I’ve been fishing with relative newbies to the sport of smallmouth fly fishing lately. The fishing has been quite good with all matter of strikes from subtle trout-like ring rises to the typical smallmouth blast strikes.
The take-away observation from my seat, usually in the back of the canoe, is basic casting issues that plague most fly anglers of all skill levels. Fly casting can take on a life of its own, as one progresses through the myriad of intricacies such as mending and double hauling. But in it’s basic elements, there are some rules that can’t be broken. Some things basic fly fishers must do to be successful.
Here are the most common mistakes newbies make when venturing into the fly fishing realm:
- People don’t practice fly casting. Most guides will tell you the single biggest issue with most clients is their inability to present the fly where it needs to be. People show up for a day on the water with their equipment organized and ready to go. That’s great, but the problem is they don’t know how to cast. Many think they do and get testy if the guide suggests some augmentation to their technique.
Nonetheless, fly casting is the single most important aspect of fly fishing success.
- Here are the most common casting mistakes for beginners with little to moderate experience:
- Loops: When the caster positions the rod at the 9:00 and 3:00 position, you’re going to get a big time open loop. Open loops are bad with the only exception being when throwing a heavier fly, then a forced open loop is a good thing. I constantly remind my guests to use the 10 and 2 positioning with a hard stop on either end. Most will do it a cast or two and then revert to the 9 and 3 and dump the cast.
- Rod Loading: Most beginners and even seasoned fly fisherman don’t know their equipment well enough. Yes they may have expensive rods, etc. but that doesn’t mean much if they can’t throw. You must practice with your rod, line, leader, tippet and fly (remove the hook if needed). In that way you can begin to develop the feel you must have when your outfit loads. Sadly, many fisherman never really get the incredible feel of a properly loaded rod launching a matched fly line as it drills a fly to the intended target.
- Patience: The single biggest mistake I see is rushing the fore cast. One must unquestionably wait until the fly line nearly straightens on the backcast before the forward thrust is initiated. Most rush the cast, not allowing the aforementioned backcast to do its thing. I’ve seen well instructed fly fishers use a more sideways body positioning to allow them to watch the back cast. Unfortunately, some anglers are never able to extricate themselves from that learning behavior. But it still works. As some point, you should be able to forget the backcast observation and concentrate only on the target and let the feel and loading of the rod and line dictate the motion.
- Rod Positioning: I’ve seen so many fish lost after hook up for several reasons in the last two weeks. The main reason was poor rod positioning before the hit. A low rod position prior to the hit is paramount to a good hookset. In most cases, the fly fisherman stripped in the fly with the rod in a 10:00 position thereby limiting their ability to bring the rod back for a solid hook set. The preferred rod positioning is to have the rod down, nearly touching the water pointed directly at the fly. In some cases if one imparts a rod twitch while stripping to exaggerate the motion this will take the rod out of the aforementioned alignment, but that’s OK as long as the angler is ready for the strike. That said, the best positioning is directly at the fly.
- Line Handling After Hook Up: Many fish were dropped because sufficient line tension was not maintained. When the fish is initially hooked the angler must generally strip very quickly to determine the tension and force needed – offset by the size of the fish. Often the fish will move toward the angler and tension cannot be maintained as the angler won’t strip fast enough and the fish is lost. In many cases, one cannot strip fast enough. Once the “stage has been set” relative to the size of the fish, the angler should always keep a good arc on the rod. Many times the fish will “bum rush” the boat only to turn and rip line out when the real fight begins. The angler must learn when to strip and when to take up line and put the fish on the reel if that’s what is called for. This is where experience comes in and this takes some time. The bottom line I tell anglers: Always keep the rod bent!
Some of these mistakes are easily remedied, others take time and experience to perfect. If one only takes a few minutes once a week to take the rod out to the back yard or nearby park or open area, your proficiency will skyrocket. Unfortunately for some reason, most people just don’t have the desire to become a good fly caster. Perhaps it’s our day-and-age, perhaps it’s the way it’s always been.
Fly fishing is a beautiful sport that, when done properly, is not only fun to do but an extremely effective way to catch fish. The single biggest issue for fly fishers is casting and that’s where most put the least amount of attention. Please take something from this essay for if you do, and put in some extra practice, suddenly you’ll be the guy who’s other anglers long to be.
We executed a three team assault on a regional tributary of the Mississippi yesterday on July 31. We’ve been smitten with high water for the second year in a row in the Midwest and rivers have been clearing and fishable for only the last three weeks.
The river we fished is quite rocky and fast moving. The stern canoeist must concentrate on positioning the entire length of, what is generally a 4 – 5 hour float. This river has roads that cross it every five miles or so making it perfect for multiple sections to be fished by several boats simultaneously.
All three (two men per canoe) teams fished a different section on this relative small river that allows one to periodically hit either bank depending on the target water.
This was a highly technical and well organized (by yours truly :=) maneuver that required canoe drop-off and car placement, like a military exercise, to ensure everyone had the correct vehicle awaiting them upon take-out.
