Friday, August 12, 2011

Something Different

Most associate fly fishing with trout and streams, but as most of you know the sport has evolved into much more.  Near my Alberta home I have numerous opportunities from rivers to lakes, trout to pike.

Alternate species on the fly adds to your fly fishing repetoire

When I moved to Alberta I was intrigued by these opportunities, walleye and pike on the fly in particular.  Over the years I have enjoyed many successful outings particularly for walleye, a species most don’t think of chasing with a fly.  I have discovered that walleye are more than cooperative and on at least two separate occasions I have had large tournament boats pull up to ask me just exactly I am up to!  Most non fly fishers associate dry flies with fly fishing and are surprised that we can work flies effectively to 20 feet or greater.
Interest has been so great in my walleye quests that I am often asked by my guide clients to chase them on the fly.  A change I enjoy!

Little if anything has been documented about catching walleye on the fly, at least locally, so I had to learn by studying what methods traditional anglers used and adapt them to fly fishing.  For the most part is has been a straight forward transition. 

Walleye share numerous similarities with trout.  They like the same water temperatures, eat the same things, hang out in the same spots (drop offs, sunken islands, weedbeds, humps) and can be very soft feeders challenging your strike detection skills.

Trout and walleye share a number of similarities
My favourite method involves using a floating line, both with and without indicators.  This approach works well when walleye are in 15 feet of water or less such as the early spring to early summer timeframe.  Suspending small balanced leeches and minnow patterns below a Quick Release Indicator in and around weedbeds or on flats adjacent to deep water works well in the same manner traditional anglers use a slip bobber.

Walleye are a challenging fly rod quarry
This past week I spent a day on the water guiding chasing walleye using both floating lines and clear intermediate lines.  I often begin with a Camolux or Aqualux clear intermediate, covering water using Clouser Minnows and Popsicle Leeches in the same manner as an angler using a crank bait.

Temperatures were warm, the water was 70 degrees so the walleye weren’t as active as I had hoped.  It was going to be a tough day.  In the mid-morning I moved across from a favourite point to fish a weed bed next to the shore line that tapered into deeper water.  Fish were moving at the surface and after catching a glimpse of a few some were lake whitefish.  Lake whitefish are a salmonid and make excellent fly rod quarry as they love mayfly nymphs and chironomids.  They are hard fighters and in the lakes around my home reach appreciable sizes, over 4 pounds in many instances.  They are an excellent challenge when my local trout lakes are slow.

Believing the rolling fish to be Lake Whitefish we swapped our clear intermediates for floating lines and Quick Release Indicators.  I put a burgundy/red Balanced Leech on my client Brent’s line and set him up to suspend roughly 12 feet down.  Together we stared, waiting for the indicator to show signs of a take.  After a few minutes Brent’s indicator disappeared. It took us both by surprise and the fish was missed. 
Frustrating, but at least the odd fish seemed interested.  After a few more minutes Brent’s indicator plunged once again, this time he hooked up.  The fish battled hard taking line and then tried to run around the boat. Based upon how the fish was fighting we believed we had hooked a lake whitefish.  Finally the fish came up to the surface and much to our surprise it was a nice walleye, Balanced Leech stuck in the tip of its upper jaw!

Brent's First Walleye
Things slowed down again after that initial excitement so we began exploring again.  We bounced around to my favourite haunts and none produced.  This included a spot that has never let me down, until today.  As the day progressed we decided to head back to the scene of our only fish and wouldn’t you know it we hooked fish again. Brent hooked and landed another nice walleye.  An old adage popped into my mind that has proven itself on more than one occasion, “Don’t leave fish to find fish!”

Walleye Number Two!
If you have different species in your area, give them a try.  Many alternate species are both challenging and enjoyable on a fly rod and the skills you learn more often than not improve your traditional trout skills too!