Fly Fishing Tips and Tricks
The Irony of Natures Chum
Most fly fisherman would never toss a bucket of fish pellets into a body of water to chum the fish into gorging themselves and then cast a fly that imitated a fish pellet into the swarm of feeding fish. Yet we delight in the anticipation of nature chumming the water for us with thousands of small insects, and tossing our imitation of natures chum into the middle of the feeding frenzy in order to increase our odds of catching a fish.
Invite Them in Without Driving Them Out
I began taking my children fly fishing before they could walk. At first, they took in the great outdoors from my shoulders while I caught a few fish. I would let them touch the fish and occasionally hold it. I enjoyed watching them get excited, hold a squirming fish in their tiny arms and laugh as the fish slipped out of their grasp and back into the water. By the time they could walk, they loved holding the rod in their hands. I would hook a fish without them knowing and hand them a rod that unbeknown to them had a fish on the end of the line. They would reel in the line awkwardly until they felt a tug on the other end. Then they would laugh and dance about excitedly as they reeled in the fish. This technique proved to be very helpful in letting the children feel a sense of success
About the time that my children reached the age of 5 or 6 years old, I presented each of them with their own fly rod. This changed the game. They now wanted to go fly fishing more but insisted that they use their own rod. Eventually, they wanted to cast better. At that time I had the opportunity to teach them a thing or two that would help them achieve their goal.
Last year, on the Provo River, my children were fishing to rising fish and enjoying success catching fish on dry flies. My 14-year-old daughter was double hauling and placing the fly where she wanted and my 9-year-old boy was not able to cast quite as good. After a period of time, my boy turned to me after landing another beautiful brown trout and said “Daddy when we get back to the shop I need another casting lesson.”
I have not indoctrinated my children into the sport nor have I tried to force my passion onto them. Instead I have exposed them to the pleasures of fly-fishing with friends and family. By age 13 my daughter could outcast any of our guides in both accuracy and distance but not because I had spent hours teaching her the intricacies of the sport. She has reached a level of success because she has only been exposed to positive experiences related to fly-fishing and then been taught a few tidbits of good information along the way.
I have watched several friends drive their children and spouses away from the sport. Fortunately for me, I was able to observe this prior to having my own children and based on my own experiences with my father when I was very young, combined with my observations of certain failures of good, well intended men, I was able to introduce my children to the sport of fly fishing in a way that they could enjoy and in a way that always leaves them wanting more.
A Few Simple Rules
There are a few simple rules that I follow with my children and I think they apply to all fly fishermen when introducing a child, spouse, friend or relative to the sport.
The first thing that I acknowledge is that this is my passion and not theirs. I cannot transfer my passion to anyone! Well meaning fathers and husbands often nit pick their loved one to the point of driving them away from the sport. The new comer may leave the experience with emotions such as boredom, anger, frustration or some other negative feeling.
I never loose sight of my number one goal. I want my children to leave the experience with one thought in mind. Fly fishing equals good times with dad. I don't care if my children have a passion for fly-fishing. In fact it is quite unlikely that they will ever be as passionate about fly-fishing as I am. Quite simply, I want to spend time with my children. And it just so happens that I love the sport of fly-fishing.
First and foremost, I need to remember that when I go fishing with my children, the day is not about me. I don't go fishing with my kids thinking that I am going to get some good fishing time. I go thinking that I am going to spent quality time with them. When my children are with me, I don't care if I catch a fish or not, but I do care about two things. I want them to have fun and I want them to go again. If I concern myself with trying to get quality fishing time for me, they will undoubtedly get frustrated and or bored at some point.
I never want them to be bored. I prefer to take my kids fishing only when the location and conditions are such that it is likely they will catch something or in someway experience some success. I will go fishing anytime or any place just because I love it. I will not be bored because I already have passion for the sport but for them, fishing too long will result in them leaving the experience bored as apposed to wanting to return.
Next, I never criticize my children while they are fishing!!! Many well meaning parents and husbands bombard their spouse or child with better ways to do it. “Don't hold the rod like this… mend like that… cast the rod like this.” This council, although it is offered with the intent of helping them achieve success, will be viewed by them as constant criticism. Instead, I like to offer 1 single piece of helpful advice from time to time but ONLY when I sense that they will be receptive to it. After I offer the tidbit of information, I leave them alone! Let them do it, experience self-discovery and have fun!
I don't care if they get the line tangled because I will untangle it. If they break of the fly, I will retie it. If they cast into a tree, I will retrieve it. If they want help making the cast, I will help them. I choose the location carefully and they may not catch a lot of fish but they will probably catch something and they will have fun doing it.
I always plan non-fishing diversions. When I fish with my kids, I will always pack a ball, Frisbee, a picnic, butterfly net or whatever else. Remember, I do not want them to get bored. I don't care if we fish a lot, a little, or at all. I just want them to have fun. Maybe we will play Frisbee, fish a little and have a picnic but for sure, when we're finished, they will want to go again because they had fun.
Lastly, I always end the fishing day prior to the children being finished. I want them to leave wanting more. Eventually, they will be tired, hungry and bored no matter how good the fishing is. I do not want this to happen. I don't want them to be so exhausted that they just don't want to fish anymore. For this reason I will give them plenty of time to enjoy their day. Whether they fish for a few minutes or a few hours. I will anticipate them getting their fill and end the day prior to the point of them having enough. I will tell the kids that we will need to go soon. “But daddy I want to keep fishing.” Will always be the response. At that point I will concede.
“OK… 15 more minutes… but then we have to go.” They may not think they are ready to go yet, but it will be time to go and they'll want to come back.
My fishing experience with my kids will not likely yield the greatest fish story of my life, but by carefully managing the way I fish with my kids, they will always have fun, they will leave wanting more and they will learn a few things either from me, or from their own errors. But most importantly they will leave the experience knowing that fly fishing equals good times with dad. Maybe they will become passionate about the sport and maybe not. It makes no difference to me. But one thing's for sure; I will spend great time with my kids. It just so happens that we use fly-fishing as the excuse.
- Eddie Robinson
Car Rides and Conversations
The holiday season reminds me of how much I miss my family, especially my dad and how I miss fishing with him. My father is of course, still alive, but I don't get to see him as often as I would like, nor do we have as many opportunities to spend together chasing fish. I'm sure that he gets a little tired of me calling him all the time to tell him about work, fishing or guiding experience, or when I need advice. Regardless of the nature of the phone call he listens and for that I am grateful.
