After Friday's somewhat disappointing results on a little brookie stream and excellent results on a warm water stream, I wanted to get out again to see if the size 26 gold bead head black Killer Bugger was or was not a good fly for trout. I already knew it was a great fly when fly fishing for micro fish but for trout I wasn't so sure. I had caught one small brookie with it, but that was on a stream with lots of brookies and I'd caught only one.
I remember reading somewhere that most of what a trout eats is black and 3/8" long. I don't remember who wrote it, but I think it was only half in jest. That may be as close to matching a hatch as you ever have to worry about - that is if you don't fish dry flies on extremely fertile streams with blanket hatches that trout key on. Then again, if you subscribe to the theory that if you fish a sakasa kebari you don't have to match the hatch at all, then you don't even need any 3/8" long black flies in your box. You'd be missing out, though.
It just so happens that a size 26 black Killer Bugger is black and about 3/8" long. I think the gold bead just gets their attention and is then dismissed as they key on the body and tail (very much like the hook, so obvious to us, also gets dismissed). Of course, the bead gets the fly down to where the trout are - when they're not somewhere else. The bead also helps to turn over the tippet, and if you are fishing with an extremely light line, that little bit of extra weight can be absolutely critical.
On Sunday I went to one of my old favorite streams. It was more of a favorite before Hurricane Sandy dropped numerous trees into and across the stream, and before the New York City Department of Environmental Protection decided to drop the flow to one third it's previous level. I still fish it, but not nearly as much as I did before. And each time I think I might not go back.
I often start the day in one particular pool that is directly below a shallow riffle. I suppose it is not news to anyone who has fished streams much, but it seems there are always trout right where a shallow riffle dumps into a pool. The pool does not have to be very large, and the riffle does not have to be very long or very wide, but the combo is a trout magnet.
On a good day, that one pool can yield up to six fish. On Sunday, I caught three, missed one for sure and maybe a second. The takes were so subtle that one of the times I thought the fly bumped a rock it could have been a fish (and in retrospect, probably was.)
The first fish in the net got it's picture taken. I've had enough fish slip out of my hand as I was getting the camera ready that if I really want a photo of a particular fish, I take the first shot while it's still in the net. And since Friday only yielded one trout, I was definitely going to get a photo of the first fish.
It turned out that I needn't have been concerned. Sunday was a "many" day. I generally lose count (which is part of the reason I went to the ancients' four number counting system of 1, 2, a few, many), but I would guess the total was between 15 and 20 fish, all wild browns. I know they were all wild because they were all smaller than the state stocks. The state doesn't stock the stream, but it does stock the reservoir the stream flows into, so larger fish could have been stockies. (Of course, since the city dropped the flow to a rock steady 11 CFS, I haven't caught any larger fish.)
I would guess that most of the fish were about 5-6" long, which is certainly long enough to put a good bend in a soft rod. Since I was just fishing soft rods - to better protect the 10X tippet I'd decided to use - that worked out just fine.
As on Friday, I did not break off any fish on the hook set. I did lose two flies, though, as fish wriggled out of my hand before I was able to get a hold on the tiny fly with my hemostats. The tippet got caught on my hand or the net, and since the fish got to the end of the slack before it got to the water, the tippet broke. Even a 5" fish, dropped from any height at all, will pop a 10X tippet.
Along with the 10X tippet and the softest rods I have, I also fished the lightest line I could get away with. I was able to get away with it only because my casts were short, the fly, small as it was, was weighted with a tungsten bead, and it was a bright sunny day. The line I started with was a Japanese line size .6 (equivalent to 6X tippet). It is the same line as the Varivas .8 Ayu line but the next size thinner. It's a high vis chartreuse, but hi-vis 6X is an oxymoron. Without the short casts and bright sun I wouldn't have been able to see it. Any marker on the line would have created too much wind resistance to cast a size 26 fly (I know, I tried).
Casting was the ultra ultra light equivalent of chuck and duck. I was casting the weight of the fly, not the line, but as I found a few weeks ago, with practice you can get pretty straight casts rather than just high arcing lobs.
I felt on Friday that the size 1.5 line I'd used was too heavy for fishing such a tiny fly. It sagged too much and ruined the drift. The .6 line solved the sagging problem. It is light enough that good drifts are possible with the tiniest of flies. I don't have the .6 in stock (other than the one spool I got in for evaluation), but the .8 Varivas Ayu line that I used later in the day also worked and was marginally easier to see.
I mentioned earlier that the strikes were subtle. Occasionally with Killer Bugs, Killer Buggers or manipulated Sakasa Kebari, you will see the line shoot forward a foot or sideways by several inches. Almost all the strikes on Sunday were just a tightening of the line. Those that weren't just a subtle tightening were cases when the fish hit just as I was picking up to make a new cast.
Even though the .6 line has very little sag, as you allow the fly to drift the line is not perfectly straight - at least until you have a fish. The line doesn't jerk, it doesn't twitch, it just straightens. It was occasionally a rock but much more often it was a fish. Even with a tungsten bead, the fly generally was not right on the bottom. On the one strike I saw, the fish clearly came up for it.
And when the line did straighten, just a slight raising of the rod tip was sufficient to hook the fish. By then, there was no slack and the line was perfectly tight. I did launch one fish, the little guy shown below, but the strike surprised me. I'd missed my target for the cast (casting the weight of the fly rather than the weight of the line is not very accurate) and the fly ended up much closer to shore in much shallower water than I had intended. I did not expect to get a strike in such skinny water and my reaction was more out of surprise than intention.
All in all, it was a very good day (I suppose most "many" days are). I now know that little wild trout do in fact eat little 3/8" long black things. Next I'll try for some (slightly) bigger fish in (slightly) bigger water: mostly stocked trout with a fair number of holdovers. I'm not sure how far a fish will move for such a small fly, so I suspect I'll have to fish more slowly and more thoroughly than I usually do.