Peter writes about fishing through the bright days of summer.
I took a phone call from a very skilled flyfishing friend a few weeks ago. “Hi Haysie,” he began, “What do you suggest to catch’em at Woods Lake on the bright, still days?”
This was a good question from Shayne – and, I suspected, a timely one with the National Fly Fishing Championships drawing near. Shayne is a great angler and whilst he has no trouble at all catching lots of trout from this fine water on overcast, rougher days, he was finding it very tough on the bright, still days – just like nearly everyone else. (It’s interesting to note the trollers who tow Tassie Devils for mile upon mile, have a devastating effect on the Woods trout population on the rough grey days – but on calm, bright days, they generally can’t catch a scale until very close to dark.)
So, here are my thoughts regarding the bright days of summer. Let me preface everything with, ‘It depends’ – because it always does.
Bright days and no wind – only good anglers shine
Sometimes the wind will come very lightly from every direction; what I call a ‘change day’. The wind is struggling to settle in a particular quarter and the fishing is often very tough while this is going on.
These days are associated with spooky, timid fish. Often the takes are ‘testing’ takes. The trout have the upper hand on such days and they are shy to boot. You’ll often only catch fish by the skin of their teeth – literally. I’m sure the trout are suspicious. Is what they’re about to eat actually food? So they sample the fly right at the front of their mouth; and spit it back out in a heartbeat.
Boat fishing is often tougher than wade fishing on these days. Boats, especially alloy ones, are noisy and if you want to be a Wally and stand up high on the foredeck, casting in a vertical plane, then the fish will be onto you. As tough a decision as it might be, you need to park your $60,000 boat with its stealthy electric motor and side-scanning depth sounder, and get out and walk. Just like we all used to do once. Remember that? We still caught plenty of fish simply walking and wading.
A very knowledgeable and proficient angler, the late John Brookes, once said to me, “Peter, you seem to remember most fish you catch when you are wading quietly along but you rarely remember a fish you catch while drifting in your boat.” How true that is, and might it be because on foot, you are more intimately involved in the trout’s world? You understand the surroundings better. You are observing more thoroughly. You may get to know a trout’s beat and understand its movements and feeding pattern, before you let the fly out of your hand. This is exactly what is required on the bright, flat days. Don’t be lazy. Get out of the boat and tread quietly.
To not fish is to fish
Under such conditions, the more time you spend not fishing the better. Look on foamy edges where the previous night’s breeze has pushed in the midges and any other flotsam. Look inside points where leaves and other floating debris have accumulated. Consider where the wind was the day before and search these now calm but ‘windward yesterday’ edges. Especially during stick caddis time in December.
Setting a trap for a sighted fish is much more likely to get you a take. Who was it that said time spent in reconnaissance is seldom wasted? He must have been a good flyfisher.
Small, sparse flies, and long fine leaders that are sunk
The smaller the fly the better in these conditions. Don’t worry, the fish will see your offering, they have great eyesight. Use a static presentation – if you twitch your fly much on these bright, still days, it scares more fish than it attracts. Use as long a leader as you are capable of, and be sure to use some Loon ‘Snake River Mud’ to degrease and dull the tippet. Learn to present light nymphs without indicators to sighted fish and learn to strike when the time is right. If you need it, then by all means use an indicator of some sort: a buoyant dry or a tuft of yarn slip-knotted to your leader at the appropriate depth. (Look out for ‘Indicator Fishing on Lakes’ in the FlyStream Annual 2017/18 -Ed.) It’s a clever fish that swims past a suspended nymph or stick caddis.
Bright days and big winds – heaven-sent days to remember. Learn to cast well and get out there.
The wind on these days is usually of consistent strength and direction, often from the northerly quarter. In my opinion, such conditions offer the very best flyfishing opportunities in the country.
These are the days for ‘shark fishing’ on Great Lake, and other larger stillwaters. The trout will be up high in the water, seemingly surfing in the waves. They are cruising great distances looking for beetles and other floating food. They can be seen at 60 metres and even further away. It is tremendous dry fly fishing and cricket scores of good fish are sometimes caught. It’s exhilarating and exciting for those who have good eyesight and a suitable boat to deal with the big waves.
Meanwhile, out in the Western Lakes, these are the big fish days. The trout will likely be moving well, rather than sitting doggo like they can when it’s calm. This is your chance to catch and release a trophy trout. Get into it and hike to the lakes with reputations. Walk and wade polaroid the lake edges. Climb up onto any rock you can find. Wade as much of the lake as you can, as often the trout will be out over the deeper water weedbeds and you simply won’t come across them in close.
