Trout Snatcher Nymph

2 Trout You’re Probably Missing

A few seasons ago I had an eye-opening moment. It was the last morning of a last-minute early spring camping trip along one of our favorite trout rivers. The creek was a popular spot, and the trout in those campground pools saw all kinds of poorly presented flies and spinners and worms throughout the course of a weekend.bluff country spring creek

I hit the water early in the morning and worked my way upstream from camp, fishing the pools and obvious spots, and catching a few trout here and there on a nymph. I had just finished drifting a gorgeous, deep pool without much luck and decided to cross the creek and hit a section of faster, shallow water. It didn’t look like much. In fact, most of the water was only about a foot or two deep, flowing swiftly over small rocks and boulders for about thirty yards before emptying into another breathtaking hole. It was tiny water, the type most fishermen walk by without giving a second thought. But I fished it anyway.

I’m not sure who was more surprised, myself or the fish, when the indicator darted under and a feisty little brown launched itself out of the riffle. Despite its small size, the trout put up a good little fight in the fast, tumbling waters. The catching was steady for the next half hour, with each little rock or depression yielding a trout. I went on to catch about eight or ten fish nymphing the shallow stretch, a great improvement from the two or three fish I had managed from the pools earlier in the morning.

Before that morning, I would have walked right by that piece of water, just like most of the other anglers that relentlessly pounded that stretch of creek. Lots of trout fishermen, especially those newer to the sport and often including myself, fall to the habit of fishing the same type of water each time they hit the stream. It’s a very natural thing to do – they fish it most because they catch most of their fish in it, and they catch most of their fish in it because they fish it most, and they fish it most because they are most comfortable with it. This results in a problematic pattern of fishing, causing many anglers to miss lots of trout simply because they get stuck in the habit of fishing the water they’re comfortable with.

Since that early spring morning on the campground stretch, I always look for “new” or overlooked water on the stream, and I’ve caught a few more trout because of it. I’m always amazed at the type of water that trout will sometimes hold in, and I constantly have to remind myself to never rule out different spots, especially when the fishing is tough. Here’s a rundown on a few of the trout I’ve learned to look for and the best flies and setups to fish them….

The Skinny Water Nympher

You’d be surprised at how many trout hold in the shallow riffles and the water in between the big pools. Trout usually frequent the shallows to feast on the many nymphs that live underneath the rocks, making skinny waters incredibly productive spots to drift a nymph. Fish sitting in this faster water only have a quick second to inspect the fly and decide to eat, so they’re often easier to catch than trout holding in slower pools and runs. As I learned that spring morning on the campground stretch, lots of fishermen bypass the shallow water between pools and fish only the obvious spots, providing some less-pressured trout to the versatile angler.

What to look for – Faster riffles and broken water from 10-24 inches without too much gradient are most productive. However, not all skinny water is created equal. Trout love current seams and depth transitions, so finding rocks, depressions, and any other structure that provides fish with some variety is key to successfully fishing the shallows. Flat bottoms with lots of sand or silt and few rocks or pockets rarely hold many fish, as there’s just not much cover or food. I like to look for runs and riffles with baseball-sized rocks at the smallest, but lots of varied structure typically equates to lots of trout. Boulders, logs, and deeper pockets make for especially productive spots.

It’s also important to find water that has a bit of current and chop. Don’t be afraid to toss a nymph into a churning riffle, as it only takes one rock or depression to hold a trout. However, runs and riffles that have a sudden, steep gradient rarely provide enough soft water for a trout to comfortably hold in.

Skinny waters can hold great surprises. This sweet wild brown was sitting in about 18" of water...

Skinny waters can hold great surprises. A stealthy approach and a brown #14 Trout Snatcher Nymph fooled this sweet wild brown in about 18″ of water.

