Hidy Ho Good Neighbors,
“Did you hear that?” My client says, “Hear what?”. “I thought I heard a fish eat on the surface downstream to our left”, I reply. “Nope, didn’t hear a thing”, he says. This conversation, and many like it, happens often while I’m guiding.
Fly fishing is mostly about sight. Being able to see what is happening while following an indicator or dry fly is easy. It’s directly observable. The ability to “feel” underwater and hear peripheral happenings on the surface is the next step in becoming an accomplished angler.
I find the best anglers, fly fishers, are those that have the whole package. They can pick up several clues about what’s going on around them while concentrating on the “sight game”. The ability to multi-task while getting great drifts is paramount because it helps you “see” what’s going on around you.
Seeing adult bugs fluttering over the river is important, but hearing fish eat on the surface without a visual clue is deadly. Also, the ability to discern by sound how the fish are eating on top, and the ability to make appropriate changes to your rig, without a visual clue is huge.
One of the best days of fishing I ever had was on the Arkansas River near Salida, Colorado, during a caddis hatch. During daylight hours, it was easy to see my offering and the subsequent splashy takes on the surface. Where it really got fun was when the sun went down and I continued to fish in the dark throwing dry caddis imitations to eager fish. Having a general idea of where your flies where in the drift, and setting on the sound of the fish eating, was an absolute blast. I think that day went a long way in teaching me how to dial into a river without being able to see. I have done it several times since on various rivers in the Rocky Mountain West.
If you do it enough, you can tell the difference between a sip, a flush, and a splashy take. Splashy takes are easy to recognize, but sips and flushes aren’t so easy to discern. Splashy takes are a good sign that trout are eating Caddis, Stoneflies or other bugs on the surface that skitter, skate, or hatch in one fluid motion. Sips signify fish that are eating duns, spents, or cripples on the surface in a peaceful cadence. You have to really listen for sips, but I often hear those before I see them because the fish may only expose a nose and part of their back. Flushes are fun. For those of you that have ever thrown mouse patterns in the dark, you know what I mean when I talk about a flush eat. It’s the sound of a fish attacking something on the surface. Usually, it’s a big fly eaten by a big fish. It’s a large circular take with an unmistakable sound.
Often times, I will hear a fish eat on top, and quickly look in that direction for the telltale ring or floating air bubble that shows broken water surface. At this point, using my experience and sight to determine which flies are hatching comes into play. Figure the type of take, where the fish ate, and finally the adults that are hatching, to formulate your plan and next move.
The other sense I mentioned earlier was feel. In most fly fishing situations, the “feel” comes after the hook-up. If I’m Czeck nymphing, feel is a sense that comes in handy as there are very few visual clues that tell you when you have a fish eat. Sometimes when fishing soft hackles under and indicator you also get to feel the fish eat on the swing portion of your drift. Another chance to feel a fish eat is when you’re chucking streamers. Streamers and Czeck nymphing are unique in that you can not only feel fish takes, but you can feel the water. You feel differences in water speed, depths, and hydraulics. In other words, you can feel without seeing what’s going on with current sub-surface. It’s pretty cool, and will teach you volumes of information that you can apply to all disciplines of fly fishing.
As a guy that’s bow hunted nearly his entire life, I’ve learned what it takes to get close to game to seal the deal. A lot of my successes have come from secondary senses. Although I rely on sight predominately, I am constantly striving to bring my other senses into play as I fly fish. Give it a try!
My sense of smell tells me dinner is ready……Fear No Water!
Let the force be with you….
Hidy Ho Good Neighbors!
Last time I talked about the systematic approach in attacking the river. We discussed reading the water, fish and bugs, and how to formulate a plan. This plan is flexible, but is always cut out of the options cloth, and not the guesses cloth. Just like one roll cast should set up the next roll cast, one drift leads to and sets up the next one. Sytematically….
