When In Rome…

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Photo by Louis cahill

Photo by Louis cahill

By Jason Tucker

The saying goes “When in Rome, do as the Romans do.”

This can be good advice, both in travel and fly fishing. In fly fishing the locals often have knowledge of local hatches, runs and quirks of the local water, knowledge that is invaluable to your success on their water. But it doesn’t always hold true.

Several years ago my brother and I went up to Nipigon to see if it still lived up to its old reputation for producing big brook trout. When we arrived, the water was low and clear (still a raging torrent) the skies were clear and blue, and high pressure seemed to put a damper on the bite.

All the local guides were singing the blues, and no one seemed to be catching fish.

We had done our research and were hucking big sculpin and smelt patterns. We did this for two days with no results. The guides launched their boats where we were camping and every morning and evening we asked them how it was going and the reply was the same—slow.

No one was catching fish including yours truly, and then I got desperate. I started fishing the flies that work for me at home—Au Sable skunks, orange and copper foam hoppers, and of all things, mice. You know what? I started catching fish, and a lot of them.

The mouse bite was particularly exciting. The fish seemed to hit them from first light until about 11 in the morning. I had big fish blowing up on them, and finally landed a 22-inch beauty that weighed about three and a half pounds. Not the largest fish in that ocean, but better than anyone else I talked to that week, and I broke off or missed several that were much larger. I broke off a really big fish that hit a skunk, and then dove straight down the rocks into the depths. I had them blowing up on the Chernobyl.

My point is that we went at a slow time of year when everyone’s success was way down. The locals all seemed committed to fishing a pattern that works in the prime months of June and July, but not very well later in the season. Instead of trying other methods, they stayed locked into what wasn’t working at the time. We came along, and only having a short window to fish, we dispensed with the conventional wisdom and found success with the unconventional.

My friend and outdoor writer Dave Karczynski had a similar experience in Argentina in 2015. At first his guides insisted that he use the small classic streamers they were accustomed to throwing. But when the bite went off, Dave insisted on breaking out the big stuff. He says:

“It’s hard to find a fly too big for trout.”

That became clear to me early in my fishing when I caught a 9-inch brook trout on a 6-inch streamer. So whenever I go streamer fishing, I tend to start big and get smaller only if I have to. And oftentimes you don’t have to. On a trip to Northern Patagonia, I fished the opposite way, starting small, since my guides insisted on it. Fishing was okay, but once they let me throw the big stuff, fishing got great. By the end of the trip all the guides were throwing articulated patterns by Galloup, Lynch and Schultz on their days off.”

At the end of the trip he left his fly box with the guides and it has changed the way they fish.

This isn’t to say that if the permit bite is off on the flats that you can throw dry flies, but I am saying that sometimes it pays off to experiment until you find what works. Don’t be so dedicated to certain flies or methodology that you fail to catch fish. Locals often know what works in their area to catch fish, and the itinerant angler does well to heed their advice, but they can also be insulated from other techniques that haven’t made it to their area. If you have flies and techniques that have worked for you and the local wisdom isn’t producing, definitely change it up. You might be pleasantly surprised.

Jason writes the fine blog Fontinalis Rising

Jason Tucker

Gink & Gasoline
www.ginkandgasoline.com
hookups@ginkandgasoline.com
 
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4 thoughts on “When In Rome…

  1. I fish the Nip every couple weeks during the open season. Its closer for me than running to the Driftless. Hucking meat on a 600gr full sink skagit is fun. But it doesn’t always work. They are big trout, but they are still trout. Hopper,Copper, Droppers still have their momments on the big river. I’ve hit the big stone hatches a couple times, which can be a blast. I never head north without bringing a little bit of everything.

  2. So true! On my way home from a slow morning on a popular lake in South Park, Colorado last weekend, I did an exploratory jaunt to a little river that was still a little off-color and ‘fishing poorly’ (according to the internet and parking lot gossip). After 20 minutes of nothing on the usual nymphs that work in the area, I threw on a 4″ intruder pattern that I’ve been tying up. Immediate success. After 10 fish in the next hour, 8″-16″, I left with a smile on my face…

  3. To me the slow days have always been the days when the ahah! moments come as I experiment and above all else take the time to just observe what is going on. I have learned far more about the fish I am persuing by patiently observing their behavior than I ever have by actually fishing for them.

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