Category Archives: Fishing Techniques

Fitzroy-Trout

Simple Fly Fishing 101: Tenkara Rod Setup

As some of you may notice if you frequent our website, Fishwest is now excited to bring you Tenkara rods. Better yet, we are bringing you the Simple Fly Fishing Tenkara Rod & Kit from our great friends from Patagonia.

In a very simple nutshell, Tenkara is the traditional Japanese method of fly fishing, it is ideal for mountain streams. Tenkara fishing an angler only uses a rod line and fly. That means no reel is required. 

Even though these rods are designed for smaller creeks and rivers the possibilities of what these rods can do is really endless.  I for one am quite intrigued about these rods and am excited to see them in the action. Now I just have to learn how to use one. Do any of you out there use these cool rods?

 

TetonRange

Yellowstone’s Little Sister

Much has been written – and deservedly so – about Yellowstone National Park and its fisheries.  (Take a look at Marc’s articles elsewhere in this blog for some very interesting samples.) What about the Tetons just south of Yellowstone?

The Grand TetonsSince the Tetons don’t bother with foothills, the view from the road is incredible.   Rugged peaks simply erupt from sage-covered flats.  And all kinds of trails lead right into these eye-popping mountains.  Naturally, what makes it a complete destination – at least for the typical Pisciphilia reader – is the nearby fishing.

It’s all about the cutthroats in this part of the world.  Other trout seem to be merely incidental catches.  No need for any size 20 Tricos. Large, attractor dries are the usual fly shop recommendation.

I’m no expert; in fact, I’ve merely sampled the rivers around Grand Teton National Park on a couple of different trips.  Nevertheless, I hope my impressions might spike your curiosity and even help you plan out a possible trip…

The Snake River: This is the one you’ve probably heard about.  It’s a big, wide river with a relentless, pushy current. Don’t even think about wading across!  It parallels the Tetons and then runs south. Common wisdom dictates that a drift boat is the best way to fish it. Nevertheless, it is quite possible to walk along and pick at some very juicy-looking pockets along the bank.   Better yet, if you find some braids, crossing a side channel or two will lead to enough water to keep you busy all afternoon.  You can even feel a little bit smug, knowing you’ll cover those enticing seams more thoroughly than the guy who zipped by in the drift boat.

Fishing The SnakeThe Wilson bridge access, just outside the town of Jackson, leads to a path that runs up and down the river in both directions.   Locals walk their dogs there and you might have to relinquish your spot to an exuberant black Lab.  Despite that, the Tetons form an impressive backdrop and you can definitely find some nice braids.  I have to admit that although the numbers were okay; my biggest fish from the area was perhaps eight inches.  Maybe my technique wasn’t quite dialed in?

There are other places, like boat ramps and the Moose Bridge, to access the Snake River for wading.  Further researching the resources at the end of this article will likely reveal even more.   Although wading is thoroughly enjoyable, the Snake offers a lot of river and a lot of scenery. On my next visit I will seriously look into the guided drift boat option.

The Hoback River: The medium-sized Hoback River follows Highway 191 and pours into the Snake south of Jackson.  There are many access points along the highway and the river has a little bit of everything – shallow riffles, rocky runs, pocket water, and deep glides.  The good water is much more obvious than on the Snake.  It is far more wader-friendly as well and you can cross some sections quite easily. Although the holding spots might be a fair hike apart, there are definitely 8 to 14 inch trout to be had.

The Gros Ventre River: This stream is a little smaller than the Hoback and just as easy to read.  It seems to follow a well-defined pattern of riffles and runs. Crossing it to optimize your drift is possible in most areas.

Despite all this, my catch rate on the Gros Ventre was almost nil. Nevertheless, I know the fish are in there and I’ll be Moose Crossingback. In the meantime, I’ll blame my lack of success on the bull moose that wandered into the stream and forced me to detour around a couple of prime runs.

