Saturday, September 28, 2013

The Promise of Autumn

As much as I like to fish in the spring and early summer, there's something about fishing in the fall that brings everything full circle.  The "major" hatches are well past us, and the heat of summer has finally surrendered to arctic born breezes, shorter days and the harvest of sun-drenched fields and orchards. Even the scent of the air becomes earthy and full-bodied, almost as though it too has ripened on the vines of spring rains and bright summer sun. 

And what about the fishing?  I managed to sneak away for a few hours after work the other night and the fishing was fantastic.  The air was warm and calm, and the river perfect.  I fished a long slow pool that was fed by faster riffles that bounce off the boulder strewn bottom and are home to all kinds of aquatic insects.  That evening the Slate Drakes/Isonychias and small Blue-winged Olives came off steadily and drifted down along the flat water.  It was one of those puzzling times we often witness when fishing; the trout all but ignored the larger Isonychias, while gulping down the Blue-winged Olives as they drifted over their heads.  Its amazing to see this because one Isonychia is the equivalent of a half dozen or more Blue-winged Olives.  One would think the trout would take the big bugs over the little ones because they could expend less energy - one rise to six or more - simply because it makes sense to us.  And that's the rub, what we see as a simple mathematics has nothing to do with how the trout behave.  Maybe the little buggers taste better than the big ones, or maybe the smaller flies are slower to get off the water and the trout see them as easier targets, who knows?   I'm glad I don't know, that would take the fun out of it.

Careful observation told me the trout were not only taking the Blue-winged Olives, they were mostly taking those that were on their side or otherwise injured.  The flies that had rigid upright wings looking so much like tiny sailboats with dark sails, generally took off unharmed.  So I tied one of my soft hackle pheasant tail emergers in a size #18, onto the end of my 12 foot leader tapered to 6X, and while crouching as low as could I began casting it to a working fish.  I was fishing it dry, right on the surface film as I usually do.  A few casts after tying on the emerger, I got a good drift and a solid take. After a short battle, I landed a pretty rainbow trout, my fly firmly set in its upper jaw.  I removed the fly, then held it gently in the water facing into the soft current, and soon it slid out of my hand and back into its watery world.  Here's the one and only fly I used that evening to take 9 rainbow and brown trout of varying sizes.

(Click on photo to enlarge)

It was a wonderful early Autumn afternoon on the water.  Expect the Tiny Blue-winged Olives to continue hatching almost every day when the sun begins it descent and shadows grow long, for the next month or so.  Some will be #20's, and some will be #22-26's.  They will challenge both the eyes, and our efforts to get the tiny bits of feathers and fur on even tinier hooks to drift drag-free.  Give it a shot, its a blast.

Sharpen your hooks.   

Monday, September 23, 2013

Autumn Has Arrived Along with the Slate Drakes

Since sleep isn't coming easy, I figured it was a good time to post a report on my outing this past Saturday.  I only had a few hours in the middle of the afternoon, so I fished the South Branch of the Raritan River, being that it's only a short drive from my home.  It was the perfect last day of summer - warm sun softened by high clouds that often blocked its intensity, leaving the cool breeze to hint of the coming season.  The first of the summer tired leaves left their tree limbs and littered the water surface with their dull green, yellow and brown hues. The river was low and clear with temperatures in the mid 60's; comfortable for both a wet wading angler and trout.

With the low water, I barely waded except to move between pools and to land stubborn fish.  Mostly I crouched or even sat along the bank as I worked the deeper fast runs and pools, avoiding the slow, smooth stretches where few trout, if any, might lie in full view of predators.  I started by fishing my Pumpkinhead Midge, and hooked a nice fish early on, but that was it.  As the clouds thickened, quite a few Slate Drakes (Isonychia sp.) were about on the water and in the air. This is where checking the water surface pays off - as I fished the midge, I scanned the water surface and noticed many empty Isonychia nymphal shucks drifting along.  A sure sign they are active and the fish will likely be feeding on them.    So I switched to a Vinnie's Isonychia Nymph.

