Short Adjustments to Improve Your Casting

improve your casting

Casting is your biggest challenge as a fly fisher. Sure, fly selection is important. So is reading water. However, if you can’t cast, you can’t catch fish. Improve your casting and you’ll improve your catch rate.

Before you hire a guide or take fly casting lessons from your local fly shop (both are great strategies), here are some “short” adjustments you can make on the fly (pun intended). Trying these immediately might lead to immediate casting improvement.

Shorten Your Casting Distances

I am continually surprised at how many trout I catch with casts of 10 to 15 feet. This is true even in big rivers like the Madison in Montana or the Yellowstone in Yellowstone National Park. If you are struggling with accuracy, limit your casts to 10-15 feet. You will find plenty of fish within this range.

Don’t forget that a lot of the fish in the river live and eat right next to the bank.

Shorten Your Arm Action

Some fly fishers cast like symphony orchestra conductors. They wave their arms, and sway their upper. Perhaps the “shadow casting” scene in A River Runs Through It has inspired this technique. However, all you need to do to make your rod work for you is to flick your wrist.

Practice this before you even pick up your rod: Make a pistol out of your hand (index finger pointing forward, thumb pointing up). Snap your wrist down, then snap it up. Do this over and over. It’s the motion you want to use when you pick up your fly rod to make a cast.

You can move your arm as you flick your wrist. But think of yourself as a baseball catcher trying to throw out a runner attempting to steal second base. The key to a strong throw is the flick of your wrist. The same is true of casting a fly rod.

You’ll be shocked how easily the line shoots out with minimal effort when you put some snap in your cast.

Shorten Your Stroke

I’m still an advocate of viewing your fly rod as a hand on a clock (with apologies to those of you who have long since ditched clocks with ‘hands’ for digital models).

Begin with your rod pointed straight up in the air at the 12 o’clock position. Then, snap it back to 11 o’clock and snap it forward to 1 o’clock. In reality, your back cast may take you to 10, and your forward cast may take you to 2. But if your rod extends to 9 o’clock on your back cast, your fly line is likely to hit the water or the brush.

In my experience, the most egregious casting errors involve the back cast. So concentrate on it. The forward cast usually takes care of itself.

Note that the point of the 11 to 1 approach is not hitting the precise numbers on an imaginary clock. Rather, you are trying to shorten your stroke. If your back cast is too long, your cast will lose energy—not to mention the problems you’ll create by slapping the water or snagging the brush behind you.

Limit the Number of False Casts to Improve Your Casting

The more false casts you make, the more chance you have of snagging brush, creating tangles, and spooking fish.

Why, then, do fly fishers (myself included) make so many false casts?

I’ve pondered this question and have a couple of answers: First, we want our casting rhythm to feel “right.” It may take several false cases to get into the right rhythm. But trout do not award style points for your casting. Nor does the right rhythm guarantee a better cast. Second, I suspect the biggest reason for more false casting is the fear of a wrong landing. So we keep casting our line back and forth in the air.

However, the best fly casters make one back cast and then place the line on the water on the forward cast. There are, of course, exceptions. As long as I’m not false casting over the water, I will make a few false casts to dry out a water-logged dry fly. Also, if I’m making a longer cast, it may take me two or three extra casts in order to let out a sufficient amount of line.

However, as already noted, to improve your casting, shorter casts ought to be the rule — not the exception.

Less is often more. These short adjustments may seem rather simplistic. But they work. They can lead to more effective casting, which leads to catching more fish. So remember, shorten up for success to improve your casting.

Other Articles on Casting

    3 Fly Casting Mistakes that Beginner’s Make

    Trouble with the Cast

The One That Got Away

one that got away

A few weeks ago, I fished a deep undercut bank at dusk.

My podcast partner, Dave, and I had an outstanding day on a little spring creek in the Minnesota Driftless. We decided to return in the evening to see if any fish were rising — or if any big ones might be coaxed out of their hiding places. The creek is full of brown trout, so we thought we might get a chance to hook into a big one on the prowl.

We only saw a handful of rising fish. So I tied on a Woolly Bugger to fish a deep undercut bank. After a few strips through the dark water, a fish slammed my fly. It felt like a big fish. Dave concurred. The fight was on! Then it happened. As hard as I tried to keep it from escaping to its lair, the trout managed to get to the undercut bank and tangle my line around a submerged tree branch.

