Hidy Ho Good Neighbors!
Last blog talked about the need and importance of the third bug. I’m referring to the fly in your rig that is hooking most of the fish you are catching. Where legal, throwing a 3 bug rig is very productive. Like I mentioned last time, the first 2 bugs are the meat and potatoes and the 3rd bug is your rock star. It’s even more important to find your “third bug” in a 2 bug drift where the fish only have 2 choices you can offer.
Let’s back up a bit. My first dropper is typically a low riding nymph, such as a stone fly, larger mayfly nymph, worm pattern, or scud pattern, to name a few. It’s a low riding, close to the bottom morsel that attracts as well as looks like a tasty meal. I expect it to be consumed every trip out, or it gets the boot. The second, or middle fly is usually a higher off the bottom drifting nymph, pupa or emerger. It matches what is hatching or what I expect to hatch. It can be any size or stage depending on bug activity or expected bug activity. Typical 2nd bugs are, soft-hackles, pupa and emerger patterns (RSII’2, Barrs Emergers, Bead Head Soft Hackles, etc). Winter time fishing will find midge larva (Black Beauty for example) in this position.
Now the third bug. This bug is usually the highest off of the bottom in the drift (furthest from the weight) and is usually, not always, an emerger or pupa pattern. For more information on how I rig, pick up a copy of The Fly Fishers’ Playbook. This bug needs to produce and produce well. This bug is supposed to mimic the most prevalent bug coming off and should match the stage of what the fish are feeding on. It’s the bug that during the fight with a hooked fish you just know the fish is on it.
Last blog I wrote that I was looking for that bug. I found it last week. It was right under my nose…….It’s none other than the Chocolate Thunder, or the real name is a Brown RSII. It’s an old Solitude pattern and has been fantastic for me for several years. Quick and easy to tie, and very durable, this bug belongs in every box as a third bug. I roll it in a size 18 or 20 virtually year-round.
I’m always looking for that third bug…….Most times it’s in your fly box!
Fear No Water!
Dream Stream Thunder
Double Thunder on the Eagle
The Third Bug aka Chocolate Thunder
Hidy Ho Good Neighbors,
May is for love. August is for scuffling and fighting your way through the maze of thunderstorms, warm water, waning bugs and high skies. For a guide, the dog days of August are just about putting your head down and keeping moving. Fishing can be frustratingly tough and amazingly beautiful at the same time.
Just the other day I had a couple from Florida. Morning started out at about 42 degrees and the water was a bit off color when we first got wet at about 7:30 am. Had a few eats and one in the bag in short order, but then BOOM, the water goes off-color. So much so, that we had to move upstream. We battled for about a half hour after our move just looking for feeding fish. Finally, I dropped into a stretch I’d never fished and BANG, we doubled up on a fine pair of Browns. Tough and beautiful.
I’m pretty stubborn when it comes to bug selection and the nymph rig in general. The tougher the fishing gets, the more I dig my heels in and attempt to beat the fish by tiny, subtle adjustments to rigs and fly choice. I run my basic rig, whereas a lot of fly fishers increase leader lengths and go to smaller bugs, I stay with my usual lengths and usual sizes, and strive to refine speed and depth when nymphing. I try to match and stay ahead of the hatch as closely as possible, and I’m always looking for that third bug.
What’s the third bug? It’s simply my money bug in any rig (Colorado it’s legal to use 3 flies). The first two droppers of my rig are the meat and potatoes of the rig. The third bug, now that’s the bug that’s supposed to be deadly. In August it’s hard to find that third bug. Referring back to the trip with the Florida couple, we caught fish on San Juan Worms, Mercer’s Golden Stone, a Soft-Hackled Pheasant Tail, and lastly, the third bug. The third bug did its job, but not with as much zest as I need in a third bug, so it’s off to the fly tying bench I go to make a few adjustments.
My third bug often is a cross-over fly. In other words, it can mimic or represent a couple different bugs in the drift. For about the last five weeks, that bug has been the “Yellow Suzie”. Suzie was named by a female client that forgot that the fly represented a Yellow “Sally” Stonefly, and mistakenly called it Suzie. The name stuck. Suzie also represents a Pale Morning Dun (PMD) emerger AND a Caddis pupa all rolled into one. Very simple, deadly and “Filthy” bug as a young man said. I guess in this case “Filthy” is a good thing. Whatever happened to “sick”, “phat”……..”Awesome”? Oh well, if it’s filthy, I’ll take it
Sadly, Suzie wasn’t rockin’ the river last week like she was and she will need to step aside for another bug to give it a rip. Oh she caught a few, but my third bug needs to produce, so she may be in mothballs til next June. Now it’s time to sit down and tie a few patterns and give ‘em a shot on the Eagle as the dog days of August rage……….It’s gotta’ be part soft-hackle, part nymph, part emerger, perfectly sized and colored, can be dead drifted and swung, and most certainly needs to be……………. filthy.
