DFS Nymphs & Wet Flies Broadcast a Success

Brian Comfort and I hosted a Deerfield Fly Box session last night (2/17/21) attended by about 25 people. Brian talked about fishing nymphs on the Deerfield and demonstrated one of his go-to flies for the Deerfield, the Hares Ear Nymph. I discussed wet fly fishing for salmon and trout and demonstrated two of my favorite flies, a Hendrickson soft hackle and a light Cahill we fly. I am posting the materials lists for these flies below. Enjoy! Feel free to message or email me with any questions.

This pattern works for Hendricksons and other dark mayflies, Isonychia, for example.
Substitute freely to match conditions and target bugs.
Light Cahill Wet Flies
The light Cahill wet fly is a very successful pattern on the Deerfield. In addition to Cahills, it imitates white flies, sulfurs, and even yellow sallies.
Use lighter colors to imitate White Flies that are prolific on the D in the fall, and deeper yellows to mimic Potamanthus and Sulfurs in the summer.

Fly Tying Tips from a Master

This Partridge and Hare’s Ear wet fly is very similar to the March Brown tied by Steve LaValley featured on the video at the DRWTU web page discussed here.

I invite you to visit the web site for the Deerfield River Watershed Chapter of Trout Unlimited (here) and check out the fly tying video I posted there. Steve LaValley is a master fly tyer who led a beginner fly tying class for our chapter last year. In the video he ties a March Brown which is his favorite fly for the Deerfield. You can get a lot out of tying the fly with him using the video, but I want to highlight a few of the more subtle techniques he uses in the course of tying this fly that you can incorporate into you’re tying.

  • 1:07 Steve picks up his scissors and keeps them in his hand from then on
  • 1:10 He lifts the tag end of his thread and cuts it above the hook
  • 1:59 He removes any underfur from the moose mane fibers
  • 2:04 Measuring the moose mane against the hook shank & switching hands
  • 2:19 After minimal wraps to hold the tail in place, adjusting length of tail
  • 3:00 Securing the rib and wrapping down, up and back down to build a thread wrap underbody
  • 3:39 Bottom corner of dubbing envelope has been clipped to dispense dubbing
  • 3:52 Steve applies a small amount of dubbing and note how he slips it up the thread to the tie in point
  • 4:11 Spin the bobbin clockwise
  • 4:40 Careful placement of successive turns of dubbing
  • 6:36 Securing the rib
  • 7:20 Soft hackle preparation
  • 7:54 Folding the hackle
  • 8:37 Space for the quill wing and head – the width of the eye
  • 8:47 Fussing with the set of the hackle
  • 9:33 Matching the look of the right and left slips for the wing
  • 10:15 Using a couple half hitches to secure the tie still in process
  • 10:25 Measuring the wing against the hook gap
  • 11:20 Using dull side of slip for this fly
  • 11:50 Sizing the wing against the tail
  • 12:11 Switching hands after measuring
  • 12:15 Pinch method for placing & tying in the wing
  • 12:37 Building the head and the hand whip finish

Steve talks about his unconventional method for fishing wet flies in the final few minutes of the video.

There is a lot of valuable information here – verbally and visually captured in this video. If your interest is piqued about any particular aspect, please don’t hesitate to comment here or send me an email. I’ll do my best to elaborate on the gems you uncover here or point you in the direction for further exploration.

Time to tie some March Browns…

Seeing Trout

I fish to see trout!  Up close and personal… Fly fishing is one of the few ways we humans get to experience wildlife close at hand.  I see more trout close at hand – in the net – when I can ‘see’ them in the pool.  Why is this?

