How to Fly Fish on the Farmington
The West Branch of the Farmington is a great river that flows through beautiful Connecticut surroundings. It offers anglers diverse water and great fishing opportunities. Its flows are usually very consistent, so you can plan your trip to this river well in advance. Why not take a trip to northcentral Connecticut and give the West Branch of the Farmington a try? Most anglers who are new to this river are glad they did.
The West Branch of the Farmington River in north central Connecticut is a tremendous tailwater fishery. Cold water from the Colebrook and West Branch reservoirs help make this river an excellent year-round trout fishery. It is well stocked with brook, brown, and rainbow trout. And you’ll find good numbers of wild and holdover browns and rainbows to 18-plus inches thriving in the cool waters.
The upper portion of the West Branch of the Farmington, from the Hogback Dam to the Still River by Riverton, is a beautiful piece of gin-clear water with deep, flat pools broken up by classic riffles and runs. There are good numbers of large fish.
The water depth is deceiving, due to its clarity, and fishing here could surprisingly produce a lunker. Trout as large as 20-plus inches have been caught here, and fish up to 15-plus inches are caught reegularly. On the east side of the river, Hogback and East River roads parallel the river, so there are plenty of areas to park and walk down to the water.
Fly Fishing the Farmington From Satan’s Kingdom to Riverton
Satan’s Kingdom is located on Route 44 at the borders of Canton and New Hartford, CT. This State Recreation Area is home for Farmington Tubing. Tubers travel from all around and spend many lazy summer days floating down along the scenic banks of the Farmington. But, this is also where we’ll be starting OUR Journey.
One of my favorite pools. It’s difficult to fish early in the season but, definitely worth it. To get here drive all the way to the back of the park area at the base of the bridge. Follow the path down to the right.
At the base of the tuber’s entrance just as you enter the park and to the right are a series of wonderful pools which hold many trout. Especially, early in the season. But you won’t want to fish there once the tubing starts.
Satan’s Kingdom is located along Route 44 at the borders of New Hartford and Canton.
Where to Fish
There are a number of pools which start at the entrance to the park and go around the river bend for about 1/4 mile. As you get close to the bridge you’ll be moving into the Gorge. So named for it’s steep sides as you can see from the photo above. The middle picture shows one of my favorite pools. It’s located at the base of the Route 44 bridge and is home to many fish. One day I was out there fishing Wooly Buggers along the ledge that extends out into the pool area. Within 1/2 hour I caught 5 beauties. I also know a guy who swears by Daredevil’s in this hole, during the Spring, but you didn’t hear it here.
What works and when:
There’s always a Caddis hatch on this river so be prepared. It doesn’t matter what time of year it is you can always count on Tan and Black caddis. This includes their larvae which are imitated by the Olive Beadheads and Gold Ribbed Hare’s Ear (my personal favorite) Nymphs.
Besides the caddis I’ve put together a list of what has worked for me in the past.
- Early Spring (Mar/Apr) Wooly Buggers (black and olive), Quill Gordon (size 14)
- Spring (Apr/mid Jun)
- March Brown’s (size 14), Hendrickson (sizes 12-16)
- Early Summer (Jun/Jul) Light Cahill’s (size 12-16), Sulphur Spinners (size 14-16) (evenings)
- Late Summer (Jul/Sep) Blue Wing Olive (size 16-20), BWO emergers, Tricos (Aug) (size 24-28)
- Fall Blue Wing Olive (size 22-28) the smaller the better, Yellow or Brown Stonefly (12-16)
- Winter Streamers, Caddis Nymphs
Fruit Stand Pool
Now we’re going to move onto probably my most favorite spot on the river. If not my most favorite, at least my most fished. It’s called the Fruit Stand Pool (but we’ll have to change that name soon because the fruit stand has been replaced by an Auction Place with a Canoe Rentals business in the back.)