Let’s break this down further and discuss just the drift. Everyone knows the 4 basic tenets of a drift: Depth, Speed, Profile, and Color. Most folks think that these are only nymph drift specific. I don’t think so, I think those 4 basic tenets apply to pretty much every type of fishing in general. Whether you’re chasing Tarpon in salt or bluegill in a pond, they are complimentary. You still have to present your offering at or above fish level (most often), at the right speed, size/profile, and color.
I can remember as a kid catching tons of bluegill on a flyrod in Arizona. My dad would drop me off at the city lake where I would spend his entire work day menacing those panfish. That 9’ rod came in real handy as I would simply reach out and dangle the fly right in front of those fish. They couldn’t resist it, especially if it was a small black wooly bugger. That was my first experience with depth, profile and color. As I learned to overhand cast that summer, I began to learn about speed as I would strip in the bugger in hopes of hooking up.
Ah, but as I learned about stripping in flies, I was also learning valuable lessons about the relationship between depth and speed, and how they can effect one another. Once I began to let the fly drop to fish depth, and strip at an appropriate cadence and speed, I began to hook small largemouth with regularity. Too fast, and I lost depth, too slow and I sunk below the feeding zone. And as I began to make and fish my homemade bass poppers on the surface, I began to really get a taste of the importance of depth, speed, profile, and color.
So what is depth? Depth is where the fish are. Do I have to nymph fish to catch fish subsurface? Nope, you can work them over with a streamer at proper depth and speed, or if they are eating in the film, you can throw the skinny rig at them. Did just that last week. Several fish were eating dun baetis on the surface, instead of going to dries, I removed all weight, slid the indicator up to the leader/butt knot, greased the tippet sections with floatant, and turned my folks loose. We hooked and landed several fish this way because we focused on depth of the feeding fish, speed of our offering, and the proper profile and color of fly. It is akin to my first brushes with bluegill, put the fly in front of the fish.
Speed is the rate of travel of our flies. We always want them to be cruising at the proper behavioral drift or flow. Naturally. If I’m nymphing under an indicator, I want the INDICATOR travelling half of the speed of the surface water. This ensures my FLIES are traveling at the proper speeds subsurface. If I am tossing dries, I want clean, accurate drifts of proper speeds as I travel over the feeding fish. With streamers, I need to experiment with retrieves until I dial in proper speeds and feeding fish depths. Folks that streamer fish a lot, develop an inane ability to predict depth and speed without too much experimentation. It’s a thing to behold. They can “feel” depth and speed.
As for profile and color, well honestly, a lot of that is observable. Don’t wish to oversimplify here, because it is critical to success, but a rudimentary knowledge of entomology can help you dial in very quickly. However, I believe you can throw the right bugs at wrong depths and speeds and not catch fish. Conversely, you can throw the wrong flies at proper depths and speeds and still pick up a few. So, in my mind, profile and color are important, but not as much as depth and speed. Once you master the 4 basic tenets of fly fishing, there’s no turning back. Your game will escalate.
Used the skinny rig on this nice Eagle River Brown.
Well, folks, that’s it for now. Feel free to chime in with questions or comments, AND thanks for buying my latest book. It’s doing well.
Fear No Water.
Depth, speed, profile, color.
Deep, dredging nymph rig earned this fine fish.
Parachute Adams at the proper speed brought this fish up.
Hidy Ho Good Neighbors!
Automatic systematic. That’s what I think of as I prepare to fish or guide another day. I want to take a step by step approach to attacking the river, and do my level best to take out guessing what I need to do, and instead approach the river with options. Just like a quarterback at the line of scrimmage, I want to be able to audible or change the play, in a systematic way. In other words, if this is presented, I do this, if this presents, I do this, and so on. Try not to guess.
The quarterback “reads” the defense and I try to incorporate that into my mindset. There are several reads that need to occur. First off, read the water. Most everyone has heard that term, but my experience tells me a lot of anglers really don’t read the water, they see it as they see all typical runs, and fish it accordingly. I submit that even though a run may appear as other runs you’ve fished, it doesn’t take much to make it fish very differently. Therefore, you’ve got to study the run and look for everything from shelves to obstructions that could harbor fish. One well-placed boulder can change the behavioral drift in an instant. Slow down and really study.
