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Fishing Downstream


jamie shard
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A question for y'all...

 

There's one place that I like to fish that is downstream of the access point. It's a narrowish stream (maybe 30') so you can't really cast "across" you really need to fish "down" if you are going downstream. I find that it's fairly easy to fish topwater downstream. I use long casts and essentially fan cast to holding areas.

 

There's one part of the river that is fairly slow water and over the hip deep. It's sorta one big potential holding area. I just get the feeling that in this water they aren't really "looking up" so I want to be able to go subsurface. The only way I can think of doing this and stay in connection is to essentially to use trot lining.. in otherwords just let the line float down the surface, stay in touch with the nymph for a long length of line, reel in, and repeat.

 

Is there any other way to fish subsurface & downstream?

 

-jamie

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Fishing downstream was part of a topic presented at the 2005 Blowout by Bob Long, Jr. I found it to be very informative and I have changed my approach to mostly downstream. I don't flyfish, so I cannot offer any tips. However, from a spinning aspect, I use the current to hold baits in place and swing them to and from various targets. Topwaters work great, as do crankbaits and spinnerbaits. Depending on the current, plastics may need more or less weight to be effective. The biggest downside I have experienced is the tough wade upstream back to the car (right Don?)!

 

Perhaps if Bob is lurking, he can chime in, since he is an experienced flyfisherman as well.

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Jamie, your description sums up how I fish downstream. Of course, keep in mind that a heavier fly will be needed if you want to get a little depth. One good thing about fly fishing downstream is you do feel the hits; upstream fishing you've got to watch the line and I know many hits are never visually detected.

 

There was a recent magazine article about fishing wet flyes downstream and offered an historical perspective instead of the common mechanics of across and down etc.

 

I have to wonder about nymph fishing downstream. I know it's effective since my first smallie this year came while I fished Clouser's Swimming Nymph downstream. But how "realistic" is a bug swimming backwards...keeping perfectly aligned in the current? Do they? I don't know, so I'm asking. I put realistic in quotes becuase of all the goofy things a smallie will hit. Does it matter that an upstream-facing bug is moving backward or holding in place or swimming against the current?

 

A streamer on the other hand is my choice when fishing downstream. It's natural to see fish swim downstream, swing around to point nose first into the current, and hold there.

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I noticed that a heavier fly was needed, too. A beadhead needed to become a dumbell head.

 

I really like down and across for big streams... or technically greased lining. I like feeding more line downstream as it swims across to get that broadside effect. It was the only way (besides blind luck) that would get me strikes on the Kankakee. A white shenk streamer fished that way. Mid-level lure and you could see the strikes. Fun! Unfortunately, a rare event, too.

 

It seems like there are four? ways to swim a swimmer:

 

1) The "Tough Guy" so focused on swimming upstream that it will swim past big fish.

 

2) The "Slipper" trying to swim upstream but doing so slower than the current and so slipping downstream.

 

3) The "Drifter" holds position in the current.

 

4) The "Tumbler" doesn't hold position, but mostly tumbles with the current. A nearly dead guy.

 

5) The "Retreater" holds position swimming downstream slightly faster than the current.

 

6) The freaking out "Spooked" swimming downstream as fast as its flippers will flip.

 

Okay maybe 6.

 

I guess I'm trying to do the Drifter, but most of the time I feel like I'm doing the Tumbler. I feel like I am probably missing lots of strikes as a result.

 

It's interesting... I find it easier to keep in touch upstream. I tend to fish the Retreater upstream. Similarily, I tend to fish the Slipper downstream. I like to pull slightly against the current every second or so, trying to just barely feel the lure... that is, unless I've gone all braindead from wading and casting and trying not to fall in and dehydrated and hungry, then I don't have any idea what I'm doing... which is really most of the time.

 

-jamie, not just a forum registrant, but a happy ISA member!

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You got changed. Even if you do fish downstream...

 

Heh, thanks Jim!

 

Believe me, I'd much rather fish this section upstream, but the water doesn't realize it's flowing the wrong way.

 

 

 

 

i think a sink tip with a short leader will do the task.

 

Hmm, change the weight of the line for the trip downstream and not the weight of the flies... not a bad idea.

