A lesson I learned on how to “play fish” with light tackle.Read More
October Caddis Soft Hackle Hare’s Ear
October Caddis are in full swing and nymphing has been good with the above average flows back home. I wanted to share a simple yet effective nymph pattern that’s accounted for several good fish within the last week while targeting waters harboring October Caddis. Note: This is not an original pattern. This pattern is my variation of the original Hare’s Ear Soft Hackle-created to mimic the October Caddis. Good Fishing
Hook: Hanak 450BL #12
Bead: Black 3.5mm Slotted
Thread: Doesn’t Matter
Tail: Wood Duck Fibers
Body: Hare’s Ear
Rib: Small Hot Orange Ultra Wire
Hackle: Orange Partridge
Collar: Peacock Eye Siman Dubbing
It seems when you’re in your teens you can recall just about anything. You haven’t lived long enough to fill your memory bank. You can remember what movie you watched with your girlfriend last weekend or what your mom made for dinner three nights ago. Then your mental hard drive begins filling up by you 30’s and soon your forget your wedding anniversary, can’t remember if you fed the dog, and then you forget the year your son was born when filing out doctor’s form. You get the point. Your memory bank can hold only so many moments/lessons and soon some of your earlier (often more important) memories are no longer in the storage drive between your ears. I’m now seeing this with my limited fishing knowledge.
I was recently reminded of this important nymphing tip I let slip away while fishing with a friend, Zach St. Amand on the Farmington River a week ago. The original lesson occurred over 20 years ago while fishing with my mentor, Joe Humphreys. Joe was showing me the importance of punching the nymphs into a pocket by using a short but powerful casting stroke and haul. I can remember watching Joe perform his famous short casting stroke as he shot his nymphs into a run. The nymphs entered the water as if he was shooting them out of a high powered air rifle. This resulted in his nymphs quickly gaining bottom and a tight connection from the start of presentation.
One of the biggest issues I’ve encounter nymphing fast water is getting the flies to anchor quickly. Obviously adding weight is one course of action to achieve quicker depth with immediate control. However, Joe always reminded me another option was to equal the force of the cast relative to the force of the water you fish. In other words, use less force in slow water but hammer home the nymphs when dealing with faster water. This is where the haul comes into play.
A short but powerful haul in combination with a standard nymph cast can help you achieve depth and control with less weight. The advantage of a light rig is once the nymphs achieve depth, the rig is light enough to drift the flies naturally. Too often we rely on using more weight to counter faster water, which I feel results in having to drag your patterns during the presentation to avoid hanging up. The lesson of increasing the force of the cast was a lesson I used for years, but sometime with the last 5 years I had gotten away from using the haul. Then Zach St. Amand invited me to show me around and help me better understand the Farmington River before doing a video shoot with Orvis Fly Fishing. He not only only provided me with the info to help make for a good video shoot, but he also reminded me of the importance of using the haul to sink your nymphs.
Zach and another good friend of mine, Antoine Bissieux are the two busiest guides on the River, and they are both excellent nymph fishers. Watching Zach use a violent but smooth haul on his cast to gain immediate depth of the Farmington’s pools reminded me of my lessons with Joe in my earlier days. I observed Zach pick up several good fish with his impressive nymphing cast, and left me yearning to begin using the haul again. Thanks Joe for the original lesson and thanks to Zach for the reminder!
While watching Horton Hears a Who with my kid, I was reminded of the difference in tactical approach between a nympher blindly fishing a run versus a dry fly angler targeting a rising fish. The latter situation the angler can see a target but the former is simply anticipating a fish is there. I feel this difference of actually seeing a trout rising versus hoping a fish is near may determine how much effort an angler puts in their presentation.
There’s a great quote from the movie that mirrors my attitude when blindly nymphing a run. The quote is from Jane Kangaroo exchanging words with Horton, who thinks he hears a who but Jane can’t see or hear what Horton is speaking of. The quote goes something like “If you can't see, hear or feel something, it doesn't exist.” This made me think about the difference in tempo in which some anglers blindly nymph a run versus targeting a rising fish with dry fly.
There’s some sort of focus button that turns on when an angler sees a rising trout, especially one that consistently rises. When an angler fails to fool a consistent riser, they’ll switch patterns or tactics due to constant refusals. They know the fish is there but understand they need to change tactics as the result of the trout refusing their offering. I know I’ve spent over an hour targeting a specific rising trout but will move within five minutes if I fail to nymph up a fish in a good run.
