Hidy Ho Good Neighbors,
“He ate”, I said. “Really, I never even saw it”, he replied. Recognizing a fish taking your dry fly is not always the stuff that movies are made of. Sometimes, it is so subtle that we miss the take. Fish typically don’t eat dries while you’re zoomed into the frame in super slow motion with music playing in the background. It’s typically a game of controlled speed, technique, and yep, luck.
It’s obvious we don’t know what we’re missing while nymphing because stuff is going down sub-surface. I imagine there are several fish we “miss” and don’t even know they ate. Same holds true for surface fishing, but actually seeing the misses is much easier and certainly more frustrating. Just last week I had a client set up doing some quarter upstream double dry work. He was rolling an Elk Hair Caddis 18” ahead of a Yellow Sally. The fish were gorging on both. He surmised that for every 10 fish that ate his offerings, he may turn 3, and for every 3 he turned he may solidly hook 1. And this guy is a good stick, honest too.
Last week, it was easy to tell when a fish ate the dries as most takes were splashy. That’s the telltale sign fish are eating caddis, stones, or terrestrials. Not a hard and fast rule, like all in fly fishing, but when you’re seeing aggressive, splashy takes, good bet they’re eating something that skitters, flutters, or bounces on the water. When you see those easy, simple rises, fish are usually secure, calm, and eating duns, spents, or cripples. In all cases you need to read the fish, the bugs, as well as the river to dial in the correct offerings.
Let’s talk more about reading fish as they eat dries. There are basically, 3 types of rises; simple, compound, and complex. In each case the fish have a staging spot, or a beginning holding area. In a simple rise, the fish typically simply elevate to the surface, break the surface, and yawn in the bug. A compound rise is a bit more detailed as the fish, starting in the same staging area, follows the bugs for a short distance before ingesting. This is a tough rise to consistently hook fish because they are really inspecting your flies, and any wrong move means game over. The last type of rise is a complex rise. These fish do the same as a compound except they actually turn downstream and follow your bug downstream. Usually, if you can maintain your drift, that fish will eat.
The key to dry fly presentation when it comes to how the fish are eating is observation. Watch how the fish are feeding, where they are staging, and then cast 4 to 5 feet upstream of them. Show the flies only, no fly line allowed. I see a lot of folks that have a surface feeding fish picked out and either cast way too far upstream, or cast directly on top of the fish. If you take a nymphing cast approach and cast way upstream, you will have a terrible time keeping your drift as you near the fish strike zone. Casting on top of the fish that is eating a full 4 feet downstream of where it’s staging causes issues too if you cast 4 feet above where you saw it eat. I’ll let you digest this for a minute.
Couple things about the dry fly lift. Not even gonna call it a set. It’s a lift in the opposite direction that the fish ate. Fish eats going downstream (complex rise), you lift upstream. Simple rise upstream of you, you lift up and downstream. Lift speed is not nearly as critical as lift direction and control, and this is how most fish are missed when dry fly fishing.
That’s enough for now. Hey, if you don’t already, please like The Fly Fishers Playbook Facebook page. Only fly fishing, and plenty of it.
Fear No water!
Dry fly fishing in beautiful places….
Size 18 Elk Hair caddis
Hidy ho Good Neighbors!
High water and run-off close a few opportunities for fly fishing moving water, but opens up the chances of fly fishing still waters. I grew up on mountain lakes and fly fishing still waters. I absolutely love it and always look forward to fishing and guiding the glass.
Back in May I took a trip to Arizona to present to a few clubs (Arizona Fly casters and Desert Fly casters) the Systematic Approach to Fly Fishing. Some of you may not know that I am originally from AZ and remember the fly fishing more than I remembered the heat. One hundred eight degrees in Phoenix one day! So, I was overjoyed to travel up to the White Mountains, where I cut my fly fishing teeth on lakes, for a bit of lake fly fishing.
We arrived at Becker Lake, near Springerville, AZ, at around noon. The boys (Gentry, Joe, and John), were gracious enough to outfit me with a pontoon, booties, and fins. I was fixated on dry fly fishing first, running streamers secondly, and nymphing as a last option. Not that I don’t make a living fishing under a bobber or I have anything against it, but I wanted dry fly or streamer action, because I don’t get to do too much of that. I can never get too much of that!
