Monday, November 12, 2012

Bloodworms-The Underrated Staple


This past October proved to be one of my busiest.  I spent time in Manitoba, Idaho and California providing seminars and hosted trips.  With each trip I was fortunate to spend time on the water chasing the last stillwater trout of my 2012 season.
 
Staples such as bloodworm are an excellent fall pattern choice

Fall is one of my favorite seasons when it comes to stillwater fly fishing.  As frost begins to predominate the daily fall forecasts, trout prowl the shallows continuing to build the fat reserves that will carry them through the long cold winter ahead.  At this time use pattern and presentation techniques to suggest staple food items such as leeches, forage fish, scuds, immature dragon and damsel fly nymphs and perhaps the most underrated stillwater staple, chironomid larva (bloodworm).
Sheridan sample

Bloodworm patterns are one of my favorite stillwater staples to imitate.  During the fall months this bread and butter prey item is often on the menu.  When I was down in Idaho I spent time on both Henry’s Lake and Sheridan Lake.  Sheridan is a private fishery known for its large rainbow trout.  I had the pleasure of fishing Sheridan last year and I was looking forward to fishing it once again.
 
The weather was perfect, bright clear skies and crisp just below zero temperatures to start the day, my favorite combination for fall fishing.  Water levels were low and fish were rolling on the surface.  It seemed to take forever to get my gear ready and my Yamaha G3 1756 VBW into the water.  I loaded my first two students, Dustin and Jared into the boat.  Off we went in search of trophy trout.

Large trout love chironomid larvae
Thankfully we didn’t have to go far.  The water was clear as the frigid overnight temperatures caused the algae to clump and sink.  Fish were moving at the opening to a large shallow bay that sloped gently into deeper water.  As there was no definite structural transition such as drop off I chose to take advantage of another form of transition, light to dark.  Trout love to prowl in the cover of shadow or shade.  In low light conditions they hunt confidently and aren’t as spooky as if they were in shallow clear water.  With this approach in mind we anchored the bow of the boat just where it was difficult to make out the bottom.  We anchored the stern in dark, deep water.  This placed us in roughly 10-12 feet of water. 
Floating lines and indicators were the order of the day.  Experience taught me that a leech or bloodworm pattern on the bottom with a chironomid pupa on a dropper would be a good place to start. 

As three of us were in the boat we all positioned our flies at different depths to quickly eliminate non-productive water.   Dustin was into fish in short order.  A healthy plump Sheridan rainbow took his small black and red Ice Cream Cone roughly nine feet down.  After a spirited fight the rainbow soon lay in the net.

A quick throat pump confirmed I was on the right track.  Dustin’s rainbow was stuffed with #12-#10 bloodworm.  The 5/8th’s to ¾’s inch bloodworm were writhing like mad.  Just a few seconds ago they were moving just above the bottom or within the tube-like homes they construct along the bottom.  Trout have no issue vacuuming larvae right from the relative safety of the their homes and if the bloodworm are free and moving about their feeble head to tail swimming motion offers zero resistance to a foraging trout.

Regurgitated bloodworm
Based on this information we soon changed flies to represent bloodworm.  Jared and Dustin each tied on Vernille or Plush Chenille San Juan Worm and I swapped to a #10 Bionic Worm on the point and a straight shank Holo Worm on the point.   I wanted to see which shank profile trout preferred.  If trout favor wriggling bloodworm then a curved shank pattern is the better choice.  Conversely, if trout are taking the bloodworm as they rest after wriggling about, which they tend to do in an extended position, then a straight shank pattern is the wiser option.  If I am fishing a long leader without an indicator I often start with straight shank patterns as with this method the flies are pulled through the water more than when using indicators.  Some days it doesn’t matter and either philosophy works.

Jerry McBride's Bionic Worm
Bloodworm patterns don’t inspire angler confidence.  To some they are nothing more than a slender red or maroon stick.  Successful patterns need to be slender, just like the naturals.  If you want some tips on bloodworm patterns please check out Bloodworm Basics in the Fly Patterns section of my website.