Read the fish. Look for where fish are holding both laterally and longitudinally. This will tell you volumes. If fish are belly down on the bottom and actively feeding in a side to side, short sway action, they are probably eating nymphs in the lower column. If fish are in the middle column and actively chasing side to side in a longer swinging pattern, it’s a good bet they’re eating pupa or emergers of some sort. If the fish are in the upper column and elevating to eat in the film, then most likely they are eating bugs either trapped in the film, or bugs that are just about to emerge. These examples are simply basic ways to look at feeding behaviors, and there’s still a missing piece of the puzzle. What about the bugs?
Read the bugs. A good, blue collar ability to read basic insects and their stages is critical for this systematic step. If you can tell the difference between an adult Pale Morning Dun and an adult Blue wing olive, then you’re on your way. If you can read them through their life-cycle that’s even better. When you flip a few rocks rummaging for bugs, and not only can you identify, but match and know the next stage of that insect, you are really ahead of the game.
Ok, so you’ve read the water, locating likely holds, and determined how to fish the nuances for the best behavioral drift. You’ve also read the fish and have determined how they’re eating, giving clues as to what stage of the insects are being consumed. Finally, you’ve identified the bugs either in the air (preferred) or by rummaging rocks. Simply reverse engineer systematically.
I see caddis adults in the air and capture one to look closely at size and body color. I don’t see any splashy rises but the fish are swinging side to side and elevating up and down with urgency. It’s a good bet the fish are feeding on the pupa phase of the adult caddis you’re seeing. Find a good soft hackle with appropriate body color and size, and dead drift and swing that bug in the proper columns with confidence.
My examples in this post are simplified for sure, but I hope you get the idea of the systematic approach. Certainly, there’s a lot more to it like the adjustments you can make to really dial in your drifts, but let’s save that for a bit down the road. Stay systematic my friends.
Fear No Water,
Reverse engineer from here once you’ve read the water and fish….
P.S> I’ve attached this years speaking schedule, if you’re in the area, look me up!Also, if you want me to speak near you to a group. class, organization, or club, just let me know!
Duane Redford’s Fly Fishing Presentation Schedule 2015
Denver Fly Fishing Show- January 9, 10, 11 (Check show times for Destination Theater)
Tucson, Arizona- March 4th– Old Pueblo TU Chapter #531. Viscount Hotel 6:30pm
Salida, Colorado- March 11th– Collegiate Peaks Trout Unlimited. Boathouse Cantina 6:00pm
Parker, Colorado- April 4th – Minturn Anglers, Book Signing TBD
Aurora, Colorado- April 9th– Cherry Creek Anglers. Parker Senior Center 7:00pm
Lakewood, Colorado- April 11-12th – Ascent Fly Fishing Rendezvous, Holiday Inn April 12th 1pm
Evergreen, Colorado- April 15th– Evergreen Trout Unlimited. Beau Jo’s Pizza 7:00pm
Bailey, Colorado- April 22nd – Platte Canyon University, Platte Canyon HS 6:00pm
Eagle, Colorado- April 29th – Eagle Valley Library, 6pm
Colorado Springs, Colorado- May 7th-Cheyenne Mountain Trout Unlimited (TBA)
Chandler, Arizona- May 13th– Desert Fly Casters. 1775 W. Chandler Blvd, Chandler AZ 6:00pm
Phoenix, Arizona- May 14th– Arizona Flycasters Club. Sunnyslope Community Center 7:00pm
Lakeside, Arizona- May 20th– White Mountain Fly Fishing Club. Lakeside Fire Dept. 6:00pm
Steamboat Springs, Colorado- October 7th– Yampa Valley Fly Fishers (TBD)
Hidy Ho Good Neighbors!
