David Archer: August 2007 Archives

Fly Fishing Basics: Step 5

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Fly Patterns and Presentation


I always drop by a fly shop if I am away from my home waters. The price of bugs is generally the same, but the information is invaluable. Shop owners frequently buy regional and specialty flies from their guides. The fly patterns listed below will serve you well in your travels along Highway 395 in California or along Highway 97 in Oregon.

Keep in mind that each day shop outfitters send out their guides with the simple goal of getting their clients into fish, and everyday information is traded back and forth on what works, where it works and when it works. Shop owners and clerks readily pass on this information to first-time customers for half a dozen flies or less! Naturally, every shop has their killer flies that they use to expand the sale, but I don't believe that I have ever been duped. Fly shops have short seasons. In order to survive, they depend on customer loyalty, which in turn depends on their credibility. Regarding published hatch charts, take them with a grain of salt. Although I personally admire the dedication and perseverance that it takes to compile a hatch chart, the vagaries of Mother Nature generally render them in the category of "You should have been here last week." The best source of information will be from the local fly shops. Regardless of where you buy your flies, stay out of the bargain basement. Not all flies are tied equally.


For years I would shake my head in puzzlement when a client would open up his fly box and pull out a cheap and poorly tied fly. Rather than upset a client's out-of-state purchasing acumen for Montana trout flies, I would just resort to some swaps if I knew I was dealing with a tightfisted bargain hunter. Look for stiff neck hackles that will keep the fly high and dry. The next simple test is to look at the body to see if it is slender and proportionate. Finally, a good dry fly should have a three-point landing. When the fly is resting in the palm of your hand, the hackle and the tail should be aligned so that the bottom of the hook is barely resting on your palm. If the tail is too short, the fly will not land as well, nor will it offer the same profile to trout.

It is the fly that triggers the strike. The one topic guaranteed to generate instant conversation among fly anglers is the mention of fly patterns. No other facet of fly fishing evokes so much enthusiasm and reverence. Through the years many surveys have asked prominent fly fishers to share their favorite fly patterns. Lefty Kreh, in an article in Field and Stream, published February 1972, polled 12 expert fly fishers. The following list of dry flies, nymph flies and streamer flies represents a composite of the most frequently used flies for each category among these 12 experts.

* Dry Flies: Light Cahill, Adams, Royal Wulff, Irresistible, Quill Gordon, Humpy
* Nymphs: Trueblood Otter Shrimp, Quill Gordon, Ed Burk, Yellow Stone Fly, Muskrat, Woolly Worm
* Streamers: Black Nose Dace, Spruce Fly, Muddler Minnow, Gray Ghost, Black Marabou, White Marabou

Dan Abrams, in a similar type survey published in Sports Afield, October 1975, polled 30 notable fly fishers regarding their top four fly patterns. Seven of the 30 were prominent Rocky Mountain fly fishers. A generalized list of the most popular patterns produced the following: Adams, Royal Wulff, Humpy, Muddler Minnow and Gold-ribbed Hare's Ear Nymph. Add the Woolly Bugger and a Light Cahill in varying sizes and I would be content for quite some time. Well, of course, I would need to add a hopper pattern and a PMD and maybe a....

One of the great joys of fly fishing is sharing what works. If you are a beginner and meet a friendly fly fisher, pull out your fly box and ask, "Which one should I use?" I fondly recall many occasions when someone took me under their guidance and shared their secret fly for the day. Through the years my own collection of fly patterns grew in direct proportion to my fly fishing budget. Like most of the fly fishers I know, I can never have enough patterns. I have a number of match-the-hatch patterns for those special days, and I have my reliable stand-by attractor patterns and generic patterns that I started out with 40 years ago.

I have prioritized the following recommendations for the young beginner who has an empty fly box and a thin wallet. If you would like to begin tying your own flies, I highly recommend Jack Dennis's manual, Western Trout Fly Tying Manual. For a more in-depth approach to matching hatches, I recommend The Complete Book of Western Hatches by Rick Hafele and Dave Hughs.

For those of you who are new to the sport of fly fishing and have never fly fished in the Sierras or Cascades, I offer 20 patterns that will cover about 90% of the fishing from Glacier to Yellowstone. Be observant of what the trout are feeding on and use a small aquarium net to scoop up the bugs and look at them closely. Purchase a fly box with a foam backing and sort your dry mayfly patterns by color and size. For example, I start out with light, cream-colored Cahills and pro-gressively move across in increasingly darker shades to pale yellow, bright yellow, yellow-green, green, olive green and into the green-browns and finally mahogany and rust colors. I set up a separate row of gray and tan mayfly patterns. Personally, I am less concerned with Latin identification as I am with finding the right sized imitation in as close to the natural color as possible. Organizing my fly box in this manner helps me to locate a pattern quickly. It also reminds me what colors I am missing or what sizes I am missing. The following 20 patterns are the ones that "I never leave home without."

Dry Fly Patterns

Royal Wulff: Sizes 10-16


The Royal Wulff is the definitive attractor pattern. Created by the famed Lee Wulff, it imitates nothing, and yet it of-fers to the trout an equivalent of an exquisite Julia Child masterpiece. Derisively called the "Dude Fly" because of its white calf-tail wing, this extravaganza brings the fish up! Best of all, it is a fly the caster never fails to see. To digress for the beginner, keep in mind that you have to set the hook, as the trout will spit the fly out on its dive back into the water. Most beginners miss the take because by the time they react, the fish is safely on its way. Wear Polaroid sunglasses so that you can begin to train your eyes for underwater movement. Early detection allows you to react more quickly.
Presentation: Classic, upstream dead drift.

Humpy (Goofus Bug): Sizes 10-16


The Humpy's origin, according to Jack Dennis, is shrouded in controversy. Whether the fly originated in Jackson, Wyoming, or elsewhere is really unimportant. What is important to the beginner is that this fly works, and it is an indispensable pattern to have in your fly box. Although it is an attractor pattern, it may imitate a large caddis or stonefly in larger sizes. The fly is ideal for fast-flowing waters because of its inherent buoyancy. The Royal Humpy is especially easy to track in fast water. When sparsely tied, the Humpy works amazingly well on slow waters and can be used to imitate a Little Yellow Stonefly. The great advantage of this fly for the beginner is that it is almost unsinkable, and it offers great visibility in fast water for both the fisherman and the trout. It is, however, a most challenging pattern to tie. The best directions for tying this pattern may be found in The Second Fly-Tyers Almanac by Robert H. Boyle and Dave Whitlock.

Presentation: Classic, upstream dead drift. However, since this pattern closely resembles a caddis fly and floats so well, try drifting the fly downstream under willows or overhanging branches. As the fly drifts to the targeted area, lift the rod tip up to create an erratic skipping motion on top of the water, and then lower the rod tip quickly to allow the fly to drift once again on top of the water. Await the strike!



It would appear that the Renegade attractor pattern has faded in popularity over the last 20 years, but it is a great fly for late evening fishing, as the white hackle in the front helps to see the fly on darkened waters. The second advantage is that the dual hackle design keeps the fly afloat when it is difficult to see after sundown. If you are new to the sport of fly fishing, be sure you have a good supply and a range of sizes for the Royal Wulff, the Humpy, the Renegade, the Adams and the Elk Hair Caddis.

Adams/Parachute Adams: Sizes 12-22


The ubiquitous Adams is probably the most widely used dry fly pattern on the North American continent. It imitates any number of gray mayflies. I highly recommend acquiring as many Adams in various sizes as possible. Because of the difficult visibility with this pattern, I have switched over exclusively to Parachute Adams for sizes 16-22. Although this is a generic type pattern, a size 20 Parachute Adams performs quite well during a Trico or Baetis hatch on slow moving water with a nine-foot leader and 6X tippet.


Blue-Wing Olive (Baetis)

The Trico spinner imitation has a small black body with divided white poly wings in the spinner position. During the heat of summer, get out on a Rocky Mountain river between 7 and 9 am (varies) for the Tricorithodes or Trico hatch followed by the spinner fall.
Although one of the smallest of mayfly species, nonetheless, this is a staple for feeding trout primarily because of the preponderant numbers during the spinner fall. Generally found in slower waters, the trout settle into a sipping, rhythmic rise form. Do not be deceived by the small rings and the dark noses - big fish! Fish in the morning during those dog days of August. I'm sure you will be delighted with the experience regardless of how many fish break off and get away. Because I have trouble seeing a small Trico, I often add on a small Trico as a trailer behind a small Parachute Adams.

Presentation: Classic, upstream dead drift.

