Friday, January 11, 2019

Friday 1/11/19 Farmington River Report: winter bite windows

Zach with 20 3/4" of butter from this past Wednesday during a "Bite Window"
Upcoming local winter fly fishing events y'all should know about:
1) FRAA meeting on January 23rd at 7pm featuring author and MI steelhead/salmon/trout guide extraordinaire Matt Supinski doing a free presentation "Into the Mind of a Brown Trout", based upon info he presents on his brand new "Nexus" book that covers everything Brown Trout & Atlantic Salmon. Matt is quite a character, knowledgeable as hell and a lively speaker. This will be at the Farmington Senior Center (321 New Britain Ave, Unionville, CT), and this event is open to the public- you don't have to  be a FRAA member.
2) The Fly Fishing Film Tour is coming to Legitmus Brewery (just down the street from us on Rt 44) on February 5th, doors open at 6pm and the films will play starting at 7pm. You can purchase tickets for $20 online at this link:, or you can buy a ticket here at UpCountry- we finally have tickets here to sell, they just arrived this afternoon.

Johnny Stavs (another Zach disciple) with a recent catch
3) FRAA 2019 Banquet & 75 Ticket Raffle: banquet is Saturday March 2nd at Chatterly's Banquet Facility (formerly "The Cornicopia") at 371 Pinewoods Rd. in Torrington, CT. Banquet tickets are $45 and can be purchased at UpCountry, or online at (clickable link). The food is fantastic, and they have the best fly fishing bucket raffle in CT. The 75 Ticket Raffle tickets are $20 and can be purchased at UpCountry, and these tickets will give you a shot at 2 rods per ticket: Scott G Series 9' #4, and Scott F Series (fiberglass) 6' 6" #3. You don't have to attend the banquet to take part in this very limited raffle.

The river is above normal (around 700cfs), but absolutely fishable & dropping. I would not be surprised if MDC cuts the dam release in the next few days, but that is an unknown- I'll update this report if that occurs. If you are waiting for "normal" conditions, you've been missing out on some good fishing. Those fishing it this week gave me good reports, with some very nice fish landed. We have recent fish porn for all you junkies: Top pic is once again Zach St. Amand, this time holding a 20 3/4" beauty he landed on Wednesday right after a flow bump- he said that surprisingly the fish were in relatively fast water and feeding hard. Next down is Johnny Stavs (another Zach disciple haha) putting what Zach taught him to good use with a solid recent brown. Third down is a head shot of a quality brown that new daddy Mike "Rap" Andrews caught, the man is like a human trout electroshocker.
Mike Andrews with a recent kyped up male brown- look at that head!

Looks like Old Man Winter finally decided that yes, it actually is wintertime haha. Dress warmly! (see several paragraphs down for clothing advice to stay comfortable) Long range highs are virtually all in the 30s & 20s, with night averaging in the teens to 20s. What this means is no more rain every Friday/Saturday keeping the river perpetually high. Should see flow improvements over the next week, which will be welcome news to most anglers. Weekend highs will be upper 20s, so I'd probably advise late morning through late afternoon for the best fishing/most comfortable conditions. The exception to this can be the Winter Caddis, which are mainly a morning deal, often starting around 7am after a cold night (sometimes later though). Other than that, look for water temps to rise slightly as the sun comes out and the day progresses, which often creates a bite window, which can last anywhere from 1 hour to a half day. Often is the winter day that I've done poorly, and then suddenly a 1-2 hour bite window opened and I caught one fish after another in a short period of time. I find this often happens in mid to late afternoon, when water temps are highest but the light level starts to drop. The big browns often wait to feed until then, and sometimes will slide up into faster riffle water to do so.

