Farmington River Report 12/13/16: Subsurface spectacular

Going to be mighty chilly later this week, so I thought I’d get my licks in today. Good call. I fished within the permanent TMA from 9am-1pm, and found very cooperative fish in two of the three runs I fished — not to mention precious solitude. Here are the day’s notes:

Nymphing was incredibly productive for me. Those of you who are currentseams regulars know that I am a huge fan of indicator nymphing, especially in winter. However, in this low (100cfs and falling) and cold (34 degrees) water, I’ve gone away from the indicator to a basic short-line approach. The trout are beginning to stack up in their winter lies, and since the water is so shallow, those lies are very accessible via the long rod. I still like the indicator for covering water and for fishing faster, deeper runs, but in these conditions I’m doing better with the short-line approach. Still using the drop-shot rig, only I’ve added a yellow sighter.

Most of today’s trout were foot-long wild fish like this beauty. I did manage a well-fed rainbow and a mid-teens brown. 

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I fished two flies today: a size 16 2x short Frenchy variant on point and a size 16 March Brown wingless wet dropper. The trout were just about evenly split on both. But it’s interesting to note that my first half-dozen fish came on the top dropper. This came in advance of another strong morning W/S caddis hatch. It could have been that the trout were keying on emergers 1-2 feet off the bottom, or simply that they were looking up. Regardless, droppers continue to be the fastest way to find out what the fish want.

A fascinating mix of strike styles today. Some were oh-so-subtle pauses in the vertical line, others were sharp tugs. Good stuff.

Don’t let the exquisite red spots and delicate parr marks mislead you: this fish fought like a badass. I’d like to rumble with him again in a couple years.

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Finally, support your local fly shop. UpCountry Sportfishing is a good friend of currentseams, and they have a tremendous selection of just about anything you’d need for fly fishing or tying. Make sure Santa knows where to find that new rod, reel, vise, or whatever it is you don’t have — or need more of.

Farmington River Report 2/4/16: Ixnay on the Unkskay

There’s a time and a place to be an intrepid explorer, and that time was…Tuesday. Today I wanted to catch some trout. Winter fishing being like buying real estate — location, location, location — I headed for the retail district. Not too crowded, and people willing to share the water (thanks, Zach and friend).

So it wasn’t stupid good, but it was good enough that after 90 minutes I had enough house money to want to go spend it elsewhere. A few notes about the river and fishing:

The permanent TMA was about 400cfs and slightly off-color. The closer you got to the Still, the murkier the water. And it was cold. I’m guessing 34/35 degrees.

Indicator nymphing was the method. The water I fished was neither slow nor deep, but I decided early on to fish two BB shot on my drop shot rig to slow the drift. It seemed to work.

I took several trout in what I would describe as “softer water,” that transition zone between current seam and frog water.

The takes were on the subtle side. No indicator screeching to a halt, or dramatically plummeting to the depths; it was the equivalent of a trout sipping a midge off the surface. It was simply no longer there. Hook set downstream, and off we go.

All my fish today had an intact adipose and were in the 12″-15″ class. I fished a size 12 (2x short) SHBHPT on bottom, and a size 16 (2x short) new midge emerger/nymph thingy I made up last night on the dropper. I am mildly depressed to report that there was no interest in the new fly. But I’m confident that some day there will be.

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See you Saturday!

 

 

 

Farmington River Report 1/26/16: Avoiding crowds — and fish

Where there’s one trout, there’s probably a bunch more. That’s a fair statement for winter fishing on the Farmington, and one that Torrey Collins reiterated to me as I walked out the door of UpCountry. But you could also say the same for winter trout fishers. And today I wanted to avoid crowds. If there were any fish in that bargain, I would embrace it as a bonus.

I’ve been fairly stubborn about Spot A this winter. I know there’s a healthy population of trout, but I’ve only hit them in the mood to eat once. I spent ninety obstinate minutes bouncing nymphs along the bottom (I had too many false positives to count) and swinging/stripping streamers before I decided enough.