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A sink tip fly line or a fast sinking leader like an Airflow or Cabelas Poly leader will help keep a fly down. With either setup, use a four or five foot flourocarbon leader. Depending upon the depth that you are fishing, a weighted fly will enable you to bang the bottom with the fly.. Experiment with flies with different weights.

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  • 2 weeks later...

I happened to be driting by. If I might add a thought.

 

Fly fishing downstream – straight downstream with a little fan casting to the left and right, will allow you to cover the water you described thoroughly, slowly, effectively and completely.

 

Let’s say your holding area is 40 feet wide by 120-feet long. It is not flat, but has depths ranging from 12” to 36”; up and down, left and right, forward and back. If you think it will hold fish over the course of a season – 50-degree water in spring, back down to 50-degrees in fall - you must learn it and its little secrets. 10% of the water will hold 90% of the fish over a season. Find the little 10% spots within the whole; fishing downstream will help immensely. And the 10% isn’t necessarily in big sweet-spots or honey holes. It can be a percent here, a percent of a percent there. It is the little places that add up to a 10% whole.

 

Slice the area into two, 20-foot-wide sections. Start at the head of the pool and slowly wade down. Cast no more than 20-to-30 feet in front of you. Cast left, center, right. Let the fly sink to the bottom, and work it back to you. Alternately your retrieves: use swimming, jigging, hopping motions. Natural, drag-free, trout-styled, dead-drifts are of no value to smallmouth. They eat live prey; prey that swims, holds, runs and darts to evade predators (minnows), or prey that fights back when they cannot run (crayfish).

 

Smallmouth do not sustain themselves on nymphs anymore than you or I sustain ourselves on olives or other dainty snacks. We might nibble on some should the hor-deurves tray come by…but that’s about it.

 

Give your flies action! Life! Animation! Think crankbaits, spinners, spinnerbaits, jig and twisters, not tiny in-animate nymphs.

 

As you wade downstream, casting as you go, note when and where you catch a fish. Wade through that area. Let your feet tell you why a fish, or fish, was or where there. Was there a particular rock, a change in depth, a change in bottom composition, a change in current different from another area just inches or a foot nearby? The fish was (or were) there for a reason (its needs - not yours - were met). And wading through the spot sowly, purposefully and with conscious attention paid to what your feet feel - letting your feet give you feedback - may reveal why.

 

Note the current on the surface. Did it give you clues – subtle or big – as to what your feet found? Was there a seam, a bubble line, a haystack, a boil? Both your feet and your eyes will provide you with enough complimentary clues so that your brain will soon be able to put this location (and other like it) into a combined surface and sub-surface mental image. Your catch rate will soar.

 

After you wade the entire stretch, get out of the water, walk back upstream to the head of the pool, go to the other 20-foot-wide section and fish it downstream too. Fish slow, wade, make mental notes. Repeat this over and over.

 

After you have done this a couple of times you will know where the fish usually are in this area. You will begin to live underwater with the fish and be able to “see” similarities in other areas that will allow you to fish with a purpose and a plan – not simple fan-casting, hoping and praying for fish as you go.

 

Soon you may realize – or accept - that smallmouth occupy the “edges”; places where edges meet – current and objects, or current and current. Little places within larger areas, where the current falls to a slow crawl.

 

Smallmouth are not trout. They have different shaped bodies, as well as pelvic and pectoral fins that have differing strengths and placements that cause them to use water and current quite differently. Trout sit and wait for food, smallmouth hunt when feeding time comes: trout are more selective, while smallies are more predatory and eat a wider variety of items; completely different personalities with quite different survival and feeding strategies.

 

You do not need sink tips or long leaders (7 – 9.5-foot will do fine). You don’t need heavily weighted flies – a little weight will be fine. You will need split shot (“b” and “bb” sized) or learn to tie your streamers, buggers and crayfish on lightweight, 1/64th to 1/100th ounce - jig hooks (which almost always ride up, don’t snag as much, cast well and can be crawled so enticingly over sub-surface structure).

