Photo of the Month: Backcountry Brook Trout

Photo of the Month: Backcountry Brook Trout
Showing posts with label Tips and Strategies. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Tips and Strategies. Show all posts

Wednesday, May 19, 2021

Be Patient, Don't Cast Too Often

Today I'll share another quick tip. There are lots of things that I see as a guide, both good and bad, that tend to fall under the category of habits that anglers have picked up. Some of those things are personality driven. For example, I fish fast, often faster than I should in fact. Guiding has been wonderful for my own fishing in this regard because it has made me slow down and seek to understand. Often, a lack of success is not as simple as the fish not being hungry (hint: they are always hungry). A good angler or guide can find plenty of things to blame the lack of success on, but ultimately slowing down and understanding what the fish are trying to tell you will bring success.

Fishing fast in the Smokies is often helpful. There are plenty of fish around and eventually you'll find a few that will eat what you are throwing. In other words, one strategy is to simply cover water as fast as possible until you find those few trout that are a little less smart if you know what I mean. However, this approach won't help you grow as much as angler. Instead of blazing ahead to try and cover a mile of water, slow down and focus on just three hundred yards of water or less. The fish are there and can be caught with the right combination of technique, drift, and fly selection.

On tailwaters, this urge to hurry really starts to hurt your fishing. If you are satisfied with only catching smaller stockers, then hurrying will keep the numbers moving. Those stockers will hear your flies splashing down and come running to eat. So, cast away as often as possible, again and again. However, if you are interested in finding the monsters, the ones that you daydream about or have recurring nightmares about when they get away, those fish will require that you slow things down and be patient. 

Often, from the rowers seat in my drift boat, I'll watch an angler pick up their line and recast. The following cast often lands in exactly the same spot as the flies were when the angler pulled them out to cast. Every cast should have a purpose. If you are casting to reach another spot, that is one thing. However, if you are just casting because you are getting too impatient and can't stand to watch your flies sit there any longer, force back the urge to cast and wait a little longer. The very largest brown trout that I have hooked every year often come after an extremely long uninterrupted drift. When strike indicators and nymphs start raining down from the sky, those big fish immediately know something is up and won't react well. However, when the flies stealthily drift into the strike zone, the fish doesn't know anything is out of the ordinary and feeds readily.

So, in a nutshell, here is my tip for the day. On big tailwaters like we have here in the southeast and across the south, don't recast unless your fly will change positions by a minimum of 10-15 feet. That's it. If you are going to splash back down within a few feet of where you ripped the flies out, you are probably going to do more harm than good by recasting. Both pulling the flies out of the water and putting them back in will spook fish. That "spook" radius is several feet at minimum and can be as much as 20 or more feet on flat ultra clear water under a bright summer sun. Shoot, on the Clinch River, fish will spook from false casting at 40 or 50 feet or farther at times. 

Now, are there some caveats? Sure. I'm mostly talking about big flat water. Fast broken riffles and pocket water will have a different set of rules. I'm talking about suspension nymphing primarily as well. We blind drift a lot of flies through likely lies. That is the main scenario I'm referring to. I'm also not talking about sight fishing situations which is an entirely different ballgame. If you are on flat water on big tailwaters, however, just remember that the longer your drift, the more likely you'll catch a good fish. 

Friday, May 07, 2021

Fish Within Your Strengths For Success

This short article idea came from many years of observing anglers as a guide, but I was reminded about it several times this spring. Over the years, I have noticed a pattern with many anglers. They always want to do well when fishing in front of a guide, and often end up pushing beyond the limits of their skill set. Specifically, I am referring to fishing distances. What do I mean by that?

Well, first of all, people obviously will find the most success casting at a comfortable distance. Once you start casting too far, then your cast breaks down and you have fewer successful "fly in the water" moments. In other words, if you cast 60 feet of line, but 30 of that lands in a pile, you are not fishing successfully. Try to get a clean hook set with 30 feet of slack. It is not happening. 

As a guide, I often find myself saying, "cast over there to that log," or "cast to that dark spot," etc. This is where an important element of fishing with a guide comes in. If you cannot comfortably do what the guide is asking, say so. It will save time and frustration in failed cast attempts. As a guide, I would much prefer knowing that a client doesn't think they can make the cast and maneuvering them into a better position or angle, than for them to try to force a long cast that doesn't end well. 

