Thursday, November 29, 2012

So What Does Make a Great Fisherman?

Results according to my unofficial poll:

Most fly fishermen have at one time or another wondered what it takes to be great. Most of us are fascinated by this. We want to know the answer not only so that we can get better, but we also want to know by what criteria success is measured. In other words, what do we do to get better and when will we know when we get there. We know the answer lies in more than just the ability to cast and catch fish, because we all know too many anglers with poor skills that can catch fish. If you ask those that should be able to answer such a query such as guides, shop owners and experienced old salts this question, you might expect to be told the usual stuff. You know, you might expect to hear that such and such an angler is a great caster or that he presents the fly better or that he has superior skills to fight and land a fish. Sometimes these experts do answer with this and just this. They delineate the requisite skills and stop there. But more often than you might imagine, the pondering angler quickly glosses over these essential skills by saying something like "sure you have to be able to cast well, tease the fish to the fly and fight and land a fish", but they often add "yeah, but lots of guys can do that... the great anglers I know have something extra."

When pressed on this point, the conversation gets really interesting. The perfunctory answer quickly gives way to a genuine attempt to describe what qualities separate the truly exceptional angler from the rank and file. So, I thought you might be interested in the qualities mentioned that separate the merely good from the great. Some may surprise you and others may not, but I think delving into these attributes may just help all of us to become better anglers. So here are the results from my unofficial poll that has been conducted over many decades and many more beers:

Without a doubt, the number one quality ascribed to upper echelon anglers is the ability to concentrate. Some anglers seem to be able to do this better than others. Elite anglers are somehow able to shut out everything, but the task at hand. They are fully engaged most, if not all, of the time. I consistently heard that some of the best fish sighters have only mediocre eyes. I've heard stories about the fellow with thick, coke-bottle lenses who can spot fish with the best of them. Somehow they see flashes, ripples, rises, nervous water, birds and a myriad of other clues that betray the presence of fish. These elite anglers have an ability to concentrate and block out distractions. As a result, they simply see more fish or fish sign than others do.
 The second attribute most often mentioned is the ability to stay the course and work hard over the long haul to find fish. Repeatedly, I heard anglers described as "He never gives up." or "He has the patience to wait for that second rise" or "He will wait patiently until the time is right." This drive to be successful on the hunt was finely tuned in our ancestors. Those that didn't have it simply didn't last long. Great fishermen have tapped into this reservoir of indomitability and patience. Put simply, good anglers are tenacious.

By far the most interesting quality that guides and other professionals feel is essential to achieving greatness is an unrelenting sense of optimism. In other words, you must have faith. Without it, you might just as well sit in your room. For the elite angler, each new day is filled with hope and the promise of big fish. To these fishermen, yesterday was yesterday, today is today. One old timer put it this way. "What could have been is a wasteful question. Better to ask what is and what will be". Expert anglers are generally positive people who rarely complain about anything, even if there is reason to do so. They don't dwell on what could have been or the errors of others. They see it as a distraction that cripples their powers of concentration and drains their energy. They never complain and they never blame others for their inadequacies. They say people with positive attitudes live longer, but we'll add that they also fish better. And if they do indeed live longer, then its just practical to be positive... with a longer life, you'll get to fish more and seemingly do a better job at it!

I also often hear when conducting my poll that the best fisherman don't compete. These guys genuinely don't care if they are the "top dog". Of course, they want to catch fish. That's the whole point of the exercise, but they somehow understand that to want it too much again interferes with their powers of concentration and blurs their focus. They only compete with themselves. These anglers have a certain generosity of character too. They are helpful and encouraging to other anglers and are always willing to share their fishing acumen. Lefty Kreh comes to mind. If ever there was an elite angler who was generous to others, it is Lefty. 
The next quality falls under the heading of "relax... it's not brain surgery". The best anglers can simply relax, especially under pressure or in the heat of battle. Maybe it's because they are not competing. Maybe they're just too busy concentrating! Intense yes, but also relaxed. They are somehow confident and know that if the fish are there, they will find them. These guys push hard, but they don't push so hard that it becomes a distraction. They let the day unfold. They are determined, but not hyper. 