  • I have increased confidence
  • I get clues about their feeding behavior
  • I can approach them with stealth
  • I can tailor my presentation to specific fish
  • I may know precisely when to strike for a positive hook set

What do I mean by ‘see’?  It is rare that I’ll fish over trout that are continuously  visible.  In most rivers near me (excluding the Swift) water clarity precludes this.  As you can observe in the above video of a rainbow trout, these fish have an amazing ability to blend in to the environment.  Note the color of the dorsal surface and the blotches made up of tine specks of black that  perfectly mimic the sandy river bottom in the frame.  To ‘see’ a trout I have to rely on a variety of clues – here they are from most obvious to most subtle:

  1. Surface Feeding – trout leave the water to enter our environment and snatch a fluttering caddis fly, or by virtue of their momentum coming up from depth to take a mayfly at the surface.
  2. Porpoising – with most of their bodies remaining in the water, trout feed at the surface, revealing their head, dorsal surface and tail in rapid succession.
  3. Sipping – hardly breaking the surface film, trout suck in small, slowly emerging bugs or spinners, producing a form that appears more like a raindrop than a surface feeding fish.
  4. Tailing – in shallow water with their heads facing down to eat nymphs at or near the bottom, the trout’s tail can be observed breaking or disturbing the surface.
  5. Bulging Rise Forms – fish that are feeding just below the surface push a hump of water to the surface as they grab emerging insects rising up from the stream bed.
  6. Creases – often observed when fish are chasing bait, the trout’s dorsal fin is close enough to the surface to draw a line in smooth water.  Often this is  accompanied by a bow wave.
  7. Bow Wave – fish moving through the water with enough energy to generate a wave in front of them that manifests as a disturbance  at the surface.
  8. Flash – a trout that is actively taking nymphs off the bottom will turn sideways allowing sunlight to flash off their bright ventral surface.
  9. Shadows – The trout camouflage is so effective that they blend in with the gravel, but the shadow they cast can betray their whereabouts.  Look for a dark fusiline form, and keep your eyes peeled for confirmation in the form of one or more of the next three points.
  10. Moving Shadows – let your eyes rest on the shadows for a few minutes and note whether they change position (shadows from rocks don’t move).
  11. White Mouth Parts – a trout holding position on the bottom will open and close it’s mouth rhythmically to allow water to pass over the gills and to take in passing food (very obvious from the above video but not so obvious ata distance).
  12. Fin Motion – trout can maintain position in the current at the bottom with slight movements of the pectoral fins and an occasional wave of the caudal (tail) fin.  Very hard to see but cueing off a shadow you might be able to catch it.

I sometimes think I can ‘smell’ trout before I catch them – am I crazy?  Drop me a comment about your experiences seeing and/or smelling trout.

Deerfield Fly Shop Third Anniversary


Be sure to come to the Deerfield Fly Shop on Saturday, March 3, and offer congratulations to Mike Didonna to mark the third year of operations for the his shop on Elm Street in South Deerfield.  Mike has interesting presentations scheduled for the day including Mike Vito on the TU spawning study, Walt Geryk on casting, and Brian Gilbert on wade fishing the Deerfield.  Fly tying demos include Jay Aylward tying hoppers, Bob Olszewski tying Pheasant Tails and Fish Tale Fabricators own Eric Halloran will be tying wet flies for trout and salmon.

Partridge and Hare’s Ear wet fly.

Brookie at ‘Heel’

One of the interesting things about fly fishing is the people you meet and the things you see along the way. Fishing the Margaree River for Atlantic Salmon this year, I ran into a lot of old friends and made some new ones. This brook trout (in Canada they are called Speckled Trout or ‘Specks’) accompanied me on several passes through a pool on the lower Margaree called The Snag Pool. He stuck with me in the eddy formed by my legs, and would appear again each time I got to a certain section of the pool.  In the beginning of the video clip, you might notice my Korkers and the shadow of my legs.
Weeks later, I got reacquainted with a fellow angler named Michael on the same pool. When I walked in, he informed me he was fishing with a ‘buddy’. I looked around and saw no one else in the pool. He pointed down and told me there was a rainbow trout that was keeping pace with him in the pool. On the next pass he let me know that first one and then another trout had joined the rainbow and one of them was a Speck. I walked in to see for myself, but I never saw those fish. Nonetheless, I wondered if the Speck was the same individual I had encountered there some time earlier.  I speculated that these fish were staying close to us for two reasons.  1.  Observe the video and note that this Brookie is constantly feeding  – darting back and forth, up and down, and picking up morsels with her mouth.  As I shuffled through the pool, my boots were dislodging plenty of nymphs and pupae for the opportunistic Brookie.  2. Trout will use any structure in the river to mitigate the force of the current and so conserve energy.  Michael advised me that he had fished the pool in the summer with his wife, who ‘waded wet’ (no waders, just bare legged with wading shoes).  She had trout as constant companions and they were nipping at her legs apparently pulling off tine flakes of dead skin.


