Fifty Fly Fishing Tips: #24 — Transitions are tough

by | Jan 7, 2018 | 6 comments

The best anglers are seen moving through various tactics with ease. They smoothly transition from fishing deep nymphs to a light dry-dropper rig. Then just a half-hour and a hundred yards more, they might be found stripping a pair of streamers against mixed pocket-water currents.

It takes practice and some planning to know when and how to transition. But making the changes and adaptations, without keen awareness and a solid plan, can throw off any angler.

— — — — — —

The morning had gone better than I’d expected, and for the first time in a couple hours, I lifted my head and broke the concentration that tight line nymphing demands. I stood up straight and took deep, cold breaths, sucking single-digit air through a balaclava pulled up to my sunglasses.

I turned downstream to see where I’d come from and mentally rehashed each pocket that had given up a fish or two. I gazed downstream as far as my eyes could see, deep between a canyon of spruce trees and through blowing snow, until it put a hazy white mask over the river. The trout had come quickly. I’d changed flies a few times early on, but when the fish suggested that I’d found the right combination, I stuck with the same simple pair of Walt’s Worms. Standing there thinking about the morning, I realized I hadn’t changed or lost a fly for a very long time, and I’d caught a pile of fish.

Things were good. So I waded to a familiar fallen tree, broke out a small thermos of coffee and remembered a similar winter day from five years ago, how I’d visited with Dad at the same streamside log. The hot coffee warmed me from the inside, just like it did years ago, and I sat again on the soft mossy wood, remembering the way Dad and I had struggled to make heads or tails of anything the stream had showed us that day. Today, however, was different. Fishing had been almost easy.

I guess I was satisfied with the good nymphing, and a little curious about what else was possible. So after recapping the thermos, I stood up and grabbed my leader with toasty warm fingers, tied some leader knots and attached a streamer. I waded upstream past a thin shelf of ice that broke into the river’s edge as my wake passed. Then I began targeting the same water type where I’d had success dead-drifting nymphs all morning, only now with a slow-strip streamer presentation.

I’ll do this for fifteen minutes, I thought. And if the streamer turns up nothing, I’ll go back to the Walt’s Worms.

A half-hour later I begrudgingly admitted that the wild browns weren’t having it. No matter how I altered my streamer presentation, I couldn’t move a fish. And when I tried to switch back, to pick up the trail of my earlier nymphing success, I failed. Up against a ticking clock of deadlines and real-world obligations at noon, I floundered as I changed and swapped rigs and strategies too often and too much.

I caught just one more trout before I left.

— — — — — —

Fishin’ Ain’t Easy

There are some strong themes running through the pages of Troutbitten. And over the nearly six-hundred stories and tips here, I’ve advocated for meeting trout on their own terms — to fish whatever they’re eating. One of the great advantages of the fly rod is how effectively we can fish flies of any size and any type, and because of that, there’s always hope for the next cast. We can match whatever food forms a trout is willing to eat, presenting flies at any depth necessary (from the glassy surface to the rocky bottom).

But transitioning from one style to the next is not easy.

So that’s why I’ve also suggested before to focus on learning just one thing at a time. It may take years to really put together a solid tight line nymphing game. And, personally, I learn best when I’m dedicated to only one objective. So try carrying only your dry flies to the water, if that’s what you want to learn. Or see what happens if you tie on streamers and nothing else, no matter the river and weather conditions.

Even when we do have a fully developed set of fly fishing skills, it’s easy to screw up the transition between styles if we aren’t purposely aware and thoughtful about what we’re doing. I know how to fish nymphs and streamers. I’m good with both. But all too often, something is lost in the switch. Sure, I can blame it on the fish. I can say that a bite window closed (and maybe it did). But I often leave the river knowing that I did something wrong — and sometimes knowing for sure that I messed up a good thing.

And you may find yourself . . . And you may ask yourself . . .

You may spend the better part of an early summer afternoon casting to rising fish that eagerly chase down mayfly emergers. When the hatching activity ends and you want to switch to nymphs, it’ll serve you well to take an extra moment to pause, to think about shortening the range of your casts. Because whether tight lining or fishing with a suspender, better nymphing happens at close range.

And when dusk settles in, when the harsh angular light softens into orange and purple glows over grey water, your trigger finger may be itching to strip streamers through the last remaining light, hoping to fool a large trout who’s just a little early on the prowl. In that moment, it pays to slow down and think about covering less water than you did with the nymphs, to target only the spots where you expect to find a cruising Whiskey.

Whatever the situation, it helps to be thoughtful about every transition, every time you alter your rig or tactics on the water. Is the change a good bet? And if so, what adjustments need be made?

Fish hard, friends.

 

Enjoy the day.
Domenick Swentosky
T R O U T B I T T E N
domenick@troutbitten.com

 

Share This Article . . .

