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Our new guide Matt and a buddy a buddy of his getting after the some nice West Branch D trout!
Well sorry for the radio silence, but I've had to put out a number of fires all over the place! Haha. So smallmouth season this year was pretty much a write off for me. Pretty bummed about that, but hey sometimes we're not always in the driver's seat! But you know what I'm not bummed about? Some really nice trout Matt has been getting into on West Branch of the Deleware! He and a buddy or two of his were up there for a few days working up some really nice fat wild trout. Thats what we like to see!
Anyways, to give a quick update, smallmouth are finishing up their run into the creeks and rivers. We usually see most fish back into the lake by the 4th of July, maybe a straggler here and there afterward. With the hot temps projected over the week, though they are considered a warm water gamefish, I have a feeling most will be more comfortable in 8-15 feet of water near rock piles haha. So untill next end of April, see ya later smallies!
But now brings me to the fun part. We're starting to put the pieces together for our fall season already. Hard to believe. It's only July, right? Well over the past week and a half, a number of our old clients called looking for good peak season dates, and we're starting to get hit with new anglers looking for thier first FLR trip! If peak season on the Catt (October 15- November 21) is on your mind, I'd suggest giving us a call and talking about options sooner rather than later. We've already taken some bookings and are tentatively holding others waiting on confirmation. So hard to believe that this year, now is the time to think about it!
Finally, we're starting to get some lock downs on the Spey Hosted trip from October 18-21. We still got four available slots, but with how much interest we've had this early for the fall season, I can't guaranteed how long those last spots will be available. So if you want to spend two and a half days of on the water guided instruction, three nights lodging including nightly fly tying demos and shooting the shit spey style with some of the best guides in the region, give us a call!
Another Deleware beauty
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|Posted on February 6, 2018 at 2:20 PM||comments (0)|
Big cold-water hen from a February thaw
January and February are usually quieter months for us. Not necessarily because of a lack of fish in our rivers, but because of a lack of weather consistency makes pinning down dependable fishing conditions difficult. In our neck of the woods, the lower Great Lakes region, total ice coverage can occur at any time between late December and mid March. So we do our best to focus our guiding schedule accordingly.
But usually periodically throughout January and February, thaws occur, and rivers break free. These thaws generally coincide with significant rain and snowmelt that unlocks the frozen rivers, revealing the silver hidden below. And these thaws may last anywhere from a number of days to a few weeks at a time. It’s times like these that we try out hardest to get out and get a feel for the upcoming spring season, and simply avoid the madness that starts to set in after two months indoors.
During these trips, we are often greeted with higher than prime flows of colder water. Even when the mercury hits 50 degrees, the prevalence of snowmelt contributing to the flows usually mean that the water, even on those pleasant winter days, stays in the low to mid 30’s. So we are faced with swinging big, cold water. But don’t despair, success can still be found. You just need to know where to look and how to find it.
Soft water pays:
Many anglers walk into the deeper runs armed with heavy tips and weighted flies to dredge the classic winter water. While this certainly has its place in winter fishing it is not the only method of swinging up winter fish. Don’t overlook the soft water: shallow inside seams a few feet deep or less, wider knee deep flats with even current, and even the pocket water. This may all be worth your time, but running through this water with a heavy tip and fly means snagging up a lot.
Mike hooked up in a shallow run
There’s a reason why these locations can reward anglers, even in the dead of winter. Shallow water allows more sunlight to penetrate faster down to substrate. This means radiant heat is being absorbed by the usually dark river bottom and is then dispersed into the surrounding water. Though steelhead may be more skittish on sunny days, I’d take a skittish steelhead that is sitting in water warming faster than a wholly relaxed fish sitting in water that is barely warming at all any day of the week.
Even subtle warming of water temps can trigger a dormant fish to start becoming active. But if the water where a fish is holding is warming faster that the surrounding water, you can bet the farm that that fish will be thinking about knocking the ice off its fins. Doesn’t mean you’ll get him to bite, but it does mean that it’s a fish worth targeting hard.
Adjust you gear accordingly. If you fish the soft water in winter, and are worried about skittish fish on sunny days, lengthen and lighten your leader a bit, use a lighter tip, and fish a smaller fly. These adjustments are all things that anglers control. We don’t control the activity level of a fish, we can only control the type of fish we look for. So searching for active fish in softer warmer water can often be key to success on a winter day.
With the above in mind, it can still be worthwhile to fish those deep, classic winter runs. In the soft water, you are usually fishing to a single or couple fish that are moving through the run, and maybe just paused for a minute. In the deeper runs, you are likely fishing to higher numbers of fish, and a mix of holding fish and new arrivals. Those deeper runs often congregate fish for several days at a time. So if you want to show your fly to the most fish possible, reach for the T-14.
