Sunday, 3 January 2010

Dredging for Winter Trout

Just back from Oregon, Garrett and I fished Gray Reef on the North Platte. Air temperatures around 28°F, it was overcast early and then cleared up in the late afternoon. We got on the water around noon and fished until the sun set. Amazingly, aside from some guys fishing from a drift boat below the boat ramp there was no one else there when we arrived. Downstream the river was slushy and not much farther down it was frozen. It looked like you might have been able to walk across the Platte four miles downstream at the Government Bridge access.  During the day a pair of fly fishermen showed up and then later a single angler came. None of them lasted too long. The single was throwing a Spey line. There were some duck hunters up on the impoundment.

Garrett was fishing the Beulah 10'6" 7/8 switch rod I got him for Christmas with the matching Elixer line (with no head) and a 12 foot leader, with an indicator, an AB splitshot and a green leech pattern as the main fly and various others for the dropper. He was hooking up all day on the leech pattern, landing around eight fish. I was fishing my Sage 9' 8 weight RPLX with a floating line and a 10 foot leader with an indicator, one or two number 4 split shot and midge patterns. I didn't do as well as he did (as usual) but I did hook up with four fish and landed one; a rainbow about seventeen inches.

The weeds were bad, worse than I remember seeing there. Apparently there was an issue with the dam this fall and the normal yearly flush did not occur. I'm sure the guides and flyshops will deny it but it seems to both of us that the average size of the fish has decreased significantly in the past couple of years. An average size fish below the dam used to measure around twenty inches and often larger; now the average size seems to be more between sixteen and eighteen inches. Garrett did not land one fish that he thought was over eighteen and mine certainly was closer to seventeen inches. Obviously these are beautiful fish and would be considered big most anywhere else, but the average sizes are not as large as they once were. All the hype about Gray Reef being the Big Fish destination in the lower 48 might have something to do with it. In warmer weather the run below the dam is lined with fishermen, five or six to a side, all day every weekend.

I've always though of the reef as a small fly tailwater and have been successful with midge patterns.  Garrett's success using the leech pattern has me thinking about that.  My hookups all came on a size 20 or smaller red midge larva pattern;  a bit of red thread on the hook with a rib of red wire.  My current theory is this: when the fish turned on for about an hour or so around two, they were happy to take my tiny offering.  At the other times, with the near freezing water and their sluggish metabolisms the bigger fly, fished slower and deeper, was just enough more appealing for them to take.  I came home and tied up some leech patterns.

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