Thursday, December 29, 2011


Nymph fishing techniques, in general and more specifically strike indicators, will generate as much heated discussion among fly fishers as any topic:  to use an indicator or not to use one, which type of indicator to use, and where to place the indicator on the leader.  Every nympher will have a different opinion on these nymph fishing nuances.  Like most things in life, the best choices are situational.

There are those, often curmudgeonly individuals, who refuse to use an indicator and speak of a Zen like feeling for when there is a take.   I’m about as curmudgeonly as they come, but have apparently have never reached that Zen like state when I never need a strike indicator. 

Under most nymphing situations an indicator is called for.  But there is one situation where an indicator may not be necessary or even the right thing at all, short line or high stick nymphing.  In this situation, where your line is hanging directly below the tip of your rod, you can get a drag-free drift by moving the tip of your rod along the seam you want to fish your nymph in.  Since the nymph will be directly below your rod tip you can be sure of where the nymph is drifting.  And being “tight to the nymph” the take will be transmitted to you via the rod.

In situations other than ‘high sticking” an indicator is basically essential for an acceptable drift.  With an indicator your nymph will hang directly below and perpendicular to the water surface.  Without the indicator the cross stream currents will cause your line to swing and pull your nymph out of your drift line up toward the surface and toward you. That is not to say that simply putting on an indicator will eliminate a swing.  You still have to mend to keep the line at as close to a right angle to the indicator as possible and the nymph and indicator in the current seam you want to fish.

In choosing an indicator, look for these four things:  floatability, castability, color and. easy position adjustment.  By floatability I mean an indicator that has enough buoyancy to be able to support the weight of the nymph you are fishing.  Select the smallest indicator that will do the job for the flow conditions. In smooth water and for spooky fish a big indicator will often put fish down.  In heavy water you generally will need a bigger indicator for the same weight fly.  Remember, the smaller the better

Nymph fishing does not require artful casting.  I’m sure you have heard it described as “Chuck and Duck!”  By castability I’m referring to the additional wind resistance and weight.  This is especially true with the yarn type indicators.  Pick an indicator that doesn't interfere with your casting.  As with floatability, the smaller the better.

Color?  Most indicators tend to be a shade of florescent pink or light orange with a few in a florescent line green or plain white.  I learned about color from my time working as a water scientist.  We used florescent dye to study stream mixing zones and determine “time of travel”.  I remember standing on a bridge with a co-worker and said “Here come the leading edge”.  He looked at me like I was joking with him.  We had used Rhodamine WT, a fluorescent pink dye and he couldn’t see it.  On the other hand if we used Fluorescein Dye, a florescent green dye, I couldn’t see it.  So what about white?  If you are nymphing in water with a lot of foam and low light conditions a white indicator often gets lost.  That is especially true with small indicators.

Perhaps even more important than the fly your chose of the nymph to use, is making sure that your choice gets down to where the fish are.  As water depths change and you need to adjust the depth of your nymph, an indicator that can be moved up or down easily is what you want.  My experience is that the various press on foam or indicator putties don’t work well and the residue left behind on your leader tends to inhibit sinking.

Nymphing on streams were the depth doesn’t change that much from one location to location, the need to be able to re-position your indicator on the leader isn’t all that critical.  This is often the case on small streams or pocket water areas.  In these situation I’ll generally go with a high floating dry fly such as an Elk Hair Caddis or a Stimulator as an indicator.  I just tie my nymph on as a dropper at about 1.5 times the depth of the water and leave it there.

So what is my indicator of choice?  For me it is a pink Thingamabobber.  I buy the smallest size, ½ inch.  If I need more buoyancy for a big Mohair leech in heavy water I just add a second one.

Monday, November 21, 2011


Finding fishy locations is relatively simple.  This is especially true on small streams.  Find that place that meet a trout’s need for protection from the current, protection from predators and is near a steady food supply and you are at the right location.  Or, if you’re on the stream when the fish are rising the fish are doing all the work for you.  When all else fails you can do as we suggest and “Fish the edges, the ledges and the foam going past the rock.”  Most fly fishers with a little experience are able to, as they say, “read the water.”  With more experience and time on the stream you progress from reading Dr. Sousse to reading War and Peace.   Knowing the right locations to cast is important but something that is often overlooked is being in the right position to fish that great location.

There are three critical elements to the perfect position at any location.  If you are lucky, sometime you can have all three of these elements.  On big water there is a much better chance of finding a position that provides all three of these elements.  On small streams I feel good if I can just getting two of the three elements at a prime location!  Here are my three critical elements.

Position for the Best Drift.   A couple of years ago I had a client for our Wyoming CutSlam program fishing Soda Butte Creek above Ice Box Canyon in Yellowstone National Park.  He is an FFF Certified Casting Instructor.   A nice Yellowstone Cut was actively rising.  The fish was holding right on the edge of a seam as the current broke off a spruce lying out from the right descending bank of Soda Butte Creek.  The client was a fantastic caster and made several great casts but just couldn’t get a suitable drift. 

