I can only tell people ‘what I think I know’ about almost any topic. One thing I will not do is to tell you that what I do is right or correct, it’s just what I do. I’m just some guy who fishes and has done it for a long time. I’ll soon be placing an article here on this blog page that will explain how I became a fishing guide, it may be worth the read because my course wasn’t planned here.
I do have to admit that it is kinda cool to have your own website where you can share what you think you have learned so I’ll do just that right now.
We all started somewhere, for me the starting point was North Central Pennsylvania and when I went whole hog into fly fishing things were different. Different to a certain extent that is, there were rods and lines, there were reels and waders, but no where near what is available today. There were dry flies and nymphs, there were streamers and wets. And if a young fella wanted to be a genuine fly fisherman then he learned how do use all of the various types of artificial flies in their traditional ways.
Of course I went with dry flies first because it was just so cool. I followed the dry with wet flies and nymph techniques but streamer flies were like a freight train just getting started in my mind. The process was slow leaving the depot but gradually gained speed until I wanted to learn how and I was as serious about it as anything in fishing has ever been to me. By the late 1970′s I had been tying them for a while and was getting good at about every style of classic. By the early 1980′s I had taken them to the streams and began to concentrate on how to use them effectively.
I actually have streamers I tied in 1980 because I had made so many it was inevitable that some would survive for decades without being used.
That’s a Supervisor circa mid 1980′s from one of my storage wallets……… I started my fly tying with streamers and flies like the one pictured were the result of ten years of practice by the time the 80′s arrived. Please don’t get the idea that I’m presenting all this based on fly tying, just because I can make cool flies doesn’t mean I know anything about using them. I’ll try to provide enough detail in the body of this article to help others to understand how I’ve developed what seems (to me) to be a style of fishing streamers that works OK.
With time on the waters and a load of low fish days I gradually improved my methods. A key to improvement was observation of both the streams and the fish. I guess I learned where to expect them to be and was able to up the number of encounters that way. The refinements in my techniques can be found detailed in other articles right on this blog page simply by scrolling down through the entries. In short I figured things out and I do take credit for whatever successes I’ve had because I did all this before there was an internet, you tube videos or any of the advantages we have to share information today. heck, back then there weren’t even dependable & affordable video tapes on the market where I lived so you had to rely on practice to work out the bugs.
Whether we talk dry fly, nymph or wets, there is one bug that is universal based on all my reading of questions posted to fly fishing forums. The bug is ‘How do I set the hook”? My answer to the universal problem faced by many anglers is that it is easy. With a little practice to give the technique a fair trial you may agree that I just might have this figured out. All fish are different and from species to species they go after or take a fly differently as well. In the end though they are all fish and they all grab a fly with their mouths. Some fish take more time from the angler before you’ll even feel one and others seem to flock to the fly. If you can fish somewhere that they are grabbing the fly every other cast you can cut your time way down when figuring out the best way to get them on the hook.
First let’s imagine you are fishing for steelhead, it doesn’t matter if you live near a steelhead river or have traveled to try your hand at it. One thing can happen in either scenario, you “miss” fish. When I hear a guy tell me that he missed a fish it doesn’t compute for me. If the person was fishing a plastic bead suspended beneath a bobber (commonly referred to as an indicator) I guess I’d get what he or she were saying. I’ve been with people who do that and basically it’s a game of watching the floating plastic ball until it bobs underwater, thus the bobber thing………….. When the bobber goes down the guy holding the rod has to react and react quickly because the fish has the bead / egg imitation in its mouth and you gotta rip that hook into place quick before the fish senses the bead isn’t a real egg. I get that part and I get the “I missed one” part too when it is coming from someone fishing the method I just described. I might as well get it said now before you figure it out on your own, I quit using any sort of bobber when I made the decision that I was going to become a fly fisherman. I used to drift crickets under those clear plastic bobbers shaped like a long cone and it was deadly on trout. But I wanted something more from the time on the rivers and creeks than just a body count, I wanted to be like those old guys that I admired so much because of what they seemed to know about catching fish on artificial flies.
Now where was I when I went off track to poke the indicator people…………? Oh yeah, got it, missing fish, or setting hooks. What I have evolved into is a guy who fishes streamers of one kind or another 100% of the time spent fishing. The biggest reason for that is that where I live and fish now and have been for the past 13 seasons is that there are no appreciable dry fly opportunities here. Oh you see may flies and caddis as well as stone fly hatches but not very many rising fish so you stay sub surface with the offerings. You cast, you mend, you steer and swing those streamers to where you suspect there will be a fish to see them coming and going.
I’ll try to wrap this up quickly and simply, when I feel a fish it is usually one of two feels. Either it wails my fly so hard that it is immediately hooked up or I feel tiny light taps as my fly is swinging toward the end of the cast and going to soon be dangling downstream. Scenario number one is a no brainer but situation two requires some self control and I’m about to tell you why I think that is. Fish can be curious of a fly and when that is the case they are following it because the movement has triggered their instinct recognizing something swimming or fleeing across the currents and they give chase. When they close the gap I believe some get a better look or are just a bit more hesitant than the ones who hit it like it has done something wrong. Those ‘thoughtful types’ they are curious and I’ve watched them pursue and repeatedly tap away at a fly. I’ve felt a lot more than I’ve had the chance to actually see but the results are the same in both cases. As long as that fish doesn’t prick itself on the hook point it will continue to be curious of the streamer. If they get pricked often they will also get hooked but not always. The more lively the tapping and experimenting with a streamer on the swing is the more likely the fish will hook itself.