 

How to tackle skinny water trout – A stealthy approach is the most important factor when targeting skinny-water trout. Shallow riffles and runs, particularly those with a more gentle flow, lack the sense of security that deep, turbulent waters give to trout, making them acutely aware of their surroundings and quite sensitive to overhead movement. Trout holding in skinny water require a careful, stealthy approach and won’t tolerate a lazy, bumbling fisherman stomping up to the water or waving a fly rod over their heads. Staying on the bank and slowly moving upstream, often on hands and knees, drastically increases your chances of catching fish. Be sure to avoid false-casting over the water you’re fishing or plopping fly line over the fish, as they associate overhead movement with herons and eagles. While trout holding in shallow water can be somewhat spooky, they’re far easier to approach than fish sitting in calm, slow pools and runs.

A stealthy approach is critical for chasing trout in skinny water

A stealthy approach is critical for chasing trout in skinny water

Though skinny water trout demand a somewhat tedious approach, presentation is another story. The shallow, faster waters that heighten their senses also provide only a moment for trout to scrutinize a fly, making skinny-water trout far easier to fool. You can often get away with tossing large, flashy flies on heavy tippet.

My favorite setup is a nine foot leader tapered down to 4 or 5X with a nymph under a yarn indicator. I really like the extra stealth and sensitivity a yarn indicator provides – something that’s critical for fishing skinny water and hard to achieve with other styles of indicators. The only downside is yarn’s tendency to sink in faster, turbulent stretches, which are better fished with a cork indicator or a Thingamabobber. I favor a longer rod (around eight or nine feet) for the extra line control, but a shorter stick is fine for fishing straight upstream.

Flies for skinny-water trout – Lighter nymphs with thin profiles are key to puncturing the choppy surface while avoiding snags in the shallow water. Trout are in the shallows to eat, so highly-imitative flies are usually not necessary. Many species of mayflies live under the rocks in swifter stretches of stream, making general mayfly patterns quite productive in skinny water. A bit of flash is often a great trigger, as flies drifting through shallow water only have a quick second to catch a trout’s attention. A few of my favorites include:

Mercer’s Micro May in #12 to 14

Trout Snatcher Nymphs in brown and olive, #12 to 16 (available for purchase here, check out the recipe here)

Beadhead Pheasant Tails in #12 to 18

Copper Johns in #12 to 16 and nearly any color (gold, red, and olive are good standards)

Micro tubing may

The Trout Snatcher Nymph – a great producer in skinny water

 

I’ve found that small brass beads give just enough weight to keep the fly in the strike zone without hanging up. Hanging a small, light dropper such as a tiny pheasant tail off the bend of a larger nymph can be a deadly tactic as well, especially in low, clear waters.

 

The Frog Water Trout – Catching fish during high, muddy flows

Many anglers cringe at the sight of high, muddy waters on their home river, but these conditions can still produce some good action. Noah and I were fishing a medium-sized river out in Colorado last fall when we experienced this first-hand. Rising temps and lots of melting snow brought an influx of high, cold, muddy water – not exactly the conditions you hope for on a trout river. We’d fished for most of the afternoon, tossing streamers into the deep, roaring holes and runs without any success. I was just about to pack things up when Noah hollered from upstream. After finding no fish in the main holes, he started jigging a rabbit leech nearly at his feet when a monster brown charged out and slashed at his streamer. A few more heart-pounding charges from multiple browns failed to produce a solid hookup, but the lesson was clear – when the high water hits, trout move to the edges and soft pockets.

What to look for – When the water muddies and rises, trout move out of the roaring main flow and often sit in surprisingly slow water on the edges of pools and runs. The brown that Noah encountered was sitting behind a boulder in water most fishermen would wade through – a shallow, slow pocket on the inside of a pool. This “frog water” often holds plenty of trout during high, muddy flows.

Finding soft pockets, usually along the bank or inside bends, is a good bet for finding trout. Anywhere that offers trout a break from the raging main current will hold some fish, with gentle water on the inside of pools or runs and soft pockets along the bank being the best producers. Bankside eddies along the backside of boulders are particularly good spots. Feeling secure from the extra protection the muddy water offers, trout will often move into shallow water and sit right on the edges of the river.

