We've all been there. Fishing started great, then
like a light switch, it turned off. Things get slow.
Rises trickle to a halt. Insects seem to all but
disappear. Even the river itself seems to change
character. So, what now? For many anglers the answer
is one of two things. "Time for a break" some may say.
While others move to increasingly smaller, more
'natural-looking' flies and finer tippets. If either
of these is your way, then I say great. But for me
and maybe for you after this article I say, "Kick it up!"
I can't speak for all anglers, but I certainly don't
get enough time on the water. Taking a break on a
short day trip sometimes is just not an option for
me. Now before anybody gets the wrong idea, I love
the outdoors as much - or more - than most. I can
enjoy a beautiful sunset or a flock of migrating
grackles with the best. But come on, there is water
to be cast upon! Take a break? It's just not in me
when I have rod and reel in hand.
For a time, I tried the other approach. When things
got slow I would tie on a 22 midge or BWO to a 7X tippet,
slow my casting stroke, and stealth my way to a few
more fish. This approach is not only effective, but
offers great challenges that can hone an angler's skill
(not to mention their eyesight). There is also something
very special about bringing a fish back to rise after
a deafening stillness sets in. To be honest however,
I just got bored with this approach and I wasn't that
good at it anyway.
So I asked the simple question - 'I wonder if the fish
are bored too?' Well, we all know fish have tiny brains
so let's just leave that question to the philosophers.
My real question was this, 'can I trigger these fish
into activity?' I think we will all agree that fish
have certain triggers that can cause them to pursue
prey. One of these triggers that I think is most often
overlooked in fly-fishing is what I call the 'reaction'
strike. It happens when a fish sees something that
resembles a meal but has limited opportunity to react.
For instance, when a school of frightened minnows flush
down a riffle past the hideout of a trout. This trout
may be keyed on gently floating nymphs caught in the
current. Inspecting each upon its approach and gently
slurping them down as they pass by. Suddenly, a flurry
of shiny things with eyes rush past - and in many cases
continue on, minus one. In this circumstance the fish
had only an instant to decide to strike. We would have
to ask the question, did the fish really 'know' it was
striking a minnow? Could it have processed enough
information in that tiny brain to really make the
decision or was it reacting to instinct based upon
a simple prey-predator model? 'It wiggles and it is
close - strike!'
So, how could I cause this reaction strike? The answer
was enlightening and I must confess FUN! Causing a
reaction strike can be done in many different ways
and many different situations. One way to attempt
this trigger is by putting on a streamer pattern
and stripping aggressively. Work the water hard
with strips that cause the streamer to 'wake' just
under the surface. Try letting the fly almost reach
bottom and then bolting it up towards the surface.
Cast along exposed structure like logs, rocks, or
bridge pilings. Generate long sweeping turns by casting
down and across the water. Many times as the fly passes
over these 'sleepy' trout it can generate an almost
explosive strike. Good patterns to consider are
Muddlers, Mickey Finns, Trousers (trout sized Clousers),
and yes the old standby, the Woolly Bugger.
Another method is to use the riffles and faster currents
to your benefit. Tie on a high floating dry pattern like
an EHC or Devil Bug and work right in the middle of that
boiling water. There are many pockets underneath the
surface of that current we land creatures fail to see
where fish reside. As the fly passes over these pockets,
hungry trout will at times almost clear the water in
their attempt to take the fly. Using wets to simulate
swiftly rising insects can be effective as well. Any
high floating dry or 'leggy' wet pattern suited to
your local water should suffice.
The idea is simple - present something that simulates
food in such a manner that fish have a very limited
window of decision. Strike or miss a possible meal.
Many times the answer is strike and boy what a
strike it can be! By the way, for all you 'fast-taper'
anglers I would recommend you give those slower action
rods a second chance. It will likely save many lost
flies and fish, as well as decrease those frustrating,
jerk-the-fly-out-of-the-water, misses. Fast action rods
are great tools but this is one time a little cushion
on the hook set is a good thing.
Now I'm sure that this method will not work all the
time or in all waters, but I have successfully turned
slow periods during trips into a trips to remember
with this approach. I hope the next time you find
yourself in the middle of a slowdown this offers
you a fun and hopefully fruitful alternative.
~ Buddy Davis (2weight)