Autumn On The EB

Autumn On The EB

Friday, December 30, 2016

A Phone Number, Buzzers, Fly Fishing Regulations And Happy New Year

"Maybe there's a stretch of beaver ponds or a half dozen bend pools across a little meadow or a headwater lake or two. All of that on a little stream that few people fish because it doesn't look all that good from the road and because they probably never heard of it before. Believe it or not, some fishermen only fish streams about which books are written." John Gierach, Fly Fishing Small Streams

So, I got this email from someone who says "I'll wipe the pipe out like I did last year". That's why I've posted the Environmental Police number at the upper right side of this blog. Put it in your phone and drop a line if you see something suspicious. What's suspicious? More than 3 fish in possession on a single day is more than suspicious. It's against the law! Seeing someone walking back to the car with three fish and then returning to catch and keep more is suspicious. Another fish on the stringer and we have an illegal act. Don't confront, just make a call and they do respond.

Buzzers - The English term for gnats and such and they've become part of my arsenal over the last two seasons. Davie MacPhail ties a neat buzzer but I've reduced the fly down to basic elements because I am a minimalist by nature AND I like tying lots of flies FAST.

HOOK - Scud hooks from size 14 through 20

BODY - You can go with stripped peacock (slower to tie and more fragile) or some 140 denier thread in either dark olive, black or brown.

RIB - fine copper wire

WING PAD - Here is the secret sauce for this pattern. I use Orange kevlar which I also use on my Partridge and Orange Soft hackles. It has a nice shiny, waxy look to it and mimics the budding wing pads of many gnat species which seem to have a orange shade to them. Now, McPhail ties orange gills on the underside of the thorax which really isn't necessary IMO. This fly, like all subsurface flies, tumbles in the current and Mr. Trout probably doesn't care if the orange is on the top or the bottom.

Coating - I don't use the UV stuff which I believe catches more fishermen than fish. I will use Sally Hensen's Hard as Nails on the quill bodies if I remember. It doesn't seem to make much of a difference.

Where to fish it - The Swift, of course, from the Bubbler arm (great spot) and below the Pipe. The Pipe flow is loaded with these critters and this fly has worked for me. The Millers is full of this type of insect and there are times when they exhibit something called "behavioral drift" where the entire population will begin to drift downstream just under the surface with trout in pursuit. The smart money says they're rising to buzzers!!

Fly Fishing Only Regulations - The Massachusetts DFW page concerning the Swift River (above RT 9) and a portion of the Nissitissit River defines fly fishing as using a "conventional fly rod and fly line". This is good as it eliminates those who fish with a spinning rod, a bobber and a drifting nymph and still claim to be fly fishing but it also eliminates Tenkara fishing because that rod and line set up are not "conventional" fly fishing equipment in the spirit of the law. Now, what if you have a fly rod, a fly reel, fly line and 40 feet of mono and have no intention of putting that fly line into play? Technically you are legal because you have a "conventional" fly line in possession even if it never gets wet. This style of fishing seems very much like mid west "Noodle Rod" fishing: 12 ft soft rods attached to large capacity fly reels that are loaded with 20lb mono (no fly line) which are then used to toss out strike indicators fished over everything from bait to actual flies. Noodle rod fishing is never confused with fly fishing!!

I would be inclined to issue a pass to Tenkara simply because it's aim is to simplify our sport which has a tendency to become overrun with equipment junkies and method madmen. It's good to take a Tenkara break every now and then and reset yourself. You can also catch a lot of trout this way!!!

A year or so ago I experimented with 30+ foot leaders and thought they were novelty that worked well when conditions were good and didn't work well when conditions sucked. I then realized that my Tenkara rod could do the same thing so I went back to conventional equipment and feel good about it. Now, if I could only attach a fly reel to a Tenkara rod.........



Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Before And After The 25th

"Learning is the fountain of youth. No matter how old you are you mustn't stop growing" - 365 Tao, Daily Meditations

This is the time of year that things get weird on the Swift. As most of you know I do most of my fishing below Rt 9 instead of the C&R section above the bridge because the water is just more interesting and less crowded. Except for this last week of the year when it seems that everyone and their uncle is hitting the Pipe section BEFORE the regulations change to allow the keeping of fish. The conventional wisdom is that the bait boys will wipe the place out in a week which is always an exaggeration. They will catch some but not enough to make a difference. One problem that they will have is that those trout have been in the river for at least three months and will not the gullible stockers that you find in the Spring when poaching really occurs. There will be fish down there in January unless it gets really cold and the trout head to deeper water downstream. Yes, it should be C&R all year to end the confusion and to put an end to poaching.

This is the time of year when I find myself going above Rt 9. First, the Y Pool may be the only place in Massachusetts where you'll find rising trout from now through March and if you have a sunny day with the temperatures in the 40's those Winter Caddis will start doing their thing. Second, the water temperature coming out of the bubbler arm will be the warmest water in the river through the Winter and many times that will attract the trout.

Bring scuds around a size 16 tied below a size 16 partridge and orange. I was using that setup on Friday the 23rd just below the arched bridge. I took 4 from the bridge down to the Y Pool and then another 2 in the arm above.

Another good winter fly is my old Hot Spot, a fly that was invented on the Swift,for the Swift. Sizes 20 to 24 work the best when just drifted through any likely holding water.

AFTER CHRISTMAS - Today (Tuesday 12/27) started balmy but the wind picked up above RT 9 just to remind us what season it is. I took 2 bows and a brookie below the bridge and then went upstream (bubbler) where all of the trout had lock jaw except one good bow. On my way back down there was a guy in the spot I vacated 2 hours before. He had 2 bows on at once and then took another. IT IS A GOOD SPOT! I believe that some of those Y Pool rainbows just want some riffle water to hang out in since that spot took the most fish in the two days that I was there. It doesn't look like much of a place but the trout are there. Again, the scuds ruled the day at least for me.

My friend Bill said that he saw two vehicles towed out of the PIPE section yesterday. Anyone who went DOWN by the GAUGE needed help getting out because of the ice. Park above that spot along the dirt road to be safe. Also, ITS PACKED with fly fishers as I predicted.


Friday, December 23, 2016

Happy Holidays And A Year In Review

"The great charm of fly fishing is that we are always learning" Theodore Gordon

2016 will be marked as the year of the great drought. This event actually started back in the late Summer of 2015 and hopefully will end this winter. It was brutal and it closed down the Millers, the EB and the Ware from mid June onward. Now, 2015 was my best year in the guiding business and I wanted 2016 to be better. By mid August I began to think that may not happen but the Swift kept me booked and Fall rains saved the season on the Millers and the EB so the 2016 goal was reached.

I can hardly wait to get back to the Ware River this Spring. It is a totally overlooked gem. If you like crowds and endless conversations then the Ware may not be your place!!! If you like perfect soft hackle and dry fly water then you must visit it!!
This years Brookie Run on the Swift surpassed last years run especially in the number of big fish seen and caught. Many fish in the 20+ inch range were caught and released and it seemed that every outing in October through November resulted with many 12+ inch brook trout to the net.

Now, this is just an observation with no science behind it but it seems that the number of BIG browns is increasing especially around Cady Lane which seems to be the Winter and Summer hangout for most of the brook trout population. If that 20+ inch brown that I saw swallowing a 6 inch brookie is any indication those browns are well fed and growing.

For those living in western Massachusetts, western Connecticut and the greater Poughkeepsie area I will be giving a presentation on the Millers and the Swift Rivers on Monday January 16 for the Mid-Hudson Trout Unlimited Chapter. I'll post the location early next month although it's easily found online.

I hope all of you have had a good 2016 and that this Holiday Season is full of joy that lasts through all of the New Year.

I'll be squeezing the last few hours out of my 2016 license over the next week. See you on the Swift!!

Merry Christmas!


Sunday, December 18, 2016

Thinking Of Dries

"For me, the study of aquatic insects and their transformations is engaging in an of itself. It also increases my understanding of the river, the fish and their prey. Learning where the food is will help you find the fish". - Thomas Ames, Jr. from Hatch Guide For New England Streams

Cold snowy days in early winter are a good time to restock your "ammo boxes" with the flies that you'll need for this winter and next spring and I've been busy doing just that with 20 dozen tied up over the last week. The problem is they are all subsurface offerings and I'm itching to tie some Mayfly imitations because I'm already thinking of a balmy May afternoon with hendricksons hatching on the Ware and the trout rising EVERYWHERE!!!

