Sunday, July 31, 2011
Much has been written about leaders and there are so many varieties of them out there that one barely knows where to start. Like other pieces of equipment, leaders get some attention but not as much as they should. The job they have to do is deliver the fly to its target. And that is a pretty important job or purpose. So why isn't more thought given to this? Who knows.
One of the most famous leader designs of all time was developed by George Harvey. Its as much a way of thinking on leaders as it is design. George Harvey understood the leader and its importance to the whole fly fishing game.
George Harvey was one of the true giants in Pennsylvania fly fishing history. Born in DuBois, Pennsylvania on November 14, 1911, George Harvey spent most of his life in Central Pennsylvania, teaching and writing about fly fishing. He graduated from Penn State University in 1935 with a Bachelor’s degree in Ornamental Horticulture. During his time at Penn State, he had the good fortune to meet and fish with Ralph Watts, Dean of the School of Agriculture. Dean Watts not only organized the first unofficial fly fishing class at Penn State, but recommended George Harvey for the position of instructor at the Mont Alto Forestry School, which is a part of Penn State. George Harvey moved to the main campus in 1942 and continued his angling classes, which because an officially credited class in 1947, called “Principles and Techniques of Fly Fishing and Fly Tying.” This was the first accredited college fly fishing class in America. He continued teaching the course until his retirement in 1972 and retired as an Associate Professor of Physical Education.
Folks usually get interested in and learn about the Harvey style leader when they begin fishing over selective trout and find that the technical nature of the fishing requires something more. Something that a leader on a fly shop wall just can't deliver. It will have you tying some of your own leaders. Use one and have success with it, you will use them from now on.
So what is a Harvey leader and why the big deal over it? First, a bit of background. A good many- - -well, most I should say - - -commercially available leaders are built on a 60 /20/20 taper. 60 percent butt, 20 percent taper, and 20 percent tippet. They carry lots of energy from the line to the leader and this pushes everything out nicely so that the fly goes to its target and the leader straightens out perfectly. That is fine for some fishing, like ponds, lakes, saltwater, etc, but if you are fishing over selective fish and fishing in current the last thing you want is a straight leader. Why? A straight leader causes drag....and a dragging fly the fish will ignore. George Harvey knew the real key was to design a leader with just enough butt to turn over the leader but that would not transfer so much energy or power that it would straighten the leader. He came up with several formulas, and its more of a style than a specific formula, but I have found them to be very effective for fishing over selective fish of our tailwater rivers like the Smith, Jackson, Watauga, Clinch, and South Holston.
Here are some formulas, a couple of them are from Gary Borger and his rendition of the Harvey Style leader.
Fly Size 10-16 : 4 feet of .016 Leader Material, 4 feet of .010 tippet, and 4 feet of 3, 4 or 5X
Fly Size 16-24 : 4 feet of .014 Leader Material, 4 feet of 3x tippet, 4 feet of 5,6, or 7X.
Illustration above is my variation with a fluorocarbon tippet of 6X.
Tie some of these up and give them a try..... Good fishing.
"There he stands, draped in more equipment than a telephone lineman, trying to outwit an organism with a brain no bigger than a breadcrumb, and getting licked in the process."
~by Paul O'Neil, 1965~
Fly fishing through the various seasons and changes can be a challenging endeavor, especially if your goal is to catch fish..... In my line of work I see on a daily basis folks get in the water, immediately start casting, sloshing through the water, making noise....all while not once observing the state of the water they have just entered. The way I see it, it is almost like they are attacking the river. Fishing the water rather than fishing with purpose.....to the fish. Here are some ideas/tips that might help you enjoy success astream during the dog days of summer and into fall- - - which with low water can be a challenging time to catch fish.
There are two approaches to fly fishing, both can work at certain times of the year, but only one usually works this time of year. Let me explain.... if I may...
One approach is what I call run and gun or shot gunning. The person has tied on a fly he thinks should work, steps into the water, and immediately starts casting. Casting here, casting there, long, short, and all lengths in between. He sees a rising fish and casts to it...maybe once, twice, three times, then moves on. If another fish rises, he casts to that one. He changes flies once, twice, or many times....and more often if he's not getting any action. I am convinced folks do this because at times it does work. Late winter/early spring when the water is up, the fish aren't spooky, they are looking to eat, and fishing the water will produce fish. The trouble comes though, when one has been successful with this approach and then several months later steps into the same river, does the same thing as before, and gets a much different result. So what changed? The answer? Everything and change everything. The conditions are different, the water is lower and clearer and the fish are spooky. Different flies are hatching now, unlike the larger bugs of spring. Also, the fish have been hammered by fishing pressure all spring and they are leader shy and will easily spook. I see the above scenario over and over and over and get emails and calls about it , and folks ask 'I did everything I usually do and no fish, not even a strike". And I think to myself, you just indentified the problem with your question...everything.
Enter the second approach: A careful, intentional, focused approach that takes into account the following:
1) conditions have changed, and challenging conditions require discipline. Stop casting constantly, and false casting so much .....false casting everywhere is spooking fish.
2) Use the right flies, not as many bugs hatching right now so use small flies and terrestrials.
