December 15, 2012
These fish aren't stupid
I actually got to wet a line myself today at Eagle Canyon. I arrived at 8:30am and fish were visible feeding on or near the surface. Rarely would a minute go by when I didn't see a fish roll. I started out with a brown rubberlegs size 8 and a size 16 pheasant tail under an indicator. This rig usually does the trick. I spaced the first fly 2 feet under the indicator and the 2nd fly two feet below the first fly. I made about 4 casts, leaving each one out for about 2 minutes. No luck. I switched the bottom fly to a chartreuse sucker spawn, which is for unknown reasons one of the best flies at the lakes. Again, no interest.
Since fish were visibly feeding near the surface, I took a different approach. I tied on a size 18 pheasant tail with no bead and no flash to a long 5X leader. I put floatant on the leader all the way to the fly to keep the fly up near the surface. This is called greasing the leader. I made one long cast and did a retrieve as slow as I could stand it. 30 seconds later I had a fish on, a nice 5# rainbow. I landed the fish and pulled my size 18 pheasant tail out of its jaw.
Here are a few pointers and observations that pertain to fishing Eagle Canyon, especially on a cold mid-winter day:
#1: Change flies and techniques frequently. Take my experience today. It took me 15 minutes, two fly changes, and one change in technique to hook a fish. There are a lot of fish in the lakes. If you try something for ten minutes and it doesn't work, try something else. In ten minutes you can be sure that one or more fish has seen your offering. Change flies and/or techniques. If you see fish feeding near the surface, make sure your fly is near the surface. If they're not feeding near the surface, get your fly deeper. Try big flies, small flies, wacky flies, flies with beads, flies without beads, flashy flies, drab flies, you get the idea?
#2: The fish at Eagle Canyon are not stupid. Believe me, if we could make them be stupid all the time, we would. On Opening Day and throughout Opening Week the fish are pretty easy to fool, but they adapt quickly to their environment. They learn from getting hooked. Early in the season they fall victim to lots of big flies and fast retrieves. The fish learn to avoid large flies that are moving fast. They also learn about tippet. Early in the season you can fool fish with 2X tippet. By now we are one month into the season and the fish are smarter. It is often necessary to use 4X and 5X tippet, especially when fishing small flies.
#3: You can expect different behavior from these fish at different times of year. Mid-winter, the water temperatures are colder. The insects available to the fish are smaller and less active. You may need to try smaller flies (size 16-20) and fish them on a very slow retrieve or under an indicator. In November and again in late February through mid-April, temparatures can be warmer. The fish are more active this time of year and so are the bugs. When the water is warmer you will see more fish cruising and rolling since they are feeding more actively and aggressively. They also venture into the shallow water more when the lakes are warmer. Today, by contrast, it almost snowed on us. The water was cold, but fish were still midging and could be caught using the right fly and technique.
#4: We don't feed the fish in the lakes. Since we don't feed the fish, it's a safe bet that the fish are ALWAYS feeding on something. It's up to you to figure out what it is. The fish in the lakes feed on natural insects and other critters like pollywogs, leeches, snails, and baitfish. That means you need to match the hatch. Sometimes these fish will eat wacky flies like purple woolly buggers or chartreuse egg patterns, but more often it is necessary to fish something that imitates a food source that is currently available.
#5: We can't gaurantee success. We can gaurantee that the fish are in the lakes, that the fish have been properly rested before you arrive, and the rest is up to you. Just like fishing any other destination, there will be days when you solve the puzzle and catch fish, and there will be days when the fish get the upper hand. On a cold winter day, hopefully these pointers will help you to solve the puzzle.