The flip side of that is that we are here to help anglers improve their skill set. If I think it is time for an angler to push their skill set a bit, I'll tell them to go ahead and try anyway. That is how you grow as an angler. That said, don't push your abilities too far all day. You'll end up tired with far less success than you could have had. Strategically pick the moments to attempt more.

Another reason to not fish too far is to make sure you can get clean hook sets. One reason I enjoy taking new anglers fishing in the Smokies is that we are rarely fishing very far out. Getting a hook set with two feet of fly line and a leader is much easier than with 50 feet of fly line and the leader out on the water, at least for new anglers. Line management is usually the real culprit for failed hook sets at distances, but regardless of the cause, you still missed that fish. If you have been struggling with hook sets at a significant distance, then fish shorter. It is better to get fewer chances to hook up because you are closer to the boat, but to seal the deal on the majority of those chances, than it is to cast farther and get more chances to hook up but fail in most of them. In other words, you'll catch more fish even if you don't get as many bites.

One other major reason for not casting and fishing too far is the ability to mend. I'll do a future article or even a video or two on mending, but for now, just consider that you need to be able to mend all the way into your leader to the strike indicator. Most people struggle to do that more than 30 or 40 feet out. The key to a good mend is the ability to lift the line off the water before executing the actual mend. Thus, in a situation where you need to do a significant mend, don't cast farther than you are able to do that.

That is all of my words of wisdom for the day. I'm sure I'll think of some other tips that fall within the category of fishing within your strengths, but I'll keep those for another day. 


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, October 28, 2020

Stealth Mode: Light and Shadows

The original idea of "Stealth Mode" was created for an article I did in the Little River Journal quite a few years ago. Yesterday, while on a guide trip, something happened that is quite common, yet it struck me in a special way. It reminded me of the original premise of Stealth Mode and so I decided to expand on that original idea.

There are a multitude of opinions and ideas about the importance of stealth in fly fishing. Probably more accurately, I should say there are lots of opinions and ideas about the importance of different elements of stealth, such as whether clothing color matters. Thus, for this article, I'm going to mention up front that I'm writing mostly from the perspective of fly fishing in the Smokies. Furthermore, I'm quite interested in differing opinions or ideas because I can always learn more, so please leave a comment if you have similar or other ideas on the subject!

The moment that motivated this particular "Light and Shadows" version of Stealth Mode happened when my client and I were faced with a choice: cross the creek where I normally do, or continue working up the bank we were already on. I had already mentioned to him that we should cross when I looked upstream and noticed the distinct difference. The far (east) bank was lit up by the late afternoon sun slanting in from the southwest. The near (west) bank was shaded by the overhanging trees and rhododendron. Plenty of light was coming through increasingly bare branches, but there was definitely a LOT more light on the other bank. If we moved up that side of the creek, we would practically be glowing. Not a good way to approach fish if you ask me! 


Fly fishing from the shady bank on Little River in the Great Smoky Mountains


So, I mentioned our options to him, and we decided to stay on the near side of the stream. Turns out it was a good decision as we caught a fish shortly just upstream. If we had been on the other bank, I'm not so certain that a caught fish would have been the result. In fact, based on all the fish that I had seen spooking out ahead of us in the seasonally low water of fall, I doubt we would have caught any fish in that pool. 

I should take a minute to add a caveat. This advice applies more than anything to flatter water such as the long pool we were approaching when this moment happened. In broken pocket water, you can often get much closer to the fish, especially as long as you stay relatively low. The fast water helps hide your approach. That said, we continued on up around the bend on the shady side of the stream, and I think it helped us out. The difference between the two banks was at times striking and at other times less obvious, but staying in the shadows is generally a good idea in the Smokies.



In addition to considering which side is sunny or shady, you should also consider your own shadow. As we moved upstream, the late day sun was slanting across the river from our left. At times, our shadows were falling across the stream in the direction we wanted to fish. Sending a big dark shadow over a pool is as good a way to spook fish as anything I know. Instead, fish from further back. In fact, it would probably be better to cross over and fish from the sunny bank instead of casting a shadow across the pool. 

