a black post

” 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…

scenes: brief road trip south

rainbow on size 18 BWO dry

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.

side channel

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.

home
3 feet of shucks and spent insects against shore
main river
fly shop
another fly shop
side channel

october

Crisp in the mornings. Sun is arcing low. Noticeable long shadows mid-afternoon. Still windy. Still mainly hanging out in the mountains trying to escape the wind. Still fishing dry flies. Did spend one half day on a tailwater river out on the Plains sight-fishing a slightly sheltered back bay.

Some October photos…a lot of shadows.

sight-fishing a river back bay
back bay rainbow
up high sight fishing
creek cutthroat
creek hybrid: rainbow-cutthroat
flat water fly, size 18
drive to mountains
creek cutt
creek cutthroat
another wet lens shot
small creek cutthroat

gimme shelter

WIND. It has been making rivers out on the Plains challenging. Top water angling out in the great wide open has been poor. So I’ve been looking for calmer conditions, some shelter and hopefully some sight-fishing opportunities up in the forested mountain valleys. Here are some nice cutthroats and hybrids (cuttbows) found in some sheltered streams caught on olives, small and mid-sized drakes, and beetles…

some color

parameters…

When you head out to a river for a day or evening of angling you often have a set of parameters that you operate by. For some people these criterion are broad. For some they are very narrow. The longer you’ve been at something like fly fishing, or any other pursuit, the more you have probably refined the way you practice it; the way you go about it; the path you chose to take. Over time you focus more intensely on some things and discard much of the rest.

Here are some fine trout fooled with small dry flies: mostly ants, beetles and pmd’s in contrasting landscapes and rivers. Some wide flat flows in open austere terrain and smaller clear ones in a treed mountainous landscape. Trout, from the Plains to the Rockies…

irresponsible ranching
brown trout
same brown
rainbow
golden retriever hair pmd
cutthroat stream
cutthroat
clear water
cutthroat
cutt
pmd box
some color

small flies

Cooler air and water lately and improved flows with some rain. Mornings chilly. Afternoons really perfect. The wind has been in check. Fewer people around. I’ve been on some creeks and a wider river. A great time to hunt for rising trout in the slower sections. Some found. My success has been with small stuff: cinnamon ants, a hacklestacker pmd pattern, some emergers and most importantly a lucky hat…

lucky hat this week




hacklestacker fly
ant pattern
flat water

Mid August

Due to the drought and intense heat, local reservoirs have dropped significantly. Agricultural irrigation (the aqueduct system) is the priority not main stem stream flows. Low reservoirs mean whatever is released to the rivers now often contains silt which of course affects sight fishing and fishing in general. Two of the three tailwater rivers I fish have been affected.

The good news is we just had a solid 24 hours of rain and lower temperatures. There is even some snow in the high peaks.The intense smoke is gone at least for now.

I’ve been walking a variety of rivers (contrasting water and terrain) and spotting some rising trout….they have been selective, especially on tailwaters…

emergers

The heat is back on. The smoke is also back. No rain. No moisture. Things crackle when you walk riverside. The sky is an eerie orange at sun set. I’m casting small stuff on the tailwaters I fish. Big flies are generally being ignored. The trout are selective. I have been tying small emergers, size 16 and 18: A shuck of Antron or CDC at the tail; some wire ribbing over thread body for weight to break the surface; dubbing on thorax region; a white or black polypropylene wing at the head for flotation and most importantly visibility. I wet/saliva the shuck before casting. Here are some photos from my last few outings. Trout taken on the emergers.

emerger that fooled rainbow
rainbow
smoke blocking sun
same rainbow
photo by Bruce Johnson
cuttbow

early outing

Went to my favorite river real early. Slightly cooler lately. Cool in the mornings. Felt there was opportunity. So I did the long drive. Fog was mixed in with smoke. A large coffee helped me get there. It kept me on watch for roadside deer in the low light. Water temperatures were good in the river flow; marginal in the shallows. Water levels were the lowest I’ve ever seen. A lot of standing water. A lot of mosquitos. The sun came out when I arrived. I figured I’d give it a few hours and then leave and fish another river on the way home. In SW Alberta you always have angling options. A fellow from B.C. arrived right after me. No other anglers were around. He parked his vehicle one pool upstream from me and started fishing it and then worked his way further up. Hmm….

I carefully walked the long pool I was on from the tail to the head. There were some smaller fish at the bottom end rising. I watched them and figured things were going to heat up fast (air and water temperature) so I decided to focus and search for a good one. The light was good for spotting. At the head of the pool, just on the edge of the flow, I saw a good trout. It was moving around (feeding); nosing into the shallows with a decent flow; working its way right to top of the pool with the best flow (oxygenated water and food) and then cycling back. Several times I lost sight of the trout due to its movements from the shallows to deeper water and when moving over darker bottom sections.

rainbow

The fish ignored a small hopper. Maybe it didn’t see it. A few casts later it took a black beetle. A lot of splashing when I finally landed it. My camera lens got soaked so many blurry pictures but I think it made the fishing net photo even more intriguing. One pool, one fish, a couple of hours and then it was time to go. The fellow from B.C. had left before me.

small beetle fly
same rainbow

river thermometer

I’ve been waiting for a break in the hot weather. The last few days have been somewhat cooler. Somewhat. So I got up early and made the long drive to my favorite river on the Plains. I’ve been avoiding it due to the intense heat and waiting for an opportunity. When I arrived I checked the temperature in the main flow. It was fairly cold. In the shallows it was passable. A kid was standing mid river smiling and casting frenetically. I saw no rises. He said he had the whole day to fish.

I can’t remember a past season where I used my river thermometer as much as I have been. It seems I’m checking water temperatures several times a day. And I’m watching river levels and flows, the 7 day weather forecast and the 14 day forecast at night on the internet. I feel more like a Weatherman, than an angler. And it’s only July 6th, the start of the summertime angling season. Prime time. The best the year has to offer. I can’t imagine what temperatures are going to be like in mid August. Fires are already burning in British Columbia. Smoke could be on the way as I write.

I walked several pools I know well and carefully watched the water. Nothing. I waited until lunch for a hatch. Nothing. The air temperature started climbing. The river pelicans landed and hunkered down.

I decided to venture to a different stretch of the river and hiked back to my car. The kid was still on the same pool smiling and casting away at the same pace. As before I saw no rises.

At the new location I checked a long straight bank where I missed a great fish late last season. I looked it over from high above. The lighting was good for spotting. The trout was there. It was also rising occasionally to small minuscule, invisible stuff. I dropped down and checked the river temperature once again with my thermometer. It was still good.

The trout refused my first offering, a size 14/16 ant. Absolutely no interest. Then a tried a size 18/16 PMD dry fly with some segmented wire wraps on the slim body to make it sit low (in the water). I think any fly the right size and sitting low would have worked. When I finally got the fly on target the fish ate. Luckily the small fly held and I landed it. A wonderful trout. With that I decided to call it a day.

I looked over the river and thought that with the heat I might not get back to it until mid to late September. I pointed my car towards the mountains and drove home windows open thinking about the kid casting away, about how the tiny hook held on a great trout, and about the river I was just on. My favorite one. It could be the best sight-fishing trout river in North America (that you can drive to) if water (reservoir) management slightly increased the flow throughout the summertime, and if ranchers kept their cattle out of the water. On the Plains ranching and farm irrigation take priority over trout and other things but that’s an old story.

POSTCRIPT

That kid is probably still casting. That kid was me fifty years ago…