Steelhead flies by the season

Steelhead flies for overcast days in mid-October to early November
Flies for Autumn - small flies in rear for shallow water, clear water and cold, clear mornings for stubborn fish. Bigger flies in front for lively fish in bigger water ready to inhale

HEX – verb. to bewitch; enchant — noun. A bewitchment;enchantment

Observations and a simple recount of the Fall River in late June. Note hatch times and locations for future reference.

Following the hatch via lurking certain internet boards:

June 17 – A few bugs noted coming off

June 18 – More bugs hatching

June 19 – Tons of bugs hatching, but few fish keyed in on it

June 22 – “It went off last night”

June 25 – “The hex hatch is in full swing…”

June 27 – I arrive….

It was still dark when I left the house Sunday morning. The drive over 299 was routine and efficient – arriving on the river just in time for the morning PMD hatch. I made it well upriver from Island Road noting that the river was as busy as I’d ever seen it, but everyone was friendly and still plenty of room to fish. I spent the morning chasing fish starting with PMD spinners which always seem to be on the water particularly in the morning starting around 8:30 or so. By 10:30 or so, a few duns dotted the water and I switched over to an emerger and finally a sparkle dun and started raising a few fish. By about 2:00 it seemed to be winding down – a little later than normal? Not a heavy hatch and the fish were not consistent and many of them were moving around in the wide, shallow area I fished in the uppermost reach below Spring Creek bridge. During these sparser hatches and on the wide, open reaches, the fish are masters at staying just out of casting reach – but these are the fun places to fish. My experience is that the first bend above Island Road is the most dependable for fish surface feeding more on station and more dependably day in and day out. However, the fish density in the upper reach, about a half mile or so below Spring Creek bridge is ASTOUNDING. At mid-day with overhead sun and wide, shallow area, the river is one big trout garden. To think that this river can support that many fish is mind-boggling. Many rainbows push steelhead size and it leaves me hoping for a heavy PMD hatch that will get many of these fish up and going with rhythm and in one place. One of these days….

But I came for the evening Hexagenia limbata party. I had tried in the past to get it right, but missed it. Access to the lower river is difficult in my little electric boat. For this trip, I had secured access from a farmer willing to let me drop my boat in for a fee. The spot would put me right in the middle. During the morning, I had queried a local angler on the hex and my launch site plans. He was puffing a cigarette, shaking his head, “It was fuckin’ crazy last night. You put your boat in there, you’re right in the middle of it.” I was stoked…

Here’s what I noted in two evenings of fishing the hex hatch.

(1) You will see a few bugs hatching before the sun is down. They are HUGE and can be seen from across the river. The fish will not be on them, and the birds will grab them up quickly.

(2) You will not be alone. Boats will come from above and below and seemingly converge on your specific location. The reality is that boats are converging on the entire river – this is a big annual event for many people. There is plenty of room. Still, though, I could do without the excessively chatty boats breaking the calm evening.

(3) While waiting you can catch fish stripping a hex nymph. Even suckers will grab these stripped flies!

(4) The sun will set and you will wonder if it’s even going to happen.

(5) Just when you think it’s time to give up and go home, thinking you missed the hatch again this year, seemingly over a span of less than five minutes the river will go from glassy calm to literally frothing with every fish in the river grabbing emerging hex duns from the surface. The river is carpeted with these bugs, barely visible in the fading light. It happens fast! Put it this way: I haven’t gotten the shakes while fishing in a long time. A fly placed in the masses of naturals is like playing the lottery. In my crude estimation, there was probably an average of about 15-20 bugs per square meter of water – and with the water barely moving along, this makes for a lots of bugs swimming up through the water column. Grabs are few and every time you look up to take it all in, you miss a grab. There is no time for taking pictures, reflecting on it all, seeing how the neighboring boat is doing, thinking about what you’re going to eat when you get home… The air hums with swarming hex adults, and the river sounds like it’s turned into a washing machine. Within about 45 minutes, legal fishing time has passed, the rises take on a mellower tone and it’s time to call it quits. On the way back, every nook and cranny of the river has fish slurping bugs off the surface. Judging by the sounds of their rises, probably switched over to spinners.

(6) Arrive in the morning and the river is awash in nymphal shucks. Giant hex spinners have adhered to pieces of floating vegetation by the dozens. Along at least one bank, fish still slurp in the spinners. Next time I will try getting on the water at first light to see if there is more of an appreciable feed on the spinners. However, I did raise and land a few fish around 9:00 or 10:00 using a hex dun (I didn’t have any hex spinners in my boxes).

(7) Night two, the hatch comes off a little lighter (though still heavy in anyone’s books), the fish not quite as furious and a breeze kicks up in the middle of it all. Stripping nymphs prior to the hatch saved the evening for me. I got the sense that the fish here had their fill over the previous nights and the hatch was moving upstream above the Tule River (?).

Making treats

There it is … mid-day at Cockrobbin Island – standing on the bridge and barely a breath of air stirring the water, now just starting to run out on a long afternoon tide.  We had to do the detour out this way for a lunch break in between work locations. Although not a fish was seen, it’s the kind of place that invokes a sense of awe – big tide water moving steadily down and out to sea.  Normally a windy morass on any summer afternoon, it sits here quietly now, a cause for just stopping and watching.  A wall of fog sits on the beach, maybe ready to move in later in the afternoon, shutting everything into an eerie grey stillness on Halloween’s eve.  A thousand birds dot the water, shoals of pipers working the growing flats downstream, grebes working the open water and cries of seagulls reminding us of our proximity to the salt.