Fear No Water
Yellow “Suzie”, 2457 hook, #20, yellow floss body, partridge hackle, red thread head………
Hidy Ho Good Neighbors!
I’m not a purist, or elitist, nor traditionalist. I just like to see a bunch of fish hit the bottom of the bag. That brings me to my point regarding stripping versus spooling. I’m talking about using the fly reel for you crooked folks out there!
Lately, I’ve guided a few folks that prefer to use the strip method to play and land fish. Not ripping on anyone, but it got me to thinking, which at times, can be dangerous. Again, folks can bring fish in on the fly rod anyway they see fit, but I’m inclined to fight and land fish the way I was taught many moons ago. On the reel, let the drag do the heavy lifting.
The strip method involves using the management loop behind your “trigger” finger to play a fish. I have used this for small fish on occasion, but no matter the size of the fish, I have clients use the spool method. When stripping in a fish, the angler “feels” the fish’s strength, grit, runs, and jumps through constant contact with the line in their off or non-dominant hand. As the fish gets closer to being landed, a large spool of stripped in line forms at the angler’s feet.
Couple things come to mind: first off, that pile of line bothers me. Just another thing to get screwy in the process, especially on big fish where you may have to move several feet to keep the fish at proper lateral angles. There are thousands of hours and dollars put into today’s reel drag systems. The smoother the drag the better. Although some folks can do it, I think it’s hard for the average angler to match the smoothness of a reel drag system while allowing line to go out to a running fish. A ton of snap-offs and “unbuttons” occur if the drag is not smooth. Again, especially on bigger fish.
I like to see people get into an offensive attack mode when landing fish. I feel as if using the strip method puts you into a defensive mode, which takes longer to land fish, which can eventually lead to higher fish mortality. The quicker the angler gets the upper hand, uses proper angles to move fish, the sooner that fish can be landed. That’s why I advocate spooling.
Some may say that it’s too difficult to teach spooling fish after they eat. It’s really quite simple, and the angler never takes his or her eyes off of the fish. Here’s my method: Once the set takes place and we have a solid hook-up, the angler simply keeps the rod in a high set position, the rod hand trigger finger pinches the line to the cork grip, and the angler simply uses the non dominant hand to spool the line tight. It takes less time than it took for me to write it out. After a hook-up, and when a fish makes a run directly at the angler is about the only time I’ll ask for the angler to strip in line. As soon as the run toward us is over, we quickly re-spool the line and get back on the reel. After the fly line is spooled entirely, just let go of the line altogether. Present-set-spool-let go……..
Today’s reels have a neat feature that many folks I fish with don’t even realize is there. You can quickly spool or take up line by simply placing your fingers on the outside of the reel spool or rim and spinning it. Many inches of line quickly are spooled onto the reel. Once that is accomplished, the angler simply lets go of the pinched line, and bingo, the fish is on the reel. At this point the angler can become offensive not having to worry about how much pressure to put on the line as they attempt to keep angles while stripping in a fish. That annoying pile of stripped line is non-existent.
Once spooled, your off hand now is ready for using the reel crank to bring in fish. This does take some teaching and practice, but one simply doesn’t steadily crank in a fish on a fly rod. The cranking is in a “machine gun” mode. Crank quickly when you can, and stop immediately when you feel the fish run or headshake. After a few fish you’ll have it. It’s like a relationship, give and take….Mostly take.
Years ago, I saw an article by Landon Mayer on how to set drag. Liked it so much that he gave me permission to use it in The Fly Fishers Playbook. To properly set reel drag, find a partner or something heavy, and tie your leader off to it. At full rod flex, the drag should be set so that it only releases line with a simulated fish head shake or run. I have found that most folks set the drag entirely too light. Experiment with it.
Some of the older reels or low quality reels, have inefficient drag or no drag system at all. No problem. Simply spool up the fish as I described, and use your off hand to “palm” the drag. Your palm simply becomes a braking system on the reel for line going out, and is in perfect position to machine gun reel as needed. It’s referred to as “palming” because your palm alternately pushes against or releases pressure from the reel spool according to how the fish is fighting. Although not as smooth as the reel drag, palming is quite effective once you learn it, and again, that pile of line is not anywhere to be found.
Like I said, makes no difference which method folks use to bring in fish. It’s like anything else, it’s a personal decision. I just like to do it a certain way and thought I’d share it with you.
Thanks, and Fear No Water!
Can you imagine this fly rod angle while stripping line?
Off hand free for additional leverage…..
Big fish, big run, reel does the work.