To a person, experienced anglers all felt that the best fishermen are in reality, excellent hunters. These anglers think like hunters whether it be in a boat, bank side or wading a flat. They are quiet. They move slowly. They plan their attack whether it be to move upwind on a bonefish flat or to hide in the shade of a big cottonwood tree when casting to a trophy brown trout. They take the time to make a plan and execute it successfully and above all, quietly. I once had a guide tell me that so and so was a great caster, but not a very good fisherman. He said he just made too much noise whether it was wading the flats or shutting the lid on the boat's cooler.
So there you have it. It is interesting to note that not one of the qualities so often mentioned above involve technical skills. Perhaps the necessity of having technical expertise is a foregone conclusion, but perhaps the acquisition of technical skills only puts you at the threshold of true greatness. Whichever the case, we hope you found this food for thought. It certainly provided something for me to chew on... and emulate.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Doug Jeffries Trip report on Nov. Tarpon Trip

As you might remember, Doug Jeffries was going to Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula to fish for baby tarpon out of Campeche in mid-November click here to see post.  Doug gave us a peek into his fly box then and now we get this great trip report: THANKS DOUG!

My final fishing trip this year was back down to Campeche, Mexico where we fish for juvenile tarpon. I think this was my 7 or 8th time down there. The fishery is amazingly consistent (but with enough unknowns to keep it interesting) and the town of Campeche is beautiful, safe, with good water, and several really excellent restaurants. Raul Castenada is the outfitter and he and his guides are some of the best I've ever fished with - just a real pleasure to share a boat with. 

I went down on Nov 12 and fished Nov 13, 14 & 15. I flew in and out of Merida which is a two hour drive from Campeche. You can fly directly into Campeche but that requires flying through Mexico City on Aero Mexico. I prefer to use my frequent flier miles and go through Houston. This trip we stayed in the Ocean View Hotel which is right on the esplanade. It is a little farther to walk into the town plaza for a beer and dinner but they do a better job of breakfast and we walk right across the road to load out in the morning. We've also stayed in the Castel Mar Hotel which is about two blocks from the plaza.

Our typical day began with breakfast at 5:30am. Breakfast was very good with cold yogurts, cereals, fruits, choice of breads and muffins, eggs with ham, mushrooms, cheese, coffee and tea (actually we started with the coffee and tea). Raul would join us sometime and at 6am we'd get our gear and walk across the road, step over the sea wall and into the pangas. After the first day our rods would already be stowed on the pangas so we didn't need to wrestle them out hotel room doors, etc. Raul has a lock room at the marina where they rinse down and secure the rods each night. If the tide is high early, we might start a little later as low or dropping tides are usually better fishing.

The guides typically like to motor north pretty far and then work back toward the marina as the day goes by (not always though).  But these days we motored out for about 30 minutes and then started checking the turtle grass flats for cruising and rolling tarpon.  If the water is smooth we may head off shore a little farther and check a couple spots where the guides have marked large schools of fish.  These can usually be slightly larger fish so it's worth the time.  As the day passes, the wind often picks up and the fish tend to move into the mouths of the rios or even up into the rios.  So we follow.  We watch for rolling fish and if the water is clear enough and the sun high we can even sight fish for them.  This trip we found good numbers of decent size snook in addition to the tarpon.  We saw a couple snook that weighed probably 6 - 9 pounds but didn't catch any that large.  Tarpon and snook aren't the only fish we caught.  We landed bar jacks, horse eye jacks, pargo snapper, mangrove snapper, ladyfish, and one octopus (the octopus was in a rio and was accidentally foul hooked.)  Since it was octopus season there, Fernando (one of our guides) kept it for his family's dinner.

The fishing is typically done by watching for rolling tarpon.  Once we find them, we position the boat so we can present the fly in front of the fish.  We typically cast minnow imitations.  We strip them back with long strips with a little twitch at the end of the strip.  We try to keep the fly in front of the tarpon for as long as possible as sometimes they will follow it for a long time before eating.  When a fish takes the fly, we pull hard on the fly line without raising the rod tip (we call this "strip striking").  If you try to set the hook by lifting the rod tip like we do when trout fishing, you'll likely not get a good hook-up and the fish will escape.  That's because the tarpon's mouth is very hard and boney.  Tarpon usually jump a few times when hooked and with larger fish you have to "bow" (lower the rod and allow slack in the line) when the jumps to prevent it from breaking the line.  Tarpon are one of the harder fish to land which makes them one of the most entertaining fish to chase.