Now, I stopped tying to "pattern" years ago and now tie "suggestively" which means that the size and shape are the most important elements in creating a dry fly with color coming in a distant third. The style of dry fly is important too.

The Comparadun - This is the F150 of dry flies!!! Simple, rugged, takes a beating and keeps on catching trout. It's half dry fly and half emerger because that body sits right down in the surface film instead of dancing on hackle points. In fact, the more waterlogged the fly the better it fishes.

The main ingredient to this pattern is the deer hair used for the wing. The ONLY deer hair that you want to use is from the mask (face), legs and ears. Body hair is too long and course for those size 14 and smaller flies. If you like you can touch up the wings with a sharpie but it really isn't neccessary.

My bodies are all ultra fine synthetics. They are stronger than natural fur and can position that deer hair very securely.

I use deer hair down to size 18 or 20 and then make the switch to CDC.

A close runner up (and closing fast) is Bob Wyatt's DHE (Deer Hair Emerger). This stuck-in-the-surface-film-generic-pattern works because it looks like EVERY mayfly or caddis that is trying to break through the surface film. You just have to change the sizes.

Think of the times you've seen mayflies in the air and trout rising but you can't see mayflies on the water and if you do the trout may ignore them and take something else. That something else is an emerger stuck in the film. They are the easiest prey that a trout can consume. The DHE does the trick and is simple to tie. Scud hooks, mask hair, some 140 denier thread for the body and course hares ear for the thorax will do it all.

Wyatt's book, What Trout Want explains the whole thing!!

Only four months to go until hendrickson time!!!


Thursday, December 15, 2016

The Perfect Fly Rod

"Fly fishing isn't really about catching fish.  Fly casting is a great part of it, and in a sense a rod is like a baseball bat. If you hit the ball just right, you really nail it. It feels good.  You've found the sweet spot in the bat. A fly rod should deliver that kind of joy: the joy of casting" - Tom Dorsey, founder of Thomas & Thomas Rod Company

I've guided hundreds and hundreds of clients over the last few years and  very few of them had the tool that we call the nymphing rod in their arsenal, very few. Now, did they use the techniques that we now label as nymphing? Yes, when the circumstances called for it.  Were they hampered by using the wrong equipment? No, not really.  I will make this statement: the average well designed graphite fly rod of around 9 feet for a 4 or 5 weight line that is moderate to medium fast will be able to do everything that you want it to do, including all forms of nymphing, and will only be restricted by your ability to use the rod correctly.

As Tom Dorsey said, this sport is about fly casting and your garden variety nymph rod is not a good casting machine.  A stiff butt and mid section married to a soft tip section gives an awkward, hinged feel when you need to make a long cast instead of just "flipping and mending". I have a 10ft, 4wt nymph rod given to me as a gift.  If all that I wanted to do was nymph I'm ok but longer casts to rising trout felt like shooting a bow with an arrow of the wrong spine.  There was less control over the placement of the fly as my casts got longer.

My other graphite rods of between 8 to 9 ft can do EVERYTHING that my 10 ft nymph rod can do PLUS make long accurate casts.  Am I hampered by a shorter rod?? I can bounce nymphs on the Swift, the EB, the Millers and the Ware and I can position myself to cover all of the water correctly (sometimes nymphing) with a generalist rod of 8 to 9 feet.  Am I hampered by not having the softer tip section  for strike detection? ARE YOU KIDDING ME???  There's something wrong if you can't detect a strike while nymphing with a generalist graphite rod.  John Gierach, the great writer, once said you could nymph fish with a broom handle. Get the point??

It seems that the industry that supports this sport has been working overtime to create new markets. For 30 years the only advancements in fly rods were the introduction of some new generation of graphite. Then came things like switch rods and spey rods and now specialist rods that you can buy because we are becoming like golfers. A fly rod for every situation. Soon we will have rod caddies!!!!  Many of these advances are not NEED driven but are MARKET driven.  We are convinced that we need the new thing and we go and buy it.  Many times we have bought a solution in search of a problem!!

