The low/clear water myth...

Discussion in 'Steelhead' started by sleestak240, Feb 6, 2014.

  1. sleestak240

    sleestak240 Active Member

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    Conventional wisdom suggests that the most effective tactic for tackling low and clear conditions (which seem to be common this year) is to downsize flies and focus on more drab/dark colors. The more I've thought about this, the more I've questioned that tactic...

    Normally I'm out with a fly rod, but I've caught a number of steelhead on swung spoons in low/clear water conditions...granted these were fish that were somewhat less pressured than those on many of our current rivers. The spoon is quite possibly one of the flashiest and most obnoxious tools available to the steelheader but it has always seemed to be quite effective for me in conditions where folks swinging flies would be electing to reduce their fly size and go to colors that aren't as loud. Indeed, I've caught steelhead on a spoon behind guys fishing small/drab flies in these very conditions.

    Thinking about this I've tried to develop some possible reasons why that happens:
    1. The spoon is more likely to be attacked in relation to the swung fly: i.e. fish "investigate" the fly without the angler ever knowing, rather than aggressively attacking it. Perhaps this has something to do with the more erratic action of the spoon across all axes, versus the more linear movement of the fly?

    2. The spoon attracts fish from farther away, these fish are likely to be more aggressive. It still "scares" away fish that are close, but the increased search range more than offsets this negative. Perhaps the massive search range that the spoon creates cannot be mimicked by any fly, meaning that the larger fly simply frightens the great majority of fish that ever see it?

    As it looks like we're going to be facing low/clear conditions for a great deal of the winter I'm hoping to get a little time to try and refine my thoughts on this. I used to think the conventional wisdom made sense from a logical standpoint, but in practice that hasn't always proven to be the case.

    Would love to hear anyone's theories about this or experiences.
     
  2. David Dalan

    David Dalan 69°19'15.35" N 18°44'22.74" E

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    This is one of my favorite steelhead topics. I firmly reject the necessity of small flies under low clear conditions. Now, read that carefully...I reject the NECESSITY, not the effectiveness :D

    One of my favorite fall flies, for a special small water fishery is a fl.flame and yellow marabou spey on a #2 hook. It's one of the flies I am doing for the steelhead fly swap. It's 3" long and bright as a firecracker. It has be incredibly effective in clear, low water, swung (I have to use tips, as it will not sink on its own).

    It was inspired by a friend of mine who is a wizard with spinners on fall steelhead. He uses a gold and orange blue fox (#5), and fishes it quartered down and swung quickly. So I fish it the same, swung with no effort to reduce the speed of the fly. I've seen fish charge it from across the river (all 20' of it) in flats and picked them up in riffles. For about 2 years (big return years for sure) I hit fish every time I tied it on.

    As an aside, in the same river, I have seen fish chase the 4" pink worm (also swinging at the end of a drift). 4" bright pink worm on the swing in water clear enough, you never lose sight of the worm. Except when it vanished into the fishes mouth.

    Somewhere, recently, I read something that really seemed to connect all the dots (for me) between the wide variety of flies and techniques that all seem to work under the same conditions. The writer said the goal with the file for steelhead was to present an offering that would not be missed, but also would not be visible for a long time, depriving the fish of time to make a choice. The implied logic I concluded (that I agree with) is that if the fish is deprived of choice, it is likely to select the "kill it" option, not the ignore it.

    The cool thing about this is, you end up with lots of paint on your pallet. In clear water, you could dead drift or gently swing small drab patterns. Or make short rapid presentations of larger flies. Or skate flies which will come in and out of a fishes cone of view pretty quickly if the fish is a couple of feet down.

    I don't think I'll ever solve this mystery, but its fond to ponder.

    I am sure others have the exact opposite experience as I do, which also makes thinking about this puzzle interesting.
     
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  3. Yard Sale

    Yard Sale Active Member

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    So often I see folks fishing small sparse unweighted flies in low and clear. Lately I have taken a different approach. I've been fishing light colored and super flashy but HEAVY flies.

    My theory is that in clear water fish find refuge in fast or deep water. Hasn't paid off yet but it sure feels fishy....
     
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  4. soundflycaster

    soundflycaster Member

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    When I fished spoons all the time I was astonished how big and bright chunk of metal they would hammer with abandon. When is got serious about fly fishing I did not get the whole down size thing. I have always stayed with big and bright no matter what the water conditions. I have had good success this way. When I did try small and drab I did not get much interest. When I went back to the big stuff on a run I just covered I would hook up.
     
