When It’s Not Your Day: 5 Tactics When the Fishing Gets Tough

When It’s Not Your Day: 5 Tactics When the Fishing Gets Tough

April 10, 2012 5:14 pm Published by Leave your thoughts

There is an adage that says, “When the fishing is good, move slow. When the fishing is slow, move fast.”

On a good day, what reason is there to move or change flies other than to see a different view or experiment with flies to see what the fish won’t eat? Most people are going to be inclined to stay in that area and change flies as little as possible because we all like catching fish.

But what to do on those days when the fishing aren’t just jumping in the net?

On a particular day last March, I was fishing and the start was very slow. I finally landed a nice rainbow and because of the frustration of the slow start, I used my stomach pump to view what the fish had worked so hard to eat. I was shocked at what I found when I squirted the contents onto my hand. Because of the slow start, I was convinced the fish were keying in on something that I hadn’t figured out yet. The stomach sample proved me wrong. This particular fish had at least one of almost everything that is a food source in the Bighorn.

There were many sizes and colors of midge larva and pupa. There were a few sowbugs and a scud. There was even part of an aquatic worm. There were a few baetis nymphs. There was even an egg even though March is usually pretty early for rainbows to be spawning on the Bighorn, but apparently there was one female nearby that was trying.

What did this discovery tell me? It told me just about any fly I had in my box would work but I was not fishing them correctly. I started tinkering with my weight and the distance between my weight and the flies. Normally I try to change only one thing at a time to eliminate one thing at a time instead of changing a lot of things and not knowing which change made the difference or if all of them did. After adding some weight and shortening the distance to the first fly, I started finding fish. It was March, the water was cold and there was no hatch at the time. The fish wanted flies that were as close to the bottom as I could get them without hanging up too much.

The first thing is try to make the obvious observations first. Most anglers make few observations. They simply put on flies that worked last time or that somebody told them to tie on in the fly shop and head to a spot where they’ve caught fish.

First, what time of year is it? If it’s late winter or spring on the Bighorn River, the water is going to be around 39-40 degrees. Fish are not highly active at that temperature. They will tend to concentrate in slower water that has some depth. They most likely aren’t going to be in fast runs or stacked up in riffles. If it’s later in the summer or fall when the water temperature is in the fifties or even sixties like it has been at times the last four years of high water, fish are going to seek fast water because their metabolism is higher and the water is more oxygenated. This is the time to head towards the runs and riffles.

Next, depending on the time of the year, we have a pretty good idea of the food sources that are available. Sow bugs are available year round, midges are prominent in the winter and spring, Yellow Sallies, PMDs, various caddis and san juan worms are prominent in the summer months. The time of day, though, can influence what the fish are eating. Early in the morning, some of the mayfly nymphs may not be that active where later in the day, they will become the main food source. In the spring, some days they can get keyed in on a particular color of midge. If it’s August and the weather has been exceptionally hot, fishing in the afternoon will simply just slow down because fish are working more on getting oxygen than eating.

Most people start with the typical 9′ leader. In the low water years of the drought, a 7 1/2′ leader worked just fine. But I’ve discovered plenty of times, especially after the river has been fished heavily, I need to have a less obvious strike indicator and my flies have to be farther away from it. I’ve watched fish many times move out and around flies and then settle back in after everything passes. I will put on a much smaller and less noticeable indicator and sometimes add length to my leader and have found these fish suddenly become much more willing to eat my imitations.

Some times while dry fly fishing, I know I have on a good imitation. I’ve lengthened my leader but fish keep refusing the fly. What’s probably going on is I’m getting drag that’s hard for me to notice but not so hard for the fish. I change my position or casting so I can find a way for the leader to not pull on the fly. The same goes for nymphing. I can change where I’m standing and/or change how I’m presenting flies with my cast to overcome whatever seems to be unnatural to the fish. I’m not going to stand in the same spot and make the same cast one hundred times, or more likely even twenty times, thinking I’m going to change my results by not changing anything other than the fly.

So when the fishing is good, like most people, I’m very likely to change little. But when I realize the fishing isn’t red hot as we all expect it to be on the Bighorn, I start going through these items and others and make changes much more quickly but always making sure I’m presenting flies in a good way. When the fishing slow, it seems to be human nature that we all start putting less effort into it. As long as I am putting a good effort into my presentation, I’ll eventually figure out what change needs to be made. Sometimes it’s a day that it takes constant change. Sometimes it’s a day where one or two changes are key and that’s it. And sometimes it’s just one of those days but I’m still happy and confident because I changed more than just my fly.


A nice spring rainbow

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This post was written by Bighornangler

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