The Fruit Stand Pool got’s it’s name because it is located in the back of what was once a Farmer’s Market, selling both fruit’s and vegetables. This location has since been converted into an Auction Hall. Maybe we should start calling it the Auction Pool. Mainstream Canoe Rentals is located around back in the same building. Just beyond the canoe rentals as you go around the left side of the building you’ll see the steps leading down to the river.
This pool can be fished from either the East or the West bank. The river gets deep quick here so be careful wading in. The center of the river holds many fish but casting to the either bank can also be productive. In the middle of the season this area becomes pretty shallow and you can wade to the other side.
Looking upstream is a wonderful riffle that I know first hand holds some large trout. I’ve caught and released a number of big boys from this pool. You do have to watch out fishing this area because canoes returning to the rental shop come through here pretty often and the water is fast.
The Fruit Stand Pool is located directly across from Marandino’s Food Store. It’s about a 1/2 mile down Route 44 from Satan’s Kingdom.
Where to Fish:
Fish either the East or West Bank anywhere from the middle to the edges of the river. There’s a nice riffle upstream which holds many large fish. Directly in front of the path leading down to the river and across to the east bank is a nice deep pool which can be pretty productive in the spring and early summer. My favorite time to fish this pool is April through June.
I like to fish it just before sunset on days when the temperature has risen into the 60’s and the Hendrickson’s are hatching. The Hendrickson’s return to the water in the evening to lay eggs and very often this causes quite a feeding frenzy at this spot. Downstream is a little more shallow and you can wade across the river later on in the season. There’s a large rock in the middle of the river which tends to hold some fish. I like to use Wooly Worms with red tails early in the morning at this spot.
What works and when:
- Early Spring (Mar/Apr) – Wooly Worms (red tailed), Black Stoneflies (sizes 14-16)
- Spring (Apr/mid Jun) – Wet Cahill’s(size 14), Hendrickson (sizes 12-16), Pheasant’s Tail Nymph
- Early Summer (Jun/Jul) – Sulphurs (size 16-18), Sulphur Spinners (size 16-18) (evenings), Pale Evening Duns
- Late Summer (Jul/Sep) – Blue Wing Olive (size 16-20), BWO emergers, Tricos (Aug) (size 24-28)
- Fall – Yellow or Brown Stonefly (12-16), Professor Wet (tied with Brown Wing and Hackle
- Winter – Leadwing Coachman, Hornberg (Dark strip on side)
The Pines Run
Let’s move on to the Pine’s Run. Previously known as the 6D’s Run because it was behind the 6D’s restaurant. The restaurant has since changed owners and is now called the Pine’s Restaurant.
The Pines Run (previously known as Six D’s Run) on Route 44 behind the Pines Restaurant. Great spot to take the kids because it’s easily accessible from the restaurants parking lot. You can have breakfast and then go fishing without moving your automobile.
There’s a deep run, and I mean deep, at the head of the pool. Fishing this area can be dangerous because you will be fishing from a wall of boulders, the water is deep, and the current is fast. Caution must be taken while fishing this spot particularly when fishing with children.
Many fish are stocked in this spot and the location holds fish throughout the season due to it’s depth. Many bait fisherman frequent this spot and it’s not one of my favorites but does deserve mentioning due to its accessibility.
Pine’s Run is located diagonally across from The Waring Factory store, and behind the Pines Restaurant. It’s about a 1 1/2mile down Route 44 from Satan’s Kingdom.
Player Piano Pool
The Player Piano Pool is next. Located down the street from the Pine Meadow Post Office behind the Player Piano factory. It’s off Route 44 about two blocks. It’s easy to find and very accessible.
The Player Piano Pool is located down the street from the Pine Meadow Post Office behind the Player Piano factory. It’s off Route 44 about two blocks. You must turn at the traffic light by the Post Office and go straight into the factory’s parking lot. It’s easy to find and very accessible.
At the back of the parking lot is path which leads down to this run. You can fish either upstream or down here. This is a frequent stop for the stocking trucks.