  5. David Dalan

    David Dalan 69°19'15.35" N 18°44'22.74" E

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    While it is very anecdotal, in the Skagit Master 2 DVD Scott Howell uses a pretty big copper prom dress to swing up a fish in cold and clear conditions. I think he even mentioned that they were basically spoon/plug imitations.
     
  6. James Waggoner

    James Waggoner Active Member

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    The small and drab strategy has worked for me. Bright and medium has done the trick as well as the tried and true black and blue bunny leach.

    Small and drab is probably sound advise but my lack in real confidence in it has severely handicapped my efforts to depend on it religiously.

    Low and clear winter water is my least desirable condition to fish.

    James
     
  7. A bead Will out fish a spoon ten to 1
     
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  8. Yard Sale

    Yard Sale Active Member

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    Agreed James. Just experimenting. My go to low flow cold as a mofo fly

    image.jpg

    Evan, first person I have ever put on ignore. Quit trying so hard.
     
  9. David Dalan

    David Dalan 69°19'15.35" N 18°44'22.74" E

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    Thats a great looking fly. Something about the gold and red just looks right.
     
  10. trust me i aint trying
     
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  11. Andrew Lawrence

    Andrew Lawrence Active Member

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    Except for when I fish Upper Columbia tributaries during the fall, I prefer using bright flies (weighted and un-weighted) pretty much year round. However, I vary the size of my fly depending on the water temperature, where the fish are holding, and the size of the river. For example, a lot of the time I don’t really feel the need to decrease my fly size when fishing larger rivers in what would be considered low, clear, and cold conditions. On the other hand, if I am fishing s smaller river (same conditions as noted above) where the fish might be holding in heavier water, I might use a weighted fly that is ¾ to ½ the size of the one that I was using on the larger river. I really only use my smallest flies in low clear conditions in mid to late summer. Anyhow, this is just based on my own experiences. I’m sure many others probably have differing opinions.
     
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  12. James Waggoner

    James Waggoner Active Member

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    That's a nice looking tie....I'd fish that in conditions you suggest, if you handed it to me. Red is not my color, I'd struggle at the bench trying not to tie that in blue and black or all black with a bit of chartreuse. I brighten up my limited selection of choice in colors, black, blue and purple, with various amounts of accent color and flash material.

    There was a time when I saved every fly I landed a steelhead with and probably half were surprisingly poor ties, most where no name self creations and less than five on commercially purchased flies.

    James
     
  13. Jeremy Floyd

    Jeremy Floyd fly fishing my way through life

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    I think fishing pressure has more to do with it than the water being clear. Fly choice for me reflects my gut feeling of how much shit the fish has has dragged in front of it recently, that is has had to move out of the way of.
     
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  14. HauntedByWaters

    HauntedByWaters Active Member

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    Are we talking low and clear in winter? Or low and clear in the summer?

    Two different scenarios with two different types of steelhead.

    I go big in the winter in these conditions and small in the summer.
     
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  15. Charles Sullivan

    Charles Sullivan dreaming through the come down

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    I caught steelhead this fall on 4 inch intruders, sunk and size 8 brown dries, in the same run. I don't think it matters for wild summers.

    When the local river was open in Feb. I hit a bunch of fish on smaller flies in cold clear water. These were heavly pressured fish as you had to cast between the sleds at times. I like casting smaller better so that's what I used. I think they'd have taken big too as the sled jockeys were hitting them with pink worms and jigs etc.

    I guess I'm saying that I don't think it matters in any amount that you can find a pattern. I just go through small and high first and deep and big second if I can.

    One thing that I do know is that wild fish rock.

    Go Sox,
    cds
     
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  16. Lex

    Lex Active Member

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    Was just thinking the same thing. His shit is getting old.
     
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  17. underachiever

    underachiever !

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    The ignore feature of this forum is very effective. It can really increase the signal to noise ratio.
     
  18. Drifter

    Drifter Active Member

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    This thread has me needing to ask some questions about "CLEAR WATER" you see i took a trip to the OP some 15 years ago when it had not rained in the whole region for at least 2 1/2 weeks. I was headed to forks to fish the famous OP rivers and on the way checked out quite a few rivers.