Bloodworm patterns need to be slender to match the naturals
As bloodworm are found on or just above the bottom I left my point fly hanging about one foot off the bottom and wasn’t having much success.  Dustin had three or four takes in a row with his flies at nine feet.  That was enough information for me and I slid my indicator down towards my flies and hung my Bionic Worm at nine feet.  This tactical change was the ticket and we had a great couple of hours.  Rainbows show a particular affinity for Jerry McBride’s Bionic Worm.  Make sure you have more than a few rows in your fly box ready to go.

Sheridan rainbow loved Bionic Worms
This approach continued throughout the day with each pair of students that joined me in my boat.  I went back to the same spot each time and took fish.  To quote an old guide’s adage, “Don’t leave fish to find fish.”   One large fish we caught regurgitated over 20 bloodworm in the landing net.  They were definitely the priority food that day on Sheridan.

Sam, with one of Sheridan's trophy rainbows taken on using a chironomid larva (bloodworm) pattern
The next time you aren’t sure what pattern to tie on consider something that imitates a staple prey item and bloodworm in particular. Chances are you won’t be disappointed with the results.

Friday, September 28, 2012

You Never Stop Learning

One of my primary attractions towards fly fishing and tying is the fact that you are constantly on a voyage of learning and discovery.  It is such an ingrained philosophy that it is the basis of my website slogan, “Because you never stop learning.”

Silvia Releases a stunning rainbow.
My recent trip to Manitoba was a prime example.  As most of you probably know, I have been running hosted educational trips to the Parklands region of S.W. Manitoba for the past four and a half years.  Students from all over North America join me to experience some of the spectacular stillwater fly fishing this region offers and to, perhaps most importantly, improve their stillwater fly fishing skills.  My students are not the only ones learning, with each trip or day on the water I learn something too. 
Ron Enjoying his Parklands Experience
Joining me on my fall trip was Jerry McBride from Spokane Washington.  Jerry is a member of the Inland Empire Fly Fishing club and originator of balanced flies.  Jerry’s balanced fly philosophy has had a significant impact on my stillwater tying.  I was looking forward to seeing Jerry once again and in particular spending time on the water with him.  Over the past few years Jerry and I have communicated back and forth regarding balanced flies but I have never had the good fortune of watching him tie of his signature flies.

A typical Parklands rainbow
During the middle of our one week excursion Mother Nature showed her maniacal side as strong 60 km/h plus (40 mph) winds buffeted the region for the day.  Winds so strong our cabins shuddered and creaked throughout the day.  The winds showed no sign of abating. Everyone unanimously agreed, staying off the water was the only sane course of action.
Parkland browns are fat and healthy
To pass our ‘cabin day’ I provided a couple of seminars, fellow Inland Empire club member Leon Buckles provided two entertaining presentations he had on hand.  Hawaiian bonefish and the cutthroat slam are now on my bucket list.  Actually it should be a barrel list with the amount of stuff I have been putting in it of late! 
I watch as Jerry demonstrates-Photo Courtesy of Bob Vanderwater
In addition to Leon’s presentations Jerry agreed to provide a tying demonstration featuring a couple of balanced leeches and his devastating Bionic Worm.  I sat close by Jerry watching him tie.  Although I had been tying balanced flies for a number of years now, Jerry demonstration proved a welcome refresher and provided some tips that I have now added to my balanced fly tying repertoire.
Here is what I noticed and learned from watching Jerry tie;
  • Most of my balanced flies, leeches in particular, use 7/64 diameter tungsten beads.  Jerry likes to use much larger beads up to 5/32” on some of his leeches.  Tied on these sizes the leeches looked balanced and proportioned.  Going forward I will make use of larger beads as they sink much quicker especially in windy conditions when circulation currents might slow down the sink rate of the fly.
  • After years of tying chironomids my instinctive method of sliding the beads onto the pin was narrow end first.  Jerry slides his beads onto the pin large end first when using tapered beads.  The pin head disappears flush into the bead.  This also requires less thread to lock the bead tight against the pin head as the narrow end of the bead is closer to the pin diameter.
  • I am a fan of up eye jig hooks, especially the Mustad32833BLN in sizes #10 or #8.  Jerry prefers to use standard shank down eye hooks feeling the wire is stronger and better suited to the rigors of battling large trout.  His current favorite is a 4X heavy wire Mustad R90. 
  • Prior to discovering up eye jig hooks I used down eye hooks all the time.  The challenge is remembering not to obscure the hook eye with the body materials so you can tie the fly on.  Jerry adjusts how he forms the body to ensure the hook eye is clear.  When using materials such as Crystal Chenille he pushes and compresses the material to keep the hook eye clear.  Standard shank hooks are ideal for tying smaller balanced flies such as scuds as up eye jig hooks are tough to find smaller than size 10.
  • Jerry uses leeches tied using the small secondary aftershaft or filoplume feathers on a pheasant rump feather.  Once wet, these feathers spring to life providing a seductive action trout find hard to resist.  For years I used aftershaft based patterns, primarily damsel and dragon nymphs along with leeches.  Time to dust of those materials and get them into the game more often.
Jerry's balanced flies