Perhaps the biggest trout I hooked on that little creek became “the one that got away.” I have other stories like this. They keep popping up in my memory. And I keep bringing them into conversations with my fly fishing friends. “Did I ever tell you about the one that got away when I was fishing the Bear Trap section of the Madison?”

It dawned on me recently that these memories—and my inclination to share them—have some upsides. I can think of at least two upsides to “the one that got away.”

Mystique of the One that Got Away

First, the big trout that get away add a bit of mystique to our experiences on the river. I keep wondering if that Minnesota brown I hooked was 18+ inches. Dave and I know there are some monsters that lurk in a few those deep pools. Yet the largest brown I’ve caught in that spring creek to date is about 14 inches.

A couple decades ago, I purchased a new Orvis fly rod. The first time I used it, I tied into an aggressive rainbow.

At least I assume it was a rainbow.

I was fishing the Bear Trap section of Montana’s Madison River in the spring. I hooked a fish while nymphing, and it felt like a big fish. Then it decided to run. I ran after it — well, as fast as one can run in a couple feet of water! Shortly before it got into my backing, it wrapped itself around a large rock and snapped off the line. In retrospect, I should have been more aggressive in fighting it.

But I still have memories of that fish.

Initially, the memories were painful. Oh, I would have liked to see that trout! I’ve caught several twenty-inchers in that stretch of the Madison during the spring, and this one seemed even bigger. In more recent years, though, I’ve felt more nostalgia than pain when this memory surfaces. That elusive fish is part of the mystery that accompanies fly fishing. I’ll always imagine it as larger than it probably was.

Challenge of the One that Got Away

Another upside, I suppose, of the one that got away is how it reminds you that fly fishing is a challenging pursuit.

Let’s face it: if you caught a large trout on every cast, fly fishing would lose its appeal. Sure, it would be a blast at first. Eventually, though, it would resemble fishing in hatchery pond. The lack of challenge would diminish the satisfaction.

Part of the satisfaction that comes from fly fishing relates to overcoming adversity. Getting skunked is one form of adversity. But it’s worse when you were close—oh, so close—to landing what feels like a monster trout. It’s like blowing a 3-2 lead in the ninth inning of Game 7 of the World Series. It stings more than losing the series in four games.

The big fish I’ve hooked and lost remind me how hard they are to land. Any number of things can go wrong. On those occasions when everything goes right, I have a greater sense of appreciation for what I accomplished. The ones that got away remind me that I’ve overcome a challenge when I finally get that 22-inch trout into my landing net.

Hope for the Future

I’ve shared the story before of a fall day on Montana’s Madison River with my son, Luke. He was about 11 years old at the time. On his first cast, he snagged a rock. Or so he thought. I waded over to see if I could dislodge his fly without snapping it off. As I tugged gently, I sensed movement at the other end.

“Luke, you’ve got big one the end of your line!”

He played it well, and I moved in with my net. The trout rolled in the film. It was monster brown! Suddenly, as big fish tend to do, it took off just as I was lifting the net. It wrapped itself around my legs and snapped off. I felt sick. I could see Luke was upset. So I consoled him with words of hope: “Luke, there’s more in here like this. You’ll probably hook into another one on the next cast.” I’m not sure I believed this. But that’s exactly what happened. Luke caught a 20+ heavy brown on his next cast — and another half dozen over 20 inches before we left that day.

Every time I fish that stretch of the Madison in the fall, I remember the one that got way — even more clearly that the ones we caught the rest of the afternoon. Even on days when I catch nothing, or simply catch smaller trout, the one that got away reminds me that there are large trout in this river. Every cast is a chance to hook one of them.

Yes, the thought of a lost lunker can be depressing at first. But over time, the memories will provide a sense of mystique, heighten the challenge you face when you head to the river, and provide hope that you’ll tie into a big one again. Maybe next time you’ll land it.

Cheers to the one that got away.

Fly Fishing Entomology 101 – Stoneflies

entomology 101 - stoneflies

The late Bud Lilly said he often fished a hole with a streamer and caught nothing. Then, he tied on a Rubber Legs nymph, went back through the same water, and caught a nice fish.There’s a reason for this: trout love Stoneflies! So you should too.

Here’s a brief profile of this species:

Names and Varieties

  • Stoneflies belong to the order “Plecoptera.” If you’re an entomologist who is into etymology (that is, a student of insects who is into the study of word origins), this Latin term comes from two Greek words: “braided” and “wing.” Yes, it looks like Stoneflies have braided wings!
  • The four most important Stonefly species for fly fishers (with apologies to the smaller Little Brown Stones and Olive Sallies) are Salmonflies, Golden Stones, Yellow Sallies, and Skwala.