Gray Drakes (Heptagenia and Siphlonurus) typically hatch throughout the summer starting in early June. Sizes 10-18.

Tricorythodes typically hatch late in the summer, usu-ally at the beginning of August. Sizes 20-26.

Light Cahill or PMD: Sizes 12-18


Pale-Morning Dun

A light cream color Heptagenia mayfly imitation is another must have pattern. The Light Cahill pattern may also be used on slower waters and lakes to imitate Callibaetis. The Callibaetis dun body is olive-brown, however, so you may want to darken a few of your Light Cahills with a magic marker.

The Light Cahill can be used to imitate Ephemerella or Heptagenia mayflies, but be sure to closely inspect the size and color of the insect, and then match it with your color coded fly selection.

PMD - Pale Morning Dun

Pale Morning Duns are probably the most prolific and reliable hatch from Glacier to Yellowstone. These Ephemerella drake patterns should be part of your must-have patterns in sizes 16-22. PMDs hatch from June through October. Lighter in color from their cousins the Green Drakes, their bodies range from olive green to pale yellow and tan. The wings are generally slate gray to yellow. PMD cripples should be part of your collection.

Zug Bug

Gold-Ribbed Hare's Ear

Nymph patterns such as the Zug Bug, Gray Nymph and the Hare's Ear generally work well. The darker green patterns will work well during a Baetis hatch as well.

The famous Green Drake hatches (Ephemerella grandis) are typically from mid-June through mid-July. If you are in an area with a Green Drake hatch, be sure to stock up on a number of these drake patterns at the nearest fly shop. The hatch is generally not heavy, but if they are out, the trout are looking for them. Reports from guides returning to the shop will determine if you should buy traditional drake patterns or Compara Duns or Green Para-drakes. All of the above patterns range in color from pale yellow to green to olive brown. Stock up.

Elk Hair Caddis: Sizes 10-18


Unlike the graceful rise and gliding fall of the mayfly, a cad-dis hatch looks like a burst of kindergartners swarming over a playground. An accompanying soundtrack for a mayfly would be a Viennese waltz. Conversely, the caddis dance would be a rap soundtrack by Snoop Dogg. Generally, the caddis will hatch in the evening. The most popular body colors are brown, olive, green, gray and tan.

Caddis flies are not easily missed, and in the pupa and winged stages they are an important part of the trout's diet. Look for them in the quiet pocket water under willow branches or overhangs, especially in the evening. You may also want to select a few patterns for the emergent phase such as a sparkle pupa. For larger caddis imitations use a Humpy or an X-Caddis. Use a Goddard Caddis for fast, heavy water.

One of the guides I worked with collected the caddis cases and tied them on a Mustad hook with a peacock thorax. He fished them on a dead drift, and I was impressed! Beginning with the Grannom Caddis hatch in May, caddis emerge throughout the summer and fall. The most consistently popular pattern is the Elk Hair Caddis.

Presentation: Classic, upstream dead drift or erratic ac-tion produced by rod tip action.

Blue-Wing Olive: Sizes 16-22


The Baetis (Blue-Wing Olive) is an important pattern in Montana, as Baetis hatch from May through October. They are generally smaller than a PMD. The body color for a Baetis pattern is olive brown with gray wings and light gray hackle. It is not uncommon for trout to be sipping the smaller Baetis during a hatch of PMDs.

Salmon Fly / Stimulator


Montana's favorite hatch calls for big bugs that hold up under heavy water conditions. They need to stay high and dry. The Salmon Fly pattern is constantly being reinvented and im-proved. During a Salmon Fly hatch, local shops have these flies displayed in tubs and buckets. The Salmon Fly hatch generally emerges late May and is essentially over by mid July. Water temperatures need to be in the low 50s.


The Stimulator represents a pattern for stone-flies in orange and yellow. When the trout quit hitting the big Salmon Fly patterns, they tend to strike at smaller stimulators long after the Salmon Fly hatch is over. The Stimulator is best used during a Golden Stonefly hatch.

Streamers and Wet Flies

Muddler Minnow: Sizes 4-8


Popularized by Dan Bailey of Livingston, Montana, the Muddler Minnow should always be in your fly box. I have met fly fishers who fish al-most exclusively with Muddler Minnow patterns. Along with its offshoot, the Marabou Muddler, this pattern has probably taken more large fish than any other fly. The Muddler may also be greased up and used as an effective hopper pattern, and I have used it both dry and wet on the same cast with interesting results.

Presentation: Fish the Muddler slightly upstream or down-stream in a quartering action. Retrieve the Muddler by simultaneously pumping the rod tip and stripping in the line in quick, little jerks which imitates the darting action of a sculpin minnow. Allow for pauses, and add weight if necessary.

Woolly Bugger: Sizes 4-8


This pattern is a must for late spring and early summer when the water is high and off-color and the hatches are sporadic. If you are fishing from shore, make short casts around all the rocks and boulders. Be sure the fly is actually sinking to the bottom. Add lead to your leader if necessary. Use a short 2X or 3X leader. Make short casts and keep the rod tip high so that you keep the Bugger bouncing along the bottom. Lift the rod tip when you feel a bump. Do not assume it is just a rock. If it is, lower the rod tip and let the bugger sink again.

Yuk Bug and Girdle Bug: Sizes 6-12


I love this bug! I have caught so many beautiful fish during early summer when the water is still high but clear. I float along until I find a logjam or flooded backwater eddy. I usually select a size 10 Yuk Bug. The Yuk Bug has a dark body wrapped with grizzly hackle. Protruding from the body are white rubber legs. I find I generally have to cut back on the length of the rubber legs. I want them to pulse, and I want them to flare at the sides rather than collapsing backwards. I do not use weight. I fish it like a dry fly, allowing it to gradually sink. Most important, I cast from a kneeling position. I am always amazed at how adept large trout are at hiding. As the Yuk Bug sinks into quiet water, the trout will slowly emerge from its hiding spot. I have had large trout appear from under a small tree trunk in shallow water. They never rush to the Yuk. They take their time. It also works well in creeks and small streams. I love this bug!

Nymphs: Hare's Ear Nymph: Sizes 12-16


In my opinion, this is the best of the small nymph patterns for spring creeks, beaver ponds and slow, flat stretches of river. When I fish high-elevation lakes, I always bring along the Hare's Ear Nymph and a Zug Bug in smaller sizes. They work wonders. If you have someone along who is not an accomplished fly caster, use a plastic water-filled bubble with as long of a leader as possible. Attach a Hare's Ear or Zug Bug and cast out as far as possible and retrieve with a spinning reel. If the fish are rising to the surface, be sure to cast way over them, as the splashdown from the water-filled bubble will spook the fish in the near vicinity.

Bead-head Prince Nymph


This is perhaps the most popular nymph in the region! If you don't have any, head to the nearest fly shop. They work great as a dropper off a hopper pattern during the heat of August.

Pheasant Tail


The Pheasant Tail Nymph is an excellent soft hackle nymph for slow water. The key to this fly is a slender silhouette and a sparely-tied hackle.

(Joe's, Dave's, Jay's, Dan's): Sizes 6-12


As you can see from the partial list of Hopper contributors, grasshopper imitations are recorded in the "Who's Who of Terrestrials". Rarely, however, will you find such citations on the bins in a fly shop. For beginners I recommend a clipped deer-hair collar. This feature adds stability and superior floatation. Although the grasshopper is meant to have a low silhouette, without the deer hair the buoyancy is drastically reduced and the caster generally struggles with a sinking pattern.

Presentation: The best source of information on hoppers can be found in the September 1985 issue of Fly Fisherman. In this issue Dave Whitlock, in his article "Hoppertunity", discusses hopper behavior, pattern characteristics and Hoppertunity Techniques. Here are a few of his suggestions: Being a terrestrial insect, the grasshopper is on unfamiliar "ground" when he gets blown on the water. No gentle landings here. Make a splash with your hopper. Strip the hopper in with intermittent twitches from rod-tip action. Use a heavy tippet, and use a twist piece of lead to sink the hopper in those promising pools. Cast close to undercut banks and overhangs where trout hide during low water periods. Fish during the heat of the day. Carefully pick your targeted area. Although a smashing hopper on top of the water will trigger a strike, it also quite often spooks fish in the outlying area. Keep moving and practice stealth.

Beetle Patterns


The deer hair patterns dyed black work wonders. Rick Hafele and Dave Hughes in their outstanding book, The Complete Book of Western Hatches, point out that the Woolly Worm is also a good pattern to imitate a water beetle in still or slow moving water.



Although ant patterns are difficult to see in small sizes, ants are a staple diet for trout during the summer.

