Photo of the Month: Backcountry Brook Trout

Photo of the Month: Backcountry Brook Trout
Showing posts with label Nymphing. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Nymphing. Show all posts

Wednesday, March 17, 2021

When You Just Need More Weight

As a fly fishing guide, there are lots of little tips and tricks I get to pass on to my clients. It would be nearly impossible to compile those into one resource unfortunately. Okay, so maybe not impossible, but it would take me a while to think about it while I'm sitting at home writing. Most of these things have a way of coming up during the natural flow of a day on the water. That is what guides should do, offer advice on how to improve, or at least on different ways to do things. A guided trip should be as much a chance to improve as an angler as it is a chance to catch lots of fish. Those two things generally go hand in hand. 

Anyway, these little tips often come up in the natural flow of a guided trip. One that comes up quite often is the idea of getting your flies down to the fish. One of my favorite guiding moments happens when teaching nymphing strategies, either for the Nymphing Class at Little River Outfitters, or just on a regular guided trip. What usually happens is something like this. 

We are fishing nymphs, either under a strike indicator or high sticking (tight lining/euro nymphing) and not catching any fish. At some point, I suggest that we add some split shot. Sometimes there is even already some shot on the line. However, it sometimes just isn't enough. The split shot needs to be heavy enough to get the flies down. Depending on stream flow, depth, flies used, and technique, you might need anywhere from one #8 split shot to a string of #1 or even heavier shot. Sometimes just one addition works. Other times it can take two or three. Either way, the best part happens when the first cast is made after the correct amount of shot is added. Almost invariably, the angler will catch a fish. That is a much more effective lesson than simply telling someone they should add more shot if they aren't catching fish. 

Of course, if you add too much shot, you'll be hanging on the bottom continually. Thus, a good rule of thumb is to add shot until you're constantly hanging the bottom. Then, take one off and you should be about right. You want to be ticking the bottom some but not losing flies.

The funny thing about tips and tricks is that sometimes you have to remind yourself about them. Yesterday, after a morning guided trip, I had a little time to kill before heading back home. Last week, on a guided trip, I had come across a couple of nice brown trout that seemed willing to eat dry flies. In fact, we missed one of them on a dry fly that day. I had been wanting to see those fish up close and had already devoted one quick stop to try and catch one to no avail. Yesterday seemed like a good opportunity. 

I got to the chosen spot and waded right in. Drifting a dry fly through the run produced exactly zero takes, so I changed tactics and tied on a nymph rig involving a small pheasant tail nymph and a small hare's ear nymph on 6x tippet. To this, I added two #4 split shot. For the depth and current, that seemed about right since I had small flies and fine tippet. A New Zealand Indicator finished the rig. 

For the next five minutes, I got many drifts through what I thought was the sweet spot. There were exactly zero strikes. Knowing how many fish this pool typically contains, I was a bit shocked. Surely something would want to eat my nymphs! I was just about to give up when it occurred to me that I might not be as deep as I had assumed. Deciding to get to the bottom of things so to speak, I added a #1 shot and now felt confident of getting down. 

On the very next cast, I had a quick hit from an eight inch rainbow that just as quickly released itself. That was enough, however, to convince me to try another five minutes of casts. In fact, it only took about three more casts before the indicator dove convincingly yet again. This time, I could tell there was some heft to the fish. In fact, it didn't want to move where I wanted it to at all!

Babying the 6x tippet, I took plenty of time fighting this beautiful brown trout. Every time I thought it was about whipped, it surged back into the depths. Finally, after a couple of downstream runs that prompted me to follow, I got it close and with the head up, quickly scooped with my net. 

Large Great Smoky Mountains National Park brown trout


This was probably one of the larger brown trout I will catch this year in the Smokies, possibly even the largest. I've had plenty of years where this would be my best Great Smoky Mountain brown trout. Not bad for fifteen minutes or so of fishing and just about as much time fiddling with my rigging. Sometimes you just need more weight. I shouldn't be surprised anymore, but for some reason this lesson always gets me. Anyway, next time you aren't finding success with nymphs, try adding some weight. You just might be surprised...