How to tackle high-water trout on the edges – High, dirty water is prime time for tossing  some meat, so leave the 6X and dainty dry flies at home. A bigger rod, usually of the five or six weight variety (or perhaps even larger), is a must for chucking the streamers and big bugs that muddy water demands. 2X to 4X tippet is good for pulling frisky trout out of raging current and helps to turn over the larger flies.

Stripping streamers through the soft water is usually the strategy of choice as it’s critical to catch a trout’s attention in the murky water. Trout lose most of their hesitancy to smack a big, bold streamer in muddy flows, making aggressive presentations most productive in the “frog water”. This is hand-to-hand combat – slap your streamer right in a trout’s face and make some commotion. I like to set up slightly downstream of the fish and pull the fly across the pocket with an aggressive strip-pause cadence. Wading can often be counterproductive since trout are sitting in such shallow water along the bank – make sure to toss a few casts through the bankside flows before stepping in the water. Slowly dredging the bottom with big, heavy coneheads is also a good strategy, particularly in deeper bankside eddies and pockets.

When fishing heavier streamers, a longer leader allows the flies to sink without getting ripped downstream by a dragging fly line. Casting performance is another important factor to think about. Big, heavy flies can be a pain to cast, so finding a leader that’s stout enough to turn over a streamer while still allowing plenty of room for controlling drag is very helpful. Something in the seven to nine foot range usually does the trick, but play around with it until you find something that fits the fishing conditions. A sink-tip with a shorter leader is also a good tactic for dragging streamers through runs and deeper soft spots.

Since most trout will be holding along the bottom, indicator rigs with larger nymphs are also a good option, especially when fishing those slow, deeper runs and pockets behind rocks. Don’t be afraid to add plenty of weight, as getting your flies to bounce the bottom is critical in high flows.

Flies For the Frog Water – Big streamers with a bold silhouette are critical for getting a trout’s attention in the muddy, high flows. Finding a fly with a good combination of profile and sink rate is key to pulling trout from the edges. You’ll want something that is heavy enough to get a good, erratic action in the water yet doesn’t get caught up on the bottom of soft pockets. A light bead or conehead works quite nicely, and any streamer with enough bulk to stand out in the dirty water usually triggers plenty of strikes.

Color is another important factor to the think about. Darker flies with a good chunk of flash offer a solid silhouette in the murky waters and really help a streamer stand out. Bright colors such as chartreuse are also good producers at times.

This is a perfect time to toss big, gnarly articulated streamers. Rich Strolis’s Hog Snare  comes to mind, but practically any modern articulated streamer without too much weight will do the trick. I favor bugs with a good meaty profile and bulky head as it’s critical to push some water and get a trout’s attention. Simple rabbit leeches and plain old beadhead Woolly Buggers in larger sizes (#4-8) are also good producers.

Flies with a meaty profile and a good swimming action are solid producers in the frog water

Flies with a meaty profile and a good swimming action are solid producers in the frog water

Break the Pattern

Since that morning on the campground stretch and Noah’s encounter with the big brown, I’ve started to fish waters that are outside my comfort zone, and I’ve become a better angler because of it. Trout fishing is a grand game of experimentation, so don’t be afraid to change things up and toss a nymph at some skinny-water trout or slap a streamer in the frog water. Fishing this “overlooked” water will often produce plenty of hungry trout, especially on pressured streams.

Next time you hit the water, break the pattern of fishing comfortable spots and explore some waters you’d normally neglect – you’ll become a better angler and catch more fish because of it!