 “How about if you wade across the creek and get on the same side of the current seam that the fish is on?  That way you don’t have to do a puddle cast and ‘you can make a better presentation.”  

All it took was wading across the creek to get in the right position to make an easy drag free drift over the fish.  The second or third cast took a 16 inch Yellowstone.

As you approach a prime location evaluate where the best position is to get the best drift, the most un-obstructed cast and best opportunity to cover the water.  Move toward that position as you move up the stream.  In addition to un-obstructed casts look for the position that lets you make a cast across the fewest conflicting currents.  This will maximize your chances for a drag free drift.  In a perfect situation you will move to a position that puts you at a slight – about 30 degrees – angle off to the side of the fish.  This position will put you on the edge of the fish’s blind spot and permit a cast without “lining” the fish

Position for Casting.   What value is fishy spot if you can’t get in a position where you can make a cast?  As you approach each new location, look to see where you can position yourself so you can make a cast.   Evaluate each side of the stream to see if there will be enough space behind you to be able to make a back cast. On small stream this is often critical.  Be prepared to have to cross to the other side of the stream to be able to cast or perhaps this location will require a roll cast. You may even have to resort to a “bow and arrow” or other specialty cast. Another approach to a casting position problem may be to make an across the body cast.  Often that will work, but an even better solution is to learn how to cast “Off Handed”.  It is not that hard to learn to cast but it will take you a while to become comfortable with line management and control.  But in the long run off hand casting and improving the specialty casts will resolve a lot of your casting position problems. 

Position to Land the Fish.  Maybe it is the 
predator in me, but I assume that every cast is going to bring up a fish.  Why cast to empty water.  With that in mind, before I cast I have an “exit strategy.”  I pre-plan how I want to handle the fish that I’ll catch.  Not all positions offer you an “easy out”.  There may be brush or other obstacles that make it next to impossible to get your fish to a position where you can control him.  Or you may turn the fish too far into the current.  Either because you need too or you made a mistake and the fish gets below you try throwing a little slack in the line.  Often if the fish feels less pressure it will stop running and you can move into a better location to land your fish.

Generally, the smaller the stream at each great fishing location, the less likely you will be to find that one position that meets all three of my criteria.  Any time I have to choose one of the factors it will almost always be for the position that gives me best drift.  Then, every once in a while you find that position where you can have the stars align and you have the perfect position at a big fish location.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Chuck's last fishing trip

Back in May I receive this e-mail from a man named Chuck:
I have a story, and I would like to see if I can get your help if possible.  For most of the 1960's and 1970's, when I was a kid, my family and I spent about 2 weeks every summer at the log cabins on French Creek Ranch.  We would drive from Los Angeles, CA, making the long trip in about 3 days.  The owner of French Creek at the time was a lady named Millie Sanger, who I'm sure, has long passed away.  My mom and her family were even going there since my mom was a little girl, staying at the old Jenkins place.  My Grandfather was a big fly fishing fan and taught my dad how to fly fish when he and my mom got married.  When we were old enough, my dad taught my younger brother and myself how to fly fish on the North Platte River and French Creek.  It was my dad's favorite place to visit; he loved it up there and looked forward to those 3 weeks every year.  Some of my best childhood memories took place on that ranch.  I remember the log cabins, the pond out in front, the big lodge...everything.  I could tell stories for hours about that place. 

Anyway, my dad sadly passed away on April 15th, and his body was cremated.  My mom, brother and I would love to have his ashes sent down French Creek, along with his old (and I do mean old) fishing hat.   My mom and brother live in Northern California, and I live in South Carolina.  I guess I have two questions.  First, as far as sending the ashes down the creek, is this something you would be willing to do for us?  And second, if I was able to fly into Laramie, would I be able to make a day trip to French Creek with your help, and send of the ashes myself?  Please feel free to email me back and let me know any thoughts you have.

Bring the romantic that I am I immediately contacted Chuck.  I told him that not only would I be happy to do it for the family, I’d be damn happy and honored to do it for them.   Asked about how they had found me, Chuck said they googled “French Creek, Wyoming and Fly Fishing” and my web site came up on top.  After going through my site they knew in their heart that I would do it and was the “right” one to do it.

As I learned more about Chuck’s dad – also called Chuck – the commitment to do this for the family became obvious.    Having served in the Marines I have a kinship with all other Marines.  In a similar way being a devout fly fisher I have a kinship with all other diehard fly fishers and Chuck the elder and I had that fly fishing connection.  It was just too ironic that Chuck’s favorite place to fish, French Creek, is one of my favorite streams in the world.  In fact I have always said if I could only fish one more time before I went blind it would be on French Creek in mid-July.  