My dad has spent a lot of time listening to me; the majority of that time has been spent in the cab of a truck or the side of a river. He used that time to listen and talk, often sharing wisdom and advice, some of which was not wanted but eventually appreciated. Perhaps the best thing that my father ever did for me was take me fishing. For a whole day, or however long we spent fishing and traveling, I had nowhere else to go. There is no doubt that this was my father’s device for driving me to communicate with him. Growing up we talked about everything, from girls and sports, to religion and responsibility. We discussed fish caught and fish lost, and fish we hoped to see, and places we had never seen but wanted to visit. Sometimes we spoke just for the sake of speaking. Amid the differences that fathers and son's face during the teenage years there was always a constant common ground and connection for us, where we were simply fisherman looking for the same passage. As I have grown older and moved away I find myself longing for those moments.
It is no wonder that whenever I return home I make it a point to fish with my dad, even if conditions aren't optimal, the ritual of fishing with him is important to me.
My wife and I were able to go to Washington to visit my family for Thanksgiving, and like any other visit I knew that a day of angling was sure to ensue. I later found myself swinging flies for steelhead on one of the Northwest's mighty rivers, searching for a ghost.
Holding a fish that has come home from the ocean to its native river, and is bright, and beautiful, and big is like holding electricity; there is a surge that travels from within this fish, it pulsates into your hands and through your arms and then eventually to your body, staving off the wet cold northwestern air and recharging your soul. I look at these fish and I think about their journey, a perilous one to say the least, the ones that make it home after three years or more at sea represent nothing short of a miracle.
Watching this giant sea run rainbow trout slip through my hands, wiggle and pulse then disappear into the dark is haunting, and that feeling will never leave me.
I can't help but feel a connection to this fish, both of us making journeys back to our homes, though I can hardly say that a two hour plane ride is as perilous as swimming from the salt through a maze of hardships but my journey has not been without difficulty, I have so many times disappeared into ghastly waters only to be driven back.
As I look down stream at my own father I think about his journey and my journey, and as memories fill my mind of a small boy being lugged across a northern Idaho stream on the shoulders of my father, the first fish on a fly, car rides and conversations, guide trips and adventures, I feel a great sense of gratitude for the rite, and for being a fisherman.
The greatest thing my father ever did was take me fishing. Sometimes the smallest things have the biggest impacts in our lives, and perhaps the greatest thing that I will ever do is to take someone else fishing.
- Bryce Clark
My flies keep breaking off!! What’s up with my knot??
There are many knots to use to tie on a fly and most of them work just fine But sometimes anglers suffer from the fly coming off with only very little pressure being applied, resulting in the loss of a perfectly good fly, the loss of a fish and/or a great deal of frustration. The most common knots used for tying on the fly are the clinch knot and the improved clinch knot, they are essentially the same knot (with one minor variation) and are also known as the fisherman’s knot but if the knot is not formed and tightened correctly, it will surely fail. I recall a day in the 1980’s when the fish were rising like mad. I was using an improved clinch knot and I proceeded to hook and loose 21 fish in a row (obviously I lost 21 flies as well). Each fish took my fly and when I set the hook, it simply came untied leaving a ‘pig tail’ at the end of the leader. I thought I had bad tippet but when I changed to a brand new spool that I had in my vest, I continued losing flies and fish until I had no more flies and I don’t ever remember being more frustrated on the water. It turned out that I was not tightening the knot correctly… Now, I really like the clinch knot because it is very quick and easy to tie and it is very reliable. Provided the knot is formed and tightened correctly, one should never experience failure.
Most fishermen know this knot and tie it correctly but the problem occurs (as it did with me), when the knot is tightened, this is the critical part. The clinch knot is properly formed by passing the line through the eye of the fly and then wrapping the tag end around the standing end 5-7 times, before passing the tag end back through the loop of the line at the base of the twisted section (which is at the eye of the hook). A diagram may be helpful here but I am going to operate on the assumption that most fishermen know this knot up to this point. Tightening the knot properly is the critical part and it is where many people get into trouble. To properly tighten the clinch knot, after the knot is formed, hold the ‘HOOK’ in one hand and the ‘MAIN LINE’ in the other. Simply moisten the knot for lubrication and tighten down the knot. If you hold the ‘tag end’ of the leader in one hand and the ‘main line’ in the other hand while tightening it, it will fail!!
Some anglers prefer the improved clinch knot, which adds a step. After the knot is formed and the tag end has been passed through the loop, the tag end is then passed through a second loop, which was formed when bringing the tag end down to the first loop. I use the clinch knot but never use the improved clinch! It adds a step and my knots aren’t failing. I use it on trout, salmon, bonefish, permit, tarpon and more. The proof is always in the pudding. If you are using a knot that you like, and it is knot failing, keep using it. But if your clinch knots are failing, try tightening them this way.
Fishing Streamers for Big Fish
It is a fact that streamer fishing can produce the largest of trout. Unfortunately very little has been written about when to use them and how to properly fish them. Those who use them, swear by them and most anglers fish them by casting and stripping, swinging or jigging them. There is no wrong way to fish a streamer but by following a few simple guidelines, anyone can know when to use them and how to have great success fishing these producers of large trout. I use 3 criteria when I fish streamers that allow me to fish a wide range of water types very relaxed and with a high level of confidence that allows me to completely enjoy my experience.
Streamer flies evolved from the original Atlantic salmon style of fly tying in an attempt to create a fly that looked like a small fish. As modern anglers have come to understand the aggressive nature of larger trout, streamer flies have evolved into other things that can trigger aggression using color, movement and/or size and shape that will move water and create vibrations that the fish can sense. There is definitely a time and a place for all types of streamers.