Bead-Head San Juan Worm


I have always had a certain amount of disdain for the San Juan Worm, but I have a growing appreciation for this pattern during the spring and again late in the fall. I favor the bead-head version with the bead in the center.

Well, there you have it - the 20 patterns that I would never leave home without!

Table of Contents

Introduction | Pre and Post Test
Step 1:Selecting Fly Rod and Reel
Step 2: Terminal equipment and Paraphernalia
Step 3: Necessary Knots and Leaders
Step 4: Casting
Step 5: Basic Fly Patterns and Presentation
Step 6: Mastering the Basics of Creek Fishing
Step 7: Mastering the Basics of Stillwater Fly Fishing

Fly Fishing Basics: Step 4

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Brook Trout


A tennis player has to smash a tennis ball in mid air while stretching over a boundary line. The trajectory of the ball must be placed in a small rectangular area on the opponent's side. A baseball batter has to assess the velocity, angle and drop of a ball fired sixty feet away at speeds upwards to ninety miles an hour. But for starters, all a beginning caster has to accomplish is to lift a fly line over his head and cast a fly twenty feet away with a somewhat soft landing. Like any skill one wants to become proficient in, there are rarely any short cuts. I would recommend viewing the 3M videotape, Beginning Fly Casting, with Doug Swisher. I also recommend a two week casting program on your lawn, which I will outline later in this unit, and finally I recommend reading Fly Fishing Strategy by Doug Swisher and Carl Richards.

The activities in this unit should not be skipped, as they will provide the learner with a visual framework as well as a mental conception of the basics of fly casting. Throughout this unit on casting instruction, the learner should demonstrate, in a freeze-stop action, all the basic principles of casting before, during and at the conclusion of each casting lesson.

Goal of the Basic Straight Line Cast

The goal of the basic straight line cast is to deliver a fly to a predetermined target with a gentle landing such as a real insect would do. Follow these three simple rules for dry fly fishing: 1. keep the fly high and dry, 2. cast in such a manner as to avoid line drag, which drags the fly at an unnatural speed, and 3. present your fly with a soft landing.

Once you learn the basic cast, you will be catching fish and ready for more efficient casting techniques. Almost everyone can learn to become a proficient caster for short distances. And speaking of distance, having fly fished for over forty years and guided for fifteen, I contend that ninety percent of the fly fishers catch ninety percent of their fish on casts less than thirty feet. Accuracy and presentation are far more important than how far you can cast a line. What follows is a discussion of the principles of casting.

The first step in understanding the basics of the straight line cast is to understand the power arc and loop control. With this knowledge, proficiency will be a matter of fine tuning. Too often, however, adult males fall victim to the mistaken belief that random trial and error will eventually pay off. Often the male ego takes over and the beginning male caster convinces himself that with more muscle power he can compensate for his lack of finesse. Nothing could be further from the truth. Let the rod do the work!

The Hand Grip


It is the preferred grip for the beginner and advanced caster. Regarding the old bug-a-boo about use of the wrist, many of the experts stress the use of this hand grip and then cocking the wrist a split second before you reach the stopping point at one-o-clock. I have no quarrel with the experts; I have just never seen a beginner who could accomplish this feat. I recommend not using ANY wrist action initially until you experience what the rod is capable of producing through forearm movement only. From my experience, most beginners fail to stop on the invisible 1 o'clock and 11 o'clock mark primarily from use of the wrist. Learn the forearm movements and stop points before incorporating use of the wrist. If the rod is pointed back too far through over use of the wrist, the forward cast will be fraught with problems. During each casting lesson, look up and locate the 1 and 11 o'clock stop points.

A beginning caster can cast thirty feet with a rigid forearm cast; however, once you understand and can feel the dynamics of rod flex and loop control, the split-second wrist action to complete the stop points is essential in casting longer distances. Try both techniques to experience what is most comfortable, but do remember to stop where you are supposed to stop which is ________ o'clock on the back cast and _______ o'clock on the forward cast. Note: As you become a better caster, you will successfully break these somewhat rigid rules, especially in regard to the use of the wrist. Overuse of the wrist is the most common error of beginning casters. One of the best resources for learning to cast is in a local fly fishing club. Members are always enthusiastic at helping new members. Many clubs even have scheduled casting clinics. You may also attend a class sponsored by numerous organizations.

The Pickup

The starting point for any cast is with the pick up of your line as you move into your back cast position. Straight lines provide instant tension to the rod which "loads" up the rod similar to a pole vaulter. The more slack you have in your line, the more you are going to have to bring your rod back behind you. When you bring your rod back too far in the back cast behind you, your line will be directed downwards to the water or shoreline. In as much as possible, you are attempting to keep the line traveling in a straight line. If you miss your stop point or pause to long, your line collapses. The consequence for this is snagging bushes, popping your fly off or dumping your line in front of you, similar to plopping a pile of spaghetti in a bird bath.

Keep in mind that gravity, angle of the rod tip and line speed determine what type of forward cast you will make. Always begin your cast with a straight line pick up from the water. If need be, pull in those loose coils and false cast until you have regained your desired length of cast.

Loop Control


The perfect loop is said to be tight, as the loop will be parallel with the top portion and the bottom portion of the loop. Such a loop can only be achieved by almost instantaneous stops at the two stop points in the power arc. This is followed by a pause as the line or loop extends. Just as the loop is about to extend into a straight line, the caster powers the line in the opposite direction. An open loop is created when the rod extends, in either direction, beyond the stop points which are _______ o'clock on the back cast and ______ o'clock on the forward cast. An open loop is wind resistant and results in a loss of energy. A tailing loop is when the loop is so open the fly at the end of the loop collapses and during the forward cast a knot is created somewhere in the leader. We sarcastically refer to these knots as "wind" knots. Keep in mind that a "wind" knot reduces the strength 50%.

False Cast

The false cast is a cast which repeats the procedure of casting the fly line backwards and forwards until the caster has accomplished one of the three following goals: 1. false casting to dry the fly off, 2. letting out line to increase the distance of the cast, and 3. false casting to change or shift to a new target area or to gauge the distance to your targeted area. Speaking of targets, always cast to a very specific spot. Eye and hand coordination and distance computation trains the brain.

Unlike a spinning rod and reel where the weight of the lure pulls out the monofilament line, in fly fishing the weight of the line is catapulted forwards or backwards through the bending and flexing of the rod. Think of pole vaulters of the modern era. It wasn't until the advent of the fiberglass pole that the 12 foot mark was surpassed. In the days of the rigid pole, the vaulter relied almost exclusively on speed and upper body strength. However, with the introduction of the fiberglass pole, vaulters could capitalize on the bend and flexing motion of the pole. In effect, the weight of the vaulter bending the pole backwards loaded up the pole for the forward thrust. This is similar to the weight of a fly line as it loads up the rod for the transfer of energy.


1. Demonstrate the hand grip.
2. Define a false cast.
3. Provide three reasons for using a false cast
4. Demonstrate the best starting position for a pick up.
5. Why is it important to pick up a straight line rather than loose coils?
6. Demonstrate the stopping position for the back cast and the forward cast.
7. Draw a picture of a tight loop, and then briefly explain why the tight loop is every caster's goal.

Activity 1: Rod Flex

With your partner, go out to a clear casting spot on a lawn. Pull out twenty feet of line behind you. The beginning caster should hold the rod with one or two hands in the 1 o'clock position, allowing the partner to pull back the line until the rod bends in a good bow. The partner should then release the line. Note how far the line traveled forward just on the stored energy in the rod. Next, the partner should yell "go" just as he releases the line. The caster should now follow forward with the rod. What was the result? From this activity you should get the feel for what the rod will do on its own when it is "loaded up" and ready to fire!

Activity 2: Pick Up

Extend about thirty feet of line out in front of you in loose, serpentine coils. Position the rod at the ten o'clock position. Quickly pull the rod backwards to the 1 o'clock position and allow the line to fall behind you. Describe the results. Now, extend the thirty feet of line out in front of you on the grass in a straight line. Position the rod so that the tip of the rod is almost toughing the ground. Quickly pull the rod backwards to the 1 o'clock position and stop on a dime! Allow the line to fall behind you. What were the results? How was this different from your first attempt?

Note: In order to be successful, you must stop at the stop points without shaking the rod or stopping momentarily and then continuing past the stop point. Just as no means no, stop means STOP!