Speaking of wildlife, the Gros Ventre River runs right by Gros Ventre campground on the road to Kelly. The river is easily reachable from the road and the sage flats in this region are like an American Serengeti. On more than one occasion, bison delayed traffic as they crossed the road.

Granite Creek

Granite Creek is a small stream that is paralleled by a good gravel road as it tumbles toward the Hoback River.  It alternates between pocket water in forested sections and a classic meadow stream in picturesque valleys.  (Think Soda Butte Creek with far fewer fishermen).

The meadow sections were perhaps my favorite places to fish in the entire region.  Although the water looked impossibly skinny from high up on the road, there were actually all kinds of places where the bottom slipped out of sight – undercut banks, around boulders, and just below riffles – where the bottom slipped out of sight.  It seemed like most of these places held fish that were extremely adept at quickly spitting out a dry fly.

Cutties Love HoppersHowever, a few actually came to hand. They were solid, gorgeous cutthroats up to 14 inches. Given the size of the water they came from, they seemed like true lunkers,

Granite Creek also had a couple of bonus features built into it.   One was a spectacular waterfall near the end of the road – a great place to simply admire, or cool off by splashing around.  And if you cooled off too much, there were some hot springs right at the end of the road.

Miscellaneous Notes: A standard 9 foot 5 weight worked great on all the above rivers except for Granite Creek, which was more suited to an 8 foot 4 weight.  When large attractors like Chernobyl Ants and Turk’s Tarantulas did not get eaten, smaller patterns like Trudes, Humpies, Irresistibles, and Goddard Caddis filled the gap. Drifting the odd nymph or swinging the odd sculpin pattern also worked.

Resources:

Book: Flyfisher’s Guide to Yellowstone National Park by Ken Retallic.  (It includes a chapter on the Tetons!)

Fly Shops in Jackson, Wyoming: High Country Flies and also the Snake River Angler. (Be sure to check out their websites.)

 

Winter Blues

Winter Fly Fishing – Observations From This Year

Winter Blues

A recent trick to winter flyfishing depends simply upon the weather. For instance, last winter there was hardly any snow—so little, in fact, that I’ve never seen a winter that dry in the central Rockies in my lifetime. I’d call it a drought. This year’s winter started with parallel results, but finally it began to snow, albeit a couple months later than usual. But once it got going, it snowed every few days—through December & January. By the middle of January, it seemed like the foremost trick to winter flyfishing was simply finding some open, un-frozen water to fish. We did have a dry spell at the end of January through mid-February, but the idea still amounted to finding fishable water.

Does fly selection make a difference? Maybe…research in recent years points out that black, blue, and fluorescents are the most visible colors in deep water; many winter anglers will testify to the effectiveness of patterns in these colors. Biologists do not exactly understand what trout see, but what I find truly interesting is that trout not only see color—they can identify some colors that are beyond human visualization. In particular, trout can sense shades of red and ultra violet that we cannot, and in lower light conditions. I used to think that blue was a nonsensical fly color, since I have not seen blue insects on the streams I fish, other than adult dragonflies/damselflies. However, scientists report that the fish’s capability to distinguish minute pigmentation differences is greatest within the blues.

A lot of experts say that trout seek deep water and become less active in the winter, which may explain (at least in part) why highly visible flies are effective. However, Levi, a buddy of mine who has been ice fishing for years says trout can actually feed aggressively; you just have to hit it at the right time. He also says Pam cooking spray helps de-ice rod guides, and advises to prepare for extreme weather. Cold winter weather might seem like common sense, but as I said—he’s been doing it for years, and hypothermia is a very real danger.

Winter flyfishing can be a great way to discover secrets about your favorite trout stream, and offers a change of pace from the tying bench. Flies tied in outlandish, unnatural colors might be the ticket to get strikes, and may shift your thinking about the appearance of your favorite patterns. Who knows, maybe someday research will show that fishing blue flies will reduce cabin fever!