 

Keep your casts to 30’ or less; it is tough to set a fly with more than 30-feet of line lying out. Why 30’ or less? Our waters aren’t that clear, smallmouth don’t look up like trout, they don’t feed on the surface as a matter of course, they have no real aerial-borne predators, and they really don’t know you from a tree or log (if you move reasonably quietly). Plus smallies are curious, not skittish, and territorial at times. They will want to know what you are, and will often follow your fly almost back to your feet.

 

Mostly you will need patience. You are breaking with deeply held and ingrained fly fishing practices. Patience: the flies will sink, especially in the slower water next to the fast. They will stay down where smallies stay. And, smallmouth will rise to chase whatever it wishes to catch, you don’t have to drift it “naturally” into their faces.

 

Keep your rod tip down - down close to the surface of the water. Slack is the enemy of all fly fishing people. Slack is the enemy, and no amount of rod play, mending, weight or whatever can get rid of it – only downstream fishing does that. The closer your rod tip is to the surface of the water (while fishing downstream) the less slack you will have. Period!

 

Setting the hook will be a slight snap of the wrist. Many smallies will set the hook themselves as they inhale a fly and turn to run off with it or go back to their holding spot. Otherwise, a smallmouth comes close to its prey; pops open its mouth, flares its gills and creates a suction that pulls the prey in. The movement of the prey to the smallie is only 3- to 4-inches. With your rod tip down, fishing downstream, with no slack, you can feel these subtle little takes and react before the fish can eject your offering (which a smallmouth can do – open, close and eject an item in 1/60th of a second) before you are sure it was even there.

 

“I think I felt something.” How many times have you said? It was often a fish.

 

Fish your pool morning, noon and night, so that you will learn what 10% parts of the water are used at which time of day, which time of the month, which months of the year, and under various types of water levels. The 10% fish holding area isn’t one chunk of water, but a series of small percentages spread here and there. But ultimately, you will begin to see why the fish prefer “a” or “b” even though they may look the exactly same to your eyes.

 

Hope this helps – there is more, lot’s more. But this will be a good start on fishing downstream, wading downstream, and learning to i.d. the 10% of the water that the fish use. Not the 10% you think they use, or the 10% the books say the use, but what the fish – in your particular and similar streams - actually do use.

 

bob long jr

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Note to Sir Jamie,

 

may I share some thoughts to contemplate?

 

I noticed that a heavier fly was needed, too. A beadhead needed to become a dumbell head.

 

If you fish consistently downstream, not fishing the fast water, but the edges where the slow and fast water meet, you will not need as much weight as you think. Slow water offers little resistance and flies sink easily. Plus, it you are close to your target, with your rod tip low to the water, there is little current to pick up the fly line and pull the fly off the bottom.

 

Beadheads are Ok, dumbbells too, but learning to tie your flies on 1/64th to 1/100th ounce jigheads – using lightweight materials that don’t have much wind or water resistance - will be a godsend to you. Fish like a fly with size, not necessarily weight.

 

I really like down and across for big streams... or technically greased lining. I like feeding more line downstream as it swims across to get that broadside effect. It was the only way (besides blind luck) that would get me strikes on the Kankakee. A white shenk streamer fished that way. Mid-level lure and you could see the strikes. Fun! Unfortunately, a rare event, too.

 

Fishing downstream, and down and across works wonderfully for all size streams. Whether it is a big river or a small stream fish are not found by covering lots of territory. Fish are consistently found by learning to I.D. the 10% of the water that will tend to hold them consistently over the course of a season. Keep your casts to 30-feet or less. Try it please. It will allow you to see more strikes, and feel them too. It is tough to see or feel strikes that have to travel some distance up the line, to your rod to your hand. You will miss a lot unless the fish uses a very, very aggressive take.

 

It seems like there are four? ways to swim a swimmer:

 

1) The "Tough Guy" so focused on swimming upstream that it will swim past big fish.

 

2) The "Slipper" trying to swim upstream but doing so slower than the current and so slipping downstream.

 

3) The "Drifter" holds position in the current.

 

4) The "Tumbler" doesn't hold position, but mostly tumbles with the current. A nearly dead guy.

 

5) The "Retreater" holds position swimming downstream slightly faster than the current.

