Q: What do you recommend for summertime low-water fly fishing?
A: With the heart of summer rapidly approaching there are several steps we can take as anglers to improve our chances of having a stellar day on our favorite streams. With the amount of rain we have had this spring hopefully we won’t be seeing the low water levels of the past few years but, if we do, you can be ready with a little planning and some patience.
If I had to say one single factor in turning the tides of a day, stealth would be my answer. The fish will be more sensitive during lower water both visually and through their lateral lines (where they feel vibrations). In order to blend in we must try to look like the fish’s natural surroundings. Clothing choices are a vital part in this. You want to wear earth tones. Olives and Browns are some of my favorites. If you are unsure of your choice ask yourself this question. Do I look more like a bird (predator) or a bush? This should give you your answer. Using stream side objects (i.e. rocks, logs, trees, and other debris) will help you to further blend in with nature. Another key factor in using stealth is to walk quietly and away from the edge of the river. With less water in the rivers the sound vibrations will travel further and faster. Stumbling through a river can cause fish to be aware of you before you even get a cast off.
Another change to the arsenal will need to be adding longer leaders and finer tippets to your vest. Leaders of at least 9′ (total length) will be needed unless pocket water fishing and tippets of 6-7x. The longer leaders and finer tippets will allow you to present flies to the needed areas without worrying about your rod (or shadow) giving up your position. This with longer leaders come new casting challenges. I cannot stress the importance of practicing casting before getting out on the river. Nothing can be more frustrating than getting on the river and not being able to use your equipment correctly. Throw a hula-hoop, or a Tupperware dish down in the back yard and cast away. Getting the first cast in the right spot is crucial. I have seen Butterfly shadows spook fish during low water conditions.
The choosing of flies can play a great deal in your success as well. I like to go smaller in size, generally around 16-18. I like parachute styles, and dries with sparse hackle. I usually will not use a dropper in skinny water but will drop a midge (18-24) or a soft hackle off the back of my lead dry. This gives the fish options without the extra weight of the nymph to hang up on the bottom.
Fish eat all summer long it is just a matter of getting a cast on them before they know your presence. Lower light portions of the day (i.e. sunrise, sunset) can produce more opportunities to get closer without spooking fish. The same is true for overcast days.
Use these tips and suggestions and it could make the difference in you trip.
Josh Garris ~ CWO Professional Guide