Fish will eat a streamer for one of a two reasons. Either the fish will be fooled into eating the fly because it looks like the food that the fish is used to eating, or it will eat the fly because the angler is able trigger an aggressive response from the fish. This aggressive response can be triggered from the size of the fly, the color or combination of colors of the fly, the manner in which it is presented or a combination of fly and presentation. In the common world of fly-fishing, the fly is often chosen by the angler because it looks like the food that the fish is eating at a given time. Nature produces an abundance of food, fish begin feeding on it, the angler observes it, chooses an imitation of it, rigs up his or her line properly and delivers the imitation in front of the feeding fish. The problem with streamers is that unlike a mayfly hatch that may be in progress for 30 minutes to several hours, it is very rare that fish are actively eating baitfish for more than a few brief moments. And unless the behavior is taking place with regularity and the angler can be prepared for it, there is very little time for the angler to observe and react making it difficult for the angler to capitalize on the situation. Therefore, in order to hedge ones bet with streamers, it is best to identify when to fish them and then do so in a manner that will trigger an aggressive response. Fortunately by following a few simple steps, anyone can learn this without much heartache.
When to fish a streamer
Trout may eat a streamer on any given day and on any body of water but there are certain times when we can predict the likelihood of trout being prone to taking these flies. There are times on some streams, when due to very low food availability that trout seem to go into a lethargic, energy saving mode in which they may not be willing to move much at all. These are often during cold winter months on streams that just don’t have great winter hatches… Avoid those time periods on those streams for streamer fishing. Aside from that extreme, trout will be more likely to hit a streamer in low light conditions and during the several weeks preceding spawning. This means fishing streamers on overcast days, mornings, evenings and at night will typically mean more fish. During periods of pre-spawn, trout undergo hormone changes and become very aggressive and territorial. Fishing streamers during this time is a great bet but when the angler encounters low light conditions during pre-spawn periods, it is a golden opportunity.
How to fish a streamer
As I mentioned previously, there is no wrong way to fish a streamer. Conversely, there is no one right way to fish a streamer either. Instead of pre-determining how you will fish a streamer and consequently seeking out water types that are conducive to the fishing technique that will be used, I have 3 criteria and a couple of basic rules that guide my decisions. By fishing streamers this way, I am able to adapt and fish streamers in any water type. I no longer need to seek out certain water types, depths or current speeds. I only need to have an idea of where there may be a fish that I’d like to catch.
There is nothing wrong with having a pre-determined technique and seeking out water that works with it but depending on the method and the water type, there will likely be limitations. I don’t want to be limited to where and how I can fish streamers. I only want to identify that the time is right, and after that, I want to be able to fish effectively to any fish in a river.
The 3 Criteria
First and foremost, I want to fish my streamer at the fish’s depth. I often see anglers fishing streamers with a floating fly line and a long leader. The streamer can be seen moving just under the surface of the water. This may produce a few fish but I do much better when my streamer is deep. In my opinion there is no more effective way of fishing a streamer in a river than with a sink tip fly line. It is easy to get the fly deep and the floating portion of the fly line can be mended easily to allow the angler to adjust the flies depth, change the orientation of the fly or adjust the speed of the fly (faster or slower). If you do not have a sink tip fly line and do not want to buy one, there is a less expensive alternative in the form of a sinking tapered leader. It is not as good as an integrated sink tip fly line but it will get the job done in a pinch.
Secondly, I want to fish my streamer so that the fish has a broadside view of the fly. I do not catch as many fish on streamers when I am casting a streamer straight toward a fish and stripping it back so that the fish only see’s the fly from directly behind it. I prefer to position myself in a spot where I can cast and mend the line so that the fish sees the entire profile of the fly. The use of a riffle hitch is also a great tool here but I will leave that topic for another day. I could not do justice to the subject of fishing a riffle hitch in the confines of this article.
After the streamer is deep and broadside to the fish, the third criteria is to present the streamer with erratic movement. This can be achieved by stripping line in, jiggling the rod tip, mending or any combination that the angler deems appropriate. The key here is that the streamer has random erratic movement as if to simulate either a wounded minnow or a small baitfish darting about. Stripping the line is best done with the rod very low to the waters surface (the lower the better) so that the fly has sharp movements and distinct starts and stops.
When stripping the line back, with the rod tip low, point the rod toward the fly but about 15 to 20 degrees to the one side or the other of the fly line. Do not point the rod directly down the line because the rod will not be able to absorb any of the impact when the fish hits the fly. Yet if the rod is held too far to one side or the other, depending on the rod and the angle, the rod may absorb too much of the pressure to set the hook firmly in the fishes mouth. 15 to 20 degrees is perfect!
Keep your leader short. I prefer 3 to 4 feet maximum, including tippet! I use a tapered leader to 0x or 1x with a total distance from fly line to fly at about 3 feet or so. Some people do not taper the leader. It is not necessary for fly delivery provided that your leader is heavy enough but I prefer to use a tapered leader so that the weakest part of the leader is very near the fly in case I break off.
If you want to add weight to help the fly sink faster, twist on lead is the best I’ve found for streamer fishing. Far superior to split shot, it stays put, it’s easy to add or remove weight and it casts like a dream.
Finally, when the fish takes the fly, it will be explosive! If you are not ready, it may even pull the line out of your hand. DO NOT SET THE HOOK! If you set the hootipsk in the traditional manner, you will land a few fish but you will likely have many strikes while only landing a portion of them. When the fish hits the fly, simply do nothing. It takes nerves of steel not to react by raising the rod but trust me; you will hook up more fish if you just let the fish set itself.
Identifying when to fish streamers and following these criteria is fun and rewarding. Many people wait a lifetime to catch the size of fish that will readily eat a properly presented streamer fly.
Use the pump properly, but don’t kill the fish
An angler using a stomach pump to see what a fish has been eating can be a very controversial topic among fly fishing enthusiasts. When used properly it can be a very educational tool but often times a stomach pump is used improperly resulting in the well meaning angler killing the very fish he is trying to preserve. For this reason many fly fishing shops prefer not to keep them in inventory as a statement of their dedication to the resource. In my opinion, not selling them doesn’t prevent fisherman from purchasing them elsewhere and unknowingly using them improperly.
I believe that a pump can be used properly to gain knowledge without harming the fish, and instead of speaking in a condescending manner to the angler who would like to purchase and use one; the fly shop offers a platform to inform anglers of how to use the tool to their advantage without harming the fish.
