Wednesday, June 24, 2015

A few thoughts on dry fly fishing

Your Olympic Peninsula fly fishing guide.
Catch & Release, Fly fishing only!

A few thoughts on dry fly fishing.

Guiding on the Kamchatka Peninsula, Russia.
We had 100 fish days on dry flies.
 Dry fly fishing has to be my favorite of all of the ways to catch trout. Beginning my fly fishing life on the east coast, I fished for mostly stocked trout in those waters. You really had to go hunting in the boonies for any true, wild trout. They were actually char, the eastern brook trout. And the wild ones were small, but very quick to take any dry fly most of the time. It didn't take long to realize that most of what people were writing and talking about, when it came to "selective" trout and dry fly fishing, was due to the fact that the fish were getting heavily pressured by the fishermen. And of course it does not take many encounters with being hooked and released etc., for a trout to learn to avoid a fly, leader, line, drag etc. And what fly you are using in that situation is really going to matter most of the time. So at the early end of my dry fly fishing career, it was often vexing to riddle out what would work. 

 One reference that helped me was "Hatches II", by Al Caucci (  ) and Bob Nastasi. That book is so good that most aquatic entomologists get into it as undergraduates. They did their mayfly research so well, traveling and collecting samples across North America for several years, and running aquariums in Al's enclosed front porch all winter, with flies hatching all over the place, that they ended up discovering a few species of mayfly that no one else had seen before. After a few years of that book being in circulation you couldn't fish with a guide on the upper Delaware River without speaking Latin. Al Caucci also came up with some very good fly patterns, mainly the Comparadun fly. He set that fly up to have more body in the water, riding level and deeper, and it worked. But after a while those fish figured that one out too.

 Just a few miles downriver from Al Caucci's Delaware River Club there was another lodge, run by a guy named Pat. He was old school cool, and he had been guiding there for years. And he had a nice old lodge with plenty of regular fishermen coming every season. Out on the water he was a keen observer of the hatches. And when he was sure of what was happening. with trout rising splashily all around them, he would recommend that you "use one of those little brown ones". And he caught lot of fish too. Pat did not speak Latin. Ever. Back then it was nice to find myself with a fly box that seemed equally divided between carefully selected patterns, that closely resembled the indigenous family, genus and species, by size, color and profile, and a nice little batch of "those little brown ones".

 Once I had the chance to go to southwest Alaska, and fly fish for those wild trout, that was a whole new game. None of those Rainbow trout had ever read a book on hatches or flies. If you get there early in the season, through June anyway, you will get slammed by voracious, predatory assassins. Almost with no care to what fly you are using. But by early July two major things have happened: 1) The rainbows have figured out that something is wrong with some of their meals, and they are paying much closer attention to every bite they take. 2) The sockeye salmon are showing up by the millions and the trout are a bit more scattered. And once again one has to begin riddling out the right fly in the right situation. And sometimes it has to be an egg fly or you simply won't be catching anything. Once the salmon start falling apart, you need to match the salmon meat hatch with flesh flies too. And so it goes.

 For the sheer numbers and stupid fun of dry fly fishing for trout, my best day, my best three hours straight, was on the San Juan River in New Mexico. I had driven down there with a guide friend, after our Alaska season at Iliaska Lodge, on Lake Iliamna, had ended. We red-eyed it down from Boulder at night, blowing past the warning signs for "Open Range Livestock On Road", in a decrepit, post-collegiate, Honda sedan. He had the speedometer needle buried. It was almost October and the fishing was fantastic, with cool nights and warm clear days. We walked into a fly shop/gas station/motel/cafe and looked over the flies. "Jeff, I am going to need a God damned microscope to tie one of these thing on to my tippet!" They had Blue Winged Olives down to size 26. "Trust me", Jeff said, as he scooped up a few dozen of the tiny things, and a spool of 7X tippet. And so we headed off to the river. After poking around for a while, taking long lunches and scouting the various bars and shops between our lazy fishing efforts each day, and catching fish after fish, it was almost time to head back north. On our last morning we scarfed down hot oatmeal and instant coffee and got on the water at dawn. There were already twenty people on the water. And six drift boats were lined up in the queu at the Texas Hole, drifting solemnly downriver, with several dudes per boat, all hunched intently toward the bright little bobbers . . . "Screw this". We headed off for breakfast at a diner. This was followed by yet more browsing and lunch, beer, naps etc. By 3 p.m. we decided to give it one more shot. We weren't disappointed at all at this point. We had each been catching fish every day, on dry flies. Jeff headed upriver, and I headed downriver. We planned to meet at 6 by the car.

