Archive for January 2015

Margarita-ville.   6 comments

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!

Duane

 

Slushy...

Slushy…

Yep, ther'es a worm under the ice....

Yep, there’s a worm under the ice….

Scott Thompson pumping a fish in January.

Scott Thompson pumping a fish in January.

The results of the pumping.  Hmmm, worms.

The results of the pumping. Hmmm, worms.

Latest book has hit the shelves. Available at Stackpole, Amazon, etc.

Latest book has hit the shelves. Available at Stackpole, Amazon, etc.