 

6) The freaking out "Spooked" swimming downstream as fast as its flippers will flip.

 

Okay maybe 6.

 

I guess I'm trying to do the Drifter, but most of the time I feel like I'm doing the Tumbler. I feel like I am probably missing lots of strikes as a result.

 

I’m not sure what these were describing (minnow or forage fish behavior?), but they sound like trout words or techniques re-worked to apply to smallmouth bass. Such reworking of trout thoughts are not needed and are actually counter-productive to fly fishing for smallmouth. Smallmouth take things for hunger (to feed), aggression (to defend territory or drive something off), curiosity (is it edible?), and competition (I don’t know what it is, but perhaps I should get it before that other fish does).

 

These are the things that are all far more aggressive than trout behavior and the size, shape, color and aggressive or animated action we give to our lures and flies will, overtime, reward us with more fish, which as you so wisely and cogently observed, helps to focus our attention, make things more fun, which focuses our attention more.

 

It's interesting... I find it easier to keep in touch upstream. I tend to fish the Retreater upstream. Similarily, I tend to fish the Slipper downstream. I like to pull slightly against the current every second or so, trying to just barely feel the lure... By fishing downstream with a low rod tip, a tight line, and short distance of rod to fly, you will feel so much more and react so much more quickly. that is, unless I've gone all braindead from wading and casting and trying not to fall in and dehydrated and hungry, then I don't have any idea what I'm doing... which is really most of the time

.

Very wise self-observations, Jaime. Buddha requests that we “investigate this life deeply.” It is not easy, quick or pretty. I would add that we should “investigate our [fly] fishing deeply.” Wading slowly, looking, feeling, sensing and living under the surface in the fish’s world (through experience, time and intuition), has so many rewards. However, it is tough to slow down. It is tough to only cover 120 feet of prime looking water when 240 feet lies before us. It is tough to put conflicting thoughts out of your head; such as, “as good as this water I’m fishing looks, it always looks better over there.” (You’ve lost all concentration, thought and feeling for what you are doing here and now when those thoughts creep in a take over).

 

It is tough to stop, to eat, to drink, to sit for a moment and just look at the water, when “thar be fish out there.” It is tough not to wade and cast at the same time, like a quarter back throwing off his back foot without planting his feet. It is tough not to wade and cast at the same time in hopes of catching a fish through divine intervention or finding the occasional out of position idiot fish bent on suicide.

 

I am 56. I didn’t get here overnight. It was a long struggle to learn to allow myself to see, to feel, to understand and go with the Force, to realize how much I didn’t know or had wrong. You are already on the path. Wonderful!

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Bob

 

Good to see you on the board again. I will read through this response much more thoroughly when I get home. I have been fishing downstream by choice 99% of the time ever since your ISA presentation. It also makes for an easier wade, though going back upstream at the end of the day is really tough! As for the results, they are consistently better. Thanks for helping direct my focus.

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Wonderful stuff Most Noble Bob. I love it.

 

However, it is tough to slow down. It is tough to only cover 120 feet of prime looking water when 240 feet lies before us.

 

No need for a blow by blow, but there is good stuff throughout... Excellent tip about using the slow water near fast water to get the light lure down, I can see a current break in my mind (slow by very fast) where this would work perfectly and prevent me from knocking myself unconcious with a cannon ball lashed to a hook :)

 

After really digesting your post, I think Go Slow really cuts to the heart of it. I posted because I was looking for a fast and efficient way to clean out this slow section of water, one where the 10% could be found just about anywhere. No clear edges besides the stream edges, just a waist deep pool of mystery...

 

Why rush the mystery?

 

-jamie

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Jaime,

 

I have three main points in my slide show about fly fishing for smallmouth bass in midwestern rivers, creeks and streams:

 

1. Slow down

2. Fish the slower areas right next to the fast waters

3. Fish Downstream

 

If I had to pick one of the three, although i think of them as a package of principles that can, together, increase one's daily catch rank by 100% over the sourse of a fishing season, I would rank Fish Downstream as the quickest single way to improve one's catch rate. Fishing downstream will eliminate "enemy number one" for fly fishing; too much slack between you and your fly. It will eliminate it without thought or trying.

