Saturday, March 26, 2011

Big fish round-up!

For those of you who read this blog from time to time, you may noticed that we have been doing very well on our wonderful WNY tributaries as of late. It has been a blessing for sure! Not only have we found some time to get out there, but there have been impressive numbers of fish in the system and it has made for some fantastic fishing.

The fish have averaged somewhere between 6-8lbs and for the most part have been drop back brown trout with a few steelhead thrown in for good measure. But that is all starting to change. Before our most recent cold snap, that has now put day time temperatures in the upper 20's, the stream's water temperatures were getting into that magical 40 degree mark. It is the temperature in which steelhead begin their spawn. This is important because it means that the numbers of steelhead will continue to increase every time we get out on the stream. And for the most part that has been true! And with the influx of fresh fish, come the big males ready to stake out some spawning territory. These big boys can reach lengths of 36" or so and have impressive girths, making them a truly huge trout that can reach 20lb.s or more!

The fishing for steelhead right now consists of dead drifting egg patterns or nymphs under an indicator. This is due to the fact that they are getting ready to spawn and are less likely to chase a streamer down (unlike the drop back browns who seem to crush just about anything in their path.) This will change in the next few weeks as more and more steelhead will be starting to come off the spawn and will be at times very aggressive toward a swung streamer. The only hard part will be figuring out what the fish want on any given stretch of river. You could get fish on egg patterns at one hole and then nothing in the next, but switch to a streamer and get fish after fish. So it pays to carry 2 rods rigged up for each scenario.

This past week I was able to get out with a few friends and find some truly big trout. Andy started the afternoon off with a beauty of a female drop back brown that measured in at 28.5" and probably weighed in at around 10lbs. Then I found a rather large fish that seemed intent on destroying my fly, rod, and net. At first I thought it was a large brown, but that idea vanished when I saw it come up and turn sideways - all I saw was a huge wide side of red! And so far it is the largest steelhead for me this spring, taping out at 32" in length with a girth of 18". The afternoon ended with a few more hookups for each of us, with one more fish to the net before I had to go, another large male steelhead of about 28-29".

The rest of the boys stayed on and found more willing trout down below from where we started off our afternoon. And although they weren't the monsters we found right off the bat, no one complained! It is after all just the start of spring with plenty more great steelhead fishing ahead for the next 3 weeks. And who knows....maybe a few more big trout will find their way into our nets....I certainly hope so!

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

On the Swing!

With the calendar now marking the official start of spring, I think it's appropriate to say that the month of March has been absolutely off the hook when it comes to fly fishing for tributary trout!

It really started this past fall with perfect water conditions throughout the months of October and November that brought in hordes of big brown trout from the lake. But I already have said that in previous posts, so we can forget about the why and when, and talk about the fishing.

March traditionally has been the month of mood swings, both in temperature and water levels. One day it's sunny and warm with air temperatures near 60 degrees, the next it's cold and snowy. And this year is no different. The only thing that does appear to be consistent so far, is the fishing. We have had some pretty great outings so far with many fish making it to the net. Swinging big flies for drop back browns has been a blast, and has been our primary way of fishing. And if you want to get into some lake run rainbows and steelhead, dead drifting egg patterns seems to be the ticket. Either way, there are plenty of fish to be had this spring.

So with everything looking pretty darn good right now, what can we look forward too?

Well let me tell you! In the month of April temperatures will begin to moderate, the steelhead fishing will get better, and we won't need to wear the many layers of clothing we now need to wear to stay warm. We will have a mix of both pre-spawn and drop back steelhead along with a few brown trout still in the system. The only tricky part will be to find out whether the fish are on the egg bite or eating baitfish. But hey...I'm up for the challenge!

The fantastic tributary fishing isn't the only thing to look forward to. We also start seeing our first hatch of mayflies on our many inland trout streams - the Hendricksons! This is a great hatch of bugs and makes for our first really good dry fly fishing of the year. So if you wanted to, you could catch steelhead in the morning, then drive 35-45 minutes, and catch your first trout on a dry by the afternoon! Pretty cool huh?

Plenty to look forward too...stay tuned!

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

High water is good!

The snow is pretty much all gone by now. It has taken weeks for it to melt. And with some recent rain thrown in for good measure, the streams have pushed beyond their banks. But in the past few days, that is all starting to change. Even though the water is high, a bit muddy, and still just barely over the high water mark, it is starting to clear up a bit. We now have a good foot of visibility, and that makes for good fishing!

For us Great Lakes tributary fly fishermen, high water can be a blessing and a curse. It provides the much needed pulse of water that is crucial to bring in fresh steelhead from the lake, move those hold over browns that have been locked in all winter, and jump start the whole life cycle of the stream into full gear once again. The bad part is waiting for the streams to drop to acceptable levels so we can take advantage of the blessing part of this whole thing - the great fishing!

I know I have talked about fishing high water before in past blogs, but it never hurts to go over it again, especially when it's the season for it!

Here are a few really good tactics that I have learned over the years of fishing in high stained water.

1 - Fishing the seams between fast and slow water is a great place to start. These places are found behind large rocks or boulders, around bends in the stream, near the bank, and my favorite - trees and large limbs that have fallen into the stream. These places provide rest for fish that are trying to stay out of the fast water, and will syphon food right to waiting fish.