Shorten up the leader and use 6lb plus tippet if you are hunting a wall unit. An accurate cast is much more important than a gentle presentation. You can get away with bigger flies too. Try a size 12 Bibio. (You will thank me for that tip one day.)
Well again, ‘it depends’ but some types of rivers behave differently to others on the same day.
To start with, most streams I fish are not very wind-affected. The smaller Tasmanian streams seem to be mostly protected, either by dense trees and bushes, or they are cut deep into valleys so the wind travels far overhead.
Having said that, there are some exposed stretches of the larger meadow streams like the Macquarie River which can offer superb dry fly fishing on bright days – though only if there is little or no wind. When there is fish food about like mayflies, beetles or hoppers, the sight fishing can be superb on these larger waterways. Long, fine leaders and good casting are required, and as the late, great Noel Jetson would say, “You’ll have a ball, mate.” On bright windy days, you can be successful searching with bigger patterns cast close to the banks, but it’s just not the same.
To cross the Tasman for a moment, another situation arises on some of New Zealand’s South Island rivers which flow east from the Divide. While bright days offer great sight fishing opportunities, such days are often accompanied by strong winds that build in the afternoon and roar downstream. To fish these conditions successfully, you need to learn to cast longish leaders accurately into a headwind, delivering yarn indicators and weighted nymphs. It’s an exercise even for good casters. For those who are venturing to the South Island rivers this summer, my advice is to get your gear set up a month before you depart, and cut the bend off your nymph. On every windy day leading up to your trip, you should get outside and practice casting into the wind and to a target. It’s the only way. As the saying goes, train hard, compete easy.
Big still pools
These are often tricky on bright, calm days – especially if food is scarce. It’s nearly impossible to wade these pools quietly and unless you are clever, you’ll send a relative tsunami up the pool ahead that will put down every rising fish.
For most players, even your best casts will still look like an airliner splashing into the Hudson River. If it is somehow possible to enter the water unnoticed, this often offers the best position to deliver a fly to bankside undercuts or beneath overhanging tea-tree or willows. These are the places where the fish will always be on such days. Long, fine leaders cast with high line speed so they turn over well and land quietly, are a necessity. The flyline needs to land quietly too and a long way from the fly. Consider taking your 3 or 4 weight outfit rather than a 6 weight.
The alternative of course is to very slowly and quietly stalk from the bank. Be sure never to be silhouetted against the skyline, and keep to the shadows not the sunshine. Stand behind and beside the vegetation – blend into it, become one with it, or else the trout will quickly be onto you. I guarantee it!
Unless you are a great angler, you won’t even know you’ve spooked fish on these days. They will spook unseen from under the banks and bushes, to right under the bank. You might see a puff of silt occasionally, but that’s all.
Sit or stand still often. Once again, the most successful way to fish is not to fish. When you do find a trout, resist casting to it straight away. Instead, spend as long as you can learning all about it. Does it have a beat? Can you set a trap for it? Have you seen it eat and if so, what?
Use a bow-and-arrow cast if you can so there’s only a delivery cast with no false casting. If you can see a trout, might I suggest you use a lightweight nymph and deliver behind it? On a calm day, the fish will likely hear the fly land and come back to inspect what it was – then eat your fly. Most often, the trout’s reaction will be to rush straight back to its lie, so the hook is often set well into the corner of its mouth because of the head turn.
Riffles, runs and rises
This is the sort of water I love, as do most anglers. Wet wading on hot sunny days, especially during grasshopper time in March and April, is sensational. For the beginner, this sort of water and approach offers some easy-to-catch fish that may be small, but also feisty. There will be dry fly action all day. For the really good casters, if you can put your fly well in under the willows, deep into the shadows or very close to the tea-tree with a solid plop, you will catch plenty of fish, including some monsters.
Shorten up your leader (it depends but 10 feet is about right) and use a faster tapered one. Mostly, you’ll need accurate, deliberate presentations. Takes tend to come within a few seconds of the fly landing so long drag-free drifts and lots of mending are not so important.
Do keep in mind however, that you may come across a mayfly sipper tucked quietly into an undercut or backwater. It’s unlikely you’ll catch trout like this with the setup just described. Instead, add 5 feet of finer tippet and tie on a size 16 parachute dun. Ideally, try to present to these fish from side on, or, better still, upstream. Feed the fly downstream by casting with some slack, then mending like crazy afterwards. This creates about the stealthiest presentation we can achieve.
Overall, bright days are great days. They may work against some fishing opportunities, but there are plenty more created to compensate.