Sunday, October 4, 2015

Love Pink

     There are some every year in fall. Yet it is every other year, during odd-numbered years, pink salmon, or ‘humpies’, ascend the river systems of northwestern Washington in numbers great enough to humble even the thickest among us, crowding portions of the rivers, delighting snaggers & vexing fly casters challenged to make them bite.

     The humpbacked bucks run about 3 to 6 pounds, & the autumn colored hens about 2 to 4 pounds. The hens, to my eye, are among the most beautiful of salmonids. With broad, powerful tails, humpies are strong, active fighters. Pound for pound, I’d give them the nod over chinook.

    And humpies will bite. They aren’t eating, but they are a primitive, automatic kind of fish, & they will bite the fly if the angler can figure out where their trigger button is that day. Oh, it is true that on some days, lucky days, & for mysterious reasons, humpies will go on the bite – & bite anything. But, everybody knows, that is usually not the case. Most of the time you’re left to cipher exactly how they want the fly presented.

     Fortunately, fly color is no great decision, as the humpy’s penchant for prawn colors -- combinations of red, orange, pink & white -- is a fair constant, though they do seem to appreciate a nicely detailed pattern.

   Presentation is what they’re really picky about. Common knowledge has it that humpies like the fly jigging (Clouser-style patterns are popular), & that’s true, though not always the case – & wasn’t the case on a recent trip to the Skykomish, where, I eventually found out, they wanted the fly swinging, dead-drift, tickling the bottom. Swinging. Not jigging. That made me happy.


Thursday, September 17, 2015

October Caddis ~ For Swinging

      I love September – crisp mornings & the aspens flaring like yellow candles on the higher slopes. For those of us afflicted with melancholus habitus, September is the most exquisitely melancholic month of the year. Life has emerged from summer’s oven & cooled to a glorious apple cake that will, all too soon, become a memory in winter.

For trouters, the emergence of giant, pumpkin orange Dicosmoecus (fall sedge, fall caddis, October caddis) are right up there with the best of reasons for loving September, in my neighborhood & to my mind. This is my favorite insect. With a five eighths to three quarter inch body & the wing around an inch to one & a quarter inch long, it is a large, handsome bug, lending itself to a number of imitative possibilities. I play with these through the season. Wet versions work well as swung flies &, for me, these most often out-fish dry versions of October caddis.  The one featured here has been working well on the swing.

Hook: #6 TMC 200R

Thread: rust brown UNI 8/0

Body: Umpqua October caddis blend dubbed on a loop of the tying thread – & a bit of squirrel dubbed over the thorax area

Wing (optional): turkey tail

Hackle: gadwall/orange dyed guinea hen/brahma hen ~ & finish.

Saturday, September 5, 2015

Great Gray Spotted Sedge Variants

     As the ancient Egyptian seers predicted, the last full moon of August was certainly the transition moon. Weather patterns have rearranged favorably. A few nights ago, under the porch light, I discovered the first great gray spotted sedge (Arctopsyche grandis) of the season.

Great gray spotted sedge show at the end of August on the U.S. upper Columbia, just prior to the larger October caddis (Dicosmoecus); & although Arctopsyche grandis produces great hatches on some western rivers, it emerges sporadically from my home water, more a seasonal presence than a meetable hatch.
GGSS is a large insect, the body about 5/8 of an inch long & the wing about an inch long. The wing is thick & waxy, like October caddis.

Just as anglers keep a mental catalogue of the larger fish they’ve caught, so do trout keep a catalogue of the larger insects they’ve caught – drakes, salmonflies, carpenter ants, wasps, grasshoppers – & eat them (& the artificial) opportunistically through the big insect’s respective seasons. The big ones are memorable.

So it is on my home water. And even though GGSS pupae & adults are most active around dark, the imitation generally fishes well all day when these insects are present.

 As with October caddis, winged wetfly variants of great gray spotted sedge fish best for me.

For swinging:

Hook: #8 TMC 200R

Thread: camel UNI 8/0

Abdomen: 50/50 blend of Wapsi Superfine BWO & Hareline Light Olive on dubbing loop of Pearsall’s primrose yellow silk

Thorax: 50/50 pine squirrel & Hareline Brown on dubbing loop of tying thread

Wing: turkey tail (alternate wing: pine squirrel tail)

Hackle: brahma hen ~ & finish.

