The Three C's of Reading the Water

Our summer-long run-off has drawn to a close with the rivers and streams of the Roaring Fork Valley dropping to seasonal flows. Lower autumn and winter stream flows allow the wading angler a better opportunity to fish a stretch of the river more intimately than when floating. Whether you float or wade a river, having the skill to “read the water” will put you in front of more fish more frequently.

Learning to recognize where and how fish exploit their habitat will improve your fishing skill set. Reading the water is not complicated if you take into consideration that fish need three things for primary survival: a respite from the current, cover from above and an abundant food source. These three factors can give you a number of stream channel features at which to look. When you find a place with all three elements you have water worthy of fishing.


Respite from the current can come in a couple of forms -- physical obstructions and hydraulic dynamics. Trout prefer a current speed they can comfortably hold steady while expending the least amount of energy. Look for current speed from a stroll to a brisk walk and a depth of one to four feet. Fish will hold in much stronger or shallower currents if the bottom rubble is softball to bowling ball-sized. Low-pressure gradients are created on the downstream side of rocks -- much like how an airplane wing allows airflow -- which allows the fish to hold with minimal effort.

When looking for productive water, look for hydraulic features that funnel drifting material into bubble lanes. The best way to find these bubble lanes or current seams is to look for lines of bubbles drifting in single-file lines. Observe how the bubbles and foam always seem to take the same path as they get caught into micro-vortices. That is your indication that the currents are also gathering drifting food into a defined path akin to a conveyor belt.

Adding all three elements together is not hard to do. As you move from pool to pool, look for walking speed currents flowing over softball to bowling ball sized cobble that has observable bubble lanes. Then look for other clues as to where the fish might hold nearby while waiting to ambush drifting insects.

Remembering the three primary factors of Current, Cover and a Conveyor belt of food, while fishing will help guide you to fish more productive water.

My thoughts on Hot Tags

I went back to college at an older age armed with mature ambition. I jumped head first at a small University as a double major in both science and art. At first, this academic load was intellectually stimulating with days spent at an easel painting and late evenings deep into math formulas.

Living the life of a nineteen year old while in my late thirties wore a hole into my double major dreams. Relenting to the 24 hours only a single day can offer, I had to drop the art major. However, that couple of years spent in art school was highly beneficial to my approach in all matters of design, including how I design my flies.

When I started designing and fishing jigs patterns, I noted a significant spike in my catch statistics with the new hot-tagged nymphs over the previous generation of flies I had been using. Looking at my journals with a modicum of scientific scrutiny, I had to discard any correlation in a spike with the use of hot tags due to too many confounding variables. I had switched to using jig hooks and modifying my angling methods at the same.

The first patterns I tied on jig hooks with hot tags were my original Dirty Hipsters from 2013. I continue to tie a couple of variations of this fly because it is so advantageous in early summer. The pattern has morphed into several pattern sets that I am currently stocking my boxes with such as the knuckle dragger style of rubber-legged jigs. The designs are continually being refined to imitate more specific nymphal characteristics such as size, shape, color, and action of each of the EPTC groups.

Original Dirty Hipsters

The Original Dirty Hipster

The Original Dirty Hipster

Newbury's Original Dirty Hipster Hares Ear,

The dirty Hipster marks my jumping off point where I left the common euro-nymphing patterns and technique and into a more “tactical” approach; imitative flies that combine a tungsten bead and thoughtful hook design to use in an intended water type. This methodology is still based on the European methods with the same gear but being more imitative with fly design.

My current approach to fly design borrowed the chassis from the original European fly designs, but tying more imitative patterns that incorporate the use of modern UV dyes. This approach has increased the effectiveness of my design over the traditional European hot spot patterns originally intended for grayling.

Many new patterns are now incorporating UV and hotspot qualities into the design of the fly.


Left - Yellow Belly Knuckle Dragger with UV glowing underbody.
Right- Riffle Drifter Perdigone with UV Orange hot spot as part of the thorax.

Having fished jigs exclusively for five years now, I can now make some meaningful comparisons between the use of UV materials, hot beads, and noticeable increases in fly effectiveness. My current conclusion, and subject to change at any moment, is that bead color is more important than hot tags. This bias is due to my preference for using hot beaded jigs in the water types and season that they are most effective, during spawning!

I keep a few hot-tagged jig patterns in my box to be fished in water that may be too clear or shallow for the use of hot beads, but the added allure of a hot tag may be just the ticket. Lastly, I am incorporating UV — not to be confused with fluorescing — materials in all of my new fly patterns.

Who Killed the Czech Nymph

In my search to find the perfect fly pattern for fishing a trout stream anywhere at any time, I would not hesitate to proclaim the Czech Nymph the champion. It was a long battle with a lot of highly qualified contenders all seeking the crown but through it all, the Czech Nymph is still with us.