3) Use the shortest casts you can get away with, knowing that a shorter cast lands over fewer dissimilar currents and is easier to manage...and you won't spook fish with constant line mends to keep the fly drifting properly.
4) Use specialty casts - curves, reach casts, etc., to get good drifts. If you don't know these, learn them. They are valuable casts to add to your bag of tricks.
5) Overall, cast less and observe more. Look at those spider webs along the bridge or trees where you got into the river....whatever bugs have been hatching will get caught there ...spiders will be eating them too.
6) Watch where you walk and get into the water, and also only wade if necessary. Take care not to make a splash or wake. Summer trout and smallmouth love margin areas of a stream because that is where overhangs are and where bugs fall in....beetles, ants, inchworms, you name it.
7) Don't overlook skinny water (only inches deep)- - -You will catch fish in skinny water - - - edges, banks, tailouts of long pools......these fish are easy to catch if you don't spook them first....as they are in shallow water to do one thing....EAT. If you see a fish that is spooked coming from behind you you aren't wading quietly enough. This season, to date the largest dry fly fish caught on any of our trips was a 23" male brown trout that was in less than 10 inches of water.....on a bank, in a spot exactly like I have described above.
8) Water can warm excessively in the summer. Fish with a thermometer and if you find water approaching 70F or more and you are fishing for trout, fish else where. Going upstream is one option. Water temps near 70F the fish become lethargic and often can't be revived if caught and handled. Optimum temperatures are 55-60F for most trout species. Smallmouths low to mid 70sF.
9) Wear natural clothing that allows you to blend in. Bright colors spook fish, wear earth tones, drab clothing etc. Once fish are spooked its too late.
10) Use appropriate gear, from wading stuff (wet wading) to rods (a lighter rod, maybe a 3wt instead of a 5wt), and rigs (dry fly with a dropper nymph instead of a big strike indicator and two huge split shot). Using appropriate gear with help you avoid disturbing the water any more than is necessary.
11) Have plenty of attractors, terrestrials, and small patterns. In summer, other than the occasional sulphur or Cahill , most natural bugs are small ( like #20-24 Blue Winged olives, #22-24 blackflies). A well stocked terrestrial box is always a good idea, as trout fill in the gaps in their caloric intake with these food items.
12) Keep a low profile, don't get on a high rock or bank and try to spot fish and then fish to them as they can or will see you and will flee in terror.
13) Stalk fish or the spot, get into position carefully, then present the fly to that fish or spot. This works better than willy nilly firing a thousand casts over the water in hopes of getting a strike.
14) Pay attention to a foam line, bubble line, debris line.....with the reduced flow/volume of summer trout use these 'lines' to feed as the line is a conveyor belt that brings food into the location.
15) Lastly, don't forget bug repellent and sunscreen. If you use deet, don't get it or sunscreen on your line, rod, or flies, as it can damage gear and fish can smell the stuff. Neutrogena makes a fantastic sunscreen product. I like the SPF70, and to keep it off your stuff use the back of your hand to apply it.
Hope these tips help you in your summer fishing......Good fishing!
It is important to note that while trout all rise at one time or another all trout don't necessarily act the same from river to river. Also, the size of the rise is not always indicative of the size of the fish. Observation is the key, we need to study the fish, fish behavior, and the foods they eat more than we do assembling a vast array of equipment and flies. Here are a few of the riseforms that are common and that you are likely to see if you fish over rising fish regularly:
1) The Bulge - With this type of riseform the fish is taking subsurface insects, quite possibly midges or mayfly nymphs just under the surface. On area waters this is common with blue winged olives and sulphurs. One way to fish to this rise is with a small nymph or midge pupae just under the surface under a tiny indicator or dry fly (using the nymph or pupae as a droppper), or using a greased leader technique. The latter involves using paste floatant and coating the leader down to within a few inches to 10" of the fly, leaving this last portion untreated. The fly will then drift in the area of the water column that is just under the surface.
2) Boils - similar to a bulge rise, but more violent, and this feeding is also occurring just under the surface. The rise is usually not only violent but erratic as the food item is struggling or is quite animated or active. Usually this rise involves mayfly emergers or caddis emergers. One way to fish this rise is like the above but imparting a twitch or pulsing movement to the fly right as it comes into view of the fish. You can also get above the fish, put yourself at an angle to it, and 'raise' the fly while twitching it as it swings in front of the boiling trout. Another option, and this works well on occasion, is to strip the fly like a streamer, except that you use tiny half to one inch strips, imparting a slight and short pause every 8 or 10 strips....this can be deadly during a hatch.
3) Sips - the sipping rise is classic and if you can see the fish its great fun to watch a trout feed this way...especially if its a large fish. Sips clue you in that a fish is eating small surface insects or slower emergers in the surface film. Small mayfly duns, midges, and mayfly spinners all will cause this type of rise. Sippers are often found in quiet edgewaters, pools, eddies, tailouts, and other margins where the water is slow. Beetles and ants fall into this category as once they fall in they sit very low in the surface film....and they will almost always be sipped. Also, shallow, gentle riffs are a good place to see sippers as well.