The worst thing that can be done is to call it a ‘stomach pump’. The name itself conjures up an idea of how it should be used. Ironically the same fisherman that uses a stomach pump is most often the angler who prefers to release a fish unharmed to fight another day. For many fly fishing purists, it crosses ethical lines, do to the fact that fish are often unnoticeably injured and subsequently killed as a result of improper use of the tool. At this point the angler might as well kill the fish and eat it because it will most likely die anyway. It is not uncommon for a bait fisherman to kill a fish and cut open its stomach in order to inspect its contents and discover what it has been eating. It may satisfy a curiosity but anyone who has done it knows that most of the time, all that will be found is a dark ball of half digested gunk. In my opinion the tool should be called a ‘throat sampler’
So how does one utilize a pump to his or her advantage without harming the fish?
- First, all of the air should be removed from the bulb and the tube by holding it under water and squeezing the bulb a few times. At this point, the bulb and tube will be completely full of water.
- Next, the bulb should be squeezed to expel most of the water and with the bulb held in the squeezed position and the fish still being held in the water (for me it is in my net), the tube should be inserted into the fish’s mouth at the back of the mouth and at the entrance of the throat.
- Now, by releasing the grip on the bulb, a void is created inside the bulb and if there are insects near the end of the tube, they will be sucked into the tube for angler to view and inspect.
A few things to note.
- First and foremost, never push the tube beyond the back of a fish’s throat. As an angler, I don’t really care about what is way down in the throat, or the stomach of a fish. After all, I’m not trying to determine what the fish ate two or three hours ago, I want to know what it has been eating in the last twenty minutes. For this reason, there is simply no need to push a stomach pump way down into a fish.
- Finally, NEVER squeeze the bulb when the tube is in a fish. Squeezing water into a fish can easily rupture the fish.
Whether you feel it is ethical or unethical to use a stomach, actually a throat pump. It is legal, and using a pump properly can be fun and educational.
Ready, Fire, Aim
Many people know their home waters like the back of their hand. These types of anglers can be divided into two groups of people; good fly fisherman, and fisherman who know their home waters. Fisherman who know their home waters, know where to go, when to go, where to fish, where to stand and cast, Which fly to use etc.… An angler can learn many of these things from a friend, a guide, the Internet or fellow fisherman. The anglers who know these things and who are proficient at them only achieve this knowledge through many hours of fishing their home waters. When I reached this point, I fondly felt that I had arrived and that I had become a good fisherman only to be severely humbled and humiliated every time conditions changed or when I fished waters that were different than my home water. My first reaction was always to declare that one river was simply not as good as another or (in the case of my home water after a change in conditions) to blame the conditions. I could be quoted as saying things such as “the fishing isn’t any good now because….”. I would use water level, water clarity, temperature, weather patterns and even fish selectivity and fish intelligence for the reasons that I was not doing well at the time. I would say things such as “fishing was terrible today.” And “nobody was catching fish today.” Sometimes I would even say things like “Not even the guides were catching fish today.”
Eventually, it occurred to me that fish are wild animals and that they must eat every day. And if they eat every day, and I place a reasonable representation of the their food source in front of them and make it look alive, the probability of the fish eating my fly would be pretty good. Therefore, if the fish weren’t eating my fly, I was doing something wrong. This way of thinking radically changed my fly-fishing. With the help of a good friend, I became aware of a well-known life principle that says that when a person has the mindset that their problem is ‘out there’ (the thinking that the problem is not caused by them and therefore being used as an excuse for failure). That thinking is the problem. When the angler views the problem as an uncontrollable exterior force, they are fishing with a paradigm that leads them to believe that due to situational conditions, the problem cannot be solved. As apposed to an angler thinking totally different and looking ‘inward’ to discover what it is that he or she could do differently to solve a given situation and catch the fish even when conditions seem difficult (they may only be difficult if an angler is using the same technique that isn’t working, yet repeating it). I was beginning to learn that if I wanted to become a better fisherman, I had to start taking responsibility for my lack of success instead of blaming all of the conditions around me when I didn’t catch fish. I had purchased the gear and had invested years on the water but now it was time to start looking inward, thinking differently and refining a systematic approach that would allow me to dissect every body of water upon arrival and solve the puzzle even when solving the puzzle meant using techniques and systems that were not what I was accustomed to doing.
Every single day, the river or lake will offer the fly fisherman something. Sometimes it will offer you more than others. Sometimes it will offer great dry fly fishing and other times not. I believe that there are two things required to become a good fisherman. First, the angler must recognize that the river will grant the fly fisherman something even if it is not offering them what they would like it to, the fisherman must be able to evaluate the current conditions of the stream and determine what it is that the river is really offering at that moment.
Now this is where some people get into trouble. I know one fisherman who believes that he is systematically breaking down the river each time he goes fishing. He looks into the air to see if insects are flying around. If so, he will put on a dry fly. If he does not see anything flying or fish rising, he will get out his seine and begin taking samples until he finds a sow bug or other crustacean. He will then tie on a shrimp or a sow bug pattern. If he does not find a sow bug or shrimp in his sampling, he will continue to take samples until he finds one. He believes that he is being scientific and solving the puzzle but in reality he has subconsciously pre-determined that if the fish are rising, he will look into the air and match what’s flying, otherwise he will tie on a sow bug or a scud. This is fine for him about 50% of the time but what about those times when fish are eating insects on or near the surface that are different than what the angler sees flying in the air; what about the times when the fish are eating emergers or nymphs and or pupa that are rising to the surface of the water? All of these situations can produce rising fish but the type of rise will be different depending on the type or stage of the insect available to the fish and the fly will be very different, sometimes in the look and construction of the fly and sometimes simply how it should be fished. The angler that I mentioned is not really seeking to understand exactly what it is that the river is offering, rather, he is systematically reaffirming which fly he wants to use and then doing the same thing that he always does. He catches fish almost every time he goes to his home waters but he also complains from time to time that the fish are very picky. I know him well and the excuses always seem to increase when he is not fishing in one of his usual spots.
Once an angler has determined what it is that the river is offering on a given day, the second half of the puzzle is thinking differently. By this I mean that the angler should be completely willing to try any technique necessary to capitalize on the situation without predetermining techniques, flies and fishing spots. This may mean casting a different direction, changing leader or tippet configurations or it may mean being willing to do something very unconventional and out of the box.
