Fly-Fishing on Block Island

Two weeks ago, Captain Pete Farrell called. He was summering on Block Island and  invited me to come over and catch a striper or two. Man, I jumped at the chance. Hey, I hadn’t done any fly-fishing on Block Island in over 20 years.

Fly-Fishing on Block Island

Fly-Fishing on Block Island

Shortly after I hopped the Block Island Ferry out of Point Judith. Shaped like a pork chop, the island lies hard to the North Atlantic some 10 plus miles off the Rhode Island coast. Dutch explorer Adrian Block is credited with discovering the Block in 1614, and then sixteen hardy souls settled there in 1661. And the island has been busy ever since.

As islands go, the Block isn’t especially large, measuring about 6 miles long and 4 miles wide, but it is a place of enormous rugged beauty. In fact the Nature Conservancy calls it “One of the 12 last great places in the Western Hemisphere.”

Huge striped bass prowl these waters, especially in deep haunts well off the beach.

Block Island

Block Island

And Pete knows how to find them, believe me. But I was far more interested in his offer to sight-fish Block Island’s Great Salt Pond. And that is what we did.

As you can see in the top photo, our sight-fishing adventure was successful. Yes, big bass from a big boat, in big water is never bad, but sight-fishing in the shallows is always far more fun. My friend you just can’t beat seeing and casting to cruising fish in gin clear water.

Pete had use of a 16′ flats boat in  the “Pond”. So we were all set. The striper in the above image latched on to a small white half-half, and then took me right to the backing. Very cool. I hope to return to the Block again this summer.

 

 

 

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Father and Son Anglers

How does that old saying go? The acorn never falls far from the tree. Plenty of truth in those words. And I guess that’s no surprise. Like father like son right? Things get passed along from generation to generation. It happens all the time. So if dad likes to fish, his son might like fishing too. Yes, father and son anglers. There is no fighting DNA.

Father and Son Anglers Photo Credit Phil Farnsworth

Father and Son Anglers
Photo Credit Phil Farnsworth

Last week my buddy Phil flew in from California. Phil has a mountain of photo experience, more than anyone else I know. So I asked him to swing by and take a shot of me and the son. I love how it came out.

Now I’m mainly a fly guy. My son is mainly spin /plug. But hey angling is angling no matter how you cut it. And get this, the fishing bug hit both of us around the same time of life. Is that magic or what? OK, he is younger, taller, smarter and better looking than his old man. But we’re still very much the same. We both love being on the water. We both love everything about the fishing. The chase, the tackle, the tactics, the Kahuna that got away. Yeah we’re both cut from the same cloth. Father and son anglers. My friends it doesn’t get any cooler that that.

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Using a Fly-Fishing Lanyard

We all love our fly-fishing vests. When they were first invented (Lee Wulff?) they were little more than a shirt with a couple of cargo pockets. Nowadays they are far more elaborate. Hell they might have a dozen pockets or more. Man, that makes vests very handy and capable of carrying a ton of tackle. But that’s a problem too. Vests can hold so much stuff, we end up tempted to lug around every fly and gadget we own – way more gear than we actually need. In fact a fly-fishing vest can balloon into something so big you need a Sherpa to help you around!

Recently, after a long day on the stream, my vest was killing me. It felt like I was carting a

Using a Fly-Fishing Lanyard

Using a Fly-Fishing Lanyard

ton of brick. So the following day I weighed it. Lordy, lordy, it was a shade over 8 pounds! And its only a “shortie” vest.  Now 8 pounds might not sound like a lot, but over the course of day it takes a toll, believe me. Especially if the load doesn’t land exactly right. It needs to be out on your shoulders, not around your neck.

Several years ago I purchased a fly-fishing lanyard. Frankly at the time, lanyards were new to the marketplace, and I wasn’t sure how valuable they might be. But they looked worthy of a try.

Well,  it turns out I like lanyards. They are light, and quite comfortable. I opt to use mine during the warmest months, when typically I fish with a reduced selection of flies – a few dries (including terrestrials), a few nymphs, and a few wets or soft hackles. A lanyard is perfect for the dog days of summer.

Using a fly-fishing lanyard forces you to be a minimalist. After all you’re paring down to the bare essentials. Less has to be more. So you plan ahead. As you can see in the photo, I have one small fly box (You can carry another one in your wader pouch, along with your nippers.), floatant, forceps,  a couple of indicators, leader straightener, and the necessary tippet spools. (Want a small LED light too? It might end up in your waders or on the brim of your hat.) That’s it! Total weight you ask. Ounces not pounds. And its cool even on the hottest July day.

