Al Campbell, Field Editor

July 26th, 2004

Saving Water, Part 2
Al Campbell

When I'm on a river far from home, I stop in at least one fly shop to buy licenses and some local patterns. I often visit them all, especially if I'm new to the area, but there is always one place where I spend some cash, even though it's often small. On the Bighorn River, that place is the Bighorn Trout Shop. I know the place, several of their guides are friends, they have always treated me well, and to top it off, they are sponsors here on FAOL.

I often take my fly tying stuff to the river. In fact, this is the first year I didn't have it along. I figured I probably have enough of anything real important to get me by. To top it off, there is always the Bighorn Trout Shop. So, here I am in the shop buying licenses, looking stuff over and shooting the breeze, when I spot this large pile of flies in boxes. They were baetis midges and pupae, and each dozen was just $7.00. I asked about them and some young guy told me they were a special buy, but they worked fine. I'm not totally sure I believe his story, but I do know that there are baetis midges in the river at that time, and I don't care to tie up the adults, so I bought a dozen of each. We picked up a few other goodies our local guide friend told us about and went to the river.

Backing up a bit, Erik and I stopped at the river the first night we were there to just look things over. When we got there, there were hundreds or rises all over the place. I don't mean just a few, I mean hundreds, but nobody was fishing them. So, I asked my guide friend later that evening what those fish were. He said they were trout, but mostly small ones. OK, I can fish small trout. That is especially true when the river is low and some folks are harping about low catch numbers. I'm also aware that there are large fish among the small ones, so this shouldn't be a bad thing. I asked my friend why they didn't guide that stretch, and just got the smile, which means it isn't a place to guide, if you know what I mean. However, that doesn't mean I can't fish it.

On that first fishing day, I rigged up two nymphs, no weight, and a strike indicator up about 8 feet above the flies. There are several reasons I do this. First, my eyes are getting old, so having something like an indicator on a big river can be helpful. Second, I like to let my stuff drift, so an indicator makes that easier. And, (this is the most important) to anyone looking at what I'm using, it looks like I have a standard weighted nymph rig like everyone else throws on that river. No sense giving it all up without a fight now is there; nobody ever knows what I'm using unless I tell them.

The top fly I used was the baetis nymph I bought at the fly shop. It actually caught about 30 fish per day too. However, the bottom fly was the killer, and I usually changed it three times per day. The fish will tell you if you're using the wrong fly by not biting on every cast. However, my casts aren't like most people cast. I stand in the water and cast out and down, then follow the indicator until it has settled into the slack water below me. Most of the time, I had very little action until the fly had settled into the slow water. Then, I would twitch the rod tip slightly and allow the line to travel toward the bank and if needed, back out toward the middle. It usually took less than two feet of travel to get a hit.

The first fly I used on the bottom of my string was a red baetis nymph, sizes 18 to 22, tied with red lace (your choice) and a red bead right behind the eye. By red, I mean real, bright red; the kind of color you might want on the tip of a cattle prod. The brighter and redder it was, the better the results were. If you want a visual, check out this link. All you need to do is add a red bead and make the color as red as possible. This is always one of my favorite Bighorn flies.

When the fish slow down on that fly, I replace it with a Fall Midge Emerger. Here is a visual for that fly. I tie it in sizes 18 to 22, and usually use mink hair for the body, horsehair for the rib and pine squirrel hair for the wing. It only works for an hour or so, but that time can be grand.

The third fly I used, and the one I used the most was a Too Simple Ray Charles. Here is a link for that fly.

I tie it in sizes 14 to 18, and use the brightest red thread I can find for the head. I rib mine with gold wire for durability, but other than that, it is the same as I showed here in that article. More than once I had a fish on that managed to get off, and hooked another before I could cast again. It is a killer, if used right.

One last thing; I'm going to repeat the way I fished those flies one more time. It is very important that you follow these rules if you want to get the best fishing out of it. Cast downstream, and fish the slack water below you. You will catch more fish less than three feet from the bank that you will in the swift current. Don't use weight on your line. NONE!!! The fish are picking off emergers in that slack water and they are feeding just under the surface. Weight will drop the flies too low to be effective. And, stay near the place where the boats are put in below the Afterbay Dam. If you move as slowly as I do, you might get half a mile downstream in one day, if you are in a hurry.

Afterbay Dam

I'm fully aware that maybe one in ten will actually try this, but those guys will have a great time. The rest of you can have all the fun you want with the other guys downstream. Next week, I will show more of the water and how crowded it really can get. ~ AC

Previous Al Campell Columns

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