Many fly fishermen have a set of techniques and good fishing spots where they are successful. Anglers often fondly believe that their favorite fishing holes are better than other places on the river but in truth, fish are located throughout most trout streams and the fly fisherman’s favorite hole is not necessarily always better than other places, the techniques that he or she is accustomed to using is simply matched well with the depth, currents and water speeds of the area. When the Angler can determine exactly what the river has to offer every single time and then be able to adapt and deliver exactly what is required in order to capitalize on the situation, they catch more fish with a greater level of efficiency in a broader range of fishing situations. Ideally, the idea is to systematically break down the situation and allow circumstances to determine the method.
A Seine Answer to an Insane Question,"Which Fly to Use?"
At first glance, the fly fisherman’s dedication to the sport seems almost unconditional. It appears as though there is nothing an angler will not do to tip the odds in his or her favor. It seems there is no limit to the amount of money they are willing to spend or the time they will invest. They wake up long before the sun comes up and at times they travel hundreds and even thousands of miles to reach a desired fishing destination. They spend countless hours reading books and studying charts that predict what to use and when to go. They willingly endure extreme weather conditions and gladly miss a meal in trade for a few more hours on the stream. It is no big deal to spend several hundred dollars on a high tech graphite fly rod and many hours in the park perfecting the art of casting. But buried some where in the ongoing list of things that define the fly fisherman’s devotion to the sport, there is a mystery, an irony that runs counter to all of the angler’s apparent dedication to the sport.
After all the preparation, money, time and long meaningful conversations about trout and insect behavior, the angler arrives at the river only to ask the million-dollar question.
Dressed to the hilt in a sort of ceremonial set of gear, the angler stands over the water staring blankly, and as if the river will speak back to him, he asks, “Which fly should I put on?”
All anglers are not as unsophisticated however. Some of them figure out that the fly that worked last time, will probably work today too. These are the ones you see rigging their fly rods at the gas pump at the base of the canyon, or the ones at the trail-head that have already determined how long the leader should be, what size the tippet should be, and have already selected and tied on, the proper fly in the proper size. For these anglers, if they don’t catch any fish, the fish simply aren’t biting. To heck with the theory of fish being opportunists.
Next, there are those of us who take all of the guesswork out of it. The ones who leave nothing to chance, the anglers who value their time spent fishing so much that they’re not willing to waste it experimenting. They are the ones who trust in the experts. The ones who go to the local fly shop to ask what’s working.
What they don’t realize is that the fly shop must give them an answer whether they have the correct one or not. Most of the experts in the fly shops realize that it is wrong to assume that whatever worked yesterday, will work today. They also know that at any given time, on any given body of water, there is a multitude of flies, which if presented properly will catch fish. With the exception of the very brief but intense hatch periods, they also realize that it is wrong to assume that there is only one food source available to the fish. And most importantly, our experts know that without actually being there, there is no way to tell you exactly which fly to use at the exact time and in the exact place you will be fishing.
Never the less, because they are the experts, and because they are in the business of selling fishing stuff, they have the burden of giving the angler the best general information that they can, as well as the burden of selling the fly that in their opinion, will produce a fish. In order to instill confidence, and ensure the customers return, the experts simply must succeed in their task.
Finally, there are those who seek out other fisherman on the stream that appear to know what they are doing and ask which fly they are using. There are only two problems with this. Although the selected angler may appear to know what he is doing, there is a high probability that he falls in one of the categories mentioned above, and if he does, then he may not have the best answer to the question.
The second and biggest problem with asking another angler which fly to use is that if he really does know the answer to the million dollar question, the chances of him being completely honest with you are slim at best.
It is certain, that when we fish a fly with confidence, we fish it better, get better presentations and consequently catch more fish. I personally know people who lack confidence in certain highly commercialized flies that are proven fish catchers. And because they don’t fish them with confidence, they simply don’t catch fish with them.
So the question remains. How can we determine which fly to use, each and every time we go fishing. The answer lies under the water. The river will answer our question for us, but we must ask it in a language that the river understands.
The real irony is that despite the hundreds and even thousands of dollars that we so willingly invest. The answer to the million-dollar question lies in a seine that costs no more than the price of a ball cap. A seine is nothing more than a screen used to collect items that are floating in the water. The most surprising part of all of this is the fact that only a very small percentage of anglers own a seine, and only a very small percentage of those who own one, actually use it!
Many people prefer to enjoy the sport of fly-fishing without getting a degree in entomology. After all, the fish don’t speak Latin and why get involved in seining if you don’t even know what you are looking at.
But the truth is that the art of proper fly selection isn’t the result of a college degree. In fact, it isn’t an art at all. It is common knowledge among fly fisherman that one should match the size, shape and color of the natural. So if you have the natural in hand, even a child could match the size shape and color of it. It doesn’t matter if it is a stonefly or a caddis. It doesn’t matter if it has a complete or an incomplete metamorphosis. It only matters that you match it, and you don’t even have to match it exactly, you only need to get close.
Proper use of a seine can place the food source in your hand. It is important to know that at any given time, there are all kinds of insects in all different life stages, in any body of water. The trick is to understand that most of these insects are not available to the fish at all times. Most of them are hidden in the bottom structure or in the vegetation. But depending on a whole host of variables that we need not trouble ourselves with, they will all be available to fish at different times. Usually, there is more than one insect type available at a given time and many times there are several.
Seines are commonly referred to as kick screens. This is not a good name for them because it suggests how we should use them. There are three ways to use a seine and each will yield different results.
The first way is to simply place it in the water, preferably in a current seam or somewhere that has a moderate current speed. Then just wait. After a short period of time, remove the seine from the water and inspect the contents. This will tell you exactly what, if anything is drifting in the water for the fish to eat right now. If you get results with this method then you have solved the mystery. You know exactly what the fish are eating right now and you only need to match it.
If the first way doesn’t offer up the answer, then put the seine back in the water. This time, GENTLY disturb the bottom just upstream of your seine. This is where most people go wrong. All you need to do is step lightly in one area and then remove your foot. Take a couple of steps if you need. But don’t dig up the bottom! Or you can turn over a single rock and do nothing else. This method tells you what insects may be readily available to the fish. The insects that you dislodge with this method could easily be dislodged by another fisherman, a change in water flow or just be caught in the current while moving about. These are the insects that the fish are used to seeing and fish will readily eat them. These are the ones you should match.