The learning opportunity our cabin day provided proved to be one of the highlights of my trip.  Proving once again, you never stop learning.
Jerry and I enjoying time on the water-Photo Courtesy of Scott Fink
If you are interested in joining me in 2013 for one of my on the water educational stillwater seminar trips in Manitoba please let me know.  We are just finalizing our 2013 dates but it looks like we will have a weekend trip during the first week of June followed by two back to back week long trips.  We will also be offering a week long fall trip.  These trips book in the blink of an eye so send me an email right away and I can get the pricing and seminar information to you.
Join me in the Parklands in 2013
Here is a small informational video clip we put together that provides some additional information too.


Thursday, August 23, 2012

Stepping out of the Box.

Expanding your boundaries and stepping out of the box is considered by many as an excellent opportunity to grow and develop.  Such was the case for me recently when I spend four magnificent days on a filming assignment to for Sports Fishing Adventures at Good Hope Cannery located in Rivers Inlet along British Columbia’s rugged west coast.  River’s Inlet is world renowned for its fishing for trophy Chinook or Tyee salmon (a Chinook in excess of 30lbs) due to the long life span of this strain and to its proximity to the mouths of the Kilbella and Wannock Rivers.  These waters offer arguably the best chance of landing a monster Chinnok on the planet.  Good Hope Cannery also offers an excellent fishery for coho and bottom fish such as halibut and lingcod.


My Good Hope is only accessible via floatplane.  Roughly 90 minute s after leaving the floatplane terminal on the south side of Vancouver International I was on the dock at Good Hope Cannery.  We made our way along the boardwalk pier to the main lodge.  Once inside our room assignments were provided and our luggage was waiting in our room for us.  The level of organization and professionalism at Good Hope was immediately evident.  I was looking forward to my stay.

Good Hope Cannery Offers First Class Amenities and Service

After a hearty lunch and orientation it was time to the hit the water for the first time.  Weather was a bit on the ugly side as the tail end of a system was passing through.  Not a problem though as each guest is outfitted with rubber boots, rain paints, inflatable life vest and rain jacket.

I felt spoiled at the quality of the Good Hope fleet.  Depending on if one chooses a self or premium guided experience you find yourself in either a 20’ or 25’ Yamaha powered boat.  These boats provided wonderful fishing platforms.  I was fortunate to fish out of both boat sizes.  Good Hope boats are outfitted with the latest technology including sounders GPS and radar.  All fishing gear was also provided by the lodge.  Truthfully it felt a bit weird a first as I usually bring enough gear to outfit a small shop.

20 and 25 Foot Boats are a Good Hope Standard

The one thing that didn’t accompany me on this trip was my fly gear, rods, lines, reels and flies were all at home.  On this trip I would be power mooching.  A method I hadn’t used in years. 