4) Head Risers - this rise in one in which the fish lifts its head or part of its head almost vertically out of the water. This type of rise is almost always going to coincide with surface food. So in order to be successful you would fish a surface fly....our CDC emerger flies are murderous on this type of fish......like last week when we nailed a 23" plus brown trout on the South Holston that was head rising. The fish ate a #18 dorothea emerger.... Usually head risers tend to be the larger, more mature fish and they do it so well they seem to make an art of it. Head risers are often eating emerging mayflies that are halfway through the surface film, spinners, terrestrials, and they are often bank feeders as well.
5) Gobblers - this happens a lot out west when the fish have lots of food coming to their feeding station. Have only seen it once before around here, and that is the South Holston tailwater. The food or hatch has to be heavy. I have seen this during some heavy sulphur emergences, and also witnessed it on the Missouri River in Montana during the caddis flights and Silver Creek in Picabo, Idaho during a morning Trico spinner fall. In this type of rise the fish rises and takes a food item once every second for ten seconds or more, then stopping the rising and taking time to swallow all the food it captured. This type of rising is very rare but when you see it it is a sight to behold.....it makes you quiver and shake and your knees will knock together...
6) Porpoising - with a porpoising rise you see the head, back, dorsal, and tail in a slow parade as the fish takes food....this rise sometimes exaggerates the fish's true size. Porpoising indicates the presence of smaller, emerging flies, and to catch fish doing this you will want an array of mayfly nymphs and emergers, midge pupae and emergers, and all of them should be in the film patterns or ones that sit low on the water.
7) Tailing - very uncommon unless the water has lots of weedbeds or vegetation...fish feeding this way are likely rooting out mayfly nymphs, cressbugs, scuds, and whatever else they can find.
8) Splashy Rises - often belies a small or juvenile fish, they seem to get really excited about feeding.....and often seeing a really splashy rise is really nothing more than small fish. This happens alot during a caddisfly emergence, and with some swiftly emerging mayflies too. Moving the fly or twitching it, stripping it, raising it in front of a fish doing this will work well.
Hopefully this will give you a little insight into the riseforms of trout. They are amazing creatures, and coming up with the right fly and/or technique for the rising fish of the moment is about as good as it gets...especially if a fish winds up in the net.
Tuesday, May 3, 2011
"Why does a Frenchman kiss a lady's hand?....He has to start somewhere. In either seduction or fly fishing it is silly to proceed without a plan. This book is my plan for selecting a dry fly or emerger pattern to fish. And besides, no one is clamoring for me to write a book on seduction..."
-Gary LaFontaine in the preface to his excellent book The Dry Fly: New Angles .
Norman Mailer was a brilliant yet controversial writer, poet, playwright, novelist, and more. In his later years it was no secret that Carole Mallory was his mistress. Seducing him probably wasn't all that difficult....I mean, he was on his sixth wife at the time. Painters, authors, chefs, and a myriad others seek to seduce and I think what we do to the fish as fly anglers is no different.
The most important thing to understand is that seduction only works when the other party is cooperative, is contributing, and is in some way interested in what we are doing. That's the rub. Finding an interested subject.....again I believe our job astream is not much different.
Simply put, 'seduction' is the process of deliberately enticing some form of engagement. 'Seduce' stems from Latin and literally means "to lead astray", or in applicable language, to be led into making a choice that would otherwise not be made if the subject were not being controlled at the moment by desire or senses. Its a lot easier to seduce when the present state of the subject makes them open to it. And as anglers, if we want to be successful at whatever form of seduction we have in mind, we have to pick out the right targets......those who are most likely to fall for it. And yet often as anglers we treat all of our targets the same....come up with that magic cast, magic fly, magic that opens every fish mouth.....and that doesn't happen. Maybe in some things but not in fly fishing. It is important and what matters most is seeking out the right targets.
A lot of folks wonder how we catch numbers of fish consistently on guided trips. I believe the reason is pretty simple. I know the places well and have fished them in all conditions and seasons and am familiar with them and where the fish will be before a cast is ever made. We do a lot of nymphing at certain times of the year, and beginners are often amazed at the numbers we can amass. Again, I believe the answer is simple. Trout feed 80-90% of the time subsurface. That is a given. We spend our entire day fishing with flies I know work only to places I know the fish will be and using a method that corresponds to the way they almost always are feeding.....subsurface. Seeking out the right targets.
It works the same at other times of the year with the dry fly.....and sometimes in some places it can occur with dry flies all year. Two such friends and anglers Dr. Jim Sellers and Bill Feisler, both of Greensboro, have almost magical abilities with a dry fly. They know where fish are most likely to rise, what they will likely take, possess almost flawless skills to deliver the fly to the target...and they spend their time fishing to fish where they are most likely to rise with something that they are most likely to eat. Seeking out the right targets.
It takes time on the water, reading, studying, experimenting, and you have to be alert and soak in all that you come across. Keeping a fishing log, fishing a lot, and learning from your time on the water all contribute to success. Its a process of learning to spend most of your time in places where the method and setupflies/rigging you are using are being constantly presented to fish that are most susceptible to fall to your presentations.
Because in the end, the art of seduction lies in seeking out the right targets.
