Sunday, July 31, 2011

Harvey Style Leaders.........

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.

Dog Days 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 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 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!


Riseforms......the tell tale ring of a feeding trout on the water's surface. For many anglers its what fly fishing is all about.....casting to a rising fish. But rising fish, though feeding and an easy visible target, can be difficult to catch, particularly if you can't tell what the fish are feeding on. In this short piece, I will give you a few ideas on fishing to rising trout..and what some of the different types of rises are...and what they indicate.....and most importantly, what you may want to consider if you are to be successful fishing to them. In our area anglers are most likely to have these opporunities to cast to risers on our tailwater rivers...but you will see them everywhere on occasion.

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 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 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 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.