Where to Fish
Go upstream and fish the tail end of the run from Black Bridge. Fish the East Bank anywhere from the middle to the outer edge of the river. It’s a nice slow riffle upstream which holds many picky fish. Because the water is moving so slow your fly presentation must be perfect.
Black Bridge Pool
It’s time to visit my favorite early season and high water conditions pool, Black Bridge Pool.
The Black Bridge Pool gets it’s name from the now condemned bridge which casts a shadow across the run. This is a wonderful place to fish with many possiblities. It’s my favorite place to fish in the early part of the season when the Farmington is too high to wade in most of the other fishing spots.
Caution Stay Off The Bridge, it’s not safe. Although someone altered the original sign to make it seem safe. It is not! The message on the sign should read. “Bridge Unsafe. Keep Off. No Trespassing. Police take notice.”
Upstream from the bridge on the eastern bank is a deep pool which is located at the tail end of the riffle shown below. This pool feeds into a deep run flowing under the bridge.
This is where I spend most of my time when visiting this pool. It’s been the most productive to me. The run which flows along the eastern back has yielded many fish throughout the season. The good thing about this spot is that most people fish upstream or near the bridge, so this area does not receive too much fishing pressure.
The Black Bridge Pool is just up the street from the Player Piano Pool. Turn east at the light in front of the Pine Meadow Post Office. Follow the road around past the piano factory until you reach the school. Turn right at the school and and proceed one block to the bridge.
Where to Fish:
I like to fish down stream from the bridge. Although I understand that the area under the bridge on the East side can be productive it is very difficult to reach. Also, the east bank is posted as private property and I understand the owner is serious about keeping out trespassers.
From the spot the Still River enters the West Branch to a mile above the crossing of Route 318, the West Branch develops more character. With the help of the Still River, this piece of water has a better population of mayflies, stoneflies, and caddisflies.
Here the river widens and acquires more sediment from the Still River which, in turn, provides more nutrients for the invertebrates. Fishing on the West Branch, below the Still River, usually is a little more productive than the section above. It also has deep, mysterious pools followed by charming pockets, riffles and runs. Flowing through areas with overhanging hemlocks, this section of river has exceptional pools and runs that harbor impressive numbers of trout–many of which are large. Here the West Branch can be accessed by East River and West River roads, which parallel the river on both sides.
Trout Management Area
A mile above Route 318, at the crossing of a power wire, marks the beginning of a trout management area. The trout management area starts at the power wire in Pleasant Valley and extends downriver approximately four miles to the upriver side of the Route 219 bridge. This area is one of the more popular sections of river. Holdover, wild and annually-stocked trout abound. To entice anglers of all skill, this section offers many large fish, as well as newly stocked fish. This part of the river has very deep, slow pools, along with tumbling runs and pocket water. For the most part, the river is lined with trees that provide shade and, even at times when the sun is high, good dry-fly fishing. This area is accessible from Route 44 and Route 181, and other secondary roads.
From Route 219 south to Collinsville, the river is still a tremendous trout fishery. Here the river offers anglers many areas of exceptional pocket water, runs and pools. Large trout lurk in this section of river, always raising the hopes of anglers’ catching a real trophy. The water remains relatively cool from the cold water releases, although you should keep in mind that the farther downstream you venture, the warmer you’ll find the water temperatures.
East Branch of the Farmington
The East Branch of the Farmington enters the river here, just south of New Hartford. Rainbows and browns hide throughout this section, mostly in pockets created by rocks and boulders. You can gain access to this part of the river via Route 44 and the secondary roads that parallel or cross its course.
Below Collinsville, the river begins to change to a warmwater fishery. The river begins to slow. It is so distant from the coldwater source that it cannot remain cool enough to support the numbers of trout found north of this section. You’ll find a few trout here, but most anglers fish for bass, panfish, and other warmwater species. The river turns north at Farmington and eventually flows into the Connecticut River.
Hatches on the West Branch of the Farmington are excellent. Cold flows year round support good numbers of mayflies, caddis flies, and stoneflies.