Soft-hackle variant:

Hook: #8 TMC 200R

Thread: camel UNI 8/0

Rib: copper wire

Body: green tinsel/thorax: 50/50 pine squirrel & Hareline brown on dubbing loop of tying thread

Hackle: gadwall/brahma hen ~ & finish.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Transition Moon~Two More Diving Sedge

     This last full moon of August truly is the transition moon, bringing blessed rain to wet the fires & clear the air, finally. There are no insects under the porch light tonight. The woods are silent. This is The Moon Of Sleeping Trout, the fish shifting feeding mode, transitioning from the wee summer sedge now dwindled to an echo, ambiguous, hidden for a time, anticipating the larger sedge of autumn that will fatten them for winter – great gray spotted sedge & October caddis – due to show, on the waning of this moon.

It's time to dispense with the summer patterns, so, in tribute to their hard work, I post the last of the diving sedge, as an addendum to my last post & a sort of end-of-the-skein for the summer season.

 In the last post, Diving Sedge, I suggested it’s a good idea to carry more than one pattern for simulating the spent sedges of late summer, as trout do exhibit regional & daily preferences, for reasons known only to their kind, for the most part. In addition to the variant of my last post, I find these useful as well for covering spotted sedge & grannom.

Though both of these patterns exhibit a different style altogether, they are both tied with a light olive silk abdomen, which serves well to simulate the shrunken abdomen of the spinner.

The first is a simple spider, the hackle, swept back when the fly is swung, serving to simulate the wings; the other, a hackle-less pattern with CDC wing. And these both have their day.

Diving Sedge Spider

Hook: #12-#18 (#14, mostly)

Thread: camel UNI 8/0

Abdomen: olive Pearsall’s silk

Thorax: pinkish-brown dubbing taken from the base of a hare’s ear

Hackle: light brown speckled hen ~ & finish.

CDC Diving Sedge

Hook: #12-#18

Thread: brown UNI 8/0

Abdomen: olive Pearsall’s silk

Thorax: squirrel dubbing

Wing: brown CDC – a single feather tied flatwing style (it will behave better if moistened with some spit & trained back before tying in) ~ & finish.

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Diving Sedge

      Full moon. It will be a transition moon this month. You can feel it. At last, there’s a front moving in from the coast bringing low, heavy clouds. Strong winds ahead of the front are clearing the smoke away & bending the pines, & bursts of swallows buck the wind gathering the last of the summer caddis blown from the trees. There won't be many left for the trout. I won't fish tonight. I'll stay in, maybe tie some October Caddis, as I'm hoping to see them after this moon.

Caddis. Though it is true that trout prefer eating mayflies to caddis, mayflies (& stoneflies) aren’t nearly as available as caddis (sedge). And I believe it is true, as Gary LaFontaine sagely observed, that caddis are the most important streamborn insect to anglers. And I would add: particularly to soft-hacklers.

That is certainly true of my home water, where, with a few seasonal exceptions, mayfly hatches are stingy, sporadic affairs, rarely meeting the hopeful angler’s expectations, while caddis are on the menu April to November, with spotted sedge, the most prolific, providing reliable fishing almost daily, June through August.

Spotted sedge (Hydropsyche) is the most prolific caddis of the West. On my home water spotted sedge peak in early July & by late August emergers have diminished to a sprinkle just before dark, while, simultaneously, egg-layers & males emerged from previous nights assemble to deposit eggs, or, in the case of males, programmed for daily flights over the water at dusk, fly around until spent enough to fall (dive) into the water, as if, in their final moments of life, seeking to return to their place of origin.

Living beside the river, a lot of what’s hatching from the river is attracted to the house lights & ends up in the house. The kitchen is a convenient place to observe insect behavior. If there is water left in the sink basin caddis will invariably be attracted to it, hover above it, then plunge in, breaking the surface film. These seem perfectly at home under water, able to scoot rapidly, expertly kicking their legs & gliding, & able to keep that up for several hours without breathing air, just under the surface film. Once breaking through the surface tension they never regain the air. And though they are able to swim in rapid spurts, the buoyancy of the wings seems to prevent them from diving to a greater depth.

Which leads me to question the ‘diving down to lay eggs’ behavior often described by angling writers. I’ve not seen it. I’m seeing females dapping eggs on the water, to my mind a safer adaptation than having to dive down where there is danger of being eaten, not to mention the realistic hydrodynamics involved getting so light a being down more than a few inches in a 6-knot current. I’m just not seeing it. I may be wrong (& as a human being I reserve the right to change my mind) but my own observations lead me to think that the ‘diving’ behavior is simply the result of spent adults going for a final swim. Whatever the case, there are live adult caddis swimming under the surface film, usually enough to get a handful of trout up & going, a happy circumstance for the soft-hackler looking for a thrill on an evening during the dog days of August.

