Tactics for streams in the Mt. Hood National Forest
Most mid-summer aquatic insects are usually small. Many are tiny. Size #16 to #20 flies are common. Hatches are going to be mostly caddis, mayflies and midges. Nymphs, wet flies, emergers, spinners and terrestrials can all be in the mix. Shallow oxygenated riffles are often prime trout holding areas when water temperatures are above 60 degrees. Any place where water spills and creates bubbles cascading into deeper fish holding water should get your special attention.
In larger rivers and tail-water fisheries, there will be intermittent hatches much of the day, but the best insect activity will be at first light and last light. During these low light hours, behavioral drifts of insects plays a big part in trout feeding, especially early in the morning. Drifting tiny nymphs can be very productive during the period between dark and daylight. Be alert. Noisy wading can ruin the best water. When fishing trout in shallow water, the best approach is “stalk more cast less.” Use your eyes. Be alert.
During the hot part of the day, dehydration can be a real factor for aquatic insects, so the ones that hatch during midday get off the water and into the shade as quick as possible. Many midday hatches produce a high percentage of cripples. During the day, look for shady spots along the edges of the river. Slow back-eddies often collect dead and dying insects. This kind of water produces most of the trout feeding action while the sun is on the water.
A good rule of thumb during hot weather periods is that high elevation streams are normally cooler than low elevation streams. If you are fishing mountain streams where fish can migrate, fish often move upstream for cooler water during summer. They also seek out areas with the highest oxygen content.
Get Organized – Your pack is your office on the river!
Hiking requires different organization than fishing with a boat. If you are going long distance in rugged terrain, every ounce of weight matters. For hiking, sling-packs are better than vests. Bring a water bottle to stay hydrated, and carry a few high energy snacks. If you are travelling on a big river with a boat, you can bring any amount of gear with few problems. If you are hiking, one or two smaller fly boxes are all you will want to carry, but you still need flies to fit a wide range of possibilities. But you only need three of each size and color. You can put dries, emergers, nymphs, and terrestrials all in one fly box, if it is the right box.
In your pack you should carry a three pack of each of the following size leaders: 9’ – 4X, 5X, and 6X. Also carry fluorocarbon tippet spools: 4X, 5X, 6X, 7X.
Carry a bottle of fly floatant, a leader clipper, hook sharpener, and forceps. Don’t forget your sun-block, and insect repellent. Be sure to include any specialized medicines you might require.
Besides your waders, you will need a hat with a bill or brim, polarized glasses, long sleeve shirt, thin under-wader garments, and boot socks. As an extra survival/comfort garment, a Buff gaiter would be my first choice to put in my pack, then a thin rain jacket. Also in a 5”x5” zip-lock: a white hanky, and enough folded-flat toilet paper (or absorbent paper towels) to deal with two body functions. Into this same zip-lock is placed: (3) Tylenol, (3) antacid tablets, and (2) band-aids. Within this same zipper pocket in my pack there is a tube of lip balm, and a tube of Bite-Ease; also the leaders, and a small pair of scissors. My head lamp is in the same pocket as my extra glasses, and wallet.
Since 90% of the dry flies and nymphs you will use during mid-summer are size #16-#22, and tippets are usually 6X-7X, light weight rods are desirable. Five weight rods are pretty heavy. Three and four weight rods are ideal.
Hone Your Casting Skills
The casting distances and size of fish involved would make one believe that hiking and fishing mountain streams is less demanding than large rivers or saltwater flats. Mountain streams are comforting in size for beginners to start to learn fly fishing. But, the best casters always win in any fly fishing arena. Whereas sloppy presentation might yield a small fish once in a while, more skilled presentations might yield larger fish on a regular basis. Fly casting is essential to fly fishing, and the only way to get better is to practice, practice, and practice.
The best presentations make your fly look like there is nothing attached to it. This is especially true in public water that gets fished on a regular basis. Taking time to set up your presentation so that it brings the fly to the fish without spooking it is crucial. Your first cast is always your highest percentage for success. Before you make that first cast, map out the trajectory that the back cast must follow to aim the fly toward your target. Be relaxed and patient. Examine your terrain, and your placement within that terrain to give you the best advantages. Stalk more, cast less. Make every first cast count. Practice in the open every chance you get. Get your basic casts learned without distractions. Then move into water where objects placed by the natural world demand that you learn how to avoid them. That is one of the ways you avoid drag: by placing the fly and the line/leader in the perfect place with the perfect cast.