If you like Dry Fly Fishing.... Read This! August 13 2016
You look ahead towards the left hand bend in the river. It disappears around the corner, the waste high summer grass obscuring your view of the water ahead. Then you see it…. 20 yards up. The rise form makes a perfect circle on the dark glassy surface, increasing in diameter as it moves slowly towards you on the surface of the water. You take note of the spot that tiny circle first appeared – just about 10 inches from the right side waters edge, beneath the slight overhang created by the eroded bank.
The alpine meadow is pristine. You’re surrounded by twelve thousand foot peaks. A few patches of snow still linger above tree line in the alpine bowls and basins, where it drifted in deep during the winter storms. Above them the perfectly blue Colorado sky is dotted with soft white clouds, which every so often pass over the sun, masking your view into the gin clear water. Lodgepole Pines blanket the surrounding hills in a rich green, but give way to Aspens closer to the edge of the meadow, their leaves flickering in the breeze.
The river here is in no hurry. The meadow itself is surprisingly flat. Small feeder streams trickle and cascade down the steep rocky slopes, coming together at the head of this meadow to create a braid of intertwining channels and cut bank streams – some so narrow you could leap across them. The braids come together quickly, within the first mile of the meadow’s length combining to form the headwater stretch of this famous river.
A mile further down the meadow, where you stand now, the river snakes and bends. Small bubbles drift slowly across its glassy face, revealing the deepest and truest path of the current. The glass is broken only when the water shallows, tumbling over smooth red stones and creating a riffle as the current increases, and the surface takes on the uneven characteristics of the eroded rock on the river bottom. Hoppers take flight as you move slowly through the tall grass, and Pale Morning Duns hover at eye level above the stream.
The hopper pattern you started the day with served its purpose, receiving explosive strikes from the brookies that dominate this section of river. Earlier you felt fortunate to land a twelve-inch Cutthroat – one of the few remaining, though they are the only fish native to this water. After the mallard feather segments on top of the hopper’s body became mangled, and the right leg went missing, you switched to a PMD imitation. The hopper was the last in your box, and while the hatch is not overwhelmingly thick, the duns clearly are emerging in numbers.
You shuffle forward 10 steps through the knee-deep water on the left side of the channel, careful to move slowly and silently. That perfect circle appears again, in the same spot, just 10 inches from the undercut right bank. Patiently, you slide six feet to your right, into the center of the stream. The water is nearly waste deep, and you gauge the speed of the current between your position and the spot where that rise form appeared. Satisfied that you’re positioned for a drag free drift, you pull a length of floating line through the tip guide, and pull another 20 feet or so from your reel. The click-click-click of the old spring-and-pawl reverberates above the hiss of the grass in the breeze.
You raise the tip of your Drifter Covert, make two false casts, and feel the rod load as twenty five feet of floating line stretches out behind you. You punch forward, upstream and across, delivering the line on point as leader turns over, and 6x fluorocarbon and your PMD imitation fall softly on the smooth surface. The fly lands 3 feet ahead of where the rise from appeared, then drifts. One second, two seconds, three seconds, then - the take.
Your right index finger clamps down on the line as you bring the rod tip to the sky. The line pulls taught, and the fury of splashing at the end of that line signals success. You crank hard on the reel with your left hand to keep the line taught as the splashing moves back towards you with the current. The fish gains its bearings and dives deep, pulling ahead and upstream, nearly doubling over your eight foot three weight. You feel the pull and fight back, pulling the rod tip high, as the reel whines and spins. The fish returns to the surface, tired from the run. You crank the reel and a few short moments later, the sixteen-inch cutthroat is landed in your net.
The flip of a tail and a splash, and the fish is gone. Your left hand still submerged just below the surface of the water, you swish it through the water and stand upright, the cold, clear water dripping from the tips of your fingers. Another gentle breeze rustles the grass, the Aspen leaves flicker, and the river is still. You place your fly in the hook keeper, reel the line tight, and step out of the water on the left bank. Slowly, you prod forward, upstream, through the tall grass. Your mind wonders, what will you find around that left hand bend?
Fishing The Runoff: Big Bug Season June 03 2016
Most folks will tell you that May & June runoff in the Rocky Mountains equates to challenging fly fishing conditions. Difficult wading, lack of water clarity, and potentially difficult stream access due to overflowing banks all add up to sound like a wade fisherman’s nightmare. Many will pack it in and relegate their time to tailwater fishing and spring yard work, waiting for the flows to subside. But with a little patience to explore and a willingness to adapt to the conditions, May and June Fly fishing can mean uncrowded streams and hungry Trout keying on big bugs.