As the day passes and the wind picks up, we typically head up into the rios to search for fish.  The rios are tightly edged by mangroves and often completely roofed over.  When we get far enough up the rios, we're typically casting from our knees and roll casting and inventing other casts to get the fly to the fish without hanging up in the mangroves.  When a tarpon is hooked up in the mangroves it's even more of a challenge to land them due to the amount of mangroves surrounding the water and the mangrove branches under the water.  That's another reason this fishing is so much fun.

The guides bring sandwiches from a local deli, chips, and drinks on the boat for lunch.  We eat lunch on the boat around 11:30 - noon.  Then we check some more rios.  Often times the wind drops when it changes direction midday.  So sometimes we'll check the far off shore flats for the cruising schools of fish.  The day usually ends around 2:30 - 3pm (when we start at 6am) and a cold beer goes down real well on the boat ride back to the esplanade.

After a shower we walk into Campeche.  Like most Mexican towns, the plaza is the center of activity.  All plazas are built around a large cathedral and Campeche is no different.  It's a beautiful old cathedral with twin bell towers and high vaulted ceilings.  There are easily a half dozen excellent restaurants in the plaza which makes dinner a delight.  I prefer places which serve local meals but you can get typical American fast food if that's your poison.  There's even an Applebee's restaurant a block from the Ocean View.

This trip was even more interesting because Dr. Aaron Adams was there with Rafael (I can't recall his last name) who is a biologist with the Sian Kaan Reserve.  They were there setting up a tagging operation to allow them to track the tarpon movements and recapture rates.  Tagging involves measuring a fish (nose to fork), inserting a tag behind the dorsal fin that has an ID number and contact information to report if the fish is caught again.  The data is recorded and computerized by Rafael.  We tagged over 25 tarpon this trip.  I had also requested some DNA capture kits from Florida Marine Fisheries.  This involves rubbing a scratch pad on the upper jaw bone of the fish to grab some skin cells.  The lab with analyze the DNA which will be used to identify migration patterns and recapture rates.  We filled all 12 sample bottles this trip and I'll be mailing them to the lab in Florida.  It would be cool if one of these fish was later caught again in Florida or Texas, which would prove they migrate all that way.  If that is the case, it adds emphasis that to truly protect the tarpon fishery, we have to do more than just protect the waters around Florida and Texas.


Monday, November 26, 2012

Big Bones Are Different

The road to wisdom?
Well it’s plain and simple to express...
Err and err and err again, 

but less and less and less.
Piet Hein (1905-1996)

It had been some time since I had caught a big bonefish. By big, I mean those big-shouldered, flat-headed monsters that have left the cute and cuddly class reserved for poodles and hamsters and entered the realm of Rottweilers and wolverines. In front of me was a real beast. While small bones bob and weave on the flats as if looking for a handout, big bones slink onto the shallows like invisible assassins. They've got an attitude... they act like any hunter worth his salt should act. This guy in front of me, when visible, was the only the palest of green. He moved very slowly and seemed at times to be nothing more than the bottom and a shadow. This is precisely how bonefish got their name, the grey ghost. With these big fish you’re never really sure you see them until the light is just right. Then two and a half feet of grey-green vapor suddenly becomes a direct link to your adrenal gland. If you don't keep your vision concentrated and your mind focused, these fish will disappear just as they came... a wish becomes an apparition... excitement becomes nothing more than hope.

