Sunday, 20 August 2017

Flossing or Nymphing?

Duncan Kirkham: Thanks for your advice and help. Having landed a few fish in the Campbell, it seems my style didn’t work as well as it might have: seven-weight, slow sinking, clear casting line, 4- to 6-foot leader, bead head fly in red, blue, and green -- and on the last day, lead shot on the leader to get me down. What struck me is that the fishers on the Campbell had adopted many of the styles that go with European nymph fishing: short line with sinking tip (like a Skagit sinking tip), many frequent casts, long rod held high with no short retrieving, then a quick jerk back if they felt a movement at the end of the line. With that they caught more fish than I did. Does that sound right from what you have seen? 

Answer: Sounds like they were flossing. That would explain the quick jerk at the end of the ‘drift’, the purpose being to set the hook in a possible fish. In flossing, the line, with its weight above the ‘fly’ is intended to put the fly, on a shortish leader, on the bottom where the fish are, in freshwater. It requires the angler to have a good understanding of the structure in 3-D terms and where, in it, the fish will sit, and, where one’s fly will be at any given moment.

Salmon in freshwater often hold for weeks before spawning or moving on. With nowhere to go, and not interested in food, they are only trying to keep a small inconvenience out of their space, hence, a passive bite. This happens most frequently with chinook, pink and chum in that order.

But in flossing, there is no bite. The leader is stretched out horizontally, and it passes into the mouth of a salmon, with the fly extended horizontally past the mouth. The jerk, pulls the ‘fly’ into the outside of the mouth on the opposite side of the fish, setting it. A floss is always evidenced by a fly stuck in a fish this way. Look for it in the operculum on the side away from you.

What fly you use becomes irrelevant because the fly is not catching the fish. But the Campbell has some regular favourites and you should pick some up from River Sportsman. A sparse, conventional Muddler Minnow is a stand out, as can be ones in pink, or blue (which can be useful in other northern rivers), and there are pink, blue and green short streamers, too. These flies the fish intends to bite and does so.

Flossing is not uncommon in salmon fisheries on beaches, estuaries, and in rivers. All that is needed is a current, proper structure, fish stopping at this point, or moving through in high numbers, and the angler understanding all this and setting the hook. In a day of pink fishing you may release a flossed fish or two, without intentionally flossing.

Nymphing, on the other hand, is a method using larval stages of insects, dead drifted (meaning no tension on the line between angler and fly). You keep your rod tip high and fish directly in front of you, meaning the fish are not below you, they are beside you. The rod tip follows the line downstream so that it keeps the nymph dead drifting at all time. A skated or swung nymph is not nymphing as nymphs do not have the ability to swim faster than the current that washes them from their rock and down stream. 

In a passive bite, the fly could be dead drifted through the fish zone, and the fish stops it and then lets it go. You have to recognize the stop and strike it. If you don’t, you will not catch fish. A high rod tip allows the fly to dead drift (however, this is poor technique in most freshwater fly fishing, where you want the rod tip in the water to give you maximum strike distance). Both pink and chinook primarily are passive biters in freshwater, meaning they stop the fly. Chum, when new can have snappy periods where you recognize the strike as pulling the fly line past your rod’s line-finger. Sockeye seldom bite and thus are prime candidates for flossing, while coho actively move to a fly, whack it and take off.

The reason flossing is allowed is that the sockeye fisheries where it is used are meat fisheries: Paper Mill Dam on the Somass and the gravel bars of the Fraser. If a conservation officer came upon someone flossing in the Campbell, it would technically mean a ticket, but the angler could claim they were not flossing or didn’t know what flossing was and thus not be ticketed. And, of course, the Campbell is complicated by having gear, artificial fly and fly-fishing only stretches unlike most other rivers.

As for how you were fishing. I would guess you needed a line with a quicker sink rate and a shorter leader. As always, the purpose is to put the fly on the bottom where the fish are, and the Campbell is a fast-flow river, meaning more sink is better. The reason for a shorter leader is that you want the fly at the same level as the fly line rather than floating above it.

A clear intermediate line would allow you to run a shorter leader but not have enough overall sink rate. Do remember that where you need greater sink, the fly zips by the fish quicker and thus it has less time to see the fly line, decide and whack the fly, even though a black or brown line is close behind, which it evidently does not see.

The reality is that you need to match sink rate with fishing spot. These days lots of people fish below River Sportsman fly shop and below the bridge leading out of town, north to Sayward. These waters are bigger and have more current than some others, both factors in concentrating fish. I would not fish in these spots because the fish have so much space to move around in. They are not concentrated. Having said this, I have landed fish, having accessed the parking lot just below the fly shop, but that was a day of oodles of fish.

The Sandy Pool at the logging bridge, the Quinsam mouth and the Island Pool are other spots. At each, you figure out the structure, where the fish are, how to put the fly through at mouth level and once you are successful, you repeat the same cast all day long. Get yourself a tip pouch and keep all tips you buy in it. I must have 25. Over time, you will come to have a tip for all circumstances, even if it was intended for, say a Spey rod, and you are slinging a heavy rig on a single-handed rod.

Lastly, the Campbell, with its large rocks and controlled flow, is much the same as it was in the days that Haig-Brown fished it. The Island Run, has rocks more than 100 pounds, and a controlled winter flood doesn’t move them, thus the run stays the same year after year. Many other rivers, the San Juan, for instance, is still spewing logging damage gravel a hundred years after the clear-cut, burying rocks and features for decades and then blowing them away. The Campbell shows you its fishing history today. It is a treat to take pinks, standing on rocks that Haig-Brown might have stood on to catch them, too.