“Feels like I’m fishing in a damn Margarita!” That’s what one of my long time clients blurted out as we fished through a slush hatch on the Eagle River last week. The slush was very thick because of the overnight cold water and air temperatures. Slush is not at all an odd occurrence on rivers in the winter, but this “hatch” was beyond the norm. As we fished it I began to realize it wasn’t just on the water surface. Oh no, this stuff was flowing through all of the water columns. Bottom to top.
Thankfully, we hooked plenty of trout, but it didn’t come without several modifications to our rigging. It was readily obvious that only about 20% of our drifts were actually getting down to fish level because the rig couldn’t punch through the slush. I decided I needed to revert to high water nymphing tactics to move fish.
In high water conditions, it’s difficult to get the flies down quickly to fish levels. Fish levels in that water are typically in the lower columns, and more often than not, the fish are using bottom structure to fight the current. Same goes in slush, the fish are holding low to the bottom to escape flowing ice and will move side to side minimally to eat. Factor in the cold water conditions (37 degrees) and they will “sway” even less. They still gotta eat.
Let’s discuss bugs first, then we will delve into the rig. Historically, I know that on most rivers in the winter, midges are the main course meal. That said, in my initial rig I’m going to have a midge larva to start, and progress to a midge pupa if and when I start to see a few midges hatch. Three bugs under an indicator is legal where I guide, so now I have to decide on the next two bugs. If you know me, you know I like to throw San Juan worms year round. Trout eat worms. Some folks scoff at the San Juan worm, but I like it because it’s a bigger offering, and when you hook fish on the bigger hook, they seem to stay buttoned all the way to the bag. I’m not too elite to catch fish, my guiding depends on it.
In these water conditions, I’m not too concerned with fly color. With all that slush, light isn’t penetrating very deeply below the surface, so I think fish see these bugs as light or dark. Factor in winter sun angles and a cloudy sky and even less light protrudes. For this reason, I ran a tan San Juan. Profile is key, a lot more so than color in this case, so I figure tan will do the trick, and show up for the fish. My other two bugs are conditional bugs. Already talked about the midge larva, so I had to make a choice on the third bug. In this case, I went with a size 16 soft hackled Hares Ear. Why? Well, the Hares Ear is lighter in color, has a tungsten bead for sink purposes, and I feel that many PMD, Drake and small Stoneflies are getting dislodged from their holds and kicked to the current from the ice/slush flow.
Having confidence in your fly selection is huge, and fighting the urge to continually change flies pays huge dividends as you master the water conditions. In other words, once you select bugs, concentrate solely on the drift. Depth and speed as always, are critical in any set-up you use. And, as mentioned, I went to high water tactics in an attempt to account for depth and speed.
In high water, it’s easy to drift well above feeding fish because the bugs aren’t getting down to the target. It often appears to be on the proper level, but your flies drift harmlessly above feeding fish. This is because of intense drag on the surface AND the intense drag sub-surface. We know that the water surface is moving roughly twice as fast as water at grade. That’s a given. What a lot don’t realize is that your leader, below the indicator is prone to form a huge arc downstream from the indicator to the weight. This causes drag not easily seen if you just concentrate on indicator speeds. Drifts look good on top, but are sub-par below. Same thing was happening as we fished the slush.
First thing we did was attempt to keep our casts short, nothing over 15 feet. Secondly, I shortened up the indicator to weight on the nymph rig to the minimum to help with line management and subtle winter strikes. That took some experimenting, because you still need to run the weight on the bottom, but too much leader would give way to too much chance the rig would just sit on the slush and never get to fish level. Next, I placed a BB shot about 18” below the indicator to help break the surface slush AND battle the effects of the arc in the leader below the indicator I previously mentioned. Knowing the fish would move minimally side to side to eat, I shortened the distance to about eight inches between bugs, and in some cases I modified that to six inches. Lastly, we discussed mending techniques to assist in getting the bugs down through the slush.
The key was watching intently for the indicator to turn over. That tells me if we have a chance to get the right depths during the drift. I want that indicator to turn over in the first quarter of the drift, if it’s not, then a large upstream mend is in order. With this mend, the angler throws slack into the drift as well, attempting to get the indicator and fly line upstream of the flies. Basically, high water nymph tactics.
