We all are remarkably diverse in our likes and dislikes and what represents the “perfect” fishing trip or a memorable season.
In my workshops, I stress how important it is to find your own personal relationship to fly fishing. I know people who tie flies, but don’t fish. Or make fly rods, but prefer to spend vacations mountain biking. If you feel good about your season, then all is good. Don’t let anyone convince you otherwise!
From my perspective, an ideal fishing trip is one in which I don’t see another angler the entire time. Often, when I am fishing in my boat, there isn’t anyone within a quarter of a mile. Bliss. A good camping experience, to me, is equally as important as good fishing – for personal rejuvenation and peace of mind. I avoid paid camping, and I treasure rustic sites and isolation. Unfortunately, I also spend a lot of time collecting trash left by others. (Nothing causes the Forest Service folks to close an area faster than abuse by users.)
For the old hands at fly fishing, the tips that follow in this series of articles will seem self-evident or old-hat. But all of us can recall the confusion and uncertainty we faced when first starting out in this fly fishing game.
KEEP A LOG
Remember your best fishing day last season? The one when you could do no wrong, the fish were willing, the battles fierce, and the catching memorable?
What date was that?
Not many fly anglers would be able to give you that answer quickly or accurately. I have had talks with fishing friends where dates remembered were off by three weeks from the date the event actually happened. That kind of error will do you no favors when planning for the coming season!
It’s really important to keep a log of your fishing trips, trip-by-trip, and year-by-year. Some anglers keep very detailed records, others (including me) just manage highlights.
Among entries that might appear in a log are: date, time of day, weather conditions and prevailing patterns, water temperature and depth, moon phase, barometer reading, sky conditions, wind and direction, patterns fished, successful flies and fishing techniques, specific areas fished, and, well…you get the drift.
The safest would be to keep a written notebook, but I am very computer oriented and keep my logs both as a text document email draft and also on a computer calendar (Apple’s iCal). The text document is color coded. Good fishing days are in green, poor are red, and neutral (worth the trip) are in blue. Other pertinent data is noted. I also add whether this was a day trip or overnight camping trip, and the number and size of fish caught. Sometimes, you can get the big picture in one glance. Last season, September is in all red and was not great fishing here on the lakes. So this coming September I expect to be repainting Vannie, the camper van.
The most immediate application of the log is predicting a window for good fishing for specific waters, on a year-to-year basis. I transfer the date for (Best Fishing at X Lake) for the past two seasons to the current year’s calendar. That shows me a window for predictable good fishing for that fishery based on the results of the last two years. You can bet I will be making a visit, fly rod in hand, within that window in 2015. The goal isn’t more fishing, the goal is making a trip at the most predictably opportune time.
HAVE SEASONAL EXPLORATION GOALS
A plan that is paying off for me is to divide the season into mini-seasons, and scout and plan fishing to really learn one specific fishery for each period. For example, in central Oregon we have this kind of stillwater fly fishing calendar:
March-April Lake Billy Chinook for Bull Trout
April-May Davis Lake for Largemouth Bass
April Chickahominy Reservoir (currently near dry)
May-early June Lava Lake, East Lake, Paulina Lake, Diamond Lake, Antelope Flat
June-August Crane Prairie, East Lake, Hosmer Lake, Lava Lake, Diamond Lake, Davis Lake
Stillwater Dog Days:
Late September-October Wickiup Reservoir, Paulina Lake, East Lake
There might be an argument or two about the above, but the general outline is pretty solid. Just substitute your area’s fisheries and date your mini-seasons.
Instead of trying a little of everything, pick one fishery per mini-season. I have found that concentrating on one fishery produces long-lasting discoveries. You can try that other fishery in a future year, and concentrate on it then.
In the past, I have extensively explored Hosmer Lake and Davis Lake, and feel I know both like the palm of my hand. I can usually count on very good results from those waters.
Over the last two seasons, I have concentrated on Crane Prairie, Paulina, and Wickiup. Paulina and Wickiup are not that popular with fly fishers, which also means they are not crowded like East Lake.
