Fly Fishing Murky Water

fly fishing murky water

I’m fond of trout fishing because I love crystal-clear rivers and streams. They are simply breath-taking and life-giving. So I can get a bit grumpy when a rainstorm adds a bit of color to make the stream more like chocolate milk.

But I’ve learned not to despair. Here are a few insights about fly fishing a murky river or stream:

1. A bit of color may work to your advantage

Sure, a swollen river gushing with snow runoff is usually not productive. Yet, fish are less spooky when the water is a bit murky. The murkiness prevents them from seeing fly fishers, false casts, and larger tippets.

2. Put on the San Juan Worm

There are a couple reasons why a murky river is a great place to try a San Juan Worm.

First, rainstorms and rising water often loosen up mud along the banks. This dislodges worms and sends them drifting down the current. Second, a pattern like a San Juan Worm is a bit larger than a size #18 Zebra Midge, so it’s easier for trout to spot it when visibility is limited.

3. Slow down your fly

Since visibility is limited, you want to give trout a longer-than-usual view of your fly. If you’re fishing nymphs, add a bit more weight to get your fly into the slower current at the bottom of the river. Remember, if the bubbles on the surface are moving faster than your strike indicator, you’re at the right depth. If you’re stripping a streamer, strip it a bit more slowly.

4. Keep an eye out for risers

I’m always surprised to see trout rising when the water is murky. But it happens more often than you might think. Often, I’ll find risers in slower water—either in the tailwater of a pool or even on the outside of a bend. These are places where the fish have more time to respond since the flies on the surface are not being carried along so quickly.

5. Look for fish in unexpected places

A few years ago, I fished the Lower Madison River in Montana when it had more color than usual. When I approached a familiar run, I was surprised to see a couple trout feeding near a shallow bank. I had never seen trout in that spot before. They were always in a deeper channel about six feet further into the river. But with murky water, they were less visible to predators.

I ended up catching one of them.

So don’t give up on fly fishing when your clear-running river gets a bit murky. You can work around a bit of color. Sometimes, it may even work to your advantage.

My Fly Fishing Resolutions for the New Year

I’m looking forward to fly fishing in the new year. One never fully knows what opportunities or obstacles a new year will bring, but intentionality helps create good experiences. So the other day I scribbled down a few fly fishing resolutions for the new year.

I may modify my list as the year unfolds. But at least I have some direction:

1. Cut down on my false casting

The reason I false cast a bit too much is, well, because I can. But the trick with fly casting (as it is with a lot of skills) is to work smarter, not harder. The extra casts only increase the odds of spooking fish or getting tangled. So I’m going to try to concentrate on keeping it simple.

2. Stop, look, and listen more often

I actually managed to do this one day last fall on the Yellowstone River in Yellowstone National Park. Dave, my podcast partner, and I were fishing a remote stretch of the river. We had the whole day to fish, so I found myself more willing to sit down, nibble on the cheese and crackers I had packed, and watch a couple of elk on the opposite mountainside. I need to do more of this. It helps me savor the whole fly fishing experience.

3. Tie more flies

I hardly tied any flies last year.

At one level, I’m fine with that. My time is limited, so I’d rather cast flies on the water rather than tie them. However, I find it gratifying to catch trout on flies I’ve tied. Besides, I can’t bring myself to pay a couple bucks for something simple like a San Juan Worm or a brassie or even a Woolly Bugger.

My fly tying bench is now cleared off, so I have no excuses!

4. Work on my double haul

A double haul is using your “line hand” (your left hand if you’re casting your rod with your right hand) to haul or pull back the line on both your forward and backward stroke. This increases line speed by delivering velocity to your fly line. I’ve played around with it before, but I want to improve my technique. As soon as the weather gets warmer, I plan to head to the grassy field in a park about four blocks from my house to practice.

