Many of us go to a particular piece of water we know & love & so are very familiar with what fly to use in every condition there. But what if you’re traveling to unfamiliar waters? Well in that case, find a local fly shop or talk to a friendly local angler who can tell you what bugs are on the water & what imitations to use. Local information, when available, is always the most valuable.
Now let’s assume a scenario where you’re on a strange stream you don’t know & nothing is happening in way of insect activity & the water is high, cold, or very dirty (as it commonly is early in the season). A good choice of fly to start with would be a streamer. With a streamer you’re probably going to get at least one fish to move on the fly in these conditions & that will tell you where the fish are lying. Of course you stand to spook some fish with a streamer, too. However, in these conditions you have to do whatever you can to get any action & a fish that cannot see your fly won’t hit it.
If you’re on that same unfamiliar stream & the water is around, or above, 50 degrees & the water level is normal, you have a bigger range of fly choices. If the water isn’t very rich & a little shallow, try a dry fly. You can quickly cover a lot of water using a dry without spooking an entire pool of fish. While not always true, a good rule of thumb is that the thinner the water that’s holding fish, the better a dry fly will do.
The richer the water is – that is, the more oxygen & food in the stream flow – the better a nymph or a wet fly in general will do. Start fishing the riffles or any areas of cover you think a trout would hide in. Another good time to use a wet or nymph is when you see insects on the water, but no fish rising to them – especially in an area where you know there are trout. One last trick for wets/nymphs: if you’re catching trout on a dry fly in a shallow run that dumps into a deeper pool, tie on a wet or nymph & fish the deeper pool when you’re done with the rising trout.
No matter what fly type or tactic you’re using, remember that the fish need to see your imitation & that it looks natural to them. Generally, this means that you have to slow down nymphs & wets below the surface, usually with weight &/or learn how t swing the flies to get a natural looking lift to the fly as it passes through the water. With streamers you must experiment with the speed in which you strip the fly across the water & the depth of the fly. Making a dry fly appear natural means getting a drag free drift either by manipulating your line correctly or casting directly upstream. If you’re going to “skate” your dry across the surface, pay very close attention to the real bugs that are also skating & try to imitate their speed & movement as best you can.
Even parts of a familiar stream can look completely strange to you the fist time you fish them in the spring. Each winter can bring changes to a stream. So, if you open your fly box, or wallet, for the first time this year & aren’t sure what to tie onto the end of your line, consider the ideas above. I truly hope it helps you catch more trout.