Activity 3: False Cast

Pull out about twenty feet of line, and tie a small piece of bright yarn to the tippet. Or tie on a bright fly, but be sure to cut off the hook portion. Stand sideways and practice the false cast. Just as the loop is about to unfold behind you, push the rod to the forward stop position and vice-versa. Your goal will be to form a fairly tight loop. This can only be accomplished through brisk speed up and stop action of the rod. Remember, the more line you have out, the longer you will pause as you wait for the loop to uncurl. I would suggest four or five false casts at a time, and then start over. If you are learning on your own, invite someone to critique your cast. Explain the stop points and the goal of a tight loop.

Casting Lesson #1

Photo needed

Now that you have experimented with developing a tight loop with a false cast, you are ready for the basic straight line cast. For this lesson you will need a level stretch of lawn with no obstacles to impede your casts. You will need two old plates. Find a starting point and place the two plates at a distance of twenty feet and thirty feet. Use a seven and a half foot leader with a 2X or 3X tippet. Tie on a #8 or #10 white wing fly. Be sure to remove the hook.

After you have practiced this lesson a few times, record your daily results on a Record Sheet. Practice twenty minutes every day for ten days and note your progress. Your goal is to be able to place your fly, in a straight line, within 12 inches of your target. Follow these directions:

1. Your first target will be the 20 foot target. This is a short cast which you will often duplicate on small streams or creeks. (Keep in mind that when fishing a small creek, you should wade right up the middle of the creek and make short casts right in front of you. In this situation, you don't even have to let the fly line drag on the water. ) Lay your rod down behind your border line. Pull out enough line so that the fly lies in the center of the plate. Return to the casting point and make a pick up and deliver cast to the center of the plate. Make no false casts. Make five casts and record the point value for each of the five casts.
1. Touching the plate = 200 points
2. Within 12 inches = 150 points
3. 12 inches to 2 feet = 100 points
4. 2 feet to 3 feet = 50 points
5. Beyond 3 feet = 0 points
2. Your second target will be the thirty foot target. Start out this cast with the fly lying somewhere between the two targets (plates). Holding your rod in the pick up position, lift your line up and false cast until you have the correct range. The fewer the false casts the better, as with each false cast you increase the odds of missing a stopping point. Drop your fly on the target. Make five casts and record the point value for each of the five casts. Remember, each of these five casts must include a false cast. Now, add up the point values for all ten casts and divide by ten.

95 - 100 = Expert -- Future tournament caster

80 - 94 = Hot Shot! Hurry up and get ready for the real thing -- you're ready!

70 - 79 = Good Sport -- You are a caster who may later proclaim, " It isn't how many fish you catch that counts, but how many casts you can make in day!"

50 - 69 = Back Cast Muffer -- Oops! More practice ahead!

Casting Lesson #2


Now you are ready for casting on water. Practice casts with gentle landings. Vary your casting distances with false casts. Start each lesson with a review. Your goal should be an accurate twenty to thirty foot cast. Parents, a child's goal should be learning to master a very short cast on a creek with good line control.

Casting Lesson #3: The Roll Cast:


In addition to the basic straight line cast, mastery of the roll cast is essential if you want to step on to the playing field against rocks, grass, logs, bushes and trees. Mother Nature impishly plays her tricks on the fly fisher. I imagine her whispering to the choke cherry, "Look, he even turned around to check his distance. Catch his fly on the next cast. Elderberry, be ready. A brown's feeding, and you can tell he's excited. You might be the one. Get ready...grab it." I swear I hear whispering chuckles in the underbrush when I snag a tree top.

So, how do you counter this backdrop of snagging opportunists who gleefully wait to steal our flies? The answer is a roll cast. And speaking of having your fly caught in a branch, here is a technique for retrieving the fly providing you can reach the fly with the end of your rod tip. Push the rod tip up to enclose the fly and shake.

When you are on a Sierra stream or brushy creek, and you have trees or brush or a steep bank behind you, roll out your fly in front of you. Pull in any excess line. Lift the rod, in a steady pull, up to the 1 o'clock position. At this point the line should start to lift out of the water directly in front of you and form a sagging curve beneath your arm pit. The line on the water should be straight as you pull it towards you. As your casting hand passes your head, speed up the ascent of the rod until your whole arm is extended upwards with the rod still maintaining the 1 o'clock stop position. (Do not pull all of the line out of the water as the surface tension of the water on the line creates the smooth turn over of the loop.)

When your arm is raised high, drive your forearm downwards and slightly forward using a little wrist action. Stop at the 9 o'clock position. This forward thrust creates a rolling loop which will completely turn over the line and fly. Longer rods make this cast easier as does a double-tapered fly line. Start out with short roll casts.

Casting Lesson 4: Mending the Line


Earlier I espoused three dogmatic principles of dry fly fishing. Do you remember them? Just as you recalled, the three basic principles of dry fly fishing are 1. Make an accurate cast with a gentle landing, 2. Keep your fly high and dry, and 3. Keeps your fly floating at the natural speed of the water.

Photo: flyonwater

Keeping your fly floating at the natural current speed provides opportunities to catch fish. If you have line drag, you will not catch fish. You may violate rule one and drown a dry fly and catch the occasional small fish. I am sure on the bell shape curve of fish intelligence, a few dumb fish are out there. I know that occasionally you can even smash down a tiny fly on a smooth surface of water and catch a fish. Nonetheless, it is a rare occasion when a trout will rise to inspect a fly traveling faster than the speed of the water.

Trout are creatures of their environment. Like all creatures, they must take in enough food to meet their daily needs as well as to build up fat reserves for the winter months. Survival is measured in calorie intake measured against energy expended. Trout hold in feeding lies and await the food to reach them. Only under slow water conditions will a trout roam the waters in search of food.

A trout is not going to expend more energy that what the food source will provide. Reaching the trout with an accurate presentation is imperative. Having been a guide many years, I am still reluctant to tell a client the truth when he says in exasperation, "I can't understand it. I'm casting right to them!" Missing a feeding lane by a foot is missing a hook-up by a mile.

No matter how difficult it is to catch them at times, trout are simple creatures. They are conditioned by their environment as to what they will eat and when they will eat. If they are selectively feeding on one hatch, they will rarely take anything else until the hatch has waned. Having said that, it is also true that they are often opportunistic and take a #12 Royal Wulff right in the middle of a trico hatch. To use the vernacular of my high school students, "Go figure!" Frequently, however, they do develop a selective feeding rhythm.

Picture the trout in a feeding lie looking up to the surface at his window of feeding opportunity. More than likely the position he holds is one which affords little expenditure of energy. Keying into a particular hatch, he slowly rises and slurps a floating dun or a struggling caddis fly. The current carries him backwards and he gently fins downwards to his previous position. Over and over he repeats this pattern. Suddenly, an unparalleled event takes place. A bug, for that he is sure of, speeds across his field of vision leaving a rooster tail wake. Shocked, the trout broods over the anomaly, becomes sullen and looses his appetite.

Mending the Line

Photo: mendingtheline

Exaggeration aside, an artificial which speeds faster than a natural floating insect will rarely trigger a reflex action from the trout. A fly will speed up when the faster current drags the mid section of the fly line downstream. This causes the artificial fly, which has just landed in slower water, to accelerate down stream. When this happens, the faster current pulls the line into an outline of a belly. The trick is to flip this "belly" upstream so that it delays interfering with the natural drift of your fly. Although an experienced fly caster can counter this condition with a specialized cast, the beginner can mend the line as soon as the line lands on the water.

To mend your line, pull in any slack line. Lower the rod to the point where you are almost touching the water with the tip of your rod. Flip up the belly of the line using a 3/4 circle motion with your wrist. The surface tension of the water on your line and leader generally keeps the fly from moving to any degree. Remember, when you provide a drag free float, you are fishing. When you are "fishing" with line drag, you are only traumatizing fish by altering the metaphysical laws of their universe.

(For fly fishing from a drifting boat, read ...)

Slack Line Cast

Photo: slacklinecast

The slack line cast or S curve cast or snake cast is an effective cast when you are casting to a target downstream. In order to keep your fly from running out of line and being dragged under the water, use the slack line cast which leaves a serpentine or S curve effect on your line. This loose line then allows the fly to float naturally downstream to the targeted area before the line straightens out and drags the fly under the water. To accomplish the S curves in your line, abruptly stop your forward cast at 11 o'clock. Having already left some excess line dangling by your side, vigorously shake your rod side to side as you shoot out the slack line. Lower the rod tip to 9 o'clock.