But there are few nymph anglers who exhaust the same effort (i.e. staying in one play exhausting all presentation possibilities) when nymphing a run. So often I hear myself or clients saying while unsuccessfully catching a fish in a good looking run, “HUH, I can’t believe there’s not a fish there.” Meaning, we assume we’re doing everything correct so we need to move to another location to find a fish. We need to change the wording we tell ourselves.
This is why I’ve been changing my nymphing psychology over the years. I can’t assume I’m doing everything correct when failing to catch a fish in a spot I know holds fish. Instead, I need to assume there’s a fish feeding on the bottom (just as the same fish would be fishing on the surface) and need to make a change. I can add weight, decrease weight, change the angle I cast my nymph, change patterns, or maybe change my position. Approach high probability areas the same as you would if you see a steady surface feeder-assume you’re getting a subsurface refusal and begin to change tactics as you would to a rising fish. Again, this applies to spots you know hold fish all day and year round.
And maybe one’s nymphing success would increase if the sub surface angler developed the same patience of a typical dry fly angler targeting a riser? Just remember not to loose confidence in a high probability area when blindly fishing a spot. You know there’s a feeding fish there, so assume something is wrong with your current approach and make the change. In short, don’t be a Jane Kangaroo.
Before I begin making the trip back east back tomorrow morning, I want to share a new favorite terrestrial pattern I picked up on my travels while fishing in MT. The pattern is called Arrick’s Flying Ant and it’s been a favorite ant pattern among both resident anglers and guides for years. I recall my brother talking about this pattern over 6 years ago, but I became reacquainted with this pattern while fishing the Madison River two days ago. While I believe good tactics trump patterns, this fly saved the day while fishing near the $3 Bridge area with Charles Boinske, Cline Hickok, and Blue Ribbon Fly Shop Guide Drew Mentzer.
After a good morning nymphing up a few fish, the crew wanted to get some dry fly action in. With little to no signs of any hatches, Drew suggested that if we wanted to fish dry flies then we should try one of his “go to” ant patterns-Arricks’s Two Tone Flying Ant. The originator of the pattern is Arrick Swanson, owner of Arrick’s Fly Shop in West Yellowstone MT. Long story short-this pattern outperformed any dry fly pattern I had previously used that day.
The quality I like about the pattern is it’s visible, easy to tie, and floats like cork. As with some of my favorite trout patterns, this fly (i.e. this is the two tone variation) has contrasting colors built into the fly. Other colors options Arrick uses are straight black and straight cinnamon. Below is short but very informative YouTube video showing how Arrick ties this simple but deadly ant pattern.
Whether you tie your own flies or prefer to buy them from Arrick’s Fly Shop, I would humbly suggest adding a few to your dry fly arsenal this fall.
Happy Dry Fly Fishing
For more information on buying Arrick’s Flying Ant, please go to https://www.arricks.com
For information on how to tie Arrick’s Flying Ant, please click on the following link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fza-VWpwjOA
No, this is not about your bladder and its relation to fishing. Instead, it’s a fishing bum’s opinion on where some of the best fish hold during peak hatch season. Here in central Pennsylvania, some of our peak hatches occur from late April through early June. The largest trout in the stream get that way by taking up the best feeding lie in the stream. During this time, I’ve observed that some of the best fish take feeding position at the head (i.e. top part) of most runs and riffles. This may mean a twenty-inch fish holding in just three or four inches of water.
Why? One possible explanation is that the majority of our insects live in heavily riffled sections, and the head of such runs or riffles acts a food funnel for the trout. This can be especially important during hatches when insects dislodge from stream bottom as they migrate toward the surface to hatch. In these situations, the head of a run concentrates a lot of food within a small area.
These fish are more prone to spook because they are holding in a skinny water, where predators have easier access, so take extra caution when approaching such water. There’s a reason why a quality fish will continuously fight a strong current while holding in only inches of water: there’s abundance of food. The return on investment is worth the potential danger.