Deerfield Flies – Top Ten List

Plenty of folks ask me about flies that work on the Deerfield. Here’s a list of the flies that have worked best over the years.

1. Walt’s Worm: Eric’s variation – Bead Head Nymph with dark dubbing sizes 10 & 12 – simple fly with outstanding results.
2. Catchall Caddis – Davy Wotten’s pattern in size 12 works on top of the water as a dry fly and at the end of the drift slips under the film to swing as a wet. Be sure to let it hang for a few seconds and then retrieve it slowly with the rod tip raised high. It will pop up and down on the riffles just like an egg laying caddis.
3. Prince Nymph – sizes 10 & 12 – bead head or not.
4. Parachute Adams – sizes 12 to 20 – this fly will suffice for most mayfly hatches.
5. Parachute Light Cahill – sizes 10 to 14 – A ‘must have’ fly on the Deerfield in late spring and summer.
6. Light Cahill Wet – size 12 – This fly will provide non-stop action evenings and mornings over the summer months.
7. Pheasant Tail Nymph – sizes 12 – 18 – works before and during mayfly hatches or whenever. Very effective as the dropper accompanied by a flashy attractor pattern in a two fly rig.
8. Dirty Politician – a recent addition to the line-up, Kurt Finlayson’s creation is the punchline for a great story. Size 12.
9. Hare’s Ear Wet or Soft-Hackle (minus the wing) – Size 12 to 16 – Versatility is the by-word with this fly – it can be fished on the swing in the trafditional manner but also works paired with a weighted nymph on the dead-drift.
10. Muddler Minnow and it’s many variations – Sizes 8 – 12 – I like to fish it with a sink tip to get it down.

There you have it. What are some of your faves that are not included here? Submit your list via comments.

Congratulations, Mike!

Yesterday, Mike Didonna celebrated the second anniversary for the Deerfield Fly Shop.  There was a strong turnout of enthusiastic anglers.  I gave a presentation about wade fishing on the Deerfield; Walt Geryk talked about using Spey and Switch rods to fish the Deerfield for trout and shad; and Jay Aylward did a demonstration on tying articulated streamers, tying the articulated Gonga.

