The Handmade Angler: Orvis-Endorsed Guide Jay Aylward

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The Handmade Angler gettin’ fishy

Jay Aylward of The Handmade Angler is arguably the best all around freshwater fly fishing guide in Massachusetts. He is currently the only Orvis-Endorsed freshwater guide in the state.

Not only does Jay offer wade and drift boat trips for trout, he also takes clients out for warm-water trips on local bass ponds and rivers. I’ve had the pleasure this year of doing two trips with Jay, once in March on the Swift River with my father, and one solo trip in November out of his drift boat on the Deerfield River. This post will focus on the latter.

We met up at 7:30 am, masked up, and ran a shuttle, leaving my car at the takeout. Jay hauled his burly Outcast raft off of his custom truck bed and down to the waters edge. This required navigating down a rocky trail as we were not at a commonly used put in, but he didn’t need any assistance.

Topping off the raft with the hand pump

Jay had a couple rigs tied up and ready to go, but I wanted to try my own set-up first. I had brought my trusty L.L. Bean 10-foot #4 with floating line and a nine-foot leader. Attached was a clear Airlock Strike Indicator (the plastic kind that’s no longer available), my standard Water Gremlin removable split shot, and a size 14 peach-colored egg fly with a tungsten bead.

Ready to hit the water!

We started right near the put in. After making some nymph rig adjustments with height and weight, I hooked into a 17-inch-taped rainbow trout on the egg. We landed it, and I let Jay swiftly remove the hook and get the fish back into the water. After hooking up again and losing one right at the boat, we made our way downriver. What a great way to start the day; so long, skunk!

A long-in-the-tooth Deerfield rainbow trout

The flows were above the historical average, and Jay had to work his tail off rowing the boat up and down the choice riffles. We saw no other boats or anglers on this largely undeveloped stretch of the Deerfield. The air temperature soon warmed up to 40 degrees and the sun came out. We bobbed over the small rapids and I kept my eyes laser focused on the indicator. Takes were quick and subtle, requiring an immediate hookset. We tried hanging dropper flies such as Copper Johns and Zebra Midges off the egg, but the only fly that got any hits was the tungsten bead egg in sizes 12 to 16.

A typical stocker size rainbow

Jay constantly coached me, making sure that my casts were at the appropriate angle from the raft depending on whether we were moving or stationary. He also called out the right times to mend to get a nice dead drift, and when to “set!” Sure enough, I soon landed a 14-inch rainbow after two gentle upstream mends on a long drift.

The leaf hatch was coming to an end

The other notable catch of the day was a 10-inch wild brown trout. All of the trout we kept wet in the net, and I let Jay do the releasing with a couple photos mixed in. Handling fish in a drift boat using long handled nets can be tricky, and I was happy to let him do the work.

Not native, but sure wild!

After the above-average rainbow, the wild brown, and some other midsized rainbows, I was satisfied and told Jay that I was perfectly happy making the full day trip more of a six-hour one than an eight-hour one. He made clear that we could stay out longer if I wanted to, but I didn’t mind cutting it short to get home to spend the afternoon with family.

Over the course of the day, I broke off fish and lost nymph rigs in trees as well as submerged logs and rocks. Jay constantly offered to do the retying himself. This trip was an opportunity to use my new brand of tippet: Cortland Ultrapremium Fluorocarbon.

I can confidently say that this is the best tippet I’ve ever used. I landed these hard fighting rainbows quickly on terminal tackle as light as 6x to 7x, and the breakoffs were user errors. I highly recommend this product, especially the guide spools which will last you for years to come.

The good stuff! Source tacticalflyfisher.com

I’ve done the research and there is not another brand out there that has such a good breaking-strength-to-diameter ratio. I suffered the past couple years with a certain brand and model of fluorocarbon that resulted in multiple breakoffs, and I now suspect that this bad batch of tackle was at fault. I’m now forever discriminatory in my terminal-tackle choices.

Jay Aylward also ties flies professionally and represents the Deerfield Fly Shop at industry events. He guides year-round. If you’re bold enough, he’ll gladly take you out for a deep winter trip, which he says are the best opportunities for targeting the biggest lunker holdover trout on the river. If you can handle the weather with the right clothing and gear, you have the chance for the fish of a lifetime.

I couldn’t think of a better guide to give it a shot with and enjoy a day on the water together. And to mix it up, try an evening session on a Central or Western MA bass pond or river for a different experience, you won’t regret it.

The author with a takeout trout, promptly released
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