 

When fishing downstream, which i do even with surface flies, one will feel takes more quickly, and be able to set the hook more quickly and solidly. Many fish, that would have grabbed the fly and ejected before we could feel it or react, will, in essence, set the hook, to some degree, on themselves as they hit and turn.

 

Slow is a good life-in-general adage. We live too fast, play too fast, eat too fast, work too fast and don't appreciate much in the process.

 

Fish the slow areas next to fast; the edges. As we slow down, we notice more. As we catch fish, we tend to concentrate more, or at least be more attentive. Noticing this part, I think, comes with success. One might still thin smallmouth live in riffles like trout, but with enough success, we will fish where we caught the fish.

 

thanks for the shared thoughts and feedback.

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Natural, drag-free, trout-styled, dead-drifts are of no value to smallmouth.
Actually, that is not entirely true. It is not of great value in the summer. However, it is my "go-to" method in winter. I could work a favorite stretch in any manner you would like, without a single hit, untill...I use a dead drift presentation. One you might recognize from trout fishing. Don't get me wrong. I'm not saying that I trout, and smallmouth tactics are comparable. But, in this one instance, it does have a place.

 

Slow is a good life-in-general adage. We live too fast, play too fast, eat too fast, work too fast and don't appreciate much in the process.
Amen, to that!

 

 

Beadheads are Ok, dumbbells too, but learning to tie your flies on 1/64th to 1/100th ounce jigheads – using lightweight materials that don’t have much wind or water resistance - will be a godsend to you.
I will usually make my sprkleminnows with a mono weedguard. This not only allows me to slip through rocks on the bottom, but I can cast right into woody cover near the surface I otherwise might avoid getting too close to. BTW, this will apply to bugger patterns as well.
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Actually, that is not entirely true. It is not of great value in the summer. However, it is my "go-to" method in winter. I could work a favorite stretch in any manner you would like, without a single hit, untill...I use a dead drift presentation. One you might recognize from trout fishing. Don't get me wrong. I'm not saying that I trout, and smallmouth tactics are comparable. But, in this one instance, it does have a place.

 

Greg, you are probably right about winter. I certainly wouldn't doubt it and Ithink you're observation makes perfect sense. I only fish for smallies when the water reaches 50 in the spring and falls to 50 in the fall (a fair-weather friend, indeed). After that and before that, I know absolutely nothing about these fish.

 

Amen, to that!

I will usually make my sprkleminnows with a mono weedguard. This not only allows me to slip through rocks on the bottom, but I can cast right into woody cover near the surface I otherwise might avoid getting too close to. BTW, this will apply to bugger patterns as well.

 

I used to use mono weedguards, but I lost too many fish, and still lost flies. Having switched to jig hooks I am able to deeply fish into almost all of the cover I encounter without losing nearly as many flies - hardly any at all around rocks. Plus, for me, the bonus has been many more hookups on a fly that almost always rides hook up.

 

Good points, Sir.

 

I am delighted in the quality of the replies and observations. Perhaps we fly guys, and gals, do have a wee touch o' civility that develops with the fly rod and its ethics.

 

 

Actually, that is not entirely true. It is not of great value in the summer. However, it is my "go-to" method in winter. I could work a favorite stretch in any manner you would like, without a single hit, untill...I use a dead drift presentation. One you might recognize from trout fishing. Don't get me wrong. I'm not saying that I trout, and smallmouth tactics are comparable. But, in this one instance, it does have a place.

 

Greg, you are probably right about winter. I certainly wouldn't doubt it and Ithink you're observation makes perfect sense. I only fish for smallies when the water reaches 50 in the spring and falls to 50 in the fall (a fair-weather friend, indeed). After that and before that, I know absolutely nothing about these fish.

 

Amen, to that!

I will usually make my sprkleminnows with a mono weedguard. This not only allows me to slip through rocks on the bottom, but I can cast right into woody cover near the surface I otherwise might avoid getting too close to. BTW, this will apply to bugger patterns as well.

 

I used to use mono weedguards, but I lost too many fish, and still lost flies. Having switched to jig hooks I am able to deeply fish into almost all of the cover I encounter without losing nearly as many flies - hardly any at all around rocks. Plus, for me, the bonus has been many more hookups on a fly that almost always rides hook up.