 

 The Czech nymph suffered a significant hit when the United States started to enter into the Tactical-Euro nymphing scene. One might think that an archetypical European style of fly such as the Czech Nymph would come along for the big European world tour, but it didn't. I believe it was a matter of market timing and the quality of hooks that killed the Czech Nymph. A few big names in manufacturing and distribution saw the trend coming in the mid to late-2000s and made nickel finished barbless grub and pupa hooks available on the United States market. Unfortunately, they did not have a proper point design for fish retention. They merely eliminated the barb on a classic straight point hook design, which resulted in a horrid retention rate. A barb serves a purpose on a barbed hook, to hold the fish. Without that barb, the classic hook has lost its hook holding power. I believe it was those early hook models available to us that couldn't hold a fish worth a darn and the simultaneous introduction of jig hooks on the U.S. market that caused anglers to shift attention to the new star of the show, the jig nymph.

I have been fishing the Czech nymph since the summer of 1993; perhaps earlier if we consider the earlier caddis larva designs from the Jack Dennis / Randall Kaufmann era.  As I was transitioning into Czech Nymphing, a curved shank, dubbed caddis larva was the most productive fly style in my box behind the Pheasant Tail Nymph, also tied in the same Dennis/Kaufmann method. I found that Czech Nymphing style of fly fishing with a weighted green rock worm and pheasant tail in tandem, to be the best combo for fishing the 1-3' deep walking speed riffles on the Deschutes River. I usually fished a golden stone as my anchor fly before June and then switched over to Czech Nymphs following the Stonefly hatches.

With the availability of European hook styles that have a proper rolled point, we can now bring Czech nymph hooked fish consistently to the net. I found one model of a hook to be particularly useful, are the Hanak model #333 and Fulling Mill Czech Hook. While I usually shy away from proposing such a specific recommendation on hooks, my daily fishing logs show a hook to landing ratio that is heavily biased in favor of the rolled point czech hooks.

What makes Czech Nymphs particularly useful is that they mimic the shape and posture of a vast array of aquatic food organisms that fish regularly see. I tend to think that the form and posture of the fly alone is the strike trigger. As such, we have the freedom to experiment with the colors and sizes that suit our reasonable whim. I tie and fish a size 8 heavily weighted Czech Nymph wearing golden stonefly colors and pair it with another smaller contrasting Czech nymph. The fun for me when landing a fish while fishing a tandem rig is to see what fly the fish took. Sometimes, I notice species-specific fly choices when brown trout may go for the golden stone Czech and the rainbows choosing an upper dropper. This could be due to many factors that are beyond the scope of this article but I suspect current speed and sink rate are a primary factors.

I tie my Czech nymphs bi-direction as a function of speed and quality control in my fly tying workflow. I dub my way forward rear to front and then reverse directions tying down the shellback from front to rear with a whip finish at the back. In this step-by-step tutorial, I show you my tying sequence for tying clean Czech Nymphs.

Long live the versatile Czech Nymph!

 

 

 

Less is More - You Need to Put Your Flies on a Diet.

You are tying your flies too fat!

As the euro-nymphing revolution sweeps across the landscape, a revolution in tactical fly design is taking a free ride. There will be some tying adjustment for fly tyers who are accustomed to attaching split shot to their tippets to get the fly into the zone. Without split shot dragging your offerings into the abyss, you will need to re-think your fly tying designs.

 
John Newbury Tactical FLies
 

I started my journey into the European nymphing scene back when I discovered Oliver Edwards Fly Tyers Masterclass and the Czech Nymph trend of the mid-1990s. Back then, we didn’t have the tungsten beads and new hook designs. Creativity was required to tie a fly that you could fish without weight attached to the tippet. Oliver used the leaded foil from wine bottles to build the weighted underbody on his nymphs. Czech nymphs do not require much weight to sink the fly if they were thinly dressed without bulk. If you do need weight, you can add a thin layer with flat lead-free wire at the tying vice.

Fly patterns designed for optimal sink rate and swimming action lack buoyant materials and require various tungsten or brass beads for weight.

The Czech nymph has fallen to the wayside in favor of all the sexy new jig patterns we are tying. However, it was my experience tying and fishing Czech nymphs for so long that made me keenly aware that a well tied, thinly dressed fly pattern will outperform everything else in your box.

Overdressed flies will not sink as rapidly as a thinly dressed fly and tend to clumsily roll around in the current at less than optimal buoyancy. I am sure your overdressed Frenchie will catch many fish, as will your mop fly; however, you may never realize how many more fish you could catch simply by using much less material on your fly patterns. Let the weight of the bead and hooks do their job, to sink the fly. Let the dressing come along for the ride without slowing things down. Too much material on your fly can inhibit sink rate and action.

The next time you sit down to tie a fly, practice tying with the least amount of thread wraps and materials. You may be surprised by how little dubbing and other materials you need.

Weekly Master Fly Tying Challenge

Occasionally, I will be post a fly that I have re-imagined from a master fly dressers recipe I learned from during my fly tying life. This week I am featuring Shane Stalcup’s Green Drake Emerger from page 70 of his book: Mayflies Top to Bottom.

I invite anyone who wishes to join along by doing the same. Get creative during your next tying session and re-interpret his Green Drake Emerger with modern materials or new tying methods. Only one rule, it must adhere to the intended purpose. If it is an emerger, your pattern must effectively fish as an emerger. Aside from that, get creative and use the hashtag #flytyingmasters on instagram and tie along.