Wednesday, January 27, 2021

Winter Fly Fishing on the Hiwassee River

During my college years, I spent a lot of time on the water, probably too much in fact. The Hiwassee was my closest good trout water although I also spent time on warm water such as the Tennessee River below Chickamauga dam. Still, the Hiwassee will always hold a special place in my memory and requires an occasional return. If I lived closer, then I would fish there much more often. 

My favorite time of year to fish the Hiwassee is January through early May. After that, the river gets crowded and the recreational schedules for boaters become a hassle for wading anglers. Some of my best winter fishing has been on the Hiwassee in January and February with winter stoneflies and midges providing a ton of action. The spring hatches can be as intense here as anywhere also.

Fly Fishing the Hiwassee River With My Wife

This past Sunday, my wife and I took a little trip down to the Hiwassee River. We haven't had a fishing trip together for several months so it was nice to get out. The day started nice and warm, but quickly transitioned to cloudy and breezy. We started in on a section that I have always liked that had just been vacated by another angler. There were quite a few other anglers out and about, so we drove up and down the river a couple of times before deciding on a place to fish.

I took some time to rig up a rod for my wife while she was getting her wading gear on. One of my favorite setups also works really well for her. The 10' 3 weight Orvis Recon is a joy to fish and the length makes mending easier. This rod fishes very well up to 30-40 feet out unless it is really windy. A nymph and a midge hung under a strike indicator seemed about right. I already had a rod rigged up from my battle with a monster rainbow trout on the Clinch last Friday. The double midge combo seemed reasonable so I left it intact to start the day.

Hiwassee River Morning Session

We worked our way down through a big shoal where the water formed numerous small pockets and short runs. This section often produces a lot of fish as things warm up in the spring, but on this day it appeared that most fish were still down in the slightly slower and deeper run at the bottom of the shoal. As soon as we got into position, my wife proceeded to put on a clinic. She was catching fish so fast and furious that I couldn't even back off long enough to start filming at first. Every time I would turn my back to walk back far enough to film, she had another fish on. Finally, I told her to wait to cast for just a couple of seconds so I could get in position, and then we recorded a little of the madness.

fly fishing the Hiwassee River rainbow trout

 

After she had caught ten fish, she relented and allowed me to fish her pool a little as well. She was getting just a little chilly and wanted to get out of the water for a few minutes to warm up. I worked my setup for a bit, but soon asked to switch to the rod she had been using. It clearly had what the fish wanted on this day. It didn't take long for me to catch up to her with ten trout of my own and we started thinking about moving on to another spot. 

Right before we did, I made one last cast well across the current and threw several big mends to obtain a long drift. Right before the flies started to swing well downstream, the indicator dove, and I set the hook. Immediately I knew this was a larger fish. The trout swam out of the current and things were looking up. I worked to steer it around a big rock that threatened to prematurely end our connection. Finally, it turned towards me and my hand started to go towards the net. Suddenly, for no apparent reason, the fish came unbuttoned. When I got my line back, I realized why. The little midge was gone. Somehow the line had broken. Oh well, you win some and you lose some. 

Lunch Break and Afternoon Fly Fishing on the Hiwassee River

With one of the generation pulses bearing down on us, we decided to break for lunch. We worked back to shore and walked back up the road to where we had parked. Driving up and down the river yet again, we finally found a nice pullout that would make a good lunch spot. We had brought the fixings for veggie hummus wraps including spinach wraps, hummus, chopped cucumber, tomato, and bell pepper, and feta cheese. In the morning excitement, I had forgot to pack the spinach which we didn't notice until one of our last bites. Some delicious healthy homemade oatmeal raisin cookies my wife made finished the meal. 

