For years my nymphing rigs were too heavy for fishing high water events. My rationale was increase flow meant heavier rigs to get down. Right? Well, sometimes this is the case, but what we need to understand is how much impact the high water has on a trout’s positioning.
The fact is that high water events (like a strong rain storm) create increased water volume, and sometimes off-color water, in streams and rivers. Some storms are severe enough that the trout will be pushed to the side of the stream, holding in shallower water as refuge from the increased flow. Remember, streams are dynamic-they vary greatly in depth and gradient, so this advice may not be pertinent to your home waters.
A recent storm left a local limestone stream well above average and off color. The velocity and turbidity in the middle of the stream were severe enough to make fishing almost impossible, which left the shallow edges as the only possible target. There were fishing opportunities, but they sure weren’t out in that turbulent water, regardless of the weight I attached to my flies or line.
Fishing the edges is not a concession we make; it is probably where the fish are. So, we need a light enough rig to drift over the shallows and not hang up. When I say shallow, I’m speaking of anything from 6-20 inches, with slow to medium current.The typical large/heavy stonefly or jig style nymph is too heavy, a recipe for snagging bottom. But we need a fly with a large enough profile (so trout can locate it in murky water) but light enough that it drifts naturally.
The one approach that has worked well for me in such conditions was to float a sighter using a larger #10 Higa’s SOS nymph with a 3/32” (2.0mm) tungsten bead, with a short 3’ tippet. No additional lead wire wraps-just the weight of the bead and the hook. This pattern has a large and dark enough profile that fish can see in such conditions, plus I find the larger size does an excellent job of imitating slate drake nymphs. Any large pattern with a dark profile will work in these conditions, but it needs to be light enough to drift in along the shallow edges. Sometimes this means using a brass, instead of tungsten, bead. Or it may mean using a beadless pattern with several lead wraps. Whatever your preference, please remember that high and off-color water may require bigger flies, but these patterns need to be lightened.
The 2019 spring/summer season has provided more than our share of storms, but it has also provided some of the best fishing I’ve had in recent memory. Everything in this game is counter-intuitive. One would think, for example, that we would need bright flies in off-color water or night fishing. Nope. Trying to fish heavy, off-color water has to mean super heavy nymphs, right? The truth is that the fish you are targeting probably aren’t even there. They don’t like that water any more than you do. They’ll be on the edges, in relatively shallow water. Big, light flies may be the ticket to catch them. Good fishing!
One possible solution (there’s many) to weight adjustment when nymphing. Hope this helps.
One Reason for Lighter Colored Lines
As with anything, everyone has an opinion, so what I’m about to write is based on one man’s opinion. Mine.
Today’s fly fishers have a wide (and sometimes overwhelming) array of fly line types, tapers, and colors from which to choose. I look for lighter line color, at least from the mid section to the rear. Light yellow, peach, light olive or any other light color helps to train my eye when I am trying to manage slack.
This preference is especially related to situations in which fly line will be placed on the water, as it is for streamer, dry fly or indicator fishing. Line control is a must when excessive line is on the water. Too much, unmanaged line can cause drag or even delay a hook set. Darker colored lines, or darker colored rear sections, make it difficult for us to use our peripheral vision to see the line laying on the water. What I strive for is to focus my line of sight on the dry fly or indicator/suspender, but have a light enough line color on the water that my peripheral vision can pick it up.
We need to manage line when it’s on the water. Maybe we see a large downstream belly when indicator/suspender nymphing, so we need to mend the line upstream, or maybe we’re casting upstream, while dry fly fishing, and need to strip in the slack line. Either way, I prefer to fish a line color that is easy for my eyes to see so I can determine when and how to manage the line. water.
Many great anglers advocate darker fly line choices to avoid spooking fish, and they may be right, but my experience is that fly line color is pretty low on the scale of spooking methods. The line weight itself (3wt, 5wt. etc.), the force with which line is put on the water, splashing about, all of these are more likely to send fish scattering than than the color of fly line. If you can’t see your line on the water-you can’t manage it, and, if you can’t manage it, you are even less likely to catch a fish. The next time you’re looking to purchase a new line, especially when you will need to make long casts and leave a lot of line on the water, think about choosing a lighter line color. Trust me, there will STILL be plenty of other ways to screw up your presentation! Good fishing!