The tides will be optimal for the next three nights and this sort of scenario makes for tough fly tying conditions – hurriedly whipping out a few mock shrimp for the clear water that shows at the bottom of the tide. The witching hour is growing near.

Basic shrimp.

simple
Pink Tibetan Yak hair wing - a halloween costume for sure - simple, giant flies
estuary1
A hasty tie on a 3/0 hook - going for simple but full movement to swing in the tidal riffle that reveals itself late in the outgoing tide.
estuary2
Same hasty theme with rump wings on top this time. No points here for head finishing or such, but mission accomplished regardless.

Skins

Readying the phesant skins for dyeing.  I’m after the choice rump feathers near the very rear and the base of the tail.

I’m excited about the whole new universe of fly tying possibilities that are about to open up. Stay tuned for the step-by-step dyeing experiment some rainy weekend.

pheasant-skins-001

Choice rump feathers at the base of the tail.
Choice rump feathers at the base of the tail.

Thoughts on tying steelhead flies with coot

For the most part, the coot has fallen out of the winter repertoire – the largest spey-type patterns I have been able to muster up is a size 5.  Size 3 would be possible, but asking for long, spider-type hackles would be pushing it.  There seem to be two groups of feathers that have application for smaller steelhead flies in the sizes 5 and 7.  First, feathers near the shoulder and wing junction, provide a good supply of slightly stiffer and darker hackles that I tend to favor.  Feathers from the flanks are much lighter in color and resemble blue-eared pheasant in their shape and tend to be a tad longer barbule length than the shoulders, though the coot flank tends to be a wee bit softer than BEP.  The shoulder, however, is a tad bit stiffer than the BEP I’ve used.

Below, I tied two simple identical patterns using these two feather types on size 5 hooks.  The guinea collar tends to dominate the coot, but the overall finished fly fishes well in the late summer and early fall when these smaller offerings are the go-to choice.  Much of the remainder of the coot skin is full of feathers that have the potential for making great soft hackled flies in smaller sizes though I have not yet experiemented with this yet.  I think there might be potential for caddis emerger patterns as well.

Of course, having said all this, I’m still torn between coot and pheasant rump as my small fly hackle of choice.  Choosing between the two while standing knee deep in the river is difficult.  Though I find I use the pheasant rump when fish are spread out and there are long intervals between grabs.  The coot seems to shine when the fish are there and on the nab – though I suspect just about anything would suffice during those times.  In any event, I find the coot a wonderful alternative to BEP in smaller sizes and the flies it turns out are among the buggiest around.

Tied with feathers from near front of wing.
Tied with feather from near the shoulder. Also with collar of guinea and topping of bronze mallard.
Tied with flank feather.
Same pattern except tied with coot flank feather. It is a lighter color, though the camera flash washed it out a bit here.

What is it?

Imitating no particular creature, pieces of fur and feather wrapped around a hook explode to life when in moving water.
Imitating no particular creature, pieces of fur and feather wrapped around a hook explode to life when in moving water.

What is it about moving water that draws us from afar?  Makes us skip out of work?  Entrances and enthralls us?  Excites us and soothes us?  From the tiniest trickle to the worlds largest rivers, we, as a species, seem drawn to moving water.  Whether for its life-giving, thirst-quenching sustenance, spiritual renewal, adrenaline rushes or simple relaxation,  I can think of no place where it can all happen.

For those of us who find an angling connection to moving water, there is that anticipation, excitement and hope that precedes each trip.  Even though we go to the same places maybe; we know full well that each time reveals an entirely new place.  Maybe only subtly different than the last time, beckoning close inspection.  Or, a changed riverscape, such as after a freshet or even a flood.  Always, there is an opportunity of discovery, of finding something new and different – perhaps overlooked during the last visit.

So, many of us get giddy with excitement about going to the same old places, fishing the same old water and hoping for the same old fish.  Because we know, deep down, that this time it will be completely different.

Preparing for the New Spey Rhythm on the Eel

Replacement camera arrived today.  Just in time for green water on the lower river.  I tied a few larger flies using pheasant rump and hackle-tip wings.  More to try out the camera than anything as the fly box is well stocked.  Hoping to do the early walk into Elinor bend where the river does a long sweep along the bank.

006

009

Down Among the Stones

I can’t see any of what lies below. Only a guess, a feeling that the little seam on the far side ‘seems’ like the place to sit. Just a hunch that they are there lying in wait unfettered by the fast water rushing by. Their sleek bodies slide through it all, waiting for a cue, maybe a change in the current, or the fall of night, or, this morning, the light dawning over leaden skies full of rain. They know those stones where they can just sit and watch it all go by. They see the crawfish poke its head briefly up, colored burnt orange and then disappearing under the cobbles again. The water drops slowly at night and, still, they just sit and wait.

This weekend will mark two weeks without swinging a fly line.  While I’ve been out to the river for a couple of brief walks, I’ve yet to participate for any length of time in the refreshed riverscape that is appearing all over.  In other words, I’m approaching desperate status for some extended water time.

Sloppily tied with poor form, yet these things are irresistable when worked slowly just over the bottom.
Sloppily tied with poor form, yet these things are irresistable when worked slowly just over the bottom. Tail: golden pheasant (red and gold tied in split) Body: dyed alpaca (orange and purple). Hackle: rear of dyed ringneck rump; front of coot, Wing of paired pheasant rump. All ribbed and counter-wrapped.