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Looking for thoughts on adjusting to changing river conditions

fly fishing river changing conditions cool water fast moving

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#1 Atomiknight



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Posted 13 September 2017 - 03:21 PM

Hi everyone,


So in my attempts at getting to know an Ontario river this season, I have fished multiple sections of it over multiple outings with varying degrees of success. It is hard to find time to go fishing, but when I do, I pack a lunch and stay for most of the day. Slowly exploring various runs, pockets, and currents.


Last year, a couple of "nice looking" sections seemed too warm and had very little activity on the fly, though perhaps time of day was a factor as I was there more around mid-day till the later afternoon, though as the sun set, the action didn't really improve. This year, with the cooler weather and higher levels, these sections held a few fish, and at one time I experienced a nice hatch... of mostly 6-8" trout. I tried exploring farther upstream (~20 min drive), where the river is cooler and crystal clear as well, and in one specific location I fished a couple of weeks ago, there were plenty of willing rainbows at each bend, on one bend I must have hooked into a dozen rainbows. I returned this past weekend to find the river a bit cooler, faster flowing, and with almost no fish in sight (but man was it clear). There was a hatch in the evening, but no rising fish, i tried various dry fly patterns, as well as multiple nymphs, and only managed to hook into 3 bows (one tiny) and 2 maybe 9" on a nymph I made up. It was difficult keeping a dry fly floating naturally in the fast water, and even wet flies didn't get much time to float naturally, usually skimming the surface for most of the swing... yet getting no action. I'm not sure why the nymphs didn't get hit when drifted down a current going over some nice holes... this typically works for me.


But where did all of the fish go? Why was there no surface action with the decent hatch? Why were the nymphs getting so few hits? Do the fish migrate many km in a river depending on water temperature? Were they just hiding from the higher than normal currents/flows? Does a few degree cooler river turn the fish off even on a sunny 18C day? (the fish I managed to get were quite close to branches on the sides of decent currents). Do two weeks make the fish go from "I'm stupid and eat anything" to "I will not look at anything you float by me"? Perhaps like some videos/posts say, I need to drop down in size, though I haven't had much success doing so the few times I did...and my fly collection isn't that complete yet to cover all popular patters in every size. Typically I prefer to reference the rules of those fishermen that say "a trout will not shy away from an easy meal" or "its less about the fly and more about the presentation" or even "if you had a choice between a small meal and a bigger one, would you turn down the big one?"... again, plenty of conflicting advice online. Plenty of factors to analyze, and never enough time!


I have lots to learn and am excited to hear some of your thoughts on how to adjust to these conditions. 



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    Shiner Minnow

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Posted 13 September 2017 - 09:31 PM

It can be frustrating when you find a nice piece of water yet it seems void of fish. 2 years ago I fished a stretch of river that produced over a dozen good size fish in a few hours, this year it produced zero fish yet other stretches seemed to fish way better than in previous years. The best advice I can give you is to be versatile, keep trying different techniques, fish at different times of the year, different times of day, different water levels/colour etc. and try to develop a pattern in your river. i don't think anybody has is figured out completely and that's part of the fun in my opinion. My 2 biggest this year came on a size 10 fly, last year on a size 18
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#3 Huronfly



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Posted 14 September 2017 - 03:56 AM

I normally get those problems when the water is WARMER and LOWER, instead of high and fast. That said, the fish won't want to fight the current as much if the water is high, so you might have to probe around softer water that would normally be void of fish. I find when temps rise and levels lower, it can seem like the river is void of fish, mainly because they probably aren't there at all. I've read that trout do in fact travel up to a few miles in search of prime water like springs and deep pools when things get to low and warm, so I avoid fishing during these times. I keep an eye on water charts and avoid fishing when flow rates have hit a plateau on the low. I also tend to agree that fly selection is not that important...

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#4 Atomiknight



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Posted 14 September 2017 - 11:49 AM

Somehow I figured that the sections of the river that tend to stay cool and clear most of the time would always hold fish. I tried to find some softer water but it was actually hard to find, the volume / flow was such that it was fairly fast in most places, except in some tight spots close to the banks behind a branch following the bank on slight angles downstream (looks like someone even put pieces of wood in to hold the branches in place here and there. There was an odd boulder sticking out here of there, though with the really clear water, I couldn't get close enough without spooking fish to dangle it behind the boulders, and casting to them was near impossible, with decent currents wrapping around them and meeting not far behind... there were a couple of holes that had more consistent flows with decent depth to float something for a few sec, but nothing was interested.  The two I hooked worth mentioning were both in deeper darker sections on the back of turns or chutes with a branch providing cover, but the water was quite fast in front of the branch, and with the clear water, it was difficult to get a drag free float of a nymph from a few meters away... guess I made the best of it.
I'm thinking that next time I should try using an indicator instead of watching my line, and a splitshot to get it down quicker, as I was relying on slack to get the nymphs to drift down naturally (perhaps water was too fast for that).  Perhaps also doing a double nymph setup with a smaller one trailing behind a decent sized beadhead, to increase my chances. (though that tends to get more snags as well it seems, especially closer to branches in deeper chutes). 

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    Rainbow Trout

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Posted 14 September 2017 - 02:58 PM

You'd be surprise what fast running water might hold....i've caught steelhead nymphing on the seams....

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#6 Guest_tossing iron_*

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Posted 14 September 2017 - 03:27 PM

You'd be surprise what fast running water might hold....i've caught steelhead nymphing on the seams....

Even us float guys know to take advantage of those fast water reaction takes.
Eat it or lose it.
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