I jumped in and caught a quick trout or two before deciding this pool probably wouldn't work as well for my wife. We headed back upriver because I wanted to fish some favorite water near the powerhouse. This section produced several fish but not as many as on some trips. We were soon moving yet again in search of a few more fish. Finally, we found a run that had already been fished by someone else, but we had high hopes. Again, my wife started to hammer fish while I was keeping up as best I could. I had finally changed the flies on my rod so I could catch a few as well.

Light sprinkles started to threaten heavier rain, but we were closing in on 50 fish. I was fishing just above her and left the net with her so she could land her own fish. We were starting to hurry not wanting to get soaked. We were both doubling up about as fast as we could get flies in the water. Then it happened. As I was about to land a small eleven inch rainbow, the tip on my Orvis Clearwater 9' 5 weight snapped. This was one of my guide rods that had been already rigged the previous Friday, and I had just kept it ready to go for Sunday's outing. The interesting thing is that it was the same rod I had landed that big Clinch rainbow trout on. I'm guessing the rod was already stressed. Perhaps a client had dinged it with a split shot or bead head on a cast. However, I'll never know why it didn't break on that big rainbow trout on Friday, instead waiting until I had a small eleven incher on the line. The good news in the whole deal was the Orvis warranty. The rod is already headed back to the rod repair shop and should be back soon good as new.

I moved down to help my wife try to get us to 50 but it just wasn't meant to be. I caught one or two more on her rod and she caught a couple, but we finally decided to call it at 48 trout between us (24 apiece) as rain was threatening even more. Those last two could have been found and caught, but its not all about numbers. In fact, I rarely count. Somehow we had kept track through the day, but that is unusual for me most of the time. 

Video of Fly Fishing on the Hiwassee River

The fun result of this day was the video footage we had shot on my phone. It wasn't as good of quality as if we had shot it with the DSLR, but still made for a fun quick edit. You can see quick video I finished today on YouTube or below. Best viewed directly on YouTube I'll add. I hope you enjoy!



Other Hiwassee River Posts You Might Enjoy

Below are some articles from the Trout Zone archives on fly fishing the Hiwassee River. If you enjoy the Hiwassee River, then you'll enjoy coming along on these adventures with me. 





Monday, December 02, 2013

Finding the Rhythm

One of the highlights of fall fishing, at least for me, is finding reliable emergences of Blue-winged Olives.  Back in Tennessee, the small mayflies would show up on occasion, but here in Colorado it is not an if or a when but rather a given.  The little BWOs are so reliable on some waters that you can tell when the hatch is about to start based on when all the fishermen show up.  In other places, the hatch is a guarantee, but the timing might be a bit more unpredictable.

My first memory of hitting this hatch in Colorado is from Clear Creek last September.  The little browns were rising with abandon in the shaded pool where the stream hugged the cliff on the south bank.  Every now and again, a larger specimen would rise, leaving a subtle rise that was clearly the work of a more experienced trout than most of the splashy efforts I was seeing.  I fished a little Sparkle Dun, a #18 if my memory is correct, and the trout would eat if I showed them a clean drift.

Last spring, one particularly drizzly day found me torn between the BWOs and throwing streamers.  Most people who know me can guess that streamers won.  I'm still not sure whether or not that was the right choice.  Every single pool had numerous fish rising to bugs struggling to get off the water into the chilly mountain air.  The meadow stream eventually yielded a fine brown to my streamer, but I still wonder how the day would have been if I had fished a BWO the whole time.

Most recently, on a trip to the Arkansas River tailwater in Pueblo, I stumbled into one of the more epic hatches I've been blessed to fish.  Deciding to put my Colorado State Parks sticker to good use, I parked at the Valco parking lot.  An early morning departure had me rigging up in air temperatures that had just edged above the freezing point.  A fleece kept me warm while I started working my way down the river to explore new water.  The number of fishermen out was impressive, but finally I started to find water I could call my own.

Deep water nymphing was turning up very few fish, and I began to wonder if the decision to get up ridiculously early and drive all the way to Pueblo was a sound one.  The occasional tug on the line from small to average stockers was not really helping my mindset.  Once it warmed up, my mood gradually improved however.  I stumbled upon a family of deer in the brush along the river and was reminded to look for the little things that make a trip great.  It wasn't before I had finally wandered down close to the bridge that I noticed a few fish rising in the slack water along the far bank.


