It was a Thursday afternoon in late July, and I was sitting in front of my computer while working at my summer internship for a Civil Engineering company. Being a little slow on work and daydreaming about hitting the river on the upcoming weekend, I decided to fire up the Orvis fishing reports. As usual, I take a look at the “Red Hot” fishing spots; even though I know that every place on that list would be a minimum of 1,500 miles away from me. Deep summer in New Jersey generally means water temperatures well over 70 degrees or needing to have a drift boat to float one of the larger, classic Catskill rivers.
Without even thinking twice, I begrudgingly started to click the reports for New Jersey, when I caught a surprising state on the “Red Hot” list. The Farmington River in Connecticut was not a river I was familiar with, but I immediately checked and saw that it was only a two-hour drive from my house. I texted my brother, told him to cancel any plans for the weekend and began a day and a half of furious research on this new river to me. The pictures of 20”+ Brown Trout that I kept coming across was not registering with me, there had to be another Farmington River in Montana or something.
Well, that Saturday morning, my brother and I loaded up my ’04 Sebring convertible and headed up to northwestern Connecticut with a very loose semblance of a game plan for the day. After a long day of exploring and casting with nothing to show for it, my brother and I settled into a small stretch of river that was like nothing I had fished before. Within an hour I had hooked three great fish, a small brown and two above average rainbows. For a guy who was relatively new to the serious fly-fishing game at the time and had spent countless hours pitifully nymphing all manner of rivers and creeks with absolutely no success, this was a game changer. The rocks that I had been hooking, suddenly turned into a fish and I can still remember shaking after landing that first fish on a river I’d never fished before and a technique with which I had almost no practical experience.
Fast forward four years, and I have fished the Farmington River countless times. I have fished it solo, with my Dad, with my brother, with fishing buddies, and even with my girlfriend on her first wet-wading trip. Each time, this river adds something to its value in my mind. Whether it’s the fact that the water can be no more than shin deep in the heat of the summer and yet still be below 60 degrees, or the fact that a prime stretch of river is entirely located within a State Forest and in it, the river is a designated permanent catch & release zone; the fish thrive here.
The stretch of the river that I do most of my fishing in is some of the most amazing water I’ve come across and it’s all just a 2 ½ hour drive from the New York City area. Almost every morning in this spot, the river is shrouded in dense fog due to the difference in air and water temperatures. As if that isn’t enough to give this place a memorable setting, many mornings here involve low-flying Bald Eagles that make you think you’ve been transported to a state west of the Continental Divide.
As an angler who grew up fishing in the typically ‘put and take’ rainbow trout rivers of New Jersey, I very seldom saw any fish longer than 10-12 inches. The allure of the unknown is something that plays a role in the mindset of every fisherman who has ever cast a line. The fact that you can never truly know just how big the biggest fish in a given river is, has brought countless fisherman back to a river time and time again. That being said, there are river systems that can hold large fish and those that simply cannot. So, the idea that every ‘next fish’ in the Farmington could be the biggest, buck-nastiest brown trout I’ve ever seen; is something that gets me fired up every time I lace up my wading boots.
The Farmington River allows for high quality, both in fish and fishing experience. I have fish countless rivers and lakes all over the place, but no river system so close to home as the ability to keep me coming back quite like the Farmy does. The river has this strange ability to give you the good days in equal parts with the tough days. I’ve had days where I landed my personal best 22” brown trout 10 minutes into fishing and then later that same day, I hooked six more in six consecutive first casts in six different pools. Days as good as that leave me feeling as if I know everything about the river and I can do this every day. On the other hand, I’ve had days where I’ve been skunked and days where I’ve had monster fish snap my leader three separate times and I lose all faith in my recently discovered “expertise.” Both the successful days and the unsuccessful days on the Farmy have a way to provide reasoning to justify the next 4am wake up and 2-hour drive before sunrise.
As anglers, we all have that special stretch of river that always acts as your go-to for all sorts of reasons. For me, the Farmington River is an amazing fishery that allows for 12-month fishing and unlimited fishing potential in quality, size, and method. All it takes is a quick conversation at the local fly shop up in New Hartford, Connecticut or with any number of river regulars, and you’ll know that this river is something special and worth way more than the only two and a half hour drive from New York City. The Farmington River provides for a river that allows for both the beginner and life-long expert to learn something new or improve their techniques. As Tom Rowland describes learning, “I know nothing, so I try to learn everything, and then I feel like I know just about everything, but then I realize I really know nothing so I’m back to trying to learn everything.” I think this is a perfect description of fly fishing and, for me, my experience with fishing the Farmington River.
Article by Ryan Gallagher (IG: @rgallagher87)
All pictures were taken by my brother Marty Gallagher (IG: @mgallagher93).