Over the next two months as I began to prepare for my summer long guiding trip to Wyoming, I mentioned my added responsibility to my friends, fly fishing accomplices and clients.  Everyone thought it was a kind and thoughtful act by both the family and me.  Everyone asked “can I be part of it?”   My plan was to catch a big trout from one of my “secret” locations on French Creek, place Chuck’s ashes in his old fishing hat, and release both Chuck and the trout together down French Creek.   The family’s response to my plan was that it exceeded their prayers.  The logistic were relatively simple.  Chuck’s widow would have this ashes sent to me.  In late June Chuck’s ashes arrived via certified mail.  She also sent me the material form the memorial service and a picture of Chuck in his younger days wearing his fishing hat.

Chuck’s ashes went into my truck and off we went to Wyoming.   The winter of 2010-2011 was one of the worst on record for the Snowy Range Mountains, the source of French Creek.   On July 11th as I drove through the Snowy Range there was still more than three feet of snow back in the woods!  I knew that French Creek would still be at peak spring runoff levels.   The drive along the Forest Service road that crosses and then parallels French Creek confirmed my fear.  There was no way I could fish French Creek for at least a month.  By that time I’d have to be in northwest Wyoming to guide.  My plan for the release of Chuck, his hat and a good fish was not going to happen.   

I had decide early on that there two people I wanted to be part of this occasion, my true and special friends, guides and fishing companions Duane and Preston.   Duane would be with me all summer but Preston had only a limited window of time available.   The last possible day we would all be together was the 22nd of July.   A scout of possible location revealed that a little side channel by the Tie Hack Trail bridge would provide a place where I could at least fish and maybe catch something.

On the morning of the 22nd of July, over coffee by our campfire  I got Chuck out of the truck and we opened the US Postal Service package.   Inside was Chuck’s old, and I do mean old, fishing hat and a brown container.  Inside the container was a plastic bag containing Chuck’s ashes.   By about 10:15 we were at the Tie Hack Trail bridge.  With Preston’s son Nate, a professional photographer, recording the event, I wadded across the side channel to the edge of the main flow of French Creek with the container of Chuck’s ashes and his hat under my armI sat Chuck and his hat on a small gravel bar and made several casts into the side channel.  My hope to be able to release Chuck and a fish was not going to happen.    I made my way to a rock on the edge of the fastest current, put Chuck’s hat down on the rock, took the bag of ashes from the container and filed his hat with them.   With a smile on my face and a glade heart, I slide the hat off the rock and waved good bye as the current set Chuck free.

I hadn’t poured all of Chuck’s ashes into his hat.  There was still about a third of a cup of ashes left in the plastic bag.  My first thought was to go up on the bridge and dump them.   Then a thought occurred to me.  Maybe I could take Chuck on one last long fishing trip.   I would be fishing in the Encampment area with clients for the remainder of July and then heading west into the Bridger-Tetons for three weeks.  From there I would head home to Kansas City.  Just a slight detour would take me past French Creek at the end of August.  By then French Creek should be fishable.  Hopefully then I could release Chuck’s final remains and a nice French Creek trout!   When I contacted Chuck’s widow with my proposal I received a resounding YES!  

So Chuck and I went off on his last great fishing trip.   Over the next several weeks we had a chance to fish with a lot of different people throughout western Wyoming’s Bridger-Teton’s and up into Yellowstone.  At each new location I marked the spot with my personal locator and whenever I had internet access I’d send Shirley a report on where we fished, who we fished with, and how we did.

On the afternoon of August 21st I took Chuck back to French Creek for one last fish.  I didn’t want anyone one with Chuck and me for this final time on the stream.  It had to be just him and me for these last casts.  Having anyone, even my closest friends, along would have made it too much of a spectacle.   The Tie Hack pool, just a few hundred yards below where I had released most of Chuck’s ashes always has a few nice fish in it.  The pool didn’t disappoint me.  Within a few casts a beautiful rainbow rose to our size 14 Elk Hair Caddis.   I quickly brought the fish into some slack water, sprinkled most of Chuck’s ashes into the water and placed a few remaining ashes onto our trout.   As Chuck and our trout swam off I realized what a special gift I had been given and been able to share with so many others.   We can all only hope that our lives will touch so many people.  

Tight Lines Chuck!

Sunday, July 3, 2011

So Long Cicadas. See Your Relatives In 4 Years!

While it lasted it was great fun.   But all good things come to an end.   Now it is a waiting game.  The 17 year Cicadas will make their return in just 4 more years.  

