Pressures On: Must have techniques and strategies for fishing highly pressured water: Part 1: Gear
All fisherman want to fish water that hardly ever gets fished and where trout never see artificial flies, but we can't always do that. Every once in a while you will find yourself fishing a section of water that gets fished by several fisherman a day. The trout become spooky, smart, and selective very fast. I am going to share some tips and strategies for fishing heavily pressured areas that will lead to greater success on the water.
Photo Credit: Tucker Horne
Thin for the win
There is a greater chance of trout eating your fly when you fish thinner tippet. There are two main reasons for this. The first reason is pretty obvious; there is less chance of a trout seeing tippet when it is thinner. Fish are smarter than we give them credit for and although we don't all want to admit it, they can occasionally see leader or tippet. That is why some of the worlds toughest fisheries, such as Silver Creek in Bellevue, Idaho, require an angler to use 6.5x and 7x tippet on a regular basis. Whenever you find yourself on a section of water when trout are not eating or are refusing your fly, instead of switching to a new pattern, first try using thinner tippet. If you are still getting refusals, then it is time to switch to a new fly, but most of the time the refusals are a result of poor presentation due to improper tippet.
The second benefit to fishing thinner tippet is it leads to better presentation. The more pressured a fishery is, the less fish will eat your fly if there is drag. Drag is caused when your fly is going at a faster speed then the water current. This speed increase will cause a wake behind your fly as it travels through the water which creates an unnatural drift. In order to prevent drag you need to have perfect presentation (which we will address in part two of this blog), but another way to prevent drag is to use thin tippet. By fishing thinner tippet you reduce drag on your fly because there is less volume and density that the water is pushing. The thicker the tippet, the more surface volume and that will result in a higher chance of unwanted drag. Although fishing tippet isn't a "one and done" way to prevent drag, it is still a very useful tool to have on the river.
Fish small flies
On heavily pressured water you can expect that the average size of a fly ranges from size 10-14 hooks. Larger flies are frequently used by fisherman, especially dry flies because they are easy to see, they float longer, and it is easier to tie on a fly with larger tippet. From my personal experience and the experience of other fishing guides, we have come to agree that fishing small flies on pressured water is one of the most effective ways to entice spooky trout to eat. The idea behind fishing a smaller fly is the fish are seeing something that doesn't get fished much and it can lead to a more accurate representation of a natural big. For example, if a fisherman before you was fishing a size 14 stimulator with a size 16 Rainbow Warrior dropper and you fish up behind them with a very similar setup, the chances of you catching fish go way down. Instead of fishing with a different fly pattern (which we will discuss later on in this blog) try sizing down your flies: Use a size 16 or 18 stimulator with a size 18 or 20 rainbow warrior. The smaller sized hooks might sound like a trivial difference now, but going down that extra size or two can make a huge difference.
Try something different
Let's say you arrive on a stretch of water that has most likely been fished several times that day. If you live or fish in an area that is fished by beginner fisherman, you can almost always assume that the previous fisherman were throwing classic flies such as Parachute Adams, Zebra Midges, Pheasant tails, etc. Instead of fishing one of these classic patterns, try something different. Even a slight variation of a fly pattern can entice a fish to eat. For example instead of using a standard zebra midge, try the D-B Nymph.
Another great way to get fish to eat your fly is to fish a pattern that you created or one that you believe rarely gets fished. I have experienced countless situations were the classic flies just won't catch fish. As great as flies such as the Elk Hair Caddis and Pheasant tails are, fish have learned to recognize these type of patterns and won't always eat them. Instead, I will fish a pattern that I know doesn't get fished much. If you tie flies try adding something new to a classic pattern. For example if you want to tie a Prince Nymph, instead of using peacock herl for the body, try using green dubbing. Even the slightest difference in a fly can be the difference between a 2 fish day and a 10 fish day.
Order of Operations
I created the acronym TSD which stands for Thin, Small, Different. TSD is the best order to go in when you aren't catching fish. T stands fort thin and when you aren't catching fish you should always start by switching to thinner tippet. If the thinner tipper doesn't work I then fish a smaller fly and if using a smaller fly doesn't work then you should try a different fly. The reason I go in this order is because of time management and efficiency. For example if I am fishing 5x with a size 18 Beatis dry and I am not catching fish I would try fishing 5.5x or 6x. You should always start with switching to thinner tippet first because the fish don't necessarily need a smaller fly, they just need better presentation. If you change to smaller tippet and still aren't catching fish then it is time to use a smaller fly. If you still aren't catching any fish then it is time to fish something different.