Jul 9, 2015

Forced to become a Warmwater Fisherman

"Freshwater Bones"

With this heat, low water and generally poor fishing conditions, an angler has to get creative. I traditionally fish for summer steelhead starting in July and go all the way through November, but 70+ degree water temps in the Deschutes have eliminated that river as an option. The Klickitat is hovering between 3 and 4 inches of visibility due to the glacial melt and the Hood is barely trickling. The few places that one could go swing for steelhead in the Northwest have become incredibly crowded and I do not wish to add to that crowd, at least as often as I actually want to swing for steel…

So I am forced to become a warmwater fisherman. It’s all fairly new to me. I caught largemouth bass, pike and carp a few times in Nevada, but it was more of a novelty, with little effort put into figuring anything out there. The trout fishing in Nevada is fabulous by the way, but more on that another day.

I have been smallmouth bass fishing a few times in my life. All of them have been this year. I have learned how to fish crankbaits and spinnebaits on a casting rod. It has been an interesting experience. I never really gave bass a passing thought before, but here we are. I have caught a few of them on flies recently, but casting big flies in a stiff breeze on a six weight is often more of a burden than it is worth for me. If they are really on the bite, then I don’t mind casting a fly rod, and occasionally the wind dies down on the Columbia enough for a couple hours of pleasantly calm fly-fishing conditions. I have an old Sage RPL+ 690 matched up with a Galvan Torque T-5 and a Rio Camolux WF6I intermediate line that I prefer for most of my bass fishing. I also fish a spare spool lined up with a Rio Smallmouth Bass Line WF6F for poppers and the magical “Float ‘n Fly” technique that is deadly effective at times when nothing else works.

I love my old Sage RPL+. It is a 2-piece rod, which shows how old it is… It was the first decent rod I ever bought and I have caught thousands of trout on it, but it is ancient technology and I have been looking to update my 6wt situation for a couple of years now. I am heavily leaning towards a Sage ONE 690-4, but the G. Loomis NRX would be equally great first choice.

Having one rod with a floating line and one with a sinking line would be ideal. If I were to get serious about bass fishing, I would most likely have both a 6wt and a 7wt so that I could throw some seriously heavy flies in the wind. Maybe I can get both the ONE and the NRX if Santa thinks that I have been nice enough this year.

I have also been carp fishing a few times now this summer. Talk about a finicky fish. When you are bass fishing, the carp are everywhere. When you decide to go carpin’, they are nowhere to be found. I have yet to land one this summer, but I have had some serious shots, a few hookups and a lot of refusals. Figuring them out is the fun part. They are smart, big and strong, and can often see you long before you see them. I feel confident when I trout fish that I can catch them, but not with carp. This last Sunday, we searched several big flats that should have had carp stacked up thick only to come out scratching our heads wondering where they were. We did not see a single one; not one. Often, there are hundreds of them working the flats in that spot.

Carp seem to like fairly drab colored, simple, weighted flies. Tans, browns and grey shrimp patterns, crayfish, and even beadhead nymphs work fine. It is all about the presentation with very little to do with the fly choice. The key is to get the fly down in front of them and hope they come across it. One little twitch as they are near usually invokes either a strike or a refusal. You fish for them like they are a permit while using a bonefish fly, and they fight like a redfish. You don’t often get two shots at a fish, and making more than one cast in their general direction is usually not going to happen without a fish bolting, which causes other carp in the area to do the same. Calm, feeding carp just became spooky with just one cast.

For my carp set-up, I have been using my Sage XP 8100-4, Lamson Litespeed 3.5 and a Rio Indicator II WF8F line. My old Sage XP was a great rod for steelhead nymphing, but for carp it is heavy and too long. A 10’0” rod is great for small water for steelhead, which is why I got it. Well, I don’t nymph for steelhead any more, so my rod is a little outdated. With a carp rod, a soft tip is crucial to getting a good presentation. A 9’0” 8wt is ideal for carpin’. I would look at the Winston BIII-X and the Sage Accel as both of them are soft enough for a perfect presentation, yet have the backbone to turn a big carp.