Reach Cast

Photo: reachcast

After you have learned to mend your line, use the reach cast to essentially mend the line in the air. Picture yourself in the middle of a stream looking at a feeding fish up close to the bank where the water is very slow. The water is flowing from the left to the right of you. If you cast slightly upstream from this fish, the faster water in front of you will immediately begin to drag your fly too fast. The fly drops on target, speeds up, and the trout is spooked. The next time you will know that you have to flip the belly of the line upstream. In this manner the fly has a chance to float naturally over the targeted spot.

The reach cast changes the direction of the mid section of the fly line without altering the position of the landing fly relative to your target. To accomplish this nifty trick, you must cant your rod as little as possible during the forward cast. Stop the forward thrust at 11 o'clock. Rather than lower the rod to 9 o'clock, shift the upright rod across your chest in an upstream motion with a little wrist action. It sounds more difficult than it is. I did, however, give up on my attempts to illustrate this motion. The bulk of the line will land with the belly slightly upstream and to the left if you are a right handed caster facing the opposite bank. This maneuver will provide three or four seconds of extra drag-free drift.

Go to Step 5: Basic Fly Patterns and Presentation

Table of Contents

Introduction | Pre and Post Test
Step 1:Selecting Fly Rod and Reel
Step 2: Terminal equipment and Paraphernalia
Step 3: Necessary Knots and Leaders
Step 4: Casting
Step 5: Basic Fly Patterns and Presentation
Step 6: Mastering the Basics of Creek Fishing
Step 7: Mastering the Basics of Stillwater Fly Fishing

Fly Fishing Basics: Step 3

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Leaders and Necessary Knots


Brown Trout

This instructional guide is not meant to be the definitive guide to fly fishing. Many different knots exist for specific applications. I have covered only necessary knots to prepare the beginner for his or her first trek. However, it is also true that the knots covered below will suffice for the majority of your fly fishing needs. L.L Bean's Ultimate Book of Fly Fishing provides an excellent resource to knots, as do many other fine primers. If you bought a double tapered fly line, I would suggest tying on a leader butt at both ends. Having done this, you may now easily tie the braided backing directly to the perfection loop. When it comes time to reverse the line due to wear, a reversal of the line may be done in a matter of minutes.



Leaders are made of semi-transparent monofilament nylon, and they are tapered from the butt section all the way down to the tippet, which attaches to the fly. The importance of the leader is twofold; it serves to cast the fly in a tight loop because of the tapered design, and it keeps the fly away from the fly line, which under most circumstances will spook a fish. The tapered diameter also makes it easy to thread the tippet through the eye of the fly.

Leaders are hand tied into graduated sections, or they are manufactured knotless. If you buy a knotless leader, always give an experimental tug on the tippet. The tapered design is basically achieved through an acid process, and many times the entire tippet will break off with the slightest pull. Better to repair the leader on the spot than loose a good fish because of a weak spot in the leader. It wasn't many years ago that the cost of a tapered, knotless leader was so economical that the time spent building one seemed hardly worthwhile. However, with increased prices, tying your own leaders is both economical and advantageous. You have the opportunity to tie a variety of leader formulas for all occasions rather than butchering up a nine foot 4X leader for a heavy Woolly Bugger.

Generally speaking, a 4X (.007) tippet will serve you well under most trout fishing situations. For larger hopper patterns or salmon flies, you will need a larger diameter such as 2X or 3X. The primary reason for this is that a lighter tippet will not turn the fly over properly, and if the tippet is too small in diameter, the fly will jerk around which will cause abrasive weakening in the knot. The diameter is important as it will determine the measure of visibility and breaking strength. Regarding the length of the leader, I would recommend the following. Use a 4X, 7.5' leader on creeks and streams. When I am working with a child on a small creek, I sometimes cut the leader down to five feet. Use a 4X, 9' leader on moderately flowing streams. Use a 5X or 6X leader, 9'-12' on spring creeks or slow, flat stretches of water where trout can lazily rise to inspect your offering.

3X tippet, size 6-10 fly approximately 5 lb. test

4X tippet size 12-18 fly approximately 4lb. test

6X tippet size 20-22 fly approximately 2 lb. test

Making Your Own Leaders: Use a four foot pine board. Write down the leader formula of your choice on the board. Use two finish nails to hold each spool. Start with the butt section and work down to the tippet. A basic formula is 40% butt section, 40% midsection and 20% tippet. Be sure to cut off an additional two inches at each end of the individual piece in order to tie the blood knot. The distance below represents the distance from knot to knot.
Inches: 3x 4x 5x
25 .022 .022 .022
18 .020 .020 .020
11 .017 .017 .017
11 .013 .013 .013
11 .012 .010 .010
11 .010 .008 .009
(10 inch piece)
18 .008 .007 .007
(10 inch piece)
(18 inch piece)

Important Knots / Set Up

My illustrations are good enough to provide the basic concepts and steps. However, better steps and illustrations can be found on the web. One that I thought was very impressive is Killroys.

Knot 1: Duncan Loop Knot: Tying Backing to the Reel



1. Wrap the backing around the reel spool spindle twice. Provide at least 7 to 10 inches of line past the reel for wrapping.

2. Lay a large loop across and over the two lines exiting the reel. This loop will now be wrapped. Hold and pinch the lines. Simply wrap the tag end over the two top lines threading it through the loop up and across the two lines again. Wrap four to five wraps as depicted in the photograph above.

3. This wrapped loop now needs to be pulled tight and secured against the spindle in the reel. Pull the taq end of the line to cinch. Once the knot is secure, trim any excess trailer. Alternate pulling each line until the line is cinched tightly against the reel spool spindle.

Knot 2: Tying Backing to a Fly Line


1. This is the same Duncan Loop Knot. Form a two-inch loop by pulling the backing parallel to the line and then forming a 4 to 6-inch loop by crossing the line over itself and the fly line. This tag line will now be used to wrap the sagging loop beneath the fly line five or six times.

2. Make five or six wraps over the fly line and through the sagging line. Cross over the fly line for additional wraps.

3. Keep the wraps from overlapping each other. Carefully pull the wrapping end of the backing to snug up the wraps against the fly line. You may have to use a fingernail to keep the wraps snug against each other without overlapping.

4. Once the wraps are in place, pull both lines until the knot is firm and snug against the fly line. Trim the excess fly line and back, and add a drop of a flexible bonding cement. Your reel now has backing and an attached fly line. Now it is time to add a leader butt to the delivery end of your fly line.
The Leader Butt


The leader butt should be from twelve to sixteen inches and made from 25-35 pound monofilament. The knot which attaches the leader butt to the fly line is called a nail knot or a tube knot, as the nail or small plastic tube is essential in making this knot. Some of the commercial leader manufacturers provide the small tube for tying a leader directly to the line. You may do this for your first leader. After it is worn out, cut off everything but sixteen inches. Add the perfection loop on the end and you now have a leader butt for your next leader add on. The general rule of thumb is that the monofilament should be two-thirds the diameter of the fly line. If you are working with a youngster, skip this knot and go directly to the Perfection Loop Knot. The leader butt is a one time addition for a new line.

Nail Knot


The nail knot is used to attach a leader butt to the fly line. After the knot is tied, coat the knot with a rubber based glue such as Pliobond which will give the knot a smooth surface. The smoothness allows it to glide through the guides on the rod. If you use a thin nail, cut the monofilament at an angle as a sharp point will thread its way under the wraps a whole lot easier than a blunt tip. Be sure to give yourself plenty of monofilament to work with as the final step in this knot is maddening if you come up short.

Perfection Loop Knot


It was not too long ago that leader manufacturers included a perfection loop on their leaders. All you had to do was thread the leader loop through the leader butt loop. The two loops should slide back and forth after you pull the tippet through. The advantage of changing leaders quickly more than makes up for an occasional tipped over fly. A more popular method is to tie the leader to the leader butt with a blood knot.

Blood Knot


A Blood Knot is used for joining leader material or adding a new section of tippet to the leader. The trick in successfully tying a blood knot is to be sure that after wrapping line A, you lay it in the V wedge you created and hold it firmly with your thumb and forefinger while you wrap line B. (Wrap line A and B five or six times.)

When you have finished wrapping line B around line A, you need to run the tag end of line B through the center hole you created, which is kept open with line A. Be sure to come through the hole from the opposite direction of line A, as when you pull the two lines in opposite directions, the left over pieces should be opposite each other. The easiest way I have found to pull this knot together is to hold the two short pieces between your teeth, wet the wraps with your tongue and pull evenly in opposite directions. The next knot you will need to learn is the improved clinch knot which attaches the fly to the leader tippet.

Improved Clinch Knot (See illustration above.)