And very quickly I was into fish, a mix of small wild browns and stocked browns and rainbows, that took the fly aggressively.   My method is simple and straightforward and as old as the hills - a single nymph fished dead-drift off the end of a 10 foot long leader tapered to 2 feet of 5X.  I attached a small split shot about 6 inches above the fly, occasionally changing the size to suit the depth and speed of the water I fished, so my fly drifted and bounced along the bottom unencumbered.   I cast the fly up into the top of the runs and spillways, and then followed the drift with my rod tip while keeping the line tight, but not so tight so as to pull the fly unnaturally.  When I fish this way, I make sure I fish the fly all the way through the drift and down below me until the current pulls the fly up to the surface, to cover as much water as possible.  Hits may come at any time during the drift.  It's nothing special, no fancy European name, just short line nymphing while sitting one's arse to lower their profile.

After catching a bunch on the nymph, I started seeing fish taking the duns off the surface, so I switched to the Isonychia Emerger and worked over the rises.  I was rewarded when I made the right cast with a nice rainbow and two browns before the surface activity stopped.  I then switched back to the nymph and caught a couple more before losing my last one to a submerged rock.  That was my sign it was time to be grateful for a wonderful few hours on the stream, and call it a day.

The next month or so we should see regular Isonychia activity, so if you plan to get out, make sure you have some of the nymphs and a dry to imitate them.  My favorite dry is the Isonychia emerger, and of course I only use Vinnie's nymph.  We have videos on how to tie both of these patterns under the Fly Tying Video side bar to the right.  Feel free to contact me if you have any questions on tying these patterns.

Here's a photo of Vinnie's Isonychia Nymph - tie some up!

Sharpen your hooks. 

Thursday, September 19, 2013

A Short Report of a Beautiful Sunday

This past Sunday I fished with Douglas on a small Lehigh Valley limestone creek, and the weather was as good as it gets this time of the year.  It was one of those late summer days when the sun is still quite warm yet the air has the chill of Autumn carried by light breezes - when you stand in the sun you get hot, and when you are in the shade it's just right.
The creek was on the low side, which is typical for late summer, as all of our streams tend to be after a long hot summer.  Before long October rains will replenish the water table and the rivers will return to good, cool flows and then in late Autumn where the gravel is clean and protected, the trout will spawn as they do every year.  Doug and I saw the results of last year's spawning, as we both caught many small 3-4 inch browns on Sunday, as though these fish were letting us know a new cycle is about to begin.  We let them go immediately so as not to harm them.  We also got a bunch of older browns; here is one I took on a small brown serendipity.
Doug spent some time fishing a dropper rig consisting of a CDC and Elk caddis and a small beadhead nymph under that, with which he took a nice fish on the dry.  Because there wasn't much happening on top though, we mostly fished nymphs and covered a lot of water.  Here is Doug working a nice run and concentrating as he always does with his two nymph comp rig - he took a few fish from here despite my having fished it a short time earlier.   We finished the day by doing some "rock rolling" - picking a few rocks out of the current to inspect them for nymphs and caddis larvae that cling to their undersides and call it home.   
Another fine day on the water.    

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Tying the Cream Cahill Sparkle Dun

The other day we posted about this late season mayfly that hatches near dusk in these parts and draws trout up from their deep lies to feed on the surface.  After that post, Tim contacted me and said we should make a video on how to tie it, so here you go.  It's another simple but effective dry fly, and once you get the feel for tying in the wing, you can crank a few out fairly quickly.  By changing the colors of the materials and hook size, you can use the same techniques shown here to tie just about any mayfly.  Thanks again to Tim Flagler of Tightline Productions for another great video.


Hook: TMC 100 #14 or 16
Thread: Yellow Ultra thread 70
Wing: Bleached elk
Shuck/Tail: Light amber zelon
Body: Cream rabbit

Sharpen your hooks!

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Late Season Cream Cahill Sparkle Dun

I tied a bunch of these up this evening and figured I'd share it with you.   This year we are seeing a good number of the late season Light Cahills known traditionally as Cream Cahills - McCaffertium modestum - hatching sporadically the last hour or two of light.  Then just before dusk you will see the spinners over the riffles and trout taking them aggressively until the light completely leaves the sky.  It won't last much longer, but they are still around and worth tying up and fishing if you are on the river late in the day.


