Monday, November 16, 2015
First Lake Run Brown of Fall
I had made a lot of casts that morning with nothing to show for it, so once again persistence pays off in the swing game. Also, she was sitting in a classic fall holding spot for river bound migrating fish - the tail-out of a relatively long run with moderate current. However, this particular run had never produced a fish for me - ever. Even so, I loved (now, even more so) this particular run. It has the right speed, that slow to moderate walking pace. It has the right depth, about 4 feet. There are a few boulders throughout the run that provide current breaks but don't hinder the swing presentation. The run sits just up from and down from long shallow riffle water so it seems to be a logical holding spot for resting migrating fish. In short, in a river with limited ideal swinging water it seems perfect. The fly swings beautifully in the run and you have enough room to make a full true skagit cast (which can be a luxury in midwest streams). So the run is not only sound on paper it is also a particularly fun run to fish.
Accordingly, in spite of the poor track record, each and every time I go to this river I fish the run. At first, I fished it because in light of all of its attributes, I was certain I would catch a fish out of it. Then, after putting up a number of goose eggs - I mean never even a pluck - I just fished the run because I enjoyed fishing it. Then the other day, a bright sunny day I might add, I approached the run as I had so many times before with excitement but very little confidence. I worked the run in close, then out further, and progressively down the run as I had so many times before. With each step, I thought to myself, "there should have been a fish there...and there...and there" as I had so many times before. But then, this time, at the tail out I made a cast, then a small mend, and when the fly started to swing there she was. As the line tightened in the current I felt the exhilarating unmistakable pull of an active fish.
People often say "it's all about the grab!" That's true, the grab is addictive and what ultimately converts people to the swing game. But what I love even more is the chess match between the fish and the angler that often occurs prior to the grab. Sometimes the fish just hits the fly. I've had many a steelhead do that. In fact, we had an epic day in Michigan where a number of steelhead just hammered the fly. One moment the fly was swinging through the run the the next a steelhead was ripping line. This sort of take often happens at the end of the swing or the first strip or two as you set up your next cast. Many other times the however the fish plays with its food a bit. This commonly plays out with a pluck, a jab, a pull, generally any sort of quick tug on the end of the line. My favorite scenario occurs when a pluck occurs at the beginning of a swing. At that point you can visualize a steelhead tracking the fly setting up the kill but you have no idea when its going to happen - the anticipation is awesome! However, the grab is not guaranteed and I have come across a couple tricks that have helped me seal the deal when a fish plucked but wouldn't commit.
1. Extend your rod a bit during the hang-down. If you got a pluck during the swing the odds are the fish is still sitting behind the fly as it dangles at the end to the swing. By extending your rod and dropping the fly back I've found you can trigger a strike (I don't pretend to know why but it works).
2. Pop the rod tip - just short quick pops. This will make the fly accelerate forward and up in the water column. Presumably this makes the fly seems like a last ditch effort to escape triggering the kill instinct.
3. Some people change color I prefer to change size. My position is they've committed to the color but the fly may be too long or large such that if the fish was able to hit the fly but miss the hook. The point seems to be easier to get a hold of on a smaller pattern.
4. Take a small step down. I've found if a fish hits a fly particularly hard and does not hook up it often times drops back in the run. If I was taking a 3 steps down through the run I switch to 1 step. so I make sure not to fish over an active fish that has dropped back.
5. Fish the entire run and start over. If I've located an active fish I fish that run at least one more time. This is when I change the color or style of pattern.
The grab is exciting but enticing the grab is the fun part. Once you know that there is a fish willing to chase a streamer it can be a challenge to convince it to eat but incredibly rewarding if you succeed. In the case of this little brown the chess match was short lived. She plucked early but sealed the deal a moment later about midway through the swing - love it.