Well, there were very few fish eating on the surface. I could see size 18 chironomid adults sporadically hatching, but couldn’t raise a fish. After about an hour of that, I switched to a tandem streamer rig. I threw a black slumpbuster on a jig hook in front of John Rohmer’s simi leech (black and olive). No love on that rig either. I could see the writing on the wall, nymphing time.
Now these guys are running 18’ leaders and break-away indicators, with trolling motors and fish finders. Pretty serious individuals. I thought I knew how to rig a break away indicator, and had picked up a few before leaving Colorado. I couldn’t find the dang things in my waist pack, and finally asked for help getting that thing rigged. I put on as close to matching bugs with what I could glean from the few guys that were hooking up, but soon realized that my formula left much to luck. Soon, I took off the indicator, loaded up weight and fished it “Czech-style” right on the bottom. I did have a couple eats, which I completely missed, but I did move fish.
Mercifully, the wind got big, and I got to cruise to the dock. Not that I didn’t have fun, but I always like to feel I’m in at least a smidge of control. I met my nephew on the way to the evening’s festivities as I cruised back toward Pinetop, and watched him fish for Apache and brown trout on a small stream that I don’t know the name of. He moved more than a few on dry dropper rigs. I felt a little better.
That evening, as I lay there listening to my brothers dog snoring, I realized I needed to fish to my strengths tomorrow on that lake. The White Mountain Lakes Foundation was hosting an annual event that raises money for the organization, which in turn, helps the organization support and enhance the fishing in the White Mountains. I was honored to be a part of it. I was up early the next morning, drinking a cup of coffee and puffing my pipe, in front of a 7-Eleven, rigging a double dry rig consisting of a Royal Wolff followed by and adult chironomid pattern matching the adults I saw earlier. My plan was to go back to my roots and walk the edges early morning looking for and casting to rings and noses.
I had just thrown on my waders, when a gentleman named Mike came up to me and Gentry and said, “There are fish coming up on the far end”. “Where abouts?”, I asked. He pointed to a spot that was maybe a five minute walk. I was there in four.
I stood for a moment watching the action and planning on how to fish to these noses from near to far, trying not to spook them. First cast….bam, fish on! What? Tiger trout? “Oh this is even gonna be better than I thought”, I mumbled, as another fish ate my second cast. Mike had put me on a pod of small tiger trout on the munch. He eventually showed up, and I thanked him for the intel again. We both moved a few more (I snapped of a big one) and then it was time to head back for more festivities.
High river water offers the opportunity to seek out still water. If you don’t fish it often, there is an adjustment period. Go back to your roots, do what you do well and have confidence in. I do want another shot at deep still water nymphing techniques because the systematic approach works well there too. I always say that folks should fish to their strengths while working on their weaknesses. Someday I’ll get back there better armed with information and techniques and flatten out that weakness. It’s all part of the process of becoming a complete angler. In the meantime, Fear No Water!
El Tigre on a dry
Meat eater in the lake
Gentry in mid-cast
Sylvan Lake, Colorado
Hidy Ho Good Neighbors!
Well, the season is about to get cranking. I’ve been guiding some, but most of my winter work has been in the form of traveling across the country presenting at shows, expos, and Trout Unlimited groups. Been from Cleveland to Coeur d’alane, and a ton of points in between.
The real fun I find with speaking are the myriad questions I receive before, during, and after the presentation. I really learn from those questions. They make me think, and dig deeper into my knowledge and experience. The level of the question doesn’t matter as all questions are viable and relevant. The more I’m queried, the more I learn, and in turn, the more I eventually teach. It’s a neat cycle.
I realize some questions are never asked in a public or private setting because it makes folks (me included) feel vulnerable. I wish that wasn’t the case because I am confident someone along with the questioner would reap some sort of benefit. So, I come to you folks that read my blog to selfishly ask for fly fishing questions. I’m in the process of writing another book, and the more questions I have the better the book will be!
