Sometimes the difference between having a tough day on the water (or even getting skunked) and catching a decent number of fish is the willingness to adapt your fishing techniques to the conditions. In other words, if you’re not catching fish, switch it up. Don’t just try another fly; try another technique all together. Witness a couple of days I fished up in Yellowstone National Park earlier this week.
I must admit with some chagrin that I had never fished the Gardner River until last Sunday. The section along the entrance road below Mammoth Hot Springs is primarily pocket water, with a few bigger pools in places. More of a creek than a true river, the Gardner looks fishy, though not where you’d expect to catch anything of much size. However, I’d heard that bigger brown trout run up from the Yellowstone River in the fall, so I began my exploratory fishing with some anticipation. It faded quickly. Various dry flies (small hoppers, attractors, Purple Haze) elicited only a couple of half-hearted bumps from small fish. Good drifts over fishy water went unrewarded.
I was thinking of giving up, when I remembered something from George Daniel’s dynamic nymphing clinic earlier this summer. George had commented that high-gradient pocket water was ideal for tight-line nymphing. So I put on a tight-line leader, a couple of nymphs (Rubberlegs and Pheasant Tail), and 3 small (tin) split shot (remember, lead weight is illegal in YNP) and commenced to land a number of 10-12″ trout from the pockets behind mid-stream rocks. Fun, for a while, but I had come in search of bigger prey. The Gardner eventually cooperated. One of the larger pockets gave up a fat 14″ brown. A little later, as I dredged a juicy-looking pool, I felt a heavier tug. After a spirited fight, an 18″ brown came to the net. Not quite a trophy, but a very nice fish for such a small river. And a very nice day, thanks to a fortuitous change in techniques.
It was a lesson that I remembered the next day on the Lamar River. In general, the Lamar has been fishing quite well with dry flies lately. Not the usual hopper patterns; the fish have seen a ton of foam over the last couple of months. Instead, the Lamar’s cutthroats have been responding to a variety of attractor dries – Royal Wulffs, Purple Haze, Parachute Madam X’s, etc…. But not on Monday. I fished for a couple of hours, switching flies frequently, and only landed one fish. Finally, I decided to try something completely different and tied on a streamer. I commenced to catch several nice cutties (and lose a couple more) stripping an olive Beldar Rubber Legs and peacock and sculpin Sparkle Minnows. Again, switching it up was the key to success.
No need to switch things up on the Yellowstone River quite yet. Hoppers and even Chubby Chernobyls are still catching fish. Look for this to remain the case until after the first hard freeze. Try trailing your big fly with something smaller, such as a size 16 Parachute Adams or Purple Haze. We’ve had good reports about these mayfly imitations. We haven’t yet heard of any great streamer fishing, and the bright sun this week doesn’t portend lights-out streamer stripping. But it’s worth a try. Paul Weamer and I are planning a streamer-throwing float tomorrow, so look for an update in the next couple of days.