Throwing Darts: Fly Casting Accuracy
“Drive for Show, Putt for Dough” is a common phrase used in golf. This statement basically means that, while it’s impressive to watch golfers drive the gold ball great distances, the short game is what wins matches. The same principal applies to fly casting. Long casts are fun to watch (and we all should work on our distance game), but getting the fly to the target is what catches fish.
Accuracy is not as sexy as distance casting, which explains why many are fixated on distance. Attend any fly fishing show with a casting pond and see for yourself, almost everyone test casting a rod is trying to launch the line to the other side of the pond, but few spend time seeing how the rod performs at short distances. Distance is a must for many fresh and saltwater scenarios, but most of my fishing is focused on trout, and rarely do I need to cast more than 35 feet. For years I was guilty of this “Drive for Show” mentality, but I began to work on accuracy, my short game. I decided to switch up my casting stance, and I began, haltingly at first, to try to “throw darts” with my fly rod.
Casting style and stance is personal preference. Most of the great casters I’ve seen have their own unique casting style. However, one tip I’ve found helpful for the short, accurate cast, is to place the casting hand in front of your face with either the index finger or thumb placed on top of the rod grip. Position your rod hand just as you would if you were throwing darts. Now, draw a straight line from your eyes to the target (line of sight), and accelerate the tip (following the path) towards the target.
I prefer the index finger on top grip as it allows me to track smoothly down my line of sight to the target. Drift your hand towards the target and stab it with your index finger. The finger directs the path of the rod tip, which delivers the fly. This is not a casting stance designed to create speed and power for distance. This is a cast for short range precision, but one that requires an exacting presentation. Next time you find yourself missing the mark with your cast-try throwing darts, and you’ll begin to hit your mark.
A sighter is a colored section of material, built into the leader, that acts as a strike indicator
when tight line or euro nymphing. A sighter is useful because we don’t always feel the strike.
Instead, we often see the sighter hesitate or make a short upstream motion- as signals to set
the hook. The ability to see the strike is especially important when nymphing with light weight
rigs, as there’s not enough tension on the line for the angler to feel the strike. Remember, we
don’t ALWAYS dredge heavy rigs and flies on the bottom, a myth that still has “traction” in
some circles. Sometimes we need to drift the nymphs higher in the water column-using just
enough weight to achieve some depth but keeping the rig light enough that the current moves
the flies for us. All we do, then, is move the rod tip to maintain a small degree of tension
between rod tip and nymph. Think of drifting your nymphs just as you would a dry fly on a flat
piece of water. In both cases, drag is your enemy.
Strikes are often missed when the rod tip wobbles or shakes during the leading of the flies. The
rod tip wobble is passed down through the whole rig. Nothing is spared. Slack is created
unintentionally. Not all nymphing strikes are aggressive; some are super soft, a slight, barely
detectable pause. If there is any slack in the presentation, like the slack caused by rod wobble,
the “pause” never presents itself. A strike is missed. What you are striving for is the rod tip to
smoothly lead the flies, and eliminate any unnecessary jerking movements in the sighter. We
achieve “smooth operator” status when we create a solid base for our body and rod hand to
lead the flies. As my mentor Joe Humphreys often says, “you want to eliminate the Jerk on the
other end of the rod.” There is no such thing as a perfect leading technique. There is, however,
a way to minimize the damage. I call it “LOCK AND LEAD.”
Lock and Lead is obtained when the hand is positioned out and away from the body, with a
slightly bent elbow-in a locked position. After the cast is completed, the rod hand immediately
begins to move (horizontally, vertically, or both) to control the drift, but now you’re leading the
nymphs with a smooth and controlled lead, where any hesitation on the sighter is going to be
picked up with your eyes. If the elbow isn’t locked during the lead, wobble will inevitably occur.
If your hand and elbow are “fixed,” the drift will be smoother and the sighter will be “quiet.”
Sighters are loud enough, color-wise, already. The trick is to keep them quiet on the water. A
quiet sighter registers takes; a loud one registers only aggressive takes. You want both, and you
want to have confidence that if the sighter does ANYTHING unusual, you’ll see it and react to it.
