what you get and you don’t get upset, especially when you have and entire pool to yourself at dusk.

Tip of the Week: Find the moment you should switch from wets to dries

Late afternoon into early summer evenings can be a highly productive time to fish wet flies, especially if you have a strong hatch and active feeders. Of course, it’s a good idea to fish a team of three (give the trout a choice) and match the hatch (you can match multiple hatches with a team of three wets). If you hit it right, you’ll be the angler that everyone wants to quiz in the parking lot.

Wets will often out-fish dries during the early and mid-stages of a hatch. But there comes a time when you should stop fishing wets and switch to dries. Some of the cues are visual: you begin to see trout taking insects off the top of the water, or the rises leave a bubble (indicating the fish has broken the surface while eating). Others are self-evident: you’ve been pounding up fish on wets for an hour, the feed is still in full swing, but you’re no longer getting hits. Learn to find this moment in time consistently, and you’ll be on your way to catching more fish. Keep a dry fly leader in a handy pocket so you can make the switch even faster.

I have not been fishing Stewart’s Dun Spider nearly enough this summer. This soft hackle has sulphurs written all over it. Change the silk to a light olive for Attenuata? Hmmm…

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Booming and Zooming! Thanks, and up next…

Booming and Zooming. That’s what the test pilots called it when they broke the sound barrier while flying in a parabolic arc. We did our own version of B&Z last night: 50 attendees at the inaugural Currentseams Zoom — Wet Flies & Soft Hackles in case you missed it — and only one big boom! (thanks for your patience) that we sorted out. So: thanks to everyone who took the time to participate. I had fun. I hope you did, too. I know some of you arrived late and I didn’t see you in the entry queue. Mea culpa. And apologies. I appreciate your patience as I sort through this technology.

We’ll do another one of these, hopefully next week, date TBD. I like the 8pm EST start. I’m  hearing a lot of interest in a striper talk, so that’s probably where we’re headed. Figure the same format, a presentation then Q&A.

If you have not yet gotten on the official Currentseams Zoom email list — please send me an email — not a comment here — to swculton @ yahoo so I have a valid email url. I’ll get you on it lickety-split. Thanks again, and please stay safe and well.

Did somebody say stripers on Zoom?

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Tuesday Night Zoom 4/21/20: Wet Flies & Soft Hackles

You’re invited to my inaugural Currentseams Zoom, tonight, Tuesday 4/21 at 8pm. The topic will be Wet Flies & Soft Hackles. I’ll talk for a bit (I’m assuming I’ll have more than 3 players, so I’ll be limited to 40 minutes) and then we’ll do a Q&A. I’ll thank you in advance for your patience as this will be my first time doing this. There will certainly be bugs, but I’m hopeful that we’ll work through them.

So: you’ll want a link and a meeting ID. I’ll send that out via email…in fact, some of you may already have received it. IMPORTANT: If you responded to my Zoom post last week, you’re already on the email list, except Lee, David Larson, and Dan Tobin. If you’re one of those three guys, please send an email to swculton@yahoo.com so I can get a good email address; if you’re not, and you want to join my Zoom email list, please do likewise.

Thanks for your enthusiasm, and I’ll see you at 8pm.

That’s what I’m talkin’ about.

DCIM100GOPROG0013334.

 

 

Partridge and Light Cahill Tying Video

Patterned after a classic North Country spider, the Partridge and Light Cahill is another example of a fly that is ridiculously simple and devastatingly effective. The first time I tied this fly, it sat in my box, unused, for the better part of four years. Then came a late May evening on the lower Farmington. Creamy mayfly duns were out in force. Trout were slashing at the flies, their feeding frenzy creating a cauldron effect on the river’s surface. I tied my experiment onto my team of three wets, and the trout overwhelmingly showed their approval. To the vise, good angler, then fish the Light Cahill and Sulphur hatches with confidence. The vote will surely be yes for you, too.

 

Best of North Country Spiders: Waterhen Bloa

You’ll often find BWOs on the greyest of days, so ’tis fitting that this ancient-and-tradtional Olive pattern sports the same somber hues. It also makes a fine Early Grey Stone.

Waterhen Bloa

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Hook: Dry or wet fly, 14-18
Silk: Yellow
Body: Silk dubbed with water rat (muskrat) or mole fur
Hackle: Waterhen under covert feather
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Tying Notes: Waterhen is difficult to track down. Starling or blue-grey dun hen are suitable replacements. You should be able to see the thread clearly through the dubbing — I call it “dusting the thread.” This fellow is slightly on the heavy side of dubbing. Keep enough thread waxed (I used cobbler’s wax) to avoid having a bright yellow head. You can find a general North Country spider video tutorial here.

Intro to wet flies and beyond : Essential reading from Sylvester Nemes and Dave Hughes

If you want to learn how to tie and fish wet flies, soft hackles, and fuzzy nymphs for trout, you can start by reading The Soft-Hackled Fly and Tiny Soft Hackles by Sylvester Nemes and Wet Flies: Tying and Fishing Soft-Hackles, Winged and Wingless Wets, and Fuzzy Nymphs by Dave Hughes. That’s what I did a long time ago, and I’m a better angler for it.

Too many fly fishing how-to books read like the dictionary — or worse, a quantum physics monograph. Not the case here. Both Hughes and Nemes write with a conversational style, perfectly weaving anecdotes with critical know-how.

The Soft-Hackled Fly and Tiny Soft Hackles is a combination of two of Nemes’ earlier works. It’s a pattern book for sure, but there’s also plenty of relevant storytelling. It’s loaded with peals of wisdom (“If you have never tied flies before, I urge you to start immediately. The practice is exhilarating.”) and hidden gems like using North Country spiders for steelhead. The purchase price alone is worth being able to tell someone that you’re catching all those trout on a size 20 Smut No. 1.

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Hughes’ Wet Flies is likewise a pattern book, with multiple step-by-step photos and clear instructions. But it also covers history, wet fly types, and how to fish them. It’s a user-friendly read that exudes confidence in the patterns and the methods. My only complaint is that it’s a more western US-centric view of the subject. But wherever you live, you’ll find Wet Flies relevant (“Trout aren’t interested in neatness”). Note that there is now a second edition of Wet Flies, with new photos and patterns. I haven’t read it; I trust that it’s pretty darned good, too.

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Farmington River Report 7/23/16: More mid-day magic

Today I had the pleasure of teaching the ways of the wet fly to a group from the NYC Chapter of TU. Thanks to everyone who participated; you all did a great job under some truly difficult (again) conditions. I saw improvement in all of you across the board — keep on keeping on, and the trout will surely smile upon you.

Speaking of smiles, we had a little of that mid-day magic again. Look what Jon found at the end of his three-fly team! This wild brown taped out at a full 21″. Taken in the fast water at the head of a pool around 11:30 this morning.

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Last fish of the day for Jon. Not as big, but just as wild. Look at the white tips on those fins.  One of very few actively feeding fish we saw today.

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Note: they’ve lowered the flow from the dam. 165cfs and 64 degrees in the TMA. Unfortunately, it looks like a scorcher this week. Let’s all do a rain dance — or at least tweak for cooler weather.