Dr. Deeplove, or: How to stop worrying and learn to love the full sink line.

I was fascinated by a recent fly fishing forum thread that warned of the dire consequences of using full sink lines for streamer fishing in rivers. What perdition awaited those who had the temerity to throw the heavy, thin line?

Hard to cast.

Always getting snagged on the bottom.

It was like re-imagining the opening of “The Right Stuff” with a fly fishing bent. “There was a demon who lived in the water…” But, that’s a movie for another day.

Nonetheless, I found it disappointing on a number of levels, among them: sinking lines are only hard to cast if you do it wrong; I don’t get hung up on the bottom any more with a full sink line line than I do with a nymph rig (probably less); internet forums can be a minefield when it comes to getting good advice.

Most of all, when you’re asking the question, “What do I want the fly to do?” sometimes a full sink line is a critical part of that answer. Here are a few quick tips to help you navigate the waters with a full sink line on your next streamer outing. For our purposes, I’m using a Teeny T-Series Integrated Line, and I’m fishing in a river.

One good false cast, and boom, out she goes. As Dr. Strangelove asserted, “It would not be difficult!”

ShootingSinkingLine

Casting. The key to casting a full sink integrated line is to get the full sink part out of the water. I strip line in (whether I’m using a strip presentation or not) so the head is at the rod tip. A roll cast to get the line out, a backcast to aerialize the line, then bombs away. Maybe a couple false casts. Because of their head weight and thin diameter, I find full sink lines fairly easy to cast. You’ll want to use a shooting basket for the running line. And of course, match the grain weight of the line to your rod and casting style.

Snags (or not). Every day is different, but the last time I used my full sink line on the Farmington River I didn’t get terminally stuck on the bottom once — and I was using a weighted fly. Current speed, depth, mending, retrieve speed, sink rate of the line, fly profile and weight — all are factors. The lower and slower the water, the greater your chances are of getting stuck. So pick and choose your water and conditions. Pools and runs with submerged logs, branches, sharp-edged rocks, and boulder fields are often bad places to throw the full sink. If you do get stuck, try this trick: don’t try to horse the fly out. Come taut to the fly, then do a few roll casts. Often that’s enough to free the fly. Finally, if you’re trying to present along the bottom — as with nymphing — touching the bottom is part of the price of admission. The false positive of a snag is confirmation that you’re getting deep. And remember to check those hook points. Sticky sharp!

What do you want the fly to do? This is the million-dollar question that many anglers never consider — but should. I’ll pull out the full sink integrated line for streamer fishing when:

  • It’s summertime and the river has come up and is off color, and I want to get a neutral buoyancy effect from the heavy line (consider it split shot) and a deer hair head fly. (Leader length would probably be around 7 feet.)
  • The water is cold and I suspect the the fish are holding close to the bottom. (Shorter leader, usually no more than 3 feet.) Check out this streamer leader diagram.
  • I want to get the fly, even if it’s weighted, to sink as quickly as possible. This usually indicates a very deep hole as the target zone. Again, shorter leader.

High late summer water, full sink line (weight) + Zoo Cougar (wants to float) = neutral buoyancy. Oh. And this trophy trout, too.

DCIM100GOPROG0013068.

I hope that helps, and as always, if you have questions I’m happy to answer them.

 

 

 

Farmington River Report 12/13/19: Hot Butter from the Icy Cold

That’s the thing about winter streamer fishing — you just never know what you’re going to get. Last week, I fished without a touch. Yesterday, it was hit city. I visited three marks within the permanent TMA between noon-2:30pm, and found players in two of them. All told, a half dozen good bumps with three that stuck. These were quality wild browns that looked to be in fine shape. I fished the full-sink integrated Teeny line, and the streamer of choice was Coffey’s Sparkle Minnow. Most significant, the hits came on the mended swing or dangle, with not a single strike on the strip.

You know the holiday song about traveling on foot through wondrous snowscapes? Here you go. Flow in the permanent TMA was about 550cfs, which I love for streamers. Water was a shocking 34 degrees, and there were a few ice chunks floating by now and then. Imagine my displeasure when I discovered a leak in the crotch of my neoprenes.

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First fish of the day, a mid-teens wild brown that struck on the mended swing. I love that dull thud of a winter streamer take.

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Numero deux, this one on the dangle in about two-and-a-half feet of water. The most spirited combatant of the day. Sadly, fish number three was camera shy, which is my way of saying I fumbled the shot in the cold.

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The winning fly, Coffey’s Sparkle Minnow. I threw the Hi-Liter for a few minutes, but by then the bite window had closed. Tied on a #2 Gamikatsu B10S. Good on ice or neat.

