How to fish the Thin Blue Lines

MGTom

Living at the place of many waters
WFF Supporter
I am no expert, just a guy with over 50 years experience doing this stuff. All I know is what I've picked up in my experiences, and I'm sure I don't know everything.I'm going to share what I do, in hopes that others will contribute to help educate me as well. I also figured it was an easy title for the "new member" to search instead of that post "i'm new, where do I go and what fly works", along with the good natured teasing and subsequent "Welcome to the Forum" if they survive.
Step 1, Do your research. Get an atlas for big picture reconnaissance. Find the area that you are interested in, maybe you hear about something or just want to explore. Look for the green land, like for the national forest. Public land is easiest to access, although I knock on a lot of doors. Once you have a general area get a more detailed map like a 7.5' Quadrangle, or use the internet to search your counties GIS, if they have one, for boundaries and ownership. You may have selected a place, great, if not move your finger onver the page and put it down, that's where your going. Check the fishing rules pamphlet to make sure it's open and what rules there are, then check for emergency rules that may be in effect. The WDFW has a good phone app that finds you by your GPS then shows rules. Other products may have boundaries, ect.
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Step 2, Mobilize and travel
Check that you have gas, all licenses, gear, and food and water that you may want and load the rig so things don't move. Only the put items you are actually going to use into the rig. Anything else just makes your rig more of a target to would be thieves. Go pee, grab the coffee, check the rig for gear again then head out. When you get to your destination park where you hope to be safe. My rig is basically empty for this so after I park I crack the windows. If someone want's in they can wire hanger it, and not bust up the rig. A good sign 40 minutes from home.
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Setep 3 Hike in, enjoy the walk, don't be in too big a hurry, life goes by pretty fast, and if you don't stop to smell the roses you'll miss it. Besides, for skinny water you don't need to be early.
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Step 4, Prepare to fish. Carefully approach the water so as not to spook anything and take a look. The book says you should fish upstream first, but your choice, I often go down. Take a look at the water, then walk up and have a look at the life, I see lots of caddis (sorry bad pic) and a couple mayflies and stonefiles around. I'll use a caddis immitation, always works for me.
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Now I went over, stung my rod, straightened my leader, affixed tipped and got ready to tie on my fly when I see all these ants. Now I know ant imitations are good so I go with that. The natural agrees.
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Step 5, Time to fish. If you have not read the Curtis Creek Manifesto you need to. It's not just a cute cartoon, it's the best book on fishing this type of water out there. This is where my finger lead me. Notice the big boulder on the right 1/2 way down the run. I've already picked that as Spot A. Experience tells me the best fish is there. I will not get there for 30-45 minutes. I will fish it all from where I am to up over the top, considering every inch as possible holding water.
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I'm going to work my way up the left side, casting 10-15' upstream and drifting the fly as naturally as possible. Sometimes I will be at the edge of water and sometimes hiding/ crawling it the grass. Nothing happens until I get to the first two rocks at the bottom right of the pool. Half casting, half dapping with the ant I'm in business. If you get skunked or this is all you find, don't be surprised.
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Now it's taken me about 15 minutes to get to the boulder. I got one more OK fish. I'm very gently and quietly working to a point about 5' below the boulder and on the opposite side kneeling at the edge of water. I stay here motionless for what seems like 5 minutes just looking at the water and enjoying god's/the great spirits creation.
I'm gonna Tenkar this. I loop the line purposefully once around the tip once before the tiptop. This keeps the line from falling back thru the guides, yet leaves me able to cast and use drag, I'm gonna need it. I dance the ant on top, then let it sink, lift, another fish. I see a really nice one flash out next time but not again. I bring my rig in and tie on a light edson tiger, because I've seen many minnows too, and swim it behind the rock with my rod. BAM! There it is and it's going down river. I do my best Brad Pitt to keep this guy from swimming all the down to the logjam. I don't want to fly him back upstream. Then I saw it and felt bad, the hook got him in the eye. I think it was BobR who said this is a blood sport. If he lives super, but otherwise I'm afraid it's crawdad or bird food.
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I ended up with 7 fish in this piece of water alone. I gave a big shout out to whomever is upstairs.
Upon getting home I rinsed all the gear with clean water, wiped the line with a flannel and dressing, and put it all up to dry.
Please feel free add your 2 cents, and I hopes this helps someone.
 

Old Man

A very Old Man
WFF Supporter
Good grief you are through. All that work for just some 7" fish. I throw my gear in the Pick up and go for a drive. I don't stop to smell the flowers because I've seen them all before. It's summertime so I wet wade. No need to carry waders. I usually start out with a size 16 or 18 Royal Wulff. Parachute if I have one. Grease up the dry so it floats good. But I don't sneak up on the fish. The water in that little creek is quite rolly so you don't have to sneak. I usually hook up three rods as I shake quite bad so I make sure I have a steady place to tie up at. One with a dry, one with two nymphs and one with a small dry and a dropper about 18 " behind the dry.

I usually drop a fly in the small pockets that are created by the rocks. If I fish the rapids I will throw on a caddis or a humpy. They both float pretty well. Both small flies.