You’ll find fantastic early-season hatches from April to late May: Early black stones, hendricksons, bluewinged olives, and blue quills are a few of the earliest hatches. Sulphurs, March Browns, and green drakes represent some of the fantastic dry-fly action through May.
Late summer dry-fly fishing is best accomplished using extremely light tippets and midges. You’ll also find an abundance of larger mayflies that also hatch on the river. A good population of terrestrials, such as flying ants and beetles, also can be found here during the summer months.
For fall fishing, olives and Isonycias usually produce best. And fishing nymphs and streamers is always productive.
Farmington Hatch Chart
|Green Drake||10 2xl||X|
|Light Cahill||12 to 16||X||X||X|
|Terrestrials||16 to 20||X||X||X|
|BWO||20 to 24||X||X||X||X|
|Blue Dun||22 to 26||X||X||X||X|
Specific Hatch Information
On the Farmington with its cold tail water release the summer brood behaves like it’s sister hatch of winter, in order to be successful fishing the summer caddis hatch you will need a basic understanding of the bugs and what is going on . The summer caddis and the winter caddis are the same bug DOLOPHIODES distinctus , and are in the same family as the popular CHIMMARA.
It has two broods ,one in the winter and one in the summer. Normally the mid summer broods are fully winged , but here they emerge wingless. These caddis are known to run across the water after it hatches, which explains the success a foam caddis emerge works so well . However if when skating this fly you wake it, you are moving it to fast, slow down and shake the rod tip as you retrieve it, do not wake the fly . These wingless adults are the females.
The males are winged and wait on the rocks on the shoreline prancing around with their wings upright like mayflies . The color of the male and female are about the same a dark brown / black / amber . The wings on the summer brood are amber / olive with heavy to light vain markings. The winter brood are a little lighter with a clear bottom wing and a top mottled wing which look very much like KORI BUSTARD[kori struthionides] orARABIAN BUSTARD [choriotis arabs stieberie ] wing feathers.
This hatch can come off at any time . Most days the flies lightly hatch all day long . At times the hatch will peak out for the day with a flurry of hatching activity, however when this will happen is hard to peg , some time it is early afternoon, and some time it is in the evening. The tan caddis patterns listed above are good flies to use if you hit the peak hatch, and also as a searching pattern when the activity is low. I especially like to fish those areas that are riffled just at the head or tail of a pool. Do not pass up the broken water in-between pools these areas will surprise you as to the hatch and the fish that will hold up in these sections.
Emerald Green Caddis
Commonly called the”hatch from hell” or “the emerald scourge” by the Farmington river rats. this hatch represents the most difficult hatch on the river to consistently catch fish on The evening egg laying flights are massive . some evenings your waders will be covered in the bright green egg sacs. As the flies will land on you and then walk down your waders under water and deposits the egg mass on the wader. I have tried many flies to match this hatch and have never really come close to getting a consistent tie that would produce fish. my box is filled with one day wonders, and matches the boxes of many anglers that fish the Farmington.
We have 3 members in this group of flies:E. rotunda, E.invaria, E.dorothea.
Rotunda are a size #14 and do not hatch on the Farmington river.
The last 2 in this group invaria # 16 and dorothea # 18/20 do hatch on the river with dorothea by far and away being the dominate hatch. We have to break the dorothea hatch down further the males are size 20 and the females are size 18. During the hatch both males and females are on the water and size choice is not a problem . I prefer a 18 as I can see it better.
The spinner fall however is sometimes a problem. Both males and females mass over a riffle area at the head of the pool . Mixed in will be females that will mate that night and females carrying eggs. The egg laying females will drop to the water drop there eggs and die. At this point a 18-20 does not matter much. It is what is going on in the flat side water that causes the problem .Aafter mating the males seem to leave the female and fall close to shore by themselves. [a female friend of mine says that this is typical of most males}.