Wickiup Reservoir, in particular, has been an eye opener. It took four scouting trips, a lot of driving around to explore access roads, boating around fishless on the water, and charting the fishery using a depth finder (and in my case a GPS). The end result was an idea of where to access, camp and fish. Finally, one trip it all came together and paid off big, with good catches and my largest brown trout to date. And all the conditions are predictable and repeatable! Needless to say, I am greatly looking forward to fishing Wickiup this coming season. But, it took six trips from May to the end of October to figure it out.
Paulina Lake, set inside a volcano crater, is a great mystery to most fly fishers. Shoreline flats are very narrow and the steep dropoffs are legendary. You can be in 40 feet of water 15 feet from the shoreline. The middle of the lake is 130′ deep! Yet, scouting this fishery last year, I discovered some promising places to fish, none of which are mentioned by anglers who frequent Paulina. The fly fishers here tend to collect in a couple of areas, only.
Again, the odds are better you will make these valuable discoveries, when you concentrate on one water and explore it thoroughly. Ignore, for the moment, short-term fishing success.
What would you rather do? You can string out visits to an area fishery so that you are there one or two times a season, and years later, you still don’t know it. Or you can say, this is the year I learn “Hidden” Lake, and spend a lot of time at that one place.
SLICING AND DICING LAST SEASON:
I discovered through my logs that I fished slightly less than last season. Most of that was because of losing early season to a family medical emergency.
My camping night numbers were about the same as the year before, though I used them differently. Instead of making more day trips, I would arrive at the fishery in late afternoon, establish camp, set up my boat and gear, and have a quiet, relaxing evening and night. Next morning, I just grabbed the pre-packed lunch, the rods and hand bags, launched the boat and went fishing. During peak season, I would camp the second night, and fish the second day.
Altogether, I made 24 trips during fishing season, fishing over 30 days. The lion’s share of those trips were to Crane Prairie.
Fish-wise, a good year, just slightly off the pace of 2013. I caught and released nine fish over four pounds, including five over five pounds. The top fish were two 7-pound rainbows from Crane Prairie. I had my best day at East Lake ever, the best at Wickiup to date, and a memorable day for the largemouths at Davis Lake. A lot happened to get me excited about what could be.
Major assists this year were to get a 2.5 hp Suzuki 4-stroke outboard for my pontoon boat. This was a $730 purchase that opened up all the waters I normally fish so I can get to the far reaches and back quickly and easily. I highly recommend this source if you are looking for an outboard. I used to own an older model Porta-Bote, so this company has a longstanding rep and good service.
A NEW WEATHER FORECASTING ASSIST
If you follow this blog, you know I am very weather oriented, and any fly fisher in the western USA would admit the huge influence our wild weather can have on fishing success. My wife, Linda, is a bit of an amateur meteorologist, so you can blame her for my weather addiction. Predicting the Bite is still a valued reference, but you can still reduce that to: fish the third day of high pressure or during any low pressure period.
The biggest improvement in weather forecasting last season was the introduction by Weather Underground of their interactive weather charts. You can grab a vertical scroll marker with your mouse or finger and drag it across the charts, getting continuous readouts of temperature, wind chill, cloud cover, chance of precipitation, barometric pressure, wind direction and speed.
If you look at the example above, the orange vertical scroll marker is positioned at 8 pm on Saturday. The forecast for the day is Chance of a Thunderstorm. The scroll marker shows that the rain will probably not occur until 8 p.m. Note the upswing of the blue precipitation marker does not start to peak until 8 p.m.
Temperature at that marker is 71F, wind chill is 69F, 97% cloud cover, 84% chance of precipitation, 11 mph wind from the southwest. Barometer at 30.30 and rising. Great information!
Looking at fishing possibilities shows low wind on Tuesday and high winds on Wednesday late, plus a very cold Wednesday night. The full graph (not shown) displays the forecast for seven days and can be scrolled to reveal 10 days.
This is a very accurate and useful tool to plan your outings.
Originally published January 2015
The articles in this series:
• The 2014 Season – Logs and Weather
• Using Google Earth to scout Unfamiliar Fisheries
• Water Storage Data – Important Signals for Stillwater Fly Fishing
• Magnifying Your iPad for Fly Fishing and Fly Tying