Friday, July 30, 2010

Dry Lines and Long Leaders

This past week I visited some of my local stillwaters.  The weather was hot and muggy, trout are beginning to slow down and go deep.  Our lakes are hovering at a surface temperature of 70F.  Right on the boundary for safe survival for stillwater trout.  As water temperature increases its ability to hold oxygen decreases.  Trout become lethargic and if hooked often become stressed and unable to recover.  It is time to consider rivers or targeting species such that are tolerant of higher water temperatures.  Until the water temperatures drop I will be choosing one of the two considerations I mentioned.

On one of the stillwaters I visited I expected trout to be deep and would need coaxing to the fly.  I believed they would chase an active fly, depth and retrieve speed would be my keys to success.  I focused on the windward shore as the lee shore would have the warmer water pushed into it by the stiff breeze that was blowing that day.  A degree or two can make all the difference.

Pond Rainbow
(Courtesy of Nick Sliwkanich)

I opted for perhaps my favorite presentation method, a floating line and long leader to work up the gradual slope I was fishing.  I anchored in 15 feet of water and cast into 20 plus feet of water.  My sounder was invaluable in telling me not only the depth I was anchored but the depth my flies would be working through and the bottom slope.  In these situations I would be blind without the information my sounder provides.

Using my 4 weight 10 foot Helios and Rio Indicator line I began with roughly 2-feet of .020” butt material Nail Knotted directly to my fly line.  From there I added a 2X 12-foot tapered leader via a Blood knot.  I added approximately 3-feet of 2x tippet via Triple Surgeons knot.  Using an improved clinch knot I attached a #12 black barrel swivel.  .  To the bottom end of the barrel swivel I added another 4-5 feet of 2X Flouroflex Plus tippet.  Barrel swivels add an inline weight, help reduce leader twist and when using fluorocarbon tippets as I often do eliminate any knot concerns with nylon leader material as the two never meet.  My total leader length from fly line to bottom fly was approximately 21 feet.  I placed a balanced Sparkle Leech on the point and a #12 black and Red Ice Cream Cone on a 10-inch Looped Tippet or Sliding dropper just above the barrel swivel.

Floating lines, long leaders are a personal favorite!
(Photo Courtesy of Brian Wiebe)

The thicker butt section and butt section of the tapered leader helps in part turn long leaders over.  Your casting stroke needs a degree of modification.  Break your wrist slightly to open the casting loop.  Tight loops are a recipe for nasty tangles.  Allow the fly line to completely roll out on the back cast and maintain a smooth powerful casting stroke.  Only cast what you comfortably can, avoid the urge to cast across the planet!  If possible allow the line to shoot to the reel or pinch the line tight to slingshot the flies and leader over.  As the flies land look for three distinct separate splashes of the flies and swivel.  If the splash down is concentrated strip the line in and see if there is a tangle.  Deal with tangles early and they can often be addressed repeated casting leads to frustration and exponential leader and tippet consumption.

Once the flies had landed I counted my flies down using my watch, 30 seconds is a standard starting point.  I then began a painstakingly slow retrieve.  I want to ‘drag’ the fly line across the surface without causing a disturbance.  When you think you are slow enough cut the pace in half again and you should be in the game.  Make sure there is no slack in the fly line.  If you go too fast your flies no longer track horizontally but rather track toward the surface out of the depth zone the fish are holding.

Presentation depth and retrieve speed are critical to stillwater success
(Photo Courtesy of Brian Wiebe)

Watch the line for signs of a take.  Takes with this method are often seen before they are felt.  Most of my takes felt like a dragging sensation as though the leader was being pulled through a phone book.  A smooth rod raise drives the hook home.  Fish are typically hooked in the upper lip, top dead center.  All my takes in deeper water were to the balanced leech.  As the flies worked up the slope at the end of the cast the chironomid became the fly of choice.  I pumped one fish and it had about 15 chironomid and Chaoborus pupa along with one lone caddis adult.  A sure sign fish were feeding predominately at depth.

