Happy Independence Day Y’all! Fly fishing guides always have some ready made excuse to blurt out whenever fishing gets slow – usually something about the weather, water conditions, or crowds – something to point a finger at lest we bother ourselves with the possibility that our angling skill is simply less than adequate. I prefer a different method to comfort the ego when things aren’t going well. It is a matter of altering our perspective. If we are spending leisure time on public waters whose cleanliness is protected by law, worrying about catching a fish that we don’t intend to eat because we are well fed already, then we have small problems. “Tough fishing” is a luxury, something we should celebrate and be thankful for.
We are truly fortunate to live in a country that protects its water quality (or at least attempts to every few years when the political pendulum swings in that direction) and has a level of food security that allows for catch and release angling. If you think about it, quality trout fishing is the progeny of a rare combination, globally speaking, of environmental, political, and social conditions. But enough about the larger perspective, let’s zoom in and celebrate the awesome fishing we have right now.
Sulfurs! What a lovely surprise this week has been. Normally our sulfur hatch is sporadic, unpredictable at best, but the past week has produced heavy hatches of sulfur mayflies, enough to rival the best weeks of April caddis. When a river as large as the White gets covered with half inch long bugs, that’s a ton of protein in the water, and even the wisest trout can’t resist feeding on the emerging insects.
The challenging part about our sulfur hatch is that the time of year it occurs – June/July – is usually a period of high flows on the White. In low water hatch conditions, you can make long lazy drifts in slow currents, which makes for easy presentations to feeding fish. In high water hatch conditions like we’re seeing now, the visibly feeding fish are along the current margins – the seams and slower pockets behind structure. That means the presentation has to be made in currents that are rapidly changing in speed and direction. The cast has to be made across differing speeds of current, which requires more skill in mending, feeding or collecting slack, and in general “reading” the water. The anticipation of getting a decent drift through a pod of visibly feeding fish is highly rewarding and worth the added effort. Sight fishing to rising trout with a dry fly is widely considered the pinnacle of fly fishing for trout, regardless of the result, the process is just too much fun.
Read on for specifics on flows and flies:
Expect 2,000-3,000cfs for the morning hours, which allows for some wade fishing in certain areas (Marion Co. side at the Dam, Partee shoal at the bottom of Gastons, Three Chutes, dowstream of Wildcat ramp, Cotter park, Roundhouse shoal, etc.) Whether wading or boating, nymphing with Pheasant Tails, Copper Johns, Sulfur nymphs, and Micro Mayfly nymphs has been very effective. Sometimes midges are the more active insect early in the day, so dropping a Ruby, Root Beer, or Wotton Super midge below your mayfly nymph is a good bet. Rising fish can be caught on various sulfur dries like Silverman’s Stacker, Quigley’s Film Critic, and the traditional Comparaduns and Parachute Sulfurs. As the water rises in the afternoon (up to 15,000cfs), it becomes necessary to use a boat to access the feeding fish in the seams and eddies along the deep edge of the pools. Dries are still an option in the slower water, but also drifting a mayfly nymph along the seams and current edges is quite effective.
Wade fisherman have been enjoying excellent fishing on the low water, and getting some good opportunities to catch fish on dries as well. Sulfurs, midges, and even some summer caddis have all been active in the morning hours before the water rises. The same sulfur dries that are working on the White are working here, as well as older standards like Griffith’s Gnats, Elkhair Caddis, and Parachute Adams. Basically its a smorgasbord of small aquatic insects right now, making a number of patterns effective. Now is an excellent time to swing soft hackles to imitate the various insects in their emergent phase. Try Dally’s Tailwater Soft Hackle in Yellow, Orange, or Black. Watch for rising water usually in the afternoon but sometimes as early as 10am. Plan your river exit.