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.
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….