You’ll still be the jerk on the other end of the rod, but you will be an aware (and successful)
jerk. Good Nymphing!
Hump’s Fur Body Cressbug
My mentor, Joe Humphreys has been an influence in my life for over 23 years, where he has acted as a friend and teacher. He’s done so much for me (more than I could ever repay) and I’m eternally grateful. Last night I took my two children to watch “Live the Stream-The Story of Joe Humphrey,” where they got to see the many facets of my 90-year-old mentor: husband, father, friend, conservationist, mentor, coach, teacher, athlete, competitor, and mentor. I wanted them to observe what a purposeful life looks like, and this film hits the message out of the park. Throughout his 90 years, Joe will say “life has given me so many wonderful opportunities,” but he also symbolizes the definition of reciprocity-given back to the world, and so many people (including myself) continue to be on the receiving end. This documentary will demonstrate the many positives of what fly fishing can do for the mind, body and soul. Don’t take my word for it, please see the film yourself, and you’ll feel what it means to “LIVE THE STREAM.” For more information on where to watch this film, or information on how to bring this film to your area, please go to: http://www.livethestreamfilm.com
One of the ways I try to keep Joe’s many lessons active in my mind, is to fish Joe’s cressbug pattern, which developed during his teenage years. The version I tie is a variation, but when it’s all said and done-it’s Joe’s Fur Cressbug. Every time I open my box and see this simple but deadly pattern, I’m reminded of all the wonderful lessons Joe has shared with me over the years. Thank you Joe!
Hump’s Fur Body Cressbug
Hook: TMC 3769 #14
Thread: 6/0 Lt Olive Uni Thread
Back: UV Loon Resin-Thin
Body: Joe Ackourey’s Natural Fur Blend: Hare’s Ear (Joeack12@hotmail.com)
The Shop Vac (BWO Variation)
As Blue Winged Olives continue to emerge on our local waters, I wanted to share another favorite “light weight” BWO emerger pattern, which I purposely fish higher in the water column-The Shop Vac. This modified Shop Vac imitates (as least attempts to) an emerging BWO emerger, and has proven useful over the last few days. I feel the budding wingcase does a nice job to create the illusion of a budding mayfly wing. This pattern can be modified to imitate any mayfly, but I wanted to share this variation as olives are currently available this time of year. While this pattern can be fished anywhere in the water column, I prefer to position it in the upper layer (tied 12-16” off a dry fly with a dry dropper approach or placed on the top dropper with a tight line rig) to imitate a BWO emerger. In short, the Shop Vac is a simple, quick to tie, and a proven track record. After all, there’s a reason it’s called the SHOP VAC.
Please remember that you can substitute any of the materials mentioned below. Fly fishers develop greater confidence in patterns they “tweak”, and confidence is a huge part of angling sucess. Good Fishing!
Hook: TMC 2457#16-20 (or any scud hook)
Bead: 3/32 Black Tungsten or Brass Bead
Thread: 8/0 Olive Dun Uni Thread
Rib: Extra Small Gold Wire
Body: Pheasant Tail
Wing: Ice Dub UV Gray
Dubbing Collar: Jan Siman Black Peacock Dubbing
“Lighten Up” Your Nymphs: One reason for brass bead head nymphs
I have a confession to make- I use this blog to self medicate. I share all the mistakes and troubles I have on the water, to provide countless examples of what I hope is our collective suffering. One recent dilemma provided me with the harsh reality that my nymph boxes lacked lighter weighted nymphs (in this case sunken sulphur patterns). What is one to do when trout are feeding higher in the water column, and one has only tungsten-beaded nymphs? Like I said before…suffer.
Contrary to popular belief, you CAN fish nymphs too deep, and today, with the European nymphing phenomenon, I see few brass or non-beaded patterns (looking squarely at myself here) in fly boxes. While most of my nymph patterns are tied with tungsten bead heads, there are times when I need to “LIGHTEN UP.”