The Basics

  • Stoneflies spend most of their lives in the nymphal stage that varies in length from seven months to four years. Yes, four years! That’s why Stonefly nymph patterns can work any time of the year. For example, Dave, my podcast partner, and I have had great success with them in late October on the Gardner River in Yellowstone National Park.
  • Stoneflies have an incomplete metamorphosis, existing in only two stages: nymph and adult. Mature nymphs migrate to the shoreline and then crawl out of the water. They emerge into the adult stage anywhere from a few inches to fifty feet from the river’s edge. Their emergence usually takes place at night—out of the sight of birds that would prey on them. The adult Stonefly emerges when its nymph skin splits. Then it slowly crawls out and walks away from the shuck.
  • Stonefly nymphs have long, segmented bodies with two antennae sticking out of their heads, two tails, and three pairs of legs. Each leg has a couple claws which enable Stoneflies to grip the rocks in the swift water they inhabit.
  • Adult Stoneflies mate in streamside vegetation rather than in the air. However, the egg-laden females then fly over the water—with their abdomens hanging down—to deposit their eggs (which then sink to the bottom of the river). Trout can go crazy when Salmonflies or Golden Stones are depositing their eggs. The other reason you might entice a trout to take a Stonefly pattern on the surface is the tendency for Stoneflies to fall into the water from vegetation. I’ve seen Salmonflies get blown by the wind into the Yellowstone River in June.
  • Smaller Stoneflies (Little Brown Stone, Olive Sally) range from ¼ to ½ inch in length. Yellow Sallies and Skawala can approach an inch. Golden Stones can reach 1 ½ inches, while Salmonflies can extend to 2 inches.

Effective Patterns for Stoneflies

  • You can’t go wrong with Stonefly nymphs year round! My favorites are the Rubber Legs patterns with either a black or brown body in a size 4 to 8. Aside from the obvious patterns (Golden Stone Nymph, Yellow Sally Nymph, etc.), try a Kaufman’s Golden Stone or a Kaufman’s Black Stone. A Copper John in a size 12-16 usually works as well as a Yellow Sally Nymph. Similarly, a Hare’s Ear will fill in quite nicely for a Golden Stone Nymph (in sizes 4-8) or for a Skwala Nymph (in sizes 10-12). Did I mention how effectively the Rubber Legs patterns work? Yes I did, but it’s worth repeating. When all else fails, put on a big nymph with rubber legs!
  • For Stonefly adults, I like a Yellow Stimulator or a Madam X (size 6-8) for imitating Golden Stones. An Elk Hair Caddis with a green abdomen (size 10-12) will work well for Olive Sallies. If you get a chance to fish the Yellowstone River in June (assuming the runoff hasn’t turned it brown), an Improved Sofa Pillow or Warren’s Salmonfly (size 4-8) will do the job.
  • The size and color of a particular Stonefly species will vary from one river to another. After all, Golden Stones come in four subspecies. Also, some rivers (like the Missouri in Montana) do not have many (if any) Stoneflies. So check with your local fly shop before you hit a particular river.

Other Entomology 101 Articles & Sources

    Fly Fishing Entomology 101: Blue-Winged Olives

    Fly Fishing Entomology 101: Caddisflies

    Fly Fishing Entomology 101: Pale Morning Dun

    Sources: Dave Hughes, Jim Schollmeyer, Bob Granger

The Ten Commandments of Fly Fishing from a Drift Boat

fly fishing from a drift boat

Fly fishing from a drift boat was a bit unnerving.

I worried I would snag my friend who was rowing. It turns out that my fear was well-founded. But I didn’t discriminate that day. I snagged myself as well. I also snagged a tree branch on the side of the river. I felt like the drift boat was zooming along at 50 mph even though we were simply drifting the speed of the current.

However, fly fishing from a drift boat can be a terrific experience once you get used to it. It’s easy on your feet, and you can cover a lot of water. Here are a few basics to remember when fly fishing from a drift boat.

1. Thou shalt not rent and row a drift boat with no experience.

Rowing is not something you can learn “on the fly” (no pun intended). I’ve tried rowing a couple of times in friends’ drift boats, and there’s definitely a big learning curve. Usually, you’ll end up in a drift boat for the first time because you’ve hired a guide or because a friend invites you.

By the way, there’s no need to feel bad if you don’t know how to row a drift boat. You’re not missing out on something. The truth is that the rowers are the ones who miss out. They don’t get to fish!