Hidy Ho Good Neighbors!
Things are really crankin’ on this end. In the final stages of the next book forces me to be busy fixing and replying to my publisher/editor. That’s a fair amount of work, but they’re pleasant folks that are going to make me better. I’ve also been guiding a bunch, putting on several hundred miles a week, tying bugs at all hours, and trying to keep up with family life. It’s easy to let time slip by and miss out on some very important details.
I’ve mentioned this before, but this is the first year for me on the Eagle River with Minturn Anglers. I had never even stepped a wading boot in that river prior to re-compassing my guide career this year. Combine a new river with a busy schedule, and it’s easy to miss details. Ah, but I haven’t. Most that know me knows that the original Fly Fishers Playbook was written using notes from 5 solid years of journal entries after guide trips. Honestly, I got away from that a bit the last few years (except for the juicy stuff), because I was pretty used to the South Plattes’ moods. Well, I’m back to journaling out of need not habit.
Back in February, I talked of historical, seasonal and conditional habits of rivers, specifically bug life (it’s in the archives). As I muddle through this first year on the Eagle, I’ve found the need to identify several bug, river, and weather conditions so I can be ahead of the game next year. It will take at least 2 years of trip journaling for me to start to feel comfy that I’m figuring out that river stem. I’ve talked of rejuvenation from the job move, and this just confirms it. I love this stuff.
My suggestion is to grab yourself a pen and paper and do some journaling after your fishing trips. The benefits are real, as you begin to build a case on the river. Patterns start to develop that aren’t readily apparent and you’ll put more fish in the bag. Here’s an entry from yesterday:
I always tell folks to design and build their own personalized “Playbook”. Simply journaling trips is a great start. Soon you’ll be building a pile of information about the rivers you fish, their bugs, their fish, their weather, and their little idiosyncrasies that you need to know if you want to get everything out of every cast on those rivers.
Til next time, Fear No Water!
Hidy Ho Good Neighbors,
One of the perks from guiding is the chance to watch a lot of folks catch and land fish. Explaining to someone that has never fought nor landed a fish properly using a fly rod is like explaining a video game over their shoulder in the heat of the battle. Moves one makes intuitively or by “feel” are born out of experience of landing many fish. As guides, we can flatten that learning curve in a half day provided the fish are eating regularly, and by teaching a few basic principles.
First off, it’s called “angling” for a reason. Landing fish is as much about angles and physics as any part of fly fishing. Your fly rod is a lever (class 3 I think), and also acts as a shock absorb-er. The fly reel not only stores line, but can become a smooth fish slowing drag device. For now, let’s just concentrate on the fly rod angles.
After hook-up, get the fish on the reel as quickly as possible. For those folks that like to “strip” fish in, no worries, I teach folks to get on the reel because it gives them one less thing to think about as they begin to learn proper landing techniques. Once on the reel, get your rod hand thumb as high as your hat brim. At this point, your rod elbow should be pointing toward the fish. Now the fun begins. I always tell folks that “now you’re in a relationship with the fish”. It’s like a dance, move-counter move. Get caught standing still, and you’re date will be gone…..
If the fish “zigs”, you “zag”, keeping constant lateral pressure with the angles of the fly rod. It’s ok, when safe, to move up and down the bank to keep those working angles. As you reel and the fish gets closer, the angle of pressure on the fish should begin to be “over” the fish. In other words, lateral pressure begins to become upward/lateral pressure. This is a critical part of the land job, because as you transition back and forth between lateral and upward pressure, it’s easy to lose proper angles AND put way too much pressure on the fish.
This is what I really want to point out to folks. Imagine that you’re walking your dog. You are not pulling your dog as you control it, you are simply limiting, with positive pressure, where it can go. Think of it this way, if your dog’s leash were to snap during a walk, your leash arm shouldn’t go swinging violently the other direction. This is what I see all the time. A fish will come unbuttoned, and the anglers rod arm goes flying the opposite direction. Improper angles and pressure? Yup.
In the far left picture, I am keeping lateral and up pressure during the transition. If that fish came loose the fly rod would react more “up” than away, and toward the bank behind me. The goal is to make that reaction as minimal as possible. That would mean you are using the fly rod angles and pressures perfectly. Look at the picture on the right. This was on a guide trip, and this client had rarely had a fly rod in hand. He was ready to land his own fish by the end of the day. If the fish were to come unbuttoned at the instant the picture was snapped, his reel and hand, if the correct angles and pressure were installed, would move to the red square position. If improper angles and pressures were installed, the the reel would move to the end of the blue line violently. It’s observable on the anglers part, and easily correctable.
Once you get into proper fish-fighting position, the fly rod becomes Harry Potter’s wand. Move it side to side, low to high, near to far. Whatever it takes to keep constant proper pressures. I’ve a “Landing Fish” video on Youtube somewhere, and a link in my archives (somewhere).