Power mooching consists of slow trolling using a long mooching rod, single action reel, small 6-8 ounce weights and cut plug herring for bait.  If you aren’t familiar with cut plugging the head and entrails are removed from a large herring.  The angle of the cut to remove the head is critical to how the bait rolls.  Each guide had their own unique way of preparing their bait. It was fascinating to listen to their rationale.  Prior to disappearing into the depths each cut plug was checked for the proper roll and action.  The prepared bait is rigged onto a series of two or three barbless hooks.  One hook ‘tows’ the bait from the front, a second hook is mounted at the tail and some guides used a short ‘stinger’ hook that flowed with the tail of the bait. 

Mandy, One of Our Excellent Guides Shows How to Prepare Herring.

After spending most of my fishing life in world of single barbless hooks three hooks seemed a lot.  But in short order I saw how easily fish could take a bait and escape unscathed.  Large Rivers Inlet Chinook are maestros at bait removal, capable of stripping bait from a team of hooks in seconds leaving little or no remains of the cut plug.  I saw this first hand on a couple of occasions.  Talking to the dock staff who clean the customers fish they told me it was a common occurrence to find whole cut plug herring amongst the stomach contents.

Power mooching is done a slow troll, roughly 1mph at a shallow depth.  When chasing Chinook we had two stern rods, two rods out each side and one lone rod mounted on the bow.  Each rod was typically set at a different depth measured in pulls.  Our pulls were shallow, ranging from 5 to 10 pulls on average.  A pull is roughly 2-3 feet.

The bow rod fascinated me as it was set shallow, usually five pulls.  The bait was essentially tracking just below the boat’s hull about half way back from the bow.  The guides told me that takes to the bow rod are nothing short of heart stopping. 

When coho are the targeted species the bow rod isn’t used.  Coho hunt in packs and when you run into one the term ‘coho chaos’ becomes a reality.  Two, three even four rods all going off at once on rolling sea is something to behold.  It was something I experienced firsthand.

The sounder display showed large Chinook suspended near the bottom.  It didn’t seem to make sense working our baits so shallow.

Ted Walkus, the lodge manager has been living with Chinook his entire life.  When he is not working at the lodge he is helping manage ad preserve the Chinook salmon of Wannock River that are such an integral part of Ted’s life and legacy.  Ted explained to me the rationale behind the use of the shallow running baits.

The fresh water flowing into rivers inlet is warmer and less dense than the ocean water so it flows on top of the salt water.  The surface water in the inlet is murky, reminding me of glacial till.  The sounder often interpreted the interface between fresh and saltwater as bottom 9-10 feet down the density difference was so great.  Returning Chinook, after spending most of life, up to eight years for some specimens, prowling the open ocean had to adjust to fresh water once again.  Ted told me that their kidneys, after expelling salt for years, now had to adjust once again to retaining salt for their final journey to their birthplace.  As part of this adjustment process the Chinook rose up to take a ‘sniff’ of freshwater.  This practice provided the perfect intersection for our baits rolling below.

Our First Day Was a Wet One.

Our first afternoon was more of an exploratory trip and we tried our luck for a Tyee at a number of locations.  After about four fishing all we had to show for ourselves was one completely cleaned set of hooks.  Despite three of us on the boat no one saw the rod move.  Chinook can be sneaky and fast. 

Although we didn’t latch into a Tyee father and son, Joe and Joey, from the eastern U.S. did.  Joe caught and released a magnificent 64 pound Tyee that took two people to hold.  It was a massive fish, the biggest Chinook I had ever seen.  Joe and his son were proud to release this fish. 

Joe and Head Guide Tyler Release a 64 Pound Tyee

The next day came early, 4:50am to be exact.  After a few welcome cups of coffee and a hardy breakfast we were on the water once again heading to Marker 16 and the Log Dump where numbers of large Chinook were reported to be stacked up.  The rain had stopped and we motored up Rivers Inlet amongst a dense blanket of fog.  Safely at our destination, we got our baits into the water and began meandering around with the other boats that had accumulated there. 

