Fly Fishing Tip – Understanding the Water Column

I was just recently in Missouri and fished Montauk State Park…if you aren’t familiar with Montauk it lies about 25 miles southwest of Salem, Missouri and is one of the state’s four trout parks. I fished it with my 14 year old son and my father…and I spent a good amount of my time fishing the Current River below the trout park and the river itself is one of the nicest stretches of water I have fished while in Missouri. 

I am always working on the puzzle of fish and catching fish while casting for trout, smallies, etc…and the three days I fished the area reduced the puzzle to one thing…the water column. For some of you this is a new concept and for others you have been plugged into its value for a long time. If you can take a stretch of flowing water and break it down into sections and for a while ignore the fact that the water is running horizontal to you and the banks that hold it…you  can start to better see how the water actually sits in a column that runs north to south or vertical. True, water is flowing and the flow can’t be denied but catching fish is all too often crucially important in getting your fly on the ‘right’ level so that the trout is interested in feeding. 

Those of you who use strike indicators already know this as you may set your indicator at a depth to allow your fly to tick the bottom, drag the bottom or stay a foot above the bottom; you are getting the fly down to the correct level in the water column to be eaten. Unfortunately while using a strike indicator you are fishing a narrow lane and can only fish this narrow lane at one depth. As a strip or streamer fly-fisherman I can fish more than one depth and can also fish from one bank of a stream to the other.

Let me explain…if you already are up on this…then please don’t be offended. Last week I started out with a floating line and partially weighted olive wooly bugger that looked much like a sculpin…this is a pattern that I have been tweaking for a while. By using the floating line…I couldn’t get my bugger down to a level by where the fly was crossing in front of the trout…there was no chasing going on and no matter how hard you try a trout rarely ‘rises’ to take a wooly, not in direct sunlight, and not in 95 degree weather. I then changed to my 3 weight rod and type 2 sinking line and by casting at almost a 90 degree, cross stream angle, could get a drift that was putting the bugger in front of a good many trout and immediately I started catching fish…in fact in just over an hour I landed, netted, 18 trout on my 3 weight, not all were big fish, but many were because I still believe the big fish want to, would like to, have a big meal if it is presented correctly. 

Conversely you can also get your fly too deep in the water column and that is no good either. I carry with me, while using my 6 weight, 4 lines; floating, type 2, type 3 and type 4 sink tip. This allows me the flexibility of getting my line down and my fly in front of almost any fish or trout. I used the 3 weight because the flow was not too significant and I love catching fish on the smaller 2 and 3 weight rods. So…the next time you are out and struggling…ask yourself am I fishing at the right level in the water column. If not, start experimenting with lines and even the weight of your fly. I actually tie the sculpin pattern in several weights from no weight to one that I put a lot of lead in front of bead eyes to aide in getting the fly down deep. You can also do a lot with weighted lines and mending…this is a very by accelerated and frankly a little more complex than I wish to chew off at this point…but look for it in yet another tip in the near future. You may be asking how you will know when you have the depth figured out…the fish will let you know. They will become happy and active and will start slamming your fly. During one stretch of the river I hit a piece of water that was quite full of big and experienced rainbows…as I would be watching one trout following my fly, another would come across the pool from another direction and slam the fly. The takes during this stretch were violent, nothing shy and made for some exhilarating fishing. Best of luck to you and many bent rods.

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