So, last May on Spring Creek, sulphur spinners were present on the water, and trout fed on partially sunken spinners several inches below the water-not near stream bottom. A traditional spinner pattern (fished in the surface film) is a good approach when spinners are on the water, but often the natural spinners (after mating) float through riffles, where the choppy currents pull and keep them below the surface, and these partially sunk patterns create an easy meal opportunity for trout. On this night, the trout were positioned to feed 2-3 inches below the water, and they were locked into this higher level to feed on the sunken spinners, and they were not about to move downwards to eat. I needed to present my nymph where the fish were. I could have simply taken a traditional spinner pattern, placed a tiny #8 split shot near the hook eye, and I would have presented the spinner at the correct level, but I forgot to bring my dry box that night. All I had was my tungsten bead nymph box (no brass beads to be found), and every pattern was too heavy to fish just below the surface film. I did manage to catch a few fish with tungsten bead patterns, but I know I would have had greater success with lighter weight patterns (brass bead or non-bead), fished higher in the water column. And the results for the next 4 nights of spinner falls, proved me right. Lighter nymphs meant a LOT more fish.
While the timeline of this article is based on a sulphur spinner fall (not exactly a winter occurrence), this concept of lighter weight nymphs apply to all season scenarios. As my friend John Stoyanoff once told me, “George, you cannot tell trout where to find your flies!” When fish feed high in the column, I have to meet them where they are. This is especially true on insect dense streams like Spring Creek, where food is plentiful, and trout don’t need to move from the buffet line to pick a scrap of bread off the floor. They know if they stay in the buffet line (i.e. at the depth where the current transports the food), food will come to them. You don’t need to outsmart a fish with a nymph, but you do need to keep your pattern in the buffet line. When trout feed high in the column- “LIGHTEN UP” your nymph rig and good things will happen, which is why I suggest you carry several brass and non-beaded patterns, something I didn’t do that night. The next night? Different story.
Below is a simple sunken spinner pattern I’ve used for several seasons. It’s a cross between a Higa’s SOS nymph and the late George Harvey’s Krystal Flash Spinner. You can tie this pattern with a brass bead or without a bead, and allow just the weight of the heavy wire and thin thread body to sink the fly.
Sunken Sulphur Spinner
Hook: TMC 2457 or any heavy wire hook
Bead: 3/32 Copper (brass weight)
Tail: Wood Duck
Body/Thread: UTC 70 Rusty Brown
Rib: Small Copper Wire
Wing: Pearl Flashabou
Coating: Loon Flow UV Resin
My favorite rig is to attach this light weight sunken spinner 12-16” below a high-vis sulphur dry fly. If you want to take your fly fishing to a higher level-sometimes you need to fish higher in the column!
Note: A small dab of colored nail polish is placed on my brass bead head nymphs, to distinguish brass from tungsten.
The Pareto Principal and Your Fly Boxes
According to Investopedia, The Pareto Principle, named after economist Vilfredo Pareto, specifies that 80 percent of consequences come from 20 percent of the causes, or an unequal relationship between inputs and outputs. This principle serves as a general reminder that the relationship between inputs and outputs is not balanced. The Pareto Principle is also known as the Pareto Rule or the 80/20 Rule, and if you pay attention throughout your life (on and off the water)-this principal is pretty spot on.
As it relates to fly fishing (in this case-nymph patterns) this ratio continues to play out, as 80% of fish are caught with only a handful of patterns, despite the fact that I will carry hundreds (sometimes over a thousand) patterns. Every angler has their favorite 20% of fly patterns that catch 80% of their fish, which are also known as “confidence patterns.” Over the last five seasons, Spencer Higa’s SOS pattern has embodied The Pareto Principal-accounting for a countless fish for both my personal and guided days on the water and has become a current “confidence” pattern. Although I knew about this patterns years before it became a mainstay in my box, I never used it until a client (thanks Josh Stewart) re-introduced this pattern to me five years ago, and it’s become one of my favorite nymph patterns since -no matter the conditions or time of year. I tie the SOS is a variety of color schemes and sizes, but the original black and modified dark olive (both shown in photo) are two of my favorites.
Confidence patterns are a personal choice-based on your previous experiences, and influenced by the waters your fish. This means everyone’s list will be different, but regardless of your selection-it may be wise to stock up heavily on the patterns that represent your 80/20 ratio. Reevaluating your 80/20 pattern ratio may also cause you to get rid of patterns you’ve never had success with or rarely put on the end of the line. It’s good to have a few wildcard patterns in the mix, but my suggestion is to organize your box on the Pareto Principal-determine which patterns accounted for 80% last season’s success, and spend the time to tie or the money to purchase those patterns. And if I may make a suggestion, try Higa’s SOS (if you haven’t done so already) and you find yourself adding another confidence pattern to your quiver. Good fishing!
