"BLUE" FLIES FOR WINTER

That blue wire rib on the anchor fly in my last post (12/17/2014) wasn’t there just for looks; I used it by design because the color blue seems to attract the trout’s attention during the winter months. This is especially true for tailwaters when the flow is low and clear. I’ve noticed that the blue colored flies don’t necessarily work all the time, but when the trout are on them it can change your day. That’s why I fish them pretty much every time I go to the river this time of year.

Pictured are a couple other “blues” you may want to consider for your winter fishing. I call the pattern on the left Stan’s Blue Midge after its originator Stan Benton. Stan’s actually the fisherman who turned me on to using the color blue. The original Stan’s Blue Midge used a flashy blue Arizona Yarn for the thorax, but that’s not available anymore so I use black dyed beaver. The abdomen is blue Krystal Flash.

The fly on the right comes from my friend Glenn Weisner. Glenn tested the pattern on spring creeks in Ohio, Wisconsin Minnesota, Montana and Pennsylvania and reports it catches trout any time of the year. He went as far as testing the fly with 12 different colored glass beads that were from the same distributor (Mill Hill) and the same size as the Cobalt Blue Glass Seed Bead and found that the fly with Cobalt Blue bead was hands down the most effective. The abdomen on the fly is black thread with UTC extra small silver wire for the rib. The thorax on my example in the photo is black dyed beaver. 

ANCHOR FLY FOR WINTER NYMPHING

You may have wondered about the photo of me tight-line nymphing at the top of my last post (12/15/14). My friend John Gierach took it last Friday when we met up on Colorado’s South Platte River tailwater near Deckers, CO. We were there mostly to take advantage of an especially warm day, but also to work some of the kinks out of our nymphing technique.

I tight-lined most of the day using the kind of anchor fly rig I described in the 12/15/14 post. The few trout that I did hook up all took the anchor fly. I can't say I was overly surprised by that because it has happened before when I’ve fished this fly pattern in the winter months. Another friend, Doug Albright, showed me a version of it a number of years ago. At the time I saw it mainly as a way to get the anchor fly on the bottom quickly so the trout could have a look at the dropper fly, but they always seem to prefer the anchor fly.

I like the simplicity and versatility of the pattern. I tie them with one or two 7/64-inch tungsten beads which gives me a light and a heavy version which covers most of the winter water conditions I run into on Colorado’s tailwaters. The body is gray thread ribbed with Wapsi extra small Gun Metal Blue Ultra Wire. I use a size 16 TMC 2487 hook for both the light and heavy version of the fly, but there’s plenty of room for variations depending on where you’re fishing. Let me know how it works for you.

use the one tungsten bead version of the fly for slower, shallower water and the two tungsten bead version for heavier water.

use the one tungsten bead version of the fly for slower, shallower water and the two tungsten bead version for heavier water.


NYMPHING RIGS

NOTE: Lately, I seem to have nymphing on the mind. It’s probably because I’m reviewing and updating my notes for the Nymphing Class I teach every year at the Fly Fishing Show in various locations across the country. This year I’ll be in Denver, CO; Somerset, NJ; Lynnwood, WA and Pleasanton, CA. The classes are small and it’s a lot easier to talk about and demonstrate rigs and tactics there than to write about them with any precision in a blog post. Nonetheless, I’ll give it a try. If you’re interested in attending my Practical Nymphing class at one of the 2015 Fly Fishing Shows check out the Fly Fishing Show website for dates and times in the cities listed above.

 

THE BASIC NYMPHING RIGS

When it comes to nymphing I almost always rig to fish two nymph imitations. If I’m short lining with a high stick and a buoyant strike indicator I typically rig the nymphs in line. That means I tie the first imitation to the end of the leader. I then tie an 8-inch to 18-inch long section of tippet material to the hook bend with a clinch knot. I tie the second nymph imitation to the end of the tippet section. The length of the tippet section between the two imitations depends on how I want the second nymph, sometimes referred to as the point fly, to present to the trout.

The strength of the tippet material I choose to connect the two flies together pretty much depends on the size flies I’m using – the smaller the fly the lighter the tippet material. I like to use a weighted fly in the first fly position and an unweighted fly on the point. When I fish two unweighted flies or small flies that I need to sink quickly to the stream bottom I attach weight to the leader 8 – 16 inches above the first fly.

If I’m tight-lining without a strike indicator or in some cases with a strike indicator I turn things around a bit. I fish a true dropper fly and a weighted anchor fly. The dropper fly is tied to the 6-inch to 8-inch tag of tippet material that’s left over when you tie a section of tippet material to the end of the leader.

For example, let’s say you want to tie a length of 5X tippet to the end of a 4X leader with a double or triple surgeon’s knot and  fish a dropper fly when the knot is completed. To accomplish this you need a 6-inch to 8-inch tag end of the tippet material left over after you’ve tightened the knot. I always retain the 6-inch – 8 inch tag of 4X material for the dropper and trim the 5X material close to the knot (see photos below). An easy way to identify which tag is the 4X material is after the knot is tightened. The 4X tag will tend to lie alongside the length of 5X material that you just tied to the leader. The 5X tag will lie along the 4X leader.

A double Surgeon's Knot before it's drawn tight. The orange line represents the leader (4X tippet material in this example) also known as the parent material. The white line represents the tippet material (5X tippet material in this example) being tied to the leader. Note that the tag end of 4X material lies alongside the tippet tippet material.

A double Surgeon's Knot before it's drawn tight. The orange line represents the leader (4X tippet material in this example) also known as the parent material. The white line represents the tippet material (5X tippet material in this example) being tied to the leader. Note that the tag end of 4X material lies alongside the tippet tippet material.

The tightened double surgeon's knot.

The tightened double surgeon's knot.

Clip the 5X tippet material tag close to the knot and retain the tag end of the 4X leader (parent material). Tie the dropper fly to the end of the tag.

Clip the 5X tippet material tag close to the knot and retain the tag end of the 4X leader (parent material). Tie the dropper fly to the end of the tag.

Tie the anchor fly, which is also called the point fly, to the end of the 5X tippet material you just tied to the leader. The weight of the anchor fly depends on the depth and speed of the water you’re fishing. You want the anchor fly to sink quickly to the streambed and then tick along the bottom as it drifts downstream. Once the anchor fly is on the bottom you want to “stay tight” on the fly and lead it downstream with the rod tip.

Although you can fish this rig with two or even three dropper flies and the anchor fly, I usually fish a single dropper fly and the anchor fly. I like anywhere from 12-inches to 20-inches between the anchor fly and the surgeon’s knot where my dropper fly is attached to the tag.

TIGHT LINING WITH A STRIKE INDICATOR?

TRY TIGHT LINING WITH A STRIKE INDICATOR  

TRY TIGHT LINING WITH A STRIKE INDICATOR  

Here’s an idea if you’re trying to transition from a short-line, high stick nymphing style that utilizes a buoyant strike indicator to a tight line nymphing style.

Most short line nymphers put the strike indicator about 1½ times the depth of the water above the weight. The “weight” can be a beadhead nymph imitation or split shot attached to the leader. The idea is to use just enough weight to quickly get the flies down to the stream bottom at which time they will bounce downstream with the current in a natural fashion.

“Newbie” nymphers are often taught that once the nymphs are down and drifting they may have to make upstream mini-mends to keep the strike indicator from drifting downstream too fast and either lifting the flies up off the bottom or at the very least dragging the imitations in an unnatural fashion.

Here’s the rub. When you make that upstream mini-mend you create slack in the leader between the strike indicator and the imitations. That makes it a lot harder to detect strikes because you’re not in contact with the flies. Sure, the indicator will probably show a typical strike, but you may be a few seconds late on the uptake resulting in a miss or a foul hooked trout. More subtle strikes may go totally undetected.

If you want to experience more positive hook-ups the next time you’re nymphing consider this alteration to the technique. Start off using the exact same rig. Cast upstream and let the flies sink to the stream bottom the same as always, but instead of flipping the strike indicator upstream with a mini-mend when it starts to drag lead it downstream with the rod. The idea is to keep the leader from the rod tip to the indicator just tight enough to eliminate any slack. This in turn will keep slack out of the business end of the rig below the strike indicator. You can watch the indicator for strikes or you may feel them through the fly line or the rod because now you’re in contact with the flies.

At some point you may find yourself thinking you really don’t need the strike indicator at all. When you take the indicator off nothing much will change in your nymphing technique other than a few refinements here and there and the fact that you have transitioned into tight line nymphing.

CHECK OUT THESE TIGHT-LINING WITH A STRIKE INDICATOR SEQUENCE PHOTOS BELOW-- TRY IT YOU'LL LIKE IT



CHECK OUT MY COLUMN IN THE BOULDER DAILY CAMERA

Sorry for the lapse in blog entries. If you've been following my "delayed posts" about my recent fishing trip to the Steamboat Springs area and the Frying Pan River you can read about my adventures on the Yampa River in my most recent column in the Boulder Daily Camera. Just go to www.dailycamera.com (or press the "Boulder Daily Camera" link in this blog post) and then press the "Recreation" button and go to Recreation columnists.You should see my column titled "Turned around on the Yampa River" there.

I'll be back to making regular posts in less than a week..

ARCTIC GRAYLING IN COLORADO

Note: This is my third “delayed” post about a fishing trip I made with some pals from the Michigan Fly Fishing Club to the Steamboat Springs area and the Frying Pan River September 19 - 27.

The first Arctic Grayling I ever caught came from Zimmerman Lake which is just east of Cameron Pass in Colorado. That was a long time ago and all I remember about that trip was paddling around in a float tube and catching a bunch of them on dry flies. None were very large, but they were beautiful and exotic fish.

A number of years later I insisted on catching some European Grayling when I fished the Traun River in Austria. My guide didn’t consider grayling to be “sporting” so he kindly pointed me to where I could catch a few, but wouldn’t accompany me. These grayling were quite a bit larger than the Zimmerman Lake fish and would rocket up through four or five feet of clear water to take a size 18 dry fly.

But, today it’s come almost full circle and I’m once again fishing for grayling in Colorado. We’re fishing Joe Wright Reservoir which just down the road from Zimmerman Lake. I’ll be the first to admit that Joe Wright Res. isn’t quite as picturesque as Zimmerman Lake, but nowadays if you want to catch grayling it’s got to be here. The grayling, which were first stocked in Zimmerman Lake in 1951, were extirpated from it in 1995 and the lake was restocked with what at the time were thought to be pure-strain Greenback cutthroat trout. As it turns out they weren’t as pure as the biologists thought and the lake was rotenoned in 2005 and then stocked with Roaring Creek/Hunter Creek strain greenbacks that were also believed to be pure strain cutts. But, oops those “pure strain” greenbacks were just replaced in 2013 with a Bear Creek strain of greenbacks that a recent mitochondrial genetic study indicates are the purest strain of greenback cutts, yet.

Anyway, let’s get back to the grayling. Before all the greenback cutthroat trout shenanigans some Arctic Grayling from Zimmerman Lake had somehow made their way into nearby Joe Wright Reservoir and established a naturally reproducing population. That’s why we are here today. Our tactics are basic. You cast a dry fly out on the water and leave it there until the wind starts to drag it over the surface. If you’re lucky a grayling will be cruising by before it starts to drag. If that is the case it will take the fly. I say “lucky” because we haven’t seen a lot of cruisers today. Another fly fisher who walked by earlier simply said, “You should have seen it yesterday….risers everywhere! That’s why I came back today, but it sucks.”

However, we do manage to catch a few and miss strikes on a lot more that we don’t catch. The grayling, like brook trout, often prefer to come down on top of the dry fly and you have to hold off pulling the trigger until they actually take the fly. Anyway, we got some and held them up to the camera like rare, beautiful jewels before quickly releasing them.

 

MEADOW STREAM MYSTERIES

Note: This is my second “delayed” post about a  fishing trip I made to the Steamboat Springs area and the Frying Pan River September 19 - 27.

It’s Saturday and our first full day of fishing. Rather than deal with the possibility of weekend crowding on the more popular area rivers, my Michigan friends and I have chosen to fish a meadow stream about 50 miles from Steamboat Springs. The stream isn’t unknown at all, but when we get there we see surprisingly few anglers fishing it. It might be that several nearby reservoirs are the bigger draw for most fishermen or maybe they’re just not up for the short, but steep hike down to the stream and the obligatory grunt back up to their vehicles when their fishing day is over.

The necessity of the hike doesn’t change my opinion. I’m all in. The water looks beautiful. The details of its meandering course include a few beaver ponds that back portions of it up into long, still slicks. Between the beaver ponds are riffles and pools. Where the gradient is steep the stream narrows down and runs through short canyons in a series of plunge pools, tiny slicks and unfishable whitewater.  The scuttlebutt is that the stream holds brookies, browns, cutthroats, whitefish and maybe rainbows or cuttbows. We’ll see.

We start by splitting our group up. Seven fly fishers are too many, so three of us decide to drive a little farther upstream. Later, we’ll all meet up again for lunch. My group parks in the next pullout up the road where we see a beaver dam and the still water behind it. Riffles and pools break up the water’s surface downstream of the dam and after that it plunges into a narrow canyon.

I decide to walk to the narrow canyon because it looks like a place most fly fishers wouldn’t venture to, especially with all the more enticing and easier to fish water above and below it. It’s a bit of a hike, but once I get to the downstream end of the canyon I’m rewarded almost immediately when a nice brown trout attacks my Elk Hair Caddis. I catch several more nice browns and a bunch of brookies as I fish my way upstream. One of the brookies is about 11-inches long. It’s the kind of water where every place you think a trout should be, there is a trout. You can catch that trout if you can make the cast and get a drag-free drift.  

It’s well into the afternoon when I meet up with the other guys in my group. They report catching fewer, but larger trout up near the beaver pond. We’re hungry and thirsty, so we decide to hike back up to the truck and drive down for lunch with the other group. We’re surprised to see that they haven’t moved at all from where they started fishing. The bent rods are all you need to see to explain why they haven’t moved.  

It turns out they decided early in the day that for the most part their dry fly and dropper rigs weren’t going to cut it, so they switched over to nymphs and were cleaning up. Here’s the real kicker. The section of the stream they had chosen to fish seemed different in a very subtle way from the water we’d fished just upstream from them. On the surface the meandering stream course looked the same, but there were deeper drops leading into the bends. Those drops were loaded with trout.

After lunch we all nymphed that section and we all kept catching trout. We were rewarded later on with what appeared to be a hatch of Blue-winged Olives, but I can’t be sure because none of us ever solved it. We didn’t get a single take. You may be wondering why I said “rewarded’ by a hatch when none of us hooked up. The answer is easy. It means we’ll have to come back to this little stretch of meanders and figure out what they are taking.

IMG_1497.jpg

By the end of the day most of us had walked up and down to our trucks three times. None of us really wanted to admit that the last grunt up to the trucks was tough, but we managed to say it in code that sounded something like this, “I’ll sleep real good tonight.” 

FISHING WITH ENGINEERS


I’ll have to catch you up. I’ve been in the Steamboat Springs area as promised in a previous blog and most recently moved on to the Frying Pan River. The “Pan” wasn’t really part of the plan, but you know how it goes when you’re fishing. Anyway it’s been tough to make daily posts, so I’ll fill you in on what has happened with several “delayed posts” over the next few days. But before I get started here’s some necessary background.

In the beginning there was the Michigan Fly Fishing Club. I’ve fished with some of these guys in the past and spoken to their club in Detroit a few times.  Anyway, somehow along the way I began joining five or six of the guys on their annual Colorado fishing trip.  So last Friday we all met up at a vacation rental in Steamboat Springs around 6 p.m. The fishing began soon thereafter when we all headed straight to the nearest public access section of the Elk River and proceeded to get skunked.  Some data analysis followed on who used what fly patterns, why the fly didn’t work, what the few rising trout we did see might have been eating and finally how to maximize our effectiveness the next time out to prevent another skunking.

A FULLY OUTFITTED ENGINEER  ON THE RIVER.

A FULLY OUTFITTED ENGINEER  ON THE RIVER.

All of which leads me to something you should know if you haven’t already figured it out from my choice of words. About half of the guys on the trip this year are engineers. That’s not to say any of them are wearing plastic pocket protectors or anything like that. In fact, all of them are great streamside problem solvers and gung ho fly fishermen.

However, you do need a day or so to get used to engineer quirkiness. It’s little things like when you’re heating some water in the microwave for that first cup of tea in the morning and an engineer announces that it will take one minute and twenty-seconds to achieve the perfect water temperature. Or you find one of them with a micrometer that he hid in his luggage busy “miking” tippet material and shaking his head. I heard a story that one of these guys counted all the flies in his fly box. I’m wondering if they have ever counted the spots on a brown trout. They even told me that I had a little “engineer” in me even if I did get my university degree in biology. I’m not sure how to take that, but I think it’s a good thing.

I just thought you’d want to know some of this stuff before I cut to the chase in my next post. We’ll be solving the mysteries of a meandering mountain stream with a few detours into how dehydration and altitude impact five guys who flew into Colorado from the Motor City the day before and suddenly find find themselves at 9,000 feet.

PHEASANT TAILS & HARE'S EARS

I’m sitting at my fly tying bench staring into space wondering why I’m not furiously cranking out flies. I’m leaving tomorrow for Steamboat Springs where I’ll meet up with some pals from Michigan. We plan to fish in that area for four days. It’s all new water for me, so I guess that’s why I’m thinking I should be tying up a storm. I actually checked with a fly shop in Steamboat Springs to get their ideas on what flies I shouldn't leave home without, but by the time I sorted through and organized my fly boxes I realized that I already had a good supply of many of the patterns.

Just having some of the patterns I’ll need isn't the whole story, though. In the past tying flies has always been a pleasant part of my preparation for an out-of-town fishing trip. I’ll call a fly shop in the area to get their ideas, fool around on the internet a little to see what I can find out and then I sit down and tie flies. Most of the time I end up with a several dozen “secret flies” that don’t catch any more trout than my standard go to fly patterns. But the act of tying those flies always gets me pumped for the trip.

I’m trying something different for this trip, though. Maybe it’s because I’m more confident that I can catch trout with the patterns I have on hand or at least modify them to catch trout. It could also be I’m more confident in my presentations so I don’t need as many “secret flies” and if I do I can always stop by the local fly shop and buy them.

One thing I won’t leave to chance is making sure I have a supply of Pheasant Tail and Hare’s Ear based fly patterns. Those are the only fly patterns I tied today and that was mostly to replenish my fly box because I always carry them and they always catch trout. If you take time to think about it you could probably have an entire fly box devoted to variations of Pheasant Tail and Hare’s Ear flies. Consider the possibilities: soft hackles, floating nymphs, emergers, flashbacks, bead heads, parachute hackles and traditionals. I’ve tied all of these variations at one time or another for one reason. They just work. Sometimes it’s just pure magic.

Over the coming months I’ll be posting images of pheasant tail and hare’s ear fly pattern variations with a story about how and where I learned the pattern and what the trout thought about it. I hope you enjoy the posts. It will be a different kind of winter fly tying project for me and I’m looking forward to it.

In the meantime stay tuned for my posts from the Steamboat Springs area. That, of course, assumes I can find free Wi-Fi. We’re not planning to stay near town.

AN ABSOLUTE FLY TYING TRUTH

Earlier this morning I decided to tie a few spent trico spinner imitations. I probably have enough in my fly box now because the fishing is tough this time of year, so odds are I won’t lose many of them at least to the trout. I guess I just like tying them. But anyway, after I knocked out half a dozen size 22 spent spinners I started thinking that I’m going to have to begin looking for a replacement for the wing material I currently use. I've just about depleted my supply of Saap Wing Fiber and I recently found out that it’s not available anymore.

I can’t say without a doubt that this particular wing material catches more trout than some other synthetic wing material, but I can say my level of confidence in it verges on being superstitious. I like its flashiness and the relative straightness of the fibers. I know I’ll get over it, but this isn't the first time a fly tying material I like has become unavailable. It’s almost always a synthetic material, too.

This all reminds me of something Mike Lawson said many years at a fly tying demonstration. “If you find a fly tying material you like you better buy a life time supply of it because you can be sure it will be unavailable sooner or later.”

            It’s an absolute fly tying truth.