Tricos on the Root

September 1, 2013

Day 2 – I persuaded Noah to hit the river with me early Sunday morning. It was another beautiful morning in the Driftless as we hiked down the trail and started fishing. This time we headed downstream and hit some of the deep, turbulent pools that brush against the limestone cliffs. Both of us fished dry-dropper rigs in hopes of picking off a few browns, but didn’t have any luck. After fishing nymphs for a while, I noticed a few sporadic risers feeding in a slow tailout. I checked the river for bugs, and sure enough a few tricos were floating downstream. I quickly chopped of the nymph and tied on a #12 Pass Lake dry with a big white calftail wing followed by a #20 trico spinner twelve inches behind. South Branch Root River fly fishing The trout were still rising inconsistently, and the first few browns I floated my trico over didn’t eat. Noah and I moved downstream to a long, choppy run ending in an even longer slow pool. The fish were rising steadily by now, but not the finicky, slow water sippers you’d expect from a trico hatch. These trout were set up in the riffles, snatching the tiny mayflies with a splashy rise. Though most of these trout were smaller, it was a treat to cast #20 tricos to fast water where the fish didn’t have a ton of time to inspect your flies. There were, of course, a few stubborn risers sitting right on the bank sipping bugs in swirling eddies.

Small clouds of tricos fluttered over the river as I carefully crept up to the riffle. A good dead drift resulted in a rise and the first wild brown of the morning in the net. Noah quickly got in on the action and caught another trout in the riffle while I tied up another trico rig. The trout were hard, but not impossible, and a good dead drift with a reasonable fly did the trick. The good fishing continued under clear skies, and we stayed in the same pool casting to rising trout all morning. I switched flies a few times when I started getting refusals. I fished a CDC trico spinner, Double Trico Spinner, and CDC Trico Comparadun, and all caught fish. Noah stuck a few awesome wild browns on the trico spinner, and I ended the morning with nine trout, all on trico dries. The browns were small but feisty, jumping a few times before coming to the net. The fish stopped rising around eleven o’clock, so we headed back to camp for some lunch.

Braden also had a productive morning. He hiked upstream and caught ten wild browns up to twelve inches on a dry-dropper rig. Most of his fish took a brown #14 Trout Snatcher Nymph, but a few ate his Ausable Bomber. Interestingly, he didn’t have any rising fish or a solid trico hatch. I did notice the hatch was quite sparse and isolated, with fish rising consistently only in one pool over the morning. I’m not sure if the trout key in on different types of water when the spinner fall is spotty, or what the deal was, but the trout were just as eager to eat a nymph in stretches of the river just a few hundred yards away.

A nice wild brown on a MTMN

A nice wild brown on a Trout Snatcher

After lunch we toured Mystery Cave, the longest cave in Minnesota with over 13 miles of passages. The cave is the life source of the Root, providing the cold water and nutrients that are vital to its existence as fertile trout water. Upstream from the cave area, the South Branch of the Root is a warmwater stream, but it literally disappears in the summer as it takes a shortcut underground through the cave. It emerges several miles later in a few springs, greatly enriched and cooled from its trip. It was pretty awesome to see some of the water in the cave that eventually ends up flowing in the section of stream we had fished earlier in the day.

Pool in the cave

Pool in the cave

"Turquoise Lake"

“Turquoise Lake”

Cave bacon and limestone

Cave bacon and limestone

The three of us fished a bit in the evening, working our way downstream and casting to likely spots. Braden picked up two more browns in a riffle on a Trout Snatcher, while Noah and I didn’t interest any fish. I ventured up the same small creek I hit yesterday and pulled out one trout on a sunk trico spinner.

The red tail and spots are amazing on this brown Braden caught

The red tail and spots are amazing on this brown Braden caught

The fish started rising again just before dark. I tied on a #16 CDC and Elk, and tossed it against the far bank. A brown gently rose and sipped it as the light was fading behind the bluffs. I set the hook, and after a short fight landed a beautiful ten inch brown. Once it got too dark to see the dry I tied on a chickabou Wooly Bugger and started swinging it through the fast water. A heavy trout slammed it, but he popped off after a few seconds, so I decided to call it a night. I hiked back to camp in the dark and ended another great day in the Driftless.