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This week I present Shane Stalcup’s Green Drake Emerger from page 70 of Mayflies Top to Bottom. You have to look it up in a book.

I took the recipe and modified it to be a flymph stylle wetfly.

Hook: Tactical wetfly #16
Tail: Dark pardo CDL.
Abdomen: Natures Spirit light olive hares mask fur.
Rib: Small rust d-rib.
Thorax: Composite dubbing loop with olive CDL hen saddle and light olive hares mask. 1-2 turns only.

If you want to follow along, send me your pattern and recipe and I will post it next week. Happy tying.

Video: Tying a Knuckle Dragger Golden Stone

I would like to share one of my top three flies for the 2018 fishing season, the Knuckle Dragger. When used with a loop knot to attach the fly to your leader and imparting a gentle jigging motion with the rod will activate a lively swimming action which is aided by the longer front legs. If you have ever seen a golden stonefly nymph swim, you will understand the importance of how this jig pattern behaves while being fished under tension, they are swift and agile swimmers.

A Short List of Roaring Fork Valley Tactical Fly Patterns

I am often asked which of my flies would be the most important to carry in my box while fishing the Roaring Fork Valley. While I would like to respond with “anything you see on my site will work,” I know that is not the answer you seek.  I have developed many new tactical style patterns that have been proven very productive while fishing the local area. I will be more specific, to help you make local tactical fly choices when you visit the Roaring Fork Valley.

Glam Rocker Jigs

The single most effective new fly I have in my catalog is the Glam Rocker jig. If forced into one fly pattern to compete with, I would lash on this pattern on.

The Glam Rocker series covers several hatches very well from the Heptageniidae clinger shape to baetis swimmers and everything in between. Having a generic body profile allows this pattern to cover caddis and small stoneflies. I am confident that I can go out and catch fish consistently with nothing but a box full of Glam Rockers with various bead sizes and colors; with the top producing color being olive. In summer, when the pale morning duns and yellow sallies are hatching, the ginger brown is the best local color. A black Glam Rocker is handy all season long, but really stand out in March when we have several large midge hatches.

 

 MDJ jig - Mothers Day Jig

The end of April and into the first week of May is when the air fills with grannoms. Brachycentrus americanus and Brachycentrus occidentalis are the two species that hatch in overlapping waves progressing rapidly upstream. I would like to highlight, is the fish are very sub-surface oriented during this hatch, I do not bother with fishing a dry fly. Most feeding activity that you will see during the caddis blizzards is sub-surface on emergent pupae very near the surface, and not actually surface rises. Don’t be lured into the the false hope of stellar dry fly fishing, at least below Basalt.

 

When fishing the Mothers Day caddis, I fish a two fly rig set up with a Spring Caddis jig as a point with an upper dropper to drift high in the water column being a tactical Flymph.

 

Knuckle Dragger - Golden Stone

I like to fish big flies in big water for big fish. The Knuckle Dragger is my go-to pattern that gets deep and provokes a lot of river toughies. I tie the front legs extra long to activate a swimming motion with fly when used in conjunction with a loop knot. The golden stone color from March through Aug. From May-July the green drake version is my choice. I tie trailer hitches on the rear of my knuckle draggers to carry a smaller less buoyant fly such as my Green Papaya Czech Nymph.

 

Green Papaya

Number three on my top list is the Green Papaya. There are few days that I can’t catch fish with it. This pattern is killer during the yellow sallies. I only need a size 14. I fish the Green Papaya from mid-June through September. I usually fish this as a dropper behind a Knuckle Dragger.

  

Black Flashback Pheasant Tail.

From mid March through early May is a good time to use this pattern. It is a neo-traditional style of nymph with a down eye hook. These little gems mesmerize the trout too.

CDC Zika Jig

No time is a bad time to fish this fly, ergo it simply must be in your box if fishing in the Valley. This rule applies to everyone everywhere.

I could continue, but for now, this are all absolute essentials in my personal and guide boxes.

Let me know if you have any questions or comments.

to Perdigone or not to Perdigone

Choosing the right fly has been a topic in fly fishing literature since the dawn of all creation. Perhaps not that far back, but as far back as Dame Juliana Berners who penned a Treatyse of fysshynge wyth an Angle around 1496ce. In tactical or dynamic nymphing, fly choice is at the very core of the method. Matching the fly to the depth and speed of the current is now just as important as matching your fly to the local benthic macroinvertebrates that fish consume.

The Pellet Fly

Pellet flies a.k.a. perdigones fish best in pocket water situations when you will be making frequent close-in presentations. Pocket water requires that the fly gets into the strike zone instantly while being suspended under the rod tip. During these brief presentations, the fish only gets an instant in which to decide if the item is edible or not. The only way for a fish to determine the edibility of objects drifting in these fast currents is by taking it into its mouth and tasting or feeling what it might be. The fish either ingest or reject the offering in less than a second. I have seen this behavior while snorkeling in deeper pockets. Bright, attractive perdigones get the fishes attention quickly, and through the mechanics of tightline nymphing, hook themselves on our sharp hooks in the act of inspecting the fly.

