Written by Bob Melrose.
So, the meteorologists are predicting a La Nina weather pattern for this coming season. That usually means below normal temperatures and above normal precipitation. It is set up when the equatorial currents are colder and when BC is more affected by Arctic outflow than by the warmer Pacific inflow. We have had an indication of that when the weather changed so dramatically in mid August from searing heat to below normal and wet. Now we don't always trust those weatherman but even the Farmers Almanac agrees on this so it must be true, right?
What does that mean to the angler? Simple, fish whenever you can because the season can bring early snow and/or rains.
Right now most rivers are in excellent shape and most are low and clear. Although there aren't as many Coho as we would like the Steelhead fishing has been great. Many anglers are saying even with the good return of Steelhead fishing has been a little tough because of those low and clear conditions. This type of water calls for some different tactics. As most of the Steelhead anglers are fly fishers, here are a few tips mainly for those anglers, but can apply to all forms of fishing.
When the water is low and clear downsize your gear. We have watched from a high vantage point many times when a big fly or lure is swung through the pool and watched the Steelhead move out of the path, but when a small fly or lure is swung through the Steelhead stay put. Many fly anglers like to cast the big bunny or marabou type leeches all season. When the fish are spooky you may have better success using a smaller pattern.
One year on the Bulkley the water was very low and clear for about a month. Many anglers were frustrated, but a group of visiting anglers were bringing in pictures every couple of days with some pretty impressive catches. They were using small patterns, in mostly size 6 instead of the usual #2/0- #2 that most were using. One of their favourite patterns was Randall Kaufman's "Undertaker". It has a great name because we often use it as a finishing fly. By finishing fly we mean that often as we are fishing the dry fly for Steelhead we have "players". These are the Steelhead that try to give you a heart attack by playing with that fly. They will come up repeatedly but not take. That is the time to put on an "Undertaker" and finish them off. It usually works for those playing fish.
When the water is low and clear, we will use the "Undertaker" or other similar Randall Kaufman patters such as the Signal Light, Freight Train or the old but still very popular Skunk, but in the smaller sizes. Often we will "riffle hitch" these smaller flies so they present themselves sideways to the holding fish. You can "riffle hitch" these flies by tying a couple of half hitches or a clove hitch around the head of the fly at right angles to the hook shank, so the fly is heading into the bank you are fishing. That year almost all my fish were taken on the "Undertaker" or similar flies.
Another observation by many guides is that most anglers do too many corrective mends during the swing of the fly. Doing an upstream mend is extremely important for slowing down the swing of the fly but many anglers overdo this maneuver. Again, from high vantage points guides have watched Steelhead following the fly only to see the angler do a slight corrective upstream mend, almost imperceptible to the angler, but the Steelhead have quit following the fly. And we know how many Steelhead will follow that fly right into shore, or strike just as we are lifting the fly out of the water. Get in the habit, at the end of the swing to lift the fly slowly a couple of feet and then dropping it back. So, make that one big upstream mend at the initial cast and then concentrate on the flies swim to shore. Be aware of that slight hesitation, anything out of the ordinary, that interrupts the drift.
It is inevitable with the fall that rains will colour our rivers. Although in our area there are always rivers that are cleaner within easy travel distance sometimes you just have to make do. Many years ago I was down at one of my favourite pools. The river had come up and dirtied overnight. Dejected and with no confidence in fishing this dirty water I was considering some grouse hunting or photography for the rest of the day. A guide was launching his jet boat and asked me if I was going to fish. I replied that "it might not be worth it, the water is too dirty". He grabbed a plastic pop bottle and filled it with the river water. Holding it up he said "How dirty is that". Amazingly the water had very little colour to it. Looking down into the river is very different than looking up. I reconsidered and started to put the rod together and select a good dark fly. Meanwhile the guide had gone across the river to a good lie. When I looked up a few minutes later his client was into a nice fish. I almost had the river to myself the rest of the day and landed three fish. So unless the water is complete chocolate milk it is worth fishing coloured water. Use darker flies and make sure you fish the cast right to the bank as many fish in these conditions are close to shore.
Many anglers know this already but for the others I hope you find this helpful.