Recently I fished a popular stretch of a central-Pennsylvania spring creek. Both tan caddisflies and sulfurs were hatching in the early afternoon, and after catching a couple trout, I decided to sit down along a high bank to see if I could find a few trout to sight-fish to. At the top of a run was a 16-to-17-inch brown trout (a large trout for that stretch), in three inches of water. Seeing trout hold in skinny water isn’t necessarily unusual on this stream; what was interesting was the frequency with which this fish was feeding. Every four or five seconds, this fish was sliding right or left picking off drifting nymphs. This went on for five minutes before I couldn’t resist and made a cast to fish. The trout immediately pulled left and inhaled my nymph the moment it came in contact with the water.
The lesson here is to be ready for the strike to occur the moment the fly lands, especially when you’re fishing the head of a run or riffle. Things will happen fast, often faster than the angler can react to. This is why I prefer to use a tight-line nymphing rig, where you are in contact the moment the nymphs land on the water. You might think you’ve hit bottom because you’re using a heavy nymph in skinning water, but my limited experience that tells me it’s likely a trout instantly jumping on a nymph.
While this feeding position can take place throughout the year on my home waters, springtime is when I see it occur with the most consistently. However, I urge you to experiment “hitting the head” on your home waters during peak hatch season. You may be surprised to see some of the actively feeding big fish take position at the head.
We all have opinions about our fly-fishing tools and how we use them. Anglers develop confidence in certain tools that have produced positive results on the stream and often stick with those tools for some time. In some ways, we become creatures of habit, operating on a philosophy of “Why fix something that isn’t broken?”
But with all things fly fishing, I’m a tinkerer. Much of my enjoyment comes from experimenting with tactics and equipment and trying to better understand why some tools and tactics work better than others. I, too, occasionally get stuck in a rut and continue to use older methods and tools that worked for me in the past, but I like to experiment, believing that I can always get a little better with my technique and better match my tools with the task at hand.
For instance, I have tinkered quite a bit with sighter material, a colored section of monofilament placed within the leader to aid in strike detection. Before I go any further, let me make it clear that any material on the market today will work. What I’m going to do is advocate using a softer monofilament sighter when drifting lighter weight nymph rigs.
By drifting, I’m referring to using a lightweight nymphing rig, which essentially drifts in the water column by itself (without the angler needing to pull it down stream) while the angler stays ahead of the drift with the rod tip. You’re leading the drift-not pulling it. I feel one of the biggest misconceptions about tight-line nymphing is that you need to keep a “tight line” for strike detection by placing heavy weights on the nymphing rig, dragging it through the drift, and looking to feel the strike. Often a heavily weighted rig under tension is a good idea (see Tightline-Nymphing Tips: When in Doubt, Drag ‘Em), but there are situations where drifting a nymph is more effective than dragging. And a softer monofilament sighter may aid in detecting strikes while drifting light weight rigs.
Softer sighter material can be stretched easily, which makes it quite sensitive.
For example, while excellent fishing opportunities can be had year round in central Pennsylvania, April through mid-June is peak hatch season—when most anglers travel to our area to chase the bugs. When trout are looking upward for food, drifting a lighter-weight nymph rig may produce better results. A trout strike is going to be softer with such a light rig, so what I’m looking for is a sighter material that allows me to see (not feel) these softer strikes. Enter softer sighter material.
During the drift, softer monofilament will twitch nervously–going in and out of tension. When the twitching stops, which indicates the rig has encountered resistance, it’s time to set the hook. You can stretch this softer material with a light pull and see how it flexes like a rubber band; it’s this quality that offers an advantage when seeing soft strikes on light weigh rigs. This lesson has proven successful for catching species other than trout, as well.
Boiling Orvis sighter material for six minutes produces the right softness.
I have a quarter-acre pond on my property, which holds small perch and blue gill. Every day, my kids and I spend about an hour fishing with Tenkara rods and micro perch jigs (i.e. lightly weighted) on a level nymphing leader. At first our leaders were 6 feet of level 8-pound Gold Stren ( stiffer sighter material) attached to a 4-foot section of 5X tippet. But I would often see a perch inhale my jig with a strike that barely registered anything on the Gold Stren sighter material. Stren is highly visible but not limp. My kids were catching fish, but I wanted to see if a softer material could allow them to see the strike better. So I switched from using Gold Stren to using a 6-foot level section of soft sighter material, and the difference was immediate. Both my kids and I were able to see the soft perch takes by simply waiting for the nervous twitch to stop, and our catch rates increased.