    First was going over the famous Green river I had read and heard so much about! It's was a horrible brown-green color, I was shocked at it's color and baffled at the same time. The Puyallup river was even more disgusting looking for no rain in so many weeks.

    I drove up either the sky or sno river knowing of it's fame and there was only about 2 feet visibility and it had a milky green like summer snow melt color to it! Now this being late February I knew this river with no rain for weeks should of been clear, again I was shocked and did not understand the low visibility of it's flows for the very little or "NO" rain for weeks. As I drove it seemed every river was like this. I stopped at the Bogey to check it out because I wanted to float it one of the 5 day's I was there and i couldn't believe at the very best it only had 2 1/2 feet visibility. This being a smaller river which I would think would not be effected by glacier influence I again couldn't believe the color. When I stopped at the local fishing shop I mention the stopping at the bogey and how dirty it was and the shop guy asked how much visibility does it have and I said maybe 2 1/2 feet - He got all excited and said "THAT'S GREAT" and proceeded to say he would float it the next day.

    Now it seemed the only two rivers I saw on the whole trip that were above the Cowlitz that were remotely clear were the Sol duc and the Quanault and maybe the Calawah.

    When my daughter moved up to the Seattle area about 2 years ago she came back home one trip and started saying how weird the river were in the area, She stated she couldn't believe all these people standing elbow to elbow fishing in mud! She had driven all over the area to find a river that was clean enough to maybe swim or wade in or just hang-out and she could not find any. after two years she is still very, how would you say - "SHOCKED" about not being able to find clean water to have recreation in, or even want to fish.

    Now all this may sound like I am bashing the rivers up north but actually just sharing my experience from someone from a different region that has floated and steelhead and salmon fished the rivers in northern Oregon and s.w. Washington all his life which would be some 40 years. Even my 18 year old daughter was shocked at the difference in the water quality of the two regions!

    So I guess my questions would be what is clear water to you fisherman up north? 3 feet? 5 feet? 8 feet visibility?

    In my region if it hasn't rained for 4 or 5 day's our rivers have 5 to 8 feet visibility and constantly run like this until we get heavy rain which will dirty rivers for a few days but for the most part only "GREEN THEM UP NICELY"
    Most of the time on the sandy, clack, wilson, trask, nehalem, molala, and well, just about every river in the area from the coast to the hood river the rivers run clear and when you talk about clear water to me it means 5 to 8 feet visibility which is what we fish about 70 percent of the time!

    I had to figure it was the region? That Mt. Rainier has a much different snow pack and a lot more glacier flow feeding the rivers in the whole region. Either that or the region has logged and clear cut all of it's drainages to almost complete destruction of it's rivers. Given that and the possible destruction of so much habitat at the rivers banks that they never really run clear. I base all this on being in the region during cold temps and had watched rain amounts for some 3 weeks and was actually concerned about conditions and river flows would not be in our favor for floating (to low and CLEAR) for the week.

    I am hoping this is a geological thing for your whole region and not pure destruction of river water quality through over population. This has concerned me ever since I took the trip and have never been back to the region. Just really don't need to I have plenty of beautiful rivers in my areas to fish that actually run a blue color 70 percent of the time.

    I guess I need to be educated on the differences and why they are so extreme? We do get snow melt in the summers that effect the water color to a "milt" color when temps run 80 and above for weeks or a month at a time and snow melt from Mt Hood silts the water up.

    As far as color and clear water I always stay away from orange and greens in clear water, pinks and peach are always a better choice or a toned down red like the fly posted. For 20 years the best lure on the sandy was the pink pearl corky in a #10 because of it's clear water. Blacks and purple of coarse are a good choice and one of our favorite plugs in the stillwaters above Bonneville is copper. I never liked pulling plugs in the rivers although low cold water it's hard to say it doesn't work. There is something about copper that steelhead like. I also use it to wrap trout fly bodies instead of gold and brass wire.

    I also kind of understood the 12 to 14 foot fly rods and throwing half a chicken sized fly in the waters up north. Heck from what I saw it would be what it takes for a steelhead to even see the fly. For low-cold-clear waters IMO it simply isn't needed.
     
  19. WT

    WT Member

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    This is good stuff. Makes me wonder about leader and tip length in these conditions?
     
  20. David Dalan

    David Dalan 69°19'15.35" N 18°44'22.74" E

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    FWIW, when i say clear, i mean i can see to the bottom everywhere, except riffles where the slosh obscures.
     

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