THE FLY FISHING CHRONICLES OF YNP (part 23)
|Part 22 can be found here|
Methods & Patterns for Streamers Fishing on Lewis Lake and the Lewis Channel
The trophy fishing that is available to the angler fishing Lewis Lake and the Lewis Channel often over shadows the fact that these bodies of waters fish very well throughout the year and that during the months of summer there is excellent surface fishing, however this selection is about fishing streamer and therefore we will move into this subject manner immediately. Both the lake and the channel contain excellent numbers of brown and lake trout between fourteen and twenty inches and being top of line predator fish streamers are always effective regardless of the time of year.
You might wonder what minnows are available to the trout and in Lewis Lake and the Lewis Channel they are; brook trout, brown trout, lake trout, Utah chub, long-nose dace and red-side shiner; along with various stoneflies, dragon fly nymphs and leeches.
Let us take a moment and discuss the types of fly lines, leaders and rods that are best for fishing streamers in the waters we are discussing.
When I go fish Lewis Lake or the Lewis River Channel I always take a six weight rod and a floating line that will allow me to fish any surface action I might encounter. I know that midge or Baetis hatches might be better fished with a four weight but the six weight is still the best all-around rod which will handle and number weather conditions and moderate fly sizes. However, once I begin to seriously fish streamers I want a rod that will handle a wide variety of streamers of various weights and sizes and I want to able to deliver the imitations with a variety of fly line types at various depths of the water column. Therefore my choice for a streamer rod is a nine foot for an eight line and I prefer a fast powerful rod. I carry with me a weight forward floating line, two or three sink tips of different sink rates. I also carry a full selection of uniform sink full sinking fly lines and a nine weight shooting head system.
As for leaders I prefer Maxima as it is strong and stiff and will deliver the imitation to the water and not to the back of my head! I build my own, and I know that there are stronger materials that the trout supposedly don't see, but I believe that if a large streamer doesn't scare the hell out of the trout they are not going to pay any attention to the leader. Finally this system works for me and I am a firmer believer in not screwing with success!
Now that I have covered the tackle we can cover some of the methods that I have found to be effective on the lake. I have waded the shores of the lake; I have fished out of float tubes and boats all with good results. Years ago my first trip to Lewis Lake occurred during early August and the friend I went with had a powerboat, however they were lure fisherman and they told me that the only way to catch trout during the summer was to troll slow and deep. They trolled for over two hours and caught nothing. I also trolled with an intermediate sinking fly line and caught one 17 inch lake trout on a white woolly bugger and I also caught a fat 15" brown trout.
Since that day I have spent many days on Lewis Lake and I have learned that there is wonderful fishing on the Lake all through the season and all the angler has to do is find the zone in the water column where the brown trout and lake trout are feeding in other words find the bait and you will find the trout. Early mornings often find the prey fish cruising in the shallow edges of the lake, chasing minnows, and leeches and picking off various nymphs. Also gain knowledge of when the bait fish spawn and when the fry hatch out, once again its knowledge which allows you to make informed decisions.
As the day warms the trout will move off the too deeper water therefore the angler need to understand the various fly lines and their sink rates knowing which line to choose to reach the desire depth. The angler needs to be governed and directed by the personal observations of the day and to form a plan to fish the lake and move through the progressions smoothly and confidently.
There is more to using streamers in stillwaters than tying on a woolly bugger, muddler minnow or a zonker and casting willy-nilly. Streamers can be used as both imitative patterns and as attractors. But the first step in understanding the proper use of streamers in the stillwater environment is understanding the food chain. If there are forage fish (minnows) such as dace or fathead minnows present in reasonable numbers then you may be using the streamer as an imitative pattern, providing that the trout species in the stillwater are of the type that prey an forage fish as a matter of course.
If the trout contained in the stillwater are not known as predator types, (not all are) then you still may use an imitative pattern relying on the trout's reputation of being an opportunistic feeder. At times both imitative and attractor style patterns can be employed to entice the trout into striking by playing on their natural responses of anger, curiosity, territoriality and hunger.
Therefore, the stillwater angler needs a complete understanding of the trout, the food forms available, and how and where the trout will feed on these food forms during the various seasons. This goes right back to the "Formula for Success". The stillwater angler who follows the "Formula" is going to know what forage fish are contained within the stillwater being fished and how the trout feed on them.