I’ve experimented with my clients over the last two years by changing sighter material throughout the day while pursuing trout, and I’ve found that most anglers are quicker to register strikes when fishing lighter weight nymphing rigs by watching for the softer sighter to tighten. Remember that you’re more likely to see the strike rather than feel it when fishing with lighter weight rigs.
You can create a softer sighter material by boiling short sections of sighter material in pot for 5 or 6 minutes. Recently, I’ve been boiling 30-inch sections of Orvis Tactical Sighter material for 6 minutes. This drastically softens the material and creates a rubber-band-like stretch, which I feel is helpful for drifting light nymph rigs. Then I tie in the 30-inch sighter section into my favorite nymphing leader for drifting lighter nymph rigs. So give it a shot, and happy drifting!
I enjoy participating in the consumer fly-fishing show circuit every year. Presenting information is fun and I like meeting new people, but I really love sitting in on lectures by other anglers. As I get older, I’m more enthusiastic to listen to seasoned anglers share their knowledge and experiences. Often I learn new tactics, while at other times I’m simply reminded of lessons I may have forgotten. For example, I recently attended the VA FLY Fishing and Wine Festival and caught a few minute of Jason Randall’s presentation on “Where to Find Trout.” Jason is a veterinarian by trade, and he brings a simplified scientific approach to his other passion, fly fishing. He recently wrote a fantastic book, Nymph Fishing Masters, a collection of tips and information he obtained while fishing with several knowledgeable nymph anglers across the country.
One of the tips he discussed in his presentation is blind striking while nymph fishing, a tactic in which the angler sets the hook in a likely spot, despite not seeing any strike (e.g. an indicator or sighter hesitating or going under). Instead of watching for confirmation, the angler is simply anticipating a strike. Some anglers may call this a “sixth sense,” but experienced fly fishers who know the water well may refer to this as an educated guess: the laws of probability are too great not to set the hook despite not seeing any reason to set the hook.
Jason mentioned picking up this tip from Joe Humphreys. Incidentally, when I was in my late teens, one of my first lessons while fishing with Joe was about blind-striking. (Then this lesson reemerged 10 years later when another mentor of mine, 1989 World Fly Fishing Champion Wladyslaw “Vladi” Trzebunia, demonstrated this tactic while fishing near the Arctic Circle in Finland.) While watching Joe on my local waters, I noticed him presenting his nymphs to the head of a fast-moving riffle, drifting for two to three seconds, and then immediately lifting to set the hook to begin the next presentation. If there was no fish, his blind strike would unroll behind him, acting as a backcast. However, he would often hook a trout without ever seeing his line or leader hesitate.
When I asked him if he saw the fish strike, he was honest and said he did not. He explained that trout holding in pocket water, near shallow banks, and at the top of riffles are often aggressively feeding, which means there’s a tendency for them to jump on a nymph the moment it comes into sight. This quick reaction often translates into a missed strike, as the angler is in the process of adding slack into the presentation to allow the nymphs to drop to stream bottom. Slack is often necessary to give the nymphing rig enough wiggle room to drop to the strike zone.
So Joe would purposely blind-strike during the first and second presentation to a specific area. If he didn’t hook anything on the first two blind-striking presentations, then he would let the third (and all following presentations) drift farther downstream until the nymphs reached the end of the presentation or until he saw a strike. Again, he would blind strike the first 1-2 presentations in a specific lie then let the proceeding drifts occur until the end of the drift or until he noticed a strike. The blind strikes were simply part of his system. This blind-striking approach can be used in all water types, but I’ve found it to be more effective in the water types mentioned above, where trout will jump on your presentation the moment the nymphs enter the water.
Jason Randall refers to these water types as “high confidence lies.” So anytime you’re fishing these high confidence lies, don’t forget to blind strike. It’s an important tactic that even the best anglers I know use. So thanks for the reminder, Jason Randall. I’ll make sure to incorporate blind-striking on my next outing in those high confidence lies, and I hope you do, as well You’ll be surprised how well it works.
The concept of neutral buoyancy is something we all learned in high school. However, it wasn’t until I began streamer fishing in my late teens that I found a practical use for this concept. In short, neutral buoyancy means that an object in water will neither float to the surface or sink to the bottom; instead, it will suspend. So why would this be important to the streamer angler? For me, the idea of neutral buoyancy has allowed me to develop a better streamer approach for the waters I fish in central Pennsylvania–home of limestone rivers and spring creeks.