Of course, learn the skill of maneuvering a drift boat if you can. Your fly fishing friends will thank you.

2. Relax and enjoy the ride

I’ll stop with the “Thou Shalt Nots …” for now, but drift boats are set up for your comfort and ease. As long as you’re in the boat, you don’t have to hike or wade or walk on boulders!

Typically, there’s a cushioned swivel seat with a standing platform (into which you can fit your knees) at both the front and the rear of a drift boat. Standing with your knees in the platform is best, although you can sit if you like. In fact, that’s how some vessels work — including rafts and Au Sable River boats (flat-bottomed boats originally used by loggers). They simply have benches.

3. Do not worry about making long casts

A good rower will get you close to the run you want to fish. Usually, that run is up against a bank. I rarely cast more than twenty feet when I’m fishing from a drift boat.

That’s not always true all the time, of course. Last fall, Dave (my podcast partner) and I fished Quake Lake with a guide, and our whole strategy was to stalk rising fish. Often we cast 40 feet or more.

But generally, as you drift down the river, your casts are much shorter.

4. Do get used to casting in a tighter space

To say it bluntly, you need to avoid hooking the rower! This is not a problem if you are right-handed and casting to the left while standing in the front of the boat — or casting to the right when standing in the back of the boat. Otherwise, you need to keep line high and straight over your head when your casting hand/arm is on the side of the rower. It seems a little daunting at first. But you will get used to it.

Guides are (should be) patient people and will help you if it’s your first time.

5. Do keep your line in your zone

The “zone” or space your fishing is in front of you or behind you. If you’re casting from the front of the boat, you can cast directly to your left or right, or even slightly ahead of the boat if you are casting into slower current. If you’re in the back, you need to cast slightly behind the boat.

This minimizes the risk of getting your line tangled in the oars or in the other fly fisher’s line.

6. Do share the front of the boat with the other fly fisher

Most guides will tell you when to switch.

But it’s a good idea to share since the person at the front has a slight advantage. If you’re at the front, the fish in any given run see your fly first.

Second, the guide is focusing on you and is maneuvering the front of the boat to get you into the best position to fish a particular run. However, there are days or moments when the person in the back does as well or better. So you can catch fish from either spot.

7. Do keep your fly in the water

This sounds like another tip from Captain Obvious.

But you only get one shot at a good run unless you’ve got a great rower who is willing to “back up” and let you try it again. In most cases, you can get a good long drift since your fly will travel about the same speed as the drift boat. The more false casting you do, the more fish you will miss — and the greater the chance of snagging the rower.

8. Do not panic if you get snagged

You will get snagged if you’re trying to throw your fly tight up against the bank (which you ordinarily want to do) or if you’re getting your nymphs or streamers deep enough.

Often, your rower will be able to circle back so you can retrieve your fly. Loosen your drag if necessary. If there’s no chance of retrieving your fly, then point your rod directly at the snag so that what breaks is your line — not your rod tip!

9. Do not let the fish go under the boat

My podcast partner, Dave, may or may not have broken a guide’s expensive Orvis rod because he let a monster brown trout run under the boat. However, Dave declined to be interviewed for this article.

When you hook a fish, fight it like you would if you were standing in the river or on the bank. Pull it from side to side. As it gets closer, your guide or fishing buddy will (should) have a long-handled net to net it before it’s too close to the boat.

But beware of that last-second dart for cover.

10. Do stop and wade-fish the most promising runs

One of the benefits of floating a river is the opportunity to stop and fish runs that might otherwise be inaccessible. The hike might be too long, or there may be private property you have to cross before getting to the river.

Let your guide or friend know that you would be happy to stop to fish runs that deserve more than a 30-second, all-or-nothing attempt.

If you want to listen to our episode on fly fishing from a drift boat, listen to this episode

Dry Fly Fishing During a Hatch – 5 Tips

dry fly fishing during a hatch

Dry fly fishing during a hatch can be thrilling. It can also be frustrating.

I’ve had moments where a river or creek comes alive. The water seems to thrash with rising trout. Yet my fly will drift through the frenzy untouched. I’ve learned a few things, though, over the years, when dry fly fishing during a hatch. Here are five tips that have increased my success during Caddis, Pale Morning Dun (PMD) and Blue Winged Olive (BWO) hatches.

Be ready for the waves

Hatches typically arrive in waves.