When fishing those deeper runs, really focus the most energy on the bucket. The bucket is the sweet spot in the run where the faster current at the head starts to disperse right before the run tails out. If the mercury isn’t really rising, or worse if it’s headed the wrong direction, fish will congregate in a bucket like a magnet.
A December steelhead from a deep run in 32 degree water
When I fish the bucket of a favorite winter run in colder higher water, I make several adjustments. I shorten my leader to between 24 and 30” and tie on my trusty big fly. In the cold, I like a large profiled fly that moves a lot of water. If you’re worried about snagging, fish the big fly unweighted. If you know the run and it’s relatively even without too many snags, fish a weighted fly.
One thing I find myself doing pretty frequently is casting well upstream of 90 degrees to the current. The cast, almost quartered upstream allows my fly to sink like a rock down to the bottom when I stack mend the line upstream. The first part of the swing will look a little weird with what appears to be an upstream belly, but that simply means I’m getting really deep, and swinging really slow. Precisely what you need for eliciting a cold-water take from a winter run.
As the fly line passes directly out from you, it should start to straighten out, then with a small downstream mend you get that nice, deep, slow swing through the bucket. Often times, you’ll be surprised by how much of a floating Skagit head will get pulled below the surface. And in those deeper buckets, just sit back and enjoy it. Your dog's hunting, let him do the work.
When you fish this way, pay close attention to that first third of the swing, even when you have that upstream belly. In this part of the swing, the fly will essentially be drifting broadside at the speed of the current on the bottom. Because you do not have a directly tight line swing like you would in a quartered downstream cast, a take from of fish during this part will simply look like the front of the Skagit head has stopped, and the belly begins to shift downstream faster than you expect. You may simply feel a bit of weight that wasn’t there a moment ago. If any of this happens, pull the rod downstream like you are trying to help the swing along. If you feel resistance, complete the hookset.
The good new is that colder fish are usually slower to spit the fly, and can munch a fly for a surprisingly long time. Instead of setting right off the bat, if it was a snag that hung you up for a minute, you can usually free it with that slow downstream pull and continue the swing. If it is a fish, however, the fly usually grabs in the corner of the mouth and holds. So while you pull, really feel for any resistance or the slow throb of a cold-water headshake then bury the hook.
Often times, after you’ve already made several casts through the “sweet spot” and have started to move deeper down the bucket, you connect with a fish in that first part of the swing. I attribute this to the slower, broadside dead drift that tumbles into the head of the bucket. So if you’ve reached what you consider to be the bucket and your first couple casts don’t connect, don’t lose focus, especially on the start of the swing. Changing the angle and pivot point by casting further upstream and reaching the rod out has put me on the board enough to pass being dispelled as simple flukes.
And as an added bonus, my experience with connecting to fish while “swinging” the water above me has been that the majority of those were dominant fish holding in the prime lie at the head of the bucket. The takes are usually not the crushing destruction of a swung fly that we all live for, but hooking into a sleeping giant means preparing for a drawn out battle of attrition. So, you know, all things being equal it balances out.
Finally, though this is totally cliché, fish what you have confidence in. Winter is not always the best time to be experimenting with new patterns or styles. Pick a couple patterns that you have confidence in, patterns that have put fish on the board for you before, and fish them. I like to carry two patters, one big pattern for deep water (cough, cough, whiskey hangover) and one smaller pattern for soft water, in a couple different sizes. The same with sink tips. I like to carry two heavy tips for getting down in the deep winter buckets, usually 7.5’ of T-11 and 10’ of T-14 MOW Tips depending on the conditions, and one light tip for soft water, usually a Type 3 or slow sinking Polyleader, with a preference towards the poly. The tapered build of a poly turns over nice if you're fishing a Scandi or long belly.
The whiskey hangover- my go to big fly
In almost all scenarios I can manage the type of swing that I want to feel like I’m fishing the water well. When I fish in the winter myself, I like to pack light. I can have a box with half a dozen flies, a wallet with three tips, and two small spools- one of ten and one of fifteen pound flouro. All that fits in my pocket, and the feeling of fishing effectively without a backpack weighing you down, where you are free to fish as you see fit with the rod in your hand ready to cast at anything that looks fishy as you work your way down a river is liberating.
In winter swinging, that in and of itself is success. You should find enjoyment in the act of fishing your fly properly to a tough game fish in less than ideal conditions, and a release from overcoming the incarceration of adverse weather. If you’re looking for numbers or success every time you leave the house, you’re barking up the wrong tree. Pick up a centerpin.
Tight Lines and Get Out There!