When using a fly-fishing lanyard, balance the gear on the right and left sides, such that the lanyard hangs with the metal clip straight down. What clip? At the base of a lanyard is a

Using a Fly-Fishing Lanyard

Using a Fly-Fishing Lanyard

small metal clip you connect to the top of your waders (Or even your shorts if you’re wading wet). This clip may not look unimportant but it is. If you fail to use it, when you bend forward to land and release a fish, the lanyard will swing out in your face. A nuisance that can be avoided.

Give lanyards a try. I bet you enjoy them. If you’re the  handy type, you can make your own, just be sure to add a little padding in the neck area.And use a strong chord.

 

Posted in Fly Fishing in Freshwater, Gear | 2 Comments

The “Sulphur” Hatch on the Farmington River

Part Four:  In the following days I waded as many pools and runs as I could. It was a vivid reminder of how much terrific trout water exists on this river. Naturally my main goal throughout stayed the same – to fish and learn about the “sulphur” hatch on the Farmington River.

Farmington River

Farmington River

For the duration of my trip, this year’s “sulphur” hatch continued to prove difficult to nail down. I saw duns appear as early as 11:30am, and as late as 7:45pm. And on more than one occasion, the hatch came off twice in the same day – once in the afternoon and once in the evening. Typically the afternoon hatches were the weaker of the two, being shorter in duration and containing fewer duns. That said, the afternoon events hosted less anglers which allowed you a better shot at the fish. And in the evening, there was an increasing number of smaller duns down to size 18#.

When the hatch wasn’t underway,  I resorted to nymphs, trying indicator-style and tight line Euro-style. Both methods caught fish. Primary I stuck with bead-head caddis pupa.  My indicator was a product new to me, called an Air-Lock. Unlike other indicators, these employ a threaded slot to grasp the leader. It worked well, although the threaded assembly is small and a bit hard to handle, particularly midstream. Once it is in place,however, it can be quickly moved up or down and doesn’t kink the leader. Good news.

During off periods, caddis pupa such as Rich Strolis' Rock Candy worked

During slow periods, caddis pupa such as Rich Strolis’ Rock Candy worked

Air Lock Indicator

Air Lock Indicator

Overall, I enjoyed fishing the”sulphur’ hatch on the Farmington River, but found it challenging. Now, perhaps I just hit the hatch in an “off”year. Such things can happen. Regardless, I feel confident in making the following recommendations.  If you come for the hatch, be sure to have “emergers” in your fly box. If you get caught without them, hang a size 16 pheasant tail nymph about a foot off the bend of a dry. Could save the day. And you’ll need “sulphur”dries in three sizes 14,16, and 18# – along with a selection of  “sulphur” spinners. Also in your dry fly box should be size 16# tan caddis, Isonychias in 10# and 12#, and don’t forget to bring Usuals.

Blue Sky Foods

Blue Sky Foods

In closing, let me mention two fun places in New Hartford. If you’re feeling hungry, Blue Sky Foods on route 44# is a gem, serving up good food with a funky Caribbean flare. Off Greenwoods road, by the Ovation guitar factory, is a new spot called the Parrott-Delaney tavern. Excellent food and a fine selection of craft beers. Enjoy!

 

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The “Sulphur” Hatch on the Farmington River

Part Three: Bright and early the following morning I stopped into Upcountry Sportfishing, located right on route 44 in New Hartford.  Upcountry is fly-fishing central in these parts. Besides being a well-run, well stocked fly shop – the kind that’s harder and harder to find these days – Upcountry has a very informative website with river reports, weather, guides, and lodging.

My Vest and a Kabuto Fly Rod

Vest and a Kabuto Fly Rod

In the shop I ran into Bruce Marino. Bruce has been wading these waters for years as a full-time, year-round Farmington River guide, and noted fly tyer.  Bruce quickly confirmed what I saw the previous day. He told me the “sulphurs” can come off much earlier than expected. And he added they can also come off again around 5pm. And there are even day when the “sulphurs” may wait until nightfall before appearing. In other words, the “sulphur” hatch on the Farmington River can be unpredictable.

Then I told Bruce about my lack of luck with dries. He wasn’t at all surprised. He said the trout often show little interest in the “sulphur” dun and spend much of their time keyed to the “emerger”. As Bruce put it: “It pays to get the fly wet.”