In the early season, trout prefer emerging pupae to winged adults, but in the late season, with fewer pupae available, the balance shifts to those spent adults that have been accumulating around the river, living for up to a month (or more). So late season is when ‘diving’ patterns come into play. As soft-hackle designs, these aren’t much different than the emergers I tie. The dark wing holster of the emerger is a prominent feature of the natural, so I hackle emergers with a darker wing, a dark brown brahma with heavy black mottling, or a dark mottled feather taken from a ruffed grouse, meaning the hackle to simulate the wing holsters as well as an emerging wing & legs. As adult caddis age their coloration fades somewhat (& the abdomens shrink), hence, I choose a lighter hackle on flies meant to be fished as an adult spotted sedge, a faded mottled brown or dun hen.

I carry several variants to cover adult or ‘diving’ sedge, as trout do exhibit regional, seasonal & even daily preferences for this one or that one, however, the version featured today is usually reliable & probably the most universal, as it serves to simulate a number of species, East & West. The material list for this pattern has been around for a long time. Ray Bergman described it, & it was probably in use before his time. I recall John Merwin, writing in the early 1970’s, extolling the virtues of this pattern fished in the rivers of Vermont. I consider this one an essential bait.  Any serious trouter anywhere will do well to carry these in #12-#18, & #8-#10 will cover many of the larger sedges as well.

Diving Sedge

Hook: #14 Daiichi 1150 (most used, a #15-#16 can be tied on this short-shank hook)

Thread: tan UNI 8/0

Abdomen: light olive rabbit dubbing

Thorax: pinkish-brown fur dubbing taken from the base of a hare’s ear

Hackle: watery-brown speckled hen, grouse or partridge, trained back & tied down ~ & finish.   

Thursday, August 20, 2015

A Soft-Hackler’s Fly for the Apocalypse

     The Old War God Of The Desert continues to heap apocalypse upon the Far West, & in addition to record high temperatures, rampant forest fires, inescapable smoke, low stream flows/high water temps killing salmon & steelhead, He has seen fit to loose a dreadful plague of insects upon the land – yellowjacket wasps! 

Nothing left to do but imitate the plague insects & swing them in the river at smokey dusk.

Winter is the great killer of insects, & during these times of mild winters there are fewer killed, resulting in an abundance of breeding females whose bodies produce more eggs in response to warmer temperatures. Hence, the wasps are thick this year, & aggressive in the heat. They are attracted to water, where they hunt other insects, & are common around all trout streams East & West during high summer. 

In the hierarchy of summer terrestrials I would place the yellowjackets right up there with grasshoppers. Really, other than this insect’s off-putting reputation as a nasty customer, I can think of no good reason for the wasp’s lack of popularity as bait, as, due to their attraction to water, a lot of them end up in the water, & occasional checks of stomach contents in late summer reveal that trout eat quite a few of them.

Yellowjackets exhibit a strange behavior in hot weather. The brighter & hotter it gets, the more aggressive & reckless they become. And I don’t know if they are trying to drink, or are attracted to the coolness, or, possibly, they become so aggressive that the scent of the water causes them to lose whatever cautionary instincts concerning water that they might possess, but, it is a level fact that many end up in the water on bright/hot days.

We see wasps at dusk hunting sedges over the river. I watched one bumble along trying to carry two captured caddis at once, which proved too much weight, & the wasp, refusing to release the brace of caddis, fell to the water. I watched it buzz & struggle mightily, carried down the seam where I knew trout to be lurking – big trouble – yet nothing rose to take it…

Though I’ve often observed wasps struggling on the surface film, I’ve never seen a trout rise to eat a live one. Then, trout aren’t that dumb & it stands to reason if you try to eat a live one you’re probably going to get stung (though, I’d bet a bass will eat one). My observations lead me to believe that trout prefer drowned or nearly-drowned wasps. They are heavy insects & their raucous struggle on the surface film soon breaks them through it & they drown, slowly, hanging on to the wet side of the film. A happy circumstance for the soft-hackler savvy enough to be carrying the imitation, late July into early September.

Walked down to the river & fished the Yellowjacket for about an hour last night, took some photos & released a couple fair trout. Muffed a third one when it jumped & shook the fly. There was no surface feeding evident, yet the Yellowjacket high-sticked under the surface film turned the trick. 