Hook: Standard Dry #14-16
Thread: Danville 6/0 Pale Yellow (Can you believe its not olive!)
Wing: Bleached elk body hair
Body: Cream rabbit - keep it thin and sparse like the naturals
Shuck: Amber Zelon - again keep it sparse

What is nice about the sparkle dun or comparadun is that they are very visible and the wing being splayed will cover you for the spinner as well as the emerging dun.  Fishing them where you see fish rising to them late in the day, and then at dusk, find a good riffle and cast them right into the fray and let your offering drift down through into the transition water where the riffles smooths out.   Trout move well up into the these fast water areas looking for the spinners and the take will be very quick as they must grab the fly before its gone.

Sharpen your hooks.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Short Promo Video of a Fly Fishing Competition

"Trout Legend" Promotional featuring Shane Becker, Bryan Doyle, and the newest member of the US Youth Team, Douglas Freemann - in the blue fleece.

The comp was held this past weekend at a small Pocono tail water.  Douglas placed 5th overall among 22 anglers, most of which were adult comp anglers.  The kid's got game!

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Tying the Spent Partridge Caddis

A spent caddis imitation is an important part of any angler's dry fly arsenal, as they are a constant food source for trout throughout North America during the warmer months of the year.  Spent caddis are typically available to the trout during low light periods - early morning and near dusk.  What is important about this fly is that it imitates a caddis that is either dying or dead, and as such the insect floats in the surface film, because it lacks the ability to ride high like it once did when healthy.  For an imitation to be most effective then, it must also have a low profile and sit in the film.  
Here is another fine tying video we made with Tim Flagler of Tightline Productions of my version of the Spent Partridge Caddis.  It rides low just like the naturals, which the trout love, and my eyes hate.....but it works so well its worth it.


Thread: 6/0 Danville Olive (what else?)
Hook: Dai Riki #300 #16
Body: Ginger HareTron
Underwing: Tan Zelon
Wing: Two partridge feathers
Thorax: Hare's Ear

I tie these in size #14-18, and in the tan/ginger shown here, olive and gray.  I prefer the touch-dubbed  Hare's Ear for the thorax because the wax adds some water repellency to the fly, which helps it float.  If you prefer, you can accomplish a similar thorax using the split thread method of applying dubbing.
Sharpen your hooks.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Idaho/Montana Trip - Sleep Optional

We've been back from our adventure for two weeks now, and just like the trip, time has passed seemingly without notice.  We fished hard for 3+ days, hitting the Ranch on the Henry's Fork and the Madison below Quake Lake in equal parts.  We were on the river early every day, and fished well past dark before getting back to the lodge for dinner with friends and sharing stories lies of our day on the water.  We may have had some beer, wine and/or other libations, too.  We averaged about 4 hours of sleep each night before rising at sun up and starting all over again.  Morning temps were in the high 30's, crisp and windless, with the longing sound of bull elk bugling in the distance. 

When we touched down in West Yellowstone late in the afternoon, the dry air was 90 degrees and and a stiff breeze carried smoke from area forest fires across the high valley.   On the descent we observed 5 different fires; the one pictured here was in the Northwest corner of Yellowstone National Park.

(Click photos to enlarge)
This ribbon of silver is the Madison River in YNP as seen through the haze.  The gray area top right center is the town of West Yellowstone, MT.  

The Henry's Fork was it's usual moody self, requiring long leaders, well-timed casts, and perfect drifts that mostly had the big rainbows drifting up to inspect our flies and then turning a fin or tail to us before descending into the weeds from whence they came.  We did manage to hook a bunch, and even landed those that we managed to keep out of the thick weeds that cover most of the gravel bottom.  This in itself is a challenge; if the fish gets into the weeds, it is next to impossible to protect the requisite 6x tippet they are tethered to. It's challenging fishing, but well worth it when you do everything right and land one of the river's good sized, beautiful rainbow trout.  We also managed to hook quite a few dinks, that while small, glisten like natures most delicate multi-colored gemstones.