This is a simple knot to tie your fly to the tippet. Do not work with so much tippet that you end up cutting off excessive tippet. If you do this too often, you will be tying another tippet section to your leader. Quite often I watch as beginning fly fishers laboriously wrap thinly tapered tippet one wrap at a time. You will find it much easier to thread the tippet through the eye of the hook, allow a couple of inches to lie up alongside of the leader and spin the fly to achieve five or six wraps. Now, run the short end piece through the large loop or opening you just created. Place the small left over piece between your teeth and cinch the wraps snug up against the eye of the hook. Dress your fly with floatant and cast over next to that log for that big brown!

Droppers and Trailers


How-to-books on fly fishing go back to the 1400's. Fishing with multiple fly offerings is nothing new. John Merwin in his book Fly Fishing notes that 150 years ago droppers were in favor in Walton's first American edition. Quiet often on those slow days of summer, you will be torn between fishing a nymph or continuing to fish with a dry fly. Some days you will want to do both. The simplest technique is to tie another short tippet right on the bend of the hook with an improved clinch knot. I recommend that you add on 12 to 16 inches of tippet of a smaller diameter if you plan on fishing a smaller dry fly behind a larger dry fly. If you tie on a nymph, stay with the same diameter tippet. This system works very well with large Stimulators and hoppers.

During a baetis or trico hatch, when the light is poor or I have to make a long cast, I tie on a #18 Parachute Adams trailed by a #22 trico spinner. If I see a sipping fish within a foot of the upright parachute, I set the hook. Most of the guides I worked with use a Hare's Ear Nymph, a bead-eye Prince or some other nymph as a trailer right off the bend of the larger dry fly, which is referred to as an in-line dropper. A couple of seasons ago I learned of one guide who had a successful spring day fishing Woolly Buggers with a light weight nymph tied out from the Woolly. A traditional set up fishing two or three wet flies utilized a hand tied leader. Instead of snipping off the excess tip on the blood knot, extra leader was tied into the blood knot so that one piece would stick out 6-8 inches which you would attach a smaller fly. At the tippet end, you would tie on the heaviest fly. Regardless of where you add the dropper, be mindful of the depth that you think fish are feeding in below. Probably the most popular dropper is the Hopper Dropper for late summer.

Go to Step 4: Casting

Table of Contents

Introduction | Pre and Post Test
Step 1:Selecting Fly Rod and Reel
Step 2: Terminal equipment and Paraphernalia
Step 3: Necessary Knots and Leaders
Step 4: Casting
Step 5: Basic Fly Patterns and Presentation
Step 6: Mastering the Basics of Creek Fishing
Step 7: Mastering the Basics of Stillwater Fly Fishing

Fly Fishing Basics: Step 2

| Comments

Terminal Equipment and Paraphernalia

Cutthroat Trout

Leader Butt and Leader


The leader butt attaches to the fly line at the tapered end. The leader butt ends with a perfection loop knot or a blood knot. Attached to this knot is the tapered leader. The leader butt is approximately twelve to sixteen inches long. The traditional choice, a perfection loop knot, affords quick and easy leader changes. Many fly fishers will assert that the use of a perfection loop knot can cause the fly to land askew. I ask you, do you think it is really the knot? I rarely have a poor turn over, and when I do, I don't blame the knot. I find also that beginners tend to waste a lot of line when they tie knots, and before long they have lost the twelve inches of leader butt length and have to go through the time consuming process of creating a new one. Go with a perfection loop initially. Echoes of Thoreau, "Simplify, Simplify, Simplify!"

Tippet Material


After changing a number of flies or snagging your line on a branch, your once tapered leader has lost its original diameter and needs to be replaced. I generally recommend a 4X diameter leader tippet (.007 inch rated at approximately 4 pounds test breakage) for most of the early season. During the dog days or August, when the water becomes very shallow and slow, I drop down to 5X or 6X, which is a challenge. What you gain in invisibility and threading ease for small flies you lose to breakage. The larger the fly, the larger diameter tippet you will need. For repairs keep a spool of 2X through 5X tippet material in your vest.

Fly Dressing and Line Dressing


Fly dressing comes in many forms and substances from silicone sprays to dry crystals. The more common form, a silicone semi-fluid wax, is probably the most popular. Lightly applied to the fly, water is repelled from the fly materials enabling the fly to float high and dry. Eventually, the fly will soak up too much water which causes the fly to sink. For tiny dry flies, silicone liquid and drying crystals work most efficiently.


Finger nail clippers are used to cut off the extra piece of tippet which usually is present after you have tied your fly to the tippet. Be forewarned that many people have chipped their teeth attempting to bite off the little left-over piece!


The following list may be used as an inventory for items which I believe are essential:
_____ fly box
_____ Vest
_____ Forceps for extracting flies
_____ Net
_____ Hook sharpener
_____ pinch on floats for strike indicators and twist lead
_____ polarized sun glasses (a must!)
_____ Waders with felt soles or boots with felt
_____ Hat
_____ Insect repellent / head net

If you are new to fly fishing and planning a trip to the Sierras, a good place to get outfitted is Bishop.

Go to Step 3: Basic Knots and Leaders

Table of Contents

Introduction | Pre and Post Test
Step 1:Selecting Fly Rod and Reel
Step 2: Terminal equipment and Paraphernalia
Step 3: Necessary Knots and Leaders
Step 4: Casting
Step 5: Basic Fly Patterns and Presentation
Step 6: Mastering the Basics of Creek Fishing
Step 7: Mastering the Basics of Stillwater Fly Fishing

Fly Fishing Basics: Step 1

| Comments

Identification and Function of Equipment

Rainbow Trout

Selecting a Rod for a Beginner


Fly fishing rods start with the reel seat where the reel is attached, usually by a threaded ring. The next section is the handle which is traditionally made of cork. If you are looking at a fiberglass fly rod with a foam handle in a discount store, please don't purchase it as you are, more than likely, purchasing a bargain of troubles. They are extremely difficult to cast even for experienced casters. After the handle the base section of the rod will include the manufacturer's recommendation for the proper line weight as well as noting the length of the rod. You should also find a ring keeper to attach your fly while you are walking.


The best fly rod for a young beginner would be a graphite rod purchased in a fly shop for under $200. I recommend Lefty Kreh's Temple Fork Outfitters fly rods. (http://templeforkflyrods.com/index.html.) The most commonly recommended fly rod would be an eight foot rod for a number five or six weighted line; however, I started my sons out on an 8' rod for a 4 weight line. It is lighter and will not wear out a young boy or girl. One disadvantage of a light weight rod is that it is difficult to cast in the wind. Avoid purchasing a combination spin and fly rod as they merely compromise the best qualities of each design. Fly shops encourage customers to cast a number of different rods, as some rods have a faster tip action. It is strictly a matter of preference.


Selecting a Reel


A single action reel will serve you best. This reel will have a detachable spool and a drag adjustment. The drag adjustment is used once you have caught a fish and all of your loose line has been reeled up on the spool. If the fish is an especially strong or large fish, he will want to run. When he does this, he will pull line off of the spool. If your drag is set too light, the fish will run too far and you may over play the fish. Although the newer reels have some sophisticated drag systems, the tried and true design is the common click-pawl system, which uses a triangular piece of metal (pawl) that clicks on the rotating teeth of a gear.

Do not over play a fish that you wish to release, as long after you have congratulated yourself on releasing the fish, the stress may later lead to death. If the drag adjustment is set too tight, the pulling fish may break the tippet leaving you with "the one that got away story," especially if you are fishing on Crowley Lake or Bridgeport Reservoir.

Selecting a Fly Line


The weight of each fly line is based on the weight, measured in grams, of the first thirty feet of line. Somewhere at the base of every fly rod will be a recommendation for an AFTMA fly line (American Fishing Tackle Manufacturers Association). All fly lines are rated for taper, weight and function. Keep in mind that, in most cases, a rod may use a fly line one number heavier than recommended, although rarely can you use one line under that which the manufacturer recommends and still cast with ease.

Weights range from 1 to 12 with 5 and 6 being the most popular. Line numbers 1-4 are extremely limited in that they are designed for relatively short casting on calm, flat water with no real wind, and they are accompanied by long leaders and tiny flies for delicate casting. Line numbers 5-7 are the most versatile as they may be cast in moderate wind, and yet they still maintain delicate landings for small flies. The advantage of these weights is that they are also designed, in conjunction with the rod, to handle heavier fish in fast water. Practically speaking, there are no disadvantages for these weighted lines for the majority of fishing conditions with the exception of salt water fishing. If you are going to be limited to one rod, purchase a 6 weight.