Saturday, April 30, 2011
This article to be featured in an upcoming June 2011 issue of "Today's Men" magazine...
in 1992, Robert Redford's film "A River Runs Through It" won the Academy Award for cinematography and also introduced millions of people to a sport that most had probably never even heard of. Against a backdrop of rugged Montana scenery movie watchers looked on as Brad Pitt exclaimed "....in Montana, there's three things we are never late for....church, work, and fishing." The movie was not only about fly fishing, but much more than that it was a movie about relationships among people in the context of fly fishing. And fly fishing remains much the same outdoor, relationally rich activity it was then and that is has always been.
Fly Fishing is mostly different in terms of the equipment one would use. In Fly fishing, we fish for trout, bass, bream, saltwater fish......just about everything. The rod itself is usually seven to nine feet long, and has a very simple reel and a thick plastic line that is heavy enough when cast properly to pull a fly and sometimes weight with it a significant distance through the air. In regular fishing, one would push a button and cast a heavy lure on the end of a very thin fishing line. In fly fishing, the angler is casting the line and the lure (fly) is just being pulled along or going for a 'ride.' We use lures fashioned out of natural materials like fur, feathers, and hair, and often craft these items to resemble an insect, minnow, crayfish, or most any item that a fish might find attractive.
Over the two decades since 1992 the sport of fly fishing has grown leaps and bounds. It is a great activity that can be done alone, with family, friends, co-workers, and business clients, really anyone. It is a great networking tool and connection tool for establishing contact with a prospective client. I see a lot of this today, and its one of the primary benefits of the business I am in.
Here in the Triad, the sport enjoys an enthusiastic following. For me, it has provided a vocation and an avocation for more than two decades: I have been fly fishing for over 30 years and still love it just as much as when I began. As a Professional fly fishing guide and Federation of Fly Fishers Certified Casting Instructor, I own and operate a Fly Fishing Guide and Outfitting business that provides a good living, flexible schedule, travel to great places, and the opportunity to meet and get to know as friends some really great people. Most folks are not only clients, but also my friends.
Folks often get started in this wonderful sport in several ways. I got started early on with my father who made sure I had the opportunity to experience fishing. I later moved on to fly fishing because it was so intriguing and interesting. Many folks get introduced to fly fishing by a friend, family member, co-worker, or business client. Still others take a class or private lessons. Mac Cheek, one customer and friend of mine who I recently asked how best to get one started said "...you find someone like you, a professional who can show you the ropes and help you make progress." Mac did just that several years ago, and now is one of the best fly fishermen I know.
Recently I had the privilege of having lunch with a long time friend and customer David Carter of Greensboro, NC. David has been on many guided trips with me over the pas 15 years or so. In many ways David represents a good example of a typical path so many take in getting started fly fishing. As a corporate executive for a Fortune 500 paper products company in Maine, David left the 8 to 5 corporate job to become an entrepreneur. But before leaving, David had been invited by a group of guys to try his hand as fly fishing and he took them up on it.
A hunter and golfer too, David had a back surgery that would stand to limit some of his more strenuous activities. He had tried fly fishing once with the group of guys and loved it. David remembered seeing a guide in Maine, Cleo Dupwee, someone who was really good and had guided famous folks like Curt Gowdy to name one, and David was amazed at how Cleo could cast a weightless fly such a long way and put it in a coffee can. In David's own words....."I was mesmerized." Though it would lie dormant for a while longer, the fly fishing 'seed' had been planted.
David soon took opportunity to move south to North Carolina and he started his own company, a now very successful company called Emerging Technologies. Now a successful entrepreneur, David is also an avid fly angler. But before he got serious about it he recounts meeting now friend Steve Caldwell, a realtor from Roanoke, VA, and seeing Steve's license plate that had a fly fishing theme on it. David mentioned it to Steve and asked if he fly fished and Steve's response was "yes I do, we ought to go sometime." David took him up on it, and they did a trip to Virginia and got into quite a few fish. David loved it, and in his words David said "I was hooked...."
And such is the case for so many who start fly fishing. Like many young men who grew up playing and enjoying adventures in a creek or stream, looking for minnows, frogs, crayfish, and the like----fly fishing is a "mature" way of returning back to nature just like that. And the best part is that it is all happening and you are growing more and more oblivious to the stress, ringing phone, and all the stuff at the office that makes life so hectic. Its like going to play in the creek in the woods ......."a couch day" as my friend David Carter says.....a day of therapy so to speak that is more enjoyable than going to see a therapist.....
One of the most enjoyable aspects of the sport for me is the career opportunity it affords me. Teaching classes, private lessons on and off the water, doing group classes, guiding fly fishing trips, tying flies, and teaching classes for the University of NC at Greensboro, the City of Greensboro Parks and Recreation Department, as well as A Fly Fishing 101 Class for Guilford Technical Community College are some of the ways I earn a living and help many individuals like David and others start a wonderful lifelong hobby like fly fishing.