(Reviewing the photos I had to shake my head at my own appearance while angling these days. I get loose when nobody’s around. Forgive me. I probably set a bad example in post-apocalyptic garb – scruffy beard, dirty fingernails, morning coffee evident on the t-shirt, ubiquitous tear in the tattered work shorts – no fashion plate for anglers seeking to meet the auspicious Fiery Apocalypse in glorious full uniform.)

 The rod is an older 9’, 6wt Orvis Clearwater that I upgraded with a better reel seat & guides. It has a slower, glass-like action that I like, though it is much lighter than glass, which I also like. Those who love grass & glass take note: graphite really comes into its own in rods over 8’. And the slower actioned graphites often billed as ‘beginner’ rods usually cost much less than fast models, while affording the graceful action we like in a trout rod. (Fast-action graphite rods set a pace too frenetic for observant, introspective, satisfying, killer-effective trouting. Just saying. Take it for what it’s worth. As you can see, I am an ambiguous example.)            

The reel is a 1952 (same age as me) Ocean City Waneta, about as basic as you can get. The paint is almost completely worn off, yet the reel performs like new. No rim drag. You have to finger the spool on a big fish, which affords one the opportunity to master a whole new skill set.  

While writing this I stopped by the Flymph Forum & posted a pic of the wingless Yellowjacket, & there I was fortunate to receive a comment from Lance Hidy, son of Pete Hidy, who generously posted a photo of a leaf of wasp patterns taken from Pete’s fly wallet. There’s a variety there, which indicates to me that Pete Hidy gave this insect some importance. I am intrigued, though not surprised, that Pete understood the value of this streamside insect as bait, & also that it is better fished wet, as the soft-hackle versions in his flybook suggest – his flies reflect thought & observation, during an era when the mawkish McGinty was about the only wasp simulator apt to be found in a flybook.

And I remember my grandfather telling me that the McGinty fishes better when sunken.              


Hook: #8 Mustad R50-94840

Thread: yellow UNI 8/0

Abdomen: bright yellow UNI floss

Rib: black UNI 3/0

Thorax: black rabbit on tying thread dubbing loop

Hackle: yellow dyed grizzly saddle, 3 turns over the thorax

I coat the abdomen with Hard As Nails

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Notes from the Continuing Apocalypse

      As of this writing Fish & Wildlife continues to close the rivers & streams of Washington State due to low flows & water temperatures approaching the upper range of tolerance for salmonids. It’s not as bad as Iran where, I’ve heard, deadly temperatures of up to 150 degrees have been recorded lately, nonetheless, 100 degree temps add up to less than pleasant trouting, so we’ve canceled all guided trips for this season, & we pray that next year is different.

The upper Columbia, my home water, is a tailwater, & water temps are still within the tolerance range, yet insect hatches have been nil & concentrated into short bursts right up against dark, so with no clients & not much fishing to do, we’ve been beating the heat working hoot owl hours upgrading the Boundary fish camp. A friend, David Mills, & I, just completed the new roof & corbels on the loft. We’re calling the architectural style Northwest Gothic (sort of a cross between Craftsman & Chicken Coop). 

The recent Blue Moon did bring a short respite from the heat, giving us a couple days of light rain showers, only enough to dent the dust, but cooler temperatures inspired a fairly decent showing of spotted sedge one evening, & I managed a few trout on an olive & brahma soft-hackle, at sunset. Click on the picture to enlarge it, look closely, slightly to the left of center there is a head & tail rise form left by a nice trout. Casting in the direction the rod tip is pointing & letting the fly swing through the vicinity of that rise, the fish took.

 The rod is a Cabela’s LSi, 11’6” switch, billed as a 6wt, yet I’d rate that as actually the lowest end of its grain window, & a more accurate rating, according to my own tests, more like 160-250 grains – very trouty – action is semi-parabolic & on the slow graceful side, which I like. It is throwing a 28’ floating head made from an 8wt, double-taper line attached to Amnesia running line, & the whole thing works swell, fishing everything from wee soft-hackles to large muddlers. You might be able to tell from the size of the water why such a rod comes in handy.

Footwear for the Apocalypse

I’m loving the Simms wet wading shoes. Nicely designed & perfect in those situations too hot for waders. The Vibram soles are almost as sticky as felt, providing excellent traction & protection on the UC’s loose, stoney banks. They are light weight, dry quickly, & make good boat shoes as well. Best all-around fishing shoes I’ve tried. 

Smoke from B.C. fires darkens the American Reach of the Columbia