Fly fishing the Farmington River, CT.

The sound of water tumbling over rocks as it sweeps past your legs, birds chirping in the trees and flying low across the river, picking mayflies out of the air, and the occasional beaver or otter swimming at the water’s edge building their home, those are the sights and sounds I long for this time of year. Add to it the sound of my fly line whipping through the air and the gentle tug and tight line after the fish takes your fly, and it’s a perfect day. I had a few of these days earlier in the week and it was blissful.

Let me start by saying I am no professional fly fisherman. Although it’s been more than 15 years since I first fell in love with the art, I continue to learn every day I am on the river. I wish to never know all the secrets; there’s something wonderful about learning something new. I am fairly new to the Farmington, having only fished it for a couple years now. I feel like I know the river somewhat well, but wanted to take this opportunity to get to know it better.

I always hit the fly shop beforehand to pick up terminal tackle, see what the fish are taking and what sections of the river are fishing best. Upcountry Sportfishing is located right on the river, just beyond New Hartford in Pine Meadow. It is a full-service fly shop with a very friendly and knowledgeable staff. They offer classes in fly tying and nymphing (among other things) and have a wide array of fly fishing gear and apparel. Their website and river reports (www.farmingtonriver.com) are also chock full of information to make your day of fishing more productive.

The Farmington River’s Upper Trout Management Area is a bottom draw tailwater fishery that runs from Riverton, at Goodwin Dam, down to the RT 219 bridge in New Hartford. Year round catch-and-release regulations apply and only barbless hooks are permitted. Trout rise virtually 365 days a year in this section. Brown trout 20-24 inches are not uncommon in this stretch, and large rainbows are caught as well. The Lower Trout Management Area runs almost 13 miles from the RT 219 bridge down to the RT 177 bridge in Unionville.  This section also holds big trout, but the further downriver you get, the more of a warm water fishery it becomes, especially later in the summer. Slightly different regulations apply here, including a creel limit of two 12-inch fish per day during prime fishing season (2nd Saturday in April through August 31st). However, this section is also fishable year-round. The Farmington is a really nice river! Click here for official regulations.

Some smaller water on the Farmington River.
The bottom half of a large pool on the Farmington River

There are many great pools to hit while spending the day here. I have my favorites depending on the time of year and day of the week (I can’t tell you which ones are better than others, that’s for you to explore and find out). Even the in between water is great though, there are trout everywhere in this river right now! As you can imagine, such a beautiful river gets pretty crowded on the weekends, especially when the weather is nice. During the summer, you will also find kayakers and tubers on the river. For the most part, they are respectful and are not in abundance, but once in a while…  I was lucky enough to get a few weekdays where the river was more quiet. Below is a map of the major pools in the Upper TMA. This map is by no means all inclusive, but it is a good start. Click the link for more details.

Farmington River Fishing Map
Farmington River Upper TMA fishing map

Day 1:

I started this Sunday afternoon on the river with my 9′ 5wt rod at about 3:30 and by 4:00 was into my first fish, a beautiful 16 inch brown caught on a #16 beadhead pheasant tail. Great way to start the day! It was a nicely colored fish, caught on the swing at the head of a big pool while drifting an indicator rig through some swift water. The take was so gentle I thought I was snagged on the bottom at first, then my rod tip started to wiggle. I think it was a stocked fish though, the bigger wild and holdovers are much prettier, with a deep golden color. CT DEEP stocks roughly 23,000 catchable size trout (12+ inches) annually in the Farmington River’s Upper TMA.

After exhausting that run I moved upriver to a more placid pool to try and catch the sulfur hatch in the evening. At first the fish would not take my sulfurs, in any stage, or march browns (which had been mentioned between the hours of 6 and 7:30pm), or any other dries I was offering for that matter, but around 8:00pm I tied on a #16-18 light cahill and BOOM! I caught 2 little 6-8 inchers (these little guys were literally jumping out of the water for their dinner) and a 12-inch brown stockie in a matter of 30-45 minutes. The stockie just sipped the fly off the surface. I almost missed it because I was distracted by another fisherman near me that was also catching one. I called it quits after that and headed back because it was almost dark and I have a dog to tend to.

Farmington Brown
16 inch brown caught on a #16 beadhead pheasant tail.

Day 2:

I decided to break out the 9’ 4wt today. I’ve been neglecting it since I got my new 5wt. Its action is buttery smooth as opposed to the tight, crisp action of my 5wt. The 4wt is usually my go to trout rod, especially when fishing dry flies. I started out at the same hole, in the same spot, with the same pheasant tail fly tied on as last time, and within 15 minutes I had another brownie on the line. This one was a 14 incher with a lot of spunk, maybe even a wild one. It attacked my fly and really did not want to come in to net. I loved the spots, especially the blue spots on its cheek. After releasing it, I moved down to more still, deep water with hopes of landing a big lunker, but no such luck. I don’t think I ever got the depth right on my indicator.