My approach to streamer fishing has changed over the years, from a fast-moving “strip like hell” approach to a drift-and-twitch presentation that I feel does a better job imitating a wounded baitfish. When observing a wounded minnow in the water, you may notice the fish drifting with the current along with the occasionally twitching or kicking. The injured minnow will also drop toward stream bottom in a slow, downward gliding motion and not like a rock. While heavily weighted streamers have their place–and I fish these patterns frequently in pocket water–I rely heavily on neutral streamers when I’m fishing upstream.
One of my first lessons in this approach came from watching my father-in-law fish a live minnow without any weight on the leader in slower moving pools. I observed how the minnow would slowly sink without falling completely to stream bottom. It would kick and swim, staying somewhere in the middle of the water column. Of course, the minnows he was fishing had an air bladder, which allows the fish to increase or decrease its buoyancy. When the minnow died and was no longer able to maintain air in the bladder, it would sink to bottom, and this is the moment a new minnow was placed back on the leader. My father in law felt he had more success while the minnow was drifting a foot or so off stream bottom, giving an occasional kick or twitch.
I ashamed to say that, while I remembered the conversation, it wasn’t until a number of years later that I applied that lesson to the fly rod. Some fly fishers get struck in a rut of fishing only one pattern type, and I suspect that’s what happened to me with heavily weighted streamers. I caught fish, but there were situations (e.g. cold snaps or off color water) where I wasn’t as successful as my fishing partners. Although there were several reasons for my lack of success, after numerous tests, I came reached the conclusion I was fishing streamers that were too heavy. The streams I fish are not deep, and the only way I could keep my dumbbell- and tungsten-weighted streamers off bottom was to maintain constant tension by using a quicker retrieve. As it turned out, this made me fish my flies too fast, whereas some of my fly-fishing friends and father-in-law were often fishing with half the retrieval speed. Of course, a faster retrieve will in some conditions, but when the water is cold or when visibility is low, a slower retrieve works better. When I slowed things down, my success rate immediate went up.
What I’m looking for in a streamer is a pattern that isn’t 100% neutral. Meaning, the pattern has just enough weight where it will slowly sink. I cast the streamer upstream, and then pull it downward into the water column where it will drift at that approximate level during the presentation. I’ll strip in the excess line as the drift comes towards me, with an occasional downward twitch of the rod tip to create a slight kicking action within the fly. My goal is to maintain a slow drift, just slightly little faster than the current.
Anyone familiar with The Hunger Games trilogy will recall a scene in the movie when the heroine sings the lyrics to a song titled, “The Hanging Tree.” This morbid tune is about death, but for some reason it made me think about several recent trips on a nearby trout stream.
Recently I’ve been amazed by the number of flies and rigs that anglers have left hanging on streamside trees and bushes. On one stretch of water that I frequent on a weekly basis, I’ll usually see a number of hanging patterns, so I wade across the stream and cut them free. The flies are in great shape since they’ve only been there for less than seven days (since the last time I waded across and cut them from the same spot). Sure enough, they will be in the same spots the time I show up. And it’s easy to wade across and retrieve the pattern, so I can’t understand why these patterns are left to hang.
I have heard numerous fly fishers criticize spin and bait anglers for throwing trash on the ground as well as leaving large bobbers and monofilament in the trees. This garbage becomes an eye sore for the next angler travelling through, and there’s always the possibility of a bird accidently eating the bait or lure hanging on the tree. In that case, the tree become a literal “hanging tree,” where bird corpses hang. In 2017, I cut down four dead swallows that mistook a hanging fly for live insect.
I’ve come to the realization that fly anglers are sometimes just as guilty (if not more so) as those who participate in other forms of fishing. The introduction of the Mop Fly, especially the larger and gaudier ones, has made this even more apparent. It’s easy to miss a Pheasant Tail Nymph or a small Elk-Hair Caddis dry fly that’s been broken off in a tree. These patterns are small and blend into the surroundings. The Fisherman’s Paradise section on Pennsylvania’s Spring Creek, is a perfect example of a highly pressured trout stream where, if you were to spend time looking close in the canopy surrounding the most popular sections, you would find dozens of small midge patterns hanging in the trees. However, replace every small, drab pattern for a brightly colored Mop Fly, and it would look like anglers were decorating for Christmas. Many of my favorite stream sections are now riddled with these gaudy patterns. In my opinion, this is no different than seeing empty beer cans or candy-bar wrappers on the ground. We are better than this. And let me make it clear, I’m not excusing myself for these eyesores and bird snares.