Everyone caught a few fish early in the trip and experienced slow fishing as the day unfolded. We generally fish in the afternoon on most Minnesota rivers. We find fish in varied moods early in the afternoon and often taking top water later in the day.
Let’s put it this way, the most exciting thing I saw was a pair of young lady tubers in bikinis – one was built for power and the other for speed.
When starting out on a river float, I always start with a popper. My thinking is: If they’ll hit top water right away, why not find out right away, so as to enjoy top water action the entire trip. If they don’t go topside early on, I’ll either go to a streamer of hopper pattern.
Yesterday was one of those “head scratchers” with the weather perfect, hoppers all over the banks, and relatively clear water. I’m beginning to question the relative health of the fishery, since this little river used to be dynamite and has drifted into obscurity over the last 6 – 7 years with very little fishing pressure.
The only patterns that worked with any consistency yesterday were smaller hopper patterns and small hopper poppers. We threw streamers, poppers, and variants. Small terrestrials was about the only thing that worked.
When the smallmouth fishing gets tough, ALWAYS pull out the foam hoppers either dead drift or lightly impart some subtle action – it may be your only chance at moderate success when the going gets tough!
The Great In-Betweener – The Hopper Popper
Hopper patterns for trout and smallmouth bass are nothing new. In fact, for bass hoppers were one of the forerunners for small stream smallmouth over 50 years ago. For years fly anglers used large standard hair-type hopper patterns such as Dave’s Hopper and a host of others.They’re still quite deadly today.
Many hopper fisherman have now moved to foam patterns for hoppers and other terrestrial flies. These flies are light and float all day making them superior to the hair bugs that waterlog and sink.
There are a ton of innovative patterns in foam hoppers and many are relatively easy to tie. But nothing compares to the versatility of the Hopper Popper from Rainy’s Flies and Supplies in Logan, Utah.
Here’s a little history on the Hopper Popper from the creator: Jesse Riding of Rainy’s Flies and Supplies:
I developed it maybe 8 years ago now and it was kind of a joke at first. We offered our Pee-Wee pops and so I was playing around one afternoon while tying some variations of our popular Grand Hopper and tied on a Pee-Wee pop in place of the head on one.
It was decent looking and I called it the “Hopper Popper” right away because it rhymed. I showed Rainy and she loved it. Thought they were “Cute”. Not the best compliment for a fly in my opinion, but tied up a few others in different sizes and colors and fished them throughout the late summer that year for local trout.
They worked great. Usually, when fishing hoppers for trout. I will slap it on the water and let it go by a few times and if no fish takes then I cast in closer to the bank and start twitching it with my rod tip.
That technique usually works to bring up a fish if dead drifting does not.
With the Hopper Popper design, it just made such a bigger splash and pop and would illicit strikes better than traditional hoppers.
Soon after I tied it up in larger sizes and tried it for Bass and Panfish. Fantastic results there too. The rest is history…put it in the catalog and been pretty popular ever since.
There you go, the history right from the horses mouth.
The Hopper Popper has served us as the missing link to entice surface action when fish will not hit other traditional surface flies. There are many days when bass will simply not rise to a “popped” popper, slider, diver or other surface related fly. When faced with this situation, most anglers head south and begin dredging with streamer type patterns assuming the fish are in a neutral/negative mood.
We have repeatedly brought bass of all sizes to the surface by using Hopper patterns on just those kind of days (which happen quite often in Minnesota). The take will vary wildly, but most often a smallmouth will sip in a hopper pattern much like a trout sucking in a fly off the surface, with little fanfare. Other times, the bass will annihilate the fly.
Hoppers are especially good under grassy banks and overhanging wood and brush. These spots are where fish expect to see terrestrial critters hitting the water, particularly when it’s windy.
The characteristic that separates the Hopper Popper from other patterns is the cupped front face that operates like a small popper. Therefore one can experiment with either a dead drift or gentle pops to see what works at that specific time of day.
When we first started using Hopper Poppers several years ago, we only had access to the largest trout sized patterns tied on a size #6 hook and they worked very well. However, we were missing some fish and felt a larger pattern on a big hook would work better for smallmouth bass and other larger fish. We special ordered a large supply of Mega Hopper Poppers and now sell them on FlyBass.com as assortments.
Some days the fish go nuts on the behemoth Mega Hopper Popper and some days it seems they prefer the smaller size. These are the most durable flies I have ever used – bar none! I have no idea how Rainy’s does it, but you can abuse these flies and catch fish after fish and they hold up incredibly well. The patterns are unique and have a hi-viz foam patch on top for easy viewing.
The Hopper Poppers can also be used as a great indicator fly for a dropper rig. The Mega’s are about 2 inches long – a real meal tied on a large #2 bronze light wire hook. They’re light and easy to throw compared to other larger bodies flies and the extra hook gap makes a big difference.
Carry some Hopper Poppers with you this summer and I guarantee they’ll put fish up when all else fails!