After a few days of catching dinks, this big bone seemed to be sent by the central committee to restore the species storied reputation. I knew from experience that this is the moment when casts fall apart. A thousand things can go wrong and often do. Fly lines can wrap around fanny packs and fighting butts can reach out to grab any loop not battened down. If you do manage to get your line in the air, there are lots of traditional ways to screw it up and I always find a few new creative ways to botch a cast on each trip. Of course, you can screw it up by throwing too short or too long... or you can pile your leader... or you can noisily smack the fly. Other popular choices include lining the fish or popping the fish on the head with the fly. But the result is always the same. You get nothing... nada... nothing. You are left just a big goose egg on the scoreboard and an overwhelming and somewhat masochistic need to relive what you just did.
At times like this, you might swear out loud or look to the heavens. Some anglers drop their rods to their side and their necks droop as they stare at the water. We all know this posture of defeat. We can read it a mile away. Shoulders slump and rods drop as assorted and highly descriptive expletives loudly waft over the pale yellow flats. You cheesed the cast, you screwed it up, you blew it… now have plenty of time to think about what just happened.

But if you do somehow manage to make a good presentation, no such leisure time exists. Things happen fast from here on in. Through the adrenaline haze of a thumping heart and buzzing fingers, you must now get the fish to eat. If you do, your journey continues. If not, you have another block of time to think of all the synonyms for rejection.
But if the big bone eats, it begins! If there is one moment in fishing that we all seek, it is that nanosecond before and the few seconds after, the hookup. This is when all hell breaks loose. When a big bone decides to take his considerable bulk elsewhere, he leaves an angler with a fly line ripping through the air as he struggles to keep up with his oxygen intake. If you manage to get the fish on the reel and avoid plinking your 10 lb. tippet like a broken violin string, line begins to melt off your spool. You hope you set your drag right as thoughts of getting spooled replace the dozens of other concerns: the cast, the retrieve, the hookset, that you just successfully put in your rear view mirror.
Fighting a big bonefish is a different game. If you haven’t done it for a while, it can be a real shocker. What may have been routine with the poodles and the punks becomes an all consuming exercise with their larger, supercharged brethren. If you’re lucky, you get to see your fish. You have to do a lot right to get to this point. But if you do it right and if you are really lucky, you get to measure and release your catch.

Numbers now have real meaning...28, 30, even 32 inches translates to 9,10, maybe 12 pounds. Anything over ten pounds is considered the fish-of-a-lifetime. You may get a bigger one, but it will never be any better. You found your Holy Grail and you know this even after the release and before you begin to once again scan the flat. You think about bonefish, in Latin, it's Albula vulpes, in legend, it's the grey ghost. Whatever you call them, you think their reputation is well-deserved and now duly noted.
But I was at the beginning. I thought I could see my monster, my Holy Grail, my fish-of-a-lifetime. With a dry mouth, I slowly took another step forward. Time would tell whether I was up to the task.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Video of the Amazon's Agua Boa Lodge

The Agua Boa River in the Amazon north of Manaus offers one of the world's best fly fishing trips!

We have one spot open for our February 2-9, 2013 trip. If interested, give us a call at: 
Angling Destinations 800-211-8530 

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Ahhhh Wyoming!

Ms. Bullwinkle and family head downtown to the Cowboy Bar!
Notice the windshield. In Wyoming, they come factory installed with the crack... no additional charge.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Scott Revs up on the Amazon's Agua Boa River

Scott Sawtelle psyches himself up for a great day chasing big peacock bass in the Amazon on the Agua Boa River.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Popper Evening

On our last evening, we left the harbor late in the afternoon and were soon headed into a setting winter sun. We had heard that the tarpon would take poppers at dusk no questions asked.  As the sun dropped beneath the horizon and as Venus appeared in the moonless sky, we cast our poppers into the still strong remnants of today’s energetic breeze. 

On the first cast and on the ten casts that followed, we jumped 5 to 12 lb. tarpon that savagely attacked our surface flies.  Sometimes we got three or four strikes on each retrieve. It was that absurd giggly kind of fishing that makes you feel like an ace. We each landed six or seven fat boys and by the time it was totally dark, it was over.  We reeled in frayed leaders as Pedro began to pole us out of the bay. He quietly swung his gnarled pole through the waters of a quickly falling tide. As he dug into the bottom, we could see thousands of phosphorescent shrimp eyes. Their pale pink eyes mirrored the many stars on this black and moonless night.  As Pedro felt his way to deeper water, fireflies added their own eerie glow to these other pinpoints of light. 