Pellet flies can be both attractive and imitative allowing the creative fly tyer room for personal expression.

The Dubbed Nymph

Dubbed bodied fly patterns fish best during extended range presentations. Extended range presentations are when a portion of the line interacts with the surface of the water or the fly drifts for longer distances. Longer drifts allow fish ample viewing time in which to inspect the fly both visually and through tactility. Another benefit I have discovered is dubbed bodied flies drift with a natural looking buoyancy when used in conjunction with a loop knot. Trout are also slower to reject the fly, which is essential during these extended drifts, thus allowing the angler ample response time to effect a solid hook-up. Conversely, Hard-bodied flies used in long range situations are rejected instantly resulting in less than satisfactory hook-ups. Some amount of dubbing is a useful feature to have a fly designed for extended range drifts.

A Frenchie or other soft bodied nymph pattern such as this Copper and Olive are well designed for long range nymphing.

Tackle Selection and Preparation​​​​​​​ for Tactical Nymphing Pt 1 - Knots

As I guide and teach many anglers in tactical nymphing, many of my them ask questions about how I choose and prepare my gear. The following post will seek to answer the many questions I get. This will be an ongoing series.

 

Q.) How do you attach your leader to the fly line?
 

 

Leader - Line Splice

 
 

Q.) What knots are you using to make tippet repairs?

 

"Orvis" or Figure 8 Follow Through Knot.

 
 

Q.) How do you attach the fly?

 

Davy Knot for non-jig flies

Non-Slip Loop Knot for attaching Jig Patterns.

If you tie it right, will not fail. For those that see an overhand knot as a weak point, bear in mind that the overhand knot is no longer an overhand knot after you complete all the steps in its construction.

 
 

Q.) How do I add a dropper?

 
 

Perfection Loop

 

Don't Match the Hatch, Match the Conditions.

This week I found myself faced with a somewhat unusual situation of not having the right weight of fly to meet my tactical angling needs. I have been dredging the depths of rivers for so long looking for the largest fish a stream might hide that I completely overlooked stocking my boxes with lightly weighted flies. My tactical focus became locked in on presenting heavily weighted nymphs in deep slots and thus ignored having a good plan for low water conditions. 

The Rivers in Western Colorado are currently flowing below average for this time of year. With our rivers so low, the pools that I frequently fish are now shallow, which causes a significant change to the hydraulics. This change in the hydrology moves fish out of the reliable pools and into other locations within the stream channel, generally, in pockets behind boulders or riffles. My attempt at drifting dense stonefly patterns into those locations was an exercise in futility. Fishing densely weighted patterns in shallow water may require more effort in maintaining a good drift, and in fact, it can be tricky.

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I am re-tooling many of my favorite spring fly patterns to be lighter to make low water tactical angling manageable. I am tying Perdigon nymphs with smaller than usual beads for gently sinking into shallow pockets behind boulders and soft hackled stoneflies for drifting just above the cobble in riffles. I  even added a few smaller streamers that I can fish with my thirty-foot French leaders.

While it is necessary to match the prevailing benthic macroinvertebrates that are present in your trout waters with our pattern selection, it is also vital to match the conditions as well. This year's low water will require an adjustment in tying lighter weight nymphs, so they will slowly reach the bottom without immediately banging into or getting snagged in the rocks. Brass beads are a lighter alternative to using tungsten beads can offer the solution for this requirement.

Besides bead selection, color is also an essential factor to consider. Somber hued, less flashy patterns are less likely to turn off the fish in low water conditions. Leave the bright hot spotted attractor patterns at home until it rains. Choose materials such as pheasant tail fibers, hares ear fur and partridge. These materials are buggy and dull lending to a natural looking fly. If using reflective materials such as tinsel, do so in a judicious manner. A little glint in a fly pattern can make them more attractive to fish, but just a dash too much can ruin it.

The Algorithm of Fishing.

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I am frequently asked by my guiding guests and angling friends how I decide to change locations or move on when fishing. While I like to think that I have a magic formula for this, in truth, most of it is instinct muddled with a healthy shot of the "explore or exploit" algorithm.

An exciting book that I read over the winter is called Algorithms to Live By written by Brian Christian and Tom Griffiths. A book about using computer science algorithms in our daily life to make decisions. For someone like me, who likes to analyze the mundane such as counting every single thread wrap while I tie flies or how many casts I should make in each spot; Algorithms to Live By further confounds the mind into thinking that an underlying logic exists in an otherwise random order of things. 

The "explore" or "exploit" algorithm in chapter two is just how much time someone spends exploring a topic or experience versus how much time they should spend exploiting it. In our instance, it is how much effort to give while fishing a given body of water. For someone unfamiliar with a particular body of water, such as a pool, riffle or run, the algorithm leans heavily towards exploration. When someone is in exploration mode, that person should take more time observing each hydrological feature that the fish may benefit from to find cover from above, a reliable supply of food channeled into a small area, and respite from the current. If on the other hand, you have already explored a given piece of water and have had success, you will have the location logged in your mental catalog and are thus free to spend more time exploiting it. As your inventory fills with more and more successful sites, your algorithm starts to lean towards spending more time exploiting your database of experiential knowledge instead of exploring.

