We have had a rough summer with very little rain as has most of the state. It's meant that our usual river flow of 500 or so is now hovering around 250 which is crazy low for us.
The good news -- the fish are still there, the water is staying cool, and they are packed into deeper slots and holes. But man they can get grumpy. I guess I would to, It's like moving from 40 acre ranch to a downtown high rise.
September is always a challenging tweener month but in these conditions it's even more so. So my game plan, if you can even call it that, is to dial expectations way down and dial my adaptaptation way up.
For starters, I want to take spooking fish out of the equation as much as possible. Staying low, sneaking up on runs more, watching my cast and shadows. Being slow and methodical in the highest quality water. The fish are there, it's my job not to spook them to give myself a chance.
I hate fishing small fine tippets and super long leaders, but in these conditions I have to if I'm going to have a shot with these spooky fish. For leader I'll add 2-3 feet of 5x or 6x tippet onto a 3x 9ft leader. That little bit can make a big difference in low clear water.
Next, and this is the messy part, is fly selection. I definitely go down a couple sizes. The fish are going to have an easy time seeing what I'm throwing, so no such thing as too small.
I missed one of our crazier hatches by a couple days -- the flying ant hatch -- which gets every fish in the river all turned on. But I was a day late and a dollar short. So, it was time to get creative. I rooted around through some of my old journal notes for clues (yes I take notes occasionally and man it has helped me out more than once). My former self had pretty good luck switching from my usual stonefly patterns to smaller black bodied patterns -- black beetles, small black copper johns, small black foam chubbies, small black ants. You get the drift, I had missed the ant hatch by many days, but the fish were still a bit dialed in to the profile.
So with hopper dropper rigged up, a small ugly black foam cicada patern that looked more like a jacked up beetle-ant thing and a small black copper john trailing off the back I was in business. The fish had good things to say about my fly choice. Sure there were many snooty examinations of that floating abomination but it worked, several nice fish fell for it and several more fell for the copper john. And yes, I tried a couple different ant patterns just for giggles, but no joy.
Given the conditions and a schedule that forced my timing to fish bright noon day sun all was good, very good. It was a stunner of a late summer day with a few nice fish that made it even better. And that low clear water wasn't all that bad...and it sure showed me how many fish we are blessed to have in this wonderful river.