Finally, North Carolina is blessed to have a lot of creeks, streams, rivers, lakes, and ponds to play in. Once folks get started in fly fishing, they will find numerous places to enjoy their new hobby. Local venues like Stone Mountain State Park in Wilkes and Alleghany counties, South Mountains State Park in Burke County, Wilson Gorge in Caldwell County, the Mitchell River in Surry County, and the Smith River in nearby Henry County, Virginia-----not to mention the numerous local lakes Townsend, Brandt, Higgins, and local ponds and also fishing in Eastern and coastal North Carolina. The opportunities are nearly limitless......
Don't you think its time for you to fly?
Friday, February 11, 2011
And remember......look for deep green spots with only a little current.......Good fishing....!
Jeff Wilkins Fly Fishing
"Where Fly Fishing is a Professional Passion"
3703 Windspray Court
Summerfield, NC 27358
Sent from my Verizon Wireless HTC Windows Mobile
Friday, December 31, 2010
"90 % of the game is half mental..." -Yogi Berra
Much of what I do and teach others to do is to think through problems on the water and find solutions. When I got into guiding years ago it didn't take me long to figure out that perfect days were few and far between...and for me to be consistently successfully in putting clients and fish and putting landed fish in the net I was going to have to learn to adapt. To think, to think ahead, and to learn the finer points of presentation.....which by the way, is the entirety of what we do the moment we beginning putting on gear. It includes our gear, casting, our knowledge (and study off the water), observation, practice, fly tying (if you do that), .....simply put its everything that contributes to a landed fish in the net.
Over the season I often make notes and write down ideas as they come to mind. Its winter and a good time to polish basic skills, so here are a few notes I have made over the years that have helped me become a better fly angler and guide. Hopefully you will find some helpful tips here as well....some are well developed ideas, some are still developing, still others are in the 'rambling' stage. But so it is......and hope it helps you greatly enjoy your time astream.
Notes From My Guidelog:
Size Matters The fly size when matching a hatching insect is of paramount importance, and ignoring it will likely get you some lonely drifts through water that is teeming with feeding trout....in other words... if you want that large brown trout rising in front of you to show you some love, make sure your bug is the right size. Here's a tip that works for me-- - capture a natural insect and make a note of or measure its body size in millimeters. To do this, you can put a business card in your vest and a Black Sharpie Pen. Then, take the captured fly, lay it on the card, and with a line mark each end of the body. You now have the exact length, which you can then take home and use a metric ruler to determine the body length. Once you know the body length, make note of it in your fishing log, along with the stream the bug came from, the date, all other pertinent information, etc. From this point on whether you are tying or buying your flies you now have a rule of measure that will help you select the proper size.
Be Extra Observant I love Yogi Berra and his famous statements of obvious facts....but he gets the point across. He used to say "you can observe a lot just by watchin...". Yep, I agree. But its suprising how oblivious anglers are sometimes. This sounds silly, but often what occurs on the river is that folks are more interested in casting than catching. Take times when there's a hatch, for example. What occurs during a hatch is that fish in different areas of the pool might be feeding on different stages of the fly that is hatching....if you don't observe the riseform, there's no way to tell exactly what the fish just took. One example is a cool weather hatch we have called Baetis or blue winged olives. These flies are swimmer type mayflies, and they love islands and smooth small gravel runs. Fish that station themselves in the riffles or near the riffles may only see ascending nymphs, or struggling emergers, or maybe a mix of the two. Fish positioned right or left or slightly downstream may be seeing emergers in the greatest number, while fish in the tailouts might see only a few emergers and a mix of duns and cripples (flies that are stillborn or die trying to get out of the nymphal shuck). That is one reason I believe there is no 'miracle ' fly .....otherwise we'd always be able to catch fish consistently no matter the situation and no matter the fly. And that is impossible. Don't believe this? Next time you fish a hatch or anywhere for that matter ask the handful of guys catching all the fish. My bet is that they are all using different flies.
If what you are using isn't working, and you can see fish still feeding on hatching insects, back up one life stage, change the size, or both. This is sort of playing off the point before this one, but sometimes it is the right fly, right size, but wrong stage. If you are using a dun or dry fly, try an emerger. If you are using an emerger, try a nymph or a dropper off your dry fly- -- you kind of get the gist of it. This is one technique that is very effective, mentioned by Gary Borger in his most excellent of fly fishing books entitled "Presentation" . It is in my opinion the best fly fishing book in print. If you don't have one, buy one. It is so packed with great information you won't want to put it down.
If you are using a dry fly, consider the imprint the fly makes or how the natural sits on the water. Each type of dry fly pushes a definite shape or imprint into the surface film. Consider the weight of a size 14 Hendrickson as compared to a #20 or #24 Blue Winged Olive. The Hendrickson is heavy enough to press not only its feet into the surface film, but also its body, which would mean the best fly would be one that mimics those characteristics. A comparadun, or Sparkledun, which sits low in the water with the body pressed into the surface film---would be a great choice to match a Hendrickson. The Baetis on the other hand, in a size #20 or #24 is so light that it can 'stand up' on top of the surface film and have none of its body making contact with the surface. This is why often a dun imitation like a standard BWO or Adams often works quite well when other flies fail, particularly when the fish are keying on the duns.