Fly Fishermen aren’t alone in our need to change strategy when the runoff hits. Trout need to respond to the conditions too. With the torrent of oncoming snowmelt, the options for holding spots that minimize the amount of energy expended become limited. Most of the ideal spots are in fact along the bank, conveniently close to where we stand and wade when the water is high. Even with an ideal holding spot located, fish are still going to expend more energy and burn more calories than they did earlier in the spring – which means the Trout will be hungry.
One of the greatest lessons a friend taught me when I started fishing in Colorado, is that fast water with low visibility calls for big bugs. Dry or wet fly, it doesn’t matter, bigger is better. This time of year, my favorite setup is the dry/dropper rig with a size 10-16 Stimulator on top and a Stonefly imitation on the bottom. When the Salmonfly hatch is on, you can supersize the above with a size 4-8 Sofapillow and 4-6 Pat’s Rubber Legs down below. Besides the advantage of being able to see your indicator, the large dry fly is needed because it floats better in the surface film during turbulent conditions. Trout also key in on the larger bugs. Remember, they’re hungry. But also the low visibility effects ability to locate food. The large bugs are not only easier for the fish to see, but also they can sense the disruption the foreign object creates in the current either beneath the surface or floating on top.
I’ve had many great days this time of year fishing single fly with a Stimulator, working the tall grass and slower water along the bank, and varying color and size slightly until I found a combination fish would key on. Sometimes this time of year I think it’s the promise of a big meal that is needed to get a Trout to burn the calories and budge from that holding spot. Not sure if there’s any truth to that, but many days the theory seems right.
Another key success factor I’ve found this time of year is to cover a lot of water. Not being able to see fish in cloudy water is a disadvantage. But the holding spots that are reachable with a cast and manageable for good drift are obvious, and more often than not they will hold fish due to the lack of other options in the river. I like to work up stream, and if I haven’t hooked up after fishing 3-4 obvious spots, I change up my rig. Really once I find the right fly selection, it’s unusual to go more than 2-3 spots without a strike. But covering ground is key. I try not to waste time on questionable holds or spots that won’t allow for a drag free drift. If I have to cover more ground to find a truly great hold vs. fishing something questionable, it’s worth it.
There are times that a river truly is blown out, and only a whitewater rafting enthusiast could find joy. In this case, the solution is to go higher. Sometimes the main arteries in the canyons and valleys have had snowmelt flow in from so many creeks and feeders, that the river simply becomes unfishable. When this happens, either traveling upstream towards the headwaters, or fishing the actual feeders can quickly turn the day positive. In fact, the confluence of feeder creeks and main river arteries can be an absolute joy this time of year. The first half a mile or so upstream on the feeder creeks can hold unusually large fish seeking refuge in unusually accessible holes while the main river is blown out.
So in May and June when the water is high and off color, and the others don’t go due to the challenging conditions, I say don’t miss out. With a five weight fly rod and some big bugs, you could be in for a treat.
How Long is Your Fly Rod? January 24 2016
Many a lady or gentleman will tell you size doesn’t matter, and in most walks of life, perhaps this is the case. But when it comes to fly rods, we believe that length does make a difference.
The 9 foot 5 weight is the current standard in trout rods. It’s the most commonly sold rod size on the market. But you’ll find rods in all different lengths from 6’-12’ these days, and especially as you go up or down in line weight you’ll tend to see length stray from the 9 foot standard. So why vary rod length and what’s the tradeoff between short and long?
The primary advantage of a shorter rod, is that it feels lighter, and is easier to cast. In actuality, reducing rod length by 6” probably only saves you a fraction of an ounce in real weight. But the casting mechanics become more straight forward because the tip of the rod travels a shorter distance – a shorter arc, vs. a longer rod. It’s because a shorter rod feels lighter, that most fiberglass and bamboo rods have gravitated to the under 8’ range. Generally rods made of these heavier materials can be casted more easily and efficiently in shorter lengths. Even with modern light materials such as carbon graphite, you’ll often see rods shorter than the 9’ standard, as even a reduction to 8’6” can substantially change the feel of the cast. Also, on smaller streams and creeks, you’re often casting shorter distances and contending with more growth alongside and overhanging the river. So in these cases, a shorter rod can be a distinct advantage.
Longer rods have the advantage of improved line control. Especially when nymphing, a drag free drift and quick set are the keys to catching fish. A longer rod enables the user to reach over fast currents to avoid drag on the line, and also allows for a shorter amount of line between rod tip and hook. All of this equates to better control, more realistic presentation, and more efficient hook-ups.
The new trend, is for nymphing rods in the 10’ range or longer. At last month’s ‘Fly Fishing Show’ in Denver, we had several customer inquire about a 10’ 3 weight, and in fact we do custom build rods to this specification. Tenkara rods have also aided in the long rod revolution. Jack Bombardier, a guide at Confluence Casting, often puts a Tenkara rod into the hands of his customers during Colorado River float trips. According to Jack, his newbies wielding a fully extended Tenkara often out-catch the experienced anglers in the boat, simply due to the enhanced line control and efficiency with which they set the hook.