That evening I fished down river down in Collingsville with Gary Steinmiller. Gary is a highly skilled angler and president of the Connecticut Fly Fisherman’s Association. We got in around 4:30pm. There was no action to speak of until near 7pm. At that point we saw “sulphurs”, “isonychias”, and a few “cahills’ come off. This time Rick Strolis’ “shucked up emerger” worked very well indeed, taking several good fish. Gary caught several very nice trout too, including a big chunky rainbow that put up a real show, running the pool.

Francis Better 's Usual

Francis Better ‘s Usual – note red thread in body

As darkness descended, I was having trouble seeing the “emerger” so I switched to a Usual,  a great dry fly invented in the Adirondacks by the late Francis Betters. The Usual looks deceptively simple, but believe me it can be a killer. It rewarded me with the final fish of the night, a heavy brown of near 18 inches that bent my Kabuto glass fly rod right down into the corks. Exciting fishing!

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The “Sulphur” Hatch on the Farmington River

Part Two: Ok, lets talk more about the “sulphur” hatch on the Farmington River. My first day on the river was filled with surprises.  Now the text book time for “sulphurs” to appear is 5pm, just as the light begins to leave the water. But rather than wait all day, I opted to get fishing just after lunch. Hey, I was anxious to see the river and anxious to wet a line.

When I got in, I saw a few caddis coming off. They were tan and about size 16.  Then around 1pm, I noticed something unexpected – “sulphur” duns begin to appear.  Seemed more than slightly early for the hatch, but the fish started moving. Wow, I felt lucky to be there.  Great I thought, here we go. I dug out a size 14 dry fly to match, and presented it above the “rises”. Believe me, my anticipation was running high. The trout continued to work, yet not one of them took my fly! Ouch. OK, I figured my presentation must be a little off, so I adjusted my angle to get a better drift. Still no dice.

Shucked up Sulphur Emerger

“Shucked up” Sulphur Emerger

At that point I stopped and watched.  There were five trout feeding sporadically within 20 feet of me. They didn’t appeared to be large fish. Still I badly wanted to connect. After a couple of minutes, my observations paid off. Although the duns were floating right over the trout, not one dun disappeared. Instead the trout were busy immediately below the surface, taking “emergers”.

Before coming up to the river, I had bought some “emergers” from Rick Strolis. Rick is a fine fly tyer and author. The fly in question was his “shucked up”  “emerger”. I had them in size 14 1nd 16. Quickly I tied one on and bingo, sure enough, now the fish would at least come up and look at my offering. We were finally getting somewhere. Unfortunately for me, however, before I could connect, the afternoon hatch quickly petered out, without me taking a single trout. Drat. Not off to a good start!

 

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The “Sulphur” Hatch on the Farmington River

Part One: For many years, I was on Martha’s Vineyard in June, fishing for stripers on Dogfish bar. Those were memorable years, but as a result, I always missed the “sulphur” hatch on the Farmington River. Well this year it was high time to remedy that. So I’m spending a week fly-fishing this fabulous river, now known far-and-wide for big trout. Its finally time for me to see the “sulphurs” on the Farmington River.

Riverton, Connecticut

Riverton, Connecticut

So, this post will be the first in a series, discussing what I encountered during my week on the Farmington. We’ll look at the daily timing of the hatch, the size of “sulphurs”, how the trout behave during the hatch, what flies were effective, and what tactics worked.

Farmington River by the old Hitchcock Chair Factory

Farmington River by the old Hitchcock Chair Factory

In case you’re unaware of this river, let me begin with some basic background. The Farmington is a tailwater fishery, the bulk of its flow originating from the Hogback Dam, which lies in northwest Connecticut right on the Massachusetts line. The dam’s bottom release ensures cool and clear waters, making ideal habitat for trout. After leaving the Hogback, the river meanders past the old Hitchcock Chair Factory, through tiny Riverton, and onward, bordered by two state forests. Miles later it reaches New Hartford, Pine Meadow, and the Canton line. These first fourteen miles of river are some of the most picturesque you’ll ever see, and were awarded Wild and Scenic status by Congress over twenty years ago.

Next the river runs through the gorge at Satan’s Kingdom as it cascades deeper into Canton, wandering into Collinsville and Farmington. These waters are, sometimes referred to as the “lower stretch”, receive less “press” and as a result less angling pressure, but don’t be fooled, they hold  fine fishing as well.