Anglers often think that the forage fish are located in some secret area of the stillwater. This simply is not true. Forage fish are in many of the areas you already know about. Let's take a look at some of the prime locations where the trout will find and feed on forage fish.
I call these prime locations: fishing the edges, hedges, ledges and current lines. These are the same areas that contain the bulk of the aquatic life forms. Therefore the forage fish are also found in these areas as they also prey on various aquatic life forms in the food chain and are, in turn, preyed upon by the trout. Now we will examine each of the prime locations.
When fishing moving water, many are fully aware that trout are often found on the edges of the stream and many pages have been written about using caution when approaching the edge of a stream. The same is true of stillwaters. Anglers who charge up to the shore and start beating the water, have generally spooked several trout that might have been taken if care had been taken with the approach. The edges hold plenty of aquatic food forms and often you can find trout that have caught the forage fish in shallow water and are almost herding them as they charge and feed on the minnows.
Simply put, hedges refer to the weed beds, both floating and submerged, and the lanes between the weed beds. These weed beds may be clearly visible to the angler in two to four feet of water, or they may be deep, five to fifteen feet below the surface. Either way, they are full of various forms of aquatic life. Once again, the minnows also feed in this area and thus are preyed on by the trout.
The ledges are the drop-off edges and edges off of steep banks. Once again this is a collection point for various aquatic forms along with the minnows and the trout. Some drop-off edges and rocky ledges are obvious, others have to be searched for and identified for what they are.
Current lines are natural collection points for many members of the aquatic food chain, including minnows and trout. The obvious current lines are where a stream enters or leaves the stillwaters. Others can be created by spring holes in the bottom of the stillwater and still others are created by the wind. Current lines created by the wind are constantly changing with the changing directions of the winds.
Therefore, the angler must be aware of what to look for under the varying conditions. I watch for slicks, foam lines, the shoreline in the direction the wind is blowing, on the downside of rocky points, bars, shoals or trees that are in the water, and also on the downside of floating weed beds.
Once the angler has determined what types of minnows are in a stillwater and where they may be found, we can gain an understanding of how the trout feed on these minnows and how the minnows swim and react when being chased. Once we determine the depth of water we need to be fishing in, then we can select the proper line, leader, pattern and presentation method that will allow us to place the fly in the trout's feeding lane and keep it there for the optimum period of time.
50" Maxima Dropper Leader for Sink Tip & Shooting Tapers
This leader is used to deliver big fly combinations such as a streamer a nymph, a pair of nymphs or a pair of streamers. Generally I use this leader with 7 to 10 weight fly lines. Don't worry about spooking fish with this leader as the flies will already have done that, if spooking the fish is to be a problem.
Note: The entire leader is constructed of Maxima material as it is very stiff and will turn over those larger flies. The butt is looped with a ½ inch perfection loop, and the tippet is joined to the last section of the leader using double surgeon loops. A dropper loop, ¼ inch long, is placed in section #3. The dropper strands are 6 inches in length and have a ¼ inch perfection loop in one end. The droppers are also placed on the leaders using the loop-to-loop method. I will make several dropper strands and tippets ahead of time when using this system.
with a 1/4" dropper loop placed in the center of the section
Looped with double surgeon's loop
16" tippets that are looped on one end with a double surgeon's loop. The tippets can be .010-M, .009-M or .008-M as you desire. The dropper strands should be made from .010-M.
Remember, the correct leader is the one that is the right length and diameter and allows you to present the imitation in the proper manner. When the proper leader is being selected the angler must consider the tackle being used i.e. floating line, sink tip or others. The size and weight of the imitation must be factored in along with the type of water being fished and the techniques to be employed.
The ice had just gone off Lewis Lake, which is near the south end of Yellowstone National Park. One of my friends dropped by for a visit, informed me of this fact, and suggested that we lay aside those mundane tasks like painting the fence, trimming the hedges and bathing the dog, and amble down that way.
As he stated, "Just after ice-out those trout will eat anything and even you should be able to foul hook one". Nice guy huh!! But half the fun of a fishing pal is the verbal jousting that goes on, and I fully realized that my time would soon come as he always leaves something behind. Last time it was his vest!!!! Now, as you might have gathered, it didn't take a lot of arm twisting for me to agree to a 3 day trip starting the next morning. Being a somewhat organized person I got the gear out that I would need, and double checked to make sure nothing was missing.
The next morning as we were gearing up, I noticed my friend frantically searching through his gear bag, looking for his reel as it turned out. I offered to loan him one of mine. He said "If you loan me your reel and sink tip what will you use?"