I make plenty of bad casts and stick flies in the trees with disturbing regularity. Often, I’ll decide to wait to wade across stream to retrieve the fly, so I can continue fishing the water without spooking the fish. Sometimes, however, I become so focused on fishing that I forget about the almost invisible midge pattern I left hanging. It’s easy to do with small patterns, but I can’t recall a time when I left a large brightly colored pattern in the tree. When I leave a Mop Fly in a tree, it’s always in view and reminds me not to forget it when moving to another section. The only reason I’ll leave a fly hanging in the tree is if it’s dangerous on not feasible for me to retrieve it. However, so many of the patterns I see hanging in trees are easy to retrieve.
Consider this a reminder for all anglers to think about the impact they leave for wildlife and other anglers. With more fly anglers fishing less public property, it’s important that we take the extra minute to do everything we can to retrieve our hanging flies, so the next angler is not exposed to our littering nor is a curious birds sent to its death. These occurrences are not 100% unavoidable, but we can do more to minimize our footprint.
One of my resolutions for 2018 is to leave no fly behind, so I don’t contribute to the hanging tree. I understand this goal is probably impossible, as there will be many occasions when my ill placed cast will not allow me to retrieve a fly (as when the fly ends up too high in the tree, where I can’t climb). However, if all anglers make a more conscious effort to leave no fly behind, we’ll allow the next passing angler to better enjoy his or her experience. And even better yet, we won’t be reminded of that morbid “Hanging Tree” song while bathing in our fly fishing bliss.
In fast-water stretches, it pays to err on the side of too much tension on your nymphs.
Nymphing without an indicator can be a challenge, especially when you’re fishing turbulent water where micro currents are moving in different directions. Some currents may be moving straight downstream, while some are pulling to the side, some are pushing downward towards the stream bottom, and so on. Instead of having an indicator to suspend and control the drift of your nymphing presentation, you have to decide both the direction and speed the rod tip needs to travel to stay in touch with your nymphs. It can be difficult to determine how fast or how slow to lead the flies in this kind of water are because it’s constantly changing.
To “staying in touch” with your flies, you need the rod tip to be in a position that maintains some degree of tension between angler and fly. This tension allows the angler to detect a take (by feel or by sight) when a trout strikes. Often, the ideal amount of tension is enough allow the angler to see a strike the moment a fish takes, but not so much that the angler is dragging the nymph. Usually you don’t want to drag the nymphing rig too fast, since that may cause a trout to refuse the presentation for the same reason that it would refuse a dragging a dry fly on the surface. Of course, it’s easier to see drag in a dry-fly presentation. When your nymphs are out of sight below the surface, sometimes all you can do is guess. So what do you do when you’re not sure about the correct speed to lead the flies in fast water?
Pocket water often contains conflicting micro currents that make indicator fishing difficult.
Asked about the best course of action when faced with such dynamic currents, a top Czech competitive angler told me, “I would rather have too much drag than too much slack when nymphing fishing.” You can’t detect a strike if there’s too much slack in the line. Slack may help you achieve a natural drift, but but if you can’t detect the strike then what’s the use? Although the drift may not be as natural when you’ve got too much tension in the line, at least you’ll be able to feel the strike.
This makes perfect sense in fast, turbulent water—such as pocket water and heavy riffles—where a dragging presentation can be masked by the strong currents and where trout don’t have as much time to think about whether or not to eat. Finally, adding weight to the rig, in the form a heavier fly or shot can create an anchor and better keep the nymphing rig deeper the water column, while the angler leads the presentation under tension. This approach may not work in slower and clearer stretches where trout can really examine your offering. However, when in doubt, drag your nymphs in fast-moving water. You may not fool as many fish, but at least you’ll see the strike.
Trout streams are like humans: every one has a different personality. Some are overly friendly, and some would like to kick you in the head. Idaho’s Silver Creek is often the latter. The key is to understand how to deal with such difficult folks, so you get what you want out of the relationship. Recently I spent time with several of Silver Creek’s seasoned fly-fishing guides, and they helped explain how to deal with (not conquer) with this fickle spring creek.