The fish here in Montana act pretty dumb sometimes so you don't need to creep up on them. Whatever you do on that little creek don't cross that piles of logs until you can see that they will hold up your ass and not fall through them. You can get quite broken up if you fall through them. Don't ask me how I know.

When I do get out and fish I usually don't take any food along. I can stop at a local store to get something to tide me over till I get home. I'm kind of teetotaler when I fish. No need to get a buzz on while fishing. When I'm done for the day and because I'm fishing fresh water I don't bother with the clean up. I leave the mojo on the rods and flies for the next go around. Can't wash off the fish smell.

I have one special small skinny water that I like. You can see the fish swimming around as you drive up the gravel road to the first spot to fish. My creek is about 20' wide. With deep pools and fast water. And carries a lot of fish. Cutthroat, Browns, Rainbows, and Rocky mountain Whitefish. and also Grayling. I haven't got the full house yet but I've had three of the five on a trip there.
 

Rocking Chair Fan

No more hot spotting
@MGTom Great post!

I am a firm believer to approach the water very stealthily. Just enough to peak at the water and be able to watch it without being seen. No shadows on the water nor rods waving around here... I will usually watch for up to 10 minutes to look for shiny flashes on the bottom, feeding patterns, bugs floating by, fish movement, etc. It helps with the plan of attack. I almost always fish the edges before setting a foot in the water or casting further out. I prefer to fish upstream first but that can change based on the observations I just had...

I have seen too many people rush into the water right where the fish were and have a hard time catching fish (go figure).
 

djl

New Member
Thank you! I am back, finally, to my birth state and beginning to explore, again, the beautiful waters here. I like your approach to slow down and take everything in. I tend to be far too excited to be on new water so this is a good reminder. Be well.
 

East Coaster

Active Member
Nice write-up @MGTom , but I'm more in @Old Man 's camp on some aspects. If it's my first time fishing a place like this, I'm not going to spend a lot of time trying to cover every inch of water. I'm going to the spots that I know should hold the bigger fish (those may only be 10-11" and I would be happy enough), because I want to get upstream (or down if I'm heading in that direction) to see if it's got some really nice deep pools and runs, and if it will be worth coming back. I'd hate to visit a place, only see/fish a small section, and judge it to be okay, then find out years later that if I had just ventured up another half mile, there's some really great water (and yes, that happened to me when I was first starting out fishing the little blue lines).

I also find that fly selection seldom makes a big difference on nutrient-poor freestoners (at least the ones here in the east) as long as they're not heavily pressured. I'll look to see if there's anything hatching or about to, and if not, will just use an ant pattern from May to Sep. In colder weather, I find that most any non-specific nymph (e.g., GRHE, PT) will catch fish.

I'm not sure I'd ever try or recommend your technique of looping the line around the tip-top to simulate a Tenkara set-up. Haven't ever had an issue with line falling back thru the guides, and it just seems like a recipe for a broken tip if you hook a decent fish that decides to bolt. I guess it's worked for you, but I don't think a newbie should try it because if they get it wrong, it's a costly error.
 

MGTom

Living at the place of many waters
WFF Supporter
I'm not sure I'd ever try or recommend your technique of looping the line around the tip-top to simulate a Tenkara set-up. just seems like a recipe for a broken tip if you hook a decent fish that decides to bolt. I guess it's worked for you, but I don't think a newbie should try it because if they get it wrong, it's a costly error.
It's just like you wrapped around the rod between guides, not looped. Used it with that rod for 40 years and caught dozens and dozens of 4-6# cutts and big goldens with this setup in the Bridger Wilderness and up in the Okanagon too. But yes, don't risk an expensive rod with something you don't trust.
 

Rocking Chair Fan

No more hot spotting
IMHO observing the water improves fishing/catching. It is easy to see where the small ones are at. Since most of us are looking for 'surprises', observing the water lets me know where the larger ones are at. It allows us to fish for ones we want to catch. Sometimes we cuss when we can not get through the dinkers to get to them. We can run pool to pool, riffle to riffle, tail out to tail out but the fish tell us where they are if we are observant... While we may think we know where they are, they are not always there.. I have seen larger fish in 2" of water in the shade near the edge when the dorsal is visible. Not where I thought they would be for sure.
 

MGTom

Living at the place of many waters
WFF Supporter
I have seen larger fish in 2" of water in the shade near the edge when the dorsal is visible. Not where I thought they would be for sure.
There are big fish in here, and yes you never know where. I keep reminding my son to fish his feet first but he just goes meat first. He's more like the other guys, hit it where you think the fish should be and move on. I used to be that way too. Downstream about 1/2 mi. is is where I hooked and lost the big bull trout a while back. And I think the first today was a little brown, so there are some of those still around too. I don't like to get skunked, but it's really not all about the fish for me anymore.
 

MGTom

Living at the place of many waters
WFF Supporter
@MGTom Great post!
I have seen too many people rush into the water right where the fish were and have a hard time catching fish (go figure).
Just above the log jam, to the left, is a grassy knob that sticks out to create a slick spot, about 12" deep. My son would have stood there to cast, hiding behind the grass to fish upstream. I fished it first, about 3 passes. Often that is where a fish would be in this river. You just never know.
 

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