I read recently that instead of shelling out $700 for a new fly rod the angler should buy one for $250 and spend the rest of the money on casting lessons.  Good advice??  I think so!

Monday, December 12, 2016

Like Day And Night - Two Trips To The Swift

"Creeps and idiots cannot conceal themselves for long on a fishing trip" - John Gierach

Even a guide gets a day off and this past Friday was that day. It was a chance to workout a new bamboo rod and spend three hours working out Swift River rainbows, hopefully.

I got to the Pipe parking lot at 8am and was surprised to see that I was the only one there. When I left at 11 I was the only one there! Usually Fridays require a tee time reservation but this was different. Did I make a beeline to the Pipe to stake a claim to that real estate? Nope, I started at the gauge where I found rainbows working the riffles above the Gauge Pool. I took one in 5 inches of water with the old partridge/orange which christened the rod.

I worked the Gauge Pool and took two more bows in the second set of riffles and then played with the bows that were patrolling the brookie redds further downstream. Almost all of the brook trout have finished up with this annual dance and will find winter quarters below Cady Lane. It was a good year for them!!

While fishing this section I noticed that I didn't see one angler heading downstream and when I rounded the turn I saw an empty Pipe. Nature abhors a vacuum so it was my duty to fill that spot and I did. 15 minutes and 5 bows later I worked the top of the Tree Pool with another two in the net. Then back to the Pipe for one more and then I called it a day.

NOW FORWARD CAST TO SUNDAY MORNING - It was only 8 degrees at 8:30 so I didn't expect anyone for a while but the fleet sailed in and that the parking lot was about full by noon.

There were no bows working the riffles above the gauge and the fish in the Gauge Pool were not interested. Ditto for the riffles downstream and when we worked our way down to the Pipe we saw lots of people but very few trout being caught. What hits we got were halfhearted passes at the fly with no urgency displayed. The water temperature was 45 degrees which is fine for this year so who knows.

Now, there's a reason why I placed that quote at the top of the post. On Sunday morning we all had the misfortune to be exposed to the worst behavior that I've seen in 25 years of fishing this stretch. Angler 1 was working the Pipe from the shore when this "fly fisherman" (angler 2) walks right up in front of him and starts fishing. Angler 1 politely says something and angler 2 verbally explodes with not just your usual gutter obscenities but actual verbal threats of physical harm. It was a borderline criminal act.

I've never seen this creep before and it would be hard to describe him but I could hear him a 100 yards away. Keep your eye out for anyone who seems erratic.


Saturday, December 10, 2016

The Farmington - How To Get Started

"There's always a hot new fly. Precious few of them are genuine breakthroughs destined to last for a hundred years, but more often they're idle comments on existing traditions, explorations of half baked theories, attempts to use new and interesting materials, to impress other tiers, or excuses to rename old patterns.  The results are often pointless fads like the craze in some pretentious restaurants of plopping fried quail eggs on everything or calling sandwiches panninis". - John Gierach

Whenever I guide someone I will always express the opinion that the Farmington River in Connecticut is the best trout stream in New England. Many that I guide, through their own personal experience, will wholeheartedly agree while others have heard the rumors but haven't been there. This post is for the latter crowd.

Ok, where do you start? You start a few weeks before your planned trip by doing two things:

1. Visit the website for UPCOUNTRY FLY SHOP. They have made it a habit to give river updates twice a week for years now! They will not only tell you what flies to use but will tell you where to us them. A great example of this was back in the brutal winter of 2014 - 2015. They gave locations for the best opportunity for surface action. You can't beat that!

2. Get a copy of "A Guide To Fishing the Farmington River" - This Guide, written by the Farmington River Anglers Association, may be the BEST river guide ever written about a New England River. This group certainly cannot be considered tight lipped and secretive like some other "friends of the river" are. Run by run, pool by pool, it's all laid out for you and can save you years of leg work. Want to fish Whittemore, the Wood Shop or Ovation? Now you know where to go and how to do it.