As always, feel free to shoot me questions, share this blog link, or contact me if you want to fish.
Fear No Water,
Guide, Minturn Anglers
I can remember it like it was yesterday. Ten years old, cut-off jeans, Chuck Taylor Hi-tops, and a red t-shirt with one of those little pockets. I was standing knee deep in the Yellowstone river, fiberglass rod, Martin “electric reel”, hand-tied leaders, and I was swinging wet flies to big Cutthroats. Rock and Roll.
Nowadays, most folks have forgotten wet flies in favor of their favorite pattern nymphs or articulated streamers. I’ve no problem with those patterns, but I sure do like throwing the old stuff. They still work.
Got back into soft-hackles more than a couple years ago, and most days you will find a soft-hackled pheasant tail in my rig somewhere. Lately, since I’ve been guiding on the Eagle River, I’ve gotten back into the “partridge series” because of the crazy amounts of caddis in that river.
I really like tying into fish with the Partridge and Orange, Partridge and Green, Partridge and Peacock, and Crackleback patterns I fished as a kid. They really mimic caddis pupa and can be dead drifted and swung very effectively. Because of the nature of caddis pupa emergence, these bugs are perfectly suited for the job. My clients love it when a fish eats hard at the end of the drift in the swing phase. The fish pictured ate the Partridge and Orange hard on the swing.
Typically, the bugs are the last or point fly in my 3 bug nymph rig. I do this to accentuate the movement (like roller derby whip for us old folks), and the farther the bug is away from the weight the higher in the column she’ll travel. There are times when I place the bug in the middle position of the rig, and I’ll tie it eye-to-eye to flatten the profile. (a search thru the archives will show eye-to-eye connections, rigs, etc.)
One other trick you can employ is to get upstream of fish feeding on caddis pupa or adults, and strip out enough line to set you up for a swing directly in front of those fish. Employ a classic nymph drift by casting roughly 45 degrees upstream, let the bugs drift drag free for three quarters of the drift, stop your fly rod movement at the three quarter mark, and allow your flies to swing up through the columns and across in front of the fish. Deadly.
Sometimes newer isn’t better, only newer. Give those old patterns a try sometimes, just like that old time rock and roll.
See if you can identify the bugs below……….One is different, but the same idea. Used it hundreds of times.
Fear No Water,
I feel sorry for them, I really do. Just finished guiding the South Platte near Denver over the Memorial Day weekend. It was cold and rainy, but that didn’t stop the multitudes of anglers and “recreationalists” from enjoying time on the water. I don’t have any ill feelings to folks getting out and using Mama Nature, I just feel a bit sorry for the fish.
Right now, the South Platte near Deckers, Colorado is one of the few games in town. Because of our epic snow pack, and a very wet spring on top of that, the rivers are pissed and dangerous. More water than I’ve seen in a long time. The South Platte is a tailwater tucked close to Denver. Certainly, she is going to feel the brunt of traffic, because amazingly, she is still below normal flows. Oh, the water will come, but for now, she’s “it”.
I watched the fishing success dwindle in the last 3 days leading up to Memorial Day. Oh, we were still catching fish, but it became more and more technical. Drifts had to be more precise, mends more complete, and sets were on anything that looked suspect. You just had to work much harder than usual. I got to thinking, “How many times has this fish been hooked this week?” “Today?”
Where the fish would usually hold in a particular seam in a particular run in days prior, they just weren’t there. You may think, well they just went deeper in the column and you can’t see them. Nope, not in this case. The flow is only a little over 100cfs, meaning, you could see a quarter underwater in most of the runs we fished.
No, these fish headed for the hills. By noon on Monday, we were catching fish on skinny rigs (check the archives for more info), along the edges. One big brown comes to mind. He ate my Brachy Pupa, on the far bank, in about a half foot of water, on the first drift. We didn’t know he was there, but assumed the fish had moved because they weren’t in the usual haunts. I know this fish, where he usually holds, and how he likes to eat. He broke the rules, and he lunged out of my net before photos. Salty bastard.
Have a few other thoughts as well. One thought centered around how grateful I am that fly fishers are so diligent when it comes to releasing fish unharmed. The fish in this area are for the most part, clean, fat, healthy, and pound for pound will fight with any in the state. My other thought is how grateful I am to be able to work on a resource such as this so close to home. Shouldn’t feel sorry for them I guess, they’re doing fine. When the fishing gets technical, the technical go fishing………….
Fear No Water!
Don’t forget FATHERS DAY is coming up. Pick up a copy of the Fly Fishers Playbook for your favorite father, or son, or brother, or son-in-law or…….!