Over My Waders

A Technique for Sunny Days

By Reed F. Curry

It was midday and the tall pines flanking both banks cast no shade on the water, no escape from the brazen summer sky. Sitting up to my waist in the cool water, I pondered my next move. I hadn't raised a fish in the fast glide opposite, in the hour since the shadows left the water. The glare obviously left the trout feeling blind and vulnerable. It seemed unlikely that any dry would tempt them to the surface, and the streamer I'd passed over them had left them equally underwhelmed.

Tucking my rod butt in my wader tops, I began to re-model my supple, 6x dryfly leader. When completed it was three feet shorter with an 8" dropper strand of heavy mono two feet from the stiff 4x tip. I tied a #10 longshank Alexandra on as the tail fly, with a #14 Wright's Royal as the dropper.

After liberally doping the dry, I cast quartering downstream, letting the current carry the flies into a set of plunge pools directly below me. The 10' rod held high, I moved the cast from seam to seam, the little dry dancing enticingly on the bubbles. Within two minutes, a solid strike on the Alexandra had me connected to a twelve inch rainbow. A moment later his twin grabbed the dropper and I had the pleasant experience of permitting the fish to determine between themselves who was master.

Two more fish took the tail fly over the next hour of downstream wading through riffle water. Then some cloud cover came in and I could once again sight fish with a single fly.

Why would the trout take a small minnow imitation when fished in this manner, but refuse the same fly when fished singly? Perhaps, and this is just a theory, a prey fish swimming in deep water is seen as unnatural, but a prey fish chasing an active caddis fly is perfectly natural.

Technique - This method is best suited to fast-moving, broken water. Pocket water is ideal, as are riffles and the seams of plunge pools. The art, such as it is, lies in facing downstream and manipulating only thirty feet of line and leader. The rod is held high to keep all but the leader off the water.

Working riffle water is a matter of moving the rod from side to side very slowly so that the flies can explore the largest area, then taking a step downstream and searching again. No casting is required. Searching pockets is similar, although you should have the flies spend more time in the eddy of a rock, moving from seam to seam, and raising the rod occsionally to draw the flies upstream. In plunge pools, it may take some time to interest the fish, as the water is deeper and you are asking them to expend more energy, and subject themselves to more hazards, to rise through the water column. Invest the extra time by moving the flies into and over any braided current, being sure to let the dropper only touch intermittently. Dragging the flies quickly over the flat water may also stir up fish, but do this only as a last resort before leaving the pool, or in conditions of semi-darkness when the fish may feel less vulnerable.


The Rod -
The longer the rod, the better. What the rod lacks in length must be made up for in arm reach in order to keep the dropper at the surface, and that gets tiring very quickly. A 9' to 10' 6" rod is quite practical, since such an instrument is comfortable for the general day's casting, as well as this more unusual approach. I regularly fish with a 10' rod which allows me, when employing this technique, to cover almost a 20' swathe of riffle water. Since the fish strike rather savagely against a tight line, the rod tip should be limber enough to protect the tippet. Don't try to set the hook on the strike, the fish is directly downstream and the usual result is to pull the fly from the fishe's mouth. Let the fish hook himself.
Flies -
"Bright day, bright fly" still applies. The fundamental approach is to use small streamers or large wetflies as the tail fly, and a reasonable caddis imitation as the dropper. The fauna of your particular stream will dictate the size and coloration of each of these.
Wading Staff -
Wading is an artform in itself, an aquatic ballet. Depending on the depth and force of the water, it may involve a liesurely drifting downstream on the balls of your feet, or a cautious crab-scuttle. In either case a wading staff is heartily recommended. Wading downstream is more difficult and dangerous than wading upstream and any aid available should be used. Last year I acquired one of the Folstaffs and can now heartily recommend it for utility and convenience. When needed, it is at hand, but is not tangling your feet or line when not in hand.

Having this tactic of the "minnow-chasing-caddis" as a fallback for otherwise fishless days has been valuable to me, I trust it will help you as well.

© 2001 Reed F. Curry

All content copyright Reed Curry © 2006.
Cartoon by Walter Young © 1961, used by permission.