A throat sample confirms the presentation method

This method once mastered is deadly and extremely versatile.  I managed well over 10 fish in roughly four hours of fishing.  I use it for chironomid pupa and larva, caddis pupa, mayfly nymphs, damsel nymphs, and leeches.  Give it floating lines and long leaders a try it is a deadly versatile method.  And quite addictive too!

Monday, July 26, 2010

Bucket List Hexagenia

This past week found me in central Alberta filming an upcoming episode of the New Fly Fisher.  Each year I host or co-host a number of the 26 episodes we film annually. Tom Rosenbauer, Marketing Director for Orvis Rod and Tackle joined me as we hosted an episode entitled "Hunting Trout".  We were guided by Dave and Amelia Jensen from Fly Fish Alberta.  Dave and Amelia know this region like few others.  It was one of my most memorable shoots and fishing trips all wrapped up into one.  We based ourselves out of the Black Knight Inn in Red Deer, an ideal location for targeting central Alberta's blue ribbon trout streams.

 Tom Rosenbauer and Dave Jensen with an 'average' brown.
Since moving to Alberta one of my goals involved spending more time exploring its world class rivers and streams, especially those containing brown trout.  An item on my bucket list if you will.  In addition, I wanted to experience new hatch opportunities such as the legendary Hexagenia emergence.  I had experienced a Hexagenia (Hex) hatch once previously but not in the biblical proportions we had on this trip.  For those not familiar with Hex, they are one mutant mayfly.

Hexagenia Dun
We sampled nymphs that were easily two inches long.  These burrowing nymphs are accomplished swimmers.  They propel themselves through the water using rapid undulations in combination with their interlocking external gills located along the sides of their bodies.  A serious mouthful for any trout.

Hexagenia Nymph
The adults are slightly smaller, their bodies are just over an inch long.  Due to their large size we managed numerous takes of large brown trout lips poking through the surface to pluck the duns and spinners into their waiting jaws.  We managed to film some spectacular takes to both naturals and our dun patterns on camera.  Dave provided us with a unique foam based pattern we christened the 'Get R Dun'.  Casting a buoyant #6 dun imitation is my idea of dry fly fishing!  The 'eats' to both the naturals and our impostors were unbelievable.

Tom hooks up
Another natural bites the dust!
During the course of our stay, cloudy overcast days increased the hatch intensity and the browns were quick to slide out from the undercut banks to dine at their leisure.  When darkness fell things went from good to stupid on some nights.

When darkness falls the big boys come out to play.
Placing the landing net in the water at the surface for a few seconds gathered staggering numbers of duns.  The browns went nuts and we followed suit, leap frogging each other along the banks targeting the sounds of large slurps that filled out ears.

10 seconds of landing net sampling.
My only regret was that our time passed too fast and that the hatch is short in duration only lasting a couple of weeks.  Don't worry my calendar has already been circled for 2011!

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Casting Indicators on Stillwaters

This past week, I spent some time on a local private pond courtesy of a friend.  These waters were mere minutes from my house and proved a welcome change.  Small personal ponds like the one I fished allowed me to fish from shore, a rarity for most of the lakes and ponds I fish.  Often there is little or no back cast room or the bottom is so soft that one step into the shallows could be your last.

I chose a two fly set up, a damsel nymph on the point and a Pearl Shrimp on the dropper.  When I looked around the shallows I saw a fair numbers of small scuds scurrying about and the odd damselfly nymph. Recent throat samples confirmed that the fish cruising the margins were picking of stray scuds who ventured too far from the protection of the weedy carpet that covered the lake floor.  At one point I swapped the Pearl Shrimp for a #12 gold bead Pheasant Tail (GBPT) and started hooking fish consistently.  Landing them proved to be another issue at times but enough came to hand to keep me satisfied.  I figured the added weight of the gold bead got the fly down deep enough.  With about half an hour to go I finally relented and swapped up to a balanced leech beneath an indicator, a presentation method that has proved to be perhaps my most consistent producer.  For my guide trips earlier this year suspending leeches or chironomids below an indicator has proved itself to be the right choice time and time again.

