Saturday, November 19, 2011

Hopper/Dropper Fishing

Working the BWO hatch on the Dream Stream after a late summer storm.  

You got 'em ?

How do I like to fish the Hopper Juan? 

I often start fishing the hopper in early spring. I know that there are no hoppers out in February, but that is not what I am expecting. On the Arkansas River, above Canon City, CO, the water is low and clear in early spring. In late February, the BWO nymphs are numerous and are just starting to become a more important food source for the fish. After eating mostly midges during the winter, the sight of drifting baetis nymphs must be a sight. I still like to use a nymph rig for the deep dredging of stoneflies and midge larva, but as soon as there is a temperature rise and fish become more active, I like to fish with a dry/dropper. The fish may move up to feed on drifting BWO nymphs in the riffles and adding a heavy dropper such as a Copper John or a stonefly nymph followed by a Randy’s Baetis or a 719 Baetis nymph may just be the ticket. I can fish closer and have more control over my flies than a nymph rig. Also, fish may be nosed up in warmer, more shallow water, picking off a few bugs in about 6” of water. By putting a dry/dropper rig over those fish, you have less of a chance of spooking them. I would rather use a smaller caddis or mayfly dry at that point, but if you are already rigged up and only have one rod with you, then chances are you don’t want to change out and chances are that you might get that fish to eat one of your bugs. As early spring moves into late spring and early summer, I can still use the same rig to target fish eating BWOs and caddis nymphs. Over the last few years, I have hit more days where the fish were keyed into the BWO emergence and not the duns. This is usually due to the fact that the bugs are out and so is the sun. 

The fish can eat right below the surface without having to expose themselves up higher in the water column. As the fish move into the upper third of the water column, you can see them feeding on nymphs and emergers, but they are too high to use a nymph rig and too deep to use a small dry like a Parachute Adams with a dropper that will not get down deep enough to them. This is where I like a hopper on top followed by a tungsten dropper like a Glossy Back or a 2 Bit Hooker to get down in front of their faces. I then follow that with a more impressionistic pattern like an RS2 or a Foam Back Emerger. This set up works great and adjustments can be made by the length of your dropper tippet. 
In the early summer, when runoff has the flows higher, there is a time and place for the same set up. When the South Platte is running higher than normal, a lot of those fish retreat to the banks where they can still eat with out having to exert too much energy. This means the pocket water that has been created by the higher flows and close to the banks. Again, a hopper pattern followed by a heavy stonefly or heavy mayfly pattern thrown up against the bank where a 6”wide holding slot holds a fish can mean the difference between a couple fish and a couple of good fish. I know a spot near Deckers that has always held a nice fish, up against a rock, where only a rig such as this one has been able to get the fish to eat. The fly needs to get in front of their face in order for them to eat. If they don’t see the dropper, they won’t eat it. As the water starts to drop, the fish settle down into a more normal summer routine. On the S. Platte, flows can move up and down like the stock market. Fish move according to these ups and downs. When flows are more stable, fish are more stable. I like to fish those spots that most people miss because they are fishing a nymph rig. Those slots behind small rocks are everywhere in the summer and the fish are in there. The beautiful seams become more defined and knee-deep water is everywhere. 

 I can target those fish with the dropper, again making sure it is heavy enough to drop in front of the fish and matches something they are eating. I love those slots about 6” wide and knee deep. I have pulled some really nice fish out of those places when a nymph rig would have been too much. A dry/dropper rig is more precise and I have more control over it in those situations than a nymph rig. Also, how many times have you seen a fish feeding in the hydraulic cushion in front of a rock? The one time I tried to use a nymph rig, I ended up having the flies go one way around the rock and the indicator going the other way. After breaking off the rig, losing everything and scaring off the fish, I decided never to try that again. 

By late summer and early fall, I have already targeted the BWOs, Caddis, Stoneflies and PMDs with this set up. The Hopper Juan was designed as a hopper and while it is not the answer for everything and doesn’t exactly look like a hopper, it makes a fine imitation. As many of you know, here in Colorado and more specifically, the S. Platte, it’s not known as a huge hopper river. Sure they are around and fish eat them, but it’s not like fishing in a Montana meadow stream. I didn’t specifically design this pattern for a particular stretch of water. I designed it to work as more of a problem solver pattern. Those situations I mentioned above led me to find a pattern that floated well and caught fish and held up well after a few fish. While I do love plopping this pattern on the water and hoping for a fish to smash it, generally that is not the case. I enjoy watching it float along perfectly on the waters surface, only to be jerked down by a fish eating the offering below the surface. Either way, as long as there is some action and fish are landed and released, everything in my world is right. The really good days are when you only fish the hopper and a dropper is not needed. This sometimes happens earlier in the season when fish are keyed into the Golden Stoneflies. 

