Thursday, January 29, 2009

Streamer fishing the Tribs 1

It was late February and we were fishing one of our favorite western New York tributaries for steelhead and lake run brown trout. We had a nice warm stretch of weather and the streams had been free and clear of ice for a few days. The water was high but not muddy and we knew there would be fish here.

My friend started upstream from me fishing an egg pattern through some pocket water. I stayed at the bridge and started fishing the back end of the pool with a streamer. I was using a 5 foot sink tip that I could loop to the end of my floating line. I then looped 5 foot straight piece of 10lb. tippet to the sink tip and then tied on a size 6 white bucktail streamer.

I stripped out about 20 feet of fly line and threw a roll cast just upstream and to the far side of the creek. I then threw in a big mend and let the fly sink and drift. When the current started to drag the fly, I started to strip the fly in at a slow and steady pace, two feet at a time. Soon I could see my fly downstream from me and near the shore. And right behind it was a lake run brown trout of about 7 or 8 lbs. The fish was following the fly but it didn't seem to be very aggressive. So I stopped stripping the fly to see if the fish would take. The fish then turned and swam back into the middle of the pool. I took a deep breath and tried not to yell at myself for making a poor choice. I then made another cast and mend, trying to replicate the same drift in the same spot. I was hoping that the brown would still be interested. It was! As I was stripping the fly in, I saw the fish follow my fly for the second time. This time I kept up the slow steady pace, drawing the fly closer and closer hoping for a take. Then in an instant the fish accelerated, opened its mouth and drew in the fly just feet below where I was standing, fish on!.

This scenario does not always play out like it did for me that morning. Sometimes the fish will see the fly drifting near the bottom, follow it, and wait until it starts to swing to gently take it. Then the fish turns downstream, slowly putting a bend in the rod until you realize that a fish has taken your fly. Other times the fish will follow and slash at the fly with such aggression that they almost rip the rod out of your hand. The important thing to remember is to be ready for anything!

And if you don't have a sink tip....don't worry, you can fish weighted streamers on a longer leader with just your floating line. The best thing to do is have a variety of weighted streamers such as cone head, bead head or bead chain eyed woolly buggers and rabbit strip leach patterns to cover all water conditions. I sometimes add 10 or 12 wraps of lead wire behind the cone or bead for really high water. And depending on the water you will need between a 7 or 9 foot tapered leader tapered down to 8 or 10lb test. You can make it your self or buy one. The longer leader will allow the weighted fly to sink better and have less drag from fly line. I try to use a 7 foot leader for moderate to lower water, and 9 foot leaders for higher water. This set up is also easier to switch from streamer to nymph rig much more quickly especially if you only have one rod with you.
As for fly color....I have heard a guide say "You can fish any color as long as it's white." This is probably the best all around color to use, but I would also carry some darker patterns like black, olive or brown as they may be a better option in stained water under low light conditions. They would also work well on very skinny water where small patterns in natural colors may work better.

Okay already! Enough writing, time to go fishing!


Monday, January 12, 2009

High Water Part 2

Photo A.) Looking upstream from the cow bridge during "High Muddy Water." There were branches and trees that had washed up against most of the upstream side of the cow bridge creating a dam.

Photo B.) Looking downstream from the cow bridge. You can see that the water is high, but much more manageable due to the make shift dam on the other side.

This next installment of “Fishing High Water” is more of a compilation of information that I have gained from observing and fishing in those conditions. And I must add that I am still working on being a better “High Water” fly fisherman.

First, I have noticed that there is a difference between “high water” and “high muddy water.” High water for me is a water level that exceeds the normal flow and fluctuations for that particular stream or river without running over the banks and becoming muddy. An example of this would be during the spring when you have a good amount of run off due to rain or snow melt. The water is above normal levels for this time of year and it has a light to medium color to it, such as a light green or light brown. Visibility is still fairly good and you can still make out much of the structure of the stream and the seams, riffles, pools and runs still hold much of their appearance. This is great water for streamer fishing or drifting large nymphs along the bottom. And during periods of high water like this in the late spring through summer, you can still find good dry fly fishing. At this flow most fly fisherman are still very successful and enjoy the change from the low water of the summer months.

Things change however when the stream starts to run over its banks and the water turns muddy. This is when the fishing becomes difficult. The stream or river now takes on a very different appearance. The water is saturated with silt, dirt, sand and other debris. The main current of the stream or river is very turbulent and is now un-fishable. Visibility is now between 6 inches to maybe a foot or so. At this flow many fisherman stay at home and tie flies, waiting for water levels to come down. I am here to say that I have had some of my best fishing days during “high muddy water.”

