Sunday, February 26, 2012

Don't get stuck...

Split Back CDC Hendrickson Emerger

Ruts can be pretty easy to get stuck in, especially when it comes to fishing. It’s easy and tempting to rely on tried and true techniques and flies that have equaled success in the past. We all know that guy who ties a black bugger to a new 9’ leader in April, and come September you can still find that same chewed up bugger on that now kinked and wind knotted leader that’s down to the last 6 feet. Good for him. He’s probably some type of Zen master who has achieved fly fishing Nirvana in the simplicity of his approach- and he probably even catches enough trout to be pretty happy with things just the way they are.

It has been said, that any fool can make a complicated mess out anything, but true genius will find the simplest solutions. That’s a pretty good way to approach any problem, but when it comes to complicated matters such as love, war and, on occasion, fly fishing, having a deep skill set to draw upon will help to achieve the best results.

This past fall I got to spend a day fishing with fellow Wild River guide Scott Overbey. We stumbled into some ridiculously good fishing on a little piece of tucked away water. In the first 20 minutes of fishing I had landed 4 butter-sided fall browns between 14 and 16”. Solid lake fish that had migrated into moving water for the spawn. Scott was doing equally as well as we dead drifted 6mm tangerine eggs with plenty of split shot under indicators. Even after the fast start we tweaked our weight and adjusted our indicators until things were fine-tuned and preceded to hammer a pile of fish in a relatively short section of stream. It was one of those moments that sticks with you; one of those days that you later recollect over a beer in January as epic- a term that admittedly gets a bit overplayed these days- but nonetheless fit my personal definition. As we fished we joked that it almost felt like cheating, and we should change flies or techniques just to make life a little harder on ourselves. Yes, fly anglers are a misfortunate breed.

But after about an hour or so the egg-drift-bite noticeably slowed down. We went a little longer between the telltale quivers of the indicator before it was pulled sub-surface by a hungry brown until ultimately our drifts were ignored. Something was changing. It wasn't long before we noticed rise forms near that head of this classic pool, where fast water dumped out of a shallow riffle. The rises became so numerous that literally there were 4 or 5 rises in a span of one or two seconds. It was November, these were spawning browns, and it seemed like every one of them was suddenly looking up.  We both mumbled something along the lines of "What the ----?"

We stalked to the head of the pool along the bank, took up a position in the brush, and watched. We were now hunting individual fish. Snouts broke the water with telltale bubbles left behind- surface rises. No bugs could be seen- trapped emergers in the film? Tiny blue wings? Midges? We started re-rigging for dry fly fishing with hand tied Rio twelve-foot 5x leaders. We still weren’t 100% on the bugs, but given the time of year and having fished this piece of water quite a bit, we made an educated guess and figured a blue wing hatch was unfolding. I tied a size 16 CDC Parachute BWO as the lead fly, more as an indicator to monitor my drift, with 24” of 6X tippet tied off the bend of the lead fly with a #20 un-beaded flashback Pheasant Tail dropped to imitate an emerging baetis nymph. A dab of Gink on the nymph would keep it up top in the film. 

After carefully wading in to get into position and making a few delicate casts followed by what seemed like perfect dead drifts, we earned a few looks that resulted in last second refusals. Smaller flies? Micro drag on the leader? While standing in the water, closer inspection revealed a well built, chubby looking midge crawling about the rocks and in the foam collecting in the back eddies. A size 20 Griffiths Gnat traded places with the floating pheasant tail nymph as the dropper. The larger BWO remained on point to again serve as an indicator because I have a hard time seeing and tracking size 20 Gnats. The presentation process was repeated, this time followed by a swirl, some bubbles, a set, and the satisfying dead weight followed by the energetic thrashing of another plump fall brown. Scott and I switched off and took turns hooking and landing a scandalous number of fish on dry flies, in November. A feat that we knew would not likely be repeated for some months to come with winter fast approaching.

It doesn’t always work out that smoothly. And sometimes figuring out a bite can mean a lot of trial and error. But being November, the advantage was ours because the available menu of aquatic insects willing to hatch that late in the year is much more limited. Compare that to early summer conditions in say June, when a simultaneous compound hatch of 2 or 3 different insects can happen with other bugs in various phases of their life cycle present as well. Things can get complicated fast during times when a wide range of insect sizes, shapes, and colors are available for trout to feed on. Particularly because in these situations trout will typically key on to, and rhythmically feed on only one of the available insects (usually the most prevalent one)- a survival strategy that allows them to take in the most calories in the most efficient manner possible. For the angler that means you may see Hendrickson duns on the surface, but your #14 Adams doesn’t catch any fish because they are feeding on the size 16 sedge-caddis emerges just below the surface. We’ve all been there, stumped and frustrated at some point in our angling life- and it’s no wonder we all know a guy who only fishes a black woolly bugger regardless of whats happening on the water.

The point of all this is that flexibility and change are important to the fly angler.  Always observe first, it’s easy to charge in and start peppering a run with casts- but remember, usually the first cast is your best shot at a fish before the odds of making a bad move and spooking your quarry start working against you. Change your fly size and pattern, adjust your weight and move your indicator to work the entire water column, use sink-tips and full sinks with streamers, mix up your retrieve, and keep watching and observing. All of these factors can be the difference between an “epic” day and one that was “pretty good”.

Sometimes margins between success and skunkzilla are razor thin. Pay close attention, stay flexible, carry a range of tools (leaders, flies, lines, etc) to get the job done, and keep working it.

It may end up as a one of those days that it feels like cheating- almost.

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