Again, more often than not, they like to eat the bug below rather than bug on the surface. As fall gives way to colder water and lower flows, this set up again proves its worth by being able to hit the nooks and crannies where fish are feeding. Usually at this time, fish are on the feed before spawning and winter. Big nasty streamers are great fun during this time and are effective. By late fall, the hopper/dropper set up is replaced by the standard nymph rig for fishing the deeper water where the fish are waiting for the baetis nymphs begin to start drifting and the cycle begins again. While I prefer to use a Hopper Juan for this style of fishing, please don’t think that this is the only way to fish it. I generally use a size 8 to hold up most of my droppers. When I tie the flies, I always finish it with a good waterproofing material such as Water Shed. I cannot stress how important I think this is. While foam floats great, once you put everything together; foam, elk hair, wing material, thread and a water absorbent antron wing, it tends to take on water and sink. By adding a waterproofing agent, along with some floatant, it will repel water and keep on floating for a long time. Without a good waterproofing, it tends to sink in rough water or if you have too much weight off the back end of it. Again, you can use any fly you like to use in this system. I often use an Amy’s Ant, a Chubby Chernobyl, a Club Sandwich or a Fat Albert in place of the Hopper Juan. When fishing in smaller streams, I often downsize my offerings. A size 10 or 12 works better and is better suited for the smaller fish. I also like to use a Juanna Be Hopper Juan, which will hold up a small tungsten dropper and allows the small Cutts and Brookies to get it in their mouth. Whatever fly patterns you choose to use and what ever style of fishing you choose to do, just remember to have fun. It’s the reason why we tie and why we spend time standing in a river waving a stick.
A good day at work.  Durability is a must!

The Mini -or Juanna Be Hopper Juan

I like me some Chubby too!

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Free Schwag for some followers!

Thanks to my followers who commented on the last piece I wrote on my thoughts on the fly tying world.  I often don't spend a lot of time on longer articles as I first of all, I don't like to write them and often when I see long articles such as the one I wrote, I don't spend the time to read it.  So with that, I'd like to thank those followers who took the time to read through it and leave a comment.  Feed back is great no matter what type of communication is presented and helps me to see that my time was worth spending and at least a couple people are reading it.  So for the 6 people who left a comment, please shot me an e-mail and I'll hook you up with some free Schwag!  I have some Scott Fly Rod Co. stuff along with some MFC Schwag, Dr. Slick and some Spirit River Schwag.  So I'll be waiting for an e-mail.  And thanks to those who still read the article, but didn't leave a comment.  I appreciate you taking the time.  Thanks!  Juan

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Do you have what it takes?

What is it that makes a good fly tier?  What makes a good fly tier a top notch fly tier?  And where do the great tiers fit in?   

I am blessed to live in an area of the country where I believe we have the greatest concentrations of notable fly tiers.  All along the Front Range of Colorado, there are fly tiers galore.  From Ft. Collins to Pueblo, Colorado, walk into any fly shop and chances are, you will run into someone who can tie.  Not only can they tie, but most of these people have been featured in magazines or books or are local fly tying celebrities.   But, just because they have been featured in a book or in a magazine, does not guarantee they are at the top of the fly tying world.  As in any sport, there are levels that these tiers are in.  I’ll get to that in a bit.  
But what do I consider makes a good tier?  I know a lot of good tiers and I tie with a lot of them.  To me, a good tier is one who can tie most patterns and can make the adjustments to the pattern as needed to trick those picky fish on their local water.  Back when I was a newer tier, I would go and fish and there was always a couple of fish that turned down my offerings.  My best examples were during a BWO hatch.  The fish were eating, but not always eating my patterns.  Sure, presentation had some to do with it, maybe more so than the pattern, but after a few tweaks to popular patterns, the hook-ups increased.  A good tier can adjust to their needs.  But in the fly tying world, being a good tier is more than just producing a good looking pattern.  That person has to be able to tie each one of those patterns consistently.  Most good tiers tie dozens of flies per year.  They tie patterns of their own and have great looking fly boxes.  They may be local legends in their own fly tying world and may provide flies to their buddies.  They can tell you the difference between tying a pattern with deer versus elk hair.  They understand the differences in tying materials and the tools needed to produce quality flies. You may know a few of these guys.  They may be you fishing buddy that you depend on to provide flies for your yearly Montana trip or maybe it is you.  

