Mountain fishing around the Bighorns is on fire! Hatches of Stoneflies, Drakes, and several varieties of Mayflies are prolific. Our waters are clear, consistent and cold. I know many of you are getting out, but if you’re not, get up there!
Sadly, I’ve been hearing a few tales in the shop about fish coming unbuttoned. While this is unavoidable in every circumstance and makes for great story telling, there are some skills you can practice to increase your odds of touching a few more fish that might prove useful.
Before we get started, I should point out that it’s important to lose fish from time to time. As I look back on my fly-fishing shenanigans, surprisingly, it’s the fish I have lost over the years that form some of the most lasting memories, and it’s those very missed opportunities that fuel much of the fire that drives me to continue improving my skill. It’s important to reflect on the ones that got away.
Now, let’s get after those sneaky buggers!
Fly-fishing is a largely a game of angles. When casting to a pool, pocket or run, the object is to break down the water and figure out an approach, a particular cast, up-stream versus down-stream presentation, reach cast, quartering away swung fly, etc. It’s the goal of the fly-angler to figure out what the fish want by formulating a plan of attack. For the most part, once you figure that out in every angling puzzle, you’ll begin to improve your hook up success rate.
Equally important to the task of determining presentation are the angles associated with landing fish, that is, if you’re fortunate enough to connect in the first place. While it’s not rocket science, one of the most common mistakes I see in fly-fishing as a guide and casual observer on the water is letting the fish immediately take control of the engagement. When a fish eats, in almost every circumstance, they turn down stream, particularly when the feed or take is aggressive. In many situations, this quickly positions the fish below your feet. When wade fishing, once this happens, the odds are stacked against you and your chances of successfully landing the fish begin to decline.
During the fight, you have two urgent priorities. First, stay in contact with the fish after they eat. Simply raise the rod using your whole arm, not just your wrist, to put a bend in the rod tip. Then, keep the pressure and rod bend in the rod! At the same time, collect any slack in the line by stripping line from behind your rod or casting hand (After every cast, you should be placing line under the first fingers of your rod or casting hand and strip from behind your rod hand always. Think of the first two fingers of your rod hand as being another ferrule the line passes through on your rod all the time. This will eliminate slack. Slack is evil!
Second, and this is critical, you need to get the fish positioned upstream of your feet. That way, you’re fighting only the fish, not the fish and the current. Your average garden-variety 4x tippet is about 6-6.5 lb. test. While this may sound sufficient to battle the typical mountain stream trout, if you introduce the force of rushing water pushing against a downstream fighting fish, trust me, calamity ensues. I like to think about the hook-up much like catching a fly ball in the outfield – first action, move your feet. At the moment your fish takes, after you get in contact with it, begin by moving your feet and adjusting your rod to place the fish upstream of your feet. This is not a rush or panic movement. Move deliberate and careful so you don’t slip or fall. Then look for some soft water without current like an inside eddy behind a rock to finish the battle. Remove your barbless hook, revive and release your fish and get right back into the mix for the next one.
Enjoy the day!
Gary Thompson – Shop Manager and Guide