I told him that I had already planned on using my shooting head (sinking shooting taper) and it wouldn't be any problem. He promptly asked if I was going to "fish or hunt?" With that comment I realized that he had no knowledge of shooting tapers or how they worked and why they were the right choice for certain stillwater angling situations. I asked if he were interested in expanding his angling horizons, (trying very hard to keep a straight face).
He said "Of course," and for me not to be such a wise guy!!! Now it was time to get serious, or as serious as the two of us ever get when fishing together. Therefore, I explained about the shooting taper systems and how, when and why they were the right choice. Here is what I told him.
Before we start using a shooting taper system we should understand what they are, what they will allow us as anglers to do, and when to use them. Shooting tapers are either floating or sinking. The floating taper is 30 foot of weight forward floating fly line and is used for long distance casting, like the Ultra 3 Floating Shooting Taper WF8F that I prefer to use.
The sinking shooting tapers, also called shooting heads, are 30 foot weight forward of sinking line. Heads come in various sink rates. Take an ST8S, for example. There are four sink rates. They are:
- Wet Cel Intermediate/I, ST9S: Sink rate of 1.50-1.75 inches per second, slowest sinking.
- Wet Cel II, ST9S: Sink rate of 2.25-2.80 inches per second, fast sinking.
- Wet Cel III, ST9S: Sink rate of 3.25-4.25 inches per second, extra fast sinking.
- Wet Cel IV, ST9S: Sink rate of 3.75-6.50 inches per second, super-fast sinking.
To get the line to the proper depth, the angler makes the cast, and then does a countdown prior to starting the retrieve. Example: If the angler was using the Wet Cel IV, ST8S and wanted the line to sink 72", the count would be 15. Therefore, the angler should have a complete set of heads as we are never fishing the stillwaters at the same depth. Oh sure, you could use a Wet Cel I with a slower sink rate and the count would then be approximately 36 to reach 72". Now that seems to me like the angler would spend a great deal of time counting down instead of fishing. The point being to use the proper line for the situation. Sinking shooting tapers allow the angler to make long casts and cover the water at various depths effectively.
For a reel system, I use the SA System II 7/8 as it will hold 200 yards of 20 lb. backing, 100' of floating shooting line, or 200 feet of amnesia shooting, plus the appropriate shooting taper and leader.
The System II reels have a strong, smooth drag system, and spools that are easily changed. Also, they are durable and can be used in either fresh or saltwater, which is great for me as I have many uses for my 8 weight system.
To be able to cast long distance with a shooting taper system, I want a rod that is fast and powerful. My personal choice is the Orvis PM10 908. This is not the rod I would choose for long leaders, fine tippets and small flies as it would lack the feel that I need. But for making long casts with a shooting taper system where the leaders are seldom termed delicate, this rod is great.
Now that we understand that a shooting taper system will allow us to make long casts and cover the water from the surface to almost any reasonable depth, we need to take a look at when we would use this system. Seeing as how the "When's" and "Whys" could fill several chapters in a book, I will just hit the hi-lights.
I have found that there are four major stillwater angling situations where I prefer to use shooting taper systems rather than conventional type fly lines.
- Ice-Out: Just after ice-out the trout will move into the shallows and along the drop-off edges and begin to feed heavily. This is not sight fishing and I have found that they will often follow the imitation for a long distance before taking.
- Summer Dog Days: Often during the summer months the water temperatures will rise in the shallow sections of the stillwater. When this happens the trout will move into deeper water where the water temperatures are cooler. During this period the trout continue to feed but often times they are doing so in deep water off submerged weedbeds.
- Summer Situations: At times throughout the summer the angler may find the trout randomly cruising and feeding on the surface taking a little of this and a little of that.
- Late Season: During the late season the hatches have waned and the water temperature in the shallower sections is beginning to drop. The trout will once again head for deeper water to find food and warmer water temperatures.
Now that we have listed the four situations, taking each individual situation, we will talk about why the shooting taper systems are the right choice along with how they allow the angler to present the imitations at the proper angle and depth to be effective.
When the ice first goes out, the trout will move towards shore and actively feed. Anglers often assume that moving towards shore means shallow water, but that is not always the case. Often the trout are feeding along the edge of a drop-off in several feet of water.
Also, during this time period there is generally no major hatches in progress and trout are randomly cruising, feeding on a little of this and a little of that. Under these conditions I prefer to use a shooting head to be able to make long casts and effectively cover the water.
