Which fly — and where — on a team of three?

“Can you recommend three flies for me to fish on a dropper rig right now?”

I get this question a lot. Of course the answer depends on many, many factors. Since I enjoy helping people figure out this whole fly fishing thing, I thought I’d give you some simple guidelines — the goal being that you’ll eventually be able figure it out on your own.

You can begin with my articles, “How To Tie and Fish Dropper Rigs for Stripers,” and “Wet Fly 101: Take the ancient and traditional path to subsurface success.” Those will give you a good working base to build upon. Here are three best practices for figuring out which flies to tie on.

If you know that tiny BWOs are likely to be out on a overcast, damp fall afternoon, you’re already ahead of the game.

  1. Know what’s hatching or swimming. You should familiarize yourself with local hatches and baits. Know that when the Hendricksons are out on the Farmington in late April, so are caddis. Know that in early fall in SoCo, baits may include silversides, anchovies, peanut bunker, and finger mullet. Get to the river or estuary or beach and do some good old-fashioned observing. What’s flying around? What’s on the water? Bring a net and find out what’s in the water. For years, I’ve been pre-tying teams of three (sometimes 24 hours or more in advance) for where I’m going to be fishing. I’ve simply gotten dialed in to what’s happening and when. It is not a special talent. You can do the same.
  2. Hedge your bets. Cover your bases. Blackjack players know there are certain hands on which to double down, essentially giving them a chance to multiply their winnings. Likewise, if you absolutely, positively know what’s on the menu, offer up seconds or even thirds. So, using the Hendrickson/caddis scenario, my team of three will have two of one and a single of the other, depending on what I’ve observed. If it’s July on Block Island, I may have three sand eel flies, or two sand eels and a squid. If I have multiple baits or bugs and no hard confirmation of what’s the featured entree, I’ll give the fish a choice: different sizes, species, colors — and let them make the call. Droppers are always the fastest way to find out what the fish want.
  3. Which fly goes where depends on what you want the rig to do. If you’re fishing a team of three in a traditional way — a swing or mended swing followed by a dangle — your top dropper should be an emerger (soft hackles excel in this position) or a bait that’s likely to be near the surface, like a cinder worm or a grass shrimp. If you’re trying to get some depth to start — then let the entire rig swing up toward the surface — then your point fly should be weighted. If you want to manage the team of three like a single unit, dead drifting at or very near the surface, then your point fly should float. I almost always place the largest or heaviest fly on point. It’s not rocket science, and once you get out on the water and see how all these flies interact with water and current, you’ll have a better appreciation for the awesome power you wield with a team of three.

One last thing. You’re using a floating line, right?

Pop quiz, true or false: If trout are feeding on little dark stones or midges near the surface, Stewart’s Black Spider would be a good choice because it matches size, color, and presented an emerging profile.

Wet Fly Questions Answered

I’ve been getting a lot of wet fly questions, and I thought I’d share my answers with the group. I’m excited that so many of you are interested in this ancient and traditional art. So here we go:

Q: What size and length rod are you using on the Farmington? A: My dedicated wet fly stick is a 10-foot 5-weight Hardy Marksman II. I don’t hate it, I don’t love it. It’s got a good backbone for helping manage bigger trout in snotty currents, but I wish it were a bit softer in the flex. What’s important is that it’s a 10-footer, which I find useful for mending. Note: I still take the 7’9″ Tonka Queen out for an occasional wet fly jaunt, albeit in moderate/slow currents. That cane pole is a dream for mending.

The Queen in action. This rod gives me an ultra-fine level of line control.

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Q: Do you use an indicator? A: My joke answer is “yes” — the splash of the take, the spray of water, and the jolt of the rod tip all indicate a strike. The real answer is no, not in the traditional sense. The vast majority of time, you need no visual aid to tell you the fish has taken the fly. An exception would be when you’re fishing upstream, drawing the line toward you as the rig moves downstream. I’m watching the tip of the line like a hawk for stalls, shudders, or stoppage that would indicate a delicate strike well below the surface.

Q: Do you use a floating line? A: Yes. (I’m a line control freak.)

Q: When you’re casting and mending, is it basically a dead drift, then the flies start swinging and rising? A: Kindof. Unless you introduce slack into the presentation, you’ll never really have a true dead drift. So even when I’m doing a quartering down or straight across cast and mend, the flies are moving downstream and across, albeit in a slower manner than they would with a traditional wet fly swing.

Q: You’ve said that in spring, you focus more on pool-type water, and faster water in the summer. I’m having trouble finding the right type and depth of water. Any advice? A: Generally speaking, the colder it is, the greater the chance that trout will be in deeper pool-type water. That doesn’t mean you won’t find trout in 1-foot deep riffles in December. The bottom line is: there is no substitute for experience on the water. Get out and explore. Keep a log. Where and when did you fish? Were you catching? Were others catching?  What was the weather like? What was the water height? You can see where this is going. And finally, a wee plug for myself: take a lesson. I hear this a lot from clients: “I’ve driven past this spot a hundred times and never thought to fish it.”

Q: I fished wet flies and only had one bump. What was I doing wrong? A: (This person was out on the Farmington this week.) You’ve got a lot of elements working against you. For starters, I don’t like to fish wets in the Permanent TMA in any flow over 500cfs (it’s been 750cfs and higher). 250cfs-400cfs is the wheelhouse. Hatch windows also have a lot to do with the wet fly bite. For example, right now (Hendrickson and caddis hatches) you want to be swinging anywhere from 11am to 3pm-ish. You’re trying to entice the trout that are taking the emergers. And this cold, wet weather isn’t helping, either.

When you hit the emergence just right, the results can be magical.

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Keep on swinging.

Farmington River Report 5/8/15: We’ll take six

Jefferson took my Wet Flies 101 class today, and he chose a helluva fine day to be out fishing. Sunny, warm, good flows (264cfs, 52 degrees)…and anglers. Lots and lots of anglers. Everywhere. (I didn’t know you could fit that many cars into the Woodshop dirt lot. Whoa! Is that Church Pool or the Wire Hole in Pulaski?) Still, we managed to find some water to call our own not once, but three times around the upper TMA.

Jefferson did a splendid job with his team of three wets. Here he’s making that critical first mend after his cast. And yes, the weather and the river were indeed as clear and lovely as they look.

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To the fishing. I have been hearing a lot of reports of strong hatch activity with no fish rising to the bugs. That was our experience today. Spot A was heavy with midges, moderate with caddis, but very little surface activity. What risers we saw never got into any feeding rhythm; it was all rather haphazard. Jefferson still managed to stick four trout, which was four more than I saw anyone else hook. Spot B was largely devoid of hatch activity, except when the sun hid behind the clouds and we had a micro hatch of size 14-16 BWOs. Two fish on at Spot B. Spot C was the scene of a strong Hendrickson hatch (2:00pm-2:30pm) with one lonely trout making a few furtive slashes. He proved most uncooperative. But, we know where he lives. Thanks again to Jefferson for a fun day.

Mr. H stops by to say hello.

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