Slap That Cougar
The rules of “gentle” trout presentations go out the door, when streamer fishing in high and off color water. Trout, like other fish, possess a repertoire of senses for feeding. In clear water, trout may use sight (just one option) as a means to locate food. However, when their ability to see food is no longer an option, there are other means, taste smell, hearing and feeling, to locate food. Live bait anglers or conventional anglers who use scent on lures, have an advantage over the fly angler in muddy water-trout can smell and locate their bait/lures. The best “attention-grabbing” tool a fly angler has in those conditions is often, but not always, SOUND! Sometimes, “slapping the fly” on the surface will be the only thing that will alert the fish of an offering. There may be some scenarios in which a hard slap on the water will spook fish, but if we spook them, at least we know that we have been “heard.”
It’s no secret that in high and muddy water, trout will often hold tight to the bank-for both protection from the current and feeding purposes, and it may seem counterintuitive to slap a fly down in slack or soft water. But…SLAP you should and you should do it HARD. As a general rule, the muddier the water-the harder you need to slap the streamer. I don’t think you can be too aggressive with your streamer presentation in these conditions. Here are two suggestions increase your SLAP effect.
First use greater force to present the fly. I know, common sense, right? No, I’m surprised how delicately anglers present their streamers in dirty water. You can create greater force in one of two ways: with a more aggressive stroke or with the aid of an aggressive haul during the cast, or a combination of the two. Either way, use more force to present your streamer on the water.
Some streamer profiles are designed to create a greater SLAP. Any streamer with a wide profile head will create a heavier impact on the water. My favorite streamer for fishing the shallow banks near my central PA waters is Kelly Galloup’s Zoo Cougar. I fish it on a floating line with a small split shot on the nose to create neutral buoyancy. And when I tie my cougars, I go for a wide deer hair head profile. Why?
Think about hitting the water with your hand in two positions. The first position would be karate chop style where the hand smacks the water and creates little disturbance when the narrow profile comes in contact with the water. The next position is “palm down.” Here, the flat profile will create a loud sound and disturbance. BAM…you just laid the streamer smack down on the trout. Have you ever been in a large and loud public area, and suddenly hear a loud slap (usually administered by an angry partner or spouse), over all the other noises? I’m not sure I have, but you get the point. You wouldn’t be able to hear someone apply a karate chop, though it might hurt more, in the same scenario. This is the power of the slap in dirty water, and this is why I strive to fish a streamer with a flat profile, when I want the wider surface area to create the type of impact that I am sure trout will register. The BAM there will be less painful and more productive. A win-win.
Let ‘em know you’re there and hang on!
Sighters are the strike detectors of tightline nymphing. Because they are constructed of bright, colored monofilament, and because they are part of the line, they allow anglers to stay in direct contact with the nymphs and know when fish have taken the fly. But…they are only really useful for a short distance presentation, because the farther away one fishes, the less the angler has the arm length to keep the sighter off of the water (where you want it!)
Don’t get me wrong, there’s times when we will have to place the sighter on the water, but when we do that, we are really indicator nymphing. When contact nymphing principles are at play, we need to stay in “contact” throughout the drift. In fact, our drift doesn’t begin until the sighter is visible-above water, under tension, and under control. If the sighter is laid on the water, the angler needs to lift it off the water to regain control, which takes precious seconds away from your drift. It is essential, then, to become the ultimate micro-manager with your drift time. Strive to have the sighter off the water, and under tension, the MOMENT your flies enter the water.
Here’s how to do it:
Look ABOVE your target-not down AT your target. By fixing your eyes high, you can train yourself to stop the rod tip high after your forward cast. Think about it – if both rod and sighter need to be high the moment the nymphs touch water, why should you even have to lift the rod up to position the sighter? It should be in position from the start, and the only way that can happen is if the rod tip stops high. Right? The idea is NOT new – Joe Humphries, my mentor, called it the Tuck Cast (and Joe was NOT an Indicator guy!) You should never have to play “catch-up” with your presentation. Look high, aim high, and hold the rod tip high after the cast and BOOM-sighter is off water, under tension, and ready to be led throughout the drift. These little things make a big difference in your tight line game. Aim High!