Sometimes they are sustained, but often they subside after a few minutes. If you’re not ready for the next wave, you might miss out while you’re tying on a fly. I had this happen recently. I was leisurely switching from a size #18 Parachute Adams to a size #20. As it turns out, I was too leisurely. By the time I was ready to cast, the BWO hatch suddenly started, slowed and then stopped. I had to wait fifteen minutes until the action began again. It always amazes me how trout will ignore the right pattern for ten minutes and then suddenly begin attacking it.

Dry fly fishing dishing a hatch is all about timing.

Land and release fish quickly

I realize that this sounds like a tip from Captain Obvious. But I’ve squandered some five minute feeding craze because I took three minutes to land a trout that should have taken one minute.

Use a net and have your hemostat (forceps) handy to remove the hook and release the trout gently and quickly. The goal is to get back to fishing to catch one more before the hatch subsides.

Make your dry fly visible

A blizzard of bugs on the surface means you will have a hard time identifying your fly. You may laugh the first time this happens. But after a while, it will drive you crazy. I have found a little hack that works, though.

If you’re fishing during a BWO or PMD hatch, use a pattern with a red or lime green post. If you’re fishing during a Caddis hatch, use a pattern with red or green fibers on the top of your Elk Hair Caddis. I’ve purchased flies like this, and I’ve even put red synthetic fibers on the top of the Elk Hair Caddis flies that I’ve tied.

If you can’t find a red or lime green post on the BWOs you purchase, use a Sharpie marker to turn the white post red or lime green.

Use an emerger or a nymph as a dropper

Recently, while fishing a little creek in the Minnesota Driftless, I felt helpless (and a bit angry) that I couldn’t get a trout to rise to my size #20 Parachute Adams. I knew it was the right size given all of the bugs I saw fluttering in the air.

But then, during a particularly intense hatch, I realized that the trout were feeding on emergers. I saw several dart through the water without breaking the surface. Those that did simply broke the surface with their fins. So I tied on a foot of tippet to the bend in the hook of my dry fly. At the end of the tippet, I tied on a small beadhead Copper John. I had action immediately and ended up catching about ten trout in the next half hour.

Switch to nymphs or streamers if nothing works

Sometimes, though, nothing works.

Before giving up, try a streamer. Or try nymphing. Yes, you can use a nymph as a dropper as I described above. But traditional nymphing will get your flies deeper. That might just be the ticket to success. Trout, at times, prefer to feed on emerging nymphs well before they approach the surface of the river. Streamers can work, too. A trout that won’t budge for an emerger may well show interest in a super-sized meal.

There’s nothing quite like fishing during a hatch. But there’s nothing to like about it if you’re not getting some strikes and hooking a few fish.

Fly Fishing in Yellowstone National Park – The Waters

Yellowstone Nationa Park - The Waters

America’s first national park provides endless venues for fly fishing. This is the second installment of our series: Yellowstone National Park – the Waters. Richard Parks, fly shop owner just outside the northern entrance to Yellowstone National Park (YNP), has identified over 100 streams, rivers, and lakes to fish.

Here are ten waters to consider if you make a trip to fly fish in Yellowstone:

Yellowstone River

This is the major river in YNP.

Perhaps the most popular section is the 13-mile stretch between Yellowstone Lake and the Upper Falls — especially in Hayden Valley. After the mighty ‘Stone emerges from the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, access is difficult until Tower Fall.

Dave, my podcast partner, and I like to hike down to the river from the Tower Fall parking area and then fish upriver. You can also access the river from the bridge near Tower Junction.

Madison River

The Madison begins at the confluence of the Firehole and Gibbon Rivers at Madison Junction. You can expect to catch 8- to 14-inch trout (the locals) during the spring and summer. Then, the “runners” — the big brutes heading up from Hebgen Lake to spawn — typically show up in late September and October.

Lamar River

This is an outstanding fishery!

However, it gets a lot of pressure. Also, as the joke goes, all it takes to make the Lamar muddy is an elk urinating a few drops into it. Actually, even light rain seems to turn this river chalky or brown.

Gardner River

Like the Madison, the Gardner has local trout in the 8- to 14-inch range. But during October, the browns come up from the Yellowstone to spawn. Dave and I have also caught some big rainbows and cutthroats that trail behind the spawners in search of eggs.

There’s usually less pressure on the Gardner in October than there is on the Madison.

Slough Creek

This is another well-known fishery in YNP, but frankly, it’s a long hike to get to the second meadow where the best fishing begins. I rode in on horseback with my dad and a friend several years ago (the fishing was good), and that’s the only way I’d do it.