Spot B was a what-the-heck roll of the dice. I don’t like it in lower water (230 cfs, 35 degrees in the permanent TMA) but you don’t know if you don’t go. Ten minutes was all I gave it. Blanked.

The run in Spot C is deep and moving at a good walking pace. The yarn went under with the speed and depth that indicates a substantial fish has committed to your fly. Or you’ve found a fly-eating rock. Bottom 1, Steve 0, and I set about re-tying my rig. Thirty minutes later, another blank.

And that’s when you realize that solitude is nice, but you should probably just deal with whoever’s there and go fishing where the willing-to-eat fish are. Third cast, the indicator goes under and the bottom fights back.

Clearly, this calls for a second cigar.

Down periscope. A nice kype beginning to form on this some-teen inch brown that took a size 12 (2x short) SHBHPT, the day’s clear favorite (they showed no interest in eggs or SH Zebra Midges).

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Farmington River Report 12/10/15: BWOs, anglers, and trout

The permanent TMA was crowded! Smoke ’em if you got ’em, I guess — it’s hard for the mall to compete with near-60 degree weather in December. Andy Lyons moseyed on over to say hi. (Please do likewise if you see me on the water — the internet is a great way to reach out to people, but it can’t replace a handshake. And Andy, if you’re reading this, I want that nymph recipe). (See comments below for Andy’s generous response.) Water was on the low side of medium at 225cfs. Didn’t get a water temp, but I think it’s fair to assume that it’s a wee bit higher than normal. Witnessed: a very strong BWO hatch around 1pm.

To the outing: Mark is an experienced fly angler who is making the transition to trout. He’s all in on the immersion process, and this was our second trip in as many weeks. Like our first time out, we focused on traditional late fall/early winter holding water, with an emphasis on indicator nymphing and streamers. We hit five spots, and found players in two of them.

Mark’s first fish of the day came on a simple egg fly (donated to me the previous night by Gary S of the CFFA). What a lovely early winter brown.

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After our session ended, Mark wanted to keep fishing. I pointed out a likely spot for him to toss some streamers. Look what he found on the second cast. Check out the transparency of that tail. Nice job, Mark!

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Farmington River Report 12/1/15: Close, so I provided my own cigar

I spent three hours on the river today with mixed results. I spoke to one centerpinner who said he took over a dozen trout, some in the 20″ class, on trout beads. Another bait angler report a single fish in the first five minutes, then nothing for two hours.

So, what about us fly guys? I threw a mix of streamers on floating and full-sink lines for two hours. Two sharp bumps that felt like smaller fish, then a chase on the mended swing from a good-sized brown that was hiding behind a boulder; sadly, no hookup, and I could not entice him to play again.

Then, I switched to indicator nymphing, and used a small egg pattern as the bottom fly. And there he was, my only hookup of the day. Nothing to shout about, so no picture. However (and this is significant as winter and very cold water temperatures are nearly upon us) the take was not a full drop of the indicator, but rather a series of quick shudders; I set the hook, and the bottom fought back.

Tiny dark midges were out in force, and there were a couple fish rising haphazardly around 1pm. River was clear and running at 280cfs. A damp, drizzly, raw day, but nonetheless beautiful in the eyes of this angler. (And for those who care about my post titles, it was a Gispert Churchill.)

Why trout beads work. That’s a real egg on the left. This photo is from a steelheading trip in November 2013.

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Winter Fly Fishing on the Farmington River

“Winter Fly Fishing on the Farmington River” first appeared in the February 2015 issue of Mid Atlantic Fly Fishing Guide.

The best part about winter fly fishing on the Farmington is not that on any given day, you have a good chance of catching trout. It’s that on any given day, you have a good chance of catching trout on a dry. Or a wet. Or a nymph. Or a streamer.

A classic tailwater, the West Branch of Connecticut’s Farmington River starts at the Hogback Dam in Barkhamsted, and flows some 60 miles to its confluence with the Connecticut River in Windsor. Between Barkhamsted and Unionville are dozens of miles of blue ribbon trout water, much of it open to anglers year round.

