Mention to any flyfisher that your heading for Island Park, Idaho and they’ll immediately think you’ll be packing a selection of CDC and biot creations intended to deceive the wonderfully selective leviathons of the Henry’s Fork.
However, my latest visit to Rene’ Harrop and the boys at Trouthunter was all about the incredible Stillwater’s of the region, and more specifically Henry’s lake.The plan was to see how fishing UK flies and techniques would work on the great Cutthroat and Hybrids that inhabit the lake.
This was not the first time I’d fished the lake, having visited 10 years earlier and remembered enjoying some wonderful sport from a float tube, fishing damsels through the gaps in the late summer weed. Needless to say, I was fairly confident that some of my own flies and techniques would produce on this trip.
Being mid October, it is always risky with weather, but the fishing gods were in a kind mood and when I arrived at the county boat dock on the eastern side of the lake, I was greeted by a gentle breeze and mild temperatures, which certainly put fish in the mood to hit the fly.
Starting from the shore, as I waded carefully into the water I actually saw a fish swim right by me, a nice Cutthroat of about 18” and prime target for settling me into the swing of things. A short cast, a pause for the fly to sink and a fish took my ‘Minkie’ streamer on the drop – one cast, one fish – you really couldn’t ask for better.
With Henry’s being such a shallow lake, a good cast was only putting my fly into about 6’ of water, add to this the extensive remains of summer weed growth – my set up needed to fish just over the these to put it into the path of any trout cruising between them.
A Airflo 10’ 7# fly rod matched with a 7# slow intermediate fly line, gave me the ability to cast a long line and help keep my flies high and out of trouble on the back cast. With a sink rate of only 0.5” per second, the line eliminated any wake on the otherwise calm surface and helped put me in direct contact with my flies.
At the business end, my leader held a team of 3 flies, each spaced 5’ apart, with a further 8’ of level 3X fluorocarbon looped directly to the flyline. When fishing with this multi fly rig the point or tail fly is generally the largest with smaller flies placed on the droppers to help with turnover.
The olive and brown Minkie on the tail seems to be just the ticket, with Cutthroats, hybrids and even brookies regularly hitting it like a ton of bricks. Tied with a very fine layer of lead, this fly sinks slowly and more importantly it sinks level. Mink seems to have a great ‘Snake like’ movement in the water and unlike flies tied with rabbit strips, it maintains its shape even when the fly is paused between strips.
It is fairly common that once you’ve caught a few fish from a short section of shoreline that fish in the immediate area seem to go off the feed, but with regular changes in retrieve and showing the flies at slightly different angles of cast, you can still catch fish.
As the day wore on, the fish started to get a little more tricky to catch and it was then that some of the subtleties of UK Stillwater techniques started to have an impact.
The first thing that I noticed was the takes were becoming more gentle – by holding the rod tip 12” above the water and watching the movement of the Airflo line as it swung up and down on my retrieve, I was able to visualise the take before I actually felt it at the hand. With a firm strip strike at that point I was able to hook and land several more lively Cutthroats to over 20”.
The other factor that became important was to constantly change retrieve speed and style to help induce a strike. The best way to explain this is to imagine a cat chasing a piece of string – the cat quickly becomes bored if you move the string at the same pace on each pass. However, a change of speed or direction will have the cat bouncing on the string once again.
The same proved true with the fish, by constantly varying the flies path and speed through each cast, many additional takes were induced.
Another small, but subtle technique that I found effective was to hold the flies briefly in the water before each recast. At the end of each retrieve, instead of the usual roll cast into a back cast, with about 20’ of line still in the water, I would slowly sweep the rod upwards and then stop at about 50 degrees – then with the flyline hanging down in an arc I would watch this for up to 10 seconds for any signs off a following fish taking the fly.
Known as fishing the ‘Hang’, this short pause has be responsible for so many additional fish over the course of my fishing seasons. Just think how many times a good fish has boiled at the surface when you go to make a recast – try this technique and you’ll convert quite a few of those into hooked fish.
To be a successful lake fishermen, you really need to develop a feel or a sixth sense for what is happening below the surface – to help me, I constantly imagine that a fish is following my fly and I truly expect a hit on each and every cast- that way when I get a hit, I am not surprised and tend not to miss them.
Our last day on the lake, cold weather hit us and whilst we knew wherefish were holding, their interest in chasing streamers had diminished like the weather. However, these fish were still catchable and local anglers started to hook a few with #12 bead head midges suspended about 4’ below the surface using an indicator.
Not wanting to miss a spot of midge fishing I set up with system that’s known in the UK as the ‘Washing line’, because of the way it hangs you flies in the water column.
Using the same 3 fly cast on a floating line, the tail fly is now replaced with a buoyant eyed booby fly which acts as a float and helps suspend the midges at the correct level.
By mending slack line into the cast, the midgesfree fall on the slack line, then by applying tension, you can hold the flies at a depth. Then with a long slow pull on the line or raising the rod tip, you can lift the two dropper midges almost vertically.
Red and Claret Superglue Midges worked a treat and caught several fish on a tough day and proved the technique to be a great alternative for those who prefer not to use indicators.
This simple pattern has worked for me from lake Otamangaku in New Zealand to Lake Akan in Hokkaido and remains my ‘go to’ Stillwater streamer pattern. You can tie in many colour combinations and unlike beadhead flies, it sinks level – a feature that I feel significantly helps improve hook ups.
A popular nymph/wet fly in the UK, this style of fly can be tied in various colour combinations and a great general pattern when you are unsure of what the fish may be feeding on – it just looks like fish food.
Super Glue Midge
The patterns are easy to tie, look extremely realistic and are incredibly tough. Just match the size and colour to the midges found hatching. If you cannot see any, try black or red – these two colours will catch, even when fish are feeding on other colours of midges.
Originally designed to be fished on a short leader and fast sinking line, UK anglers have found out in recent years how versatile this style of fly can be – from a surface disturbance pattern, to a float to help keep your other flies at the correct depth.
Post Written by Gareth Jones of BVG-Airflo.