Refusing to acknowledge the possibility that it was time to change tactics, I stumbled on down the river.  Crossing at a point of shallow riffles to search for that deep run that I just knew had to exist and would be loaded with big trout, I saw a few BWO duns floating along.  That's what they were eating back there.  Still stubborn, I found a pool perfectly suited to my nymph rig.  Running the flies through time after time, I saw a few rise rings just downstream, then another a bit closer.  Not wishing to ignore the obvious for too long, I walked a few yards down to a nice long flat with several rising trout.

Digging through my fly boxes, I chose a #20 Parachute BWO with a hi-vis post that I tied a few months ago.  Extending my leader to end in 6x tippet, I was now ready to go head-to-head with these annoying trout.  Since when does any self-respecting trout ignore my delicious sub-surface offering of midges and BWO nymphs anyway?  After a few casts that did not produce a hit, I paused to observe.  Suddenly it was obvious:  the fish were rising in a consistent rhythm.  Somehow I was drifting my fly past in between each rise.

I waited for a trout to rise, then waited for the next rise.  Finding the rhythm, I waited until just before  the next rise and then made the cast.  The little fly floated for all of 3 feet before a chunky rainbow nailed it.  The next couple of hours proceeded about the same until I started to get hungry.


Wandering back upstream, I came across the same little flat where I initially spotted rising fish.  A huge wake from the back indicated that I had moved just a little too quickly for at least one large rainbow's liking.  Slowing things down, I decided to retie.  I had lost the Parachute pattern some time before.  Several other patterns had fooled trout, but I wanted something extra for the large risers I was now stalking.  A #20 Comparadun seemed appropriate.  Testing the knot and checking the drag was the last step before beginning to cast.

Several casts later, another wake quickly exited the exposed shallows.  Slow down, find the rhythm.  Refocused, I waited.  There, right against the bank.  The drift was particularly difficult since I was casting 35 feet across 2 different current seams and trying to drift the fly in the calm water outside the last current seam.  Again and again I expected to spook the trout, but somehow luck was on my side, and it just moved up a couple of feet before rising again.  Finally, the stars aligned.  The fly dropped just outside the main current, drifted a foot and a half, and was inhaled.  Six more inches and it would have started to drag.  Knowing my luck had turned gave me more confidence.  The beautiful 14 inch fish was not the owner of one of the large heads I had been watching another 20 feet upstream.

Releasing the fish, I again paused and observed.  Two large trout, the kind that are big enough to get your pulse racing, were rising a good 45 feet up and across.  To get a good drift, I took 2 steps forward...and saw yet another wake zigzagging frantically away.  One more chance.  Finding the rhythm, I waited for the trout to rise once more, paused, then made one solid backcast before sending the fly on its way.  The fish ate a natural 6 inches to the left of my fly.  After a short pause to avoid spooking the fish, I lifted the line off the water, bought time with two false casts, and presented the fly again.  This time the fish rose a foot below my fly.  This went on for probably 30 casts.  Every cast I expected to spook the fish, but apparently it was a day for fishing miracles.

Finally, the fly settled in 12 inches above the fish.  My adrenaline shot through the roof as that big head I had been watching slowly appeared below my fly.  As I lifted the rod, I knew that this trout was mine to lose.  The fish was smart, but it was also stuck on that shallow flat.  Once, it made a heart-stopping run towards the fast riffles below, but somehow I got its head turned.  When I finally slipped the net under the fish my day was complete.  I released the gorgeous rainbow trout after getting a good picture, cradling it gently until it slipped off to battle another day.


Continuing upstream, I discovered that fishermen had been fishing hard with nymph rigs the whole day.  The bugs only made it another 75 yards or so above that last hole.  Sometimes, a fishing day's success is measured strictly on whether you go upstream or downstream.  Thankfully, I went downstream...