The profile or shape of a fly can be important also. Research has shown that trout do in fact key on the wing and the height of it. On cold days, damp, rainy days and days with high humidity often the hatched mayfly may have trouble drying their wings enough to begin flight. As a result, the fly may drift for long distances with the wings in a small clump on top of its body. When this is the case, I often switch to one of my personal favorites a short winged deer hair emerger....a deadly fly and one that customers often request when fishing over the more sophisticated trout in the VA and TN tailwater streams.
Sometimes changing the shape of the nymph pattern you are using can be effective. Crawler type mayfly nymphs (sulphurs, hendricksons, some bwos), like free-living (eruciform) caddis fly larvae, often assume a curled up posture when they drift downstream. They are curled up like the shape of the letter 'C'. We often call this the "tucked' position. They wiggle and wiggle, and then relax into this position as the current carries them along. Baetis, on the other hand, are swimmers and assume the shape of a stick much like midge pupae when they are adrift. At certain times of the year I find that certain BWO hatches the straight shanked patterns will perform two or three to one over the curved ones. I have often wondered if this isn't the reason why. If we notice it and we don't live underwater, most certainly the fish notice it. In fact, it would be enough of a difference to be a distinguishing characteristic.
Color rarely has to be exact , but it certainly never hurts. Often when we get the size right and shape right somehow the exact color becomes less of a factor. The shade (light vs dark) is probably the most important factor, and its the bottom of a mayfly that determines what color our fly should be. Occasionally, with certain hatches a general color is all that is needed. I find this with BWOs, and its the major reason why to this day I will just as quickly fish a gray pattern or an Adams if there are small blue wings hatching- --and it probably works 80-90% of the time so long as I have gotten the size and shape and stage of the insect the fish are keying on. There are instances in which I have noticed color can maybe add some 'spice' to the fly, as in the sulphurs that hatch on our local waters. Often the flies are yellow to yellow /chartreuse and also yellow/orange, and the females have eggs inside them as well. For these flies often I find an orange bodied fly works quite well even when then natural insect is obviously yellow on bottom and not orange at all. Go figure.
Though it is rarely mentioned, the way the fly behaves or moves may make a difference. Occasionally, you will find times where moving the fly, twitching it, skittering it, skating it, etc., will cause a fish to strike a fly it was previously ignoring. Sometimes the fish will show rare preferences for the fly to move a certain way. One such example is during a spinner fall, when adult mayflies are dancing about and coming down to the surface, they land and then tap the abdomen on the surface to release the packet of eggs, and occasionally the rise to this type of movement is a slashing take by a fish. Midges have a tendency at times, particularly during mating flights, to hover and buzz over the surface, to land and skitter, and buzz back and forth. And often the fish take notice and will take a small dry fly that is skated or skittered. I remember a float down the world famous South Fork of the Snake River in Idaho, perhaps the easiest dry fly fishing for large fish in the lower 48, when we fished moving our flies on purpose by our guide's instruction. I mean it was like bass fishing the banks for trout. And the end of the drift when the fly starts to drag or swing and pickup speed, that is a time that the fly gets noticed by a fish and often gets hammered. So it would be safe to assume that while we don't move our flies on purpose most of the time, there are indeed times that it might not only be warranted but also called for.
Feeding fish feed in a rythym if there's a steady supply of food or a hatch. Improve your score by timing the drift or arrival of your feathered fraud so that it coincides with when the fish was ready to eat anyway. This is a common and huge mistake on tailwaters I see.....its the one cast, two cast, then move on to another fish type of approach. The best thing is to continually cast to a feeding fish.....trying to time the drift to fit the fish's feeding rythym. On some larger fish I have presented two dozen times only to get a take on the drift when I was reading to move on. Other things worth considering it how long it takes a fish to rise. That is the time between rises plus the time it takes the fish to go from top to bottom, if you can see it. I like to observe a fish closely if its a good one, and make note of how long it takes the fish to rise, take a fly off the surface or pluck an emerger from the film, return to the bottom, and then do it all over again. The amount of time it takes for that to happen tells you how long you should wait between presentations to the fish. Our presentations are much more effective when they arrive at the exact time the fish was going to rise anyway.....which is precisely the point.
Fish often prefer to feed off to one side or the other. When you observe feeding fish make note of whether it is showing a preference in feeding off to a particular angle or side....then present the fly to that side. I have caught fish before and then discovered that they had a bad eye. Also, fish might have a dominant eye as well and prefer to feed off to one side.
Learn to recognize and mitigate drag whenever it occurs. Drag is to be avoided like the plague. There's obvious drag which you can see, and technically it is occuring whenever the fly is moving faster or slower than the current it's sitting in. Then there's micro drag, which occurs at a distance (often when dry fly fishing) and is hard to perceive in many cases. Micro drag is a primary cause of refusals on flat water with dry flies.....the flat surface makes it painfully noticeable. When nymphing, drag is just as important.....its not just a speed thing either. Drag on a nymph presentation means the fly is not able to sink or drift where it needs to be. Often folks fishing fast water or pocket water have this happen and never realize that because of drag the fish never saw the fly because it never reached bottom.....and they move on completely convinced that the fish weren't interested or there were none to be caught.....Big mistake. On guided trips we routinely fish behind other anglers all day long and catch fish by capitalizing on this.