A top notch fly tier is a different beast.  While having the same abilities as a good tier, the top notch guys just have a knack for tying.  It seems, as you watch them tie, that their hands and movements just seem natural.  The patterns they tie are well thought out.  Their thread wraps are calculated.  Every wrap of thread has a purpose.  To them, it is an art, creating the prettiest fly they can.  While still fishable, most other people would never think of using these pieces of art, but the fly tier doesn’t care, they’ll just tie some more!  Usually, these guys have, at one time, tied commercially and that repetition has helped them to count every wrap of wire and every whip finish.  These guys will still tie hundreds of dozens of flies per year for shops, clients, or other customers.  It’s what they do.  Within that top notch group of tiers, there are some that just stand out.  They are the Payton Mannings and Tom Bradys of fly tying.  A couple of these guys pop into your head as you read this.  They may be well known both locally and internationally. They have paved the way for others and we all incorporate their tying ideas and techniques into our tying.   Next, there are the Ben Rothlisburgers and the Drew Brees of the fly tying world.  These guys are right up there but not the guys you think of immediately.  Some have written books, some have web sites on the subject.  
Then there are the Michael Vicks and the Matt Ryans.  No books or magazine articles to their name, but still, they are top notch.  And just because they haven’t written a book doesn’t mean they can’t be in that upper level of tying greatness. 
 At the lower end of the pyramid, there are the other tiers who are good enough to be considered “top notch” but really don’t care to move up in the levels.  In this group, you usually find a lot of guides.  These are the guys that can tie, but really don’t want or care to tie realistic scuds and baetis nymphs that clients will break off on a fish or lose in that tree behind them.  They need to crank out a well tied fly that is durable and catches fish.  They make their money on trips and tips.  A poorly tied fly that doesn’t last is worthless.  Who wants to tie more than they have to after a long day on the water when they have to do it all over again the next day?  These are the guys who drive pattern design.  An edge over the next guy can mean building a long term relationship with a client.  
The guys you see at the upper levels are usually current or former guides who have had plenty of time on the water and now, may be doing something else other than guiding.  With more time to sit at the vise, they can work through a particular problem and try to solve it.  Their creative minds are able to run as needed without having to worry about when their next day off from guiding will be.  The guys in this level can tell you how and why you want to use elk hair on their pattern instead of deer.  They can tell you what type of elk hair to use on the pattern and why.  They can tell you from what area of the hide you want to use.  They can explain to you the differences in thread weight, thread twist and have a way to make that thread lay down like on the hook like you’ve never seen.  They have “touch”.  

As in art, a tier has their own tying style.  This is what I think makes me appreciate that tier more than anything else.  There are top notch tiers that are at the top of their game, but I prefer someone else’s tying style over theirs.  Most of the time, I see unknown tiers who’s tying style I like, but they are just tying for the fun of it.  Their tying style is one that I wish I could match.  These are the guys I think are great tiers.   Maybe they are not guides or involved in the industry, but they fish and have a bit of what the top notch guys have.  They are somewhat perfectionist, but yet they tie flies to fish.  Most of these tiers are Average Joe’s who don’t tie at the local fly tying shows, but occasionally you see one of their patterns online somewhere.  The great tiers I know don’t seek out the attention or the limelight.  They are perfectly fine tying to meet their fishing needs.  Occasionally, you might see their patterns show up in a corner of a fly tying magazine as a hot guide fly.  More often than not, they never show up in Fly Fisherman magazine or Fly Tyer as a featured article.  

The fly tying business is a tough one to make it in, espically if you hope to make it to the top.  Just like those NFL quarterbacks mentioned earlier, it takes a lot of passes and hard work to just get noticed.  A lot of flies also have to be tied just to get noticed.  More hard work and even more time at the bench, as well as on the water, are needed to get into the mention of good tiers in Colorado.  Even more time and a handful of effective patterns are needed to get mentioned with the best.  If you want to be one of the best, you have to be willing to put in the time, to get overlooked but keep tying because that is what you enjoy, not the notoriety that so few will ever have.  Remember to give a nod to the no-namers the next time you are at an event, or come across their blogs, because that is, indeed, how they will become the next best.  

There are a lot of up and coming tiers across the world.  Some are regional favorites, some are just locally known.  With that, I'd like to give a shout out to these tiers and their blogs.  Take a look and get to know some of their work.  They just might have that "style" that you really like.