Many ways to add dropper knots. Here’s one of my favorite methods to adding droppers.
This Vlog was inspired by a central Oregon high school fly fishing club, where they asked for my preferred mono rig. This is part 1, where I discuss my go to basic mono rig setup, and provide some insights as to why it works for me. First, let me point out that www.troutbitten.comhas written a lot of great information concerning the mono rigs, so my focus here is to discuss my “CONFIDENCE RIG” with you, and a few thoughts as to why mono works well with nymphs, especially light rigs. The second part will include basic rigging (spacing of flies, adding droppers, etc.) with mono rigs. Thanks for taking the time to read and watch.
News: Upcoming Denver Fly Fishing Show
The first Fly Fishing Show is almost upon us, and first up is Denver, where I have two classes available: 1) Beginner’s Casting Class and 2) Situational Nymphing Scenarios class). Please click on this link to check out the Denver Fly Fishing Show. https://flyfishingshow.com/denver-co/
I’ll also be in the seminar rooms to present several programs, along with a few demos in the casting pool. Plus, you’ll find me hanging out in the Orvis booth throughout the entireshow, so please make sure to stop over and say “HI.” Hope to see some of you there.
Seminar Room Talks
Troubleshooting Trout Difficult Trout Scenarios
Nymphing: New Angles and Tactics
Streamer Tactics 2.0
Casting Pool Demo
Casting Made Easy-A Beginner’s Guide to Casting
Dynamic Fly Casting-Fishing Casts for All Scenarios
Avoid the Bump: Reduce Slack When Tight Lining
Tight line nymphing requires a “tight connection” between rod tip and nymph, and any amount of slack will delay strike detection. The “BUMP” occurs when you strip in the leader, and a knot hangs on a guide, which creates immediate slack in the system. Your goal is for a smooth retrieve, one that doesn’t create any hang-up. It only takes a short hang-up, and you’ve lost control, likely for the entire drift-GAME OVER! Tight line drifts are short, and you need to maximize every foot of drift, to “avoid the bump” and to lengthen the time you are in control of the drift. Any time a knotted connection “bumps” against a guide-you’ve lost a portion of your drift to slack, so let’s fix the problem.
Try to keep the line and leader connection away from the tip guide. One option is to shorten the leader length (determined by how far away you fish the rig) in order to keep the line outside the rod tip. Or use a long (and I mean LONG) leader so nothing but leader material is within the guides. The Mono-Rig. This means the use of a knotless leader section, so nothing but smooth nylon passes through the guides. If you decide to use a leader with knotted sections, at least use a UV Resin to smooth out those sections. Of course, you can only smooth out those sections at home (can’t remember the last time I had Resin and Light with me when I was standing in a river), so maybe it’s best to build your leaders before you are standing in a river? If you do that, you can control the “bump” dilemma. Either way, maximize your drift, avoid the “BUMP,” and regain control from start to finish.
Stay Within The Lines: Casting Angles for Nymphs and Streamer
Winter is upon us, which means I’m fully engaged in streamer tactics. It’s not because streamer tactics are the best approach this time of year -- if you want to catch fish, nymphing will likely yield better results -- it’s more because I love to work streamers, hungry for that elusive tug, even if it means going all day without a strike. I welcome that challenge! In late February/early March, when the first olive hatch occurs, I enter into a different mode, but the tug is hard-wired; I go back to it at every opportunity.
One cold April morning, trout still positioned deep in the water column and stubborn to any offering, my friend and Master nymph fisherman, John Stoyanoff said: “You can’t dictate to the trout; you take what they give you.” John noticed that I was casting my nymphs more over and across than up. The result was that drag was setting in early and my nymphs were lifting off the streambed. My presentation was too fast for the lazy trout. John’s upstream casts were more in line with the current, and his nymphs reached (and stayed) deeper in the water column. Eventually, grannom pupa began to emerge, and the trout, now active, would consider my over and across, tension cast.
