Eye of the Guide


Tom Travis - Mar 12, 2012

Sysadmin Note
Part One can be found here

In part one I explained the effects of the unusual weather cycle that Montana endured in the winter of 2010/2011. To give you a better understanding of how strange the weather was, it wasn't until the week of June 21st to June 27th 2011 that we had air temperatures into the 70's, prior to this week the air temperatures range between 58 to 64 degrees, which is most unusual for late June in Montana.

Now to continue; June 23rd brought another odd day and another series of lessons for both the angler and the guide to absorb. We were back on the upper section of Armstrong's Spring Creek and the early morning was warm and calm and the day started out with some small size 22 Olive Spinners on the water. There were a few trout feeding on these spinners but it was not a feeding frenzy.

After the spinners disappeared from the water surface, we began to nymph once again using the size 16 PMD's nymphs that we had been so successful with yesterday. As the morning progressed the clouds began to gather and the wind began to blow from a southerly direction. Here is what happened and the lessons we learned.

Today the dry fly & nymph combination rig is a standard accepted practice on a great many waters across the country. During the early 1980's I began to experiment with this technique using it primarily on the hatch waters of the Western spring creeks and tail waters of Montana.

I came to understand how is method could be so effective and helped to solve a lot of problems that anglers face during an emergence. Yet I have talked to a number of guides and anglers who really don't understand this method nor the benefits of using it effectively. I am not sure who popularized this technique, in recent years there has been mention of this method in numerous magazine articles and in on book on Tandem Fly Rigs, but these authors were reporters and nothing more, nor did they claim to be.

However, I believe that popularity started with a number of anglers experimenting, like I did, and because of the effectiveness of this method the word soon spread. There is nothing like success to spread the word of a hot pattern or method. Fly fishing has witnessed this phenomenon time and time again.

This method is one of my personal favorites, and is one that can be used both as a searching method and to cover fish that are feeding during hatches. Once again, all of the normal procedures of approach, casting and presentation angles must be considered along with current speed, depth at which you believe or see the trout feeding and the currents between you and your target. Also, don't forget to take into account the wind, if any, and what effect it may have on your presentation. Unnoticed and unseen wind drag can be a major factor in your success, and it can mean the difference between the sweet feeling of being tight to a trout or the bitter frustration of continual refusals.

Wind drag can rear its ugly head when everything appears correct yet your offerings are being systematically ignored. For many the first thought is that the pattern is wrong, however a change or two and you still find yourself fishless and frustrated. Your problem may be wind drag which is going unnoticed.

Let me explain. I encountered this particular situation while guiding a very serious and gifted angler, but regardless of your skill level and experience there is always something more to learn. This lesson was driven not by victory, but by defeat and that is a point worth absorbing. 

The nymphs were just beginning to drift off of the bottom in preparation for the emergence that was yet to happen. Though most of trout were nymphing there were a few early emergers and some trout were feeding occasionally in the surface film on those floating flies. We switched from a double nymph set using an indicator to a dry fly; actually, in this case, we were using a parachute emerging nymph that was on the film, in the film and beneath the film, with a nymph dropper. As the majority of the trout were feeding just off the bottom deep in the water column, the dropper strand for the nymph was thirty-six inches long.

During our earlier fishing in the morning the wind had been a nonfactor, however, now the wind came up and blew over our right shoulder coming from the southwest. This wind was blowing across and down the stream and wasn't strong enough to effect the fishing, or so we thought. We were fishing a wide open pool of moderate depth and current speed, and it was also a pool that we had fished many times and were familiar with the challenges posed by the conflicting currents, weed beds and other possibilities. Sometime familiarity breeds contempt and that is not a good thing.

We knew what to expect and we were ready to reap the bounty, but after thirty minutes of fishing we were still fishless except for the eight inch brown trout that chased our floating emerger as it began to swing and drag at the end of the drift. Yet we could see the trout greedily intercepting the nymphs and the occasional trout that was rising to pluck and emerger from the surface film. What had changed, what were we doing wrong?

We were both sure that another pattern change was not the answer since the patterns we were using were time tested and effective. By this time a few duns were appearing on the water, however the trout were paying them no attention although they were still feeding in the film on occasion, but the majority of trout were still nymphing except they were not taking our nymph. What was the solution?

Well, we backed up and found a seat on the bank and began to watch the water, the currents, the insects and the trout.

We were not catching any less fish by taking this break to observe; therefore we had nothing to lose and everything to gain by spending a little time in observation. As we watched more and more duns appeared on the water, these duns played a key role in solving the problem but not in the way you might imagine.

During our fishing adventures on this day we were using 8½ foot rods and four weight forward floating fly lines. This point needs to be remembered.

As we watched the duns we noticed that the only ones that the trout seemed to notice were those knocked flat by the wind and trapped in the surface film. All of the upright duns on the surface, sailed right over the trout, and time and time again we would see trout approach and even follow the naturals before refusing and turning to feed beneath the surface. But here again the question was; why had they refused both our dun and nymph imitation? It just didn't make any sense.

I suddenly realized why the trout were rejecting both the natural duns and both of our imitations and the reason was drag, but not just common drag. It was unseen, or should I say unrealized drag being caused by the wind, and in addition our presentation angle factored into the problem.

The wind was blowing down and across the pool and although it was not a problem as far as it related to the casting, but coupled with our previous position we realized that presentation angle we were using was causing us to present the fly line broadside to the wind. Thus the wind was pushing the floating fly line faster than the currents, and even though we could not see the drag on the water surface the wind was in fact creating the unseen drag that the trout were very aware.

Therefore, even though everything appeared normal it wasn't and the thus the rejection of the naturals, our indicator dry fly and the nymph we were using. Once we changed our position and our presentation angle, and made an adjustment to the length of the dropper we were once again into trout.

The trout continued to ignore the natural duns and thus our dry imitations, even though we were now casting into the wind and not presenting the fly line broadside any longer. Our success came not on the dries, but on the nymphs. Once we had corrected the drag problem we were once again achieving suitable drifts with the nymphs and that is what the trout were feeding on at this time. All we had to do was monitor where in the water column the trout were feeding and then adjust the length of the dropper.

This reported adventure demonstrates that when fishing in hatch situations with a floating fly and a nymph you must consider several elements and make the right decisions based on the observations of the situation. To do so you must keep an open mind.

As the day progressed the wind became more and more of a factor and finally, at 4 P.M., when a massive storm moved in and end the fishing for the day. We hung around for three more hours hoping that the storm would end and we could resume fishing. Unfortunately, it was a series of storms that rolled through the area, and we finally gave up and went to dinner. All through the afternoon and evening hours we talked about what we had encountered, drew diagrams and analyzed every aspect of the situation trying to understand and burn the lesson into our fly fishing memories. Finally we called it a night, as we all knew that tomorrow would bring new challenges and new lessons to be learned. That is the beauty of fly fishing, no matter how good or frustrating the days fishing has been, tomorrow is a new day and the fishing is bound to be different and interesting. We will continue the coverage in part three.

Sysadmin Note
Part Three can be found here


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