2 - Depending on water clarity, many fish will hold right off the bank. So wading and walking carefully while navigating the stream can be crucial. And making sure you send at least a good half dozen casts right off the bank, would probably be a good idea.

3 - Break it down! High water can make the stream two to three times larger than it normally is. Breaking it down into sections will help you fish it better. And taking note of the types of water to fish in the first tactic are a great place to start.

4 - Switch it up! I try and bring two rods with me when I can. One rigged with a large streamer and the other with a nymph or egg pattern. Or if I am fishing with a friend, I will fish a different pattern than what they are fishing. This does two things. First - it helps to narrow down what the fish want to eat (that is if they are picky.) Second - It helps cover the water better. Some fish will be very aggressive and will move to take a swung streamer, but there are often other fish in that same pool or run that may only take an egg pattern that is dead drifted in front of them.

5 - Make sure to use the appropriate gear. Fishing high stained water means you can get away with using heavier tippet, bigger rod weights, and larger flies. I have seen guys who snap a huge fish off because they still had 6 lb. tippet on from their last fishing outing...not good! Remember the streams are flowing at a faster rate with much more water. The fish know this and use it to their advantage!

Another thing to keep in mind when fishing high stained water is that what you see on top, is not necessarily what goes on at the bottom of the stream. The faster top part of the water column will carry much of the fine sediment and debris, making it look muddy and unfishable at times. It can be a whole different story near the bottom of the stream where stones and rocks of all sizes break up the current and slow it down. The bottom of the stream may be much more visible than the top, allowing fish to see your fly better.

Friday, March 11, 2011

2011 Fly Tying Symposium in Utica, NY

It's time to gear up for the 2011 Central New York Fly Tying Symposium in Utica, NY.

Next weekend, March 19th, I will be making the journey to Utica to visit with some of my fly fishing friends, tie flies, and speak on fly fishing some of our wonderful Western New York waters.

The fly tying symposium is put together by Jordan Ross (of JP Ross fly rods) and the Central New York FFAA. The event is free and all throughout the day there will be plenty of great seminars, some amazing fly tying demos, a kids fly tying room, and plenty of wonderful vendors to peruse through. So bring the while family for an hour or two or three, as their is plenty to do and see for everyone!

And make sure to check out some of our other very talented Western New York fly fishing alumni while your there. Lucas Carroll will be tying flies and doing a seminar on photography, and Michael Simmons and his wife Crystal of Guys Flies and Pies fame will be doing some fly tying demos as well.

I hope to see a lot of new faces at this years event!!!

For more info please make sure to check out all the details at the JP Ross fly rod website.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Late winter tributary fishing

Before our most recent big melt/rain event(which has blown out our streams for at least a week), many of our local WNY tributaries were fluctuating between ideal and close to ideal fishing conditions. And when they have been ideal, they have been fantastic! This is nothing new for this time of year. We always seem to have a nice little window of opportunity before everything gets blown out for a good week of high muddy water. But even then, there is a silver lining that comes with high water….it will draw in a lot of fresh spring steelhead!

A few of us hardy souls have been making some trips here and there between the ups and downs of our local stream water levels, hoping to hit it just right so we could put a few fish in the net. And I am happy to say that for the most part, our plan has worked out perfectly….so far!

This is a great time to fish the tributaries. We will not only have a great spring run of steelhead entering our LO tributaries, but also the added bonus of some big drop back lake run brown trout. And they are hungry!!!

The spring drop back brown trout fishing can be fantastic, but it does somewhat depend on the fall run and winter conditions. If we have a good amount of water in the fall, the brown trout run will be a good one. Combine that with a cold winter that locks up some of our WNY freestone tributaries, and you have a lot of fall run brown trout that can get trapped in the system until spring – that means there will be a lot of very hungry brown trout that will eat just about anything!!!

The flies we choose and our presentation will need to vary depending on water levels and temperatures. A good thaw will raise water levels and draw in fresh fish, but it often will cool down the water temperature by a few degrees because it’s all from snow melt. A nice warm rain will have the opposite effect, and we need to be watchful of how that comes into play. Colder water temperatures may mean that we need to slow our presentations way down, and be more precise with our drifts to get fish to take. And when they do take, it can often be very light. So managing your line well can make a huge difference.

Many of us know that there can be big difference between fishing the morning hours and afternoon and evening hours in the winter, but it can be even more dramatic in the fall and spring! I have witnessed this change many times myself over the years, and I am still amazed by it. I have had mornings start off cold, both with the temperatures and the fishing, and I struggle to get any fish to take a fly. I concentrate on dead drifting nymphs and egg patterns through the slower pools and holes, picking up a fish here and there. Then by midmorning I start to see fish moving out of the holes and into the deeper runs and riffle sections. The fish are now more aggressive and fishing becomes hectic as I work hard to land fish after fish, trying to take it all in before it stops. Then, in another month and a half all this craziness will be done. The drop back browns will be back in the lake, and the steelhead, which have finished their annual spawning ritual, will have joined them.

All I can say is..."It should be a fantastic spring!"