Sunday, 6 August 2017

Pink Salmon Fly Fishing – Johnstone Strait

This summer the pink salmon of Johnstone Strait have been late. From Campbell River north to the Salmon, Eve, Cluxewe, Keogh and Quatse, the fish have been late. When I left the area on August 3, the fish had just begun arriving at the Eve, though the Campbell had few fishers. 

If you want to do the fishery this summer, phone River Sportsman, at 250–286-1017 and ask how things are going before you head north. For Strait of Georgia, phone Nile Creek Fly Shop, at 250-757-2095.

My annual trip started an unaccustomed way: the first night I woke freezing, and huddled until morning under my formerly great two-bag down-filled Black’s system, good to 40 below. Well, that was long ago and obviously much down had escaped the bags over the forty years since I bought them. I made a quick trip to Campbell River to pick up a North Face bag – a more current logo – and raced back to camp and fish. And slept warm and toasty.

The reality was the fish were in small numbers in the third week of July. At the bar, with fifteen of us lining both sides of the channel on the flood, one guy seemed to get more than his share of bites, though the rest of us were silently cheering when he didn’t land any of them. After him receiving 7 bites, it dawned on me he had a heavier inch-per-second sink tip in front of his floating line than the rest of us, and that there was a trench in front of him. Thus, he was sinking deeper and in the fish zone more frequently than the rest of us.

Looking at the lip of the bar, it appeared that I could walk from one side to the other, the water being so shallow. That meant the fish were coming in over the lip, then dropping into the gut of a trench, where they rested before moving up. As the tide rose slowly, this spot was the hot spot for a couple of hours before the flood rose above it, thus eliminating the structure and allowing the fish to move higher.

It makes good sense to memorize an estuary’s entire bottom structure from low tide to high tide. This gives you a much better sense of where the fish will be at any given tidal height. In pink fishing, you fish where you see fish. If this general rule doesn’t pan out, look where fish are being caught and insinuate yourself in the line of anglers – at the high end on a flood, and low end on the ebb. In other words, if you can’t fish the hotspot at the time it is happening, you want to be on the hotspot a little later in the tide. Then you will get the bites.

An obvious way to get more sink instantly, dawned on me. Rather than taking the time to change tip, leader and fly while standing in water that if any were dropped they would never be found, I tried an instant solution: after you cast, throw another ten feet of line out the rod tip guide and count to ten to let the rig sink before stripping in. I hit fish on my next two casts – my first two fish of the day – and thus had found the zone.

The reality is that if you concentrate on trying to catch fish and the options to achieve the various variables, you will catch more fish than if you zombie-like cast line and strip. Another similar rule is that you fish the highest percentage fly until you think it does not work, and then change. Don’t just keep casting, keep that edge of concentration. That’s why fly anglers will always ask the person hitting fish what colour of fly they are using. Switch to it, and then to others of the same colour, but different materials. 

Pink is the common colour, but Handle Bar style of wrapped plastic, is different from, say, a sparse pink Muddler, done in feathers, from a Fuzzy Pink done in size 2 plastic wrap commonly put on trolling spoon hooks, from a Bucktail style fly in calf or buck tail, from one made of synthetic fur that draggles down the hook, and so on. And the current rage: purple Handle Bar flies, look awfully pink to me.

If one doesn’t work, move to another. If that doesn’t work, ask the successful angler to show you his/her fly. And then make one that evening or ‘buy’ one with a beer offered to the successful angler.
Let me return to the ‘fish where you see pink salmon’ rule. One evening on a high rising tide, I spotted a school two thirds of the way across the tide-swollen river. Once I edged out so my vest was in the water, and then both sleeves of my fleece coat were as well, my fly was on the money. Before the school moseyed on, I released one, and lost another. Then, when I could see no more fish, I heard a beer calling my name.

And there are specific behaviours that spell bitey fish. A porpoising fish, particularly in freshwater, is happy, content and on the bite; similarly, the nose of a pink, or one just to its eye. It seems odd that pinks will have the specific behaviour of lifting their eye above water, but it is surprising how far away you can see one, when sun is shining in that eye. Idle tail fins, and dorsal fins show you where to fish, but not the biters, and, of course, jumpers are not biters. They just show you where the fish are.

In all these cases, make a first few casts and strip, then, if not rewarded, cast a bit above the fish, count the fly down and into fish, and begin stripping. If the school is not moving, chances are the bitey fish are on the bottom, particularly if faced with some structure right above them such as a riffle that is shallow and coming in their faces quickly, making them stop for a bit before moving.

Another variable in all of salmon fly fishing in freshwater is: use only as much leader as you need to separate the fly from the fly line, typically four feet. The point is for the fly to be at the level of the sink tip, not above it. And note that tying on new flies shortens leaders. In saltwater approaches, leader length can even be 10 feet, so the fish don’t see both the fly and flyline at the same time. And the higher the water speed, the shorter leaders can be, because, the quicker a fish must react, the less likely it is to see both fly and fly line.

Another trick is to use an improved clinch knot between fly and leader. The purpose is to let the fly move as naturally as possible, by pulling the finished knot up the leader so an eighth of an inch gap opens between it and the hook eye. This is particularly useful if you want to use a higher pound test weight leader and still retain good presentation. I use a low diameter, 15-pound test, and thus need this trick and if I think the high weight is dissuading biters, I switch to lower test. Use only low diameter leaders, for example, my 10-pound leader actually has a wider diameter than my higher pound leader. The issue is both, being seen by the fish, as well as inhibiting natural fly action.