4:30 AM, the lake is calm, and the eastern sky is just starting to turn pink. I ease the boat up onto plane and make a 25 minute run. It's late June on Lake Champlain and this flat I've chosen is as close to a guarantee as you can find in Smallmouth Bass fishing. As I get near the small point I kill the motor and deploy the bow mounted troller. Its just before 5 am now and there is plenty of light, as I silently angle the boat to the south of the point I see the first big swirl in the bay, then another. Stripping line from the reel, bass popper in hand, I watch the depth finder go from 15 to 4 feet pretty quickly. Just about to make a blind cast into shallows I notice some baitfish 15 feet in front of the boat. Suddenly a smallmouth slashes through the school, back out of the water coming right at the boat. I flick the popper at the swirl and instantly the fish rolls on the fly then goes airborne as I set the hook. These bass are street fighters, and in shallow water, the only place to go is up. Minutes later I finally am able to horse the roughly 5 pound fish into the net. For me, few things in fly fishing are more exciting to me then rolling up on a smallmouth flat at day break or just before sunset.
As many of you know I am laid up this summer after undergoing foot and ankle reconstruction after years of injuries from playing high level soccer.
So, for the moment I have a bit of time to do some writing for the site. I have been slacking, but enjoy doing re caps of fly fishing tournaments as there are always lessons I learn that are more easily stored in my memory banks if I can write them down. They also provide a lot of insights for the casual reader when it comes to how I go about catching fish in a river or lake that I am not familiar with.
The Nine Mile Mini Comp was held back in mid June down in NY, about a 4.5 hour drive for me. I got up early Saturday morning and arrived at the river to meet my teammates Sean Crocker and Ken Krane along with a couple of other friends for a fun little practice session. These mini comps are not real serious and its a good time just getting out fishing and learning from one another.
We have heard it a thousand times, trout eat 90% of their food sub surface. Many anglers, including myself, have had this saying bolstered by our on the water experiences so many times that nymphing has become the go to method to catch trout in a river. What happens though, when the trout, or only a few trout are looking for that perfectly dead drifted nymph that we strive so hard to present?
The fact is, there are more times than we may realize, when nymphing is not the way to experience our most successful day on the water. While the majority of the trout do probably eat 90% of their food below the surface, the saying does not tell the whole story. Species composition, the nature of individual rivers, the time of year, and what food source the fish are targeting are all variables that will determine what the most successful method of fly fishing will be on a particular day. It is our task as anglers to figure out the daily puzzle and depending on our goals, use the tactics that will produce the best experience. To me, this is what makes fly fishing so interesting. Being a versatile and dynamic angler will usually out perform a one trick pony. Like the river we stand in, no two days are the same. Let's dig into some of the variables that will push the odds of catching fish on a dry fly, streamer, or wet fly greater than if only nymph fishing.
I recently did an interview with AnchorFly.com where Lance Egan and I answered a few questions regarding Euro Leaders. I think you'll find some good insight on how each of us prefer to set up our leaders. With both Lance and I sharing different ideas on the subject, there is a lot packed in to the piece.
Give it a read here. Talking Euro Leaders With Lance Egan and Ben Wilcox
Kyle Rutten from Riversmith has contributed a great article for you all to read. Please check it out below and be sure to head on over to their website to shop their awesome fishing rod carriers. They are a great sponsor of Fly Fishing Team USA, and make great racks for your fly rod. In the spirit of the article, let's make sure we all do our part in 2022 to support our wild fish and the rivers, streams and lakes that they call home.
When it comes to fly fishing, Mother Nature is incredibly good to us all; providing us with an array and abundance of fish species, landscapes so serene and breathtaking to fish for them in.. and she does it all without asking for anything in return. But what if we want to give back to her in ways that demonstrate reciprocity, respect, and appreciation? What can anglers do, today and tomorrow, to pay her back in some way? To say thank you for everything that she has given to them?
I got a call from a discouraged local angler last spring, looking to spend an afternoon on the water. It was mid May and Bob had just explained he had fished every single day of the month and had yet to catch a trout. This was the type of trip I jumped on, as it presented an interesting challenge. Could I help turn things around for him before he gives up fly fishing in VT all together?
I met Bob a few afternoon’s later on a mid sized stream that held both wild and stocked fish. It was a gorgeous afternoon and the river looked great, running just a touch off color and a bit on the high side. The water temps were cooler than average for mid May, but the trout had been very willing to eat a nymph the whole week. I knew it would be a good day to get Bob back on track. Dawning waders, and getting to know each other, I Identified what I believed to be his issue before ever seeing him cast a fly. Bob explained he fished Montana once a year and always did well, but when he got back here he just had no confidence that a fish would eat his fly, or if there were even trout in the river to eat his offering. After a short amount of coaching the problem was remarkably clear, Bob was getting bites, his confidence was so low that he talked himself out of setting the hook. At first, even when I told him to set he would half set, neither hooking or feeling the fish.
Standing over my client Rogers left shoulder as he roll cast his dry fly toward a slow undercut bank, I had been happy with his progression throughout the morning. A trio of wild rainbows in the net and a steady progression to consistently accurate and delicate presentations was rewarding for the both of us, but I had sensed a change in the last few minutes. An errant cast, followed by a tangle and a bit of small talk. I knew Roger’s focus was waning and I needed to get him locked back in if we wanted to continue to fool wild fish under increasing bright skies…
Focus, Confidence, and Persistence, terms usually reserved for successful athletes and business persons rather than anglers standing in a river or boat looking to un plug. I will argue however, that you can still unplug while at the same time upping your fishing success by elevating your mental approach. This will be the first in three articles covering each.
We’ve all heard or read something along the lines of “If you are not losing flies, you are not fishing heavy enough”, it’s a common saying fly fishermen have had drilled in our heads. It makes sense, trout spend a lot of time near the bottom of the river. However, when it comes to Euro Nymphing, more times than not, that mind set isn’t going to be your most effective strategy if you want to maximize fish caught and minimize frustration.
Dry Dropper on a Euro Rig
Using a Euro nymphing rod and leader to fish a dry fly and nymph combo, or dry dropper, has proven to be a deadly tactic in my fly fishing arsenal. Long rods and long leaders allow for exceptional presentation benefits and allows an angler to cover multiple levels in a river.
What makes one angler consistently more successful than another? Why does that one buddy always seem to catch the most at the end of a day of fishing? Maybe they are good at telling fish tales but probably his or her technique, approach, or decision making on the water are superior. I've asked myself and other fishermen much better than me, the same questions. I can tell you one thing unequivocally, it’s not luck. I’ve put together 10 tips for upping your trout game. I could write entire articles on each one, and you’ll probably see some of those down the road.