 

Good points, Sir.

 

I am delighted in the quality of the replies and observations. Perhaps we fly guys, and gals, do have a wee touch o' civility that develops with the fly rod and its ethics.

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Sir Steve,

 

There is always room at the Fly Fishing Inn for the "barbarian hordes."

 

 

My philosophy: One of the reasons I give seminars, slide shows and write articles is to share. Over the years I've seen fly fishing in moving waters transformed into "dry fly trout" ethics, equipment and techniques, especially with the decline of streamer and wet fly fishing over the last 30 years. Streamer and wet fly techniques seem far more suited to smallmouth in our waters, than dry fly techniques do. And as I think smallmouth and trout are quite different, I think the dry fly approach actually hinders successful smallmouth fly fishing for many: not for all, of course, but for many.

 

And, as we Boomers get older, and further removed from the streamer and wet fly days gone by, a new generation of fly guys and gals - those who came after the mid-1970s - have no exposure to those techniques, memory of them, or interest in them. And few amgazine articles deal with streamer and wet fly fishing, and fewer still as a warm-water technique.

 

I have watched the growth of fly fishing on the K3, Fox and Dupage over the last 15 years. And not enough fly fishers are having the success they want or think they should be having (or should or could have, I might add). They are not getting close to the numbers they would get, or do get, with spinning gear on the same waters (using artificials only, not bait). I think their catch rates can go up and will go up - and success is always inspirational and confidence building in any activity, including fishing - if they consider letting go of trout (dry fly) think, and explore that fly fishing for smallmouth bass in midwestern rivers, creeks and streams, from late spring to early fall (water temps of 50 to 50 degrees) might benefit from differing approaches that may feel odd or too aggressive for fly fishing.

 

I admit I know nothing of smallmouth below 50 degree water temps, and my techniques are meant to apply strictly to the warm waters of late spring (May/June) through early autumn (Sept./Oct). They may work otherwise, but I wouldn't know.

 

Also, I realize that these methods are not the only valid ones, (and never will be), and may not even work for too many fly fishers other than me. But, sharing and comparing are always worth a try.

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  • 3 months later...
A question for y'all...

 

There's one place that I like to fish that is downstream of the access point. It's a narrowish stream (maybe 30') so you can't really cast "across" you really need to fish "down" if you are going downstream. I find that it's fairly easy to fish topwater downstream. I use long casts and essentially fan cast to holding areas.

 

There's one part of the river that is fairly slow water and over the hip deep. It's sorta one big potential holding area. I just get the feeling that in this water they aren't really "looking up" so I want to be able to go subsurface. The only way I can think of doing this and stay in connection is to essentially to use trot lining.. in otherwords just let the line float down the surface, stay in touch with the nymph for a long length of line, reel in, and repeat.

 

Is there any other way to fish subsurface & downstream?

 

-jamie

 

 

I've done quite a bit of Fly Rodding for smallies in the Dupage, Fox, and Kankakee rivers. Working a med. to large "Streamer" down-stream, against the current, is probably the most productive and consistent method in these sometimes heavily stained waters were the main forage are bait fish. I've stumbled across a deadly little tactic this past summer on the Fox. I use a 7wt. rod with a floating line if the water isn't too high or fast ,(and a sink-tip line If it is), tied to an eight foot Flourocarbin leader (2x), with a medium to large sized Lefty's Deciever* tied to that, I prefer a kelley-green and white.

The technique is simple. Cast down-stream atleast 40 feet or more, over the tail-end of a riffle-pool, at the deepest spot just before the water begins the next shallow riffle, and simply hold the fly steady, sitting still in the current, and impart short, snappy liitle twitches of line from 3 to 6 inches but "always" ending up back in the same spot, the original spot, try to keep it in the same spot the best you can, atleast within a foot or so. The stikes will be easily detectible and will hook automatically from your strip-still retrieve. Basically you keep short jerk working, holding it in the same spot until you feel the heaviness of the fish.

 

Hope your able to follow, send me a note if you can't.

 

Josh Konkloly

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