Pick up a copy at Upcountry in person or online.

We owe this group a big "THANK YOU"!

Ok, when do I fish the Farmington? The truth is I used to fish it more often 10 to 15 years ago before my guiding business took off. Now it's my Winter and very early Spring river. By the time the hendricksons begin to pop up I'm back in Ma guiding.

Where are my favorite spots?

Campground Pool - great dry fly pool especially up at the head of the pool. I used to camp there and hit the top of the pool at dawn. Size 24 BWO's in the mist!!!!

Wood Shop Pool - a good spot

Spare Tire Pool - Love this spot because I usually have it all to myself and I've done well there.

Ovation Pool - Caught my first brown on the Farmie right here

Church Pool - Usually packed but if you get lucky and have few other anglers you can have some great fishing here.

Whittemore Pool - some like it a lot.  I'm so-so on it. Not my Farmington experience.

Greenwooods - Great water but becoming a very-trendy-to-be-seen location.  That's why I opt for Spare Tire right below it.

I should make the time to fish the Farmington this Summer. Hell, I'm less than an hour away!!!!

BTW, I receive no consideration for endorsing the above entities. They deserve it!!


Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Early Winter Musings - Jazzed Up Soft Hackles And A Rivers Update

"Adopting the low visibility of a natural predator is a basic part of improving your presentation game. A degree of stealth is important for consistent success. Just throttle back a tad and move slowly. A little consideration for these things goes a long way toward fooling those big trout, whether or not they are smart and educated, although you needn't go so far as the camouflage jumpsuit and face paint of some of our more hard-core brothers. Hell, these guys spook me" Bob Wyatt - What Trout Want - The Educated Trout and Other Myths

Soft hackles have a range of construction possibilities that go back hundreds of years. We have reduced the construction in many cases to a single body material, the same dubbed thorax (or not) and then the hackle. I do this all of the time and I don't think that I catch fewer trout because of it. But I do know that the history of this style has incorporated multiple materials much in the same way that its cousin, THE ATLANTIC SALMON FLY, has done. "Building" a fly in the classic sense improves your skill as a tier. Color and proportion come into play and they just look sooooo smart! My simple soft hackles are and will be first in my subsurface arsenal but there are times to be creative and have some fun. The "Ostrich" fills the bill and it catches trout.

Hook - dry or wet style size 12 - 14 (if it's tied smaller you get that "squashed butterfly" look. Ostrich will do that)

Tag (that's the butt end of the fly) - bright orange floss or kevlar

Body - dark olive floss

Thorax - brown or black ostrich herl, about 4 turns

Hackle - partridge

Now, I've been stripping the partridge fibers and lashing them to the hook to get a sparse profile which always works for me. The ostrich herl is then used to cover the clipped butt ends of the partridge and then the partridge is then folded back and the fly is then whip finished. You are done.

Materials and colors are endless and are fun on these early winter evenings. It's more fun then cranking out walt's worms and other attractor stuff.

The Millers peaked late last week at 800+ and is now just south of 500 cfs. If you want to give it a shot just be careful. Use Mop flies as deep as you can get them. They worked for me!

The Swift is still producing as the brook trout spawning run is on it's final lap. Still plenty of bows and the occasion brown in the mix to get your heart pounding. I've been fishing and guiding in the "forgotten" spots and have been doing very well. Contact me if you need a guide!


Monday, December 5, 2016

Big Bows, The Brookies Of The Swift And Some Open Dates.

"I don't get competitive fly fishing. There's always someone who wants to take a wonderful pastime that we dream about and spend hours pursuing and then turn it into a contest with teams no less. I guess competitive sex is next! " Anonymous

As I write this we are getting our first December snow but it will not be enough to keep us off the Swift which has been fishing very well with rainbows going through the spawning ritual (a futile exercise) and the brookies beginning to wrap up their annual party. It's been a very good Autumn that has had a lot of browns and big bows in the mix. I've seen this one rainbow that is possibly near 24 inches long. I've seen him twice, once with a client and one other angler has seen him too. This is the beauty of this diminutive tailwater; you get to see everything!!!!