The correct angle of cast made the difference. A big difference. Casting in line with the current slows down and deepens the drift. The over and across cast creates almost immediate drag and speeds up the offering. This makes for a long day of presentations to finicky trout. Tensioned casts have their uses, but they are useless to trout holding in cold, deep water. They aren’t looking up until an emergence, some activity, occurs.
These rules apply, especially in cold, winter months, to streamer tactics too. Yes, trout will run down a streamer during a polar vortex, but cold water temps often result in less active trout. So when water temps decrease, so does the speed I work streamers. This means casting more “in-line” with the current. The goal is to reduce drag and keep your patterns in likely “lanes,” where trout will position. The choice of a correctly weighted streamer, or the right sink rate for fly line are important choices, but the angle of the cast greatly influences how slow and how long a pattern remains in a trout’s ambush zone. Remember, let the trout tell you how how active you can fish your streamers. As a general rule for winter streamer tactics, slow your presentation. I tell my 8 year-old, in his frenzied, crayon sessions, to “STAY WITHIN THE LINES.” Like most parents, though, I am an infrequent listener to my own advice!
Sometimes I feel that I’m at war with both the fish, and the shelter that provides them with cover. In extreme conditions, like high water, fish will bury themselves deep in the protective depths. The depths are their bunkers, their places of refuge. Conventional streamers (i.e. traditional coneheads and weighted flies) lack the density to penetrate these bunkers. I think of these fish, positioned in the comforts of their sheltering lie, smug and smiling as they look up to the angler trying to reach them with traditional tools. Extreme conditions call for extreme measures. This is when we need to employ the “Bunker Buster.”
The video link shows a simple but effective jig pattern, for when you need fast penetration when streamer fishing. Simple steps. Simple recipe. Enjoy.
Create Separation: Let The Line Fish the Fly
Kelly Galloup’s Zoo Cougar and Tommy Lynch’s Drunken Disorderly are two examples of buoyant streamers. And they are both awesome patterns. The Zoo Cougar’s rounded head bobs up and down. The wedge head on the Drunken Disorderly cuts fast and deep into the depths. Two great flies with two totally different actions. Without a sinking line, these streamer patterns would remain floating on the surface. But with a sinking line, the movement of a wounded baitfish is created. The streamer comes to life. We need to let the line fish the fly. In other words, the line need to positioned below the fly before the retrieve. In other words, LET THE LINE FISH THE FLY.
This wounded minnow appearance occurs when line (sinking line, remember) pulls the buoyant streamer downward, and, during the pause, the fly is forced upward. In other words, the fly “pops” to the surface. This Yin and Yan relationship between the fly and fly line is what creates the magic in the presentation. You know the presentation is correct, when it’s fun to watch the streamer move in the water. Up and Down. Side to Side. Zig and Zag. Yeah!
To some extent, LINE, not anglers, fishes the buoyant streamer. Streamer fishing, though, enforces the rule in a way that no other method will. When the line is positioned below the fly, BEFORE the retrieve, separation between line and fly occurs. The fly will start to ride upward on any pause. The retrieve will pull it back downward. You want the streamer to life and drop in the water column. Wounded baitfish don’t, last time I checked, sit stationary in the water column. They can’t hold for long though. The pause represents a kind of “last gasp.” It is a crucial moment, so don’t rush the retrieve. After the cast is made: pause, give the line slack, let the line sink, and then make the first retrieve. This allows the line to form a belly under the buoyant streamer, which pulls the fly downward on the retrieve. Then the process repeats itself. The retrieve creates tension, pulls the line upwards towards the fly, and creates a level plane between fly and line. Now we need to repeat: Pause, allow slack to occur, let the belly form, then retrieve. The pause is essential after every cast and retrieve. Create separation. Create Magic!
Streamer season has been upon for some time, and I was recently reminded of a favorite streamer tip. I heard this tip over 8 years ago-during my time as Captain for Fly Fishing Team USA. I’ve had the privilege to work/fish with excellent anglers, and Scott Hunter is another impressive angler I was fortunate enough to spend time with. Scott is a former member of Fly Fishing Team USA and the NC FF Team. Scott is a predator, both as a hunter and fisher, and is likely one of the most well rounder outdoorsman I know. He’s damn good.