The type of shooting heads you would use would depend on the depth of the water to be fished. One of my favorite patterns to use as a searching fly this time of the year is a woolly bugger. The woolly bugger is suggestive of several stillwater life forms that trout feed on. It could be a leech, minnow, damselfly nymph, or maybe it just looks alive and therefore must be something to eat.
After deciding on what sink rate I want and choosing a suitable head I will station myself parallel to the shore or drop-off edge and make a long cast, count down, and then begin my retrieve. I suggest starting with a slow, darting retrieve. Due to the cooler water temperature the trout may not elect to chase a faster moving imitation.
After the completion of each cast I will move my next cast about 3 degrees away from the parallel base line until I have covered the water in that area. Then I will move down the shoreline, reposition myself and start over.
I guess I should mention that I am fishing out of a float tube. Some anglers will also use boats. But I find boats to have too high a profile and way too noisy.
Summer Dog Days:
Often times during the hot months of summer the trout move out of the shallower sections of the stillwaters to find cooler water temperatures. During this time period they will often be feeding along the edges of submerged weed beds in several feet of water.
Once I determine what depth I want to present the imitation at, I will choose a sinking shooting taper with the appropriate sink rate and attach a 4 foot leader. This will often be a 6 foot tapered leader that I have trimmed down.
My favorite choices for searching patterns during this time of year are scuds, leeches, minnows or damsel fly nymph imitations. After drawing straws, flipping a coin or otherwise deciding on the imitation I will make a long cast, allow the line to sink to the desired depth and begin my retrieve.
As the water temperatures are in the normal range for trout activity I will vary the retrieve depending on what imitation I am using. Often times the angler may not know exactly where the submerged weed beds are. Hence, they are searching and using the long distance cast to spend more time fishing and less time casting.
At certain periods during the summer the angler will find the trout randomly cruising and feeding on or near the surface. This often happens when there are terrestrials on the water or when there is a multitude of spent insects mixed with terrestrials.
The angler who chases these cruising trout can quickly become very tired and frustrated. What I prefer to do is use a floating shooting taper line, make long casts and then creep and twitch the imitation back. This method is very effective and allows the angler to spend more time productively fishing and less time chasing trout to fish to!
As the hatches of summer draw to a close and the water temperature starts to cool in the shallow sections of the stillwater, the trout will once again move into deeper water in search of food and warmer water temperatures.
Once again the angler will have to decide on what sink rate is required and select the proper shooting head. As we are often making long searching casts to likely areas, we find the shooting taper system will help us accomplish this with a lot less work. My favorite patterns for this time period are leeches and streamers.
Simply put, the shooting tapers are the proper choices for these angling situations as they allow the angler to present the imitation in the most effective manner. This means that the angler must fully understand both the capabilities and limitations of the tackle to be able to select the proper tackle for any angling situation.
Oh, you might be interested in how the fishing trip to Lewis Lake turned out. Well we had pretty good fishing, but the hi-lite of the trip happened on the second day, when I noticed that my fishing companion seemed to be slowly sinking into the lake. With very little comment I pointed out that he might want to kick to shore or start swimming. I found out that he had deflated his tube over the winter and failed to check it before we started the trip. The inner tube was weather-checked and slowly leaking air.
I check over my inner tube every year and leave it partially inflated during the winter so it won't weather check. He learned a valuable lesson on equipment maintenance and I have a funny story to tell that had a happy ending.
Leader Formula for Shooting Tapers:
This leader is used to deliver large (size 1/0 to 8) wet imitations when using a sinking shooting taper system on stillwaters. The material I prefer for this type of leader is Maxima.
|Butt Section:||.020----10" with a 1/2" Perfection Loop|
|Section #5:||.012----3" with a 1/2" Double Surgeon's Loop|
.008----20" with a 1/2" Double Surgeon's Loop
I use the loop-to-loop method of joining the leader to the line and the tippets to the leader. This is a strong system and allows me to pre-tie tippets and rapidly change them while fishing.
When I need leader with finer tippets I will trim down a 6' leader and loop on the appropriate tippet. For this I use Umpqua or Orvis Super Strong leaders and tippet material.
Due to the amount of information that I have imparted in this selection I am now going to conclude this column and continue this discussion on streamer methods and pattern in Part 23 of the Yellowstone Park Chronicles.
Good Fishin' & Enjoy