I promised folks who attended my talk, that I would provide a resource sheet here at my site, and so I’d like to take the opportunity to expand on a few of the resources I touched upon.
Trout Unlimited – The Deerfield River Watershed Chapter is very active in conservation efforts. Most recently they teamed up with a couple chapters out east along with the National Trout Unlimited organization in partnership with the Franklin Land Trust to purchase property along the West Branch of the North River to preserve it.  The property is called Crowningshield and is a spawning area and hot weather refuge for brown trout.  They also have partnered with the Connecticut River Watershed Council to plant trees along sections of the Chickley River which had been ravaged by hurricane Irene.  Currently they are running a short survey for anglers who have fished the Deerfield River. The link for the survey is featured on their website www.deerfieldtroutunlimited.com, but you can get to it directly by clicking here.  The chapter holds meetings every third Thursday of the month at the Eagles on the Buckland side of Shelburne Falls. There is an hour of fly tying for beginners and experienced tiers from 5:30 until 6:30 when the meeting proper begins.  The Chapter incorporates a guest lecture or activity at every meeting.  Check the website for upcoming topics.  The Annual Single Fly Event held during the first weekend of June (free fly fishing weekend in Massachusetts) is a lot of fun, including a picnic Sunday afternoon. A large part of the TU membership fee of $35 annually goes to support activities of the local chapter and I encourage everyone to join as a way to support river conservation.
• I count the Deerfield Fly Shop as a valuable resource for anglers in the area. Mike has a great selection of flies, rods and reels, waders, vests, and other gear.  His selection of fly tying material is always expanding.  Plus he’ll order stuff for you, if he doesn’t have it.  He’s connected with all of the guides in the area and so is able to keep very current with river conditions and hatches.  Mike frequently hosts special events with guest speakers on fly fishing and tying flies.
Waterline aka H20line is a website and phone message center that forecasts dam releases all over the country.  There are ID numbers for each site.  Fife Brook Dam at the beginning of the upper Catch and Release section has ID# 255123;  Shelburne Falls #4 Dam near the town line with Charlemont has ID# 255124;  Shelburne Falls Dam #4 at the potholes in the center of Shelburne Falls has ID# 255125;  and the Buckland #2 Dam at the top of Wilcox Hollow has ID# 255126.  The pages will state the daily forecast the release of water in cubic feet per second (cfs) from the dam.  In the case of the Fife Brook Dam the power company provides a link for the calendar for schedule of recreational releases.   You can call 800-452-1742 and punch in the dam’s ID number to get the current forecast.  Be forewarned, sometimes due to severe weather or excessive demand for power, the actual release may not be according to schedule.
USGS Gauges  Waterdata.usgs.gov is a website that reports the real time data being gathered by flow gauges on the river.  You can configure the data reporting yourself, but the default settings are pretty informative, providing current flows and data history charts of flow and river height at the gauge for the previous week.  The gauge at Charlemont has ID# ‘01168500’ and the data can be accessed here.  The gauge in West Deerfield just downstream from the South River has ID# ‘1170000’ and can be accessed here.  The gauge on the North River just below the Shattuckville Dam about a mile upstream from the confluence with the Deerfield has ID# ‘1169000’ and can be accessed here.
• Finally, for background music for your fly fishing adventures, I highly recommend Pete Huttlinger.  Pete was a good friend and avid fisherman.  The music from his first CD “Catch and Release” is probably familiar to some because it was the theme music for the show Fly Fish America as well as a Trout Unlimited TV program back a few years ago.  Pete played guitar and mandolin for several years with John Denver and can be seen on the PBS special that airs every year for fundraising.  He was National Fingerstyle Champion in 2000.  Pete caught the largest trout of his life on the North River about a half mile upstream from where I live near the mouth back in the early 90’s.  Pete was a source of inspiration for me to become a better fly fisher and fly tier.  He inspired my daughter’s music career and was encouragement for me to learn guitar.  Pete fought all his life to survive a congenital heart defect that killed a lot of kids in infancy and most of the rest before age 12.  You can read his story in a book he co-wrote with his wife, Erin, called Joined at the Heart.  Pete passed away after a stroke January 15, 2016.  You can get his music on iTunes, Amazon, or his site www.petehuttlinger.com.  You can purchase the CD, Catch and Release, at the Deerfield Fly Shop.

Holiday Discount Package

Share the joy of fly fishing with someone close to you. For a limited time, Fish Tale Fabricators is offering a 20% discount when you buy a gift certificate for a four-hour fly fishing lesson for one person combined with a half-day guided trip for two. Your friend or family member can learn the fundamentals of fly fishing and then, at a later date, the two of you can experience the adventure of a guided trip on the Deerfield River. This $375.00 package, is available now for $300.00.
Fish Tale Fabricators gift certificates are available from The Deerfield Fly Shop or by mail by contacting Eric Halloran via email – fishtalefabricators@gmail.com – or by phone – 413-325-1710. We can take your credit card order over the phone.

Getting Started

The water speaks to you as it rushes by. It babbles, “Trout are in my midst!”