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On a daily basis when I decide where I would like to go fishing, I think about how much effort I may have applied using the explore/exploit algorithm. When I moved to the banks of the Roaring Fork River in 2014, I spent 70% of my time over the better part of two seasons exploring the river outside my front door and 30% of my time exploiting its bounty. Now that I have a full portfolio of locations that I like to fish, I can easily choose where to go fishing. For example today, I am planning on going to an area where I have had a lot of success when the conditions are very similar to today. In short, I know where the Baetis will be hatching and where the fish will gather to exploit the resource based on the ambient temperature and cloud cover.

Once you have chosen a location based on your inventory of successes, you can reduce the granularity of our algorithm and apply it to smaller features. When I approach a pool that I have fished many times and knew where the fish are, I have to make another decision on how much effort to apply while fishing it. In historically productive locations, I will make more casts or change flies more frequently in an attempt to exploit it to its fullest known potential. In water that occasionally produces a fish, I will apply less effort and move through it more quickly on my way to find better spots. In essence, I am utilizing the 70% exploit, and 30% explore on a smaller scale while fishing each pool. 

When I am guiding, I only take my guests to water that I have a high degree of personal success fishing. I will not spend a lot of time exploring the big river as I have already done that over the course of four seasons, instead, I will spend all of our efforts exploiting. I know through experience how many fish I should be able to catch in each pool. If the guests are not catching to my expectations and they are fishing the location well, I will have them move through the water at a faster pace so that we can find the fish. We may spend more time working a pool if I know the fish are there and they are not fishing it to its potential.

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In closing, when you are unfamiliar with a body of water, you should spend a majority of your time exploring the possibilities searching new locations on the map and fishing every possible spot. As you grow in familiarity, you can shift your time towards exploiting the water and fish the productive runs at a speed that fits that particular spot. If the fish aren't biting...move along.

The Caddis are Coming - Mothers Day Caddis

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Brachycentrus Occidentalis and Brachycentrus americanus are the two species that comprise the Mother's Day Caddis in the American West that hatch in late April and early May, coinciding with the Mother's Day holiday.

Brachycentrus caddis species are considered to be super hatches only lasting a few days in duration in a single location while progressing rapidly upstream. A hatch that can create blizzards of insects filling the air. There may be no other display of the "safety in numbers" survival strategy in the natural world that can overwhelm and confuse a predator by the sheer volume of insects present than the Mother's Day Caddis.

I have seen the hatches of Brachycentrus occur so dense as to form rafts of adults on the water. On one such occasion, I was fishing a river in eastern Washington state. During the early stage of the hatch, I was able to coax a few fish to the surface with my dry fly imitation. Within a half, an hour, rafts of caddis started to blanket the river's surface. I had found a small pool of surface feeding fish. After 30 minutes of casting to the fish with no takes,  I noticed that the fish were not feeding on the surface of the water but feeding just subsurface. I could tell this because I did not see the whites of the mouths but rather only the backs of the fish as they turned downward, stopping their upward momentum just inches below the surface but carrying enough energy to break the surface of the water. A tell-tale indication that fish are feeding just subsurface of the water on emerging pupa.

I switched over to a wire caddis pupa imitation which was the the forerunner to my current zika caddis. I cast up ahead of the pod of fish allowing the fly to sink to a few feet in depth and began lifting my pattern towards the surface. This lifting technique is called a Leisenring Lift, which imitates the upward swimming motion of emerging pupa. I had hit the mark with both the fly pattern and my tactical approach. A half hour of not catching anything in the midst of feeding fish during a caddis blizzard was finally over. I was now catching fish on nearly every single presentation that I had made. After landing 25 fish in the next 45 minutes, the pool was played out. 

I returned to my boat and paddled to the nearest take out. At the boat ramp, I had two different guides approach me and ask what it was that I was doing as it seemed that I was the only person on that section of the river catching fish that afternoon. I mentioned to them that in this case where there was an overwhelming number of insects present, the fish shifted their focus away from feeding on the surface to a much more natural and less confusing strategy of feeding on emergers just subsurface. I merely started fishing a subsurface soft hackle pattern. One such “guide” -- the quotations marks around the word guide are a snarky gesture because as he is not a guide, but rather, fancies himself the greatest fly fishier in all the land -- quipped to me that he would “never stoop so low as to fish a fly subsurface.” My only retort was to point out, due to his self-imposed limitations, he will be relegated to sit in his boat and watch me land fish after fish on every subsequent day after that if he kept up that shitty attitude. I have never spoken to him ever again; nobody needs that kind of negativity in the world of fly fishing.

 

Proven Mother's Day Caddis Patterns.

What's in a Name

I often forget there is a significant divide between scientific names and common names when writing blog posts or commenting on social media posts. Common names are entirely inadequate for describing an organism’s biological status and can lead to mass confusion in the fly fishing community.