Here are the things that I have come to take notice of that may make your experience fishing in “high muddy water” more successful.

First – I would start by choosing a stream that you spend a lot of time fishing. Knowing before hand where all the little holes, undercut banks, shallow gravel areas and so on will cut down on the time spent on trying to find these areas on a stream you don’t know.

Second – This is probably the hardest part of fishing high muddy water – “Finding the Fish!” Look for slower water like back eddies, seams, side channels, small feeder streams and downed trees or debris that may slow the water down. These places will concentrate the fish. Just imagine a stream during normal conditions. The fish may have dozens of options of where to hold and feed all through a section of stream. But, when you have high muddy water fish cannot hold in those same areas. They will only be able to hold in one or two spots. And once you find these areas, you should catch many fish out of that one spot.

Third – Fly selection and fishing methods are probably the easiest aspects of fishing high muddy water. Dark nymphs in sizes #12-#8 and buggers and streamers from size #12 up to #6 are the best bets. They can be weighted or un-weighted, but I prefer fishing a weighted nymph or bugger so I don’t have to add split shot to the leader (fish the fly, not the weight concept.) A strike indicator works the best, but you can high stick nymph since you will be fishing pretty close to shore. Make sure you strike at every little stop you feel. I tend to use a little heavier tippet such as 5x or 4x for inland trout streams and 8 to 10lb. test for tribs. And I use fluorocarbon as it sinks and regular mono does not. With a few adjustments to the indicator for water depth, you should be ready to go! I usually set my indicator as close to the depth of the water as I can.

My favorite rig for “high muddy water” is fishing a weighted bead head woolly bugger under a strike indicator. I have caught the majority of all my fish with this rig. And whether it’s on an inland trout stream or a great lakes tributary, the fish just can’t resist taking advantage of a good sized meal during “high muddy water.” You just have to find them!

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Central New York FFAA Fly Tying Symposium

Here is something worth checking out!

The Central New York Fly Tying Symposium for Adults and Kids
Saturday March 14th, 9am -5pm

Admission: $12.00 tax deducible donation
Admission includes a 1 year membership to the FFAA

Kids under 12 get in for free
Venue: The Radisson Convention Center
Genesee Street, Utica, NY
5 Minutes from NYS Thruway Interstate 90
Exit 31 to Genesee Street South

There will be lots to do and see, so if you are interested and would like more detailed information please check out this site

Thursday, January 1, 2009

High Water Part 1

A number of years ago, I took James fly fishing with me at the Oatka. It was spring and the air was getting nice and warm, flowers were blooming and the leaves on the trees had now fully opened. There had already been reports of some good early hatches of Hendricksons. I was very excited to get James and me into some fish. This excitement changed when we got to the stream and noticed that the water was not only high, but muddy! I knew that it would be a little high due to some rain we had that week, but I had no idea that it would be almost not fishable. I had to change gears. I decided to stick it out and fish the creek with a new approach. I tied on a size 12 beadhead peacock herl woolly bugger under a strike indicator and fished as close to the bank as I could get. The visibility of the water was about 6 inches and I could just make out the rocks and stones that were at my feet. After some adjustments to my rig and a few drifts in a new spot, my indicator dipped. I lifted the rod and to my surprise I had a fish on. It wasn’t big, but it was a fish! After that fish and a new found confidence, I worked that drift again and again, pulling fish after fish from that single spot. I called James over and set him up with the same rig that I had. I put him in the spot and told him that the fish were right close to the bank. A few drifts later and he was into his first fish. This was the start of a fantastic day of fishing. We then moved downstream looking for other likely holding areas. And each time we would find a likely spot we would catch a few trout. Then we came upon a slight bend in the stream that had a small little peninsula sticking downstream from the bank. This made a perfect little pocket off of the main current and formed a seam that flowed for almost 50 yards downstream. Almost every cast into that seam produced a take. We even had numerous doubles. We spent most of our time that day at that spot, only moving on after we had gotten board with catching fish after fish. And even though I have caught fish in high water before, I hadn’t been that successful in high “muddy” water until that day.

I now have plenty of those little woolly buggers in my fly box, and they have yet to let me down. I have also applied the high water knowledge to other streams. And it has proven to be equally successful where ever I fish. We have even used a similar set up for steelhead and lake run browns in the spring, and it has been deadly!

We had the stream to ourselves that day. And I think if I had looked at a stream report before we headed out, I may have chosen a different spot to fish. I am very glad I didn’t! Since that day I have learned so much more about fishing high water. I hope to share a little more of what my fly fishing friends and I have learned in the next post.