An early morning mist rises in columns in the pool below you, just a few yards down river. The moisture in the air conveys a fecund smell to your chilled nose – is it an aromatic clue that your quarry is nearby, or is it just the fresh remains of a mound of crayfish carcasses picked clean by raccoons on a nearby bank. Are those elongated shadows in the water merely rocks? What is it that breaks the surface every once in a while – do your eyes play tricks on you – is it simply an inconsistent riffle appearing every so often with surge in the flow of the river. Or, is that a hungry trout taking insects as they emerge, metamorphosing from an underwater existence as a wingless worm to an airborne existence above the surface.

You lift the dry fly lightly off the water at the end of it’s downstream drift, flicking a nine foot – five weight fly rod back and forth, gracefully permitting the fly-line to unfurl to it’s entire length in each direction and delicately dropping the fly across and slightly upstream of where you stand in your lightweight breathable waders. The fly floats in a perfect ‘drag-free’ drift with the flow of the current, seemingly unimpeded by the length of line that connects it to you. The fly is a tiny sailboat peacefully riding the undulations of the current until, with surprising ferocity and a flash of pink and silver, a rainbow trout breaches sideways from behind the fly, and inhales it on the way back down. This is a startling development despite your full concentration and anticipation of this very event. Perhaps a second and a half goes by before you finally react by gently raising the rod tip. Yes! You feel the pressure of the hook as any slack in the line disappears and eighteen inches of piscean muscle engages you, your line, your rod, your reel, and your wits in a contest of wills. In order to present your fly with such a natural drift you had been forced to employ one weak link in your tackle – two feet of fine tippet – thin, clear, thread-like nylon that attaches the fly to leader. This particular tippet has been tested to demonstrate a minimum breaking strength of two pounds. Your challenge is to strike the perfect balance. On the one hand is the pressure you exert through the rod, reel, and line to contain the fish and eventually retrieve it to the net. On the other hand is the trout’s natural urgency to flee by allying his weight with the force of the current. Thus, you strive to keep constant pressure on the fish to tire it and keep it away from rocks, logs and other submerged debris, but not so much pressure that you snap the tippet, or bend or dislodge the hook. At times you must allow the trout to ‘run’ with the current, taking the line off the spool, and hopefully not to the limit of the line. Eventually, you might be skillful (or lucky) enough to bring the rainbow to the net, where it should be appreciated, admired, photographed, resuscitated (it is probably near exhaustion) and released.

This is why we fish: For less than a minute you are privileged to behold first-hand a wild and predatory dweller of another world. It might have taken weeks or even months to acquire or hand-tie flies and gather all the gear and equipment you need to participate in this sport. It might have taken hours to prepare for this outing, It might have taken considerable time driving and hiking to this location. It might have taken a few minutes or a few hours of wading and casting and drifting your fly to fool this trout into taking it. It probably took five or ten minutes to land this trout. But it is all worth it, because 45 seconds of admiring the splendor and beauty of this wild creature in this setting is a joy that can last a lifetime.

Sufficiently motivated to get started? But how? Your best bet is to find a friend or a friend-of-a-friend who can help you out. Don’t be shy; most fly-fishermen and women (25% of fly-fishermen are not men at all) are happy to share their enthusiasm. If you can’t find someone, check around for a local chapter of Trout Unlimited. Twenty-five bucks for an individual membership in TU will gain you access to a whole network of people who can show you the ropes. Get your friend to point you in the direction, or accompany you, to a fly-fishing outfitter. If you just want to get your feet wet (so to speak), you can rent an outfit and hire a guide to bring you out.

You can fish successfully year round, but when you are first starting out, you will want to maximize your chances of success by going out when the fish and insects are most active. Here in the East, that would be from May until mid-July or so. In mid summer many streams become so warm that the fish shut-down. Falling temperatures in Autumn re-energize their metabolism and they will resume voracious feeding. The guys at the fly shops can give you advice and reports about conditions local to you. In Winter the water temperatures are so cold that fish metabolism slows way down, but fish will still take the opportune tidbit that floats close by their lie. The fisherman has to do the work to locate the trout and present the fly (wets, and nymphs) down deep where the fish are holding.