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Farmington River Report 2/15/18: Two Hours of Fun with Streamers

Some days I get so ambivalent about how and where to fish that it annoys the hell out of me. Not today. In fact, I knew last night it would be the Permanent TMA and streamers. The water was receding but still up (550cfs) and that along with heavy cloud cover suggested to me that some big browns might be on the hunt.

Spot A was a blank. One other angler was there, nymphing. He reported a blank, too. Spot B produced two fish, although I dropped the second to an incredibly bad hookset. I should have known what to look for after the first fish: no dull thud or sharp tug, but rather the sensation that the fly was hung up on the bottom, with the bottom then moving. I assumed the second fish was a rock, set with the tip, and a few seconds later the trout was off.

While I had Spot B all to myself, Spot C was a regular angler’s convention. (There were a lot of people out in the Permanent TMA today.) Everyone blanked there.

Fished the full sink integrated line and a short (<3 foot) leader.

I don’t often fish articulated streamers, but the trout liked this olive Peanut Envy today. Here’s a nice mid-teens brown.

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A classic Survivor Strain adipose bump.

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Housy Mini-Report 12/8/16: Lots of water — action, not so much.

I missed my annual October/November Housy streamer trips this year, so I went yesterday. The HRO website declared that at 860cfs, it was a good time to fish big streamers on a full sink line. I concurred. Sadly, the trout did not. I fished five familiar, favorite pools and came up blank. Not a touch. Oh, I nicked the bottom many times, and sacrificed three streamers to the river gods, but ’twas not my day. Fast water, slower water, pocket water, shallow and deep — bright colors, muted naturals — fast retrieve, slow retrieve, no retrieve — nada. On the positive side, I had the entire river to myself, always a bonus. We’ll get ’em next time.

With both air and water temperatures in the 30s, this is sound advice.

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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 12/15/15: Low and slow

I really don’t like the river at this height (170cfs and falling in the the permanent TMA), especially in winter. Still, it’s hard to argue with air temperatures in the mid 50s in December. I bounced around to a bunch of spots today, switching between nymphs and streamers. Not a touch on the nymphs. The streamer thing was a little more interesting.

I had one solid bump (no hookup), bagged a juvy salmon, and had over a half dozen quality chases/follows that did not result in a hookup. A couple of the spots I fished allowed me to stand on submerged rocks or riverbank boulders. In addition to making casting easier, these also offered a tremendous vantage point for sight fishing to cruising trout — and to watch how they reacted to my offerings.

There’s one spot on the river where I’ve moved a fish my last two outings. He comes out of his hole, flashes at the streamer, then bails. Since I know where he lives, it is a moral imperative that I catch him this winter. Another fish today was an upper teens brown that was waiting in ambush below a ledge. Every time I changed flies, he came out to inspect it. During one follow — there were three of them — he even nudged the fly (Deep Threat) with his nose. But no completion of the transaction. Again, we have his address.

I had a conversation with Grady at UpCountry about all this on my way home, and we were in agreement that a faster retrieve is probably a good plan of action. Although I did plenty of speedy retrieves today, such as you can do with the fly rod.

If you’re heading out, be prepared for crowds. Of the six places I fished today, there were people in four of them — unheard of most Decembers — and none of the pools were named for a house of worship.

Farmington River Report: Let’s get out the tape measure

I figured this would be a good day for streamers. Yesterday’s rain would elevate the flows (just over 400cfs in the permanent TMA) and maybe give the water a little color. Then there was the wind, supposed to be gusting to 30mph. Throw in temperatures nearing 50, and  yup, we’re going to spend the day targeting big browns on the feed.

But since I’m an iconoclast, I started off by nymphing. I had a few experiments I wanted to conduct with egg flies. (You may remember I spoke with a centerpinner Monday who caught over a dozen on eggs.) I wasn’t sure if he was using real eggs, flies, or beads. Since I was going for the eggy mass visual, I tied up a couple horrible flies last night that were basically Nuclear Eggs with a trailing 8mm trout bead. To convince myself that the pattern qualified as a fly, I put a soft hackle on one. I stuck two fish, but since I landed neither, I couldn’t tell if they took the eggs or the nymph dropper. (Dammit. I really wanted to know.) I’m going to continue research with some smaller hooks and beads at a later date.

A pretty brown that swiped the Deep Threat, missed, then came back for more.

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I dedicated an hour to the nymphing cause, then re-rigged for streamers (full-sink integrated tip and a size 6 Deep Threat in grey/olive). Nothing, nothing, nothing. Then I moved downriver about 50 yards to fish a long, slow, deep stretch of water I was sure held fish.