The 13 year Cicadas started emerging in the middle of May and soon the hillsides in the Missouri Ozarks were buzzing with them.  There were some misconceptions among fisherman about them.  Many thought that they would be on the streams the way mayflies and caddis flies are after a hatch.   That misconception may explain why we didn't see more folks fishing them.   Folks went to the stream, didn't see "clouds" of them and assumed that they weren't there.   We made 6 trips between the the 7th and 19th of June and caught more than our fair share.  True, we likely didn't see more than two dozen on the water in all those trips but Missouri's wild rainbows were fools for them.    Enough were falling out of the trees to keep the trout interested.

As these photos attest, Missouri's wild rainbow trout streams harbor some very nice fish!   It is going to be frustrating to fish them now and not get some of the fish we know are in them!

So Long Cicadas.  See Your Relatives in 4 Years!

Saturday, May 28, 2011


I’m always surprised at how enacted and proposed bans on felt soled wading boots stirs some much emotion within the fly fishing community.  I’ve heard arguments that range from it being a conspiracy by the boot manufactures  so they can sell us new boots, to more government intrusion into our lives, to “well what about shoe laces?”

Invasive species are a problem and anything we can do to slow their spread and minimize their impact needs to be done.  In my Missouri Ozarks we are faced with the Emerald Ash Borer.  The Great Lakes were devastated by sea lampreys and are now threatened with bighead carp.  We like to talk about being the “stewards of the resource”, so why when we have a reason and way to steward our resource do we balk at it?

Didymo (also called Rock Snot) is short hand for the diatom Didymosphenia geminate.  Didymo doesn’t completely decimate a stream but it does change the diversity and community structure of the food base.   The dense growth that covers the stream bed reduces the numbers of mayflies, stoneflies and caddisflies and increases the numbers of more tolerant species.   Add to that the esthetic impacts of stream beds that look like they are covered with toilet paper.  
 There is a lot of anecdotal evidence that invasion by Rock Snot has an adverse economic, as well as environmental impact and that as Didymo continues to spread the impact will be more intense.  My first encounter with Didymo was this winter on the lower section of the Rio Guillermo in Chile.  In Patagonia fly fishing
is important to the local economy with the many foreigners coming to stay at the high-end lodges.  The Chilean fisheries agency is serious about strategies to slow or stop spread of Rock Snot.  When we purchase our permit we also receive a tri-fold brochure in English about Didymo.  On the highway just outside the 

airport is a billboard about Didymo.  And one morning we were stopped at a police road block and asked if we had fishing gear with us.  When Ethan told them “yes” the police called over the fisheries agency to disinfect our gear.   A police roadblock is a serious commitment.  I expect that before long felt will be banned in Chile.

The cliché that the “Genie is out of the bottle” is true for Rock Snot.  We will never eliminate it.  What we have to do is all work to see that we do our part to stop the spread.  So what can and should we do?  First off, stop whining about having to by new boots without felt soles.    We older guys will miss the felt because the new soles just don’t give the traction of felt.  Hell I started using a wading staff everyplace anyway.   Carry disinfectant with you and disinfect even non-felt boots.  STREAM SIDE ADVENTURES carries a garden sprayer containing a 5% bleach solution.   When we get to the stream everyone’s boots get sprayed and when we get back to the truck at the end of the day the boots get sprayed again.   It is as easy to practice stewardship as it is to talk about it.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Floods and Fly Fishing

High flows are generally not a significant problem for fish in the stream.  Cold water fish like trout have evolved in a system of periods of very high flow associated with snow melt runoff.  Sure some are lost by getting stranded in backwater pools that become isolated as the high water receeds.  But most escape the current associated with high runoff flows the same way they escape them in their everyday existence.  They find shelter in depressions and behind obstructions. If flows haven’t altered the stream bed, when the flow recede they move back into their former preferred locations. (For more information on stream flow and how it effects trout and trout fishing visit these two links

The substrate or bottom material of some Missouri trout streams is composed primarily of small, pea to walnut sized, material, sometimes called “chert”, with small scattered areas of larger rock fragments or exposed bed rock.  When streams with this type of bottom material flood, the stream velocity increases to a level high enough to erode the bottom material and move it in suspension or by dragging it along – a process known as traction.   

 It is the movement of the bottom material associated with floods that can cause problems for Missouri’s trout.   When the stream floods and moves the chert it displaces and grinds the fish food organisms – benthos – living on or between the gravel.  When the storm flows recede much of the food base is gone.   A couple of years ago I had an “Ah ha” moment about this on the way home from Missouri’s Current River  Even floods later in the year are not going to be devastating to the food base of the stream.  Midges and caddis flies are the primary food source in terms of absolute numbers and biomass.  And most of them have several broods a year.  Some midges can complete their life cycle in no more than a few weeks.  Many of the smaller caddis flies also have short life histories.  So before long there will be food on the table. 

Yes, flooding can slow down the fishing for a little while but it will recover very quickly compared to the devastating effects of drought.  To me the worst thing about a flood event is that the stream has changed so much I have to find new “go to” holes.