An Unexpected Hatch

It was raining hard when I left home at about 12:30pm and didn’t stop after I got to the creek about 40 minutes later.  If you like to fish and you live in western Oregon, a temperate rainforest,  then rain is not something to let stop you.  I prefer it, actually, not because I like to be wet but because many others don’t and so I see fewer of them on the river.  Today I have it all to myself and I’m excited because I haven’t fished this water, before.  The river has been on my bucket list for a while, but I hadn’t felt motivated until my  good buddy had sent me a google maps pin for this particular spot a couple of days ago. He had just fished it for the first time, himself, on his way back from the North Umpqua, and reported that he took a couple of fish on a wooly bugger after they had refused his dry fly.

With this knowledge I arrive at the river bank with my five-weight set up with a 5-foot sink tip and a green sculpzilla on the end.  This is the same setup that caught me my limit a couple of days before on a different river. I was feeling confident, and if you’re a fisherman you know this is foolish.  Arriving at new water and thinking you know what will work is only superseded in hubris by exclaiming that you know you’re going to catch fish.

I swing through the first promising pool several times and received nothing for my effort. After about 20 minutes I move to the next pool downstream which is separated from the first by a narrow chute created by large rocks.  The water rushes through the chute then slows down into a pool about 50 meters long.  I begin to swing the sculpzilla through the head of the pool when I catch a splash downstream out of the corner of my eye.  I stop fishing and watch, and sure enough there is a trout rising at 30 second intervals at the end of the pool, about twenty feet before the water tails out into the next riffle. I very slowly wade downstream until I am reasonably sure I can get my streamer in front of the fishes face.  It’s a fairly long cast as the depth of the water prevents me from wading too close, but I finally get a position that I’m happy with and am able to place the fly where I want it.  This doesn’t do me much good as the trout ignores the sculpzilla three times.

Time for a change.  He’s not sipping dries, at least not as far as I can tell, though it’s still raining which makes it difficult to see if there are really small bugs. My best guess is that he’s picking off emergers stuck in the surface film. I clip off my streamer and tie on a four foot length of 5x tippet to the 3x butt section that comes out of the sink tip. To the tag end of that knot I tie a size 10 brown soft hackle fly, and the end of the 5x I tie on a size 14 of the same color.

I see that the trout is still rising and I cast to him.  I get nothing on the first two casts, and then on the third he slams the soft hackle.  I bring him in a minute later and see that he is a 12 inch hatchery rainbow.  I feel satisfied that I am not going to be skunked and that I’ll have at least one fish for my mother-in-law this evening.  I bonk him on the head and as I return to the water I see them.

Mayflies.  Some invisible switch has been hit, and within a few minutes the current is sweeping thousands of dark brown bugs down the river.  They are two distinct sizes; one is about a size 10 and the other about a size 16.

This is the first substantial hatch of the year that I’ve seen and I feel very lucky to be riverside as it’s happening.  I feel even more lucky as the trout start to roll like crazy in the first pool, snapping up the mayflies.  On a cold rainy day like this I didn’t expect I’d be doing dry fly fishing, but I’m thankful I’ve brought my other rod.  I run to the car, remove the indicator and nymph from the 5-weight sitting in the back, and tie on a size 10 Adams. I run back down the river, cast out and notice that even though I’ve coated the Adams in floatant, it’s sinking like a rock.  I make a note to myself to tie better flies and go to replace it.  That’s when I realize that when went to my car to get this second rod I left my fly box in the trunk.  Ugh. I run back, get them, switch to a better made Adams, and cast out.

A reasonable imitation

There are so many naturals floating in the water that it takes a while for the first fish to choose mine, but when it does it inhales it and is solidly hooked. It’s a small native which I promptly return to water.  A few minutes later I catch a hatchery trout that takes the fly with equal abandon. I bring it in, bonk it and add it to the other that will end up on a plate sometime very soon.  I’ve officially spooked this pool and the trout are no longer rising.  I move the second pool, but can’t convince its residents that my Adams looks as good as the real thing.  I eventually switch back to a soft hackle and after about 30 minutes catch one more hatchery fish.

After another two hours of fishing in a couple other spots, and being very soaked as it’s been raining off and on for the entire time, the darkness forces me off the river.  I decide that three is a good number, and happily drive home.

A Good Day on the River

My favorite nearby place to fish is a spot about 30 minutes away from my house. This means that today, with the sun setting at around 6pm, I can get in about 3 or 4 hours of fishing on the river if I can get my work done quickly enough. I text my kids that they should make their own way home from school. As much as I miss their chubby cheeks from their early years, fly fishing wouldn’t happen nearly as much as it does if they hadn’t graduated to a higher level of self-care.

Before I leave the house I check the USGS website and notice that the river temperature is the coldest it has been in 10 days, having dropped 5 or 6 degrees to barely above 40F – about equal to the predicted high air temperature. It even snowed a couple of days ago and there’s still some of it on the ground. My favorite thing to do at this spot is to swing a sculpzilla(ish) pattern through the different runs, but I’m sure the fish are made lethargic by the drop in temperature.  My bet is that I’ll have to slap them in the face with a nymph to get them to eat. I don’t like nymphing very much, but what can you do when most of what a fish eats is under the water? I put two floating-line 5-weights in the car – one set up for nymphing and the other with a 5 foot sink tip for swinging streamers.  I know myself – after a certain amount of time lobbing a bobber around a river, I usually get fed up and switch to swinging streamers, productivity be damned.