(Photo courtesy of Nick Sliwkanich)

Most people casting indicators on stillwaters often get themselves into trouble in regards to tangles.  From my observations this is a result of trying to cast too far.  My preferred line for this method without a doubt is Rio's Indicator line.  This weight forward line features a light green front section and an ivory running line.  Its construction and configuration is all about casting indicators and the paraphernalia that seems to accompany them.  The junction of these two colors is the maximum you need to cast.

(Photo courtesy of Nick Sliwkanich)

Repeated false casts is one of the primary causes of tangles.   Modern weight forward lines are designed to shoot to the target.  Unlike the multiple false casts common to casting double taper lines, let the weight forward section load the rod and then shoot the line to the target.  Keep in mind, the slender running line behind the weight forward section is not designed to false cast, it is intended to shoot.   An indicator, swivel or split shot and a couple of flies, where permitted, is not a natural combination for a fly rod. It tends to fight back.  Reducing the casting distance reduces false casts there by lessening the tangle factor.  In addition the closer you are to your indicator the better able you are to see the subtle strikes that would not be visible at distance.  Using a smaller indicator keeps you honest too.  Use powerful smooth stroke and avoid 'punching' the line as this leads to tailing loops and tangles. Watch your back cast.  Make sure it unfolds completely behind you so the energy transfer from your casting motion can take place.

Finally, if you are using a Quick Release Indicator place the plastic peg on the fly side of the indicator.  This placement results in less tangles as the tippet and flies roll away from the indicator.  If you through a tailing loop it should not catch the peg.  When using Quick Release Indicators place a small swivel between your indicator and fly or flies, it provides a number of benefits.  The swivel acts as a stopper and should you break off the dense black peg will not slide off the leader and sink.

In many instances the short distances best suited for success can be covered with a roll cast. When hanging flies in deeper water, say over 10 feet, you may have to roll cast the line successively to cycle the fly or flies up through the water column.  Once clear of the water make one false cast and allow the weight forward line to do what it is designed to do, shoot to the target.  As the indicator and flies land watch for the distinct separate plops of the flies or flies, swivel and indicator.  If they land within inches of each other, strip in and investigate.  The tangle is often in its infancy and can be quickly cured.  Pinching the line or allowing it to shoot tight to the reel slingshots the indicator and flies providing the necessary separation for proper presentation and reduced tangles

To summarize;
  1. Avoid excessive false casts. Let the weight forward line do what it is designed to do.  No more than two false casts and shoot to the target on three.  After some practice you should be able load the rod with one false cast and shoot to the target.
  2. Try to cast only the weight forward section of your fly line.  Watching your indicator from a distance is not necessary and in many instances you miss subtle takes.  Not all indicators are the firm bubble trails to the depths we dream off.
  3. Let your back cast unroll in the same manner as the front cast to ensure complete energy transfer.  I am bad for this one at times!
  4. Place the indicator peg when using Quick Release Indicators on the fly side of the indicator.  The unfurling leader and flies has less to catch in the event of a tailing loop.
  5. Pinch the line or allow the it to shoot to the reel to slingshot the indicator, swivel and flies or fly over.  Look for separation between the components as a clue to a tangle free cast.
Dangling chironomids, leeches, scuds and other patterns beneath an indicator is deadly.  Particularly when fish seem dour and unwilling to chase a fly moving at a faster pace, such as when water temperatures are cool or unsettled weather disrupts normal feeding activity.  The next time you are struggling with your indicator setup consider these tips.  You should hopefully spend more time watching your indicator disappear beneath the surface than fumbling with a frustrating tangle that might have been prevented.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Some Fish are Meant to be Caught!

Last Thursday evening I accompanied Dave and Amelia Jensen as we prospected a central Alberta stream.  We were scouting potential location for an upcoming episode of The New Fly Fisher which I will be filming with Dave and Amelia along with Tom Rosenbauer from Orvis during the week of July 19th.  Our goal for the evening was to drift and search for snouts sipping quietly along the river's edge.  As there was goldeye in the river as well I had to learn to distinguish the difference between the somewhat aggressive concentrated rises of gold eye verses the individual slurp of a large brown.

