Farmington Water Flows and the MDC

Something’s not right with the Farmington’s water flows. But let me start first with some good news.

With the spring semester over, I am back down to one job and decided last-minute to book an Airbnb for a few days and fish the Farmington. It was DYI food-wise each day: a simple breakfast, a simple sandwich for lunch, and pasta and meat sauce for dinner (I made a big pot of it and had it for dinner all three nights because I wanted to focus on fishing and fly tying).

Day 1 was lights out, with plenty of aggressive fish chasing streamers, eating nymphs, and rising to BWOs in the afternoon. The best fish were two clean-looking browns that taped nearly at 17″ each. That night, I tied up a bunch of tightlining nymphs and dries for what I hoped would be some banner days.

A milestone fish for me was the first one of the season on a dry. Not a hog, but it took many casts before this decent brown made a mistake and gulped my offering. It was very satisfying to land it!

Days 2 and 3 were slow, at least for me. I picked up some fish but had to work for them. I was late for the Hendricksons hatch one day (“you should’ve been here 30 minutes ago” one local told me), and the next day the hatch was light and the wind gusts were profoundly strong. Such is fly fishing, but I had a great time regardless!

What’s troubling for me is that it looks as though we are in for more low flows this spring and summer, which was painful last year. The MDC controls the water flows from the dam that make the Farmington a tailwater. Unfortunately, here’s what I heard from some locals:

The river is now more of a freestone than a tailwater as temperature fluctuations have become more extreme due to low flows.

We’ll nymph for a just a few more weeks and then will move to all dries. Water is low.

River traffic is way down, and that affects all of the local businesses that rely on anglers.

The MDC is only releasing water at the legal minimum of 50 to 150 cfs. Last summer, there were two fish kills down river.

So, what’s going on? When I first started fishing the Farmington, 300 cfs flows were pretty common. That let you nymph most of the day productively. Last summer, flows in the spring and summer were low, and I assumed it was due to a drought.

It wasn’t. The reservoir had plenty of water, but the MDC kept the flows low. I don’t understand how hydro-electric economics work, but apparently, the MDC is trickling flows to save money.

Last year’s low flows really affected the fishing. You’d have some active fish at dawn and at dusk, but nymphing the thin water during the middle part of the day was unproductive, at least for me. The few deep slots were pounded by everybody, and combined with the low flows, the trout wouldn’t play ball.

Worse was that by mid-June, the water temps. were dangerously too high to fish ethically for trout. Out in Montana, they have “hoot owl” guidelines, when anglers are asked to be off the water by a certain time. At this rate, such an approach should be implemented at the Farmington to protect the fishery.

So, I didn’t go that much to the Farmington last summer. How am I going to kill six to eight hours in the middle of the day? Or, why make the long drive for such a short fishing window and be off the water when it warmed? Apparently, many anglers thought the same thing, which is why river traffic was way down.

I suppose there are some silver linings: if you’re a local and can drive 15 min. to hit a spinner fall, then you’re all set. You’ll have less competition on the river.

But, there’s a cost to all this: stressed out fish, higher fish mortality, and lower revenues for the area’s small businesses (lodging, gas stations, eateries, fishing guides, tubing companies, etc.).

The region’s state rep. is Mark Anderson, and the district’s Congressman is John Larson. I hope they know what’s going on.

If anyone has suggestions about what the fly fishing community can do to make our voices heard, please post in the comments?

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3 thoughts on “Farmington Water Flows and the MDC

  1. Fished yesterday afternoon. Stunned by low flows. No Hendricksons, but a handful liked the Dk Hendrickson Wets I offered them. Missed a slammer too!
    Anyway to your point, I would think that the Farmington River Angler’s Association would be the focal point for seeing what can be done to increase flows.

  2. Perhaps various groups need to approach it like the Deerfield River. Make a case that the exceeding low flows are detrimental to the wild trout population so they always have a minimum viable flow for spawning activity. Colebrook did get extremely low last year, to the point you couldn’t launch a boat, but they keep hogsback quite full. Not sure of a solution in drought years as you’ll see the same about the Delaware and other similar fisheries that had low water conditions and subsequent fish kills.

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