By mid-morning the fog began to lift and provided some great photo opportunities as the sun began to burst through and take hold.  The conga line of boats was now visible. Over 25 boats were weaving politely in and out of each other.  The morning became somewhat of a social event as we chatted with each passing boat.  The etiquette in respect for each other was impressive.

River's Inlet Offers Some Spectacular Scenery

A few fish had been caught but our boat was quiet.  Just after 10am one of our stern rods bounced to life then ceased.  Kevin our guide, was closest to the rod grabbed it and tried feeding at bit of line to entice the curious Chinook back for another nibble at the cherry.  It wasn’t to be.  A quick check of line revealed the bait had once again been vacuumed from the hooks, impressive. 

We re-rigged and had the bait rolling below once again.  The rod had barely been placed back in the rod holder when its left stern partner bent aggressively driving its tip into the water.  No nibbling this time we had a Chinook on.

With the rod in my hands, I began gathering line as fast as I could.  The single action Islander MR2 was identical to my own Islander fly reels.  For the first time I was on more familiar ground, almost.  The one difference, I reel left handed.  This reel was rigged for a right hand retrieve.  Nothing I could do about it. I thought it best not to tell anyone else for the moment.  At first the fish didn’t seem that big but as I gathered line and got tighter to the fish the sensation of weight increased until all of sudden I felt I was attached to a fleeing car.  It was solid, like nothing I had felt before.

The fish didn’t like the tension and began to peel line of at a scary pace.  At the end of each run I gathered as much line as I could only to watch it disappear as the fish sounded once again.  As the fish ran I took the opportunity to switch arms to remove the considerable forearm burn that was building.  I kept tight to the fish at all times and I even managed a little side pressure in once in a while to get as much of the rod into the fight as I could.  After 30 minutes of hard slogging I saw the salmon roll at the surface for the first time.  It looked large.  Now I became nervous.  Most fish are lost right at the boat and I didn’t want to be part of this fact now.  On at least two occasions we had the fish by the boat only to see it sound again.  Thanks to Kevin for his experienced boatman-ship as he was able to move away so I could gain the advantage once again.  Kevin’s boat skills were incredible and played a significant role in the fight.

Finally the fish lay in the net and I saw it for the first time.  It was my first Tyee and it was massive.  After the initial euphoria had passed we had to measure the length and girth of the fish to determine its weight.  Checking the Sturdies Formula based charts each boat carried my fish weighed an estimated 62 pounds!  It was the biggest fish I caught.  I couldn’t wrap my hand around the wrist of the tail. There was no way to lift it. The best I could do was hold across my lap for few pictures.
 
Looking at the Tyee in my lap there was only one option in my mind, let it go.  After all it had endured during its open ocean life and to be so close to its final destination it only seemed right to let it go so it could pass along its superior DNA to its prodigy.

My First Tyee, a 62 Pound Monster

After I few minutes reviving it we watched its powerful tail propel it into the depths.  It was the most incredible feeling.  We hoisted our Tyee flag and because we released it we proudly ran it inverted.
Good Hope Vice President George Cuthbert told me that use a minute a pound as a barometer of how long the fight should take.  According to the T.V. camera’s time codes I managed to subdue my Tyee in just over 35 minutes.  Not bad considering I don’t reel right handed.  I have since been told this might be the largest Chinook ever caught and released on film.  I have no proof of this so we shall see.

Inverted Tyee Flag Flies Proud

Good Hope Cannery actively promotes catch and release of all large Chinook.  At the end of each dinner Tyler, the lodge fish master, provides a daily fishing report, forecast for the following day and recognizes those who caught a Tyee and in particular those that released their catch.  As I caught and released a fish over 50lbs I was awarded with a diamond Tyee pin and a unique challenge coin.  The origins of the challenge coin trace back to World War I when a downed English pilot’s only way of proving his identity to British troops was a unique identifying coin.  At Good Hope Cannery the tradition is if you are asked in to show your challenge coin and you don’t have it on hand you owe your challenger a drink.  If you produce your coin your challenger has to buy you a drink.  Mine coin never left my pants pocket for the rest of my trip.