(Photo Courtesy of Amelia Jensen)

The brown trout population is sparse so a keen eye was required by all.  It is amazing how subtle rises can pass unnoticed if you are not prepared to look and study a section of water.  Just as darkness approached we found a small number of browns rising along the edge of a high grass bank.  As Dave had yet to cast to a trout it was his turn.  Amelia and I had targeted a couple of risers with no success earlier in the evening.  Dave made one cast and as his fly drifted into the trout's window it disappeared in a confident deliberate rise.  After a spirited battle the large, 25-inch plus brown lay at our feet.  She was, beautiful fat and healthy.


Another trout rose a few yards upstream from where Dave had taken his gorgeous brown. Now it was my turn.  Since my rod was downstream in the boat Dave offered me his rod.  After all, his large brown drake imitation had already proven its worth.  Up steps challenge number one.  Dave prefers double taper lines, I have been using weight forward lines for years. I didn't realize this right away and it took me a number of casts for me to get used to casting a double taper once again.  Finally I was able to get the distance and accuracy needed to cover the fish.  My fly drifted down to where we had seen the fish move and it was taken in a gentle deliberate slurp.  I let the fish take the fly and game on.  Up steps challenge number two.  As the fish bolted I realized that Dave's reel was set up for right hand retrieve.  As lefty hybrid who casts right handed, the product of being brought up in a right-handed world, my reel is set up to retrieve left handed.  I was not able to gather line and control the fish as I would have liked.  Up steps challenge number three.  Another fish was rising upstream of this fish so I did not want my fish to spook that fish as Amelia was next up to bat.  Due to my trying not to have the fish bolt upstream and my battle trying to reel right-handed I was not forceful enough with the fish and it forged its way out into the main current and proceeded to wrap itself around a rock.  The fish was still attached as I could feel it throbbing through the line.  Now what?  Well thankfully, at over 6-feet tall, Dave offered and was able to wade out and above the fish and free the line.  Game on again.  Up steps challenge number four, my final challenge.  Now the fish took off down stream and decided that under our anchored boat was good place to go.  The leader rubbed against the anchor rope which we were able to free and not soon after the fish was in the net resting and recovering before being released.

(Photo Courtesy of Amelia Jensen)

I couldn't believe I had been fortunate enough to land this fish.  By all rights I should have lost it on at least three or four occasions.  I guess some fish are just meant to be caught.   The moral of this story is to use your own equipment or at least get comfortable with and know what you are borrowing before going live!

Amelia stepped up to bat after my adventure but darkness had taken over and the swarm of mosquitoes was intensifying with every minute despite our multiple applications of bug juice.  I felt bad as my bumbling had consumed valuable time and daylight.  Next time Amelia goes first!

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Good Press!

They say any publicity is good publicity.  Thankfully some recent publicity has all been good, both on a national and regional scale. 

As most of you are probably aware, a number of years ago Brian Chan and I partnered with Superfly International, a Canadian based  fly tying and equipment distributor, to create the Stillwater Solutions line of tying materials and flies.  In the Summer issue of Fly Tyer magazine you can find an article by Jay Jacobs on the Stillwater Solutions product line.  Jay interviewed Brian and me on a number of topics including the product line, how it came to be and our thoughts on stillwater fly design.  If you can't get on the water perhaps picking up this issue might lessen the pain.  This issue as with others contains a number of excellent fly tying articles. 

When I was down speaking at the Pleasanton Fly Fishing Show in February I was overwhelmed by the response.  The crowd was interested and enthusiastic about stillwater fly fishing and the particular topics I presented.  After one of my shows a gentleman by the name of Bill Forward approached me and asked if I would be interested in providing an interview for his regional magazine the Sierra Fisherman.  Bill has fly fished California for over 35 years and is a former biology instructor. In addition to his editorial duties with the magazine he also provides guiding and instruction through his guide company, Forward Bound.

The interview contained in the summer issue is entitled the Wisdom of the Cast consisted of my answering a series of specific questions regarding stillwater fly fishing.  If you have access to this free publication hopefully you had a chance to catch the article, if not if you can find the article here.