Silver Creek fish are leader-shy, and all the guides I fished with agree with on one tactic: “Fish the fly first.” In other words, make sure that the trout sees your fly first, rather than your leader. It’s likely you wont score even a juvenile trout if you make a traditional upstream presentation, casting from a position that puts the leader over the fish. Instead, you must position yourself upstream of the fish and cast at a downstream angle, so the fish sees the fly first. This practice is not uncommon on challenging rivers such as the Henrys Fork, Delaware, and South Holston, but it’s a change for me because I rarely nymph downstream.
A popular approach on Silver Creek is nymphing with a dry-dropper rig, which allows the angler to fish both a dry and a nymph. The challenging part (at least for me) is that almost all nymphing is done with a downstream presentation, which means that the nymph is downstream of the dry fly and it’s easy for slack to occur between dry and nymph. If slack between the dry fly and nymph is created during the presentation–if, for example, an overpowered cast creates a curve or slack in the line–it’s possible that slack will remain during the presentation. Such slack isn’t an issue on faster-moving waters where trout strikes are aggressive, and it’s no problem detecting such aggressive strikes even with slack between dry and nymph. It’s a different story on slow-moving streams, such as Silver Creek, where the trout lazily drift drift over to inhale food items, where such slack may cause the strike to go unregistered. Enter “pull back the tip.”
Pulling back the tip is a nymphing tactic that Silver Creek guides use to reduce slack when presenting nymphing rigs downstream. Although it works with dry-fly fishing, as well, I found it particularly to reduce slack as a nymphing rig drifts downstream toward the fish. Here’s the basic method:
Position yourself upstream of a feeding trout or a likely feeding lane.
Cast directly downstream toward your target, but stop the rod tip high so the rig falls far enough upstream of your target.
Keep the rod tip high, and then pull the tip back (upstream). This movement creates tension, removing all slack between dry fly and nymph, and holds the flies stationary on the water.
Lower the rod tip at the speed of the water to feed the tightly connected dry-dropper rig directly to the fish. To extend the drift, kick some slack out of the rod tip.
While this approach has been used for many years on waters such as the Henrys Fork and Silver Creek, I needed this reminder from my new friends after my upstream presentations failed to produce a single fish. Hopefully, this approach will help you hook up when you need to make a downstream nymphing presentation.
As Seen in the Orvis News
The heavy rainfall on my home waters this summer has left me two options: head north to fish the mountain streams, or deal with the high water. I’m happy to do either one. Normally, I would be fishing for smallmouths right now, but the current flooding conditions have forced me to refocus on trout. However, I’ve discovered that one of my favorite bass tactics—using brightly colored flies—works for trout, as well.
I always thought detecting strikes would be easy while bass fishing because the fish would pummel the fly during the retrieve, hitting the fly so hard that it would be impossible for the angler not to feel the strike. I couldn’t have been more wrong. Years ago, I was fishing in slow water with a local smallmouth expert, Andy Wagner, and the smallmouths were taking our streamers so softly that is was difficult to detect a strike. Andy told me to tie on a white streamer, so we could see the fly in the water. When we saw the white fly disappear, we’d know that a fish had eaten the fly. Ever since, I’ve been surprise how often I don’t feel a smallmouth eat my fly, but know to strike when I see the fly disappear. This is a great tip for the smallmouth angler, but it’s also a good one for trout anglers fishing high and off-color water.
It’s no secret that the soft water along the edges or behind any obstruction that slows the flow are the best spots to target trout during high water. Oftentimes, the soft pockets of along the edge are shallow. Your first impulse might be to use heavily weighted flies to get down and fast, but the opposite is actually true. If the nymph is too heavy, it hits stream bottom too fast and doesn’t give the trout time to find it in the water column. It’s also important to use a pattern that is highly visible. Since trout cannot see as far as they can in clear water, you basically need to drop the fly in front of its nose. And when you present a fly in such a manner, the takes are usually soft, as the trout simply inhales the pattern.
This is where a brightly colored fly comes in handy. Our bass rivers have been blown out for the last three weeks, so my kids and I have been casting for trout in high water. But my 7- and 9-year-old kids had difficulty detecting strikes, resulting in two frustrating days on the water. So we went to the local fly shop and bought some of the brightest Squirmy Wormy material we could get our hands on. The kids are now tying all their own worm patterns, so they went to work at the vise that night, and then went back out to the same waters we had had difficulty on the day before. Both kids attached a fluorescent red or orange Squirmy to their tight-line rig and were told to set the hook whenever they no longer saw the fly. Within a few minutes, they were both into a fish–not because the trout weren’t eating the patterns from the previous two days, but because they could see the fly disappear in the trout’s mouth.