My Diamond Tyee Pin and Challenge Coin.

Those who chose to harvest a Chinook over 50lbs have the privilege of experiencing another Good Hope tradition, consuming an appetizer made from the heart of their quarry, with or without Tequila shots.  Two Ontario gentlemen experienced this privilege.  By the looks on their faces it only reinforced my decision to release my Tyee.

Every aspect of my Good Hope trip brings back fond memories.  From the boats and facilities, to the quality of the staff, their devotion to detail, their experience and willingness to help and teach, Good Hope Cannery offers a world class experience.  I can’t think of a better place to get out of the box and experience something new and different. 

Please check out my Facebook Page for additional images from my Good Hope trip.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Adapting to the Conditions

As I try to report in each of my blog entries, each trip, seminar or school I provide always produces a lesson of its own.  My recent trip to California was no exception.

For the past three years I have travelled down to Lake Davis for the California Stillwater School I host with Bill Forward Senior Editor of Sierra Fisherman Magazine and local guide.  This past weekend 25 fly fishers joined us. Keen to improve their stillwater fly fishing skills.  Bill and I provide a series of morning and evening seminars over the course of three days.  During the day students put theory into practice as they fish Lake Davis.

Hovering Chironomids Greeted Us at the Boat Ramp

North America has been experiencing high temperatures and they would exact a toll on Lake Davis.  Skies were bright and clear and surface temperatures we up, touching 70F by midday.   These conditions would have a definite impact on fishing and we would have to adapt to be successful.   In years past working the shallows with damsel and Callibaetis nymphs was the way to go.  Early in the day this tactic worked as trout cruised the shallows picking off damsel and Callibaetis nymphs.  Callibaetis spinners were also present.  As we worked the shallow reaches along the west side of the lake delicate lazy rise forms of trout slurping spent spinners greeted each morning. 

I found the rises sporadic and inconsistent and decided that covering the water with a team of flies might be a wiser choice.  Using my Indicator line I rigged up a long 15’ plus leader with a Pheasant Tail Nymph on point, a Herl May on the middle dropper and a Stillwater Cruncher on the top dropper or bob position.  This combination proved effective coupled with a slow handtwist retrieve and 20 second countdown for the 8’-10’ water we were working.  But as the sun and water  temperature rose conditions changed.

Bill demonstrates the correct retrieve posture for the Naked technique

Trout vacated the shallows in search of cooler oxygenated water and to avoid the lethal attention of the local osprey’s and white pelicans.  A few fish remained in the shallows but they were spooky and few and far between.   Conditions dictated going deep.  I was also sensitive to targeting trout in warm water.  As water temperature increases its ability to hold oxygen decreases.  Exhausted trout would have a tough time recovering.  Ethics dictated targeting fish in cooler deeper reaches.

Lake Davis resident with a Collaborator top dead center

As Bill and I moved from one group of students to another checking on their progress we came across a strong chironomid emergence in deep water ranging from 16-18 feet.  Large chironomids, blood midge to the locals, were hatching in healthy quantities.  I was like a kid on Christmas morning as the pupa, shucks and adults of these dipteran presents littered the surface.  After checking on all of our students Bill and I headed back to deep water.  During our conversations with the students we encouraged them to join us.  Many did.