Fish get spooked and lined far more often that we ever realize. Kirk Deeter of Field and Stream magazine once did a feature in which he stated that A lot of anglers have the necessary fishing skills to be successful but lack the necessary wading skills. I completely agree. If you walk heavily in the stream, pushing a wake ahead of you, splashing, ignoring the need to not cast shadows on the water either with your person or your fly rod- - -- then you will spook a lot of fish you would have had a chance to catch. Also, I'd have to say a straight upstream presentation not only presents a difficult line management situation but it almost guarantees that you will line the fish - that is land the line on top of the fish and with the splash, flash, and shadow the fish will spook and its game over. In my lifetime I have only seen two fly anglers who could cast so well they could fish this way to rising fish...... Finally, limit false casting....it only announces your presence to the fish.
He who chases two chickens goes home hungry. When fishing to feeding fish/rising fish, pick out one and go after that one specifically. One mistake that inexperienced and veteran anglers alike make is they get 'buck fever' and a bad case of MTS (Multiple Target Syndrome -common on the South Holston) where there are so many rises they cast here, there, everywhere and hours later have yet to catch a fish. Pick out a fish, present the fly to it. If it doesn't take, analyze what went wrong and correct it or present the fly again. If it quits feeding or spooks, then you can move on to another one. Like a game of pool, pick out fish and fish to them...and always be mindful of the 8 ball (trophy fish).
Misjudgement is a huge problem.....Misjudging the rise or location or depth if nymphing of the fish is a problem. Fish on the bottom are deeper and closer than they appear because of the principle of refraction and the way light is bent when it penetrates the surface. A rising fish will leave a ring on the surface. It takes a small amount of time for the rise ring to actually form, so the fish is often upstream of where the riseform actually appears/ occurs on the surface. The faster the current, the farther upstream the rising fish actually is....and the farther the ring on the surface will have drifted...to sum it all up a rise ring/riseform on the top drifts downstream just like your fly. This is a huge problem on tailwaters where numbers of rising fish exist. One key is to compensate a little, not a lot, cast a little farther upstream....but not too far. Cast too far and the fly drags before it reaches a fish....which is just as bad a mistake. Lead the fish a few feet but no more.
Fish and Cast Less, Rest the Water more.... This definitely applies more to tailwaters and small stream (wild fish) waters, but it is applicable anywhere. Two clients/friends who do this better than anyone I know of and is are easily the two best anglers/dry fly fishermen I have ever met are Dr. Jim Sellers and Judge Joe Craig....to watch them work rising fish is not only watching an exercise in efficiency but it is an art....and a joy to watch. Catch a fish, rest the water. Pick out another fish, calculate the strategy, present the fly. The result: still catch numbers of fish and catch the large/difficult fish no one else can catch. Its a lesson worth putting into practice...!
Fish aren't always feeding This mistake is one of those 'everytime out' mistakes. A typical scenario: its winter, I have worked all week and I can't wait to fish, so I leave home at 530am, head to the river, arrive to the river at 730am and the water is 34F, no bugs about anywhere, no obvious activity of anykind. I rig up with what I have caught fish on before. I go to a pool that I either know has fish or that I can see has fish. Cast , cast, cast, nothing. Same thing for the next two hours. And during that time every pool is like that. My conclusion? Fish aren't interested. My rig is wrong. My flies are wrong. Wrong. The problem probably is that the fish won't even be in feeding mode until 11am, right after you leave at 1030am convinced it was a bad day. They will feed from 11am til mid to late afternoon if its a nice day, then they will shut down just like they were or would have been had you arrived at 730 am and started fishing. The point: fish do things on a schedule sometimes, sometimes they get tuned in to daily hatches, sometimes they have already eaten (like a heavy hatch the day before- - -or a huge brown that ate two six inch rainbows before you showed up). The fact of the matter is sometimes they aren't feeding and there's nothing you can do about it.
Other measures to improve your score.....
Switching to a lighter tippet or a different material. If you aren't getting takes, switch to a lighter tippet or a different /less visible material such as fluorocarbon. That might mean going lighter to 6x, 7x, 8x. Learning to work a nice fish on light tippet will make you a better angler..... If you are nymphing you might switch to fluorocarbon. Whatever the case, you'll normally get more strikes on the lighter stuff. I use a product called 'Shock Gum' which is made by Rio, and its a milky white stretchy material that I tie into the leader butt. It has tons of stretch and protects light tippet when you set the hook or get into a large fish. I have had clients land 7 and 8lb fish using it on 6X material, which is no small feat.
Learn a variety of presentation casts. Learn to do a reach cast. It is the deadliest presentation cast there is for across and down and across presentations and in my opinion it is the most valuable cast in my arsenal for fishing larger waters and tailwaters. It is a presentation cast that allows the fly to go down first without the fish seeing the leader, tippet, or fly line by putting an aerial mend into the line. The mend increases the amount of time the fly drifts drag free to and over the fish. Most clients I have taught this to have noticed an immediate difference in the quality of their presentations, number of fish caught, and the number of larger, tougher, more mature and selective fish they are able to fool.