 Walking down the river, mostly in an effort to get away from everyone else, I noticed one stretch where the only noticeable feature worth considering was a little riffle, way out in the middle of the river, where trout were obviously feeding, snapping up small flies on the surface. Really damned small flies. A solid 70 foot cast at least. I tied on one of the little, teeny, tiny green things, and I gave it a shot. Bang! Just as the fly hit the water. At that distance I could not actually see the fly, way out there on the water, but I could see the take. And so it went. cast after cast, one fish per cast, for hours. It was the Disneyland of fly fishing for me. Stupid fun. We drove home happy and tired.

 Back when we could still fish the Elwha River, I would take a hike up the Whiskey Bend trail in the fall, after Labor day, usually early to mid September. That time of year it can be wet up there at night. And by morning everything seems soaked. But by mid day, and early afternoon, it can be as dry as a parched desert again. There would always be a few people out in the chilly damp dawn, working down the river, nymphing and streamer fishing. Rumors of big Bull trout stealing the rainbow trout off of their hooks circulated. But it was slow. I was waiting for the sun to hit the water, and for the bugs to show. Hiking, reading, watching the bears eating berries, it was never disappointing up there. By late afternoon, when the sun begins to duck past the ridges, up there at Elkhorn Camp, the bugs begin to swarm over the water and the trout come out to play. You can wait all day for that. You won't be disappointed. I usually throw together a simple box of mixed dry flies for stuff like that. I like the old stand by flies, the Adams, B.W.O., the Autumn Sedge and Caddis, P.M.D. etc. The last time I was up there I had a few of those small flies from New Mexico in my box too. The Elwha trout loved them. I forget what color they were.

 Now that we are in a time of really low water out here on the Olympic Peninsula rivers, we need flies that will work mostly on the surface if we are dry line steelhead fishing. One great book about this is "Dry Line Steelhead and other subjects", by Bill McMillan. Here is a pattern that I created a few years ago, inspired by Bill McMillan's Steelhead Caddis. This is a fly that I tie for summer steelhead, and I also use it for sea-run coastal cuttroat trout in freshwater and saltwater. The hook is aGamakatsu T10-6H / size #6 or #8. The Elk hair was from some shed hair, from the Canyon Creek herd on the Hoh River valley one spring. There were bushels of the stuff laying around back then. The dubbing is Arizona Sparkle Nymph / Skip's October Caddis. I will fish this with a dry line and long leader. at least 9 feet long. If I tie it sparsely it will get just beneath the surface. Or I can build up the elk hair wing, and get it to stay on top, sometimeswith a little Gink or other grease. This is a great fly for the October Caddis hatch here in the fall too. What we're after here are gullible wild trout.

Little Stone's Steelhead Caddis

Your Olympic Peninsula Fly Fishing Guide and Instructor

Fly fishing for sea-run Cutthroat from a classic Swampscott Dory.
By appointment only.

     I am guiding fly fishers on the Olympic Peninsula beaches, rivers and streams. We walk and wade, fly fishing for sea-run Coastal Cutthroat trout in freshwater and saltwater, and in the rivers for Cutthroat trout and summer steelhead. This is strictly catch and release, traditional fly fishing only. Lunch, snacks, soft beverages, and use of some equipment is included. I also offer personalized and private fly fishing and fly casting instruction for beginners through advanced casters.  I would be happy to help you plan your Olympic Peninsula fly fishing adventure, for all levels of ability. Public presentations, Naturalist Guide, rowboat picnics, tide pool and  river trail day trips. Please call, write or email for booking details. Now booking for April through October and beyond. Please call or write for details.

Bob Triggs
Little Stone Flyfisher
P.O. Box 261
Port Townsend, WA

Licensed Washington State Guide 
Certified Fly Casting Instructor
Trout Unlimited Aquatic Educator Award
W.S.U.Beach Watcher
U.S.C.G First Aid/CPR/BLS/AED/BBP/HIV Certified

Phone: 360-385-9618

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