14 inch brown trout with nice spots

After a while, I made my way upriver a little bit to a spot where I always catch fish. They usually aren’t that big, but they are always active. I needed to wade across the water to an island and because there were thunderstorms earlier today with heavy rains, the river was higher than usual, which made for a challenging wade. Interesting story about this spot though, two years ago I was fishing this exact spot and I got quite the surprise. It was one of my first trips to the Farmington. I was standing on the tip of the island all alone, back to the woods tying on a fly, when I heard a splash. Thinking it was a big fish rising, I turned with excitement to see a black bear passing about 10 feet to my left. It just lumbered right past me, gave me a side look, and crossed the river. I just stood there, frozen, until it disappeared into the woods. A little later I saw the bear crossing back about 50 yards downstream. Needless to say, that scared me to death, but it is proof to me that bears and people can coexist with mutual respect. Now, every time I fish that spot my head whips around at every noise I hear. Today there were no bears, but I did get into another 14-inch brown, this time on a sulfur emerger pattern. After releasing that one, I decided to call it a day and head home.

Day 3:

Today I was joined by Michael Smith, founder and lead creative of Smith Brand Media. Not only is Michael an avid fly fisherman, he incorporates design, video and fly fishing into his work, creating forward thinking, innovative designs for his clients. Michael caters to businesses that have a vested interest in the outdoors. Together, we have had many adventures on the water, fishing just about every river that holds trout in the area, and many other bodies of water as well.

It was a beautiful day to be on the river. Mike was able to get into 4 fish, one of which was a nice 16-inch brown. Unfortunately, the media card in his camera was corrupted so no pictures. I, on the other hand, was skunked for the day… The fish just wouldn’t take anything I had to offer, above or below the surface. Maybe it was my presentation, but it was really frustrating to see so many trout rise and not land a single one. We were in a pool that holds some monsters and I had my hopes set pretty high. That’s the way it goes sometimes I guess. We fished until it was so dark that I couldn’t see the tippet to tie on another fly. I left my headlamp in the car so I threw in the towel for the day. I have one more day to fish and I’m hoping that is the day I land the big one.

Day 4:

My final day on the Farmington was a short morning trip but it was nice. I didn’t land any big fish, or any for that matter, but I hooked into 3. The first one was a big one, 3 casts into my day with the magic beadhead pheasant tail. It attacked my fly then started swimming toward me. I reeled in the slack as fast as I could, but when he took off in the other direction, my line came flying back out of the water, without the fly attached. It would have been nice to land that one. He might have been the one I was looking for. I tied on a golden stonefly and proceeded to get into a couple little ones that managed to get off hook also. They were acrobatic little buggers.

The nicest part of my day though was speaking to a couple named Mike and Laurie I met on the river. They were brand new to fly fishing, and to the Farmington, and were asking for some pointers as far as where the fish were and what they were taking. They were on vacation from Louisville, Kentucky and drove all that way just to fly fish the Farmington River in Connecticut! They had that wide eyed passion that I remember feeling when I first started. They fished some riffles above the pool, but were looking for calmer water. I walked them down around the bend where the water was deeper and more calm, right where the big fish were hiding. We were all fishing sub surface due to the lack of rises, but then it started happening. One rise after another, some from seemingly big fish. I asked Mike what he had tied on. There were sulfurs flying around already (odd for this early in the day). Mike and I saw one land on the water, followed it downstream briefly, and watched a good size trout come up and sip it off the surface. Mike was enthralled, never before having identified a fly and then watched the trout take it. They tied on some sulfurs and started stalking some trout. Unfortunately, my time was up for the day. I started on the river at 6:00am, leaving the house at 4:30 in the morning to get there in time. There was a dog waiting at home for me. I wish I could bring Sinatra with me, but he loves the water too much and I wouldn’t be able to keep him out of it.

Riffles on the Farmington.

All in all, it was a good few days of fishing. I got to spend time with a friend, make new ones and best of all, catch a few fish. I’m just glad I was able to have the time to dedicate to fishing this week. The more you fly fish, the more you love it. It is an art that takes years of practice, and a lot of patience. It’s about more than catching fish though, there’s a whole culture surrounding it. You will learn about patience. You will learn about nature, entomology, and reading the river. You will learn to be patient. You will learn to let the rod do the work. Believe me, it will save a lot of frustration if you are new. But most of all, you will learn patience. Everything else will fall into place if you practice, which, luckily, means more fishing! The Farmington River is a wonderful place to practice. It is a forgiving river. Given the right circumstances, most will catch at least one. Maybe not every time, but most days. I enjoy being on the river whether I catch fish or not. Of course, it’s always better when you do catch fish, but nature is in my blood and I am content just being there in its presence.

Green Lake State Park, NY is next on my list of places to review. That’s coming up later in July. In August, I’m hoping to do a review of a few of the rivers in the Catskills, the Beaverkill River, Willowemoc Creek and the East Branch of the Delaware River. We have a camping trip planned there and I will hopefully get to do a lot of fishing. Those rivers hold a special place in my heart. That’s where I learned to fly fish. I’m looking forward to it! Thanks for the read and see you then.

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