Resident salmonids include brown trout, rainbow trout, brook trout, and juvenile Atlantic salmon. In addition to stocked and holdover fish, there are substantial numbers of stream-born trout and char in the Farmington. (The 2013 DEEP census placed wild fish at 50% of the trout population.) Because the Farmington is a tailwater, it remains cool and trout-friendly in the warm summer months. It also means that during the unforgiving bitterness of winter, the source water is well above freezing. That’s good for trout. Good for hatches. And of course, good for fishing.

Small flies catch big winter browns on the Farmington. This buck was taken on a size 18, 2x short bead-head Pheasant Tail.

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Winter access and gear

Often, the most challenging part of a winter outing on the Farmington is finding a place to park. Only a handful of lots are plowed. Dirt roads are not plowed, and many are gated until spring. During snowy winters, the pulloffs that line East and West River Roads along the TMA are buried beneath an impenetrable hedge of snow and ice. A four-wheel drive truck with good tires and ground clearance will help you negotiate spots a sedan can’t manage. The river in winter doesn’t draw close to the crowds it sees in summer. Still, on a mild day, popular places like Church Pool are likely to be busy.

If there’s an extended cold snap, some of the slower pools will build up shelf ice along the shore. Never attempt to walk across shelf ice to get into the water. While I like to target days when the mercury is above thirty-two degrees, be aware that runoff generated by some of the warmer thaws can send water temperatures plummeting. Extended periods of consistent weather often mean good winter fishing. Conversely, a sudden cold snap is usually bad for business.

Dressing for winter fishing is a matter of common sense: know the weather forecast, and know your body’s limitations. I tend to run cold, so my best friend is my 1,000 grain insulated boot foot 5-millimeter neoprene waders. Breathable layers and hand and toe warmers are essential gear. I highly recommend studded boots and a wading staff – falling in the river is never fun, even less so in January. Remember to get out of the water and walk around for a few minutes every hour to avoid frozen leg/feet syndrome.

An angler patiently waits for risers on a cold February morning.

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Winter Dry Fly Fishing

Just because there’s snow on the ground – or in the air – doesn’t mean you won’t find a pool that’s simmering with rise rings. The Farmington River has a fairly consistent winter midge hatch. Some of those midges push the size 18 envelope, but when planning your fly selection, think small, smaller, smallest. The tiny blue-winged olives (size 22-28) of late fall often carry over into December. But the real hero hatch for winter dry fly aficionados is Dolophilodes distinctus, the Winter/Summer Caddis.

In the winter, I don’t usually arrive on the river much before 11am. An exception is the W/S Caddis hatch, which is usually an early morning event. Distinctus is appropriately named. They rise to the surface as pupae, size 18-24, then scoot across the water to the shore where they complete their emergence. During this scooting phase, they are highly vulnerable to feeding trout.

This W/S Caddis Pupa pattern is a favorite of Farmington River dry fly anglers. So simple: dark grey foam body and dark dun hackle, size 18-24.

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The trout will always tell you how they want the fly presented during a W/S Caddis hatch. Hedge your bets by targeting actively feeding fish. If you’re not getting any takes with a classic drag-free drift, try going down a size or two. If that doesn’t produce, try waking the fly, replicating the pupal dash across the surface. Sometimes that movement is the feeding trigger.

Winter Streamer Fishing

For years, I never considered fishing a streamer on the Farmington in the winter. Then, one January day, I saw a spin angler take trout after trout on a small jig-head soft plastic. I returned to the pool he was fishing the next afternoon with a full sink (7ips) integrated line and a tungsten cone-head streamer. Needless to say, I went home happy, and now there are days when I am committed solely to the streamer cause.

Deep, dark pools with water moving at a walking pace or slower are the first places I’ll start. Getting the streamer down, and a slow-to-moderate retrieve have produced the best results for me. I stay out of the faster runs, although I sometimes do find willing customers in the transition water at the heads of pools. In shallower runs, I like to let the streamer swing and dangle like a wet fly before I begin my retrieve.