The Rio Indicator II WF8F line is also not the most ideal line for carp fishing; it is just what I have on my reel at the moment. A Rio Gold or Rio Perception both provide better presentations for spooky fish than the Indicator line, but we work with what we have sometimes. Matching the line to the rod and the situation is very important, and we will save that for another post.
So I have also been up to Mayfield Lake chasing Tiger Muskie this summer. Now a Tiger Muskie is unlike any fish that I have caught in years. They are truly and apex predator. They don’t care about you or your boat because they are in charge and that becomes apparent very quickly when you see how they operate.
Fishboy Gabe with Pike Minnow

It took a full day of fishing before I really figured out what I need to do next time, which is all anyone can expect to do the first time exploring a new fishery. Early on, I was just blindly casting a really big “perchy” baitfish pattern. Their primary food source consists of Northern Pike Minnows, which are a perchy yellow color. Casting an 8 inch weighted baitfish pattern gets really tiring really quickly. I only got one follow from three or four hours of blind casting. While it came out of nowhere and followed to the boat, it quickly swam back into the weedbed where it had appeared from and I realized I would need to change my approach or I would need shoulder surgery before the end of the summer.

So once the sun was up and we started spotting fish consistently, I changed my tactics. These Muskie sit in fairly shallow water and are pretty easy to spot if you are looking for them. First, I changed my fly to a smaller, white, unweighted deceiver. It sinks slowly and is easier to cast accurately and quickly. We slowly cruised around with the trolling motor, and when we spotted one, I made a cast and put my fly right in front of it; much easier on the shoulder….

I let the fly sink and gave it a little twitch when it was suspended in front of a fish. I had one fish let the fly fall onto its beak after every twitch. I could see how agitated he was, and when he finally opened his mouth to eat it, I set the hook prematurely, yanking my fly right out of its closing jaws. That was the best shot I had all day, although one other fish was very upset at us when we put a fly in his territory. That fish never ate it, but seemed to chase the fly to the boat every time we put a cast near the downed tree that it was sitting under. Over and over again, it chased my fly, slowly cruising the perimeter of our boat, it seemed like it was going to attack on nearly every cast. We left it there with plans to return later, but drunken party boaters (there are many of them on that lake) really put a damper on our efforts when we went back to that cove. I wanted to hide in the depths of that lake too when I heard the blaring country music and screeching drunk women that only got louder until we finally gave up and found another area to fish.

For my Muskie setup, I got out the old Redington CPX 1090-4, Lamson Litespeed 4 and a Scientific Angler’s Titan Taper WF10F. I really liked the line quite a bit early in the day. I like that I can pick it up and cast it with a varying amount of line out of the rod tip. The long back taper is great for that, and the short, blunt front taper turns over those gigantic flies with ease. My only problem was that it was so hot by mid-afternoon that the line was getting limp as freshwater lines do in 80+ degree water and 100 degree air temps. I have a Rio Tropical Outbound Short that I am going to use next time I go if it is anywhere near as hot as it was last time. I never imagined that I would need to use a tropical line in Washington State in June, but again, here we are.

A stout, stiff saltwater-worthy 10wt or 11wt is the perfect rod for this scenario. Sage makes a Pike Rod (10 wt) and a Muskie Rod (11 wt), both are 9’0”. Either of them would make a great new Muskie Chaser. Another intriguing rod is the G. Loomis Pro 4X ShortStix 10/11 wt. It is 7’6” and very stout. It should make throwing huge, weighted flies easier, although you will lose quite a bit of distance casting it vs. a 9’0” rod. I am also thinking that the prospect of hitting myself in the head with a 2 lb. fly on a windy day increases proportionally with the decrease in the length of the rod. I will stick with a stout 9’0” rod for now, and work on my figure-8 and hope for just one strike.
This is a relatively unknown fishery in Washington, but the potential for the eager fly fisherman is high, and as a steelheader, I am content with knowing that covering the water well is a sign of success. Catching a Muskie, or even hooking one had not really even crossed my mind as I have heard countless tales of fishermen going whole seasons without a strike (sounds like most of my steelheading experiences). I know that I have much to learn and many more hours of fishing before I will get another good shot at one of these beasts.
"Hey Andrew...Just threw this in here so you would know what a 20" smallie looks like...lol" #bassprogreg

Well, so far this summer, I haven’t caught a carp; I’ve only got a couple of Muskie follows, and I have not caught that elusive 20” smallmouth, but I’d say that my forced transition to warmwater fishing is going smoothly and with little resistance. I cannot bring myself to harass trout, steelhead or salmon with water far warmer and lower than is healthy in our local waters. Even if we come out of this heat wave, the rivers are still going to be low enough that fish will struggle to migrate; but the carp and bass are loving life right now and I am going to learn to love them even if it is not my first choice.


Andrew Perrault
Gorge Fly Shop | Product Specialist

"Fly Fish the World with Us"

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