5. Transfer my flies to a new fly box

More than a year ago, I slipped and fell while fishing a small creek. The good news is that I didn’t get hurt. The bad news is the one of my fly boxes in my vest did get hurt. It cracked. So, I purchased a new box. One year later, that box is still in pristine condition. That’s because I haven’t used it yet! Somehow, I haven’t found the time to transfer a hundred plus flies from the cracked one to the new one. It seems tedious. But I need to do that before I get out on the river.

6. Save for a new pair of waders

My twenty-year old Patagonia waders finally gave out last summer. My fifteen-year old Simms waders are still going strong. But I suspect they have almost reached their life expectancy. So I need to save for a replacement pair before I really need to replace them. I’m intrigued with the waders that have a front zipper. I looked at a pair of Patagonia waders last year that make sense. So it’s time to start setting aside dollars so I can get them in early spring.

7. Introduce my grandsons to fly fishing

This is the one that’s most important to me this year. Our whole family is going to spend a week this summer at a mountain ranch in Montana, and I’m looking forward to helping my seven-year old and five-year old grandsons dabble in fly fishing. Even if I let them reel in a trout I’ve caught, I hope it will give them the feel – and the fever! — for fly fishing.

I don’t know what the next year is going to bring. But if I can follow through on some — or all — of these resolutions, I should have a good time fly fishing.

What are you New Year’s resolutions for fly fishing?

Double Up for Fly Fishing Success

fly fishing success

Two is better than one when it comes to chocolate brownies, contact lenses, and trout flies. If you’re looking to increase your odds of catching trout, then double up. Use a lead fly and then a second fly, which trails behind it a foot or so.

Here are some double-fly combinations that really work. They include wet-fly combos, dry-fly combos, and dry-wet-fly combos. You never know which fly the trout may prefer on a given day:

1. The Hopper + Terrestrial

This is great for late summer during hopper season. Start with a size 6-10 hopper pattern—or some kind of large attractor pattern (such as a Stimulator). Then, trail either an ant or beetle pattern behind it. This is basically a dry fly combo, although it’s fine if your dropper (the ant or beetle) floats below the surface in the film. Last week, I was fly fishing in Colorado and talked to a fly fisher who used this combo in a high mountain lake and caught fish after fish on size 14 beetle pattern.

2. The Elk Hair Caddis + Caddis Emerger

This is a dry-wet fly combination which works well in the late spring (when the Caddis start to appear) and then into the summer as the Caddis flies continue to emerge.

I like a size 14 or 16 Elk Hair Caddis as my dry fly. Then, I use some kind of an emerger pattern as the dropper. One of my favorite droppers is a size 14 Red Fox Squirrel Nymph. I’ve had great success with this combo on the Yellowstone River in Montana’s Paradise Valley. With this combo, your lead fly acts as a strike indicator. I’ve often tied some synthetic red or white fibers at the top of Elk Hair Caddis so I can distinguish it from all the other Caddis flies on the water.

3. Woolly Bugger + San Juan Worm

My podcast partner, Dave, put me onto this combo. It’s worked well for us in the Driftless region of southeast Minnesota and southwest Wisconsin. This is a wet fly combo. Start with a smaller-sized Woolly Bugger (8-10) and then use a San Juan Worm (tied on a size 8-12 scud hook) as dropper. I use a strike indicator and drift it like a nymphing rig. Then, at the end of the drift, I will swing it and strip it back to me.

On the swing and strip, it’s the Woolly Bugger that is effective.

4. Egg Pattern + Copper John

When I’m fly fishing during the rainbow spawning season in the spring, I’ll often turn to this wet-fly combination. I’ll begin with a standard-size egg pattern (12-14) and then use a size 18 Copper John as my dropper. I like a Red Copper John. Or, I’ll use a Dave’s Emerger. This fly was developed by Dave Corcoran, then the owner of The River’s Edge Fly Shop in Bozeman, Montana.

Regardless of which dropper I use, this combo has been lethal during the rainbow run on Montana’s Madison River. It can work, too, during the fall when the browns are running. But continue reading for another dynamite wet-fly combo.

