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.