Did we always break through the slush? Nope, but we knew mid-drift if we hadn’t and would go right into another upstream roll cast. It seemed that every “perfect” drift resulted in an “eat”. The fish were there and feeding, we just had to knock on their front door. By the way, we never hooked a fish on the midge patterns, but the soft hackle and the worm were on the menu!
Fear No Water!
Yep, there’s a worm under the ice….
Scott Thompson pumping a fish in January.
The results of the pumping. Hmmm, worms.
Latest book has hit the shelves. Available at Stackpole, Amazon, etc.
Hidy Ho Good Neighbors,
I know, I know, it’s been a while. I’ve been extremely busy this fall and winter. Finished the Fly Fishers Playbook 2nd Edition, Stackpole Books. About 15,000 more words, tons of great illustrations by Dave Hall, neat pictures, and even a color fly section in the middle. Pretty proud of it. Looks like Amazon will have it in mid January, you can get a copy from Stackpole Books website right now tho.
Most of you know that I changed fly shops/outfitters last year. Did so to better myself as a guide, and to see “fresh” water. Luckily, it was a sound decision. I met a bunch of great people, got to guide water I’ve never fished, and honed my skills as a guide, fly tier, and fly fisher. Some new tactics made their way into the pages of the new book, as did a few new ties.
I’ve been chasing dog butts for the past 2 months while guiding in Eastern Colorado. My winter job, it’s more of a hobby, is guiding pheasant hunters on private land. My 2 German Shorthairs, Tip and Blue, do all of the work, I just get to clean birds. As mid-February starts rolling in, my fly fishing season will start to fill up, and it’s back to standing in a river, doing what I love.
I’m slowly putting together next seasons speaking schedule, I’ll post the schedule as things firm up and months fill out. I will be giving 3 presentations at the Denver Fly Fishing Show in January (9,10,11), and when not presenting, I’ll be in the Authors’ Booth signing books, or rubbing elbows with some great fly fishers. The presentation is entitled: The Eagle River, Fly Fishing Unfamiliar Waters.
I spend a lot of time discussing how to gather data (historical, seasonal, conditional), how to apply that data along with your strengths as a fly fisher, and present tactics and techniques to catch fish in unfamiliar water. Still working on it, but I think folks will enjoy it and walk away with information on how to attack water you haven’t fished. I’ll post the FFS schedule and times at the end of this post.
Soon, I’ll be posting a short unedited video to The Fly Fishers’ Playbook Facebook page, that gives an idea of what to look for in the presentation. “Like” the page while you’re there if you would!
I’m not of a production fly tier, but I’ve got to get motivated to start filling up my boxes for next year. A few of my newer patterns produced well for me on the Eagle, and a few of the stand-by’s continued to fish with confidence. I’ll be posting more bugs and tying recipes this year, because I’m getting back into bug experimentation out of necessity. Guiding “new” water has forced me back into the bug game. Not complaining, but I simply don’t like sitting down to tie dozens of bugs at one sitting. Rather would tweak old patterns or develop new patterns instead.
All in all, it’s been a great year. I am grateful for people following my blog, and it’s always good to hear from you. Shoot me some topics you want to discuss this upcoming year, and I’ll take you up on it.
Here’s the FFS schedule for the Author’s Booth and presentations in the Destination Theaters. I will also be hanging around in the Minturn Anglers Booth, and I may be in the Titan Rod Vault Booth as well.
See you there, and Happy New Year! Fear No Water!
Jan 9th– Room C @ 4pm
Jan 10th– Room B @ 10am
Jan 11th- Room B @ 11am
Jan 9th– 2:30-3pm
Jan 10th– 12:30-1pm
Jan 11th- 2:20-3pm
Fun little BWO emerger pattern. The Girl Scout
Bugs, bugs, bugs….Gotta get busy.
One of my favorite pictures from last year. Savery Creek in September.
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………