Jump Starting Someone at Flyfishing

(Notice I didn’t say flycasting…)

My girlfriend loves the look of a trout stream and flyfishing intrigues her.  Although a talented half-marathoner, she freely admits her athletic ability does not extend to false casts and shooting line.   She is busy with 4 teenage kids and has no desire to spend a lot of time lawn casting.
Enter the roll cast – a quick and easy way to get someone started in fly fishing.  Think about it…  If someone can roll cast 10 feet of line with a 9 foot rod and a 9 foot leader,  their fishing range is 28 feet.  I know I’ve caught a lot of fish within 28 feet.

Get your budding Lefty Kreh into a shallow run with a moderate current.  Their rod should be rigged up with an indicator, split shot, and your favourite nymph.  The split shot is important because it helps turn over the leader.

Have your student strip off about 6 to 10 feet of line and show them how to roll cast it upstream.  (Make sure they forcefully push the rod tip in a horizontal line towards the target; many people rotate the rod around the elbow, moving it in a circular path.)  As soon as the fly lands, they should get their hands in the proper stripping position.  At this point, don’t worry about actively stripping line or mending.  Just get their hands positioned correctly and have them follow the fly with the rod tip.

Once that is mastered, introduce stripping to control slack.   With younger kids, it might be time to start some serious trout hunting.  Generally, I would recommend a brief lesson on how to avoid drag by mending.  Finally, teach feeding line as the fly goes downstream.  This last step lengthens the drift and helps set up for the next roll cast.  At all times, keep the length of line manageable, perhaps adding a few feet if the pupil can handle it.

Spend about 10 or 15 minutes on each step – first demonstrating and then having the student practice a few repetitions.  After 30 to 45 minutes of instruction, it is definitely time to go fishing.  Location is key.  Someone shouldn’t wade onto a bonefish flat armed with only a roll cast.  Or stalk sippers on a spring creek.  A roll-casting specialist needs the proper water!

Small, bouncy streams hold many fish within the reach of a roll cast.  But don’t overlook larger rivers.  Places like the Elk River in B.C. and the Yellowstone River in Paradise Valley have a lot of fish close to their bank.

My girlfriend’s first fish on a fly rod actually came from the St. Mary’s River in B.C.  This is a large freestoner  but the cutthroats love to hang out in the boulders in thigh deep water – 10 feet from the bank at most.

After some experience with an indicator rig, the new flyfisher can start roll casting dries and streamers, too.  High-stick nymphing is another technique they can pick up quite easily.  Before you know it, your new partner might not be outcasting you, but they will certainly be outfishing you!  The cutthroat in the picture was the biggest we saw from Racehorse Creek, Alberta.  I didn’t catch it…

Deep Wading

High-Water Fishing Tips for the Wading Angler

Spring run-off in the west and heavy rain storms in the east cause rivers to rise quickly and often without warning, raising the cubic-feet-per-second by many times, on occasion resulting in water levels reaching that particular river’s flood stage, which is when a river is commonly considered “blown-out.” While many anglers consider fishing high water to be hopeless, in actuality this situation can grant you the opportunity to catch fish you might never have a crack at otherwise. Before reading the following tips, however, remember that fishing high water presents safety risks. Therefore, it’s a good idea to fish with a friend and to not only know your limits as a wader, but to understand how the high water will affect the river’s “wadeability.” For example, if you usually wade a certain spot up to your thighs in normal cfs (cubic feet per second) flows, don’t attempt to wade it in high flows, as the current there will likely be too forceful to safely stand in and cast from. The three tips below will help you turn the tables to your advantage during high water flows.