The third way to use a seine is to place it in the water and have someone stand upstream of it kicking up the bottom and rubbing the rocks bare with their hands. This is a method that biologists and entomologists may use to determine total numbers of insects and to get a clear picture of exactly which insect species live in a river. But it has little value when it comes to proper fly selection. The problem is that although all of these insects live in the river, all of them are not available to the fish right now.
Once you take your sample, it is easy to determine which fly to use. I always enjoy the reaction I get from people when they see this for the first time. There are several things that become immediately apparent upon looking at a properly extracted sample.
The first thing people notice is the size of the natural insects. They are almost always larger or smaller than people would expect. The next thing that becomes apparent after a closer observation is the diversity in color. But the most surprising discovery is that in most circumstances, the naturals don’t look anything like many of the locally popular flies.
After sampling a river properly, anyone can pick out a half a dozen fly patterns that they know are reasonable imitations of the fish’s food source. Once you know for sure that you’re using the right fly, you will automatically fish it with more confidence. You will not doubt your fly, and if you’re not catching fish, you will look in other areas for the answer, such as leader length, tippet size and length, and presentation techniques.
This whole process seems much worse than it really is. Seining a river takes just a few minutes and if you’re fishing the same place time after time, you will only need to do it occasionally. Once you realize how easy and informative the seining process can be, you will find yourself seining whenever you are in doubt.
Most anglers learn to fish their home waters well. They learn that when they go to their favorite river, stand in their favorite hole, and put on their favorite fly, they catch fish. But when they travel to new waters, they rarely enjoy the same success.
I know people who own seines, who have never used them. They say they just don’t want to invest all that time in it. But let me suggest that if you spend multiple hours fishing, which most of us would prefer to do whenever possible, and you’re not catching as many fish as you’d like, which includes about 99 percent of us, the five minutes it takes to seine the water can make the difference between a day spent fishing and a day spent catching fish.
It is so ironic that the same people who invest thousands of dollars and hours doing what they enjoy the most, don’t want to spend five minutes to learn how to do it better.
There are several different seines on the market. I think the key is to find one that fits easily in your vest or chest pack. But my favorite one is a commercial version that mounts on the handle of my net. I can pull the screen over the bow of my net in a matter of seconds and tuck it away just as fast. I like it because when it comes to seines, if it’s not easy to carry, you simply won’t carry it. If you can’t find one you like, it is very easy to make one. Just buy two-¾ inch dowels and a piece of fiberglass window screening material. Then with a hand stapler, fasten each end of the screen to a dowel and you’ve got a seine. This large seine is very effective and I use it occasionally, but I have also used a small six-inch version that fits in my pack. Other than the size, the only difference is that the dowels are ¼-inch as opposed to ¾-inch in diameter. I have also used a small dip net that I bought at a tropical fish store. It works great for capturing flying insects.
Seining is easy and educational, and I’m convinced that anyone who does it will catch more fish and have more time to worry about the finer points of fly fishing. If you take the time to seine, then you will never have to ask the insane question “which fly should I put on?”
The topic of strike indicators may very well be one of the most controversial topics in fly fishing. It may possibly even fall into the same category as ‘which grip to use when fly casting.’ I believe that it is controversial only because it is misunderstood. Every nymph fisherman believes that his or her method is correct, and rightly so if they are successful. The term ‘strike indicator’ has in my opinion, unfairly received some negative publicity. Some people have even gone so far as to say that the use of a strike indicator is unsporting.
The truth is that all forms of nymph fishing require some sort of strike detection. Many people automatically assume that a strike indicator has to be a large, buoyant device attached to the leader. This is simply not the case. Aside from a few methods of nymph fishing in which the strike is felt, such as the ‘Brooks method,’ there must be some visual indication that the fly has either stopped or slowed down. This visual indication can be whatever the angler chooses to use and should be the one that is preferred by the angler.
My preferences change with the water that I’m fishing. When possible, I prefer to observe the fish itself. I enjoy timing the pace of the water and watching the fish’s mouth open and close when it eats my fly. Even though, in this case, the fish’s mouth serves as a strike indicator, I am still using a strike indicator. At times when this method isn’t possible, which regrettably is more often than not, I must rely on other methods of strike detection.
I always keep a ¼ inch piece of Rio’s orange Kahuna LT indicator material threaded onto my leader. It doesn’t hinder casting, it does not buoy the fly or leader, it is highly visible even when it is several feet below the surface, I can slide it up close to my nail knot or close to the fly as I choose, it doesn’t have to be removed when I switch to dries, and most importantly I prefer it much of the time. I don’t always use it, but it is always there.
I do not like to use much weight and I prefer to nymph with as little as possible. Many times when the light is not in my favor, I cannot see the fish or my piece of Kahuna. At these times, I must rely on other methods, one of my favorites is to hold the slack line well off of the water and observe the angle of the fly line near the point at which it enters the water. This method does not entail the use of any device or object but the angle of the line is still a strike indicator.
Gary Borger has taught the ‘greased leader’ tactic for many years, in which the leader is greased and observed in the surface film of semi-calm water. Very small flies can be fished just under the surface with this method and the subtlest of takes can easily be observed. From a distance, an onlooker may not see a strike indicator even though there is one. The angler is using the leader as a strike indicator.
I do not like to use a ‘buoy’ type of indicator often but at times, I find myself needing to add a buoyant device to my rig. I do not consider this unsporting; I view it only as matching the technique to the situation at hand.
In my opinion, the term ‘strike indicator’ should not be considered a four-letter word. There are many methods of strike detection and one is only limited to what they are willing to learn. A human’s eye can be trained to observe the subtlest of things. It may not be much different than learning to spot fish in the water. It is only a matter of learning what to look for.
What is Proper Fly Fishing Etiquette?
As our streams become more and more crowded, fly fisherman are constantly faced with the ‘etiquette’ dilemma. While some people are simply rude, I don’t believe that it is ok to be rude to another angler simply because “other people did it to me”. It is easy to jump into a crowded stream next to everyone else, but none of us like it very much when we are working are way upstream (or downstream) and another angler jumps right in front of us. I have been asked many times over the years, “What is considered proper etiquette?”
How much space should we allow to other anglers? Should we always enter a stream downstream, or upstream of other anglers? What if the other angler is not moving? What if they are camped out in a hole or a run and they are not moving at all?