If you are serious about wanting to try fly-fishing, you’ll have to take the plunge and buy some equipment. If you take care of your gear, it can last a long time, so it is worthwhile to invest a few bucks in something that will serve you well. Stay away from the cheap stuff, because you will probably just be frustrated and uncomfortable.

Waders are essential. For comfort you can’t beat lightweight breathable waders like those made by Simms and Patagonia. Buy the ‘stocking foot’ version of these along with a pair of wading boots. You can wear fleece-type sweatpants underneath with wool socks and be very comfortable in water at temps from 40-60 degrees. Neoprene waders can be used for colder water, but I like to use my lightweight waders and just put on some extra layers underneath.

Fly rods come in assorted varieties and this can be confusing for the beginner. The ‘weight’ of the rod indicates the kind of line for which it has been built to cast. For trout fishing in most situations a ‘five weight’ rod will serve you well. The ‘action’ on the rod is a measure of how much it bends (and where) when you cast. A slow rod bends more and makes wider loops when you cast. In perfect conditions this is usually easier for the beginner to handle, but if the wind comes up the larger loops can become awkward. A fast rod bends less and makes tighter loops. Medium action is in-between. Medium may be the best compromise for the beginner, but if you are going to spend a couple to several hundred dollars for a rod, you should work with an outfitter to find a rod that suits you. If you are just starting out, you will want to buy a graphite rod. Bamboo is a much more expensive treasure you can covet later on in your fly-fishing life…

The outfitter can recommend a reel that is suited to your rod. Better reels are lighter. Reels differ in types of drag systems they employ (reel drag is the adjustable resistance that the fish will encounter when he pulls line from the reel during the run). Less costly reels have a ‘click and pawl’ system which is similar to a ratchet mechanism in a wrench. These reels may also rely on the fisherman’s palm (against the spool) to provide increased resistance. The best reels have a disk (usually made of cork) that is the source of the resistance and have an adjustment to increase or decrease drag while fighting a fish. Some reels are called ‘large arbor’. This refers to the diameter of the spool and will retrieve more line with each rotation, allowing you to reel the fish in faster.

When you buy the reel ask the outfitter to wind line onto the reel. He or she can put backing (an extended length of thinner braided nylon which only comes into play when a big fish runs for a long time). Lines can be floating or sinking. They can be ‘weight-forward’ (easier to cast) or double taper. The latter can be reversed to use the other end when one end wears out. Of course, as mentioned before, the weight of the line matches the weight of the rod.

Leader and tippet are thin clear sections of nylon between the fly line and the fly that are intended to be invisible to the fish. Tapered leaders are drawn out in manufacturing in a way that graduates their diameter from thick to match the size of the fly-line while the other end is thin to match the tippet. The tippet is just an extension of the leader to which the fly is tied.

Fly selection is beyond the scope of this article. Get advice from your friends, the guide, or the fly-shop. Buy extra copies of those you select. Size of the fly is considered the most important factor – the fish will often be ‘keyed in’ to the size (and color) of the insects that are hatching at the time. A good strategy is to bracket the size – buy a few extra copies of the fly one size smaller and one size larger than the size that is recommended. Get a fly-box to hold your flies, but while you fish, be sure to dry the flies you use before returning them to the box. Learn to tie your own flies!

A vest is great for organizing fly boxes, supplies and tools. Make sure you have a patch (often made of sheepskin, on which to dry flies after you use them.

Wear appropriate clothing and don’t forget suntan lotion. If you use bug repellent be certain to avoid getting it on your hands or it will be conveyed to the flies and repel fish!

A net is recommended to help control the fish while you prepare to extract the hook.

There are some great books about fly-fishing – seek a recommendation or borrow them from the library or a friend. You can learn a lot about everything from strategy, to presentation, to tying your own flies, to fishing destinations from books.

More than anything else, be prepared to enjoy the beauty of the natural settings you find as you spend time on the water. Good Luck!