Monday, December 10, 2018

Monday 12/10/18 Farmington River Report- MDC flow cut & quality trout

Zach's client Marshall with a colored up, heavily spotted 'Bow he nymphed
Finally we aren't getting bombed with rain every weekend, and the flow is steadily & slowly declining. And as of an MDC email we just received at 9:20am this morning, they dropped the West Branch Riverton dam release at 9am from 600cfs down to 432cfs! They also reduced East Branch in New Hartford from 200cfs down to 100cfs. This is very good news as it will significantly improve fishing conditions and drop total water level down into the upper 600cfs range (medium-high). Saw more fishermen out on Saturday & Sunday, although not as many as we would if flow was normal (it was around 900cfs over the weekend, at 8am this morn was 850cfs, and with the 9am flow cut by midday it should be down around 675cfs). And as you can see in the pictures, plenty of quality trout were landed between Friday and Sunday, a nice mix of 'bows & browns. Top pic is Zach's client Marshall with a colored up rainbow that looks like it's been in the river for a while. Guide Steve Hogan is holding out a nice brown from Friday. Below that is a fish Zach caught that proves catch & release works: it's the same brown Michael Andrews was shown holding in the Friday 12/7 report. Bottom pic of a 'bow is another of the many quality fish Steve Hogan caught over the weekend.
Steve Hogan with a nice brown from Friday

15 Day Forecast looks pretty much as it should, with highs averaging mid 30s to low 40s, and nights averaging in the 20s. See a handful of days creeping well into the 40s. This weather should lead to more stable and better fishing conditions. With no real rain in the forecast, expect the Still River to keep dropping, which will reduce Farmington River flows below that (it comes in 1/4 mile below Rt 20 bridge in Riverton, about 2 miles below the dam). We should also see the MDC make more flow cuts from the dam over the new few weeks as they continue to reduce the water level in Colebrook Reservoir, and Otis Reservoir stops dumping off water. They don't tell us in advance, but we will update you as they notify us.
Zach holding a "recycled" C&R brown that Mike Andrews caught last week

Winter fishing conditions are here with water temps are in the 30s, so look for fish in winter water: that equates to slower/deeper water like pools, deeper runs, and slower/deeper riffles. You may see some trout slide up into riffles to feed in the afternoons. Other than the Winter Caddis hatch, which typically comes off in early to mid morning after cold nights, there is no reason to start before 10 or 11am, and I often have my best winter fishing from mid to late afternoon. I think this is because water temps are highest then, plus you start to get reduced light levels that trout (especially bigger browns) prefer. Until the water comes down a bit more, many trout will hold on the edges, closer to the banks and out of the heavier flow. Start fishing along the river edges, don't just wade out and immediately jump in mid-thigh or waist deep, otherwise you will likely scare all the catchable trout away before you make a single cast to them. FYI in the cold water of winter, trout often pod up. Find one, and you may find a bunch. Over the weekend the #1 fly by far was the Mop, but other "Junk Flies" like Squirmy Worms & Eggs caught fish, along with regular nymphs.
Nice weekend 'Bow by Steve Hogan

A tip for streamer fishermen:
December can be a great time to catch a hungry, post-spawn trophy brown on a streamer, but you have to tailor your tackle & presentation to the winter conditions. While you may find exceptions, in general trout want their streamers slow & deep in the winter. This means swinging them, or slowly stripping them in with longer pauses. The #1 mistake I see anglers making when streamer fishing in cold water is fishing them too fast. In May with 55 degree water temps, yes you can and often should "rip them in". But generally not when water temps are in the 30s, trout are too lethargic and normally won't aggressively chase at those temps (with occasional exceptions of course). The #2 mistake I see anglers make is either too much weight and/or fly lines that sink too fast. If you fish a 200-300 grain line, and doubly so if you pair it with a heavily weighted streamer, you will have to rip it in to keep it from hanging up, or you will have to fish it in fast water that doesn't hold trout this time of year. Winter trout will hold in slower water that does not require a lot of weight or fly lines that sink 6-8" per second to reach them. I typically have my best results this time of year targeting the softer water with either a 1) floating line and a weighted streamer and/or split shot to get it down, or 2) using a slower sinking line with an unweighted fly. If you can find some medium slow water with fairly even current, one of my favorite presentations is this: throw straight across and give a quick upstream mend to sink your fly. Once you think you are near (not on) the bottom, throw one or two downstream mends to make a big downstream line belly. This will let your fly swim broadside to the current & trout, straight across the current at just the right speed. Atlantic Salmon anglers call this the "Crossfield Draw". I use this presentation anytime the water is below 45 degrees and the current is fairly even so I can get a nice swing, and it's very effective.