One of our students, John, with a healthy Lake Davis rainbow

Once we were anchored in position I grabbed my Deep Six line and tried ‘dangling’.  After a few casts my gut told me that trout were not concentrated in large numbers and that switching back to a ‘naked’ presentation using my Indicator line and long leader to cover water would be a better presentation choice. I love fishing floating lines and long leaders in water between 14-18 feet.
I swapped my flies, a #10 Summer & Red on point, a #12 Collaborator on the middle droper and swapped the #14 Herl May to the bob. After letting my flies sink for 30 seconds I began the painstaking slow handtwist retrieve common to this method.  About half way through my first cast I felt a short sharp pluck.  A feisty Lake Davis rainbow had latched onto my point fly.  The Summer & Red locked into its upper jaw. The trademark take for this method.  Bill also used a #12 Red Back Pheasant on his setup with equal effect.

Summer & Red

This scenario is common to many lakes as we head into the warm summer months.  Warm temperatures drive trout deep.  If they venture onto the warm shallow shoals it is usually late in the evening through until mid-morning when then head deep once again.  Weedy shoals are often preferred as during the daylight hours plants inject oxygen into the water as part of the photosynthesis process.  Getting on the water as early as possible and waiting until dusk are often the only consistent approaches to shallow water success.  During the heat of the day target water deeper than 15 feet.  A thermometer on a string is a valuable tool enabling you to probe the depths and find a temperature range more to the trout’s liking.

A thermometer on a string helps you probe the temperature at depth

Algae is also a common summer element.  Lake Davis was beginning to bloom.  Most fly fishers don’t see algae as an asset.  But in moderation it is.  Algae provides cover, absorbing the sun’s energy and keeping the deeper reaches cooler.  Algae is sunlight dependent and typically extends 6-10 feet down depending on the concentrations.
 
In shallow productive eutrophic lakes an algae die off in conjunction with high water temperatures strips oxygen and can result in a summer kill.  Trout are the largest oxygen consumers and in oxygen poor conditions pay the ultimate price.

Summer & Red and Red Back Pheasant pupa patterns proved successful

If this warm trend continues it is time to consider leaving trout alone until water temperatures drop.   It isn’t fair to add stress to their lives in these conditions.  Consider targeting other, more temperature tolerant species.  Run off should be subsiding, venturing out to your local rivers and streams is another enjoyable option.

When using the Naked Technique retrieves must be slow.

If you are based in the California area and are interested in attending one of our California Stillwater Schools please let me know.  Space is still available for our October 19-21, 2012 school.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Dangling in the Parklands

In early June I once again visited the lakes in the Parklands region of S.W. Manitoba. As with previous excursions I was  providing back to back hosted stillwater seminar trips for 26 fly fishers, all keen on improving their stillwater fly fishing skills.   I have been providing these hosted stillwater seminar trips for over four years now.  I venture out each spring and fall.  For some of my students these trips are starting to form part of their annual fly fishing adventures.  Seeing old friends on each trip is a welcome bonus.

Pauline shows why she keeps coming back to the  Parklands.  This local resident was  27" long and had a 17" girth.  That's over 10lbs! (Photo Courtesy of Barry Stokes)

Some of my students have visited these waters on their own but after seeing the success and camaraderie within in our groups chose to participate in my hands on seminar format to grow and develop their stillwater skills.  Fifteen or more anglers all working together provides an excellent learning environment and during our debrief sessions expedites figuring out just what the fish want.  The synergy is similar to a group working efficiently on a large jigsaw puzzle as opposed to one or two people struggling to get it completed.

Bob Vanderwater (left) and I present Bob Morenski (center) with a cheque for $500 
(Photo Courtesy of Bob Vanderwater)

The lakes we target on these trips are public waters chosen for their potential to produce quality rainbows, browns and aggressive tiger trout.  Getting to these lakes just takes time, for me about 10 hours.  The lakes offer easy access and great launch areas, even some camping.  But these lakes didn’t happened by accident.  The Fish and Lake Improvement Program for the Parkland Region (FLIPPR) works with local rural municipalities to make the incredible stillwater fishing the Parklands is becoming famous for a reality.  But like all groups they need our help. For example, the electrical cost to run aerators on the lakes isn’t cheap.  Without winter aeration most of these quality lakes would perish due to winter kill.  Our students, most awestruck with the fishing they were experiencing, were keen to support FLIPPR so they could return in the future.  Bob and Karen Vanderwater, who provide invaluable help in administering and coordinating my trips, and I agreed.  Everyone in both groups donated funds and on behalf of both groups Bob, Karen and I were pleased to present FLIPPR board member Bob Morenski with a cheque for $500 towards their ongoing efforts to maintain these lakes.  If you visit the Parklands region we encourage you to do the same.  It is a small price to pay.

