Early August. There is smoke in the air some days. Fires are burning west and southwest of us. Seems that’s a given every Summer. The ground is dry. Rivers are low. The wind is warm. Cloths dry quickly outdoors on the line. My dog is panting a lot. I add a bit of powdered Gatorade to my water bottles when I head out for a day of angling due to the heat.
The Cutthroat streams are fishing well. I need to visit them more often. They are cool and clear, and the trout willing. The tailwater rivers that I frequent have been challenging. Generally poor hatches in comparison to past seasons and therefore often not a lot of opportunity at least until the end of the day, sometimes not even then. If you spot a good trout you want to make it count as there might not be another chance.
I’ve had several fine fish eat my small impressions lately but no hook up. A tiny hook can catch or sometimes simply slip out of a big mouth. That’s all part of the small fly game. Hopefully things will balance out by the end of the angling season.
The past few weeks I’ve walked a number of rivers. Here are some photos. I’m still getting accustomed to a new camera and at times experiencing some framing problems…
The third week of July. Hot. Summer has finally arrived. It took forever to get here. I took a brief road trip to a river out on the Plains. Very few bugs were on the water. Usually insect life is much more prolific at this time of year. Often Pmd’s pop all summer long. And waves of caddis. Not this year. Finding fish was challenging in the somewhat lifeless, bugless looking water. A couple of trout were eventually spotted after hiking and watching several pools in the bright light. One was a brown trout which surprisingly surfaced in shallow moving water to a size 18 emerger pattern in full mid-day sun.
Some photos from the half day outing. Several windshield shots of the road trip to and from the river…
RAIN. A LOT OF IT in the past two days. The rivers were starting to drop but now they are pumped-up again. High fast water. Most rivers can’t be crossed.
When the forecast calls for heavy skies and rain I always try to head to one of my favorite rivers, especially if it’s not going to be too windy. My best brown trout of the year usually come in these conditions. They show-up in low light as long as there are insects around. You just have to be there and watch the water, even high water.
On both days I got drenched and my soaked camera started malfunctioning. It’s waterproof but old and has many cracks in it and the battery/SD card door doesn’t always close properly. Water got inside. On the way home I was able to dry the SD card on the car dashboard with the heat on high. I managed to save it. The camera, however, I could not. Time for a new one.
There were mayflies around: olives and a few pmd’s. I prospected the slow shallows with a beetle pattern early in the day. Then I fished a size 18 Mole fly when I started seeing some surface disturbances. It’s a simple shuttlecock style pattern by Charlie Craven, a professional fly tyer. He ties his with a CDC wing. Due to the heavy rain I tied mine with polypropylene and some with deer hair, or a combination of both.
A blogger/angler I follow (Jim) often fishes the Mole pattern and that’s were I first took notice of it. I pay attention to his fly selections as he visits some of the most challenging tailwater rivers and spring creeks anywhere and consistently catches impressive trout on dry flies. Check him out at: http://jims-wanderings.blogspot.com
When my casts were on target trout ate the Mole fly without hesitation.
Here are some photos. Some are blurry due to the conditions.
Most local rivers are still high but subsiding. We are in the tail end of run off. I visited two rivers recently. One that was low (controlled flow) and one fairly fast and high. I walked a lot and found a few nice fish rising. Hatches are starting. I saw some pmds mid-afternoon when things warmed-up; some small (yellow and lime sallies) and larger caddis; a few small western green drakes (flavs); some golden stones…
It was much warmer three hours south of home. Almost Summer-like for a day or two. Even some classic warm weather thunderstorms. It was also greener. There were blossoms. There were Pale Morning Duns (pmd’s) on the river I was on; another sign of approaching summer. There were Olives. There were Midges. There were Callibaetis in a slow (lake like) section of the river that I spent too much time on. In the evening there were shimmering clouds of size 22, Olive colored mayflies, that behaved like Tricos. Tiny olive spinners? I don’t know. After a long day I was too tired to inspect them closely. Suffice it to say, there were plenty of bugs around from morning until nightfall.
The Pmd’s were small, size 18, but much easier to spot than the Midges and Olives, especially when sunlight touches them and they illuminate.