I would consider myself decent at seeing strikes when tight-lining, but I was amazed how many times I saw the fly disappear with little hesitation on the line. This proves how often trout strikes go undetected. So the next time you’re fishing shallow and soft water along the banks during a high-water event, don’t forget to try a bright colored pattern. When the pattern disappears, set the hook. It may save the day.
My mentor Joe Humphreys will often ask anglers, “what is the difference between a great nymph angler and an okay one?” Then he’ll quickly answer his own question with the following answer, “one split shot”. What he means by this statement is, getting your nymphs to the strike zone is key to nymphing success. Good pattern selection is helpful but it doesn’t matter how good your pattern is if you aren’t presenting it at the fish’s feeding level. I was reminded of this lesson a few days ago while fishing a mountain stream near Yellowstone National Park with several friends. In this case, all it took was switching from a 7/64” brass bead head to a 7/64” tungsten bead to begin catching fish.
Although known for being easy to fish, small mountain streams will offer situations when trout are not willing to move higher in the water column to eat. Trout are not overly intelligent, but their sharp survival instincts have allowed them to live for millions of years. As it relates to their feeding habits, there are times during the day or during a specific season when trout will actively move laterally to feed on emerging nymphs. These are the few days of the year when it doesn’t seem to matter how shallow or deep your presentation is-trout are going to move to eat it. However, the angler needs to fine tune their weighted rig for the other 95% percent of the time, when trout are feeding horizontally-not vertically. I’m not talking about the exact precision a carpenter uses to make fine English furniture, but we need to be in the ballgame when it comes to presenting nymphs.
This brings me back to fishing with two friends on a mountain stream near Yellowstone National Park. A typical high gradient mountain stream, this body of water has deep pockets and averages two feet in length, which meant the drift were short. Several near freezing nights made for challenging morning fishing. With basically no dry fly action in the morning, we needed to nymph in order to catch fish so we went with a dry dropper rig with the hopes of switching to dry flies once the trout began to show interest in our suspender dry fly. I was optimistic that my presentation didn’t need to be rolling near stream bottom so I attached a #14 brass bead head (7/64” to be exact) nymph and dropped it 20 inches off a #12 bulked up X Caddis. By “bulked up” I mean tying in a liberal amount of deer hair to make the dry fly more buoyant and capable to suspending heavier nymphs.
This exact rig worked great the day before in a very similar scenario along a neighboring body of water, which contained similar water. The only difference was a small hatch of drakes and olives had fish eating higher in the water column and on the surface. My nymphs didn’t need to riding deep since trout were looking up for food and the brass bead head nymph had just enough weight to get into the strike zone. With no signs of hatching insects and after going 15 minutes without a strike, I switched to the exact same nymph pattern but this one had a 7/64” slotted tungsten bead. NOTE: I now exclusively use slotted tungsten beads rather than the traditionally drilled beads. This way I can easily distinguish the tungsten beads from the brass beads by locating the slotted section on the bead. After the first cast with the tungsten nymph, the dry fly suspender drifted significantly slower in the pocket and I immediately began catching fish…just like with a simple weight adjustment. Then I switched back to the brass bead head to see if the additional weight was the factor. And again, I went fishless in the next five minutes with the brass bead, then began catching fish the moment I switched back to a tungsten nymph.
It’s not hard science but it was enough proof for me that a small difference in weight can make a difference while nymphing. While fishing a small mountain stream, I feel pattern choice isn’t all that important. What was important was that my rig was riding deeper in the column, which made it easier for lethargic fish to eat. And this is why I’ll often tie one size nymph (e.g. #14 pheasant tail) but I’ll that same size pattern with vary sizes of brass and tungsten beads. Although you can use split shot to add weight, I try to avoid adding split shot to dry dropper rigs as I find myself getting tangles when casting (not lobbing) the rig to a target.
When your nymphing rig isn’t producing-make a weight change. Such a weight adjustment will only take a minute to make but can add hours of enjoyment to your fishing. This is just another example of why I enjoy fly fishing-it’s an activity that requires troubleshooting. If you want to go from being an “okay” nympher to being a “great” one, maybe the only thing that’s stopping you is a slotted tungsten bead.