Scott is also a former bass competitor, and competed with legendary angler, Kevin VanDam. One of Scott’s most memorable tips he gleaned from Kevin was, “90% of angler’s fish the bank, which only hold 10% of the fish.” While the original discussion may have been centered on lakes for bass, this is also true for river streamer tactics, especially on float trips. While banks will provide excellent targets to the streamer angler, don’t develop “target fixation” on only the banks. In other words, scan the water, look for better options before casting to the bank. You have options-use them!
Just to be clear, there’s situations where’s banks are the only option. When fishing extreme high water, you may need to focus on the bank. Banks may provide the only resting spot for fish, so focus your fly placement where you’re likely to find more trout. On the flip side, when normal flows exist, greater success may occur when fly placement is focused on prime lies (i.e. areas that offer trout food, protection, and shelter). This often means to make a cast anywhere but to the bank. While some bank locations may offer prime lies, many are only feeding lies. Feeding lies are excellent targets for the streamer angler during off color water, low light, or if you’re the first angler/boat to fish these areas. However, after several anglers have fished a feeding lie-those fish feel the pressure and they often run back to areas that offer protection.
The best streamer anglers I know don’t rush the cast. They survey the field and locate the best target. They wait until to make the cast until they wade into the best position, or the boat moves into the right position. They make less casts, but their streamers spend more time in productive waters. As my friend, Lance Wilt will tell his clients, “cast with a purpose.” Meaning, find a reason to make the cast. It’s not always about fishing harder- it’s about fishing smarter. Pick your target, and attack!
The 5 Minute Purge: 2 Simple Steps to Maintaining Order in Your Fly Box
If you’re anything like me, you’ll change flies and/or rigs regularly on the stream. In the heat of the moment, I’ll toss the old fly back into the fly box (and I’ll do it pretty darn quickly!), then quickly tie on the new fly. Do this several times an hour, all day long, and soon your once- organized box resembles a junk pile, controlled, but barely, chaos.
Some anglers, with vague powers of recollection, can control chaos and manage to get through the day. However, I become frustrated when I start the next day (or month or year) with a messy fly box. This is why I spend 5 minutes, after every day’s trip, to “purge” my box.
Step 1: Toss out any worn out patterns. This includes patterns with rusty hooks, bent hook points, or unravelling thread. If I can salvage hooks or beads, I’ll throw them into a recyclable box. If they can’t be saved, I throw them away. I cannot tell you how many boxes I see full of flies, that will never see water again. If you don’t plan to use them, lose them. Now, if you keep “seasonal” flies in separate boxes, that’s one thing, but if you haven’t used a fly in a year, chances are you won’t use it again. Ever. Toss it.
Step 2: Dry out wet flies. I take wet flies from my box and stick them on a dry patch, a small rectangular section of a black Yoga mat (thanks Jac Ford for the recommendation), attached with Velcro tape to my truck’s dashboard. Wet patterns stuck on the dashboard, a perfect place to heat and dry them, will be restored in 15-20 minutes. Once I get home, I detach the dry patch from my dashboard, take inside to my office and place the dry patterns back into my working box. BOOM! Organization (the opposite of chaos), and freedom to search the water, not my fly box.
Rocks and boulders create hydraulic cushions within the stream. They are essentially resting/feeding spots for the trout. Think of rocks and boulders as a trout’s streamside Lazy Boy recliner. The most obvious location to target fish is immediately below (downstream) of a boulder, where it’s easy to see a soft water “pocket” form below the obstruction. These downstream pockets are easy for the angler to locate and target for their presentations. However, what if I were to tell you that there’s a better and more productive pocket? And it holds some of the best trout!
The pocket is, of course, on the front side of the boulder. The experienced angler knows this “secret pocket,” but many beginners fail to notice it. The front side “cushion” creates a primary feeding line, a place that offers protection, rest, and feeding opportunities. Think about it: the fish on the front side will have first dibs on available food, and the larger, more dominant fish know that (probably why they are bigger!) Smaller fish generally hold on the downstream side, feeding on whatever the big ones (the ones we want) pass up.
I’m not recommending that anglers disregard the downstream pocket – it can and sometimes does hold larger fish -- but the front side is worth at least a few passes. It is a primary feeding lie. It should be explored. Sometimes “the grass is greener” in spots we don’t think to fish. Fish it!