Here Bruce sight casts to a nice rainbow feeding in a narrow gap in the weeds.  This is the cliff area of the lower Ranch, where you take turns fishing and alternately sitting atop the 30 foot high cliffs shouting down to the caster as to where they should place their cast........"5 foot longer and 3 feet to the right!"  The angler cannot see their quarry due to the high angle of the bright sun and resultant glare, so it's a joint effort between angler and cliff dweller.  Shortly after I took this photo, Bruce hooked and landed the 18-19 inch fish we had him working to with a #18 pheasant tail nymph.  No fish photo; by the time I got down to the river, Bruce had released the fish so as not to harm it.     

And here is the Madison River a mile or so below Quake Lake outlet.  Here the gradient is steep and the river big and very powerful, rushing noisily past the angler in a clear, dark blue-green hued freight train of water.  The trout here have adapted to the river matching their own strength to that of their environment.  Most of the fish in this section are within 5 feet of the bank, making wading unnecessary, which is fortunate because wading is a dangerous proposition here anyway.     

I love this river and the valley it courses through; rugged benchland that reaches out on both sides to high mountains that are home to elk, bear, deer, sheep, goat and pronghorn antelope.  In the wider benches, large herds of black Angus feed casually on the native grasses.  Above, osprey, hawks and harriers glide on afternoon air currents, occasionally diving to take prey from open fields or water.  And the river draws an angler to it like none other; it is a sanctuary for the soul, a calming force of nature. Its inhabitants bright and strong, enriched by the waters they inhabit. 

On the second day, we fished the morning into early afternoon, and took many rainbows and a few browns from the rocky, shallow eddies as we worked up the river bank.  Most of the fish came to small brown serendipity's and pheasant tail nymphs fished just off the bottom.   The fish varied in size from young of the year 6 inchers, to a few stocky, hard fighting 15-16 inch fish.  A few were lost to the swift currents, poor hook ups, or both.  When a 16 inch bow rips off into a 4 foot deep heavy riffle after being hooked, the odds of landing them go out the window.  Sometimes you win, other times the fish takes the prize and your fly with it.  The smile never leaves your face.  

As we fished, a glance up to the west reminded us that there were much bigger forces at work nearby obscuring the sun and creating new habitat for the next generation of forest. The seeds of the indigenous evergreens need the heat of the fire to stimulate germination, and the ashes of prior generations provide nutrients that fuel rapid growth and healthy seedlings.        

On the third day of our trip we ventured far into the wilderness - a long drive followed by an even longer walk in a high mountain valley to glacial stream filled with cutthroat trout and grayling.  The stream was narrow, cold and bounded by thick willows on both sides.  We worked up stream taking turns fishing each of the short deep runs and pools with hoppers and ants.   Before being interrupted by an apex predator, we caught some nice cutthroat and a few good sized grayling.  Here's a 16 inch grayling Bruce caught just before it was released.   Soon after, our day was cut short when a bear made it clear we had ventured a little too far up the river into his willow patch.   When it let out a long, deep guttural growl, we turned and calmly but quickly whistled our way downstream never looking back, bear spray at the ready.          

We ended the trip by fishing the ranch one last evening.  The wind took a vacation and so did the bugs, leaving the trout looking upward but hungry none the less.  We stood waist deep in the calm flow the last two hours of light, half hoping for a hatch, our rod braced under our upper arm while we savored the sunset over the Centennial mountains.    

Sometimes you don't need to fish to enjoy fishing.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Tying Mike's Honey Ant

When we were out in Idaho a couple of weeks ago, this was one of the hot flies on the Henry's Fork.  So when we returned home, Tim Flagler - Tightline Productions, suggested we make a video on tying this fly.   The fly is fairly simple to tie, and can be tied in black or cinnamon (see photos below) to imitate any number of flying ants found throughout North America.  This is the time of the year they are abundant, and we recommend you carry them and be prepared to fish them right into October.


Hook: Dry fly #14-18
Thread: 6/0 Danville Olive (Use whatever thread you prefer)
Abdomen: Wapsi Sow/Scud dubbing
Legs: Pearlescent copper krystal flash
Wing: Dun zelon
Head: Rusty brown Australian Opossum

Here is the same fly tied in black, and also cinnamon, using EP Trigger fibers for the wing.

Sharpen your hooks!