I believe that the whole etiquette topic can be summed up with kindness, space and common decency. The only thing that I may add would be related to a problem I have encountered on many trout streams of the west. Many anglers have learned to fly fish using only one technique, be it dry fly fishing or nymph fishing upstream, dry fly or wet fly fishing downstream, streamer fishing, the sawyer method, the brooks method, deep nymphing and the list goes on and on. The problem comes when an angler assumes that other anglers use, or should use the same technique as he or she. I could recite many examples of how having this attitude becomes problematic but I think it is obvious.
My suggestion and the solution that I teach is to simply observe anyone fishing in the vicinity of where I want to fish. Don’t assume that just because you want to fish upstream, they do too. After a small amount of observation, common courtesy will point out the proper course of action to take. And if and when there is any question, don’t be afraid to ask another angler what his intentions are or if it would bother him if you enter a stream in a certain place. I have been asked many times by other anglers, if it is o.k. that they fish near me and it gives me an opportunity to point out where I intend to fish and the result is that everybody is happy. While many of us a can be quite annoyed when someone is discourteous on a stream, most anglers are completely content and unbothered when another angler has the courtesy to ask before he jumps into their water. Incidentally, I have formed several long term friendships with people after conversing briefly in this manner.
Is There a Proper Way to Cast?
The world of fly fishing is full of myth and mystery. Many things get passed down among fly fishermen for generations whether they are accurate or not. Fly fishing is not immune to this. 10 o’clock to 2 o’clock. Don’t bend the wrist, bend the wrist. Micro second wrist, power snap, etc… etc… etc…
Fly casting can be divided into two main categories. Substance and style, substance is the physics that actually govern the cast such as the path of the rod tip and the loading and unload of the rod. Style, is what the hand, arm and body do in order to achieve substance. Too often, in the world of fly casting, people teach style, even when the physics of the cast don’t support their argument.
Every person is built differently. Some of us have stronger wrists or stronger forearms etc… We each have different strengths and weaknesses. We each have different stroke lengths and everyone accelerates differently along their own stroke length. Teaching proper substance means that the cast will always be right. I don’t care what you do with your hand and arm, if the substance is correct, the cast will work well.
I almost never teach style and try to teach substance whenever I can. If I tried to teach a person who had a rotator cuff problem to cast without bending their wrist, they may not be able to cast well since they would not be able to raise and lower their arm well. I recently had a student who had been in a car accident. The tendons in his fingers had been severed. We had to play with several different styles of casting until we found something that worked for him. It brought me great pleasure to be a small part of his overcoming tragedy. I appreciated the challenge as an instructor because it forced me to think "out of the box”, teach him substance, and help him play with styles that his disability would accommodate. This would not have been possible for him if I would have insisted that he “do it correctly” according to the popular books and videos of today.
I wonder what disabilities other fly fisherman have faced and overcome.
Sinking Line: Which Line to Buy?
I have found that there is considerable confusion among the angling community regarding sinking lines and grain weights. When choosing a floating line, one only needs to worry about the weight of the line. When choosing a sinking line, there are two things to consider. The first is the grain weight, the second is the density.
A rod is an interesting tool which in order to work, must be loaded. We use the weight of the line to load the rod, and then the rod unloads sending the line on its way. Each rod loads or bends at a different location which determines its action. But the stiffness of the rod will determine how much weight it takes to load it. Each rod is rated in accordance with a set of standards established by the American Fishing Tackle Manufacturers Assoc. A rod that is properly loaded with 120 grains would be classified as a 4 weight, one that is properly loaded with 210 grains would be classified an 8 weight and a rod that is properly loaded with 380 grains would be a 12 weight.
A given rod will always load with the same amount of weight and this will not change. If a given 8 weight rod properly loads with 210 grains, and we put a line on it weighing 200 grains, it will be under loaded. A 200 grain line falls short of the acceptable tolerances for an 8 weight (202-218 grains). The same line will overload a 7 weight rod that is properly loaded with 185 grains. The acceptable tolerances of a 7 weight line would be from 177-193 grains. So the 200 grain line would neither fit a 7 or an 8 weight rod. Obviously some 7 weight rods handle 8 weight lines and vice versa. This is also assuming that you are casting 30 feet of the line, which is the measured portion.
When it comes to floating lines, we almost never worry about grain weight. We know which line weight we like to throw on each of our rods and we always buy that weight, even if it is 1 weight heavier or lighter than our rod designates. But when line manufacturers market sinking lines in a variety of grain weights, it causes all sorts of confusion. For example: Jim Teeny markets a saltwater line, the TS550 which he recommends for a 9,10,11,12 or 13 weight rod. And Scientific Anglers' 850 grain deepwater express line will obviously overload a 9 weight rod which was designed to be loaded with only 240 grains. An 850 grain line would fit a 21 weight rod just beautifully. The reason for this is that the Teeny lines as well as the deep water express were designed to be cut to fit. The density is constant along most of the line, and you cut the line to the length that gives you the proper weight for your rod.
If you have a 7 weight rod that seems to be properly loaded with 30 feet of a 7 weight floating line, you can be sure that it will cast well with a 7 weight 30' sinking head because the grain weight will be the same. A 7 weight line doesn't sink, or float because it weighs 185 grains. It weighs 185 grains so that it will properly load a 7 weight rod. It floats or sinks because of its density.
When selecting a sinking line you must first determine which line weight will load your rod properly, and then you must determine how fast you want it to sink. The sink rate of a line is determined by its density. The denser the line, the quicker it goes down. So if I wanted a head to load an eight weight rod and sink at a rate of 5 inches per second, I could buy a 30' 8 weight shooting taper with a type 4 or 5 sink rate, i.e. ST8S type 4 (or 5 depending on manufacturer.) If I wanted to buy a head for the same rod with a sink rate of 2 inches per second, I would get a ST8S type 2.
All this confusion is caused by the way in which some fly lines are marketed. For some reason, somewhere along the way, someone decided that the heavier the line, the faster it will sink. This is simply not the case. Among lines of the same density, there is only a slight difference in sink rates from 1 line weight to the next. This is miniscule and is only due to the fact that there is less drag on the line that has a slightly smaller diameter.
Cut to fit fly lines, such as deep water express, is usually available in three grain weights. 550, 700 and 850, but there are others. The reason for this is that they all have different densities. The 550 grain deep water express line for example, sinks at 7.5 inches per second, the 700 sinks at 8.5 inches per second, and the 850 will sink at 9.5 inches per second. Each one of these should be cut to length to provide the proper weight necessary to load the rod on which it will be used.
