My hopes began to diminish for a productive fishing morning. Each strike in the first hours resulted in a missed hook set or bringing a fallfish to the net. I felt additional pressure Saturday morning, as I was showing my friend Mark a new section of stream. The morning haze was beginning to burn off as the heat of the day was coming on. We switched between dry-dropper and nymphing rigs as we moved upstream, neither recipe produced consistent results. My experience has been that in this stretch of the river, the browns are even more tied to a hiding spot where they ambush food floating by and then retreat to cover. Our casts to submerged logs and large boulders produced only fall fish.
Mark was the first to break the skunk, catching a nice trout on a nymph in a nice run. The fish was in a moderate depth, moderate velocity section of a run. In the moment, I didn’t register the location as anything out of the ordinary. Approximately 20 minutes later, I caught a trout that was fooled by a floating hopper. It had risen and given me its location. I casted to the fish approximately ten times before moving upstream of its rise. Generating a good drift, I allowed the fly to float past me and the fish rose and took the fly in a nondescript run. I still haven’t registered a trend.
We moved up through a deeper pool and run into a long riffle section with a subtle transition into a run. In the ambush locations where I expected trout to be holding, we each hooked into fall fish. I still didn’t catch on or find a consistent approach to catch fish. I mentioned to Mark that in the summer I often had success in steeper, shallow riffles but I hadn’t found success with that approach this year.
With a long riffle right in front of me, I decided to fish it thoroughly to check against my past observations and experiences. At the lower flow, I noticed a change in the surface sheen of the water. The steeper upstream portion of the feature was brighter, the surface nearly shimmered. Along a distinct gradient, the water color and reflections dulled. I interrupted this change as an increase in depth from upstream to downstream. I cast my nymph rig into the shallow riffle to aid the nymphs in getting to depth directly at the change in the surface sheen. My first cast through I hooked into and landed a small brown. Maybe I was onto something?
Several casts later, the indicator paused, and I set the hook. It was a solid fish and my heart jumped. The fish was strong and swam to the deeper, faster water to my left. Using side control, I navigated the fish upstream off my position and was able to land the fish. Bingo. There seemed to be fish holding in the run transition. The next several casts produced a fish that broke me off and another strong fish that I was able to land.
Patterns can adjust as the daylight and other stimuli change. As an angler, it’s my challenge to find where the fish are holding, what they are feeding on, and how I can try to catch them. In this case, the change in the water surface and water depth was very subtle. Scientifically, my brain can rationalize that with water levels slightly elevated after a moderate rain more turnover of rocks and input of terrestrial insects were added to the stream. Fish likely would move into areas where they can hide in the broken surface and slight off-color tint of the water and feed in areas where food is funneled. I didn’t put the story together until the very end of the day. The section of stream we fished only had a few spots that met these criteria. We had spent most of the time fishing the spots that have produced before in clearer water conditions. A combination of pressure, experience, and habit limited me in opening my mind to see the subtle changes. The opportunities to catch fish were limited and so was my mindset and observations.
It was great to spend the morning with Mark and to spend time on the water. I enjoyed the day. I don’t know how to help myself have conditions click with my fishing approach faster, but as I spend more time on the water, the more I can find the subtle changes around me. Keep mending…