Fly Fishing the Root River

During the past long weekend, we camped on the South Branch of the Root River for a few days of good fishing and hiking. The Root is one of the premier trout streams of southeastern Minnesota’s Driftless Area (Fly Fisherman even ran an article on it). Winding through valleys bordered by limestone bluffs, the Root harbors a great population of wild browns approaching a few thousand a mile in the prime reaches. The river is born from springs in the headwaters after taking a trip through the subterranean passages of Mystery Cave, emerging as a cold, clear stream enhanced by the nutrients from the cave. We pulled in the campground late Friday night and set up camp in the dark. I had heard and read about the Root and it’s prolific trico hatches before, but we’ve never fished it, so I was pumped when we decided to head down for the weekend. I was so excited to get on the water I hardly got any sleep!

Mist blanketed the river when we arrived down the steep bluff trail early the first morning. The river was amazing. The sound of rushing water and the crisp morning air produced the tranquility and peacefulness only a trout stream at daybreak can create. I quickly tied on a small Trout Snatcher under a dry, setting up a similar rig for Noah. Despite the crazy heat we got in the past few days, the stream was icy cold when we hopped in at 6:30 in the morning. I started the morning by hooking into a feisty little brown out of a riffle, but he popped off after a few jumps. Noah picked off a few chubs in a side pool before we moved upstream.IMGP1520

I had hoped to see a few tricos, but they never showed themselves in the riffles and pools we were fishing. A few fish rose once in a while, and the odd trico would float down the river occasionally, but the hatch never materialized. The stretch of river we fished was gorgeous. The turquoise-blue water wound through a mature forested valley with mostly gentle, riffled stretches, but occasionally rubbed up against a bluff and formed a deep, blue hole you couldn’t see the bottom of. I waded up below a good riffle and started nymphing the skinny water. I caught my first trout of the morning along a root wad in the riffle, a pretty wild brown of about ten inches that ate the Trout Snatcher. I landed one more trout on the nymph and another on the big orange Stimmy. Braden found a sweet corner pool in a meadow section and had good success on the nymph. He pulled out half a dozen browns to twelve inches on the Trout Snatcher. A few came up and smashed his Bomber before we waded back to camp.

South Branch wild brown with some great colors

South Branch wild brown with some great colors

One of Bradens' browns

One of Bradens’ browns

Another wild brown Braden got on the MTMN

Another wild brown Braden got on the Trout Snatcher

 

Later in the afternoon I hiked up a small feeder stream. This little spring-fed creek was glorious, ice cold and super clear with a handful of deep, blue pools stacked with wild browns. Lined with burnweed and brush under the canopy of old trees, casting was difficult but a well-positioned cast seldom went without at least a strike. The trout were ultra spooky, so a stealthy approach and a reasonable, unobtrusive fly were a necessity. Just the kind of trout fishing I love.101_5389

I carefully began working the little riffles and runs, softly landing my trio of flies in likely spots, and sometimes in the trees :). My first wild brown was only about eight inches, but still a respectable small stream fish displaying some awesome colors. I found one particularly good pool where a riffle flowed into the opposite bank, creating a deep blue hole riddled with a few logs and lots of trout. I crept into position behind some tall weeds and enticed three browns on a #20 sunk trico spinner.

My rig consisted of a big #8 orange Stimulator followed by a #14 Mercer’s Micro May and a #20 sunk trico spinner. The sunk trico proved to be deadly, as the fish are accustomed to seeing these bugs get washed down the river all summer, even in the middle of the day. I ended the afternoon with around half a dozen wild browns. None were big, averaging nine or ten inches, but they made up for their size with some amazing red spots and feisty attitudes.

Today was a great day of trout fishing, and I really enjoyed it since I’ve been looking forward to a solid day of small stream fishing for a long time. I tied up a few sunk trico spinners by lantern light while sitting next to the fire before crawling into the tent. Tomorrow we’ll hopefully get into a trico hatch and some more wild browns on dries!

 

3 Brothers Flies © 2014 Frontier Theme