5. Stone Fly + Egg Pattern

Dave and I used this last fall in the Gardner River in the north reaches of Yellowstone National Park. We had outstanding results. Start with a Stone Fly nymph pattern (size 8-10). The options are legion.

A Golden Stone Fly or a Rubberlegs Stone Fly (with a brown or tan body) works quite well. Then, use a standard-size egg pattern (12-14) as the dropper. Last fall, I had a 30-fish morning on the Gardner using this combination. The browns were all between 15 and 20 inches. I estimate that I caught half on the Stone Fly and half on the egg pattern.

6. Beadhead Prince + Pheasant Tail

This wet-fly combo, or some variation of it, may be the standard go to pattern when there is no obvious hatch.

Use a Beadhead Prince Nymph in a size 12-14 as your lead fly. Or go with another standard nymph such as a Hare’s Ear. Then, use a size 18 Pheasant Tail as your dropper. Again, your dropper could be any number of nymphs—such as a Copper John or Zebra Midge.

Remember, two are usually better than one. Try one of these combinations or experiment with some of your own. You’ll likely double your chances of catching the trout which are monitoring the food line you’re fishing.

Know Your Pattern: The San Juan Worm

When I was a boy, I caught trout with a bobber and a worm. I gave up bait fishing long ago. Now I use a fly rod. But I still catch a lot of trout with a bobber and a worm.

The bobber is a strike indicator. Yes, I like the little round plastic bobbers because they never get water-logged like the indicators I’ve tied with strands of nylon.

The worm is a San Juan Worm — a controversial “fly pattern.” Some fly fishers scoff at it. When they do, I simply smile, nod, and go back to catching fish. Here is the scoop on this beloved and maligned non-fly fly.

1. How it originated

There are as many accounts of this pattern’s origin as there are variations of it in the fly bins at your local fly flop.

What we know for sure (I think) is that a fly fisher developed this fly to imitate the red worms in the silt-coated channels of New Mexico’s San Juan River. The fly fisher is unknown to us, although I’ve heard several suggested names. The time period was likely the late 1960s or early 1970s.

The pattern is so simple that it is silly. It consists of a two-inch length of red chenille tied onto a scud hook — that is, a hook with a curved shank. That’s all. It’s the easiest fly in the world to tie. So it’s a great place for beginners to start.

2. How it has been modified

You might get dizzy when you think about all the colors and styles of chenille with which the San Juan worm has been tied.

I even experimented (at the suggestion of a friend) with putting a beadhead in the middle of the hook’s shank and then tying a one-inch piece of chenille on the front and then a one-inch piece of chenille on the back. This takes a lot of extra time and effort. It looks impressive, but I haven’t found it any more effective.

In the last six weeks, I’ve caught several trout in both Wisconsin and Montana on an odd assortment of San Juan Worm patterns. I’ve meant to tie some new ones, but I didn’t get to it. So I ended up using the left over patterns in my fly box — that is, some of the ugly ones I tied when I was experimenting with different sizes and colors (red, crimson, tan). The good news is that all of them worked.

There’s no need, then, to get hung up on size or color. Whatever you use will likely be “the only thing that’s working on the river today.”

3. Why it works

You don’t need a PhD in zoology to figure out why the San Juan Worm is so trusty. It imitates a worm — the kind which resides in a silty river bottom. Enough said.

4. When to use it

The San Juan Worm is a great go-to pattern in most conditions.

But it works especially well after it rains or when a river rises a bit. This results in churn that can loosen up the earth along a bank or the silt at the bottom. Worms get displaced by this churn. It’s hard for a trout to pass up such a large dose of protein for the little effort it takes to grab the worm as it drifts through the current or bobs along the bottom.

If a purist asks you later what you were using, tell him or her you were simply matching the hatch — imitating the aquatic life below the surface. You’ll be telling the truth.