Self control is the key because as long that the fish is not pricked by the hook or frightened by you in reaction to the feel you are still in the game. The more pressured the fish as are many in heavily fished rivers the more likely they will not come back for a second go at the fly if you have jumped and struck with the rod as if this were a Bass Pro Tournament. I have found again and again that if I just remain cool and wait, that fish has an 80% chance of being caught. If it gets pricked by accident and not stuck well enough to be on the hook the chances fall to 0-3% that it will come again. Likewise, when people jump and strike when the fish is not actually on the hook the chances of that same fish coming a second time fall into single digit percentiles.
What really dulled my nerves was dry fly fishing on Spring Creek and others in Pennsylvania. I learned that if I ripped a fly when a fish rose one of three things could occur. The absolute worst was that I popped my tippet and lost the fly in the fish ouch! Next was that I “missed” the fish and it would not rise to my artificial again. The third was the most infrequent and that was when you caught the fish. I learned to watch calmly as a fish rose and took my fly. I figured it out the a large % of them hooked themselves as they changed directions with the fly in their mouths and all I had to do was gently lift the rod to tighten the line a little. This lesson was quickly adapted to fishing streamers since I was never a strip fisher type, I was the “wet fly swing” type streamer fisher. Once I learned not to react until I had a fish on the fly my catch rate shot way up and has stayed there for over 30 years.
Adapting all the lessons from trout fishing to salmon and steelhead fishing was simple, you do the same things. There seems to be a mindset, a sort of mystique surrounding salmon and steelhead in that people are ready to believe that “this is different”. Yes it is because they are a different species. They are different because many of us must travel hundreds if not thousands of miles to try our hand at them. But one thing that remains a constant for me is that there are still 2 types of fish that come after my flies. There’s the one who hit’s it like a freight train and the curious type who more or less experiments by tapping. In either case I don’t react, the hard hitter makes things simple but if I play the tapper right he’ll end up hooking himself and I’ll get to take the credit.
I could just go on and on with the fish pictures but only hoped to make the point that while it is what I say, it is also what and how I do.
Now what about a tapper, [Tapper: the fish who is there but not hooked, tapping at the flies trailing materials] whether it’s a trout, a salmon or a steelhead I have a suggestion. You could just flail away and keep hammering the line and fly back to the same zone in an attempt to raise that fish a second time. Or you could use some strategy, I like choice number 2 here and I’ll tell you why. Remember, we’re not talking about the crazy fish that just hit so hard it nearly pulled the rod from your hand, no no, we’re talking about curious Carl the fish here. And he already had doubts about that fly or he would have pounced on it like a wild dog on a cooked steak. So what do you think that fish may do if you just hurl another cast right back at him? What if he didn’t go back to exactly the same spot in the river after he abandoned his probe of your fly? Seriously, that fish could be anywhere unless you were able to see it and see right where it went after it left the fly and that isn’t always a good thing either. I mean that if it is that low and clear there may be other reasons the fish didn’t take the fly but that’s not the topic so………..
I’m hoping we are agreeing on what I put forth above, not knowing where that steelhead went, I chose steelhead for this just because I could. The way I deal with this is another test of a persons stubborn willpower. I start walking or wading upstream and I go at least 90 feet, 30 yards. Then I begin fishing all over again as if nothing has happened. I fight the urge to hurry back downstream and I work on my technique. I fine tune the swing, the speed, I mend I steer and I slowly work back down to where I know there is a fish waiting. If I do it right this all will take at least 15 minutes of more and all the better for Curious Carl to forget my line and that fly.
Because I don’t know where the fish has set up shop now I need to study the telltale surface indicators of current seams and varying speeds. Bulges made by unseen boulders or gravel shoals a couple feet deep, he could be around any one of them so I approach fresh as if I have no idea there’s a fish there or where. I do this without hesitation because it is the actual case, I don’t know where or if it is even still in this part of the river. Many times I get what I am after by taking this approach and maybe you’ll remember this laborious read one day and say, “I think I’ll try what that guy Ard wrote about” and it just might give you the same feeling I get when I do everything right. People often say to me when they know I’m headed out fishing, “good luck”. I always smile and say “thanks” but you wanna know what I really think? I think that luck is for newlyweds and gamblers, luck is not falling into the river while I wade. I like to think that when I have caught a fish it happens because I have learned everything I can about their behavior, what they like and what they are afraid of. It’s about determination and using every trick I’ve learned but it’s seldom about luck at least not for me. If I were lucky I would have won the Lottery back in 1986 when it was up to 30 million dollars in PA. That would have meant I’d have a nicer boat
I’ll write more soon, all of these articles are subject to editing as I re-read them but I hope this made some sense to you.