It is here that you must switch to the #20 , the style does not seem to matter[ dun or spinner ] but the size does. And now it gets a little more complex. Just as all of this is going on, here comes another problem. just at the middle of the sulfur hatch we will start to get hatches of olives Some anglers will have sulfurs on the brain and will see these olives and call them green sulfurs [SEE cornutella & attenuata ] both of which are a bright yellow/ green , not picking up on this these same anglers will continue to fish the sulfur patterns which the fish will usually ignore . Keep your eyes open if you start to see fish taking “green sulfurs” ONE MORE THING YOU BETTER BE ON 8X BY NOW.
Pale evening dun
This hatch is often confused with gray fox [ gray fox has been reclassified as march brown ] . Two quick ways to tell the difference , Vitreus has 2 tails and the body color is a pale olive/yellow. Gray fox has 2 tails and the overall body color is yellow. If you pay attention to the hatch you will find out that the gray fox is a all but insignificant hatch on the Farmington.
Vitreus nymphs hatch on the bottom or half way to the surface and explode as a dun. On the surface they need no time at all to dry their wings , so long drag free drifts with your fly are not needed. I especially like to fish the spinner fall which can be on as early as the hatch. The females return to the river heavy with eggs and the fly is very sticking combining the rich orange marked body with the egg color it is little wonder that some anglers misidentify this fly and call it the “big sulfur” [E.rotunda or E. invaria ] these bugs although common on the hoosey are all but absent here on the Farmington. my fly of choice would be a orange usual size 14. you can fish this fly as a standard dun pattern or cast it a foot or so above and off to the side of a fish and pull it under. The fly will swim to the surface. try to time the swimming fly to be just off to the side of the fish. the fish tend to strike vitreus rather hard due the quickness of the emergence. this is were you will learn to strike a fish softly.
This is a 2 tailed fly and is deep rich olive in color. it appears before the blue quill and the Hendrickson’s in a normal year. however some years they can also be mixed in with the other hatches when this happens keep your eyes open the fish have a habit of switching on you, you could have a heavy hatch of Hendrickson’s and the fish will be on the lighter masking hatch of olives or blue quills or visa versa.
The 3 olive species listed here have caused some confusion over the years. They will start to appear about 3/4 of the way through the sulfur hatch . The normal hatching time for this group is mid day into evening, they are easily distinguished from the Baetis as these are from the family Ephemerellidae and have the characteristic 3 tails of that family The first one is cornuta .However this hatch is very light as compared to cornutella
This is another one of the flies that has been reclassified . We use to call this fly potomanthus- distinctus. Considered by many angers as a evening hatch, I have had very good luck fishing the comparadun during the day. The spinner fall is at dark and in my opinion rivals the hatch for productivity.
This is another one of the bugs that has been reclassified. They are now classified as Isonychia bicolor. In the past we received 3 different size hatches. the first in early June were called Isonychia sadleri and are a size 10. They are only on the river for a brief time [ appox. 2 weeks ] . The next hatch starts in mid June and is on and off until September it is called isonychia bicolor, and they are a size 12. The third and final hatch starts in October and were called Isonychia harperi and are a size 14. Both sadleri and bicolor are evening hatches for the most part, and both bugs are similar in color so you do not have to tie two different patterns. The harperi on the other hand hatch in the early afternoon and are dark olive. A standard olive parachute size 14 will work just fine.
All of these flies can easily be identified by the hind and middle legs which are a pale yellow in color as compared to the forelegs which are dark with light tips. these bugs hatch both on rocks and in the river itself.
This is my favorite hatch to fish once the hatch starts fish will look to feed on the bugs . Even when no hatch is on I can usually manage to pull fish up to a size 12 isonychia comparadun . Most anglers stick with the dry fly during this hatch however the fish do take the nymphs and the soft hackle during the hatch just as good as the duns and in many cases better. One of the areas I see most anglers miss out on is the spinner fall.
Although late in the evening usually after 9 pm the fish will really get on a 10-12 isonychia spinner. This same spinner works very good in the early morning hours also as the isonychia spinner will fall most of the night and fish can be seen during the early morning hours cruising the shallows looking for the left leftover from the previous nights spinner fall.