5 Questions to Determine If You Should Tie Your Own Flies

Tie your own flies – that idea might seem far-fetched to a beginner fly fisher. If you’re new to the sport, you might wonder if fly tying is something to pursue.

To tie or not to tie? That is the question. To help you answer the question, here are a few more questions to consider:

Can I tie flies even if I’m not an artistic type?

Absolutely! I am living proof of this.

I do not have an artistic bone in my body. Or perhaps I do, and it is badly broken. While I can color between the lines, I cannot draw anything more complex than a stick figure. Yet I can tie the basic patterns and catch trout on them.

If your goal is to win a “most beautiful fly” contests, then a lack of artistic talent is an issue. If your goal is to catch trout, then being artistically challenged is not a concern. To tie your own flies has little to do with your artistic gene.

How do I learn?

The best approach is to sign up for a fly-tying class at your local fly shop. I learned to tie flies two decades ago in an eight-week class that met Saturday mornings at a fly shop in Bozeman, Montana.

The second best approach is to watch fly-tying videos. There are some great instructional videos that you can access for free. I like the “Beginner Fly Fishing Tips” series on YouTube by scflytying. You might also check the videos by Tightline Productions that Orvis shares on its website.

In my experience, books have limited value. I need to watch someone tying a fly in order to make sense of it. I simply can’t visualize the process when reading a book — even if it contains clear instructions and sharp diagrams. Having a live person to help you figure out what you’re doing wrong is the best way to learn.

What do I need to get started?

To tie your own flies, you need tools and materials.

The first tool you need is a vise. Any fly vise that holds a hook tight will do. Don’t overthink this.

Next, you need fly tying scissors. I recommend two pairs. Spend more on one that you reserve for hair and thread. Buy a cheaper pair to cut thicker items, which tend to dull the scissor blades more quickly. You’ll also need a bobbin (for your spool of thread) and a pair of hackle pliers. Neither item will break the bank.

I’d suggest two or three bobbins so you don’t have to re-thread your bobbin every time you switch spools of thread. Finally, get a whip finisher. Save yourself the hassle of a cheaper one and buy the one sold by Orvis.

The materials you need depend on what flies you plan to tie. Typically, the minimum materials include hackle capes, thread, dubbing material, head cement, and wire. A good fly shop or an online video can help you figure out exactly what you need for the flies you plan to tie.

Will the first fly I tie be worth fishing?

Yes! Sometimes, a clumsy looking fly might look a bit more “buggy” to the trout than something that looks perfect.

Besides, I suspect that a lot of flies are designed to catch fly fishers rather than fish. I’ve caught trout on some gnarly looking patterns. Of course, I’ve gotten better over the years. But trout key in on size and color more than on perfect proportions (though the exceptions increase as the fly size gets smaller!).

Sure, some patterns require more precision than others. But if your first fly is a San Juan Worm or a Brassie or a Woolly Bugger, it does not need to be perfect. To tie your own flies does not require flawless wonders.

What is the financial payoff for learning to tie flies?

The expected answer is, “You will save money.” After all, the materials for a $2 fly may amount to 20 cents.

But that math is too simplistic.

The initial investment in tools will likely reach $100. Then there are the materials themselves. A good hackle cape or neck may cost $50. Even the inexpensive materials – spools of thread, various kinds of feathers, peacock herl, etc – add up. You may not begin saving money until you tie your three-hundredth fly!

So, unless you tie a high volume of flies, it might be as cost effective to buy flies at your local fly shop.

In my opinion, the real benefit of fly tying is becoming a better fly fisher. When I started tying, I learned a lot about the feeding habits of trout, which insects my flies were trying to imitate, and when certain patterns worked (and when they didn’t).

It’s Your Decision

If you decide not to tie your own flies, fine. There are other ways to accomplish what fly tying will do for you.

My podcast partner, Dave, is proof of this. He doesn’t tie his flies. Contrary to my ribbing, he is every bit as good a fly fisher as I am.