Make sure to pair up your "Junk Flies" (Mops, Squirmy/San Juan Worms, eggs, etc.) with a drabber, more imitative fly like a Hare's Ear, Pheasant Tail. Caddis Larva, Zebra Midge, etc. If nothing else, a Junk Fly can draw attention to a smaller, more natural looking fly. Sometimes try making your second fly one without a beadhead (even if you are Euro Nymphing), so it looks more natural (or one with a black bead). In heavily pressured spots like Church Pool, at times trout may shy away from flies they see too often, so sometimes it's a matter of showing them something different and/or more natural looking. But sometimes trout are all about the Junk Flies, even in the pools that get hammered (especially right after the flow comes up for the first day or two). In spots that don't get hit too hard, Junk Flies continue to be top producers. Don't neglect streamers, as long as you fish them slow & deep, cover water, and change colors/retrieves/patterns, you should be able to put a fish or two or three in the net. And they might be a really big trout.

The Skinny:
Water temps are averaging mid/upper 30s on the entire river, and most of the trout are now mainly in winter-type lies of softer/deeper water in pools, deep runs, and the lower section of gentle riffles. They may still be very close to where you were catching them during the regular season, but they will slide off 5-10 feet toward the softer current edge or a little further down the riffle to find water that has less current. Nymphing is the #1 producer in these type of conditions, but big post spawn browns are hungry and they love streamers. Church Pool is still offering up some limited morning dry fly fishing in the slower water on many days- look for mornings that are not windy, preferably following a night down into the teens/20s.

Nymphing Tip:
While I often continue to tight-line/Euro nymph through the winter, it can make sense to switch to an Indicator rig. And Indy allows you to more easily fish slower water, you can fish farther away from you, and you can suspend your flies a little above the bottom when necessary. You can also run really long drifts straight down a current seam (which is where trout typically hold). Some days the trout will be on very small flies, and you can just use split shot to sink them under your Indy (FYI there is no reason you cannot add split shot to a Euro rig when necessary, the best way to do this is with a Drop Shot rig that has the weight on the bottom with your flies on droppers right above it) without having to put on a heavy "Sacrifice Fly" to sink you small fly/flies. Indicators are also a godsend on windy days that make Euro nymphing a nightmare.

Flows as of 9am Friday 1/11/19:
Riverton is medium-high at 440cfs, downstream of the Still River the total flow is higher than average but absolutely fishable at 718cfs & dropping (the Still is adding in 278cfs & dropping). Conditions can change as a result of rainfall and varying MDC dam releases. MDC has been running an above average release for the past several months as they attempt to get Colebrook Reservoir down to acceptable flood control levels, as stipulated by the Army Corps of Engineers. Constant high rainfall amounts have made this a difficult task for them. 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 last I knew, it joins the West Branch about 3/8 mile below UpCountry, making it a little higher from there and downstream, but not unfishable.

Dressing for fishing in cold weather/cold water:
Make sure to dress extra warm, otherwise you will be miserable and won't be able to concentrate & enjoy the experience. I'm rarely cold while fishing, even at 15 degrees, because I've learned how to dress for fishing in cold weather and I've acquired the proper clothes. While some people switch to 5mm neoprene bootfoot waders with Thinsulate in the boots for the winter, I continue to wear my breathable Simms G3 stockingfoot waders, and I'm comfortable. Here's why: I have loose fitting boots that accomodate extra heavy wool socks & thin poly liner socks without fighting tightly and constricting blood flow (tight boots will give you cold feet 100% of the time). I have heavy insulated pants that I wear light or heavy synthetic thermals under. Up top I have a super warm winter jacket that I under layer with various weight thermal tops (get them with zippers to regulate heat), and if it's really cold I add a relatively thin insulated vest to keep my core warm without bulking me up too much. Top it off with anything from a ball cap, to a moderately warm hat, to a super warm hat, depending upon the temps and your activity level. Make sure to get warm 1/2 finger gloves that promote blood flow to your fingers while still allowing dexterity- Simms makes several great options for fishing gloves. If it's going to be windy or wet, top it off with a quality Gore-Tex raincoat to break the wind and keep you dry (mandatory gear for you Great Lakes Steelheaders). I love to have a warm hood attached to at least one clothing item, to pop up over my head if it gets windy or I start cooling off too much. And that's my system.