I posted a photograph of a green drake nymph I had tied on Instagram the other day when a young east coast angler lamented that my fly looked nothing like a green drake and I was full of shit. He then proceeded to tag me in a post about what he believes green a drake is. I had to point out that the common name of “green drake” is generic for a lot of various species of mayflies. What he knew as a green drake in Pennsylvania was Ephemera guttulata whereas my green drake pattern out west was in the group of western drakes such as Drunella grandis, Drunella doddsii, Drunella coloradensis and Drunella flavilinea respectively.

The differences between the western green drake and the eastern greed drake are not subtle. The nymphs of the two species are dramatically different. Eastern green drakes are a long slender minnow type burrowing mayfly nymph found in soft water, and silty bottoms and the western green drake is a short and stout clinger type of mayfly found in fast rocky streams.

Western green drake - Drunella grandis

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Eastern green drake - Ephemera guttulata

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On common naming systems, your green drake and my green drake are two separate species of mayfly altogether. The same holds true for almost all of the standard names used in fly fishing. Over the centuries, the common names had become convoluted when fly fishing crossed the pond and landed on the east coast shores of the United States. Names such as march brown were attached to mayflies that are entirely different than the march brown mayflies of England. Further convolutions occurred when anglers migrated westward and attached the common name march brown to yet another species of spring mayfly. I dare not count the degrees of separation between a western Rhithrogena morrisoni and the eastern Maccaffertium vicarium march brown. The English march brown (Rhithrogena germanica) is more closely related to the western march brown (Rhithrogena morrisoni). No wonder that kid from Pennsylvania is confused with a single standard name used for so many different species. Confusion between Latin and common names is why we should learn some of the Latin names of the essential naturals that we choose to imitate with a fly so we too can share a common language.

Binomial nomenclature, the two name naming system that uses Latin as a standardized naming system used internationally as a method of zoological naming. This method of naming is used in science to describe organisms without leading to confusion amongst scientists around the world.

You may never need to learn the Latin two-name naming system, but at least I implore you to visit your local library and read a few books on fly fishing entomology such as Hatches A Complete Guide to Fishing the Hatches of North American Trout Streams by Al Caucci & Bob Nastasi or Selective Trout: The Last Word on Stream Entomology and Aquatic Insect Imitation by Swisher and Richards.

Note: To add further confusion, many taxonomic names have been recently changed since Hatches was published. Nevertheless, reading a real book instead of the internet might actually make you smarter.

 
A questionable green drake pattern for use on the East Coast but perfectly suited for use out west.

A questionable green drake pattern for use on the East Coast but perfectly suited for use out west.

 

Every Fly You Need to Cover Every Important Stonefly

I organize my fly boxes based of the insect species I frequently encounter in the field. Over the years, I have been able to consolidate the number of patterns that I need to carry with me in order to match ALL the hatches I encounter. In truth, I only need to carry a dozen to a dozen and a half patterns to match all the stoneflies including caddis and mayflies everywhere I go. 

I recently updated my stonefly nymph box and made a small chart to ensure that I had the patterns I needed to match all the stoneflies. We may not think to use Czech Nymphs to imitate stoneflies or simple little micro glint jigs, but both can also be useful stonefly imitations. We need only to match the general size shape and color of the natural for success and to have a fly in your box that serves that function.
 

Getting Hitched

Do you ever lie awake at night thinking about all those little ideas churning around in your head? I am plagued with them almost every night. Some ideas are jotted down on a note, and others keep rattling around for years. Like a pestering earworm whose record keeps skipping over that same chorus over and over again in your head, listening to the song in its entirety is said to be the remedy. Chasing a persistent idea just might get it out of your head. Such was the case back in 2004 with the trailer hitch.

My home water for many decades was Oregon's Metolius River. Managed as a wild river the Metolius is for fly fishing only. In addition to being fly fishing only water, regulations prohibit the use of additional weight attached to the fly line or leader. This regulation posed a problem for me, as I discovered that the fish in the Metolius are primarily hiding in the deepest darkest pools and rarely out in the open riffles. Getting my patterns into the depths required copious amounts of weight tied into the fly.

Newburys Stinger Stone version 2.0

Newburys Stinger Stone version 2.0

The Metolius river has an abundance of golden stoneflies dwelling amongst the cobble and stones. Imitating these large nymphs provides the perfect substrate in which to tie anchor flies for use in the forbidden depths. A 4mm metal bead and 15 wraps of .20 weighted wire were sufficient to bounce bottom in 4 feet deep water. Life would be perfect if all I ever had to fish were this one pattern alone, a fly pattern I developed on the Metolius for getting deep the Stinger Stone.

The Stinger stone was my first pattern that employed the addition of a mono loop in the rear of the fly. In its first incarnation, I did not initially tie the fly as a stinger style pattern, just a bead-headed stonefly on a curved shank grub hook. I found the grub hook to be problematic in that the point was too long and had killed a few fish. Pinching the barbs also caused the droppers I used to slip off the bend of the hook. I had to remedy the hook problem, so I cut off the bend of the hook and added a short shanked egg hook instead. One thing led to another, and I further complicated the pattern for Umpqua Feather Merchants who picked it up for commercial production. After sales declined from a design we all considered a failure, I kept the mono loop and started using it in my other anchor patterns.

