Hidy Ho good neighbors,
Interesting how some folks think alike. Recently, I read a blog post by fellow guide Bob Streb (bobbertalk.blogpost.com). He talked about the law of averages in fly fishing, and how a “300 hitter” is still fairly acceptable. The real point was that its fly fishing, and a bunch of factors can influence the balance of the day. I’ve been mulling this over for some time, maybe because it’s late August and has been a long season.
Great stuff as usual from Bob, and I want to go a few steps further with his premise. After years of watching an indicator float by, and all of the stuff going on sub-surface around it, I’ve come to the unscientific conclusion that the indicator may register a fish actually eating your flies at a rate of about 60%. That means at least 40% of the time we don’t even realize a fish just ate and spit our bugs.
Earlier this summer, I was hunkered down behind a rock overlooking the river as my client was situated downstream of me. I was looking into a deeper side pool that was covered by a fast riffle. It’s one of those places that you can see under the riffle into very clear water. The water was about 4 feet deep. I could see about a dozen nice fish under the riffle, so I instructed my client to lay the bugs fairly high in the riffle in hopes that we could get them into the fish naturally.
On about the 4th cast, the bugs plunged perfectly into the pool. I was really enjoying watching the action of the soft-hackled pheasant tail as it undulated sub-surface. Here comes a nice rainbow into the feeding lane. I watched, dumfounded, as the fish moved to the fly, sucked it in, and spit it out. The indicator never flinched. More unbelievably, after spitting out the soft-hackle, the fish turned on it and ate it again! At this point I said, “Lift it!” Hook up secured, but the fish was gone at the first jump. Kinda’ validates my points.
Of the 60% of the eats we do see, we probably hook up at a rate of 60%. That’s 60% if you’re the normal fly fisher, more if you’re very advanced, less if you’re a beginner. Of that 60% you may land fish at a rate of 60%, again rates vary according to skill level. Think about it, that’s leaving a lot of fish on the table.
Clients ask me all the time about how the river is fishing. I always have to temper the answer realizing that skill levels come into play. For advanced guys and gals that can present, drift, set, and land fish, the river may be on fire. For intermediates, well they may have a fair amount of hook-ups, but the river is simply fishing well. For beginners, it may prove to be a slow day. Just being honest.
My job is to try to get new anglers dialed in as quickly as possible. I strive to have skill levels and prime fish eating times collide. As the angler gets more proficient, to the point where they can recognize “an eat” and set on it, I need to have them with the proper bugs at the proper depths and speeds, AND situated perfectly. When the river goes off, they need to have the skill to match it. It’s that simple, and that complicated.
It’s a beautiful thing really. Get ‘em good, get ‘em over fish, get’em in the bag. I may have 2 clients rigged exactly the same, but have to make personalized adjustments to each rig according to the little things that influence drifts. One person may need more weight because the mend is a struggle, one person may need less rigging distance because of slower reaction times. It’s ok, that’s why I’m there. I have been with some clients that may have never hooked fish unless I stand at their side and say “hit that!” That’s ok too, but I’m not always there.
The point I’m trying to make is that it’s fishing. There’s very little luck to it, and there’s a lot of moving parts. That’s why I enjoy what I do, scraping a few fish out of the beat with folks that deserve it because they have worked so hard. They are trying to fool Mother Nature, and hopefully, having a good time while doing it. It’s just that Mama nature always has the final word. Batter up!
Fear No Water!
Talk about moving parts….
7’2″ beginner. Big guy that picked up the game quickly.
Advanced angler, Greg, with a nice lower Eagle brown.
Hidy Ho Good Neighbors!
My client hooks a beauty of a brown in a soft seam about fifteen feet out. The river is in pre-runoff, so there is a dangerous element to landing big fish that get into big water. I bark a few directions about rod tip angles and height that puts my client in good fighting position. The brown took exception to it.
Off she goes! The reel is screaming as she burrows deep into the hard water across the river. The downstream bow in the fly line is tremendous as the fish is jumping upstream and across from us. I’m thinking we’re screwed. Somehow we manage to keep our ground and get half of our fly line back. The trout is back in the same seam we hooked her in. It’s our move.
I instruct to move downstream a bit to maintain at least a ninety degree angle on the beast. We set our feet, but realize we will be moving soon. Client lifts the rod a foot or so and increases tippet pressure on the fish. Reaction generated and the fish is ripping off line downstream. We strive to keep up.
At some point, I know I’m going to have to let go of my clients wading belt, stop dragging him along the rocks at river edge, and go in for the beast. We top out on a small sand point, and I exclaim that we will live or die from this point. It sounded good when I said it.