The Sierra Fisherman is a neat regional publication serving the Sierra region of California.  Regional magazines such as this offer unique tips and techniques along with a number of fly patterns.  If you ever travel make a point of searching out these local magazines as the information they contain often has a far greater reach than their geographic region. 

On a final note I will be down in California this fall and will be providing a stillwater seminar  in Graeagle, CA, October 15, coupled with a lakeside program on the 16th (Lake Davis). I am looking forward to sampling some of the excellent stillwater fly fishing opporutnities Lake Davis has to offer.  Enrollment is limited and discounts on lodging are available. For more information or to register please contact Forward Bound at (530) 836-0206 for more information.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Learning With The Pros

Well June has come and gone. It proved to be one of the busiest months I can ever remember.  My seminar trail took me to Manitoba, Fortress Lake and this past weekend in British Columbia for a Learning With the Pros Seminar.  Brian Chan and I, in partnership with BC Outdoors Sport Fishing magazine, have been providing weekend Learning With the Pros stillwater seminars at a variety of B.C. locations for the past three years.  This year we based ourselves at Tunkwa Lake and Tunkwa Lake Resort.

Tunkwa Lake Resort was an excellent location, easy to get to and the hospitality they provided to our group made the weekend an even greater success.  It had been a number of years since I last stayed at the resort and the improvements they have made are quite noticeable.  Especially the new cabin we stayed at.  Our cabin was a beautiful clean facility that can easily sleep 12.  It comes complete with two full sized bathrooms, large kitchen and dinning area.  It was the perfect place to unwind and relax at the end of the day.

Brian and I had over 30 people attend this year's event, another complete sellout. We provided seminars on a wide variety of subjects including chironomids, leader construction, sinking lines and lake biology to name a few.  I really enjoy the interaction and discussion these seminars provide.


While the learning was good the fishing was not unfortunately.  Tunkwa Lake is at full pool and the high water in conjunction with a full moon really had the fish out of sorts.  The lodge reported that they had a really unsettled wet spring and the lake was not where it usually was for late June.  Brian and I both noticed how clear the lake was.  In late June the seasonal algae bloom is usually in full swing.  The water was still quite clear for Tunkwa.  Not everyone caught fish, over two days I only managed to shake hands with two fish and Brian managed to land only one!  We tried a variety of tactics and had our best success, if you can call it that, suspending small leeches and chironomid patterns below an indicator.  It was tough to get fish to chase a fly.  We had one person drift by us on the Saturday passed out in his boat, working on his tan.  In hindsight he may have had the best strategy!

The Learning With the Pros event sees a new expansion for 2010 with the addition of an advanced seminar format.  The advanced session is intended for past Learning with the Pros attendees and any fly fisher looking to improve their stillwater fly fishing skills and knowledge.  The advanced event is slated for for October 1-3 at Stoney Lake Lodge located on the Douglas Lake Ranch.  Stoney Lake Lodge is a beautiful place to stay offering deluxe accommodation, great food and the trophy lakes Stoney and Minnie are minutes away.  Actually, Stoney Lake is mere seconds away! The large trout Minnie and Stoney Lakes are noted for will be cruising the shallows, aggressively stocking up on just about anything they can chase down for the long cold winter ahead.  Fall is the time for the largest fish of the season and we should experience some exciting fishing.

In addition to personal one on one time with Brian and I on the water here is a sample of what we will be covering.
  • Hands On Leader Construction
  • Advanced Lake Limnology
  • How to Fight Big Fish
  • Advanced Floating Line Techniques
  • Presentation Secrets
  • How and When to Use Attractors
  • Tactics and Techniques for Tough Days
Brian and I will also be providing on camera tying demonstrations detailing some of our favorite patterns.
There are only 14 spaces available and I know some spots are already taken.  Cost for the weekend is $850/person and includes food, accommodation & courses.  To reserve your spot or for additional information please don’t hesitate to email or call 604.464.1876.

Please contact myself or B.C. Outdoors Sport Fishing magazine right away if you are interested.  I know a number of the students from this past weekend were keen on signing up.