Firehole River

This fabled river, well, stream, fishes best in June and October — before the thermal water flowing into it warms it up enough to make the trout lethargic. It’s a superb choice if you like dry fly fishing.

Gibbon River

The Gibbon River is more stream than river.

The good news is that the stretch from Elk Park (near Norris Geyser Basin) to Madison Junction is right along the highway, making for easy access. That’s also the bad news. It gets a lot of pressure from anglers. But it usually fishes well through the summer.

Indian and Panther Creeks

If small creeks are your thing, these are great choices. At least they were a couple decades ago when my family and I used to camp at the Indian Creek Campground. We had a great time fishing these little creeks. The trout are small but abundant. Both creeks join the Gardner (or Upper Gardner, to be precise). I’ve had success in all three waters.

Lewis Lake and River

The inlet and outlet are the most productive places to fly fish Lewis Lake. As far as the Lewis River, the fastest sections below Lewis Falls usually give anglers the best chance for success. Brown trout run up into this stretch from Jackson Lake in the fall.

Yellowstone Lake

This huge lake fishes best early in the season — that is, for the four weeks or so after it opens on June 15. The fish are closer to shore. Try some of the sheltered bays as well as the shore near the inlet streams and the outlet to the Yellowstone River.

A disclaimer

There is terrific fishing in the other 90+ waters I did not have time or space to mention! For more detailed information, consult Richard Park’s fine book, Fishing in Yellowstone National Park

Admittedly, I’ve weighted my suggestions towards moving water and towards the northern part of Yellowstone. That’s where I have spent most of my time over the years.

Also, check out our previous post on the basics of fly fishing in Yellowstone—including the need to carry bear spray! We hope you get a chance to fish in this magnificent area.

Fly Fishing in Yellowstone National Park – The Basics

fly fishing in Yellowstone

People laughed at John Colter’s description of the area that became Yellowstone National Park. They referred to it as “Colter’s hell” because his description of bubbling mud pots and boiling waters seemed too amazing. The place is amazing, and so is fly fishing in Yellowstone. Your fly fishing bucket list needs to include Yellowstone National Park (YNP).

Here are the basics you need to know about fly fishing in YNP if you’re planning on making a trip.

Seasons

The earliest you can fish in YNP is Memorial Day weekend. So if you plan an April trip to Montana (a great time to fly fish there!), don’t expect to make a side trip to YNP. The season opens the Saturday of Memorial Day weekend and extends through the first Sunday in November.

However, some waters do not open until June 15 or July 15. Most notably, the Yellowstone River upstream of Chittenden Bridge near Canyon does not open until July 15.

Some of the best fly fishing is in the fall when the crowds of tourists are gone and the brown trout are spawning.

Permits

Anglers 16 years of age and older need to purchase a YNP permit. Currently, you can purchase a 3-day permit for $18, a 7-day permit for $25, or a season-long permit for $40. You can purchase these at fly shops outside YNP as well as in the Park at visitor centers, backcountry offices, or the Yellowstone General Stores.

You do not need a state permit (Wyoming or Montana) to fly fish in YNP. However, if you’re fishing near the Park’s boundary, make sure you have a state permit or else know exactly where the boundary line runs. For example, if you fish the Baker’s Hole area on the Madison River, you may want to fish both in Montana and in YNP.

Wading Boots

Felt-soled footgear is prohibited!

The purpose of this restriction is “to reduce the potential for introduction or spread of aquatic invasive species” (according to YNP regulations).

Flies

There are two restrictions that fly fishers can easily overlook. First, your weights must be lead-free. This applies both to split shot used for nymphs and streamers as well as to the ribbon or wire wrapped into your streamers. I still have a few Woolly Buggers I tied years ago and weighted with lead wire, so I remove those from my fly box when I fish in YNP.

Second, hooks must have barbless points.

YNP regulations say that you can pinch down the barbs with pliers. I sometimes carry a small pair of needle nose pliers for this purpose. You can even use your hemostat (forceps) to do this, but in my experience, it only works well with size 16 flies or smaller.

Grizzly Bears

YNP is grizzly bear country! So take the necessary precautions.

First, it’s best to avoid fishing alone. Second, make noise—especially where visibility is limited. Preventing surprise encounters will go a long way to ensuring safety. So talk loudly or sing. You may feel silly hollering “Whoa bear!” every time you approach timber or thick brush. But it could save your life. Third, do not leave your vehicle without bear spray! Your life may depend on it. You can purchase bear spray in stores outside YNP.