The Farmington River is home to several great hatches, but “sulphurs” rank as one of the finest. Typically, it comes-off in mid June as summer rounds the corner. Naturally, weather plays a role. Hey, it does in all forms of fishing. And the exact timing of the hatch depends on your river location. Water temperatures warm as the river runs southward. Consequently, the “sulphurs” arrive sooner in the month down in Collinsville, and then up in New Hartford, and eventually in Riverton. Hence you might want to think of this as a “movable feast” one that extends over a period of weeks, steadily ascending upstream towards the Hogback Dam.

The conservation ethic is strong here. Much of the river is catch-and-release, and you’ll need to mash down those barbs too. Given the emphasis on conservation, I’m going to opt not to drag fish ashore to be photographed. Releases will be done quick-and-easy midstream. But fear not, you’ll find plenty of pictures of Farmington River’s trout online, and you’ll see their monstrous size.

 

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A Kabuto Fiberglass Fly Rod

In late 2005 I ordered a “glass” fly rod from Japanese custom rod builder Yasuyuki Kabuto. The wand in question was a model 7033 – a 7 foot, 3-piece, 3-weight, with a stacked bamboo slide-band reel seat.

Six months passed before the rod descended on my doorstep. Understandable given that Connecticut and Japan are half a world away, and on top of that Yasuyuki is a one-man band. But hey, anyway you cut it, the wait was well worth it. I was impressed with the rod; its a quality build, no question. Done with great care and attention to detail. Naturally I described the rod in a post shortly thereafter. Following it up with a casting report. (I’ll have more to say on casting in a minute.)

A Kabuto Fiberglass Fly Rod

A Kabuto Fiberglass Fly Rod

Regrettably,  back then I was unable to fish the rod very much. How come? Well I moved to Florida and spent the intervening years fishing the flats. Ton of fun that. This summer I’m in New England, however, and fishing this “glass” rod often. Hence the time is ripe for an update on a Kabuto fiberglass fly rod.

A Kabuto Fiberglass Fly Rod

A Kabuto Fiberglass Fly Rod

Here’s the Kabuto at work. If you look closely, on the right third of the photo just below the foam line, you’ll see a rainbow trout with its head down, boring for the bottom. No, its not huge fish, a foot or so, but a fun fish on this “glass” rod.

The Kabuto 7033 tips in at 3.35 ounces, reasonably light. The blank is unsanded. The finish is Spartan and yet impeccable, clearly the work of an artisan. A single agate stripping guide adds grace. All wraps are transparent, tipped in a few turns of yellow. There is no hook keeper. The grip is nicely shaped and made with some of the highest quality cork I’ve ever seen. It measures 5 5/8″. As the photograph above reveals, it is a tad short for my mitt. Still it might fit your hand just right. The photo also show the rod’s progressive action. Which is uniform down to and a bit below the stripping guide. Beyond that, the butt has oodles of reserve power.

Kabuto Signature

Kabuto Signature

OK…lets talk turkey..I mean casting. Back when I first tested this rod I didn’t have a 4-weight line to try. But given how the 3-weight Kabuto handled a 5-weight line, I realized a 4-weight was undoubtedly an option. Now I have a 4-weight – a Cortland 444 DT – and have been using it extensively. Honestly, in my hands, the 4-weight out performs the 3-weight by a long shot. I’m just telling it like it is. With a 4-weight line, the rod simply loads better, responds better, and feels more comfortable. Obviously your mileage may vary.

You can’t go down to your local fly shop and wiggle one of these things. So I was taking a chance on this rod. But I’m glad I did. I’m very pleased, and plan to enjoy this rod for years to come. It casts smoothly, roll cast well, and can chuck out serious line if needed. Did I mention it’s also a great looking rod? You’re damn right it is.

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Winston 5-Weight Fiberglass Fly Rod

Part Two:  OK…its time to put a fly line or two on this Winston 5-weight fiberglass fly rod. Now the big question , as I explained last time, is whether this rod is actually a 5-weight.  Remember? Unlike the “glass” rods Winston made in Montana, this San Francisco era rod is not marked on the rod or the tube. Odd perhaps, but true.

