Wednesday, March 7, 2018

To Bead or Not to Bead



There is little doubt that the bead head nymph is a staple in everyone's fly box. And for good reason. As we all know, it is extremely important to get the nymph down to the bottom of the stream quickly in order to achieve as realistic a presentation as possible. But....have you ever really thought about what this may look like to a trout laying in 7 feet of water?
The point I'm trying to make here is this: In my opinion there are 2 main flaws with this presentation. The flash created by the big, shiny bead and the inability to truly know the depth that your fly is at throughout the drift. Let me explain.
I think most people would agree that there is very little light penetration in the deeper runs of a river. Even during the times of full sun, very little penetrates to the depths where most trout feel comfortable spending their day casually feeding. The shine and glitter from a big gold colored bead would certainly look out of place as opposed to a natural insect which would be much darker in comparison. I don't use bead heads much anyway, but when I do, I use the dark colored beads to better blend in with the trouts' environment. Not saying that my way is better, just food for thought and something to consider when nymphing at deeper depths or during dark, overcast days.
The few times that I do prefer to use bright, or even glass beads, is when I find myself letting the flies swing in order to imitate an emerging insect. This can be a truly deadly technique in the larger tailwaters where the insect activity can be phenomenal during the bright, bluebird skies. The added shine is more realistic due to the light penetration that does occur at these shallow depths, and also the added bonus of imitating the gaseous bubble exhibited by some nymphs to assist them in ascending to the surface. This is one of the few times when some flash on the head of a nymph actually does make sense.
The second problem, in my opinion, is that you don't have good control of your flies depth throughout the drift. A heavy bead head fly will be more likely to ride along the very bottom of the stream. The problem is that trout feed from their head up, in about 6 inch increments. Rarely will they feed below their holding depth, and they certainly don't lie with their bellies rubbing the bottom. So how do we weight the fly in order to get it down in the water column without it sinking to the very bottom of the stream you ask? There are really only 2 ways left. You either add split shot above your fly or you add it below your fly (drop shot technique).
Adding the split shot above your fly gives you the benefit of your fly suspending off the bottom, but you really have no control over what level it drifts through at. That may become a problem when fishing for extremely finicky fish. That is one reason that I prefer using a drop shot technique over the previously mentioned methods of dredging a nymph.
In the drop shot system, the split shot is at the very end of your leader. You can use as much weight as needed to ensure that you get your presentation down as quickly as possible without it appearing unnatural to the fish. The first nymph is positioned about 6 inches above your weight and then a dropper loop is tied in a few inches above that for a double nymph presentation. In this technique it doesn't interfere with the natural looking drift of the flies and it keeps them fishing at whatever depth you decide you want them at. The bottom fly should be the darker of the two since it will be closer to the bottom. The dropper fly can be a shiny bead head or even a soft hackle, which can be swung to imitate its' emergence.
The drop shot system is my favorite technique to use when fishing nymphs or soft hackle flies. I believe it to be the most realistic presentation possible when fishing these types of flies. It is also very versatile and can be used with any nymph, soft hackle or emerger pattern with or without the use of a strike indicator. Give it a try and see what you think.   

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Swingin' Soft Hackles



The soft hackle fly is probably one of the least used flies in most fly boxes. Just like other wet flies, it has fallen out of favor over the years. This has always been a mystery to me because I find it to be a very productive fly when swung through proper current on most of the rivers that I guide on, especially the big tailwaters like the Hiwassee.
The soft hackle fly effectively imitates emerging insects and even drowned naturals. I find the most effective presentation to be a down and across current cast, kept on a tight line and swung through the "foam line" that is present in most dominant currents on large tailwaters. I like to swing it through and let it rest at the end with a slow, painfully slow, retrieval for maybe 5 strips. This imitates an emerging insect trying to break through the surface film in order to hatch.
If presented correctly this can and will produce strikes throughout the day in almost any conditions. The hardest part for most of my clients is to get a good hookset once they do get a strike. Since the fly is on a tight line, they actually get to feel the strike. This is a new concept for most of them and they can't believe how quickly the trout actually strikes. You have to be on your game when they hit or you will miss way more fish than you can catch throughout the day. This is the only true downside to the technique, but most don't seem to mind because they enjoy the action, so to speak. They agree that it beats having to just sit and watch an indicator float down the river all day. It's certainly hard to argue with that point.
The next time you're out, especially on a big tailwater where you have ample room to get a good swing, dust off that wet fly box and try a soft hackle fly. It will keep you and your senses sharp as it will definitely produce some vicious takes. Just be ready to set the hook and keep a tight grip on that fly rod!