I’ve learnt more about dry fly fishing and trout behavior on this river and one back at home in Alberta, the Crowsnest River, than anywhere else. It’s the combination of prolific insect life, many rising fish, and clear water that allows you to observe the reaction of every single trout targeted. You cast, watch and learn. You are constantly getting feedback. The amount of feedback condensed into a single day on this type of water is like a whole season of learning on some other, less insect rich, rivers.
I camped near Wolf Creek. In the mornings I visited the On the Fly Coffee cabana for a breakfast burrito and a coffee. Then I went to the aptly named Wolf Creek Angler Fly Shop. It’s a great little shop. In the past I’ve stayed in some of their cabins. It’s decent lodging and a reasonable price for the region. The Shop changed hands several years ago. Author Neale Streeks used to guide there and might have been a co-owner. If my memory serves me correctly it was called Montana River Outfitters then. One of his books, Small fly Adventures in the West– Angling for Larger Trout, is an excellent resource for fishing tailwater rivers. I read it from cover to cover several times over 20 years ago when I first started visiting the river having mainly fished small freestone rivers in the east. I still refer to it today. It made me a better angler on tailwater rivers, spring creeks and other rich rivers, which I gravitate towards whenever I get the chance.
Here are more scenes from Wolf Creek and this road trip….
SOME IMAGES FROM ANOTHER BRIEF ROAD TRIP SOUTH. I focused on a river section where I’ve had some of the best small dry fly fishing that I’ve experienced anywhere. It’s a shallow flat water section on a large river. In the Spring and Fall often there are midges in the morning, olives in the afternoon, then sometimes midges again late in the day. Insect life, a fairly calm day and low light conditions can bring out some fine brown trout. I hit it right on this road trip. On most days the weather was cooperative, and the small hooks (size 18 and 20) and fine tippet held.
” ALL OTHER COLORS are reflections of light, except black. Black is the absence of light”.
I recently spent a few days fishing a large wide tailwater river. Most of the time the water’s surface was a silvery-grey due to glare. It looked like the element: Mercury. Many trout were feeding on tiny BWO emergers and bulging in the riffles. The wind was also constantly blowing which further ruffled the river’s surface. All of these conditions (glare, riffles, wind blown water) made seeing a small size 18 fly impossible, even when relatively short casts were made. Deer hair winged emerger patterns and comparaduns didn’t show-up. Same with a parachute pattern tied with a white post. Hackled flies also pulled a Houdini on me (vanished). Hi Vis orange post flies also couldn’t be seen. Hi Vis ended up being No Vis!
The secret to success on the insect rich river that I was on is to consistently place your fly right in front of a selected feeding trout as there are thousands of naturals (insects) drifting towards it and the fish isn’t going to move any distance to eat your fly. Your impression has to be right on target. It is all about accuracy. And in order to be on target you need to see your fly.
The only fly that showed up in the aforementioned challenging conditions was one with a black post or a black wing. And I found that the flies that I had tied with a very exaggerated, robust tuft of black obviously showed best in the silvery-grey, ruffled water.
Many of my favorite trout rivers are wide and flow in open terrain under a big western sky. These conditions give birth to glare which is a serious hinderance to seeing a small fly. One third of the flies in my boxes have black material incorporated onto them in the form of a post, a wing, etc. In the flies below (photo) I used black polypropylene. In some other flies I’ll use black cdc or comparadun deer hair which has been dyed black. The key is something dark; a dark beacon.
Sometimes you can see your fly better by changing your positioning to a fish on a river. However, this is not always possible. Some people fish a two fly rig with one fly being much larger than what is hatching. The large fly is used as a sight and strike indicator to help an angler spot or at least hone in on the approximate location of the small fly. Even large flies, however, tossed some distance on silvery-grey wide open water tend to disappear. Also two fly rigs in windy conditions often get tangled, at least mine do. I always prefer casting a single fly. I simply cast and fish better with one fly.
Trout that are feeding aggressively on a dense hatch don’t seem to notice the color of a post or wing. The size of the fly, its attitude/positioning in the water (on top, in the film, or dangling below) and a natural drift (presentation) are much more important, as is casting accuracy and being a stealthy angler. You want the body color of the fly to be somewhat similar to the naturals but the wing color is less important.
Black polypropylene is inexpensive and with one package you will be able to tie hundreds of flies.