Flow is finally dropping but still above normal December levels, but the water is clear and trout will have no problem finding your fly, even small Blue Winged Olive (BWOs) & Midge nymphs/larva/pupa. If you are nymphing, I'd probably pair a bigger fly with a smaller, more imitative #14-20 pattern (BWO nymph, Caddis Larva, Zebra Midge, Pheasant Tail, etc.). Eggs will remain a fly of choice straight through the winter and into early spring. Streamers in colors like olive, white, and brown have been above average colors, but make sure to experiment, and with cold water temps fish your streamers s-l-o-w-l-y & deeply. Overcast weather typically sees a better streamer bite, early & late will also give you the low light conditions you want. There have been trout rising in the mornings to Winter Caddis in Church & Beaver Pools. This is typically an early to mid morning deal, but can sometimes run later than that. Make sure to have both pupa & winged adult patterns. Small #22-28 Blue Wing Olives are hatching in the afternoon (Midges too), but with elevated flows the fish are feeding mostly underwater on the nymphs/pupa, less so on the surface. However if it's not too windy, you may find a few fish eating Olives or Midges in Church Pool some afternoons. Other than Church & Beaver Pools, there has been very little dry fly action elsewhere. This will change if flows ever get back to normal.

FYI elevated flows don't bother the trout one bit, in fact I'm quite certain they prefer and thrive in them. More water equals more habitat, and more food getting knocked loose and into the drift and delivered to them at a faster rate. It also keeps fishermen from walking all over the river and disturbing the trout, as well as keeping most fishermen from fishing. Trout actually grow faster is higher flows. In the White River in Arkansas, one of the most fertile trout streams in the world, the trout can grow 1 inch plus per month as long as flows are medium to high. If you get a low water year, they may only grow1-2" in an entire year.

MDC just announced they cut the dam release from 600cfs down to 432cfs at 9am this morning (Monday 12/10). This will make the flow medium-high and much more fishable in both in the permanent TMA/Catch & Release (C&R) and Riverton. At 8am Riverton was 646cfs at the USGS Rt 20 bridge gauge and should drop down to about 475cfs after this 9am flow cut, and the total flow in the permanent Catch & Release (C&R)/TMA was 845cfs and dropping and should end up around a medium-high 675cfs after the flow cut this morning (Still River is 199cfs & receding). Conditions can change as a result of rainfall and varying MDC dam releases. MDC has to get Colebrook Reservoir down to acceptable flood control levels, as stipulated by the Army Corps of Engineers, and the lake level there is still too high. The Still River joins the Farmington River about 1/4 mile below Riverton Rt 20 bridge, roughly 2 miles below the dam. East Branch release was 200cfs this morning and they cut it down to 100cfs at 9am, it joins the West Branch about 3/8 mile below UpCountry, making it slightly higher below that, but fishable for sure.

In December look for some hungry post-spawn fish that are trying to put some weight back on. A streamer represents a big chunk of calories to them- if you are fishing an unweighted one use a sinking line/sink-tip/sinking leader, or you can do a weighted streamer (or split shot) with a floating line. It pays to experiment until you find the hot color- it can vary from day to day, and even during the day (especially if light conditions change). Remember that a heavily weighted streamer on a floating line will behave quite differently than an unweighted one on a sinking line, and on any given day trout may prefer one presentation over the other- experiment! Cooler water temps usually mean the trout will hold in slower water, not fast water.