SF Winston with Vest 022

Winston 5-Weight Fiberglass Fly Rod

A 2-weight was the first line I tried. The rod was able to cast it, but the rod definitely felt underlined. Next aboard was a 3-weight. Pretty much the same deal. I could cast it, yet the rod wasn’t working down into the blank. But the news here is this: if you were in a tough situation that demanded extreme sheath, these lines could be used.

OK…on to a 4-weight line. Nicer,…. much nicer. It loaded the rod well, and cast well. I liked it. A 4-weight line is  a useful companion for this rod.

A 5-weight line, slowed the rod farther, tapping more into the power of the butt section. Now you had that sought after “glass ” feel.  ( I’ve been known to refer to “glass” as “blue-collar bamboo”.) Yes, the jury is in. This is a classic 5-weight. The 5-weight line’s greater weight also allowed me to deliver a fly with a minimum of fly line out the tiptop. Did I try for maximum distance? Frankly I didn’t. This old rod is in fabulous shape and didn’t need me pushing it. Still I’m comfortable in saying it will fish out to 35 feet and beyond, covering the vast majority of trout situations.

A few final thoughts. A 2.6 ounces, this rod is wonderful in the hand, light, responsive and accurate. You can’t ask for anything more. When I stack the rod up against my Montana “glass” rods it is easy to see the improvements Tom Morgan made. The later rods have better components, and better finish. Along the way, I noticed that this reel seat has some limitations. It accepts the Hardy Lightweight series, but reels with fatter reel feet are a no-go. Unfortunately this is true on many rods, even today. Reel seats are simply not universal.

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A Winston 5-Weight Fiberglass Fly Rod

Part One: Sometimes a fever comes on slowly, and then keeps on building. Well, that’s exactly how my love of Winston glass rods began. It started slowly way back when with a travel set – a 6-weight and an 8-weight – and grew from there. Eventually I ended up with a slew of Winston “glass” rods from a 6’6″ 2-weight to a 9 foot, 12-weight. And lo-and-behold, now I have one more! This time its a Winston 5-weight fiberglass fly rod.

San Francisco Era Winston Rod Tube

San Francisco Era Winston Rod Tube

All my previous Winston “glass” rods were built in Montana. This rod was not. It is from San Francisco, and likely done by Doug Merrick in the early 1970’s. If so, in those years it sold for the princely sum of $65. (I acquired it from Rick’s Rods a respected purveyor of classic gear.) Amazingly, this thing appears to be in like new condition – unfished. The cork grip and the reel seat are pristine. The ferrule is not worn or marked. The logo on the blank is bright. (Typically they darken when exposed to sunlight) And the guide feet have not caused an honorable scar in the red windings, indicating the rod has rarely been flexed.

SF Era Winston Glass Fly Rod

A Winston 5-Weight Fiberglass Fly Rod

San Francisco Era Medallion

San Francisco Era Medallion

Not surprisingly, the blank has the same color and general appearance of the Montana rods. Hey, they were all made by J.K. Fisher to Winston’s specifications. Windings are the same color too, although applied a bit differently. Most notable is the three turn open spiral you see in the photo above. In the Montana years, that tightened up considerably. The aluminum reel seat is a two-tone, double-down locking Varmac, I believe. Back then this was likely an optional upgrade over the standard slide-band seat. The grip is a 6.5″ half Wells. The winding check above the grip is black plastic. There is a single Carboloy stripping guide, followed by 7 snakes and a tiptop. The rod sock is plain grey, and without markings. The spigot ferrule is white.

Above the hook keeper, my Montana rods are marked with the rod’s weight, length, fly line designation, and serial number. This rod has none of that information. So, I did a few measurements of my own. The rod is definitely a two-piece 7-footer. And it tips the scales at a lean and mean 2.6 ounces. Wow! That truly surprised me. In fact I checked it twice. Friends, this is an exceptionally light fly rod.

Now, is it a 5-weight? Good question.  Its not marked 5-weight on either the blank or the rod tube.  So I can’t be sure until I put a line on it. Rick’s records show it to be a 5-weight, however, and I’m fairly certain it will prove to be. Why? In hand this is a light action rod. Felt like it might even be a 4-weight? But Tom Morgan tell us that the lightest “glass” rod Winston advertised in Merrick’s time was in fact a 5-weight. Furthermore Merrick’s shop stocked a 7.5 foot, 5-weight “glass” blank. Which could have easily been shorten to 7 foot. In the next post we’ll take her out for a whirl, and find out more.

The SF Winston weighs 2.6 ounces

The SF Winston weighs 2.6 ounces

 

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