Wow! Isn't this all a mess? It seems worse than it really is. In short, if you know what weight of lines you like to throw on your 7 & 9 weight rods, then buy your sinking lines in those weights. The only thing you really need to decide is how quickly you want them to sink. If however, you don't know for sure, which weight to use, then you can buy some cut-to-fit line of the sink rate you need, and cut it to fit. The advantage to buying cut-to-fit lines is that there will probably be enough line in one box to make a head for multiple rods. The cut-to-fit lines usually come with instructions.
At the risk of sounding redundant, the grain weight of a shooting head or sinking line should be no more or less than the amount of weight you would normally false cast with. If you know this weight, buy the appropriate commercial line in the desired sink rate. If you don't, choose the sink rate, and buy a cut to fit line. It is easy to adjust it to the proper length.
Because of the multitude of rod actions and casting styles, I don't think you could say that any one weight line or shooting head is the right or the wrong line for a given rod. The important thing to remember is that weight loads a rod. Density sinks a line.
The Wrong Way to Fish
The word ‘purist’ often gets thrown around the fly fishing community, usually with a negative connotation. But aren’t we all purists as we ourselves define it? I believe that the whole topic is very much a personal choice and that there is no right or wrong. Every angler seems to draw an imaginary line in the sand, the place that to them, defines the sport. Many anglers feel that it is simply unethical to fish a San Juan Worm or a Glo Bug. Is it unethical because it makes fishing easier? Are those fishermen catching more fish than the anglers who choose not to fish those flies? Or is it unethical simply because it breaks beyond the traditional origins of the sport. If we want to stick to traditionalism, at which point in history are we going to use to define our sports heritage? We could go back to some of the chalk stream heritages in England where it was considered unethical to cast anything other than a dry fly. Further, the angler was not supposed to cast to a fish that was not actively feeding. And if one was casting a dry fly to a fish that was actively feeding and the fish stopped feeding, the correct thing for the angler to do was to sit down and wait for the fish to resume feeding until the angler began fishing again.
I am probably a purist because I have many methods that I prefer using and there are certainly methods that I don’t like to use. I enjoy tying my own flies and I prefer to fish with flies that have been tied in a traditional manner. I fish dry flies, wet flies, nymphs, streamers, pushers, wakers and skaters, spey flies, mice, emergers, eggs and worms. I use floating lines, sinking lines, shooting heads and sinking tips. I fish lakes, rivers, ponds and streams. I fish upstream, downstream, across stream etc… For me, if I am using a fly that is reasonably representing the fish’s food source and I am using a method that appeals to me at the moment, I am happy. So in that regard, I am a purist in that I fish the way I want. I have no rules and no boundaries. But having said all that, there are some methods that I simply do not enjoy using. That doesn’t mean that my methods are better or worse. It only means that I do not enjoy using them.
There are many ways to catch a fish and modern day anglers continue to redefine the sport, often reinventing the wheel in the process and renaming techniques that have been in use for many decades by anglers all over the world. I learned how to catch fish as a small child using many different methods. My first experiences with flies were with a spinning rod and a bubble as a means of fishing a dry fly. Another was with a spinning rod and some lead weight with a technique that allowed my nymphs to “bounce” along the bottom of the river. The technique is deadly and there are many variations of it today, but the basis of the technique is the same. Take a reasonable representation of the fish’s food source and fish it slow and deep near the bottom of a river. If I where to use the same technique today on my local water with a spinning rod, many fly fisherman would likely turn their nose up at what I was doing, unless however, I was using a fly rod, a fly reel and a fly line. Somehow the use of a longer rod, a different reel and a plastic coated fly line makes the same technique “ethical” in the minds of many modern day fly fisherman.
I once had an angler on a stream ask me if I had been catching my fish by ‘Czech Nymphing’ or ‘Bottom Bouncing’. He seemed surprised with my reply and asked me “Why not? Are you some kind of purist?” I made it clear that I had nothing against the method but that I did not enjoy using it. As I continued working my way along the stream, the angler stayed within sight of me for quite some time. Some days later, I found my self in a fly shop where the same angler approached me again. He reminded me of our brief encounter on the stream and began probing me as to why I did not like the method that we had spoken about earlier. He seemed a bit offended and felt like I had turned my nose up at his method. He went on to explain how effective the method was. After listening to what he had to say, I reiterated what I had said to him on the stream with a bit more detail, apologizing to him if I had offended him and explained again that I had absolutely nothing against his method. I used it with great effectiveness in my youth but I simply didn’t enjoy using anymore.
After my conversation with the man, I began reflecting on how I defined fly-fishing. Why was it that I no longer enjoyed the method that I had originally learned to use as a child? I began asking myself questions. What is fly-fishing? If I am trolling in a lake using pop gear and I have a traditionally tied fly at the end of my pop gear, am I fly-fishing? If I have a spinning rod and monofilament line and a bubble with a fly on the end, am I fly-fishing? Is fly-fishing defined by the fact that the terminal end of my line has a fly tied to it? Is it the rod or the line that I am using or is fly-fishing some kind of other technique? There are many techniques that can be used with a fly rod and line but many of them can also be used with other types of rods and without a fly line.
Fly-casting is an art that I enjoy immensely. It sets itself apart from other types of casting with other types of fishing rods in one way. The weight is in the line allowing the angler to casting a virtually weightless fly. Other types of casting require that a minimum amount of weight be added to the line in order to load the rod.
Many fly fishermen, including myself, use weight as a tool, adding it to the line somewhere near the fly enabling them to sink the fly faster. I use many different techniques when I fly fish. But after much thought, I finally realized what it was that made some techniques appeal to me yet left me completely uninterested in others. I love the science of fly fishing and the art of fly casting and if a given technique does not REQUIRE the use of a fly rod and line, I don’t seem to enjoy it as much. Does that mean that some techniques are wrong or right? No! No technique is better or worse, more or less ethical or more or less advanced than another. I believe that if a technique is legal and one enjoys using it, then they should. Every angler should examine what it is that they enjoy about the sport, pursue it with passion and not get hung up on what one individual says is a better way to do it.
Go Fishing… Try different things… Find what YOU enjoy and Have Fun!!!