“Es una hermosa noche”, Pedro whispered to us as he fired up the outboard. 
"Si" we muttered between nods. 
Suspended between the Milky Way and the windswept chop of the ocean, we clipped off flies and inhaled the rich aroma of the sea at night. We accelerated towards the navigational beacons blinking just over the horizon in the village of San Felipe. Tough day, stupid good evening and now suddenly, our trip was over. 

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Dry Fly Tips for Selective Trout: Part 4

A few final thoughts:

(or things I see that drive me crazy
 ...or things I do that make me want to slap myself)

-Get as close as you reasonably can. Getting close minimizes false casting and the closer you are, the more accurate your cast will be. Don’t make a premature long cast due to impatience. Having said that, don’t crowd rising fish. Fish will take an artificial dry much more readily if you keep your initial distance and don’t “creep” up.

-Never false cast while wading.

-Never false cast over feeding fish in an effort to measure distance. 

-Stack the line you need at your feet before you cast. Do not pull it off the reel as you false cast! 

-Don’t false cast a wet leader and line over feeding fish. This will send a cascade of small water droplets onto the fish. Cast to the side to clear water from the line and leader.

-Don’t pop your fly off the water when initiating the backcast to load your rod. Wait until the fly line and the butt section are almost off the water before initiating your backcast.

-If your presentation isn’t right, let the fly drift to below the feeding fish before lifting the fly line off the water to cast again.

-Keep your fly line clean. Picking your fly line off the water becomes easier and quieter with a clean line. 

-Put fly floatant on your fly, but also keep the upper portion of your leader clean. You can use the same cloth you use to clean your fly line. This way your fly will float longer because your leader won’t sink and pull your fly under. Put a sink agent on the last 3-6 inches of the tippet. 

-Wear muted non-contrasting clothing and colors. Dry fly fishing is as much hunting as fishing. 

-Straighten your leader by pulling them through your fingers and not a rubber leader straightener. These straighteners generate friction and the heat can weaken fragile tippets. You cannot feel the heat with a rubber straightener. 

-Clip off any cracked or damaged portions of the end of your fly line. These damaged areas can cause your line to sink and thus pull under your leader and fly.

-Cast to the lowest or outside fish of a pod. This allows you to catch a fish without spooking the entire pod.

-Practice your presentation so that your fly settles gently on the water and doesn’t slap.

And finally try this when all else fails...
If you’re fishing to an ultra selective fish (i.e. bitchy)... or maybe during a “blanket” hatch when the fish have a lot of food choices, you can be driven virtually crazy. If you are getting frustrated and maybe thinking about quitting and going bowling, try the following:

-Ignore the hatch! Throw something like a parachute Adams, small ant, foam micro-beetle or small attractor pattern. Take a chance and show the fish something totally different before you quit. It should be about the same size as the naturals, but something new and different can draw the trout’s attention to your fly. A really good choice can be an insect that was hatching a couple weeks earlier or one that might hatch later in the day like a caddis.

-You can sometimes draw a trout’s attention to your fly by giving it a very subtle twitch just as the fly starts to enter the trout’s window of vision.

-When you need to use a very small fly that you can’t see to match the hatch, you can use a larger more visible fly and attach the small hatch matching pattern as a dropper about 8” – 12” from the larger fly.

...and finally, please remember, to have fun! This isn’t brain surgery, it's just fishing.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Flies for the Tarpon Coast of the Yucatan

After Doug Jeffries and I got back from the Tarpon Coast in May 2011 Story from Blog, Raul Castaneda, our outfitter, sent us a picture of a fly with which he was having great success. He asked Doug and me what we would name it. I called it a spun deer hair deceiver. Doug thought it could be called a deceiver muddler too.
Raul's Spun Deer Hair Deceiver
Whatever the name, Raul was excited enough about the results he was having with it, to send us photo and ask our opinion what its name should be.
Well, Doug is going back to Campeche to fish the Tarpon Coast this week and he has tied a bunch of these flies and a few others. I thought you would like to see this fly and take a look inside Doug's fly boxes. Doug is a superb tier and was featured in a story in Fly Fishing in Salt Waters for his bonefish flies: Click Here

A couple days ago, Doug sent me some photos of his flies and his box for the trip.
Doug said in his e-mail to me: 
"I decided to just bring my small box next week since I'm only fishing 3 days. I tied up a couple new patterns to try.  One is based on those flies Raul sent us a photo of.  Remember they had a rattle in them and he asked if we called them a deceiver or muddler or what?"  
Raul's Spun Deer Hair Deceiver

Doug's Version

I answered Doug that I was sure I remembered the fly Raul sent us and sent him a picture of the one I thought he was referring to (see above). 