Line numbers 8-9 are heavy lines for big water and forceful wind conditions. The advantage of these lines is that you may fish deep with large, weighted flies and make long casts. Line numbers 10 - 12 are designed for salt water conditions.

The next designation on the fly line package is an abbreviation for FUNCTION. You have a choice of floating, sinking and floating with a sink tip. The floating line is by far the most versatile. If you need to sink a fly, put on a piece of lead. How much should you spend for a line? If you want to save money, buy a cheap reel. If you want to limit your casting distance and watch your fly sink when it obviously should not, buy a cheap line. Stay with Cortland, Scientific Angler and Rio, and you won't go wrong. Fly lines deteriorate when they become dirty. They wear out from unnecessary abrasion. Periodically, clean your fly line in mild detergent, dry it off, and then take it out in the sun and gently stretch the coils out of the line. Warning: sun screen may block out the harmful rays of the sun, but it also melts fly lines!

Regarding color, Cortland Line Company in their publication, Fly Rod Fishing Made Easy, recommends a highly visible line for the fisher as it, naturally, is easier to locate your fly and control your line. Fluorescent lines do not spook fish -- poor casting does that! Cortland reasons that, "Looking upward, fish see objects against the light sky -- and it seems to us that a light colored line would actually be less visible than a darker one."

I highly recommend felt sole wading boots. Waders are a necessity unless you have a tolerance for cold water. I do not recommend cleats as they create underwater noise that spooks fish.


Go to Step 2: Terminal Equipment and Paraphernalia

Table of Contents

Introduction | Pre and Post Test
Step 1:Selecting Fly Rod and Reel
Step 2: Terminal equipment and Paraphernalia
Step 3: Necessary Knots and Leaders
Step 4: Casting
Step 5: Basic Fly Patterns and Presentation
Step 6: Mastering the Basics of Creek Fishing
Step 7: Mastering the Basics of Stillwater Fly Fishing

Fishing the Famed Waters of Klamath Basin with Sid Mathis

August 1, 2007


Our targeted hatch, often misidentified as a Green Drake or a Pale Morning Dun, was the genus, Emphemerella, the species doddsi. Leisurely gliding down the Williamson River in south-central Oregon, the dark green waters silhouetted the unmistakable sails of mayflies, but we were on a mission to locate the doddsi and test Sid's latest nymph pattern. Pushing on to the frog water, Sid gently rowed his drift boat while scanning the river ahead for the chameleon of Mayflies. I would learn that the doddsi posed a serious challenge to fly tiers in that within an hour of breaking through the surface and transforming to a dun, the body would take on an entirely new hue from yellow to dark, mottled green or a greenish brown. Large fish were nudging the surface and sucking down a variety of mayflies. Although the sippers and boiling trout quickened my heart rate, Sid, impervious to the obvious potential to cast to fish forty feet from the boat, kept his attention on the water. "There's one, no two," he exclaimed. "Up against the opposite bank just below that log. OK, let's see how long they drift before being gulped for breakfast."

I looked across the river straining to see the bugs that he was watching. "Yes, I see one I proudly concurred."

"Gone! Look at that boil. That was a nice fish," Sid said.

"Well, I saw the rise, I saw the boil, but I am confused because I still see the bug floating unmolested," I replied.

Sid turned and looked at me. Noting that I was squinting through my glasses, he asked, "How many bugs did you see floating?"

"One," I replied.

"What you were looking at was a Hexagenia limbata, about five times the size of a doddsi."


"No wonder I could see it," I mumbled. Later we would catch a Hex, and it would measure a full inch from the head to the end of the abdomen. Although typically emerging at dusk and into the night, we observed numerous Hexagenia drifting along with the doddsi. I was floating on a world class trout river famous for its huge trout with a quintessential world class fly fishing guide, Sid Mathis of Free Spirit Guide Service in Klamath Falls (541-884-3222). Earlier in the year I had asked to interview Sid, and now here I was in his drift boat watching Sid catch and release Klamath Lake rainbows on a beautiful section of the Williamson River. The only floating section on the lower river stretches no more than three miles from the county boat launch just outside of Chiloquin to the Wagon Wheel Campground below. Unlike the freestone rivers of Montana that I guided on, float fishing the Williamson River is akin to stillwater fly fishing. We anchored in one small area for two hours. During that period I would estimate that I saw between forty and fifty rises. When we drifted further downstream, Sid had me hang over the bow and count the trophy size trout darting out of the shadow of the boat. In two holes, within a forty yard stretch, I counted over twenty fish, weighing two to five pounds. Awestruck, I took my seat, opened up my briefcase and took out pen and pad along with a tape recorder. Earlier I had explained that I wanted to write a good article on fishing the Williamson River and Klamath Lake. I wanted to avoid the glib generalities that I had encountered in numerous articles that I had collected, and I wanted to gather this information from an authoritative source.

Q: How long have you been a guide, and did you have a mentor to help you launch your career on this challenging water?

Sid: I started fly fishing in 1976. By 1978 I had adopted the principle of Catch-and-Release. In 1980 I learned from an inside source that they were going to shut down the mill that I worked at. I had been running shuttles for Rich Henry, a Native American and local guide on the Williamson River. Rich grew up in the Beatty area and began fly fishing and fly tying in the early 70's. He was a great caster and an innovative tier. He asked me if I would be interested in guiding for him when he had more bookings than he could handle. I got the overflow, but I soon discovered that I had clients that would bring along a thousand bucks worth of flies and argue with me if I tried to steer them to one of my favorite patterns. Although I knew what I had was a better offering, I didn't have the experience or knowledge to change their minds. When my clients persisted in using poor fly selections and didn't catch any fish, I knew I had to master my craft. I went to Rich and told him that if I was going to continue as a guide, I had to do it right and master this new career.

I asked Rich if he would teach me all that he knew. Rich took a long pause before answering. He reminded me that he made his living guiding and that to take me on as a student would cut into the days he could otherwise spend on the river guiding fly fishermen. I pressed him and asked him how much he wanted. I would need $25,000 he said. That was a lot of money in 1982, and I was at a loss of words. I told him it was a lot of money for a year of tutoring. He replied that it would take maybe three years. I agreed to pay him half at the beginning and the other half when he felt I was done. I won't describe my wife's reaction, but after 27 years of guiding, I never spent $25,000 on anything as valuable as those three years studying under Rich Henry.

Q: Is he still alive? What was he like? What was your training like?

Sid: Yes, he is still alive. He lives in Brookings, Oregon. Although the fly fishing community doesn't know much about Rich, the fly fishing gurus know Rich Henry. Rich is a kind-hearted man, a conservationist. He is a short, muscular man with broad shoulders, big arms and enormous hands. How in the world he could tie a fly on a miniscule #32 hook is beyond me. When he took me on he made me swear never to kill a fish intentionally and only use primary sources for my aquatic entomological research. Rich placed the most emphasis on aquatic research, learning all about fish food. We would go out on the rivers and the lake and gather specimens to bring back to Rich's trailer and identify. I learned about environmental factors that influenced the hatches. Then I learned how to identify nymphs by their swimming actions, and where and when they hatched, and we studied the insect migrations. It was as intense as any college program, but like many students I got myself in trouble.

The intense studying and note taking and cataloguing my drawings became tedious. One day when we were in the field, I spouted off some information that I had just read in a book. Rich looked at me quizzically and told me to finish up my sampling and then he wanted to talk to me back in his trailer, which was not too far from the river. I had no idea what he would want to talk to be about back in his trailer rather than there on the river bank. When I got back to his trailer, he had a serious look on his face, and I new that somehow I had made a mistake. He asked me if I had been reading secondary sources. I admitted that I had. If you are going to take short-cuts and read secondary sources, he said, you don't need me to guide you. If you are going to read books on aquatic entomology and follow their recommended fly patterns, than you should be reading Rick Hafele and Dave Hughes' book, Western Hatches and Mayflies, The Angler, and the Trout by Frank L. Arbona Jr.. He slammed the books on the table. Then he reached over and dropped Needham's Aquatic Entomology on the table and asked which it was going to be. I sheepishly picked up Needham's book. Rich turned and left the room. When he returned he gently laid three college degrees on the table. Two of the degrees were in the field of biology.

Q: You had an apprenticeship with a master! Your Yoda was a college educated, Native American fly fishing guide! You have told me that you guide on Klamath Lake and the Williamson River, and then you guide steelhead anglers over on the Chetco. What I want to learn, and hopefully my blog readers will want to learn, is how to cut this huge lake down to size and not lose too many seasons fishing in the wrong spots. Let's start with the best time periods for the well-known fishing spots on the lake that a new comer can find on the Graphic Press map of Upper Klamath Lake. Start with the area around Pelican Marina at the outlet to Link River.