But if you’re leaning towards trying, go for it. Like playing the saxophone, fly tying is easy to do poorly. But even a poor imitation can catch a trout.

S2: E7 Fly Fishing Made Simple

fly fishing guides

Fly fishing made simple is big promise. If you’re just starting out, learning how to cast, read water, and grasp a modicum of entomology can feel overwhelming. We’ve wanted to publish an episode on keeping fly fishing simple, and a recent post by a listener pushed us to make it happen. In this episode, we discuss fly fishing made simple by identifying four ways to reduce its complexity and help you enjoy the sport.

Listen to our latest episode:”Fly Fishing Made Simple”

At the end of each episode, we have a feature called “Great Stuff from Our Listeners.” We read a few of the comments from this blog or from our Facebook page. We enjoying hearing from our readers and listeners, and appreciate your advice, wisdom, and fly fishing experience.

How have you kept fly fishing simple – and enjoyable? Please add your ideas to the creative mix.

Download a Podcast App on Your Smartphone

Be sure to subscribe to our podcast feed. You can do that on your smartphone or tablet by downloading a podcast app. The most common app used by 2 Guys feed subscribers is “Podcasts.”

Or you can simply subscribe to the RSS feed here:

Subscribe to 2 Guys and A River2 Guys and A River

View some of our most recent podcast episodes on iTunes or on Stitcher, if you have an Android.

Rate the 2 Guys Podcast

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That helps fellow fly fishers make a decision whether the podcast is a good fit for them.

S2:E4 Our Top Nymph and Wet Fly Patterns

fly fishing guides

Our top nymph and wet fly patterns are probably not the same as yours. Every fly fisher has an opinion. Each river is unique. Yet there remain some common attractor nymph and wet fly patterns that seem to work when there is no obvious hatch in play. In this week’s episode, Our Top Nymph and Wet Fly Patterns, we each offer our five favorites. There is lots of overlap, but a few surprises as well.

Listen to our latest episode:”Our Top Nymph and Wet Fly Patterns”

At the end of each episode, we have a feature called “Great Stuff from Our Listeners.” We read a few of the comments from this blog or from our Facebook page. We enjoying hearing from our readers and listeners, and appreciate your advice, wisdom, and fly fishing experience. Please add your ideas to the creative mix.

What are your top nymph and wet fly attractor patterns? And why?

Download a Podcast App on Your Smartphone

Be sure to subscribe to our podcast feed. You can do that on your smartphone or tablet by downloading a podcast app. The most common app used by 2 Guys feed subscribers is “Podcasts.”

View some of our most recent podcast episodes on iTunes or on Stitcher, if you have an Android.

Rate the 2 Guys Podcast

We’d love for you to rate our podcast on iTunes.

That helps fellow fly fishers make a decision whether the podcast is a good fit for them.

Subscribe to 2 Guys and A River2 Guys and A River

Episode 51: Should You Tie Your Own Flies?

fly fishing

Tie your own flies? Some might say you can’t be a real fly fisher unless you do. Well, we differ on the matter. Steve ties his own, and Dave doesn’t. In this episode, using a point-counterpoint approach, we discuss the age-old question of whether you should tie your own flies.

Listen to Episode 51: Should You Tie Your Own Flies?

At the end of each episode, we have a feature called “Great Stuff from Our Listeners.” We read a few of the comments from this blog or from our Facebook page. We enjoying hearing from our readers and listeners, and appreciate your advice, wisdom, and fly fishing experience. Please add your ideas to the creative mix.

Do you tie your own flies? If so, do you ever buy flies? If not, why not?

Download a Podcast App on Your Smartphone

Be sure to subscribe to our podcast feed. You can do that on your smartphone or tablet by downloading a podcast app. The most common app used by 2 Guys feed subscribers is “Podcasts.”

View some of our most recent podcast episodes on iTunes or on Stitcher, if you have an Android.