Doug replied, "Those are the ones Raul showed us. I had to use a Mustad 34011 to get a hook with a shank long enough to support the rattles I had. His look a little longer, but then if I compare them to the palm of his hand they don't seem all that long. We'll see!" 

Doug continued, "The other is a shrimp pattern and the last is another baitfish with feather wings, but Puglisi fiber collar. I like a full fly box, but there's always a little nagging thought in the back of my mind that I'm missing an important fly. Then I get there and only use one or two flies the whole time." 

Boy, can I relate to that! I usually take way too many flies on trips! But the bottom line is, if you are planning on taking a trip to the Yucatan to fish for tarpon and you get a chance to look in Doug's fly box, pay attention!!

Thanks Doug and good luck!
Shrimp Pattern
Another of Doug's Baitfish Patterns
The box!

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Dry Fly Tips for Selective Trout: Part 3


Remember, your goal is to get it right the first time! 
-Try not to false cast over fish.
-Stack the line you need at your feet, do not pull it off the reel as you false cast!
-Cast away from fish with a sidearm motion to dry your fly. Don’t false cast a wet leader and line over feeding fish. This will send a cascade of small water droplets onto the fish. This is especially a problem with braided butt sections.
-Don’t pop your fly off the water when initiating the backcast. Wait until the fly line and the butt section are almost off the water before initiating your backcast.
-If your presentation isn’t right, let the fly drift to below the feeding fish before lifting the fly line off the water to cast again. 
What you want to see... a "happy" feeding fish.
Timing is everything when trying to feed a selective trout, Be patient and look for a “happy” fish; one that is active and looking to feed. Wait for the moment that it eats a natural and is looking for another, and then take your shot. Often times they will let quite a bit of food drift before eating, falling in and out of what we call feeding rhythms. Avoid casting when they are down, and instead study the feeding rhythms and wait for the fish to start actively feeding once again.
The first shot at a wise, selective fish is easily the most important cast of all. If the fly drags unnaturally, or you “line” the fish by throwing a shadow,  the fish will probably "make" you. Once the fish spooks, you’ll notice an immediate change of behavior, and many times the fish will simply disappear. When this happens, stop casting. Take a break... maybe change your fly pattern, and give the fish some time to forget what made him nervous.

If a fish rises to your fly and doesn't eat it or maybe noses it (I've seen trout suspend a fish on their snout!) STOP CASTING!  They are suspicious of your fly. Stop and let the fish get back into a comfortable feeding rhythm again. Wait till the fish is "happy" again. Then make another perfect cast.

Notice the fish is feeding at the same spot where the leaves are floating by. This is the conveyor belt!
How important is a drag-free float?
It is important to understand that a trout has a feeding lie for very specific reasons having to do with the energy required to feed. This fish will repeatedly rise along a very narrow slot and will take the naturals at a very specific point along this path. Water hydrodynamics dictates this path and the point of minimal caloric loss to feed. Bigger fish will always take the best spots. Here they can use the water’s pressure to plane up to take the surface fly and then down to the resting lie with a minimum of energy expended. Your fly must achieve a natural drift only along this small slot, but it must match this path exactly. It must not deviate slightly right or left where it is not calorically economical for the fish to rise. A trout knows this small stretch of water intimately. A large smart trout will not take an artificial fly that is floating unnaturally or is even slightly out of its range...period.