So what’s the answer then? Long, short, or the standard 9 foot 5 weight? At Drifter, we believe you need to pick the right line weight and length for the water you fish. Our 5 weight rod does indeed come in the standard 9’ length. We typically fish this rod on bigger water holding bigger fish. The longer casting arc doesn’t pose a problem on these waters, and we appreciate the 9’ length for line management. Our 4 weight drops down to an 8’6”. We think a 4 weight is probably the most versatile size for a trout rod, capable on eastern spring creeks and Rocky Mountain rivers alike. Reducing the length 6” makes for a more nimble cast – easy to appreciate when dry fly fishing. At the same time, you aren’t giving up much compared to a 9’ when it comes to line control, and so this rod still works great when you set up a nymph rig. If forced to choose the best option for a one trout rod quiver, we’d choose the 8’6” 4 weight.
Our 3 and 2 weight rods at 8’ and 7’6” are a bit longer than most rod makers spec for these line weights. It’s typical to see 2 and 3 weights in the 6’-7’ range. We find that the extra length is very advantageous for line management given the numerous micro-currents present on smaller streams. Still, at 7’6” and 8’, we’re able to make precision short casts while avoiding brush and overgrowth, and with carbon graphite construction can still punch the line out with ease while fishing alpine lakes or a glassy stream in an open meadow.
Trout Fishing in Costa Rica? September 02 2015 1 CommentWhen my friend David Johnston called me up and stated a 2 Weight Drifter Covert might just be the perfect fly rod for pursuing Trout in Costa Rica, I told him I’d hand deliver it. Click 'Trout Fishing in Costa Rica?' to read all about it!
Colorado Fly Fishing: The Salmonfly Hatch June 11 2015
If you time the Salmonfly Hatch on the Upper Colorado River correctly, you’re in for a treat. The hatch only happens once a year, typically late May into early June. Bugs start emerging in the ‘Pumphouse’ area, where you’ll need a drift boat to access the deep water. Over the course of a few weeks, the hatch will work it’s way upstream, and the area around Parshall and Hot Sulfer Springs is full of scenic public land access, where wade fishing is possible (though beware the high water this time of year!) If you can time this hatch right you won’t be disappointed, as there’s nothing quite like experiencing big Brown and Rainbow Trout attack flies with such fury and vengeance!
If you’ve never seen a Salmonfly (aka Golden Stonefly) before, it sort of resembles a small bird
in flight. I’m not kidding. They’re about the size of a hummingbird, and due to the size, bright orange color, and stick-like legs and antennae these creatures can look downright prehistoric. When the fish are rising, a #4-#6 Sofa Pillow, or Orange Stimulator will typically do the trick. Even better, stop by a local shop and you’ll find any number of Salmonfly imitations in large hook sizes, often with foam bodies and rubber legs that do a great job of simulating the real thing. When the fish aren’t making their way to the surface, they’re likely still gorging on big stonefly nymphs, and Pat’s Rubber Legs or Kaufmann’s Stonefly Nymphs should do the trick, again in large sizes #4-#8.
I love to fish this hatch with a 9 foot 5 weight fly rod, with moderate action. Typically this time of year the water is high – this year it’s REALLY HIGH. The length and extra power of the five weight come in handy for line control and battling occasional wind. Plus, you’ll need a little extra fighting advantage with the fast currents and potentially large fish. Choosing a fly rod with moderate action will ensure excellent fly rod feel when your line is in the air, or a fish on the hook. With the off color water (this year 12”-24” visibility), don’t be afraid to go down to a 2x or 3x tippet. The fish won’t mind, and you’ll save yourself a lot of agony over lost flies.Ultimately, the highlight of this hatch is the big bugs. How often do you get to tie a #6 hook onto your line, or fish with a 3x tippet here in Colorado? Sees like only weeks ago we were fishing with #20 Baetis and Midges. The Salmonfly Hatch can be a ton of fun, and only happens for a few weeks each year. Don’t miss out!
Selecting a Fly Rod March 14 2015
A simple google search will turn up lots of articles about selecting an appropriate fly rod. If you're anything like us, eventually you came to the point where just one rod wouldn't do - and you've started to build your quiver. You select a different rod depending on the water you're fishing that day, and the conditions you'll be facing. Common variables to consider include line weight, length, 'rod action' or flex, and material. At Drifter, we focus on high performance trout rods, and so let's talk a little bit about how these variables play into our rod design.