Learn to tie your own leaders. There are some good substitutes, like Rio's Classic Hand tied Leaders, but in my opinion tying your own George Harvey style leaders is the way to go. All standard fly shop leaders are built on what is called the Ritz formula or 60-20-20 (60% butt, 20% taper, 20% tippet)....which insures turnover and a nice straight leader. When drag free drifts over selective fish are the desire.....straight leader should not be a part of your vocabulary. When you are fishing to rising fish during a hatch, the last thing you want is for the leader to fully straighten out. If it does you get instant drag on the fly and the fish won't touch it. As far as I know, Frog Hair is the only company currently producing a George Harvey leader commercially. A George Harvey leader has a shorter, lighter butt which transfers less power, only enough to turn the leader over but not straighten it. The taper (middle) is tied with longer sections, and the final part is a long supple tippet. Anyone more interested in catching selective trout during a hatch will appreciate that the name of the game is getting a good cast that produces a lot of drag mitigating slack near the fly, not the rocket fast, high line speed, cast a pretty, small, tight loop game that is all too often the rave today.
Learn to Create Slack with your Casts..... Learn to throw lots of slack. The name of the game is getting good drifts, and slack is imperative if good drifts are what you are shooting for. Yes, this I even apply to nymphing. Let me go out on a limb and say that I fish nymphs a lot, I mean a whole lot, in all ways, and I abhor the tight line high stick method you see and observe so many people doing. We don't do this, or shall I say hardly ever do this, and in my opinion is a major reason people don't catch as many fish nymphing as they might. Why? One there's no slack and what is happening is they are actually creating drag by holding the rod high. Slack not only delivers a good drift but also is the reason the fly reaches bottom. It's not all weight that gets the fly down. But you say, "wait a minute, if I have all that slack I won't be able to set the hook." If you have too much slack yes that is true. But what I do and what I teach clients is proper line management - - - which includes slack in combination with mending in just the right amount. And we get consistent results , day in and day out in every conceivable stream condition.
Learn a Variety of Casts. Learn to do all types of casts----steeple casts, parachute casts, pile casts, etc, casts that make it possible to get good drifts. Many of the lessons I do for intermediate and advanced anglers, yes I said intermediate and advanced anglers--- is to teach them to throw slack and then manage it effectively. It really has very little to do with how well you can cast or fish a straight line.
Slack in the Leader is a Great Thing. Anyone more interesting in catching more trout instead of looking good will learn to put lots of slack into the leader....and sometimes doing it will look sloppy. Plenty of slack is a good thing if its in the leader, and maybe a little to no slack in the line. But the point is we are shooting for manageable slack --that is just enough that allows a natural drag free and natural presentation but that still allows for effective striking or hook setting. In my fly fishing classes, lessons, and schools, I often do a little exercise showing folks how much slack is actually manageable. I ask my students, "Does anyone believe if their leader, the entire leader, is piled up in a Dixie Cup, and they get a strike, that they could still set the hook effectively?" The answer, predictably, is usually "Of course not." The correct answer? Absolutely it is. You can pile up your entire leader in a cup, set a hook, and then connect on the hookset. Don't believe this? Give it a try. Rig up your rod, have a friend or spouse step on the fly, then pile the leader up right at their foot. Now stretch out, lets say 15-20 feet, 30 feet, whatever you like, of fly line. Now pretend you just got a strike and set the hook sharply. You will be surprised if you are like most anglers that you can still connect on the hookset. Herein lies the point.....you can do this when the slack is in the leader.
Learn a few tricks to put in your bag.....This is one where we can really get creative. One thing western spring creek guides and seasoned anglers often do is cast downstream and to the right or left of the fish, then they pull the fly upstream and into the line of drift where it will pass over the fish, then drop the rod tip which puts enough slack into the fly to get it over the fish without drag. Another trick that works well is to use some of the dry fly powders or dessicants like Doc's Dust and Frog's Fanny to create lifelike air bubbles on your nymph. Just rub a bit into the wingcase of a nymph or emerger, doing so on a subsurface fly makes an air bubble cling to the surface of the fly, exactly like what happens when a real fly comes to the surface to hatch. One last thing, which I have used a lot in both my own fishing and with clients, is to use something odd like a streamer or terrestrial or egg pattern...maybe something totally different from what you would normally use. "Hatch breakers" like terrestrials are a good example. Beetles, ants, and hoppers are such delectable treats for a trout that sometimes they'll take a terrestrial during a hatch even when they are obviously feeding on flies that are hatching. This happens a lot during mid-summer to fall blue winged olive hatches on Virginia's Smith River. I remember one past trip on the TN' South Holston when I was there with Ken and Sandy Van Hook of Pinnacle, NC. We had noticed several fish rising in the run in front of us as some sulphurs had begun to hatch. We saw a ginormous (gigantic + enormous) brown take a slashing strike at one of the 10 inch rainbows that were rising to the hatching flies. Yes, he was trying to eat that 10" rainbow. I dug out another fly box from the back pouch on my SIMMS vest, and found a 5-6" white Lefty's deceiver. We tied it on and two casts and a ten minute fight later that ginormous brown trout lay in my net.
Well, time to put some of this to work.....