Rising exactly where the leaves are. This is the point of minimal caloric expenditure for the trout.
Along with "your first cast is your best chance", a drag free drift is probably the best advice for anyone fishing to selective trout, because a good initial presentation can often make up for bad fly choice. Presentation is the most important step of all! What you’re trying to do is present a drag-free drift, meaning your fly drifts exactly like a natural. Your fly must look like it is unattached to a leader. There are many ways to achieve a drag-free presentation:

-Down and across reach cast. In this cast, the fish sees the fly first and no leader.
-Straight downstream bounce or rebound cast (S-curves are created in the leader and tippet).
-Straight upstream cast.
-Throwing an early mend in the drift. 
This casts should be learned. These casts are potential arrows in your quiver.

Remember Presentation is Crucial!

NEXT: A Few Final Thoughts in Part 4

Friday, November 9, 2012

Dry Fly Tips for Selective Trout: Part 2

Getting into Position to Cast

Let's start with the most important tip of all...
Your first cast will always be your best opportunity to catch your fish! 
Please, always remember this as you read the rest of these hints... 

Once you see rising fish, your goal is to get in position while at the same time not alerting the fish to your presence. So when you spot your quarry, take a deep breath, take your time... think and plan a strategy.
-Plan where you want to be.
-Look for a spot that will give you a clear backcast.
-Avoid wading into unseen or unobserved feeding fish while you focus on your fish.
...these fish will spook and alert your intended fish.
-Prepare your tackle before you get into position.
-Plan how and where you can achieve a drag-free float.
-Plan your approach? Are you going to cast across, downstream or from an upstream position?

Think before you act. 

Getting into position is a skill in itself:
-Before you make your move, check out your surroundings.
-Remember above all, your goal is to get as close as you can without spooking the fish. -When you do move, don’t send out any ripples. Try not to disturb the water.
-Minimize the sound of your wading boots grinding against the bottom.
-Stay low, use shadows, move under overhanging branches if possible.
-Try not to silhouette your body against the sky.
-Consider getting out of the water and sneaking up using shore vegetation and shadows to hide you. This is a great tactic, but if you do this, first mark exactly where the fish were rising. If you don't mark their location you might not be sure where they are once you get up or downstream. Mark the rising fish with a specific bush or rock or log.

These stealthy tactics can be achieved with practice and patience.

-Once your are into your chosen position, your cast needs to be perfect, so don’t make a premature long cast.
-Get as close as you can. Getting close minimizes false casting and the closer you are, the more accurate your cast will be.
-Never false cast while wading. 
Be patient!

Once in position to make your cast to a rising trout, wait for the fish to rise a couple of times before casting. Try to understand his modus operandi. Study his feeding rhythm. Does he feed in bursts or in measured patterns? Is he consistent or erratic? You want your fly on the water when he is ready to come up. Studying the fish will help you achieve this. This is usually more productive than repeated casting over the same trout. 
Again, your best chance is your first cast!

OK, you've made a plan and you're in position. You are ready to make your first cast. It's presentation time. This is when the rubber meets the road!

Next: Your Presentation

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Dry Fly Tips for Selective Trout: Part 1

For many fly anglers, sight fishing is the apex of the sport. Whether it be with a chubby hopper for a post-doctoral brown, a garish popper for a giant trevally or an unweighted "Charlie" for a tailing bonefish, sightfishing to them is the best it gets.  These anglers know that they may catch fewer fish sight fishing, but they think the trade-off is worth it. Dedicated sight fishermen love the visible connection between the fly and the fish. It is precisely that moment between the take and the hookset that sight fishermen crave.

One of the most addicting forms of sight fishing is dry fly fishing for large selective trout.  Watching a big fish break the surface, suck in a natural and rhythmically drift back to its lie is as exciting as it is intoxicating.  It can literally rip your head around and stop you in your tracks. You now KNOW he is there. Now, you want to see him take you fly. But, you know that if you make any mistake, it's game over. This delicious tension between success and failure is what sight fisherman live for.

A few weeks ago, I posted some hints for tarpon anglers. One reader suggested I do the same for dry fly fishing specifically geared to smart selective trout. I knew this would be a challenging project. Dry fly fishing to selective trout is one of the most technical and skill intensive disciplines in the fly fishing world! Some of the best anglers in the world are passionate and completely mesmerized by big selective trout on the surface.

