Go to Top

Being Productive on the Water

Every year, I hear things like “this year is the worst fishing year in the history of fishing!”. Okay, I might have exaggerated that a bit, but I do hear how terrible it supposedly is. As an example, I did a presentation at a club in the mountains a couple of weeks ago and several members came up to me and complained about the fishing. One even said “I bet you aren’t busy this year since the fishing is so bad”. Well, in my world the fishing is pretty good. I have had some exceptional days. I have also had some difficult days but that always has more to do with my client’s casting and fishing ability than fishing conditions. We work on these things and strive to get better.

I know I may have written about this subject before but since it continues to come up, I am writing about it again.

Let’s face it, fishing can be tough and it isn’t always catching but are we doing everything we can to find them? If all you do is fish lakes, trolling a bugger with a slow sinking line, you are going to struggle at times. To catch fish, you have to change things up. So what do we change? Regardless of whether we are fishing streams, rivers or lakes; we change flies, depth and sometimes location. No matter how many times you beat a dead horse, it isn’t going to get up and walk away. The same goes with fishing- no matter how many times I throw that same fly at the same depth, it usually isn’t going to catch a fish any better than it did the first 100 casts.

There is a lot of skill in fly fishing and we don’t get better unless we get out of our comfort zone and try new things. If I am fishing a stream, which I do quite often, I vary the depth of my flies with the depth of the water. Unless I am streamer fishing, I typically use some sort of dry and dropper. I don’t use 6-8″ droppers. I just don’t do it. It is never deep enough. If I am not occasionally getting hung up on a rock on the bottom, I need to add some length. We are in our monsoons and the waters are fairly high so I will tie on a foam hopper (size 10) and run a 2-3 foot dropper underneath. The bottom fly will be a beadhead nymph of some sort and most of the time I will also put an additional size 6, 7, or 8 split shot between the hopper and dropper. If I am always hung up on the bottom, I will shorten up. If I am never on the bottom, I will add some weight or go longer. Too many anglers want to fish short droppers in fast or deep pools and can’t figure out why they aren’t catching fish. Unless they want to rise, you have to get  down.

July and August are tough times to fish our lakes. By now the water is getting warm, pH levels are high and algae blooms are thick. Trout aren’t happy in these conditions and they tend to go deep and sulk. They are just trying to hold on to make it to cooler times. So what do we do? We change how we fish. In your arsenal of weapons, you should have a floating line, a slow sinking line (type II or intermediate), and a fast, aggressive sinking line (type 6 or depth charge). I prefer full sinking lines over sink tips. Fly fishing is like golf. In golf, you need multiple clubs to get the job done. The same goes for fishing but we need more than one rod, multiple reels with a variety of fly lines. If you got into this sport because you thought fly fishing would be cheap, you need to find a new hobby.

I have had anglers tell me that instead of learning how to cast, they just put the fly in the water and kick back 40 feet in their float tube and then fish the fly. I don’t consider them serious about the sport. That tactic will never work for rising fish or even fish that are within 10 feet of the surface. Why would you ever want to kick over the trout? But I digress, this post is about fishing and not casting but if you find yourself having to do that, get a casting lesson.

Now that you have all these sinking lines, use them. Unless we see fish feeding on the surface, we are in a searching pattern. We are changing depths and changing flies until we find what they want to eat. We also change locations in the lake- fish at the bank and work to the middle. Sometimes they want to eat streamers and sometimes they want nymphs or midges. When all else fails, go to a different lake or a stream.

If you know me, you know that I don’t pay attention to fishing reports. Most of the time they aren’t accurate and unless I know the person who gave the report, it doesn’t mean much. Yesterday, I fished Drift Fence Lake on the Reservation. I talked to six people who were bait and spin fishing off the dam. They had been there all day and not a single one had caught a fish. I looked across the lake and saw trout rising everywhere. I launched my pontoon boat and caught some fish on a dry and dropper set up. Prior to that, I ran into a friend on a stream who works for Game and Fish. She was taking an angler survey. She was telling me about a co-worker who recently took up fly fishing and he is quickly becoming an addict. He tells her that most people don’t really know how to fish. I agree with him 100%. I was recently at the East Fork of the Black and there are some really big pools that get stocked weekly. Studies are showing that only 30% of anglers report catching these fish. Most get eaten by birds. These trout come from a hatchery where they are fed and have no worries in the world. They then get put into a stream with no idea what to do to stay alive and end up getting eaten by osprey, eagles and blue heron. I caught more than my share of fish that day but only two came from the big pools that get stocked. Most of what I caught came from all the water in between these pools and most of them were wild browns. While there were quite a few anglers around, I was the only one walking the stream and fishing every nook and cranny. I talked to several other people and not one person reported catching a fish. I don’t know how things are fishing until I fish it. I also don’t waste time on unproductive water. If I haven’t had a take or hooked a fish in a couple of hours, I am off to a different location. That is the best thing about the White Mountains. We have so much water that we can always go try some other lake or stream.

You don’t get better at this sport by sitting at the computer reading fishing reports. You get better by hitting the water and figuring out how to catch fish. They are there and, just like us, have to eat to stay alive. Getting out of your normal fishing routine will get you into catching when things are tough.

About Cinda Howard

Cinda Howard has been an Arizona fly fishing guide for several years. She’s spent her whole life fishing and picked up a fly rod in 1996. She worked for the Orvis Company as a Fly Fishing Manager for eight years before branching off and starting her own business in 2012. Cinda spends a considerable amount of time instructing people on the sport of fly fishing. Cinda has been featured in several fly fishing articles and books (“Fly Fisher’s Guide to Arizona” by Will Jordan, “Arizona’s Official Fishing Guide” by Arizona Highways and Arizona Game and Fish Department) as an expert on fly fishing Arizona. She is extremely passionate not only about fly fishing but also about teaching others. She hosts trips all across the world and has taken customers fly fishing in Alaska, Belize, Oregon, Montana, Colorado, New Mexico, Utah and The Bahamas. Cinda loves to fish for trout, steelhead, pike, carp, bonefish, tarpon and anything else that will eat a fly. She is a past President of Desert Fly Casters and is a Zane Grey Trout Unlimited board member.

4 Responses to "Being Productive on the Water"

  • Adam Brill
    September 1, 2015 - 4:07 am Reply

    Great insights Cinda!

  • michael krahe
    September 2, 2015 - 5:53 pm Reply

    Now that is a great post! Quit whining and go to work on fishing. Great post Cynda! We will see you soon.

  • Mike Lopez
    September 17, 2015 - 8:26 pm Reply

    Well said Cinda!

  • Charles
    November 23, 2015 - 4:23 pm Reply

    Great read, I am new to fly fishing , but I have been fishing bass for over 20 years it is all about paying attention to your surroundings and finding what the fish want that day, jut yesterday me and my wife took a mini vacation in the white mountains and all I brought was a fly rod I was determined to catch a fish on it , just picked it up two weeks ago and been practicing my casting in the yard. We stayed on rainbow lake and fished it for a bit then headed over to showlow lake but it was a bit to windy for me being new to fly fishing. I read the fishing reports and they all said the fishing was poor at Scots reservoir , but I like that lake for bass fishing so we headed up there and it took a few hours , but I caught 3 rainbow trout on a black wooly bugger in about 20 minutes, then we had to head home before it got to late, but wow it was a blast and in hooked on fly fishing. I would love to find a few stream and rivers that I can try out next time

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *