Wednesday, April 30, 2014

A Steelhead Thief

Sandy River, Oregon
One day a few years ago I was fishing the Sandy River for Steelhead. The water was in great shape, and I was fishing one of my favorite pieces of water above Cedar Creek. It was a perfect day--no wind, clear water and nobody around but me--or so I thought. I quietly waded into position and made several casts with my ten-foot sink-tip line. Within 5 minutes I had a Steelhead on, and 6 or 7 minutes later I had landed a nice, bright 6-pounder. Since it was a hatchery fish, I decided to keep it. I quickly cleaned it out and laid it on the ground behind me.

As I slipped back into the water, I casually glanced around to recheck my fish. I was astonished to see a mink dragging it into the brush. I quickly went over, chased it off and hung it up on a tree branch. I resumed fishing for 5 minutes or so and then glanced back to see the mink attacking my fish again. I was perplexed, so I reeled up, grabbed a stick and tried to fend it off, but it repeatedly charged me.

At this point I realized that this was his territory and I couldn’t continue to cover the water and protect my fish at the same time. I picked it up my Steelhead and reluctantly left the water to the mink.

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Fly Casting Tips

Fly Casting Diagram

1. Pick out your target.

2. Aim slightly higher for each longer cast.

3. For short casts aim 3-4 feet above the water.

Accuracy, distance and effortless casts are determined by the loop in the fly line. With large open loops the line has less wind resistance and the speed of the line is dissipated. This causes the line to lose energy and it cannot be delivered with a full thrust. To rectify this pick up the line firmly, pull the line back stopping the rod at one or two o’clock and make the forward stroke. As the loop rolls over and levels out, lower the rod to complete the cast. Any slack line during this process will “kill the cast.”

To improve your casting accuracy, determine where to cast the line, the approximate distance and wind direction. The diagram below shows the relative angles for distance, average and short casts. Here is a chart and a few suggestions to help you improve you techniques.

Don’t be discouraged if you coordination is slow in developing. Mistakes are quite common in the beginning, because it’s not easy to concentrate on three or four different actions at one time. The best way to eliminate these initial problems is to receive proper instruction from a qualified instructor. In time you’ll be able to critique yourself and begin to cast efficiently. 

Thursday, April 24, 2014

False Casting

Push and Pull Casting Method
In order to false cast, quick wrist snaps from 10 to 2 o’clock must be used to cast the line above your head 10 to 15 feet. This method can be used to dry the fly out, change direction of the line in midair or pivot to get a new casting angleIt is also used to shoot the line for distance. 

I often use false casting to move to another location so I don’t have to rewind. However, with brush scattered behind me the casts must be made parallel to the river. This saves time and gives the angler the mobility to move to a rising fish quickly.

False casting is frequently overused as some anglers feel that in order to work line out, four or five or more false casts are needed. This is wasted effort and tiring at best because, if you have a balanced outfit, one or two false casts are all that’s needed. For the sake of argument, let’s say that the average amount of false casts made during a normal day’s fishing is around 1000. This tells me that additional false casts could easily add several thousand unnecessary arm strokes. This is a fatiguing and total waste of time. If you put more line on the water and less in the air, fish will have more chances to take your fly.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Dapping the Fly

Goddard Caddis
Dapping a fly is an exciting method that is accomplished by flicking the fly onto the water and then lifting and dropping it.  This action can make the fly dance playfully across the surface and will draw the immediate interest of fish. This commotion may suggest caddisflies, spinners or stoneflies that are depositing eggs or emergers that are just exiting the surface.  

Pott Fly

It's important to work the water down step by step, using casts of 10 to 20 feet. However, if you can't wade, farther casts can be made by lifting and paying out the line as it flows downstream. S-casts can also be used. Long casts across the current are rarely needed. 

The takes are usually fast and aggressive. For the best success you must anticipate a potential strike with every cast. Stiff hack, high-floating flies like a Pott Fly, Tom Thumb or Goddard Caddis are usually effective patterns. 

See the Tom Thumb and the tying instructions on my April 12, 2014 post, How to Tie the Tom Thumb.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Fishing in the Wind

Overhead power cast into the wind
Weather conditions play an important role in your success or failure when you’re trying to catch fish. Unless you have some kind of strategy to meet the unpredictable whims of Mother Nature, your luck will usually be as dismal as the weather.

Take the wind, for instance. For me, this is the worst element to fish in because it makes casting a labor instead of a love. Fighting it won’t do much good, so you’ve got to use it to an advantage if you can. By that I mean know the direction of the prevailing winds and the proper casting angles so that you can cast to productive water. Here are some suggestions.

If the wind is blowing from your right and you are right handed, an overhead cast or a sidearm back cast to your left will suffice. When it’s howling from your backside, a low backcast will easily loft the line forward. In wind that is coming directly into your face, the backcast must be high and aimed two to three feet above the water and driven forward at a low angle.

All bets are off in strong, swirling gusts of forty miles per hour or more. Your only hope may be to pause and wait for a lull to cast. If there’s anything positive about the wind, it may be that bugs are thrashed off the bushes and blown into the river. If you make short, snappy casts close to these areas, you may beat Mother Nature at her own game.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Streamside Investigation of a River and Its Habitat

Doug Stewart & Steve Dorn using a kick net.
Doug (left) studying insects caught with a kick net.
A streamside investigation of a river and its habitat with help you determine the types of flies to select and can be done without the use of collecting equipment. Start by observing hatches, looking under rocks and logs, sifting through vegetation and shaking bushes for insects. This will give you clues to the type of fly to use and their state of development.  

However, you can gain more thorough information by using a kick net to collect and study a stream and its inhabitants. Also, in order to collect airborne insects don't try to use your hat because it will simply blow the insects away. Instead, use aerial insect nets for this purpose. 

Monday, April 14, 2014

Collecting and Identifying Insects

Photos of vials, insects and collecting equipment
Basic equipment for collecting bugs:  
  1. Vials filled with water and 75% diluted rubbing alcohol. Note the insects colors before placing them in containers, since the specimens will fade over time.                     
  2. Small pre-cut note cards for collecting data to put inside the vials.                                     
  3. Tweezers to pick up samples.                                                                                         
  4. Magnifying glass.                                                                                                              
  5. Small aquarium net to collect air-borne insects.                                                              
  6. Small white plastic 4 to 6 inch pan to hold insects for observation.                                 
  7. Small plastic 2 x 3 boxes for keeping live insects.                                                            
  8. Kick net or hand screen. These devices will help you collect insects for the substrate by moving rock, gravel and vegetation.                                                                           
  9. Stream diary to record hatches, weather conditions and effective flies.                          
  10. A good book to help identify insects such as Western Hatches, by Rick Hafele and Dave Hughes or a manual that lists hatch charts.  
For more information on entomology see pages 188-190 in my new book, The Practical Fly Fisher.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

How to Tie the Tom Thumb

Original Versions of the Tom Thumb Flies
The Tom Thumb fly was developed in England in the 1940’s and eventually came to Canada and the United States. In the early 1960’s I bought the original pattern from a fly shop in Merritt, B.C. It worked very well on many lakes, especially Knouff, Little Knouff and Badger.

At some point in time another version was tied that displayed the front deer hair in a vertical position. On the original Tom Thumb the deer hair was spun all the way around the front of the hook. Steve Raymond’s book, Kamloops, shows another variation that is also effective.

All of these flies are effective, but from my experience, the full front hackle floats the fly better and has been more productive. It is a versatile pattern that has proven to be successful for trout, bass and other species. Below are the instructions for the Merritt, B.C. pattern.

Hook: Mustad 9671 or 9672, size 6-12
Thread: Black 3/0 Monocord
Tail, Body and Hackle: Deer hair

Step 1. Tie in a deer hair tail.

Step 2. Depending on the hook size, cut a clump of deer hair about one and a half inches to two inches long. Stack them until the butts are even, comb out the fluff and tightly tie in the butt ends about 3/16 inch behind the hook eye.

Step 3. Using your thumb and two fingers, pull all of the deer hair backwards to where the tail is tied in and tie it off. Return the tying thread to the front of the hook. Next, separate the body deer hair from the tail and bring it forward to the eye, spreading the hair around the hook 360 degrees. Tie it off securely.

Step 4. Pull the flared hair back to an upright position so that it flares out 360 degrees. Tie off and cement the head and it’s ready to fish. 

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

How to Tie the Ochoco Special

Ochoco Special
The Woolly Worm is a ubiquitous pattern that may have originated in England ages ago, but it was introduced to our country in the 1970's. One of my favorite variations of a Woolly Worm is the Ochoco Special tied by Larry Piatt of Prineville, Oregon. He had great success with this pattern on Ochoco Reservoir in Eastern Oregon, hence the name. The main difference is that several peacock herls are laid flat over the back to suggest the digestive tract of a caterpillar.

Other variations of the Woolly Worm involve (1) clipping the hackle short to represent legs, (2) wrapping tinsel around the body, and (3) the addition of marabou for the tail to give the fly a lively swimming motion.  This latter variation was eventually called the Woolly Bugger. Flashy materials such as bead heads and Krystal Flash can also be added.

Hook: Mustad 9672 size 6 or 8
Thread: Black 3/0
Tail: Red hackle fibers or a short tuft of wool
Belly: Back-Peacock herls
Body: Yellow chenille
Hackle: Palmered grizzly or other colors

   Step 1. Tie in the tail and attach two to four peacock herls.

   Step 2. Attach the grizzly hackle and chenille.

Step 3. Wrap the chenille forward and bring the herls over the chenille to form the back.

Step 4. Spiral four to six wraps of hackle forward, tie it off and finish the head. 

Monday, April 7, 2014

How to Hook Rising Fish

The fish's window can be clearly seen when a fish takes your fly at or near the surface. This is indicated by a subtle rise, a swirling ring or an aggressive splash. The tendency for beginners is to cast to the surface ring, but this is a mistake. Because of the downstream current, the ring misconstrues the actual feeding station of a fish, since the ring has moved down with the current. 

Therefore, depending on the depth of the fish and current speed--you have to make a calculated guess here--the cast must be placed ahead of the ring from 3 to 6 feet so the fly will drift into the fish's window. This may take a while to adjust to, but once you've mastered the distance, it should result in more hookups. 

Saturday, April 5, 2014

How fish see a surface fly..

     The eyes of trout and salmonoids are set flat on each side of their heads. Their vision upwards is conically shaped and called their cone of vision or the Snell Circle, which decreases in size as fish near the surface and increases as they submerge. As a trout's line of sight penetrates the surface, the cone evolves into an oval-shaped window or its window of vision. However, ten percent of each side of the window is not visible, and fish cannot clearly see the fly until it reaches the outside edge. At this stage, the entire fly is not immediately seen, and the first glimpse of the fly is of the wing, next the hackle and then the body. Fish will make their decision to strike at this moment, if the artificial closely resembles the natural’s correct size and shape. The tail has little, if any, influence on the actual take, but it is important in assisting the pattern's floatation and balance.     

Thursday, April 3, 2014

How Fish See

Diagram of a Fish's Vision
Fish can see more clearly under water because they have binocular and monocular vision. Binocular vision allows fish to focus with both eyes, so they can easily spot food directly in front and above their feeding station. Monocular vision allows fish to use one eye to span 180°, but a 30° blind spot behind them reduces the actual range to 150°.

Even with this wide field of vision, their line of sight is not as sharp at right angles to their eyes, and that is why you often see them turn to their right or left to inspect a potential food source.

If there’s one flaw in their vision it’s the blind spot directly in front of their noses. Strikes may occur in this zone, but a poor hookups or a complete miss will usually result. The saying, “Put it right on their noses,” is only valid up to the point of their blind spot.

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