Since 2014 and 1000+ articles deep
Troutbitten is a free resource for all anglers.
Your support is greatly appreciated.

– Explore These Post Tags –

Domenick Swentosky

Central Pennsylvania

Hi. I’m a father of two young boys, a husband, author, fly fishing guide and a musician. I fish for wild brown trout in the cool limestone waters of Central Pennsylvania year round. This is my home, and I love it. Friends. Family. And the river.

More from this Category

Fifty Fly Fishing Tips: #18 — Imagine a Target — Fish to the Fish

Fifty Fly Fishing Tips: #18 — Imagine a Target — Fish to the Fish

You can roam the river, mending, drifting and stripping, casting into every corner pocket and straight channel. You have the skills to present the fly, the consummate awareness of currents and flows and the stamina to wade rough water for hours on end. But can you imagine a target? Can you picture a trout feeding in the hydraulic swirl behind an unseen chunk of bedrock on the river bottom? Can you believe the trout is there? . . .

The capacity to imagine a trout in the river is a next-level skill that’s only earned by thoughtful time on the water . . .

Fifty Fly Fishing Tips: #17 — Pick One Water Type

Fifty Fly Fishing Tips: #17 — Pick One Water Type

Fishing all the water ahead of me is my favorite way to fish, but I don’t do it all the time. In fact, I probably don’t fish that way even half the time. Instead, I often stay with one rig for hours on end, and I skip all the water where that rig isn’t the best option.

Setting aside a day, or even a long morning, to work with one rig in one water type, skipping over everything that isn’t a good match, really pays off . . .

Fifty Fly Fishing Tips: #16 — You don’t need big flies to catch big trout

Fifty Fly Fishing Tips: #16 — You don’t need big flies to catch big trout

I’ll get right to the point: Your best bet for catching trophy trout is with medium to small flies. More specifically, large nymphs or small streamers are the perfect size. 

I’ve written about making the choice between going for big fish or for a bunch of fish, arguing that you can’t have both. I’ve also pushed the point on these Troutbitten pages that catching big fish does not require fishing big flies.

Talking with my buddy, Matt Grobe, the other day, he summed it up like this: “Fishing large streamers is the most overrated thing out there for catching the big ones.” Nice. And this is coming from a guy who fishes the heart of Montana, around Bozeman and beyond, all year round.

All of this goes seems to go against currently prevailing wisdom, but it wasn’t always that way . . .

What do you think?

Be part of the Troutbitten community of ideas.
Be helpful. And be nice.

6 Comments

  1. Hi Domenick, I am not familiar with Walt’s Worm. So I looked on the web and found some that were bead-headed and some that were not. Is your Walt’s Worm bead-headed?

    Thank you,

    Charlie

    Reply
    • Hey Charles,

      I tie them in hares’s ear and in olive hare’s ear. Sometimes with hareline plus and sometimes just straight harline without the added antron. I almost always include a bead, usually copper on the hare’s ear versions, and black nickel on the olive versions. I also include a hot collar of fluorescent orange on the hare’s ear versions and usually rust orange on the olive versions. I also like Loren Williams’ Sexy Walts pattern.

      You can see my hare’s ear colored version on the cover photo from this post:

      https://troutbitten.com/2017/01/10/youre-far-now/

      Reply
  2. Dom,
    What was the water temperature that day?

    I fish straight Walt’s worms, no antron, no hot spots, no beads in the crystal clear freestone streams where I live now. Do you add the hotspots etc. because the streams that you fish almost always have some color due to dissolved limestone? I used to regularly fish those streams when I lived closer to them.

    Regards.

    Reply
    • Hi Tim,

      Oh I don’t remember what the temperature was. And I’m not so sure that it matters. Basically, the nymph bite was real good, then I tried to force streamers and couldn’t get back into my nymphing rhythm after the switch back. I tried to do too much without really thinking about what I was doing. That’s my point in the story, I guess. So it has very little to do with the flies or water temps, for me.

      Regarding hotspots: that has nothing to do with limestone water or not either. Some days they want hot spots and color, sometimes they don’t. Also, I’ll mention that, to me, flash is different than color. I find that in my waters, overuse of flash in a fly is often a turn off. But color, such as the thread collars we call hotspots can be excellent. Sometimes, though, I find it necessary to go with no bead, no flash, no hotspot to catch trout. Just natural. The fun of the whole things is solving that daily mystery.

      Cheers.

      Dom

      Reply
      • Thanks for the hot spot explanation. It makes sense, and I’m going to try it.

        Reply

Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Recent Articles

Recent Posts

Domenick Swentosky

Central Pennsylvania

Hi. I’m a father of two young boys, a husband, author, fly fishing guide and a musician. I fish for wild brown trout in the cool limestone waters of Central Pennsylvania year round. This is my home, and I love it. Friends. Family. And the river.

Pin It on Pinterest