I really don’t care what you ask. The level or depth of the question doesn’t matter, as each question will open dialogue into other areas. So be specific or general, and remember there aren’t any stupid questions. If I don’t know the answer, I’ll find someone that does. Think of any discipline within fly fishing, except salt water (not for this book). Casting, drift, bug choices, knots, fly lines, landing fish, reading the water, it’s all game.
If you don’t feel comfy asking on this forum, shoot me an email at: email@example.com
I really appreciate everyone’s help! Thanks, and Fear No Water!
Alright, let’s get on with 2016. Little late to the party, but I’ve been busy guiding pheasant hunters. The fly fishing juices are flowing strong as I embark on another year of trout tales. This time of year represents, in my mind anyway, time for learning and experimentation.
My speaking schedule is in full bloom, and between now and June I will hit six states yapping on about this great endeavor. I shake a lot of hands and I learn. Wish I had a twenty spot every time a stranger says to me, “You ever tried this?” More often than not the idea doesn’t fit my program, or appeal to me, but it always makes me think. However, there are a few ideas that come my way, and I think, “Now why didn’t I think of that?” Long story even longer, I always listen.
So, I invariably head home from these events and run either straight to the vise or straight to the river. It’s funny, folks on the river fly fishing are a tight-lipped group, but folks at shows spill their guts. Maybe they feel safe sharing in that environment knowing they won’t have to deal with it til spring, or maybe they wish to get involved in the circle of learning somehow. I don’t know, but I’ve picked up a few gems over the years, by simply stopping and listening.
I’ve happily shared most everything I’ve picked up at the shows over the years, I’ve a few new ideas this year that I won’t comment on until I put them to the test. One’s a simple in-line nymph rig adjustment, and the others deal with spinning bugs. Both are in the testing process, and to be frank, I haven’t noticed any appreciable difference in performance, but I need to try these ideas for at least winter, spring and run-off. Will let you know. I’ve a feeling some of the ideas I hear aren’t as novel as we think.
Speaking of novel, I am considering another book. Really have the itch to spit one out, but having a difficult time refining my ideas. Seems like fly fishing books are all cut out of the same template. One hundred forty seven ways to put more fish in the net, or the twenty three essentials to catch fish, I don’t necessarily want to go there. I like to draw analogies, feed off experiences and data, and try to teach a little along the way. If you have an idea for books you’d like to see, please let me know. Insert the listening part here……
In January I’m in Ohio at the North Ohio Fly Fishing Expo. February is the Winter Fly Fishing Social in Taos, New Mexico. March is Lewiston Idaho at the North Idaho Fly Fishing Expo. April is the Washington Fly Fishing Fair, and May is a 3 day extravaganza of presentations all over Arizona.
I’ll keep my ears open, and will share everything I learn!
Fear No Water,
Winter experimentation on the South Platte.
Alaska. Unless you’ve been there you just can’t comprehend the beauty. Now, I live in arguably one of the most beautiful places on the planet, Colorado. But, Colorado is no match for the unbridled beauty of Alaska. It’s huge untamed landscape that thrusts up and out of the ocean, coupled with the colors, and vastness is not something that pictures can capture.
I was afforded the opportunity to fly fish Alaska because a couple of my long-time clients wanted to give it a whirl. Minturn Anglers offers a wonderful package for fly fishing for Steelheads, Silvers, Huge Rainbows and all of the Dolly Vardens you can catch. Next year, rumor has it, we are expanding our trip packages to cover five weeks. These are one week packages, and not only is the fishing stellar, but the accommodations are incredible. If you’re ever interested in a trip like this don’t hesitate to contact me. I still have an Alaska blush.
The gear we took was as important as the plane tickets themselves. Keeping everything dry was the top priority on my list. Aside from a good pair of waders and a raincoat, I needed something that would keep my other gear dry. Whether we floated or waded, I needed to be able to carry important items on my back the entire time. A place to carry a lunch, provide fire starter, a dry set of clothes, and any other stuff, in a dry venue were paramount. I settled on the Umqua Tongass backpack.
This 30 liter backpack, complete with padded shoulder and waist strap was more than up to the challenge. It has two water proof compartments that employ a simple roll-top closing system. The closing system was a huge bonus. Not only did it keep the pack water-tight, but it is very easy to quickly access the stuff you carry inside. It also has a hanging interior pocket that I quickly figured out carried my cell phone safely.