We had a great year fishing to this river's brook trout from early Spring right up into December. You could actually follow the spawning run from Cady Lane upstream in October. There were more LARGE brook trout in the mix too with several topping 20 inches. I doubt if there is ANY river in New England that can claim that!!!

The old reliable partridge and orange has been my favorite fly this Autumn with the grouse and flash taking some memorable fish. I have a stable of Winter flies but I'll ride that soft hackle horse for as long as I can!

We have 26 more days left on our licenses so lets use them up. If you need to know a new place or need to brush up on technique just shoot me an email.


Thursday, December 1, 2016

More Conventional Wisdom Questioned - Trout Pumping

"There are some other ways to avoid catching fish. Looking good out there can definitely be a handicap. White hats and shirts, flashy rod finishes, gleaming rod jewelry, and bright metal fly reels are all big sellers among fashionable fly fishers, but they are reliable trout spookers. Combine such high visibility with any sudden movement, such as false casting and it's "Hasta la vista, Mister Trout." Bob Wyatt - What Trout Want -The Educated Trout And Other Myths

The practice of using a stomach pump seemed to rear it's head about 30 to 40 years ago, stuck around for a while, then sank without a trace. Now it seems to be re-emerging, a pseudo scientific exercise used to reinforce debunked theories and impress others. It's also harmful to trout.

We know the drill: "If done properly stomach pumping is safe and not harmful to the trout" the saying goes. The words If done properly are key here. Just because the trout is caught, admired, photographed, then pumped and released and swims away does not mean that harm has not been done. A safe release may be the case for trained fisheries personnel but not for your average untrained, ham handed Joe. (years ago, while working at a private trout hatchery, I assisted with egg stripping under the watchful eye of the hatchery manager. We were very careful and egg stripping is a lot less invasive than stomach pumping!!)

Injury to trout - Abrade the esophageal membrane of a trout and that trout isn't going to have a sore throat for a day. It's going to die and you will not even know it because it will swim away but will not be able to feed. "That doesn't happen to MY fish" the story goes but HOW DO YOU KNOW THAT? The answer is you don't! The answer may have been found on the bottom of the Tree Pool last Sunday (2 dead trout) and down through the top of Cady Lane (over a dozen since August). These fish were played out, photographed while lying on wet rocks and then lovingly released and then never recovered. Chances are they were not pumped but it is reasonable to assume that pumping may have happened and that would add to the mortality rate. Gastric Lavage (pumping) has been used by trained fisheries people and in one study done in British Columbia all fish were anaesthetized before getting pumped. Hmm....Why is that??

How Much Food - According to the late Robert Behnke, considered by most to be the world's best authority concerning trout and salmon, a one ounce trout (approximately 30 grams) would need 1 gram of food daily to not only maintain size but to also promote growth (approximately 3.3% of body weight consumed daily). A one pound trout (453 grams) would need to consume approximately 15 grams of food daily to survive. Now, this doesn't sound like a lot but when the available prey (aquatic insects) are weighted in milligrams (1000 milligrams in a gram) it comprises a vast number of insects especially in rivers like the Swift. What is pumped out could of taken hours to consume. We make the trout start all over again!!!

"I get to know what the trout are feeding on and can use the right fly" is the stale truism that props up this quackery. "Match the Hatch" followers and those who actually believe that trout are selective can be pom-pom wavers for stomach pumping. (Please read Wyatt's book quoted at the top before you contact me concerning selective trout).

Last June I did a video on the Swift. I caught a LOT of trout in that hour and almost all of them were packed to the gills with sulphur nymphs. All I had to do was look inside their mouths and see many nymphs that had not even been swallowed. Was I using a sulphur nymph as the hatch match folks preach? No. I used a size 14 partridge and olive which imitates the prey form seen in many aquatic insects. No need to take out the turkey baster!! You'll find plenty of size 28 stuff if you bother to look inside a trout's mouth too!

In short, if you care about releasing trout with the least amount of harm done then dump the plunger and become an observer. Look at what's in the air, on the water and on the shore.  Know your seasons and what each brings to us in the way of insects.  You will probably be able to predict what the trout has been eating without pumping. Start with the fly on your line if you want a clue!!