Steelhead fishing & and fly tying are a great option this time of year, and I will continue to make regular trips for them this fall/winter. I (Torrey) have been fishing Great Lakes Steelhead for well over 30 years now, so if you need some advice I'm happy to help. We are stocked with many of the better materials for tying the specific flies you need for that fishing (Estaz, Glo-Bug Yarn, McFly Foam, Eggstasy Yarn, Angora Yarn, Diamond Braid, Holographic Tinsel, Ice Dub, specialized hooks from Tiemco/Gamakatsu/Mustad/Daiichi/Umpqua, etc.), as well as the proper rods (check out the new T&T Contact 10' 8" #6, it's sweet!), reels & lines, at a variety of price points for all budgets. The Cortland "Top Secret" Ultra Premium fluorocarbon tippet is amazing for Steelhead, it's insanely strong for it's diameter and very abrasion resistant. We also have plenty of warm Simms clothing to keep you going in cold air & cold water.

Light colored oval area is a trout Redd- don't step on it!!
Most browns have spawned, please watch out for redds- they will appear as a light colored oval in gravelly riffles areas such as pool tailouts and side channels. Please leave any actively spawning trout sitting on the redds alone- they are stressed out already, and we want them to successfully spawn and create more wild trout. Also, don't walk on or just below the redds or you will crush the eggs the trout buried under the gravel. The eggs won't hatch out for about 3 months or so, give or take, so avoid walking on them until after then. In my book it's okay to target the deeper, darker water downstream of the redds- there you will find non-spawning trout feeding on the loose eggs. But again, please leave the spawners alone and don't walk on or just below the redds. The eggs won't hatch out until mid/late winter, so continue to watch where you walk for a while.

Fall/Winter Hours:
We will be open 8am-5pm, 7 days a week.

New T&T Contact Steelhead/Lake-Run Brown Trout/Landlocked Salmon Rod:
31" of Steelhead on my T&T Contact 10' 8" #6 & Hatch Finatic 5 Plus
You asked for a "Euro" Steelhead rod, and now you finally have it: T&T released their latest entry 10' 8" #6 T&T Contact rod designed for larger fish such as Great Lakes Steelhead, Lake Run Browns, and Landlocked Salmon into their extremely successful "Contact" series of tight-line/Euro rods. I (Torrey) have one, and I love it! FYI it balances perfectly with a mid arbor Hatch 5 Plus. It will handle tippets in the 1x-5x (4# to 12#) range no problem, and has the power to subdue 10-15# plus fish, while still protecting your tippet. Rod designer Joe Goodspeed designed it to have increased durability, while still having a light, flexible and very sensitive tip that will detect light bites and help keep the hook from popping out when you put the wood to them. Not only can you tight-line with this rod, but it throws a #6 line like a champ (I like the Royal Wulff Triangle Taper) for indicator nymphing & swinging, it roll casts easily, it will execute a nice one handed double Spey, and the extra length lets you mend your line better. However my favorite was a mono rig that substituted OPST 25# (.016"/.405mm) green Lazar Line for fly line, and allowed me to tight line at distance with minimal sag and maximum sensitivity. They also beefed up the cork handle & fighting butt.  Nearly unbreakable RECoil titanium guides can be flicked to snap ice off them during colder weather, they flex and then pop right back into position. Homerun!

Adapting to the Conditions:
What are the differences between successful anglers and unsuccessful ones lately? Generally the best catches have been made by those who are flexible in terms of how, where & what they fish, and  do what they need to do to get their flies in front of the fish, down near the river bottom. Higher flows typically dictate subsurface tactics, unless you spot rising trout (try Church & Beaver Pools). Egg Flies, "Junk Flies" & Streamers are the best flies in the mornings, before the water temps rise a bit and the bugs get active. Save the imitative bugs for the afternoons when the insects are active & available. If you are streamer fishing, finding success may mean covering a lot of water looking for aggressive fish, experimenting with fly colors/sizes/sizes, trying different retrieves (or just a slow swing sometimes), and making sure you are getting the flies down deep enough (weighted flies, split shot, sinking leaders, sink-tip lines, or full sink lines). Lately colors like olive, white, brown, and tan have been top colors, but also try black, yellow, and combinations of these colors. Don't be afraid to deviate from a #6-8 streamer now, sometimes it takes a fly at least 3-4", or bigger, to properly irritate a big brown into striking. This is a good time to throw the meat, the big articulated 4-6" patterns that just might land you a giant- use a heavy tippet (at least 0x for the really big flies). If you are nymphing, make sure you are getting your flies down near the bottom with weighted flies, split shot, or a combination of the two. Both Euro-style & Indicator techniques can catch fish. When flows are up, make sure you don't just jump in mid thigh deep without first fishing the edges, as higher flows push MANY trout near the banks, out of the heavier flows. Try different nymphs: they may want something imitative like a #18 Blue Wing Olive/Baetis nymph in the afternoons, but sometimes they want an egg fly, and sometimes it takes a "Junk Fly" (Mop, Squirmy/San Juan Worm, Green Weenie, etc.) or an attractor nymph (something flashy or with a fluorescent hot spot) to get it done. As a rule of thumb, higher flows call for bigger and/or gaudier nymphs. I strongly suspect that eggish color hot spots may also elicit an egg-eating response from fall trout.
Don Butler is doing his traditional two day beginner fly tying course on January 5th & 12th, 2019,
call the store at 860-379-1952 to sign up, cost is $150- it's now full but you can get on a wait list, and/or we might schedule another class for February if there is enough interest.