  1. Up the diameter of your leader and tippet. When the water is high and off-colored, there is no need to fish 5x or 6x fluorocarbon in most rivers. A general rule of thumb is to downsize by at least 2x. So if you usually fish 6x, try up-sizing to 4x, or even 2x fluorocarbon if the river is dingy (some anglers I know use 12 pound test and higher, which you can often get away with). When the water isn’t clear, the trout can’t see your line well, so you should take advantage and use a heavier pound test, which will help you fight a fish out of a blown out river’s stronger than normal currents.
  2. Target the banks and secondary currents. When the water is up, the main current is often too strong for the trout to lie in. As a result, they tend to push toward the banks, where the flow isn’t as strong and the water isn’t as deep. Here, they can comfortably face upstream or circulate through the current and pick off food items. Trout often seek refuge in eddies as well, which is another spot to try. In large rivers, try targeting back channels or river braids when the water is up. You’ll be amazed at how many fish will stack in what looks to be just a small riffle along the flooded bank. If the eddy is suitable, you may even see trout facing downstream in the current, waiting for the eddy current to wash food up to them from below. If this is the case, you want to get a high-stick drift in the current, so your flies will be sucked down by the eddy and circulated back upstream.
  3. Give them the Good Stuff. When the water rises, the proverbial trout buffet opens for business. All kinds of goodies are washed into the water for the trout to eat, not to mention the various hatches that a rise in water will sometimes set off. High water is a classic time to fish a big, nasty-looking streamer (such as a double bunny or sculpzilla), but it is also time to fish heavily weighted nymphs (such as stoneflies and prince nymphs), as well as San Juan worms in a wide array of colors—just think of all the worms and grubs the high water dislodges from the banks and river bottom. For nymphing, be sure to put on a lot of split shot (so much that your cast may look kind of clumsy even) and move your indicator high up on your leader to adjust for the high water. Then try to find an eddy or a smaller offshoot of the main current and fish away. When you see that indicator twitch, give a firm hook-set to the downstream side, then hold tight…big trout are notorious for eating when the water is high and off-color.

 

Winter Redfish on the Fly, Charleston, SC

Here in the east, it’s been a mild winter, which has given anglers even more opportunities for cold-weather fishing. At the beginning of the month, I got a couple of days off from guiding for trout and working the shop here at Curtis Wright Outfitters in Asheville, NC and headed down to Charleston, SC, to chase some winter redfish on the fly. Through a mutual guide friend, I got put in touch with Scott Davis of the Low Country Fly Shop in Mount Pleasant (just over the Ravenal Bridge from Charleston). My fishing buddy Pat and I met up with Scott for drinks to come up with a game plan and the following morning at dawn the adventure into the coastal flats of the South Carolina coast began.

Unlike during the warmer months of the year, the redfish, also known as spot-tails, red drum, and channel bass, don’t venture as far into the spartina grass of the flats, where they commonly “tail” in the summer as they spread out from one another and root around for fiddler crabs and shrimp. Instead, they tend to group together in schools ranging in size from about fifty fish to hundreds at a time and, like a giant vacuum cleaner, work over the oyster bars and flats for shrimp, mullet, and whatever else they can find.  For this reason, winter fishing can be both incredibly productive or incredibly frustrating; if you can find a school and keep up with it, you’ll have shots at lots of fish, but if you can’t find the school (this where having a great guide like Scott helps) you simply won’t have anything to cast at and you’ll return home smelling like a skunk.

Lucky for Pat and me, we were on the boat of a truly expert guide and the sight-fishing conditions the first morning we went out were postcard perfect: sunny skies and glassy water. Within twenty minutes Scott had us poling toward a school of about a hundred fish on a two foot deep flat, and as the sun began to rise so did the snouts and tails of the fish, which is not a common sight in the dead of winter. As far as tackle goes, we were slinging sinking shrimp flies and diving mullet patterns on our eight weights loaded with Rio’s Redfish Line. The fish weren’t all that selective; the name of the game was anticipating the path of the school and then casting your fly on the right trajectory (like with bonefish) and working the fly enough to catch their attention, but not so much to spook them. Most of the time, we retrieved the fly the way you would work a big streamer for trophy trout, but occasionally we’d slow it down to give the fish an extra few seconds to see it if the school changed direction at the last-minute. From the get-go, the action was heart-pounding, with several especially nice fish boated and several more lost. An added bonus was the fantastic scenery, numerous porpoise sightings, and the simple fact that we didn’t see any other boats. The best part, though, was knowing that we got to do it all over again the next day. If you ever get a chance to fish for this hardy species on the fly, I highly recommend you go for it. When these bull-headed fighters take a run into your backing there’s no slowing them down…