Laying the foundation for anchor jigs

The trailer hitch has stuck around in the guiding boxes providing me with a tool in an arsenal of tactics to accomplish a task: fishing a multiple fly rig with a dropper affixed to another fly that will not slip off a barbless hook.

I have had no documented failures in the loop itself breaking or coming untied. The knots are no more vulnerable than any other knot you can use. I once had a commenter on a social media post about mono "cutting" mono. If that were the case, your poorly executed tippet repairs would all fail. No sir, you CAN use a mono loop and not have it fail if you practice good knot tying skills. The only issue that plagues me with the hitch is that I have to check it for fouling frequently.


Here is a post that SwittersB wrote a few years back about the mono loop I use .
 

 
 

A pile of Copper Johns sporting the hitch

 

You Keep Turning Me Upside Down

I have enjoyed the best summer seasons of my life as a field fisheries biologist collecting data and observing fish and aquatic insects in their natural habitat. In that time, I have snorkeled numerous rivers counting and identifying fish and benthic macroinvertebrates. My most memorable time was watching insects behaving naturally underwater. On a few occasions, I was blessed to have taken a front row seat in witnessing emergence activity and how fish feed during a hatch. In all that time I was underwater, I have seen very few living nymphs drifting upside down for more than just a few seconds in the current. Living naturals of most species of aquatic insects are remarkably adept at remaining in a dorsal up position despite the heaviest of currents tossing them about. If naturals do get inverted, they are quickly self righted through the dorsal light polarization phenomenon. However, giant Salmonfly nymphs are the most prone to prolonged inverted drifts but get soon oriented. More on that later.

A completely round fly displays the same color and profile despite its orientation in the water.

A completely round fly displays the same color and profile despite its orientation in the water.

I have heard there is a video floating around out there somewhere illustrating jig flies tumbling in the current in all orientations. However, physics will dictate a jig weighted with a slotted tungsten bead will remain in a mostly hook point up position while occasionally tumbling along in the current. This of course depends on current speed, line tension and bead weight.  

Because some folks out there seem to think that weighted jigs can be prone to a limited degree of tumbling -- depending on where and how you fish them -- I have gone back to the “tied in the round” philosophy adopted almost a half century ago by Major Charles E. Brooks who also observed salmonflies in the Yellowstone River occasionally become inverted and fish avoiding them. Subsequently, Brooks came up with his tied in the round patterns such as the Brooks Stone Nymph

My pet peeve is focused on perdigon jigs that are tied upside down with the wingcase painted on the side of the fly that is going to drift in a dominant downward position. Brooks observed fish will refuse upside down nymphs (I do not support nor deny these claims). However, It makes little sense and entirely unnatural to me to present an upside down fly to the fish based on my field observations and that of my elders.

To ameliorate my pet peeve of upside down jigs, I have omitted the wingcases altogether and have done away with the issue of fly orientation altogether. Problem solved!
Note: I still use wingcases on non-jig perdigon.

Now, let's talk about all those videos documenting unusual hominids meandering around leaving giant footprints in the woods…

You can read a short info on Charles Brooks in the round philosophy here.

Perdigon nymphs are designed to fish the fast turbulent sections of rivers where naturals are most prone to tumbling. So in all fairness, it doesn't really matter how the fly is oriented as the fish only have an instant to take the fly in water where good hook sets are more likely to occur. I would avoid using perdigons in slower sections of rivers where fish can have a better look and spit out the fly faster than the some of the best angler can detect the take. Tungsten beads are not a regular item on the trouts diet and are quickly ejected. For less turbulent water, choose a fly with some softer materials for the body or collar.

A tied in the round style micro jig #18.

A tied in the round style micro jig #18.

 

My Top Winter Patterns (updated)

Glenwood Springs Winter Morning

If you are fortunate enough to have a local river that has an endless season, and possess the mental fortitude to suffer through numb fingers and frozen toes, then winter fly fishing season is a great opportunity to fill your fishing logs with additional entries.

Fish and thier prey are still active throughout the winter months -- albeit with slower metabolic rates --  allowing for additional fly fishing opportunities. Only during the coldest spells of deep winter can conditions truly get bad out there leaving the most attractive option to stay home to restock fly boxes. What I find amazing is that when the mercury drops into the teens and below, a few die hard individuals will gleefully brave the elements to chase fin with a fly rod.

The following selection of fly patterns are frequently added to my winter fly box that have served me well throughout a variety of winter fly fishing conditions. 

Cased Caddis

While midges, aquatic worms and baetis dominate the buffet line when sustaining fish through the long dark winter months, cased caddis are a frequent food source. Caddis larva will engage in behavioral drift in search of fresh food supplies or to redistribute the population for better genetic diversity. This behavior makes them vulnerable to easy predation. I often find cased caddis in gastric samples beginning in the late fall and throughout the winter months. 

I often employ a heavy tungsten bead jig as an anchor fly in a multiple fly rig in tandem with an aquatic worm or midge larva imitation. Pictured left is a simple cased grannom with a trailer hitch for adding a dropper behind the fly. What better way to get down deep than with a cased caddis pattern that will both serve to look like a typical stream resident and a likely food source?