The beast is now forty feet downstream swimming in and out of a nice eddy. “Perfect”, I think as I claw my way through the willows waist deep in the drink. As I near the spot where I think we have the best chance to bag, I realize it’s simply too deep to be of much help. The fish is in the soft flow, finning up and down, a mere seven feet away. Problem is adding together my arm and net length, I come up about a half foot short. Where have I heard that before?
I’ve no choice, I have to make a plunge move out to this fish hoping to bag it before it bolts downstream into a class four rapid. Here goes nothing. I felt her tap the outside of the hoop of my net as I went under water. I came up kicking and spitting….Fishless. She broke us off in the heavy stuff downstream.
I bought a new net. My old net was perfect for most seasons, but run-off on the Eagle ain’t one of them. Handle is just too short. I contacted Kevin Mackey of Mackeynetworks and we designed a new bag. Obviously, the handle is longer, but there are other features as well.
I use this net as a wade staff as well. I had Kevin turn the end of the handle to about an inch diameter, and I placed a walking cane rubber stopper on it. The rest of the net is surprisingly light for the beefy ability to support my weight fully. The hoop is large enough to bag the beasts of the Eagle, but not too obtrusive to carry. The wood and finish are beautiful.
I don’t rep for Kevin, but if you want one of his nets, go to mackeynetworks. If you can’t find him, contact me and I’ll get you hooked up.
Fear No Water (I mean it),
Customized to my height
Hidy Ho Good Neighbors!
So glad May is finally nearing June. I traveled a bunch giving presentations in Colorado and Arizona. I’m not much for hotels and rental cars, but I do enjoy speaking to various groups. I spent 2 days in Tucson, 3 in the Phoenix area, and 3 in east-central Arizona’s White Mountains. Big groups of “fishy” folks.
The Arizona folks spend most of their fly fishing days raking the still waters. They float-tube or bank/wade fish the mountain lakes for trout and pike, and do the same on lower elevation lakes for large and small mouth bass. Fly fishers in Phoenix talked about catching carp in the urban irrigation ditches or chasing them in the warm shallows on lakes.
My presentations, thankfully, were well received, but it was interesting watching my focus spin from moving waters to still waters. Although my latest book has a section on fly fishing lakes, I don’t spend a bunch of time talking about it in Colorado. I only fish lakes once or twice a year anymore and going back to my Arizona roots, made me realize how often I used to fly fish lakes. Interestingly enough, it’s still forms the basis of one of my main theories of fishing. It’s all about depth, speed, profile, and color. I can’t say it enough; those basic tenets of fishing are of utmost importance.
Notice how I say basic tenets of fishing instead of fly fishing? After much thought one night after a presentation in Tucson, it hit me that all fishing requires attention to depth, speed, profile, and color. Even a kid drowning a worm under a bobber must pay attention to those basic tenets! Streamers, dries, dry-droppers, nymphing, lures, salt, bait…..It’s all about finding feeding fish levels, speeds of the lure, flies or bait that feeding fish are eating, and the proper profile and color of the food fish are feeding on.
Makes me think of the old cartoon of the fish in the restaurant complaining to the waiter that there is a fly in his soup. The first time I saw that I wondered where the fly was depth-wise in the bowl. At the bottom? Suspended somewhere in the middle? On top? It makes a difference where that fly is, because then I’d know at what level in the “soup” that fish is feeding.
That may sound silly, but my main concern when I approach the water (river or lake) is where in the “soup” are those fish feeding? Get those bugs at that level first, and then dial in your speed (weight), profile, and color. Find the level of the feeding fish! Often it’s observable. When it’s not, then you have to systematically dig thru the soup til you find the level. I usually start at the bottom of the soup and work my way up til I find the feeding zone. If I’m not hooking as many fish as I think I should be, more than likely my depth is off, provided I have the proper speed.
I am convinced you can throw the wrong flies at the correct depth and speed and hook fish. The converse is not true, the perfect bugs at wrong depths and speeds does nothing but allow you to work on your backcast. The next time you hit the river or lake of your liking, take a moment to really discern at what level the fish are feeding. You’ll have already won half the battle even before you start fishing, and oh yeah, pass the crackers, please.
Fear No Water!
Bob with another fish using more conventional fly gear.
Father’s Day is coming, get a copy for your favorite Dad!
Client using a nymph rig in still water to produce a nice bow.
Bob Long using Tenkara to find the proper depth of feeding fish. Fun to guide a guy using this method.
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.