The Ammo

Fine Tune Your Fly Fishing

There was a time when I’d throw nothing more than a wader bag, a couple of rods, a hat and some peanut butter into the back seat and head for the trout streams. There was never any research or planning – not in my pre-trip rituals or in the actual fishing. I’d walk the river, casting at random to whatever looked “fishy.” I caught some trout, but I always suspected I was missing more than I was catching. If I went after bass, it was the same thing. Grab the rods and a tacklebox and drive to the lake. Cast everywhere. Try baits at random. It was less than productive unless they were really biting.

Then, I got a wild idea one day to “fine tune” things a bit. I subscribed to a few fishing magazines, did some research online, actually tried to learn more – even though I already knew it all, or at least thought I did. Instead of throwing a streamer all over the river, I’d sit and stop a while. I’d watch the water. I’d watch the birds. I’d turn over some rocks in search of nymphs or crawfish or whatever I could find.

In my spare time I’d read about “high sticking” and dry fly tactics. I poured over articles about fly fishing for bass and bluegills. I thought about each part of the fly fishing system and how I could improve both my understanding of the gear and the fish. I stopped using 6 lb test mono for a leader and paid more attention to articles on leaders, tippets and what’s needed to “turn over” a #12 hopper pattern. I spent time concentrating on understanding how and why fish feed, where they feed, and on what.

I was no longer just a guy going fly fishing! I was someone who was beginning to learn the in’s and out’s of the game. It wasn’t necessary of course – I could go on just floundering around out there while having loads of fun, but it was clear from the early stages of my fine tuning that concentrating on more than just the basics was paying off. I started to pick up fish more often, and the size of the fish seemed to be getting larger on average. In addition to that aspect of it, I found myself enjoying a deeper immersion in the sport.

The thing about fly fishing is that there’s always so much to learn, no matter how long you’ve been at it. And if you’ll put forth the effort to “fine tune” your learning, it will also fine tune your approach. Your cast, your ability to read the water, your fly choices even your appreciation of the great outdoors. Catching fish is fun. Catching more fish is more fun!

Esox Essentials : Don’t Fish For Long Fish Without These Items

Being prepared and on point while fishing for esox is paramount. Over the years here is a list of essential items that I keep accessible and ready at all times while fishing for Tiger Musky.

William Joseph Hemocuts – Great for cutting leader, tightening knots and removing hooks.

Fluorocarbon and Hard Mason (or Hard Mono) – Fluoro for leaders and  bite-guards, I usually have 20 – 80 LB on hand. Mason for use as a breaking section in your leaders, I use 20 and 25 LB. My typical leader set up is 60lb fluoro butt section of 2′, 20 lb section of hard mason of 2′  and 2′ of 40-80 LB bite-guard. Since hard mason is much thicker, 20-25 lb can easily be tied to 40-80 fluoro, resulting in a powerful leader that can turn over large flies easily.

Jaw Spreaders – Having two on hand for difficult hook removals is always a good idea.

Large Landing Cradle Or Net – I usually tail most of the fish I land but having one of the two is always nice to have as a option. Which ever one you decide to use make sure it’s rubber or has a coating since traditional nets with knots can seriously damage a fishes fins and eyes.

Rising Lippa – Great for lipping a fish when needed and does not damage fish like a Boga Grip. It’s also a good idea to tie a strap with a float to the handle because eventually you will drop it in to the water.

Long Nose Pliers and Berkley Hook Remover – I always have 10” long nose pliers and a pistol style grip hook remover on hand for hook removal. I use the the Berkley hook remover mostly since it’s easy to use and is gentler on flies.

