Stay Fly: How are you going to fish today?
You’ve arrived at a great hole, you have your waders on, gear ready to go and now the only question is: “What technique of fly-fishing am I going to use today?”
There are three broad categories of techniques that I’m going to talk about in this article. Each of these techniques has their pros and cons, types of flies used and different scenarios that work best for them.
Dry fly fishing
Dry fly fishing is when an angler uses a floating fly to entice a fish to rise and eat the fly off the surface of the water. We are trying to imitate the natural adult stage in any given bug’s life cycle when we are dry fly fishing. This technique is one of the oldest ways to fly fish. It is also one of the most exciting and enjoyable. When a fish appears from nowhere to quickly devour a dry fly, the rush the angler gets is unforgettable.
The best part about this way of fly-fishing is the angler can easily detect if a fish is going after his/her fly. There’s no second-guessing if it was a fish or not. I think that most people that fly-fish would love to fish dry flies every day, year-round; however, the summer is typically the best time to use this technique. Also, fishing a dry fly in extremely fast-moving water can be very difficult because the fly needs to float and this can be tricky in turbulent waves.
Some classic dry fly patterns to include in your fly box would include the parachute adams, elk hair caddis, stimulator, pmx, and a hopper pattern of choice. These are just a base to get started and are not the complete list of dries that I would recommend. Study a hatch chart and figure out what dries are hatching at any given time of the season.
Nymphing is the technique that, on average, catches the most fish. Biologists have figured out that a trout’s diet is primarily eaten below the surface. The fish are filling their bellies with small nymphs and larvae that swim around the river columns. Nymphs come in all sizes and shapes, some are supposed to replicate large stoneflies, where others imitate tiny midge larva. They come weighted or unweighted, some have intricate woven bodies, whereas some are simply tied with a wire wrapped around the hook, and some have bead heads, others do not. It all depends on the day and what the fish might be eating.
Nymphing is most commonly done with an indicator (fancy fly-fishing lingo for bobber), a small split shot and up to three nymph flies. The more flies you have on the line, the more water you can cover with each cast. However, with more flies, you are more likely to tangle the line and have to take a frustrating pause in your day to untangle the bird’s nest of line and hooks. Nymphing is a great technique to use almost year-round when the fish are not visibly rising to adult flies.
The most common flies that should be in every fly-fishing person’s box are the pheasant tail nymph, hare’s ear, pat’s rubberlegs, rainbow warrior, rs2, and the zebra midge. This list of nymph flies could go on and on, however, these are a great starting point for anyone that is trying to set up their first nymph box.
Czech nymphing or Euro nymphing is a specialized technique also commonly known as high sticking. With Euro nymphing, the indicator is replaced with a piece of brightly colored tippet used as a sighter. Using the sighter and feel, you are able to detect slight bumps or takes from the fish hiding deep in the river. We use heavy tungsten beaded flies on jig hooks to get them deep in the river columns and in front of hungry fish. The use of longer rods is very common for fishing small deep pockets that are close to us. Euro nymphing is a great technique for high water or technical water because we are able to control the drift of the flies much better than using a floating indicator, keeping the flies in the strike zone longer.
Lastly, but certainly not least, is the technique of streamer fishing. Casting a giant fly that is supposed to imitate a baitfish or sculpin to an aggressive fish is a guide’s favorite way to spend his or her day of fishing. These large flies can bring out the big fish in the river. Streamer fishing is done best from a boat, however, it can be accomplished from the banks wade fishing. When fishing streamers from the boat, you want to cast the fly as close to the bank as possible, let it sink for a few seconds, and then give it a couple pulls or “strips” to add movement to the fly. Fish will chase, flash and take swipes at a streamer fly. If you get a bump or strike on a streamer, resist the urge to lift your rod, as you would any other technique, and do another strip to set the hook in the cheek of the fish.
Streamers come in all shapes, sizes and colors. The common rule of thumb — “dark flies on dark days and light flies on light days” — is a great starting point for color selection. If the water is off color, some shiny materials or “flash” is also a great thing to have on the fly you select. Large, articulated, multi-hook flies are great to chase those trophy fish. Using two streamers in tandem has proven to be a deadly set up on the Upper Colorado River. Some of my favorite streamer flies are the sculpzilla, tequeely, the dirty hippy, autumn splendor and of course the classic woolly bugger. Streamers are extremely fun to fish and a great way to target the larger fish in the river.
Whatever technique you decide to deploy when you get down to the river, be ready and able to change it up if the river dictates. It’s exciting and sometimes challenging to learn and master different ways of catching fish on the fly rod but the rewards can be well worth it! Get out there and have fun!
Ray Kyle is the guide coordinator and guide at Vail Valley Anglers. He can be reached at 970-926-0900 or email@example.com.
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