Winter Nymphing/Wet Fly Fishing

Swinging a team of wets through the current seams of a boulder field is a sound spring, summer, and fall strategy. But as the winter cold slows trout metabolism, the dead drift in slower, deeper waters – and the seductive upward swing of the flies – becomes the higher percentage subsurface play. That’s why I like to fish a nymph and a wet on my two-fly indicator setup.

Two flies give the trout a choice: color, size, species, and life stages. Because what is hatching this time of year is typically small, I like at least one of the flies to be in the 18-20 range. Eggs and attractor nymphs certainly work, but I prefer to stick with more natural colors and patterns. Don’t be afraid to include larger (6-12) stonefly patterns in the mix. Because the soft-hackled fly straddles the line between nymph and emerger, I’ll rig that fly higher on the leader so it will always be closer to the surface than the nymph. Keep it simple. A soft-hackled Pheasant Tail or Hare’s Ear will serve you well.

I’m a big fan of indicator nymphing in the winter for two reasons. One, it lets me cover more water. Two, the takes of winter trout can be nearly imperceptible. Sometimes those micro-twitches, shudders, or stalls are the only sign of the take. Look for a reason to set the hook on every drift. As you complete the dead drift phase of your presentation, let the flies swing up. If an emergence is taking place, aggressive feeders will often chase and strike.

An exquisitely parr-marked wild Farmington brown that chased a nymph on the upward swing.

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Where to fish

The Farmington River Anglers Association (fraa.org) has updated its popular book A Guide to Fishing The Farmington River. The guide includes comprehensive river maps and pool descriptions. For daily reports, weather, and water flows, visit UpCountry Sportfishing at farmingtonriver.com.

“Winter Fly Fishing on the Farmington River” in the current issue of MAFFG

The latest article from yours truly, this is a basic primer on winter fishing on the Farmington River. You can read it in the February 2015 issue of the Mid Atlantic Fly Fishing Guide, available free in many fly shops from Connecticut to North Carolina.

Free to you. Such a deal.

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Dispatches from the word front

Hello, fellow fly fishing reader. Get your eyeballs ready for a couple articles from yours truly.

Soft-Hackles for Winter Steelhead will be in the next (Jan/Feb) issue of American Angler, which should be out in early December. It takes a look at some of my favorite patterns for Great Lakes winter steelhead, and of course includes a few fishing stories into the bargain.

Winter on the Farmington will be out early next year in the Mid Atlantic Fly Fishing Guide. One guess as to the subject matter. Gadzooks, I have yet to write this. And my deadline approaches rapidly from the east.

On the noncommercial front, I still owe you my Block Island Diary 2014 and a report from my recent steelhead trip. I ask for your patience while I restock my pens.

As always, thanks for your readership. And thanks to those of you who follow currentseams.

Winter. Steelhead. Smile.

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One is the loneliest number (but it beats the tar out of zero).

Nymphed the Farmington River today from 11:30am to 1pm. Water in the upper TMA was an average height, clear, and 34 degrees. It was a slow day for most of the anglers I spoke with. Saw very little evidence of hatch activity (save for a solitary charcoal grey midge). I managed a fine holdover brown, but even that was by accident; I was moving a few steps downstream to a new position when the indicator went under. And there he was on my size 18 BH soft-hackle pheasant tail.

Someone’s been eating this winter. I like the bead peeking out of the corner of the mouth, hook right where it’s supposed to be. Note the odd indentation on the upper flank, just below the dorsal. There was no sign of a wound, and the fish appeared to be healthy.

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I headed upstream to try some different water, but had no takers on my cased caddis or PT. Of course, there was that double-hooked stick, but since those are out of season I had to let it go. Most regrettable.

Switched over to streamers in some deeper water with an integrated full sink head. The past couple winters I’ve been trying to fish streamers more than I usually do, and today I was trying out a prototype cone head white bunny flashy thing. Nothing, nothing, nothing, THUD! It was a good fish that ran deep, then suddenly decided not to play. I knew he wasn’t coming back, but I gave the pool a few more casts before duties elsewhere called. Off the water at 2:10pm.

But, Mr. Slob Trout, I know where you live. And I’m coming back tomorrow.