So, next time you are out fly fishing, consider being stealthy as more than just sneaking up behind boulders and crawling on the ground to approach a fish. Consider the light and how you interact with it. That consideration could make or break your fishing trip. 

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Summer Smokies Tips and Strategies: Part 2

If you read my last Tips and Strategies article, then you remember that I focused on the issue of stealth but not from the usual perspective.  My emphasis was on becoming a better caster and I argued that the ability to cast further would generally help you catch more fish.  Additionally, I also mentioned the idea of line control as being essential to success.

For this article, I want to focus a little more on line control.  As mentioned in the previous article, stealth has several components.  Being sneaky includes things like wearing colors that blend in (I wear camo most of the time), hiding behind rocks, sneaking up on trout from directly downstream, and in general doing your best to not be seen.  Of course, casting further means that you are able to deliver the flies to the fish before it sees you, but on many of our small streams, there are enough currents that casting further can just as easily become a nightmare.  That brings us to line control.

Line control is partly a casting issue but also even more important once the line lands on the water.  Let's address a couple of different situations.  First, scenarios where you have been able to sneak up on the fish and are fishing in close, and then later I'll discuss those times that you are able to cast further to avoid spooking the trout.

Sneaking up on fish is always an ideal scenario.  If you can get close without spooking the trout, do it before trying to cast further.  However, many anglers get close but then fail to seal the deal because of poor line control.  For example, let's say you made a 15 foot cast up and across stream.  As soon as your dry fly hits, you get about one second of good drift but then are affected by drag and the fly goes skittering downstream or worse yet it gets pulled under as it motorboats its way across the water.

Solution? Lift that rod tip.  Our standard style of Smokies fishing is called "high sticking" for a good reason.  Many people wonder why that fly rod needs to be held so high in the air.  It is to keep all the excess line off of the water.  I understand that your arm will get tired.  Allow that arm to drop just a little and you'll probably quit catching trout.  In addition to keeping that rod arm up high, a lot of anglers also forget to strip in excess line as the fly drifts downstream.  Remember to do everything in your power to keep as much line off the water as possible.  In fact, when I'm fishing in close with the "high stick" style, I'll often have maybe an inch or two of tippet in the water before the fly.  That's it.  Anymore and the conflicting currents will adversely affect your drift.

Finally, when high sticking, keep the rod tip downstream of the fly/indicator.  This last one is crucial. In this method, you are almost leading the flies downstream, yet without actually moving them any faster than the water.  Your rod tip should track the flies downstream.  If you don't keep that rod moving with the water you will end up with drag, even if it is almost unnoticeable.  Remember, when you set your hook, always sweep downstream and low to the water with the rod tip.  That will keep you from ending up tangled in the overhanging trees.  If your rod is already tracking downstream, this setting motion is easy because it is just a sped up extension of what you are already doing.

Now, what if you are casting a bit further?  Obviously you can't hold 30 feet of fly line up off the water to avoid drag.  Line control again becomes a function of both casting as well as what to do once it hits the water.  In your cast, consider learning some specialty casts like the reach cast (helps to lay out line up or downstream as necessary to extend your drifts) and the tuck cast (helps your flies hit the water before the line) to buy some drift time.

Once the flies are on/in the water, your ability to mend line is what will keep you catching fish.  In the Smokies, fish will often hit just as soon as the flies hit the water, but on the larger pools and runs, a long drift can sometimes get you onto fish that you would otherwise miss.  Mending line is as much a part of line control as anything.  If you are unfamiliar with mending, I highly suggest checking out some of the good online videos on the subject.  The concept is pretty basic and once you see it I think it will make a lot of sense.  Remember that mending does not always happen upstream.  Use mending as a tool to keep your flies drifting naturally and thus you may end up mending up or downstream depending on the current you are trying to deal with.

Finally, get creative.  For example, when you have the ability to cast a bit further, don't be afraid to lay some of your line on the rocks.  That helps keep it off of the water where drag may be introduced to your flies.  When you can't see around a rock to watch your fly, look at your leader or fly line for an indication that a fish has taken your fly.  There have been many times I have tossed a dry fly behind a rock and then watched for the telltale twitch in my leader.  Sure enough, most of the time there is a nice trout on the other end.

Next up on Tips and Strategies, I'll address some fly selection issues.  Until then, get out on the water and work on line control.