Tuesday, 20 July 2010

Slip indicator fishing.

Netting a rainbow that took a chironomid pattern. Photo Chris Knight
Old Flyfish@ mailing list friend Chris Knight passed through Northern CO in late July on a western roadtrip and we arranged to meet at one of the more famous plains lakes in North Park.  Chris and I have fished before in the early 1990's on Skaneateles Lake in upstate NY, mostly we've been email correspondents for a long time.  It was great to see him after many years and to catch up on the doings of other former (and some still current) @Flyfish members and it was a chance to fish a lake I've been wanting to fish for  a few years.

Chris with the ubiquitous fishing cigar.

A few years ago, at the University of Wyoming Flyfishing Symposium, I saw Jack Dennis give a talk about lake fishing.  He showed a video of Brian Chan demonstrating his rather technical methods of fishing chironomids that Chan and others have developed for lakes in British Columbia and eastern Washington.  The plains lakes here in WY and CO have incredible midge populations so the tactics should work here as well, though I  do not known of of anyone who has really figured out how to adapt Chan's methods for the local lakes (and neither did Jack Dennis when he gave his talk.)  Seeing the video Jack showed was impetus for me to buy the Spring Creek Pram I've been using for lake fishing since.

Admiring the effective slip indicator.

The basic technique is based on the slip indicator.   It allows the use of long leaders (30' or more); when you hook a fish, the indicator slides down the line to the fish so you can land them.  Imagine trying to land a fish if you have an indicator preventing you from bringing the fish in closer than 30'.  These long leaders can be necessary to get the fly down to the level where the fish are feeding.

These slip indicators are hard to find and hard to figure out.  In fact, it's been down right frustrating to find any concrete information on them at all.  Check out this video with Brian Chan that claims to show how to use them.  See if you can figure out how to rig one based on his description ( between 18 - 30 seconds in the video); I can't.  Joni, The Utah Fly Goddess has  the only really clear explanation of how to rig one of these that I've seen - it took me a long time to find this. Thank-you Joni.  She also sells them on her web-site.    If you don't know exactly what you're looking for it's hard to find.  Neither flyshop in Laramie has slip indicators nor does the fly shop at Gray reef.  The guys working in those shops "have heard of them" or "had some once" but don't have them now. On our way to the lake to meet Chris, we stopped at the North Park Anglers in Walden.  They had something called the plumbbobber].  It's not the same type of slip bobber Brian Chan or Joni use, but they did come with instructions and I stocked up on these overpriced bobbers in various sizes.

Chris called on the cell phone just as we stopped at the shop and said to "Hurry up!", that the Callibaetis were coming off and the fish were rising everywhere.  When we arrived, Chris was out in his float tube.

Dry fly purist Chris Knight.

The lake we were fishing is known for extraordinarily large brown trout and I was hoping to hook up with one. It took me quite a while to rig up and get the pram in the water, and by the time I did, the hatch was over. No matter, I'd come to fish midges deep. I rigged up with two midge pupa patterns hanging fourteen feet below the slip indicator, they were rigged with a small  split-shot to help them get down. I did manage to hook four fish and land three, all nice rainbows, but not the big brown I was looking for. They were all around 15"-17".  Garrett wandered down the bank and hooked up with a few similar sized rainbows, also on a midge pupa pattern fished deep.

It turns out that Chris is what is known as a dry fly purist; apparently he takes after Fredrick M. Halford.  There aren't many left. As far as I can tell, they mostly hang on the Henry's Fork at Harriman Ranch or on the Beaverkill in NY.  Chris had decided before heading west not to taint his tippet with a nymph of any kind.  One of his custom rods is inscribed "Death before strike indicators."  Chris' main objective for the trip was the small cutthroat streams (all apparently named Frenchman's Creek) in central Colorado and northern New Mexico.  I was sorry he wouldn't take the midge and slip bobber I offered and rig up to match the hatch, even if it was 14 feet below the surface. To each his own.
After lunch, Garrett took off in the pram.  Chris and I  fished until the wind came up in float tubes; no luck. Chris did catch a nice fish on a dry in the late afternoon after we moved over to the Michigan River to get out of the wind.

Garrett takes off in the pram, the fish are always bigger on the other side of the lake.

When Garrett got back he told us the story of the one that got away, a state record for sure.


  1. It was a very nice day, made all the better by getting to poke fun at your terminal tackle. I got through most of a cigar just watching you try to rig up that slip bobber. :)

    You forgot to mention the 4 lbs of cholesterol we had for dinner in town afterwards. Burp!

  2. Oh right ... the famous chicken fried steak at the Antlers Inn cafe in Walden. Famous because it was apparently mentioned in National Geographic magazine.