Alright, that covers the basics. You can find out what waters to fly fish in our upcoming article on “Fly Fishing in Yellowstone National Park — The Waters.”

Also, please note that regulations can change from season to season, and so do water conditions. So make sure to check with area fly shops, and by all means, ead YNP’s fishing regulations for yourself.

Fly Fishing’s Critical Moment

fly fishing's critical moment

Fly fishing has its share of critical moments. But one is especially important when it comes to landing the trout you’ve just hooked. It’s the moment right after the hook-set.

Tricky situation

The good news is that you have a fish on the other end of the line. The bad news is that you may have several yards of fly line at your feet or in the water. This line needs to be retrieved so that the fish is fighting against your reel as well as your rod.

Sure, some fly fishers prefer to fight fish without the aid of their reel. Yet a good fly reel is designed to manage the tension while the fish is fighting on the other end of the line. When its drag is properly set, the reel provides some resistance to the trout that is trying to escape. It also prevents a fish from snapping the line when it suddenly darts or lurches.

The reel lets out line before the weakest part of your line — the tippet or the knot you’ve tied—reaches a breaking point.

Maintaining tension

While you retrieve the excess line with one hand, you need to maintain tension with the other. So, if you’re right-handed, you’ll need to maintain tension on your fly line with your right index finger. Sounds easy, right? If you’ve ever done this, you know that it’s easy to clamp down too hard on the line with your index finger. Then, when the trout makes a sudden move, the line can snap because there is no “give” in it.

However, if you don’t clamp down a bit on the line, there’s no tension. The hook can slide out of the fish’s mouth. Or, the trout can more readily “shake off” the hook. This is especially the case with larger fish.

Retrieving excess line

Getting the proper amount of tension with your right index finger is only half the battle. Your left hand must simultaneously pull in the excess line. This is what a reel handle is for, right? Perhaps. But if you pay attention to the way fly reels are designed, you’ll notice that the spool is exposed. This allows you to “palm” spool—that is, to spin it quickly with the palm of your hand.

Don’t worry about making a neat, tidy retrieve of your line. Just get it in as quickly as you can. Later, after you’ve landed, admired, and released your fish, you can strip out the line and rewind it in a more even manner.

Adjusting the drag

As soon as you have retrieved the excess line, remember to adjust the drag. I usually keep my tension light so it’s easy for me to strip out more line as I’m casting. So when I have a fish in the other end, I invariably need to “tighten” the drag a bit. It’s easy enough to do. The size of the fish and the amount of fight it has determines exactly how much adjustment I make.

It’s a relief to get through this critical moment!

Now I’m playing the fish against my reel. I can reel in line as needed and let the fish run a bit (but only a bit!). I’ve lost my share of trout because I was clumsily trying to retrieve excess line. Don’t make the same mistake. If you can retrieve your excess fly line while keeping sufficient pressure on the line, you have a much better chance of keeping the fish on your life.

This is a case where your right hand needs to know what your left hand is doing. Keep them working together!

Landing Larger Trout

landing larger trout

My friends and family members are making me envious. Yesterday, my friend, Greg, showed me photos of a couple steelhead he caught in Wisconsin on streamers. Both were about 20 inches. Last week, on the same day I enjoyed catching an 11-inch brown on a size 20 dry fly in the Wisconsin Driftless, my son, Luke, sent me a photo of a 22-inch rainbow he caught on a tiny Zebra Midge.

Gazing (with envy) at those photos reminded me how challenging it is to land large trout. I’ve landed my share of trout over 20 inches. But I’ve lost a lot of them too. Here are some practices I’ve learned for landing larger trout. If I had used all of them sooner, who knows how many more big fish I would have caught!

Use a stronger tippet

I’ve landed 20-inch rainbows in Montana’s Madison River on 5x tippet. But a 5x tippet is only 4.75 pound test. Going to a size 4x increases that to 6 pound test, and a 3x tippet increases is to 8.5 pound test.

Using a stronger tippet with streamers is a no-brainer. Admittedly, it’s a bit more challenging with tiny dry flies or nymphs.

When I’m fishing with nymphs, I will typically use a 3x tippet on my lead fly if it’s large – like a size 8 or 10 stonefly. Then, I’ll use the 4x on the smaller dropper—such as a size 18 Copper John. In most cases, the increase in size doesn’t spook the fish. It’s helpful, though, if there’s a bit of color to the water.

Pull the fish from side to side

Gary Borger taught me several years ago that pulling a fish from side to side tires it out more quickly than simply pulling it in straight. Pulling it from side to side works the fish’s muscles. So point your fly rod to the side when you’re trying to land a large trout.

