Delayed harvest season is in full swing, in both Georgia and North Carolina, and it has fly fisherman from all over heading to the hills. The DH program offers something for everyone, beginner fly fisherman can usually catch a fish or two and the more experienced guys can walk away feeling like a hero. Both states typically stock larger than average fish in the DH streams and also put in the occasional brood fish, some of which are in the 20 inch class.
For a few days after stocking the fish will taste just about anything that floats by, as they try to figure out what their new food source will be, in other words, you can drift a fly within a few feet of a fish and they will likely try to eat it. Now of course after a week of getting hooked in the face and being pulled in to a waiting predator by an invisible force, these fish tend to get very wary of what they put in their mouth. If I’ve heard it once, I’ve heard it a thousand times, “I fished the DH today and it was completely poached out, there were no fish anywhere!” Here’s the deal, there are over 18,500 trout stocked in the Nantahala DH per year, there is no way it gets poached out. In fact what happens is these fish become educated, they are still catchable, but we have to work a little harder for them. I can help you with this.
Because DH streams are so popular with fly fisherman I get the opportunity to meet a lot of folks and watch them fish. Some teach me a thing or two, and some just don’t have a clue. When I see someone doing something so wrong that I know that there is no way they will catch a fish, I have to introduce myself and offer some help. I see two mistakes the most, one being fly line drag, the other, improper use of a floating indicator. Drag is what happens when the current grabs the fly line and takes off with it, usually downstream, dragging your flies along at a break neck pace. It makes the flies react very unnaturally, and remember these trout are now educated and will not eat a size 14 pheasant tail that looks like it’s water skiing. There are two easy ways to remedy this situation. First, you can cast your flies in and highstick them through the run, keeping all the fly line off the water and gently leading the flies. When high sticking my rod is generally parallel to the water and held at about eye level, this puts you in position to strike quick at the first sign of a fish, this is very important because when a trout takes an artificial fly, it doesn’t take but a split second to decide that it’s not food and spit it out. With this method it is very important to manage your line by keeping the slack off the water and moving the rod tip along with the flow of water. The second method is to throw an upstream mend into the fly line either before or immediately after the fly hits the water. This will allow the flies to sink and drift in a more natural fashion. If the fly line is in a faster current than the flies it might be necessary to mend the fly line several times during a drift to keep the flies acting naturally. On the flip side, if you are casting across a slower current to a faster current it might be necessary to throw a downstream mend. Let the water current tell you what to do.
The second thing I see a lot is guys drifting an indicator rig repeatedly over a pod of trout without a take. The fisherman will often look up at me and say, “These fish just won’t eat anything.” Nine times out of ten, this is simply not the case and I hear this from experienced fisherman as well as newbies. Trout will almost always eat a properly presented fly that even somewhat closely resembles what they have been feeding on. A lot of the time, the fly is perfectly acceptable, but it’s not in the proper zone. If you can’t get a fish to eat, you are likely floating it over there heads and out of their strike zone. Fish will often position themselves in a feeding lie where the water current funnels their meal directly to them and where they don’t have to expend to much energy to feed. To catch these fish you simply have to get your fly down to where the fish are eating. Sometimes this is as simple as adding a split shot or two, other times you need to slide the indicator further up the leader to get the rig deeper. Trout are opportunistic feeders, if you put a fly in their face they will almost always give it a taste test. So the next time you’re on the stream and you’ve tried every fly in your box with no luck, try adjusting the depth of your setup. Until next time, tight lines!