Chironomids were on the menu

As with my spring 2011 trip chironomids were front and center, providing me with the opportunity to introduce students to my absolute favorite way to fly fish lakes.  One group, who were joining me for a second straight year from the Ottawa area, came specifically to learn how to fish chironomids.  Thankfully Mother Nature was in an excellent frame of mind and this trip would allow me to provide instruction using three different chironomid presentation techniques, the naked technique, indicators and full sinking lines or ‘dangling’.  It is rare to be able to provide comprehensive instruction on all three methods as often conditions and trout location dictates only one or two methods, typically those involving floating lines.

I have touched on strike indicator tactics and most recently in my previous blog entry entitled, “Naked in Utah” the naked technique previously.  Dangling is another deadly but not widely used or known technique. 

Big fish like chironomids and lots of them!

Dangling involves a full sinking line from an anchored position.  I prefer type V or VI density compensated lines such as Rio’s Deep series of lines.  You can dangle with slower sinking lines too.  Some of my students did well using clear intermediates. Typically, dangling  works best in water too deep for floating lines, 20 feet or greater but it can work in water as shallow as 12 feet if conditions are right such as windy conditions or water with reduced visibility due to suspended algae.
Leaders are short, 3-6 feet depending upon the number of flies you are using.  The more flies the longer the leader.  I often use a short length of 2x or 3x tippet attached to the fly line loop using a loop to loop or improved clinch knot.

Tiger's love deep water during the day.  They are a perfect candidate for dangling.

The key to dangling is to accurately set the depth so your flies suspend roughly one foot off the bottom.  To do this we used a technique often used to set indicator depth.  Attach a pair of hemostats to the fly and lower it over the side.  Strip off enough line to allow the hemostats to sink to the bottom until the line goes slack.  Reel the line in until you just feel the weight of the hemostats.  Reel in two to three more times ensuring the flies sits just off the bottom.  Strip in the line and remove the hemostats.  You can mark the line with a small section of masking tape so you can find your mark again after you land a fish.  Rio’s new lines feature a built in hang marker set at 13 feet.  I make note of which guide the marker is near and use this to reset my line.

You know you are just above the bottom when you hook a sucker.  Part of my Tokaryk Gand Slam.

With the line distance figured out make a cast.  It looks like you threw the line over the side of the boat, 18-20 feet of line and leader isn’t much.  Avoid the temptation to strip off more line.  If you do all you end up doing is dragging your flies through the mud and debris along the bottom. Let the line sink so it is hanging or dangling directly below the rod tip.  Yes you are fishing directly below your boat, pontoon boat or float tube.  You can let the flies sit below or after a while begin a slow handtwist retrieve with lots of prolonged pauses and bring the flies up through the water column.

Be warned most takes are not subtle.  Hang onto your rod if you aren’t careful it is possible to have the rod ripped from your grip.  A rod with a soft forgiving tip is not a bad idea.  Trout tend to come over the top of the fly and if you are bringing the fly up and the trout is going down the resulting strike is hard and aggressive.  Don’t be fooled by takes as the end of the fly line nears the surface.  Trout often follow the fly up through the water column taking only a few feet below the surface.  Who says fish are afraid of boats?

My standard dangling pose

I encourage you to give dangling a try.  It is a great method to use on windy days and it offers a social element as well as you can carry on a conversation without having to have an eye or both eyes on a floating line or strike indicator.  Short of being unconscious you won’t miss a strike. 

There is still space available for my fall hosted schools, September 13-17, 2012 and September 17-23, 2012.  Please click here for more information.