Click this Thomas & Thomas blog link for a very recent review I wrote about their awesome new Contact 10' 8" #6 rod for Steelhead & Lake Run Trout/Landlocks:

Matt Supinski's hot new "Nexus" book:
Myself (Torrey) & my girlfriend Mandy contributed to Matt Supinkski's brand new book "The Brown Trout-Atlantic Salmon Nexus" (generally abreviated to just "Nexus"). We just got in a bunch of copies of it last week. He used a handful of images from/of me & Mandy, and in the Euro/Tight-Line section he used some stuff I wrote for him. It's a big book full of beautiful images and piles of information about the two species. It looks like a $50 book, but it's only $29.95. Many of my friends are in it, including some big name peeps, as well as some less known but highly skilled anglers. I haven't been able to read it cover-to-cover yet, but I'm very impressed with the final product so far. Of course, I may be a little biased haha.

The new "Nexus" book Mandy & I are in :)

A pic of Mandy from "Nexus"

Check out this link to my blog post on 10 of my favorite books on a variety of subjects: I'll be doing more blog posts on recommended books in the future, there are many great books out there.

Winter fishing conditions are here with water temps averaging mid/upper 30s, so look for fish in
A favorite image of mine Matt Supinski used in "Nexus"
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.

A tip for streamer fishermen:
Early winter 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 icy 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). There always are days the trout get really aggressive for reasons best known only to them, so try a fast retrieve at some point too. 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/sink-tip with an unweighted or lightly weighted fly. Intermediate fly lines can also work well in the winter, they typically sink about 1.5-2" per second. 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 have often used this presentation when the water is below 45 degrees and the current is fairly even so I can get a nice swing, and it's very effective.

Fly Advice:
Due to all the above normal flows the past several months, "Junk Flies" like Mops, Squirmy Worms, Mops & Green Weenies, etc. have been top producers many days. Eggs will remain a fly of choice straight through the winter and into early spring, Mops are great in higher water, and a hot pink Squirmy can be the ticket in off-color water (try other Squirmy colors too, especially when the water clears). 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. Black or yellow streamers are good if the water is dirty. 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 Pool and sometimes Beaver Pool also. 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. Midges are hatching in the afternoon some days, but with elevated flows the fish are feeding mostly underwater on nymphs/pupa, less so on the surface. However if it's not too windy, you may find a few fish eating 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.

Steelhead fishing & and fly tying are a great option this time of year. 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!!
The browns have spawned, but please still watch out for redds- they will appear as a light colored oval in gravelly riffles areas such as pool tailouts and side channels. 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 2 months or so, give or take, so avoid walking on them until after then.

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 often the best flies in the mornings, before the water temps rise a bit and the bugs get active. 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, sometimes it takes a fly at least 3-4" or bigger fly to properly irritate a big brown into striking. If you want to head hunt and are okay with catching less but bigger fish, 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 Pheasant Tail 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.

Water Temps: 
Look for water temps to average in the mid/upper 30s, but can go higher or lower some days 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 are in the 30s, and the days are short. This calls for some changes in tactics as the trout change their behavior having recently spawned, slower metabolism, and less bugs hatching. Egg flies are very effective now- experiment with colors, typically yellows, oranges, and pinks. Still a good 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 are seeking calories to replenish themselves. 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 and maybe Midges in late morns/afternoons they isn't a lot of bug activity, but subsurface patterns continue to vastly outproduce dry flies due to the above average flows (normal for now is a medium total flow of 300-400cfs, currently we are at about 750cfs & dropping).

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. They are now spread out nicely above & below the stocking points.

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 winter 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, winter fishing, 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:

Early winter can be an above average streamer bite. The browns have spawned, and they are hungry and looking to put weight back on. With cold winter 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