Many will tell you that the ideal 'all around' line weight for trout is a #5. We tend to agree a 5 weight is a good robust option that is serviceable in a variety of conditions - you'll likely never find a trout fishing environment where a #5 is 'not enough rod'. But a five weight can be overkill when you venture into smaller streams or need to engage in short range tactics. Sometimes we'll have just a couple hours at the end of the work day where Clear Creek or Boulder Creek is a convenient local option. A two or three weight is ideal for the relatively shallow pocket water and 6"-12" fish we see in these streams. Over the years I've generally gone to lighter line weights - sometimes fishing a #3 on larger bodies of water like the Blue River or Upper Colorado for example. I like the light weight and nimble feel of fishing with smaller line weight - yet with the right material selection (we'll get to that later) can still get the performance needed to make longer casts and cut through wind. In general, I'd rather battle a fish on really light tackle than to overwhelm my catch with a heavier rod. With the Covert - we focussed on lighter line weights ranging #2-#5, which collectively handle about 90% of the trout fishing situations we encounter here in Colorado.
Length and line weight tend to go hand in hand. As discussed above, we generally cast smaller line weights such as a #2 or #3 shorter distances and on smaller streams. A 9' rod can be a handicap when making pinpoint short casts on this type of water - especially if there's overhanging tree branches and brush to contend with. At the same time, a 6' rod might not give you the length needed to mend line and manage drift, such as when reaching over a bit of fast current to allow drag-free drift in a slow pocket. We've found that 7'-8' offers a good compromise for small streams. It's not too much rod to cast in narrow confines, but offers excellent line control once you're fly is on the water. For medium to large bodies of water, a 8'-9' rod is still the standard of performance and we spec our #4 and #5 rods in this range of lengths.
Rod 'Action' or flex is a highly used differentiator for rods these days. 'Action' is a subjective term that equates with the rod's stiffness, and measures the speed at which the rod rebounds to the straight position after loading or unloading the line. Some rod manufacturers use 'flex' instead of action to describe the rod's stiffness, and at which point (tip, middle, or butt) is the rod's natural flex point (and how much does it flex). Someone could probably write a book about action vs. flex, and how they tie together, but the bottom line is they are subjective descriptors of stiffness and bending characteristics. Our experience is that most of the high performance trout rods on the market these days are trending towards fast or ultra fast action. The advantages of a stiff rod include the ability to cast longer distances, cut through strong winds, and have more line control once the fly is in the water - especially valuable for dedicated nymph fisherman. Disadvantages of a stiff rod may include loss of 'feel', difficulty loading and casting for short and medium distances, and challenges with dry fly presentation and preservation of light tippets when you have a strike. While 'fast action' sounds appealing, we generally find that a more flexible rod best meets our needs for trout fishing. A rod with a good flex profile will cast smoothly over a variety of distances, gives good feedback to the hand of the fisherman while the line is in the air, enables delicate fly presentations, and use of light tippets. Drifter's number one design characteristic is a subjective one - 'Fly Rods with Feel'. As a result, you'll see that we typically describe our rods as moderate or slow action, and mid or full flex. This means less stiffness, a smooth flex profile, and more feel.
In our design process, when we told folks about our desire to create highly responsive, slower action fly rods, many experts recommended fiberglass. Glass rods have made a real comeback in recent years, and there are a number of quality fiberglass focussed rod makers out there. A fiberglass rod can be a nice addition to your quiver. We stuck with graphite due to it's lighter weight, durability, and performance characteristics. Fiberglass gives a more traditional almost cane like feel. Graphite tends to load and perform better across a variety of conditions (alternating between short and long casts for example), and graphite tends to deliver more feedback from the line in the air (or the fish on the hook) to the hand of the fisherman. This is why we're using graphite at Drifter.
In the end - fly rod selection is subjective. There is no 'best or worst', 'right or wrong'. It's finding the rod that feels good when your line is in the air and a fish is on your hook. The rod you take out Tuesday to your local creek might be different from the one you use Saturday on Gold Medal water. Regardless of which one you choose, hopefully it contributes to many happy years on the river.
Fly Rod R&D December 31 2014
We call it 'R&D'. Taking our latest concept blanks and component packages out on the river with our friends, figuring out what works for Drifter, and what doesn't. While it's not all hard work, creating a truly differentiated trout rod - a 'fly rod with feel', involved a lot of tweaking and concept rejection. The end result though - we think is a great one! We love the final design of the Covert and can't wait to publish your feedback and testimonials this year.
We have a number of concepts in prototype stages, including a 'big river' rod, an extra long model, and mid-price point options for the Drifter collection. But we won't officially launch these products until we're 100% confident we've got them right. Stay tuned. In the mean time, our custom rod program is available to get you exactly whatever it is your looking for.