Update: I often have mallards and other dabblers feeding in the shallow riffles above the pools that I like to fish. The dabblers feed on cased caddis and often knock them loose in the drift. if I have feeding ducks upstream of me I will use a cased caddis imitation.

Brachycentrus Cased Caddis

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Hook: Hanak 400BL #14-16
Bead: Raw tungsten.
Tail: Green Antron burned on the ends to make a small head.
Rear Collar: Grizzly hen hackle, 1-2 turns.
Body: Blended Hemingway's Frosty Dubbing, brown, black, gray

Breadcrust Nymph (not available in store)

Breadcrust Jig

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Hook: Hanak 400BL #8-12.
Bead: Black or gold tungsten.
Band: Optional - metallic orange.
Underbody: Uni-stretch.
Body: Red phase grouse, split and trimmed.
Collar: Hen grizzly.

Aquatic Worms and Larva

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The Big Pink Worm

I learned to love the Big Pink while winter steelheading in the Pacific Northwest. I used to tie up six inch long rabbit strip versions of this to swing in front of winter steelhead. My largest, a 20 pound steelhead was taken with a pink MOAL articulated pattern. 

For trout's sake, we don't have to anger them by intruding thier personal space with a massive swimming Mother of All Leeches dressed in pink. Instead, a reasonablly sized pink tungsten beaded version does nicely.

Hook: Firehole Sticks 316 #8-16.
Thread: pink.
Bead: Pink Tungsten.
Rear Collar: Pink frosty dub.
Body: Pink micro chenille.

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OSS (Oh So Simple) Blood Worm

Blood Worms are found in the sand/silt margins of all bodies of water. After a freshet, sand/silt pockets become perturbed and blood worms can end up in the drift. This is a great fly to have on hand to use after a pulse disturbance in the flow regime. You may want to try one of these if you are fishing downstream of another sloppy angler. Think San Juan shuffle?

Hook: Firehole Sticks 321 #8-16.
Thread: Red 14/0.
Body: Small blood red D-rib, wind forward leaving a distinct gap between wraps. Mark the thread with a gray marker at the thorax area before winding thread forward.

Midges Midges and even more midges

One can never have enough midges in thier fly box, nor have enough variety of patterns. Midge patterns are like the little jewels of a fly box with beads, wires and a variety of colorful tinsels all adorning the smallest hooks. Aside from tying such small patterns, I love the creative license when tying attractive midge patterns.

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#1 Holographic Warrior

A spin off of Lance Egan's rainbow warrior which is a spin off of the Lightning Bug which is a spin off of...

Hook: Firehole Sticks 316 #18.
Bead: Silver tungsten.
Tail: Dyed red hackle fibers.
Body: Veevus holographic rainbow tinsel.
Rib: Small silver wire
Thorax: 16/0 Veevus red thread.
Note: By far my most productive fly over the last two winter seasons.

Gun Metal Shop Vac

Hook: Firehole Sticks 316 #18.
Bead: Killer Caddis gun metal glass bead.
Body: Dyed adams gray pheasant tail (Nature's Spirit).
Rib: SemperFli .1mm ice blue wire.
Wing: Hemingway's white frosty dubbing, clipped short.
Thorax: Black hares mask.

The Gun Metal Shop Vac is a cross-over pattern that does well at imitating both midge pupa and baetis emergers.

D'Bling Midge

Hook: Midge hook #18, 24.
Body: D-rib, Olive green, black, tan or gray.
Flash: Small Pearl mylar tinsel, coated with UV resin.

Super simple and most effective.

Zebra Blood Midge

Though frequently referred to as a bloodworm for its worm like larva, the zebra blood midge is actually a chironomid, or a true midge fly. These active 1/4-1/2" or larger larvae are found in almost all water types all year long, but winter finds them more abundant than other available foods. Blood worms prefer soft sandy or silty substrates often found near back eddies or along stream margins to colonize. After a freshet, blood worms are often dislodged from these soft areas and sent adrift making them available for trout. 

Hook: Firehole Sticks 316 #14-18.
Bead: Iridescent Silver glass bead. silver tungsten for heavier patterns.
Body: Red thread.
Rib: Small silver wire.

Ble Mercury

Ble Mercury

Blue Mercury

The color purple and blue perform wonders in the winter because the low angle of the sun allows the blue wavelengths of light to dominate. This allows the cooler spectrum of colors to radiate nicely, especially when sunk deep into a trout filled pool.

Hook: Firehole Sticks 316 #16-18.
Bead: Iridescent silver glass.
Body: Blue and silver small uni-wire.
Thorax: Teal blue Veevus holographic tinsel.
 

Opal Midge

Opal Midge

Opal Midge

Hook: Firehole Sticks 316 #16-18
Bead: Iridescent silver glass
Body: Opal tinsel
Collar: Peacock herl
I found this pattern floating around on the internet and gave it a try. It has a lot of qualities that I look for in a fly pattern: simplicity, flash and iridescent qualities.