Super Glue, Scissors and Markers  – I often color, enforce, trim and repair flies on the water. Sometimes a trim and color job can make all the difference in the world.

A Pliable Tape Measure – Easier to handle and on the fish in addition to measuring the girth of the fish more accurately.

Hooks Cutters – Sometimes the best choice is to cut the hook instead of removing it. Make sure you have something strong enough to go through heavy gage hooks.

Two Small Bags – One bag for all your retying and rigging items and one for all of your handling and releasing tools.

Summertime and the Streamers are Easy…

Typically no one thinks of fishing streamers in the middle of summer. Especially not when fish are looking up for terrestrials, caddis or large stoneflies. In all honesty several of my best streamers days have been had in June through September, not late fall like typically thought. Last year one of my nicest and most memorable fish came after a stellar morning of fishing large attractor dries while floating the South Fork of the Snake . The morning started out great and the fish were eating hoppers and attractor dries very well, until the gale force winds kicked up in the afternoon. After 45 minutes of struggling to deliver a bushy dry inches from the bank I decided it was time for a articulated streamer, a 7 wt and a 250 grain sinking tip. Knowing the fish were tight in on the bank we didn’t change anything but switch from a dry to a streamer. In all honesty the action was much slower on the streamer but the fish that did show up to play were much bigger than that were interested in our dry offerings. We came around a eroded outside bend with some downed trees, my buddy placed the boat excellently and I made a cast back up stream into the pocket of a downed tree, just like I would with a hopper. As the streamer hit the water a large brown came off the bottom for a closer look, with one strip he closed the distance and on the second strip he committed to the eat. It was just as much or more of a visual eat than any of the dry fly eats from the morning and reminded me yet again to never underestimate summer time streamer fishing.

So if the wind is howling, the fish aren’t looking up, rain has stained the water or like this year with everything being 3-10 times higher than usual mix it up and throw on a streamer. I think you all might be pleasantly surprised.

In the summertime I like to fish a lot of white and other bright colors like yellow. But often times like the day mentioned above, olive is hard to beat.

Top three streamers you won’t catch me without in the summer. Sasquatch in white and olive, Circus Peanut in olive and crawdad , Chubby Muffin Sculpin in olive and brown.

 

 

 

Typically no one thinks of fishing streamers in the middle of summer. Especially not when fish are looking up for terrestrials, caddis or large stoneflies. In all honesty several of my best streamers days have been had in June through September, not late fall like typically thought. Last year one of my nicest and most memorable fish came after a stelar morning of fishing large attractor dries while floating the South Fork of the Snake . The morning started out great and the fish were eating hoppers and attractor dries very well, until the gale force winds kicked up in the afternoon. After 45 minutes of struggling to deliver a bushy dry inches from the bank I decided it was time for a articulated streamer, a 7 wt and a 250 grain sinking tip. Knowing the fish were tight in on the bank we didn’t change anything but switch from a dry to a streamer. In all honesty the action was much slower on the streamer but the fish that did show up to play were much bigger than that were interested in our dry offerings. We came around a eroded outside bend with some downed trees, my buddy placed the boat excellently and I made a cast back up stream into the pocket of a downed tree, just like I would with a hopper. As the streamer hit the water a large brown came off the bottom for a closer look, with one strip he closed the distance and on the second strip he committed to the eat. It was just as much or more of a visual eat than any of the dry fly eats from the morning and reminded me yet again to never underestimate summer time streamer fishing.

So if the wind is howling, the fish aren’t looking up, rain has stained the water or like this year with everything being 3-10 times higher than usual mix it up and throw on a streamer. I think you all might be pleasantly surprised.

Summer time I like to fish a lot of white and other bright colors like yellow. But often times like the day mentioned olive is hard to beat.

Tope three streamers you won’t catch me without in the summer. Sasquatch in white and olive, Circus Peanut in olive and crawdad , Chubby Muffin Sculpin in olive and brown.