The sexy snail fly

I arrive at the river and decide to try out a new fly I had tied the evening before.  I’m embarrassed to admit that it’s a… snail imitation.  Sexy, right?  More like a black blob on a jig hook I created by wrapping some black leg material round and round and then slopping on some thick UV for a shell-like finish.  I’m trying it out because when I open the stomachs of the (hatchery) fish I take from this river during the winter I always find a gut full of snails.  I don’t know if they eat them by picking them out of the current or if they just pluck them off the rocks when they get hungry, but I figure that matching what they eat can’t be a bad idea. And figuring out what works is a big part of the fun.

With the heavy snail fly as anchor and a size 16 S&M nymph tied about twelve inches up, I adjust the 1/2″ indicator to match the pool depth of the first run and cast out.  I cover all the lanes with nary a bump.  I swing a blue and black streamer afterwards with similar results.  This first run is pretty slow when the water is low like this, so I wasn’t expecting much, but it’s amazing how quickly my confidence drops in a fly when I don’t get a nibble.  Nothing on the S&M nymph either, but I’m thinking that could be because it’s too far off the bottom.

I move downstream a hundred yards, adjust my indicator, and cover the pool.  Nothing.  Maybe snails are a meal of last resort, and not worth it to a trout to burn calories to grab out of the current.  Twenty minutes has passed since I arrived, and I decide to bench the snail. In it’s place I tie on a new a anchor: a size 16 prince. I immediately begin hooking fish in the same lanes where the snail fly had passed through with nary a bump.  As the water is low, it doesn’t take much to disturb the pool and after hooking two trout and bringing a mountain whitefish to hand I move on to the next one.  There, again, I hook several trout on the prince.  All of them come unbuttoned before I can bring them in, which I attribute to my small hook and bad luck (and certainly not to my skill in fighting fish!).  My disappointment in not bringing the fish all the way in is more than offset by the satisfaction of having figured out the puzzle, though. It’s usually not that easy. How many times have I changed flies 3, 4 or 5 times only to remain flummoxed as to what the fish are eating?  More times than I would like to admit in print.

The last pool I fish in this section of the river is deeper and very slow. The water is glassy, and I wade in very slowly, like a crane, to avoid casting ripples through it. While I have been hooking fish on the small prince, I decide that casting an indicator rig on this water will be a pain in the ass, and switch to the rod with the sink tip.  The water is also clearer than it has been, so I remove the shiny blue/black streamer and put on an olive-green sculpzilla for a more subtle presentation.  I work downstream covering the water with very slow swings.  I’m surprised to get several noncommital bumps. After 20 minutes I have hooked two fish that quickly come unbuttoned. I guess 40F isn’t that cold, after all.  Finally, just before the end of the pool, I bring in a twelve inch wild rainbow and then release him.  So satisfying.

I exit the river and drive down a short way to the next section that I like to fish.  The lower water allows me to wade a continuous stretch of the river that has little bank access and so gets less pressure.  That lack of pressure, or perhaps that it was now late afternoon and the water had hit it’s temperature apex, brought the fish alive.  I put my nymphing rig on the bank and swung my sculpzilla through 200 yards of water, and caught 8 fish, five of them hatchery (pictured).  This is unusual, I usually catch four native to every one hatchery fish in this river.  But I’m not complaining. At 5pm I cleaned my fish and after almost forgetting my nymphing rod on the bank, I packed up and headed home, stopping at my mother-in-law’s apartment to drop off the fish.

This is what I call a “good day.”

The Black Hole of Fly Fishing

Here’s a fishing blog for your enjoyment and my sanity.

I started fly fishing in 2014. In fly fisherman’s years that makes me but little more than a wee baby. I don’t have any claim to expertise, though even in that short time I’ve become a much better fisher person.  But this blog isn’t going to be instructional by intent; there are plenty of other sites, blogs, and podcasts that can show you what to do and how to do it.

What this blog is about is for me to have an outlet for all the fishing that is going on inside my head, all the time.  I spend as much time as I can on the water, floating or wading.  During the winter months, as now, that’s three times a week if I’m really lucky, once every couple if I’m not. The rest of the time I’m taking care of the basics: working, taking care of kids, staying married. And reading water levels at the USGS website.  And listening to fly fishing podcasts. And reading fly fishing blogs. And tying flies.

You would think that would be enough.  But I find myself in the evenings already knowing the water temperature and levels of my go-to rivers, and having listened to Tom Rosenbauer’s latest podcast, and having read Jay Nicholas’ latest post on the Caddis Fly website, having tied 4 or 5 of the latest fly I’m interested in, and talked with my best fishing buddy about upcoming plans to hit the North Umpqua or float the McKenzie… and it’s still not enough.  My wife and children, as much as they love me, don’t care to look at the latest video I took of the river I stood in waist deep at sunset the day before.  They don’t want to see the picture of the 18″ rainbow I caught and released. So I’m going to put all that stuff here, and we’ll see if it can fill the void.

I suppose that it is possible, as with other fishing related activities I engage in, that it will just make me want to fish even more. Boy, would that be terrible.