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.


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  2. Thanks a lot for providing such a awesome information of still water fly fishing.I like Your blog. I also plan for my fly fishing trip. Nice and useful information.