Here are some small size 18 parachutes tied with a black post…
Cold at home. In fact snow hit the ground. So I headed south across the border to a Trout Town on a wide tailwater river. The weather was slightly better but still behind schedule for May. Most days it was fairly cool. My dog’s water bowl was frozen most mornings.
I camped in a section called Mid-Canyon to try an avoid the ever present wind. The dry fly fishing was for the most part poor. I rarely saw a head/nose break the surface in spite of some good hatches. Most surface disturbances were trout displacing water when feeding on emergers an inch or two below: BWO’s. I still managed to catch several on dries: Klinkhammers and Parachutes while sight fishing.
There were no sipping trout on the banks or even in collector areas, or on the flats. And there were few fish feeding in some of my favorite side channels. The water was as low as I have ever seen it. That’s a ongoing condition out West. There was high wind and a lot of sun. Not the best conditions to find large rising trout.
Trout would bulge (emerger feeding) in the riffles when clouds rolled in, then disappeared when direct sun light returned. It was a yo yo (fish up, fish down) event on days with a mix of sun and cloud. Fun to watch as it became so predictable.
SPRING. It has been slow in coming. Insect activity has also been slow to develop. Hatches have been weak. I haven’t been able to check river temperatures as my thermometer was tucked in a shirt pocket and went through a Wash and Spin cycle. It’s certainly clean now and shiny looking but unfortunately it is stuck at 10c. Not a bad temperature but inaccurate at this time of year. The water is much colder. Warmer weather and water will bring out the bugs and trout.
On cloudy days I’ve seen some midges, some Olives (size 18), March Browns (size12) on one river, and a few Skwala stoneflies. There simply hasn’t been enough bugs to get a lot of the bigger fish “looking up” on the tailwater rivers that I’ve spent some time on. The window of opportunity in my region for quality Spring dry fly angling is brief as just when the fish start to rise, mountain runoff ( high water) begins to threaten. Hopefully a few good days will come. Here are some photos from recent outings. Some early season trout caught on dries…..the start of a new season.
“LISTEN TO THE RIVER and you will catch a trout” – Irish Proverb
THERE ARE A COUPLE OF RIVERS in my region that produce Skwala stoneflies early in the season. It’s not a significant hatch but sometimes there are enough of them to get the attention of a few good trout. I usually start noticing them while I’m waiting on an afternoon Blue Winged Olive hatch.
Skwalas are relatively big (hook size 10 or 12) and easy to spot in comparison to other early season insects such as Midges and Olives. They are also dark (dark olive sometimes almost black) in color and therefore contrast well on days when a river surface is a silvery-grey which is common on broad, wide open water.
When Skwalas appear I often position myself ankle deep on a large slow moving shallow flat below a riffle. I can usually spot them just as they exit the riffle and begin their long journey over the flat. Due to their size I can follow them for 30, 40, sometimes 50 yards or more before I lose sight. The key is to focus and not take your eyes off of one during its long slow drift. Occasionally one will disappear. This means a shallow water fish has “tipped up” and consumed it. These rises are rarely aggressive such as when trout are focused on the much bigger fluttering stoneflies (Salmon and Golden) later in the season. The feeding is a little more subtle. Sometimes I hear the rise before spotting it. This often happens on a slow moving flat.
Once a rise has occurred I try to mentally mark the location of the trout using the shoreline as a reference point and also estimate its distance from shore. This is easier said than done when one spots a fish 40 yards downstream on a broad river with a somewhat featureless bank and flat featureless water. Once I have an estimated location then I quickly “rock hop” along the freestone shoreline to the approximate location. If there are no other Skwala in the drift then I will prospect the location where I believe the trout was feeding. If there are more Skwala in the flow then I’ll patiently wait for another rise so that I can more accurately pinpoint the fish before making a cast.
In the rivers that I frequent the trout aren’t selective when feeding on this stonefly. Exacting fly patterns aren’t needed. Anything resembling a Skwala is usually taken. I’ve even fished a large, oversized black ant and had a response.
If some Skwalas are around but I don’t see any rises on my favorite shallow flats then I hike to a “collector” area on the river such as back eddy or bay, or a long seam or bubble line where they can get captured. Sometimes I’ll find a good trout feeding there.
Sometimes a Blue Winged Olive hatch never develops and early season Skwala save the day.