Second cast, mend, slow strips, THUD. I love big browns. They just never miss. It feels like you’ve hooked a submerged log, but the log is shaking its head at you. I could tell it was a good fish. And it was. Just over 18″, and very disagreeable about being forced from the comfort of its lie.

Ever notice that no one ever catches  a 17″ trout on the Farmington? Somehow, the fish grow to 15″, then suddenly shoot up to that magic   universally-accepted-as-impressive number. However, I can confidently tell you this brown was duly and accurately tape measured at just over 18″.

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I fished four pools today and found players in two of them. All I ask from the river in winter is one trout. That makes today my Christmas bonus.

Farmington River report 3/26/15: holdover dreams, fresh stocked realities

Overcast, fog, rain showers, air temps nearing fifty — where do I sign up? The river was running clear and about 350 cfs, 40 degrees in the upper TMA.

So. The day began with my foolish decision to navigate a perilously steep slope down to the river. There was no snow. But, rats! I didn’t take into account the frozen tundra. I slid on my butt for about twenty feet, and my the only reason my ass didn’t end up in the river was because I managed to grab a sapling as I hurtled past. Thus chastised, I waded in, bloody fingertips (ice can cut you quite properly, thank you) and all.

You gotta love the naiveté of fresh stockees. They haven’t quite figured out that they’re supposed to hit that streamer at the head. As a result, I had about 400 hysterical tail nips, with some of the new residents following the fly almost to my rod tip. At least a half dozen of what was put in last week are already dead; I saw them on the bottom of one run, most missing heads and/or eviscerated my some unknown predator. Downsizing the fly from a 4 to a 6 resulted in more hookups. But you don’t need to see photos of recently stocked trout, do you?

If the rain comes, they run and hide their heads. I fished all by myself today. Farmy rain:fog

Since stockees were not why I came out, I headed to the TMA. I had visions of big browns. We’ll quote another British band here: you can’t always get what you want. So I had to be content with three sticks and several Deep Threats presented to appease the river bottom gods. But the smoke from that Rocky Patel The Edge corona gorda looked positively sublime as it mingled with the mists over the rain-speckled water.

And I left the river happy.

Farmington River report 3/20/15: The best time to fish

Contrary to popular belief, the best time to go fishing isn’t when you can.

The best time to go fishing is when your mother-in-law has come to visit for the weekend.

The idea of sub-freezing temperatures and snow sounded just about right. Steelhead weather. I figured the river would be deserted (it was — I had my pick of the water). I also figured between the romance of snow flakes and deep overcast, the big browns would come out to play (I figured wrong — only one half-hearted bump in three hours).

Stanley’s Ice-Off Paste is a nice concept, but it’s only good for about a half-hour. Fishing streamers doesn’t help. Icy guide

I bounced all over the TMA. Spot A was an overhead deep run. Next, I walked several hundred yards through the woods to be able to fish a quarter-mile stretch of water. Then, a sortie to a new honey hole I had discovered last time out. One bump, no return. Ended up at another way-deep run where I caught a very nice stick and lost two flies. Streamers were the method, and I experimented with both bright and muted colors as well as retrieves. No interest in anything. River was down, about 225cfs, and running clear. Water temp was down, too, to 34 degrees, and I’m sure that was a negative influence. A few stray midges and some W/S Caddis here and there.

How Mother Nature cleans house. After Wednesday’s and Thursday’s wind, the forest floor was littered with shards of dead trees.

Forest floor       

But I was alone and fishing. If anyone had asked me, “Any luck?” I surely would have answered yes.

Farmington River Report 3/13/15: More fun with streamers

Fished the upper TMA for about 2 1/2 hours today. Streamers again (today’s favorite was a slim profile pattern with a gold bead head, and white and chartreuse marabou).  The usual winter setup: full sink integrated line, three-foot leader, letting the fly sink/swing, then a slow, jerky retrieve. The strike pattern that was established on Tuesday’s outing was present today — a swipe by the trout to stun the fly, then the hit-to-eat. Two fat, healthy, sixteen-inch browns to net. One JR Cuban Alternate Cohiba Robusto and a very happy angler smoking it. The water was up a few inches from the other day, but still clear and cold at 36 degrees. A few midges here and there, and the early grey stones came out about 1pm. Snow pack was less of a walking issue, mostly because of last’s night’s freeze. Still, plenty of anglers out for a weekday in March.

Streamer tip of the week: these big browns aren’t eating on the first strike; rather, they’re smacking the fly to stun it. It feels like more of a bump than a tug. Don’t set the hook. Let the fly sit for a moment, or continue to micro strip. The eating strike will come a moment later.  16%22 late winter brown