Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Micro Managing

It seems that spring fever has spared no one lately. That became more apparent as I entered a fly shop adjacent to freshly stocked trout stream on Sunday morning. The high volume of anglers with the same idea as me on a bluebird day came as no surprise. Who wouldn't want to be outside in late winter when the thermometer would peak over 70 degrees? I for one was like a kid in a candy store, especially after spending the three previous weekend days cooped up indoors painting. 

The fishing on Connecticut's Farmington River has been as good as can be expected for March. A recent stocking means there are plenty of fresh trout to weed through and the mild winter was a gift to the resident holdover and wild fish. Along with the many brown trout that hold over from year to year, there seems to be a larger than normal number of rainbow trout that fared well. What is also different about this season so far is the river's flow--it is wicked low for this time of year, which is comfortable for getting around but it could spell trout if we don't get significant rainfall in the near future.

My friend Derrick did well on the Farmington just the day before, so we had a pretty good idea of where we wanted to be and wanted we wanted to do. Half expecting to see a deli line of anglers in the chosen run upon arrival, we were excited to find a lone streamer fisherman on the move.  The bug life was strong from the start.  There were winter caddis, stone flies and tiny midge coming off the water.  The goal was to imitate the larval forms of these insects in hopes of fooling trout gorging on them under the surface.  We rigged up light leaders under small yarn indicators and added little split shots and weighted flies to get down to the strike zone.  Below our first fly we experimented with a range of midge, stonefly and mayfly patterns until we found what was working.

After the first half hour of ignored drifts and fly changes, Derrick put us on the board using a minuscule yellow midge pattern.  To find out what else this holdover brown trout was eating, we gently sampled its gullet with a tool that resembles a small turkey baster.  Derrick squeezed the contents into the palm of his hand and we stared at a dozen freshly eaten nymphs that were size #18 and smaller.  It was obvious that trout were feeding right at our feet and it was time to go tiny.  We both tied on micro stonefly and midge imitations and stepped up into the head of the pool where many fine trout have won and lost battles to us in the past. 

Photo credit: Derrick Kirkpatrick
Over the next two hours, we connected with several quality trout that were stacked up and feeding along a current seam of fast and slow water. We tossed our rigs upstream and drifted them right along the seam, setting the hook on the slightest hesitation of our strike indicators.  It's amazing to think how these fish could pinpoint our tiny offerings tumbling through the hydraulics of this run, but they didn't seem to have much trouble.  Derrick and I weeded out a few smaller holdover browns that fought extremely hard from the well-oxygenated water.  The next trout my partner hooked was in a whole different class, however.  The lengthy fight that ensued left both angler and net man shaking with nerves.  She bounced from the head of the pool and dropped downstream; she bulldogged down deep then flailed on the surface; she came in close then screamed back out again.  Finally, right before she slid into the net, the only word that came to mind was wild.  Along with the Tyson-esque fight, the fish was in pristine condition; no marks, no clips, perfect fins, and amazing coloration.  It was a perfect example of what the Farmington River has to offer.  This female brown trout measured exactly twenty inches long and, as we would later find out, was getting up in her years.  The day was already made, but not yet complete. 

After collecting ourselves, I got back into the head of the pool. That wasn't the only horse up there because I tangled with another hell of a trout just a few drifts later. At first it acted as if it didn't really know or care that it was hooked; just pacing around in a patch of slow water. There was a lane of very quick water I had to lead it through to get to the safe zone where we were standing. I took a few steps backward and the fish bolted from the head, cleared the dangerous fast water and was almost within reach before that dreadful feeling of slack line ran through my body. That is just part of the game when planting micro hooks into large maws. There was no question if it was a big brown trout, but just how big nagged at me for a short long time.

After shaking off the lost fish, I climbed back in the driver's seat, though it seemed our short-lived window of success was closing.  There were surely other trout feeding in this section, but our drifts were neglected the rest of our time there.  It was a memorable morning and we both felt a sense of accomplishment akin to solving a puzzle.  Most of the popular pools in the upper Farmington River have top notch trout holding in them, but it's not every outing that you can dial in on exactly what they want and how they want it.  The rest of the day's action was rather anticlimactic, but no one was complaining.  The weather was phenomenal for mid-March.  The thermometer in my Jeep read 79 degrees as we cruised downstream to have lunch and a beer along a favorite stretch of river.  

A toast to an old friend after a good day on the water (photo credit: Tommy Baranowski)

Back at work on Monday morning, after emailing the photos from the trip to Derrick and our friend Aaron who couldn't join us, we learned that it wasn't the first time our crew landed that magnificent stream-born female trout.  Aaron's detective work after scrolling through archives of old photos revealed that I had caught her in April of 2009 and Aaron after that in November of the same year; all three times in the same pool!  In the three years since, she had only grown about a half of an inch in length and hadn't moved much, but it most definitely survived numerous encounters with sharp hooks, probably winning more than a few of those battles.  This fish was 19.5-inches when I caught her three years ago, quite possibly when it was at least three years old.  I think it's pretty cool that the Farmington River is producing trout that are five and six years old and perhaps older.  Check out the unmistakable line of dots behind the trout's right eye in the photos above and below.  Hopefully we'll see her again soon. 

Aaron with the same trout in November of 2009


  1. Who would have imagined a March day, sitting on the banks, enjoying a Guinness! It's been way to long since I got out, compounded by these great images...

  2. greats stuff Kierran. I was at the Farmington last week and hooked a couple of beauts but lost them. It was worth every minute though. Than ks for sharing.

  3. Great read Kierran as always. I think it is awesome that you and your fishing partners identified that same trout from past pics, it illustrates your attention to detail.
    Thanks for the read, it helps me think of fishing and not work... riggghhht.

  4. Thanks for reading and for the comments, gentlemen. Good luck on the water!