I should mention that these hints are not directed at search fishing with an attractor pattern. This involves skill at reading water and the ability to make accurate casts. I love working a stream in this style, but it does place the demands on a fisherman skills that sight fishing to selective trout does. The big leagues of trout fishing involves stalking big smart fish that are actively feeding on a hatch or are holding near the surface looking up for their next meal.  Think the Big Horn River, the Missouri, The Henry's Fork or the world's best spring creeks and you get the idea. Learn to fish these rivers with dries and you can fish to trout anywhere in the world. What follows are some advanced dry fly hints for anglers who love to pursue selective big trout on the surface.

Let's start with the basics... That's GEAR as in rods, lines, leaders  and tippets.
I like a very light rod that can deliver a fly delicately with accuracy (my rod of choice is a 3 or 4 wt.). I don't like too fast a rod. With a stiff rod you can't finesse a small dry fly into a soft landing as easily as with a "softer" rod. Having said that, I believe most rod manufactures make rods in this category and many rods will work perfectly well. Use whatever rod allows you to make a delicate presentation, but don't get stuck on your equipment choice! I don't think rods are all that crucial. I am one of those guys who thinks a good fishermen can fish with any rod. Some rods are better than others, but an angler's mind (and skill) set is all important. If you look to equipment for answer you are looking the wrong way. I think technique is much more important than technology!

OK, that was my rant. Thanks for listening, it felt good!

So you have a good light rod, now you need a properly matched line, leader and tippet. Now this is important!

Most manufactures, including Rio and Scientific Anglers (SA), make good presentation dry fly lines. Use the lightest weight line possible. The lighter the line, the softer it hits the water and the quieter the presentation. A 3 weight line creates about half the strike force of a 6 weight line. This seems logical! Also, use neutral or gray-toned lines. If you can see bright or neon high contrast lines better, so can the fish.

My leader of choice is a 10-12 foot knotless tapered leader with 2-3 feet of tippet on the front end. Don’t tie the fly directly to the tapered leader. Instead, cut the end off the tapered leader if need be and replace it with tippet so you know exactly how much tippet you have. The key to getting the proverbial drag free float is the length and thickness of the tippet. The ideal tippet length and diameter allows you to cast small S curves like waves in the tippet. If the tippet falls back on itself or stacks, it is too long or thin. If the tippet lands in a straight line behind the fly, the tippet is too short or too thick and it will drag the fly. Work to achieve this balance and always strive to "turn-over" your leader with some S curves in the tippet.

Regarding fly choice, if you see fish rising and bugs disappearing... and if you don’t know what fly to use, study the water and/or use a small insect net to seine bugs from the surface film. Then, select a fly that is the approximate size and color of the naturals you see. Color and size are what selective trout key on. Enough said!

If you know what species insect the trout are eating, you must determine whether the fish are feeding on (example: duns), in (example: spent spinners) or just under (example: emerges) the surface film. You can determine if your fish is feeding on the surface, in the surface film or subsurface by watching individual insects as they drift over a feeding trout. Small binoculars work great for this!

Naturals float with their bodies on the water. In recent years, traditional palmered hackle dry flies and the sparser Catskill patterns have often been abandoned in favor of newer patterns that allow the body to sit flush in the surface film. Using parachute, comparadun or thorax patterns or snipping the hackles on the underside of your conventional palmered flies can offer a huge advantage when fishing to picky trout.

Don’t use paste type floatants which tend to mat hackles together creating an unnatural appearance. Instead, use liquid floatants combined with drying crystals. But remember, a treated fly will leave an oil slick on the surface. This slick almost surely alerts the fish for no naturals have a prismatic halo around them. To avoid this problem try dragging the fly under the water to remove the excess floatant then false cast away from the fish to dry the fly.

Also, I feel that a tippet treated with floatant is much more visible floating on the surface film than a tippet that sinks just below the surface film. Wipe off the last foot or so of tippet and run it through your saliva coated fingers or coat it with a sink compound (some call this stuff mud. This compound is available from Loon and others and reduces the surface tension of the tippet. Anglers used to use actual mud... hence the name). The tippet will then be virtually invisible.

Next: Getting into Position to Cast