Water Temps: 
Look for water temps to average in the upper 30s, but can range from mid 30s to low 40s depending upon the weather, time of day, and specific location. Highest temps will occur in mid/late afternoon, with sunny days seeing the biggest temperature increases- this often activates both the aquatic insects & trout. After colder nights, it may be wise to wait until late morning, thereby giving water temps a chance to rise a degree or two, which will get the trout (and bugs) more active- streamer fishing can be an exception to this, as it's not hatch-related, as can nymphing with egg patterns or other "Junk Flies" like worm patterns & Mop flies. The one hatch that often occurs in exception to this is the Winter Caddis, which typically come off in early/mid morning. The other strategy is to start your morning in the first 2 miles below the dam in Riverton, where water temps hardly vary at all during the day (due to being released from down deep), and then by late morning you can go back downriver as downstream temps rise.

Early Winter Tactics & Advice:
Colder days and nights are here to stay, the water temps have dropped, and the days are getting shorter. All of this calls for some changes in tactics as the trout change their behavior due to spawning, slower metabolism, and less bugs hatching. Egg flies are very effective now- experiment with colors, typically yellows, oranges, and pinks. This remains a great time of year to toss streamers, and some good-sized ones at that, for what could potentially be some of the biggest trout you will catch all year. Hungry post-spawn browns seeking calories to replenish themselves will crush them in December. Nymphs are probably the most consistent flies and will typically rack up the bigger numbers, with a mix of "Junk Flies" & imitative patterns each having their moments. Other than the Winter Caddis in the early/mid AM, most bug activity has now shifted to the afternoons, but subsurface patterns continue to vastly outproduce dry flies due to the above average flows (normal for early December is a medium total flow of 350-400cfs, currently we are at about 675cfs & dropping). The main afternoon hatch is small #22-26 Blue Winged Olives, might see some Midges too.

The river was stocked in October with 800+ 13-18" fat rainbows purchased by the FRAA and supplied by Harding Trout Hatchery in New Hartford/Pine Meadow, in spots between the New Hartford 219 bridge and the Satan's Kingdom/Rt 44 bridge. Some of the bigger ones were pushing 3.5-4 pounds. This higher water we've had has spread them out nicely above & below the stocking points.

New Stuff:
T&T's new award-winning Zone series is here, it's a mid-priced ($495) set of rods that perform at a high level, they feel great in the hand and cast beautifully- stop by and cast one in the backyard. They even do a nice 10' #7 for you Steelhead guys. We also got some cool tying materials in recently, including #20 Hanak 480 Jig Champion hooks, Jan Siman Fine Peacock Dubbing in all the best colors including some UV ones (one of the absolute best materials for nymph collars),  and are once again fully restocked on all the popular colors of Montana Fly Company Barred Sexi-Floss in both small & medium sizes (this makes awesome legs on a Pat's Rubber Leg Stonefly Nymph).

The areas stocked in September/October are yielding the highest catch rates, with Junk Flies & streamers doing much of the catching. Make sure to pair your Junk Flies with a "normal", drabber fly (with or without a hot spot). However, the highest quality, bigger holdover and wild trout have mostly been coming from the permanent Catch & Release area, as well as downstream (that is during periods when downstream water levels have been doable). Be advised that you will work harder for these fish and you won't catch as many as in the more recently stocked sections, but your compensation might be a BIG holdover or wild brown.