Sid: Many trout spend their winters in Lake Ewauna. They move up the Link River into the bay around Pelican Marina in early March through the end of April, sometimes into the first part of May.

Q: What about the waters surrounding Eagle Ridge?

Sid: Many of the fish moving up out of Lake Ewauna eventually move up the lake to the Eagle Ridge area. Although some migrations reach the area towards the end of March and the beginning of April, most reach this stretch in May.

Q: After you round Eagle Ridge, two bays, Ball Bay and Shoal Water Bay, dominate the area. When should I target this area, and what should I use for patterns?

Sid: Ball Bay is a good bay to fish April and May. Both bays are big water so you have to search and locate the fish. Ideally, water temperatures should be 50-52. Look for evidence of caddis shucks on the water after a wind. Look for Callibaetis and PMD's. Some years the Caddis will predominate in this area and provide good fishing.

Q: Pelican Bay with its underground springs provides a sanctuary for the trout during the summer, and its small tributaries provide spawning grounds for the trout. What should I know about this area?

Sid: During the spring the trout move up Harriman Creek, Crystal Creek and Recreation Creek. It is a critical spawning area. After they leave the spawning beds and hold up in Pelican Bay, they are not in good shape. When the lake heats up to the low sixties to the mid 60's they move back into Pelican Bay to survive. August is iffy?

Q: I keep hearing the locales making reference to the "fishing banks." I can't find a reference on the map. Where is it, and what should I know about this area?

Sid: The Fishing Banks area is the north end of Upper Klamath Lake from the entrance to Pelican Bay to the straights between Upper Klamath Lake and Agency Lake. It is a good area to fish much the same as Ball Bay. The Straight is a productive spot to fish.

Q: The recent articles that I have read on fishing Klamath Lake always tout the mouth of the Williamson River. Is it as good as they say?

Sid: Sadly it has been declining for a number of years, just as we are now seeing at the mouth of the Wood. I would favor fishing the Fish Banks or the Straight before I spent time at the mouth of the Williamson River.

Q: I am new to this area, but already I have heard some grumbling about the Wood River Restoration. I've heard of fewer and fewer reds on the feeder creeks going into the Wood River, and this year I saw a dramatic drop in boats lining up around the outlet of the Wood. I detected a note of despair. What are your concerns regarding the Wood River.

Sid: Phase 1 and Phase 2 of the Wood River Wetlands Restoration were very beneficial. The third phase, however, was devastatingly unsuccessful. When they eliminated the numerous entrances from the lake to the Wood River, they did not anticipate that the mouth would form a delta of silt and gravel so shallow that the trout are reluctant to cross the bar. In addition to some serious fish kills, the fish have one less cool water retreat when the lake's water temperature reaches into its seasonal deadly highs above 65 degrees. It is not just that the Wood River is no longer a sanctuary and a loss of critical spawning habitat, the loss of the Wood River is impacting the Williamson River.

We are now observing an increase of spawning fish moving up the Williamson River. Areas in the drainage that are conducive to spawning are finite. Larger fish chase the smaller fish out of critical spawning areas, and the total numbers of reds drops with a corresponding impact on the number of trout in the lake. The loss of the Wood River as a migratory river for the lake's trout has created a secondary problem. More and more boats are now plying the Williamson River and the trout are being pounded. It's no rocket science here. It is black and white, and the agencies involved have run and ducked for cover.

Q: I hate to ask this question, as I know how many qualifying factors go into a question like this, but what do you consider the best time period to fish the lake?

Sid: I would have to pick mid June through mid July, subject of course to all those qualifying factors that you alluded to. The surface area of the lake is huge. Once the lake temperatures heat up to critical levels, the trout locate small springs that they seek out for refuge. The algae blooms and the expanse of the lake make it tougher to locate fish.

Q: How about the fall?

Sid: Generally, late September and October the water begins to cool. But it is the first cold rain storm that triggers a good bite. I like to get out on the lake a day or two later after Crystal, Recreation and Odessa Creeks start raising and dumping cold water into the lake. Those first good rain storms trigger a movement and a feeding response.

Q: What are your go-to patterns?



The first of the two patterns above is the Callibaetis-nigritus, which is my all time favorite hatch, both as a dry fly and a nymph. Usually the Callibaetis is the first aggressive feeding in the early season on lakes and bays. As the year progresses, I fine tune this fly for both size and color. The second pattern above is my PMD (Ephermerellia-inermis or infrquens for a dry fly imitation. This hatch is mostly a secondary hatch to the other hatches, such as Callibaetis and Caddis hatches. I use the PMD mostly when they are dominant over other hatches or a prelude to a major hatch.

In May I am looking for PMD's and Caddis. In early June I am looking for the Callibaetis hatches, but I am fishing the nymph form. With warming water temperatures, we get a lot of PMD activity, and we also start fishing Chironomid patterns. Generally we need that first hot spell for the midges to pop, especially the blood, yellows and blacks. By late June I began switching to leeches, damselflies and dragonfly nymphs.


I use a Callibaetis nymph pattern (third photograph), which usually stays the same early in the season.


The fourth photograph is another double duty nymph imitation (Ephermerellia doddsi and inermis) that is a great search pattern for both stillwater and rivers.


My Sphlonuis nymph imitation (fifth photograph) is a fly that I use mainly in river systems, but in the last 2 to 5 years I've found this bug in stillwater situations on both Klamath and Agency Lake.


The sixth photograph is a late season Callibaetis nymph imitation that is great for clear water conditions.

Q: With such a shallow lake, what is your count-down for your line and fly to reach the target zone?

Sid: Ninety percent of the time my count-down is from 3 to 5 seconds, and mostly 4 or 5 seconds.

Q: What about fly lines?

Sid: My first choice is Cortland's Camo intermediate full sinking line. For shallow water fishing, my choice is a greased floating line rather than a sink tip. I use sink tips for steelhead fishing, but I don't like them for stillwater fishing. They are heavier and less sensitive to feel. Plus they have that hinged effect. I much prefer a greased line for stillwaters. Basically, I just take an old dry line with cracks and add some abrasive action to the line by smearing it with silt or mud. The line sinks uniformly at about one inch per second and holds in the two to three foot target zone. It's an old steelhead method from the 40's that works great for shallow, stillwater nymphing. The clear advantage of the Greased Line Theory is the line does not spook fish like a floating line with a strike indicator. A strike indicator can spook fish right out of the area.

In between watching Sid land a number of trout in the 16 to 18-inch range, and quietly mutter to himself when he missed a number of really big fish, it was time to shift the interview to the waters at hand, the Williamson River. I spent two years building my house and shop so I had only fished the river three times. Each venture I caught two or three fish from sixteen inches to nineteen inches. Sitting low in the water in my one-man raft, I had not seen the enormous fish that I had seen on this day standing in Sid's drift boat. We glided by a rock formation that my son Brandon had fished the previous year. He had lost two or three really big fish in the run beneath the rock wall. When I pointed it out to Sid, he quietly informed me that it was a known spawning run and none of the guides ever fish it. I continued my interview.

Q: That spot will be off-limits to me as well. Let me begin with my most pressing question, when do the Klamath lake trout spawn, and when do they enter the Williamson River to escape the heat?

Sid: Spawning activity is sporadic and extends over a ten month period. Regarding when runs of new fish push up into the river, I've given up trying to find an answer. I've kept records trying to match surges with hatches, water temperatures and time periods, but I have found no corresponding factors that will predict when trout move out of the lake into the river system.

Q: I have been surprised to learn that fishing the Williamson River is similar to fishing the lake. It's basically stillwater tactics. Give me a summary statement to help get me started fishing the Williamson River.


Sid: I use a five weight rod. I have my clients use my G-Loomis GLX rods. They are more forgiving, and they have less line shock. I use Cortland's Intermediate Sinking line in the camouflage version. I use Orvis Mirage 6x fluorocarbon leaders. I mostly use Seaguar Brand Max fluorocarbon tippet material. Search out working fish and target them with the appropriate bugs, either nymphs or emergers. I interjected, "And be willing to spend two to three years perfecting one pattern, such as the Emphemerella doddsi."

Most of us claim to be passionate about some aspect of our lives, but it is only when we dedicate our lives to study and make a life-time commitment to learning everything we can about the passion that drives us do we attain the status of a master. Few of us achieve that level. Sid Mathis is a master fly fisherman.

Dave Archer

Free Spirit Guide Service, Klamath Falls, Oregon
Sid Mathis
(541) 884-3222
Email: sidmathis@aol.com