I really liked the exterior pockets (6) and used the two on each side for anything from rod tubes to adult beverage carriers. The pack has “cinch straps” to ensure everything rides compactly, balanced, and comfortably. Although we hiked through some pretty nasty willows, I never had the pack hang up because of the way it hugs your back.
I used my pack as carry-on and it fit nicely into the overhead compartments. One little trick I used was to fold the waist straps back over the pack itself, and hooked them in place. This way the pack had zero external straps to hang up while transporting, going through the xray machines, or riding in the trunk of the rental car. When fishing, the entire system of adjustable straps made for comfortable days. No shoulder or hip pinch was experienced at all, and the pack stayed put even while spey casting.
I strongly recommend this pack, and come fish Alaska while you’re at it.
Fear No Water,
p.s. Black Friday’s coming up, don’t forget the Fly Fishers Playbook 2nd Edition for your favorite angler!
Hidy Ho Good Neighbors!
The other day I am out in front of the shop performing my morning ritual rigging rods. Bob Streb walks by and asks’ “What are you doing?” I explain that I’m trying to get a two day Chubby. He kept walking by and filtered into the shop. I thought about my response for a bit and started chuckling. Let me explain.
As a guide and basically a bottom-feeder in the economic society, I strive to get as much use and efficiency out of my gear as possible. Gotta make every inch of tippet, every drop of floatant, and every pinch of putty last. Therefore, I go the extra mile, sometimes two, to stretch the last bit of life out of all my gear. That includes my Chubbies.
Since about the 4th of July, I have been running the Mini-rig alongside nymph and dry fly rigs. It’s a standard in my stable, and I fish it a bunch in the right kind of water. It’s perfect for water that is up to about 18” deep, textured, and faster moving than the main run body. You can peruse the archives to find more detailed info about the Mini-rig, or pick up a copy of the 2nd Edition of The Fly Fisher’s Playbook for more information. It’s perfect for top-down fly fishing.
I swore off tying dry flies years ago. Nowadays I concentrate my tying efforts to producing, in mass, nymphs, pupa, larva, and emergers exclusively. Therefore, I buy my Chubbies. A good Chubby ain’t cheap, and I have found a shop that takes good care of me in that department. It’s not that I can’t tie my own, but I had to draw the line somewhere, or I’d never leave the tying bench. Dressing the Chubby to get a good two days of service is important. Let me explain again.
Fishing a mini rig for a full eight hours equates to probably close to a thousand drifts, some drenching hook-ups, and a few trees and snags along the way. There’s only so much that it can take. But if you take care of it, you can get more service than you may think. It’s all about a little TLC.
The evening before the second day of service (and sometimes third), I painstakingly work to remove all water from the previous outing. I use those little foam thingy’s incased in leather to suck out the water from the main body. You can tell by looking at it if some areas require more attention, as it will appear darker in those areas. Keep working on those areas. I then use a little brush, the same one I use to prep yarn indicators, to brush the wing portions and get all the fibers pointing in the same direction. Next, I cover the Chubby with Top-Ride floatant and store for the night.
Bob walked by as I performed the next step the next morning. The Chubby is ready for final primping to get it thru the day. I usually only apply the silicone based floatants once to a dry fly, but the Chubby can handle two applications, if prepped right. First, I knock off all of the Top-Ride from the previous evening. Then, I re-apply a small amount of liquid floatant as I lightly brush it into all the nooks and cranny’s of the main body. Lastly, I simply brush a bit of floatant into the wing fibers making sure to fluff and separate the individual fibers. Now the Chubby is set for another day of service. As it gets tired during the day, I simply shake it in a little dry shake and continue to fluff. This helps keep it up all day.
Like I said, I’m cheap, er thrifty, and need to stretch all my gear to the limit, that includes my Chubby Chernobyls. Great Mini rig bug, floats all day, suspends heavy tungsten bugs, and catches fish. Bob asked me the other day, if I am able to get two days out my Chubbies. I proudly told him “Yep”. He chuckled and walked by. To escape ridicule, maybe I shouldn’t prep my Chubbies in the parking lot in front of the shop.
Fear No Water,
After 2 days hard work….
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.