The CT DEEP Fisheries did their fall trout stocking for the Farmington River on September 11th, they stocked from below Satan's Kingdom downstream to the Rt 177 bridge in Unionville, and also in the town of Farmington by the Larry Kolp Garden Plot (downstream from seasonal TMA). Also the MDC stocked their 1,000+ trout in the upper river/Riverton (they usually do from below the dam down to Whittemore) on 9/14. The FRAA stocked 800+ 13-18" fat rainbows (some to 3.5-4#!) in New Hartford between the Rt 219 bridge and the Satan's Kingdom bridge the 2nd week of October. But even without these stockings, there was already a bunch of trout in the river, including the sections open to harvest from April through August. 

-Winter Caddis: #18-24 pupa & adults (early/mid AM, this is main/major December hatch)
-Baetis/Blue Winged Olives #22-28 (afternoons, esp. cloudy days, light hatch)
-Midges #20-28 (late morns through afternoons, light hatch)

-Stoneflies/Pat's Rubber Legs #6-12- gold/yellow, brown, black
-Mop Flies #8-12 (various colors, especially cream/tan)  
-BWO/Olive Nymphs #16-20
-Egg Flies #10-18 (various colors: yellow, pink, orange, etc.)
-Blue Lightning Bugs/Copper Johns #14-16
-Pheasant Tail/Quasimodo Pheasant Tails #14-20
-Caddis Larva (olive to green) #14-16
-Cased Caddis #8-16 
-Antoine's Perdigons (various colors) #12-18
-Attractor/Hot-Spot nymphs #14-18 (Haast Haze, Pineapple Express, Frenchy, Triple Threat, Pink   Soft Spot Jigs, Carotene Jigs, Egan's Red Dart, Rainbow Warrior, Prince, etc.).

"Junk Flies": nymphs for high/dirty water, freshly stocked trout, or when there is no hatch and standard nymphs aren't working:
-Squirmies/San Juan Worms/G-String Worms #10-14 (pink, red, worm brown)
-Egg Flies #10-18
-Mops #8-12
-Green Weenies #10-14

Cortland's "Top Secret" Ultra Premium Fluorocarbon tippet has a glass-smooth Plasma finish and is by far the best and strongest stuff out there: it has the most abrasion resistance, stretch, flexibility & clarity. Total game-changer, and an extra-good choice if you like to nymph with lighter tippets - here's a link to purchase it off our site:

December can be an above average streamer bite. Most of the browns have spawned now, and they are hungry and looking to put weight back on. With colder December water temps here now make sure to get your streamers deep, and you may want to slow your presentations down to make it easier for the trout to catch your fly. Try #2-14 patterns  (FYI bigger is often better, especially for bigger fish, gotta appeal to their aggression & hunger), especially in colors like olive, white, black, brown, yellow, or combinations of colors (a little yellow, orange or white mixed in can be very effective)- other colors are good too, and it pays to experiment. Typically the low-light periods of early & late in the day are the optimum times to fish a streamer, as are cloudy days. The day or two after a rain, when flows are still elevated & off-color can produce some really good streamer fishing conditions for big trout. During the day, especially when it's bright &sunny, target structure (undercut banks, fallen trees, big boulders, etc.) and shady areas. If you're specifically targeting larger trout, go bigger on your fly, but expect to catch less fish. And FYI a 4-6" articulated fly is not too big if you are looking for top end fish. 3-4" is a good compromise if you want a shot at better fish, but still want to catch some average ones in between the occasional big dogs. Play around with your fly size/pattern/color, presentation & retrieve and see what works- it can make a BIG difference. If you listen, the trout will tell you what they want. Think Home Invaders, Zonkers, Zuddlers, Woolly Buggers, Bruce's Yellow Matuka, Don's Peach Bugger, Dude Friendly, Ice Picks, Mini Picks, Mop Heads, Slump Busters, Sculpin Helmet patterns (for a weighted sculpin imitation), etc.

     -Report by Torrey Collins