The New Year is here and for many, that means it is time for new year’s resolutions, and as fly fishermen, we are not exempt from this ritual. Here are a few fly fishing specific new year’s resolutions that will help you get the most out of 2018.
Conventional fly fishing wisdom states that when the fishing gets tough, you should add weight and get your flies down to the very bottom of the river. This is because when fish stop feeding, they hide out on the bottom of the river where they can rest in slow water. This tactic does work sometimes, but there are some huge problems with the idea. The first and most obvious one is the inevitable snag and lost rig. The second problem is that when trout are hiding amongst the rocks and sticks on the bottom, they are usually not eating all that much.
When you sink your nine-dollar tungsten rig eight feet down to sleeping fish, you’re rolling the dice. Hoping that your flies are so good they’ll draw an eat from a fish that isn’t looking for food. This seems to work fine for Landon Mayer. For us mortals, it can take hundreds of drifts and several rig changes to get resting fish to eat. Most of the time they never do.
Why not focus your efforts on the fish that are actually eating? Even if 99% of fish in the river are lock-jawed, clinging to the bottom in the heat of the day, that still means there could be dozens of suspended fish nearby. They could be recklessly chowing down on anything that passes by. So the question is how do you find those fish? I do it by covering water and fishing the lies that tend to get overlooked by other fishermen. Say I run 50 drifts through the big, obvious seam right next to the highway or trailhead without a strike. I’ll shorten my rig, put the split shot back in my pocket (I pick it out of the bottom of the washing machine later), and start walking.
Fast water, shallow lies, shaded pockets, and slow moving, foam covered eddies are great places to find happy fish when the rest of the river seems to be lifeless. I am always surprised at how many big fish eat dry flies and suspended droppers when I cast them into the overlooked or harder to reach pockets. If you want to find rocks and tree branches, go ahead and crimp on those AAAs and slide that bobber on up, but if you want to find fish, start looking for them where everyone else does not.
Travel More, Fish More
It can be easy to get stuck in your fly fishing routine. Always driving to the same river, standing in the same hole, drifting over the same grumpy 16-inch brown trout, and drinking the same lukewarm beer when you get back to the truck. If this scenario sounds familiar, maybe now is a good time to plan a fishing trip. If you want, it can be something complicated like a month-long jungle expedition chasing the fish of your dreams. However, it doesn’t have to.
A few weekend car camping trips to the rivers you have always heard your friends talking about works just fine. If you can’t find time to travel to distant fisheries, consider taking a day to chase alternative species close by. Carp, bass, and pike can be found in many of the lakes, ponds, and reservoirs right near where you live. These fish fight hard and eat flies impulsively. You might not have to take time off work and burn a tank of gas to catch fish. The important thing is that you break your routine and do something new with the people you love.
There’s no better way to boost your fishing karma than fork over some dough to the people who protect fish. There are dozens of non-profit organizations that are staffed by hard-working people. They passionately fight to protect land, water, and fish, and they all need your help. Here are a few of my favorites.
These guys have been looking after your favorite coldwater fisheries since 1959, and they have chapters from Maine to Montana, and Arkansas to Alaska. If you are interested in becoming a part of TU and giving back to the fish and the places you value, become a member and help them ‘save the world, one trout at a time’.
If you are a saltwater angler, consider sending some help to the Bonefish and Tarpon Trust. They use science-based approaches to conserve and restore bonefish, tarpon and permit fisheries and habitats. They use research, stewardship, education and advocacy.
The Wild Steelhead Coalition originated in 2000. Its mission is to increase the return of wild steelhead to the rivers and streams of the West Coast. They have since been building partnerships, educating stakeholders, and changing policy on behalf of the fish. They need your help to continue their work to protect and restore these hard fighting fish.
BHA’s mission is to ensure North America’s outdoor heritage of hunting and fishing in a natural setting, through education and work on behalf of wild public lands and waters. They work hard to keep the places we love wild and accessible for future generations. If you hunt or fish public land, it’s in your best interest to lend a helping hand this holiday season.
If you can follow and stick to this short list of New Year’s resolutions, you will catch more fish. You will have more fun on the water, and help secure a strong fishing future for generations to come.
Andy “Otter” Smith, Vail Valley Anglers Guide