If you’re using a stronger tippet, then you can be a bit more aggressive and land the fish quicker. That’s a win-win situation. The trout will be less stressed than if you prolong the fight. You’ll also have less opportunities for a trout to run on you and snap the line on a rock or submerged branch. I’ve had both happen.

Use a long-handled net

The net I carry when I have a chance to hook into large trout has an 8.5-inch handle. The extra length extends my reach. That can make all the difference when trying to land a monster. I’ve had the frustration of getting a large trout almost within reach but needing an extra 2 or 3 inches.

A long-handled net cuts down on that frustration.

I don’t always catch large trout. But when I do, I have a much better chance of landing them when I’m practicing these three tips.

Dry Flies for Spring Fly Fishing

dry flies for spring fly fishing

Spring is in the air. So are millions of flies. Mayflies. Caddisflies. Craneflies. It’s the time of year when dry fly fishing begins to work.

If you are new to fly fishing and wonder what dry flies to have in your fly box, here are the two basic patterns you need:

Parachute Adams

If the fly fishing authorities limited me to one dry fly pattern for spring, I would not think twice. My hands-down choice is the Parachute Adams. This pattern imitates midges and Mayflies — and especially the sub-species of Mayflies known as Blue-Winged Olives (BWOs). My favorite size is an 18.

However, last week in the Wisconsin Driftless, I saw trout rising to small BWOs. So I put on a size 20 Parachute Adams and promptly caught an 11-inch brown.

In the interest of full disclosure, the size 20 pattern I used was a Parachute Purple Haze. It’s the same fly as a Parachute Adams, only with a purple body. Honestly, I haven’t noticed that one works better than the other. Trout seem to like either one. Perhaps the Purple Haze gives them a slightly different look from the tried-and-true Parachute Adams. But that advantage is disappearing as more fly fishers give in to the “purple haze craze.”

What I like about the Parachute Adams – or its flashy cousin (the Purple Haze) – is the white post or “parachute” that makes it visible. Even a size 20 sticks out as it floats down the run.

The Parachute Adams works well in the West, the Upper Midwest, and (from what my friends tell me) the East as well. Wherever you find midges and BWOs, the pattern will work. Midges appear throughout the winter and into spring, while BWOs show up in March.

Elk Hair Caddis

My other go-to pattern for spring fly fishing is the Elk Hair Caddis. Caddisflies appear in mid-April in both the West and the Upper Midwest. Fly fishers in southwest Montana — on the Madison and Yellowstone Rivers — eagerly await the “Mother’s Day Caddis Hatch.” Of course, by the time Mother’s Day appears on the calendar, the rivers usually look like chocolate milk. However, late-April fishing before the spring runoff can be fantastic as Caddis hatches intensify.

The Elk Hair Caddis is a bushy fly, and the tan elk hair wing makes it quite visible. The only problem is that it doesn’t stand out among dozens of other Caddisflies on the surface of the water. You can solve this problem can be solved by tying (or buying) an Elk Hair Caddis with some red or pink fibers on top of the elk hair wing.

The best sizes range from 14-18. It all depends on the watershed you’re fishing as well as the time of year. The best way to figure out the size is … you guessed it … check with a local fly shop. Also, some rivers will fish better with certain body colors. When I’m on the Yellowstone River south of Livingston, Montana, I like a green or a tan body. When I’m in the Wisconsin or Minnesota Driftless, I prefer a black body. I’ve even used some flies with elk hair that has been dyed black.

Other Patterns

I’m tempted to end the article here because these two flies will work in the spring 80% of the time when bugs are in the air and on the water. However, the later you get into spring, you’ll start to see some other flies that require other patterns.

In the Upper Midwest, Hendricksons appear as early as mid-April. Sulfers, March Browns, and Craneflies show up in May. I remember an evening on a little stream in the Wisconsin Driftless when the trout refused everything but a Cranefly pattern.

In the West, March Browns in a size 12 work well surprisingly early on the big rivers like the Yellowstone. There are Stonefly hatches as well that happen in the spring. Even a Stimulator can be effective at times — even though I tend to think of it as a pattern for summer.

Your best bet, though, will be to have plenty of Parachute Adams and Elk Hair Caddis flies in various sizes and — in the case of the Elk Hair Caddis — various colors.

While nymphs and streamers are always a sure bet in the spring, don’t neglect dry flies. You might miss out on the fun!