Monday, March 5, 2018

Foam is Home

Many anglers have heard this saying over the years, but few seem to know the true meaning of "Foam is Home" and why we love to fish the foam lines. If you have ever been guided by me, I know for certain that you have heard my thoughts on the subject. The foam lines are one of my favorite areas to fish for feeding trout. Here are a couple of reasons why:

1) The presence of the foam line means that is where the majority of the current is flowing. When fly fishing you have to realize that trout see current flow as a buffet table. That is where their food comes from as the current is what washes the food downstream to the waiting fish. This is where the spent insects are concentrated and free flowing, so why not lay your offering out into the foam as well? It works after all, at least in my experience.

2) The foam line is also a good indicator of where the actual seam is located. The seam is where the fast water and slower water meet. This is one of the best places to target actively feeding trout. They can hold in the slower water, which is naturally much easier for them to do, and still see the food that gets washed down in the faster current. When they locate a possible meal they can dart out into the faster water, grab it, then return to the softer water to wait on the next offering to come by.

3) The emerging insects can also get caught up in the foam line as they try to break through the surface tension of the water in order to hatch. This is a great time to swing your soft hackle fly through the foam. In fact, many times the trout are actually feeding on the emergers versus the adult flies when spotted feeding in the foam. The "bulge" displayed as they feed on emergers just under the surface is often mistaken for a rise. This can be a critical mistake for an angler, as they will usually concentrate on the emerging pattern instead of the adult imitation. You can literally try every dry fly in your box without any luck. It can be that technical at times, especially when trying to fool wild, native trout.

These are a few of the top reasons that it pays to fish the foam lines, especially when you're on new water that you are not familiar with. There's no need to know where the drop offs, ledges and other holding water is located when you can easily spot the foam lines and concentrate on those. Foam lines are a secret that the locals just can't hide. Give them a try and you'll see why we wish that we could!

Sunday, March 4, 2018

Backcountry Tenkara Trips

Our backcountry Tenkara trips have begun for the 2018 season. This is a new offering that we are introducing this year. We're proud to be the only guide service in the area to offer these trips.
We've completely embraced the concept of tenkara, which is an ancient Japanese form of fly fishing introduced to the U.S. in 2009 by the founder of Tenkara USA. Tenkara is historically practiced on small mountain streams which makes it perfect for the backcountry fishing that we specialize in. There is no reel used in tenkara. This concept of simplicity and efficiency also makes it ideal for introducing beginners to the sport of fly fishing.
Come join us for this new, exciting twist that we are introducing to the area. Once you get the hang of this small stream fishing your "blue lining" will never be the same.




High, Dirty Water Fly Fishing




One of the biggest myths in fly fishing is that trout don't feed well in high, dirty water. Nothing could be further from the truth. The trout actually gorge themselves quite often during high, dirty water conditions. The fact that you aren't catching them doesn't mean that they aren't feeding. The tactics do change a little however, especially from the way most people believe that they need to present their flies during the dirty water times. Here's a few tips that may help you out:

Lose the Flash
Most people tend to think that they need to throw big, bright, flashy flies when fishing in dirty water so the fish can see their offering. This may be one of the biggest myths out there. The trout sees very well in dirty water...very well. Just because you can't see the fly doesn't mean that they can't. In fact, flashy flies will often turn them away. Think about it like this...nothing in nature produces flash without sunlight reflecting on it. In dirty water there would not be enough light penetration for anything to produce flash, so it is not a natural occurrence and the fish know that something is up. Go to a dark, or at least a darker fly, and see if that produces some better results for you.

Downsize Your Fly
Another myth related to fish not being able to see your fly is to think that it has to be a large fly in order to get noticed. Again, these fish make a living eating. They see your fly very well. The reason they don't eat it actually may be that it is too big. Keep in mind that there is a huge amount of dislodgement occurring during high water. The trout are literally being bombarded with food floating downstream that has been washed out from under the rocks, off the banks or wherever else it usually hides out. In fact, that's the reason that most people find the fishing slower during these times. The trout simply have a huge amount of food available to them and will often key in on the size food that they are actually seeing as a natural occurrence. If your fly is way too big, then guess what, it just doesn't look right to them and they will leave it alone. In fact, try fishing a two fly rig (which you should be doing anyway) with two very different sized nymphs, say a size 10 stonefly versus a size 16 hares ear. Bet you'll be surprised at how much better the smaller fly does in getting their attention.

Beat the Banks
This can be very important. It only makes sense to present your fly to areas that are actually holding fish. During high water, whether it's dirty or not, the fish will often be pushed to the banks in order to find more suitable flows to hold in. Just like any other time, they do not like fighting the current when they don't have to. Many times you walk right past them on your way out to fish the middle of the river. Big mistake! Pay attention to the slower currents that are often found in the more shallow water near the banks. If you are truly in high water conditions you can bet that the fish will not be holding in the middle of the river without having a good current break to hide behind. But overall, you'll find them tucked away safely within a few feet of the bank enjoying the softer water and gorging themselves on the abundance of food that just magically appeared when the water rose.