Strike Indicators 101 by Brian Chan

Brian Chan & Don Freschi with "daily double" on Summit Lake, BC.

There are some experiences in one’s fishing career that become permanently etched in our minds. One of those experiences, I’m sure for many anglers, was catching their first fish or first trout. For me it was not catching that first fish as I had been salmon fishing in the ocean since almost before I can remember. That first trout, however was different. It was a very wet early spring Saturday morning and I had convinced my dad to drive my fishing buddy and I, both 9 years old at the time, to a local lake that we had read about in a weekly fishing report. Dad stayed in the car and read the paper while we rigged our spinning rods with dew worms and bobbers and began fishing. We stood on the shore of the lake in the pouring rain with eyes glued to the big red and white plastic floats, desperately wishing they would get pulled underwater. Then it happened, my float just disappeared in amongst the sea of big rings left by the pelting rain. I remember just winding the reel handle as fast as I could while feeling the big trout pulling against the rod. I ended up landing it by just walking backwards away from the lake and literally dragging the fish out of the water. It turned out to be my day as we left, soaking wet, but with a prized trout wrapped up in the morning newspaper.

Now, forty something years later, I still enjoy watching a float, although much smaller versions have replaced those almost ping pong ball sized plastic ones of earlier years. There is just something about watching a small strike indicator dip or quiver as a fish picks up the fly whether suspended below the surface of a small lake or being guided by the current of a river.

Strike indicators have been part of the fly fishing tackle bag for many years and their use or popularity has certainly increased in the past 10 or so years. Indicators are just one of many techniques available to both stillwater and river anglers. There is no question that they can be extremely effective when presenting certain life stages of insects and other trout foods at different times of the season. Some long time stillwater fly fishers suggest that strike indicators have made it too easy for “new anglers” and that these anglers have not paid their dues in learning the art of fly fishing. The bottom line, however, is that this technique works and those anglers that understand the life cycle of aquatic invertebrates and know something about lake structure and trout behaviour will always be more successful than those that have not acquired this knowledge regardless of the fishing techniques being employed.

Indicators come in a large variety of shapes and sizes with new designs appearing almost yearly. They can be tied on or attached to the leader using toothpicks, plastic pegs, twisted rubber cores, sticky backed foam or formed with soft putty. Most hard-shelled designs are oval or tear drop shaped which perhaps make them more aerodynamic and easier to cast. They typically have an inner core of hard foam or balsa wood which is covered with a plastic coating. Yarn indicators of various shapes and sizes are also still popular. The strike indicators principal function is to allow a fly to be presented or suspended at a very precise depth while giving the angler a visual clue that a fish has taken the fly. In lake fishing, presentation depth can be a critical factor in determining whether one hooks or catches any fish during particular insect emergences or migrations. In many stillwater situations, the trout will feed closer to the lake bottom than higher in the water column. This serves at least two purposes: better protection from predators and easier foraging strategies as insect larval, pupal and nymphal populations are more concentrated closer to their benthic habitats. As insect pupae and nymphs emerge they spread out more through the water column and the trout have to work harder for their meals.

The use of strike indicators in stillwaters is most commonly associated with midge or chironomid pupa fishing techniques. They work because the pupal stage of this insect can spend significant time suspended at specific depths in the water column prior to initiating the emergence movement to the surface of the lake. Often, the chironomid pupa will stage within about 12 inches of the lake bottom, perhaps completing the final stages of transformation from the larval to pupal stage. This pupal staging can last from a few hours to several days and often occurs in water anywhere from 5 to over 25 feet in depth. Trout locate these dense congregations and simply gorge on the helpless insects. Strike indicators are the best way to keep a pupal pattern suspended at these fairly precise depths. Often the pupae are staged or suspended in a very narrow band or depth zone within the water column and presenting flies outside this zone results in far less action. Finding the preferred pupal feeding zone on a particular day should start by covering the deeper water first and gradually working higher in the water column as the day and pupal emergence progresses. A depth sounder becomes an important tool in this type of fishing scenario. Set the strike indicator so that the pupal pattern is suspended within 6 to 12 inches of the lake bottom. If there is no action then adjust the indicator so that the fly is another 12 to 18 inches higher in the water column. This will ensure each potential feeding zone is covered.

Fishing indicators in deeper water where the fly is suspended more than about 15 feet down can make landing a fish quite difficult as most indicators cannot be easily moved or slid down the leader. The typical scenario sees an angler standing in the boat, rod held as high as possible with the strike indicator jammed against the tip top guide and the fish still swimming around out of reach of the net. It gets even uglier when fishing leaders as long as 25 feet below the indicator. This is when a “slip style” or “quick release” strike indicator becomes very handy. These indicators are set at the desired depth and when a fish is hooked the added weight and pull on the leader from the fish triggers the release and the indicator slides down the leader.

Strike indicators are also very effective when fishing flies tight to weed lines, edges of bulrush patches and openings in amongst mats of floating or submerged vegetation. These locations offer prime habitat for a variety of trout food sources including highly sought after scuds, leeches, damselfly and dragonfly nymphs and caddis fly larvae. Shallow water fishing situations generally occur during the spring and fall periods when water temperatures are ideal for trout to spend their entire time on the shoal or littoral zones of the lake. Even though the water can be quite shallow, often less than 6 feet deep, the dense areas of vegetation provide enough cover for the trout that they stay around for long periods of time. The strike indicator is again used to present the fly at a precise depth which at these times of the year is usually just inches off the lake bottom. The indicator can also keep the fly in a particular area such as a clear opening within a mat of submerged vegetation or within inches of the stems of bulrush or cattails. Leeches, damselfly nymphs and scud patterns are frequently used under an indicator in these situations. Once the fly has settled below the indicator an occasional short, but quick, strip retrieve is often enough additional movement to attract a fish. Often, the simple up and down motion of the fly from wave action is all that it takes to get a strike.

Wind drifting a fly under an indicator can also be very effective when fishing along the outside edge of a weed or vegetation line. A slight breeze will push the indicator along in that gentle undulating motion that really does attract the attention of trout. Bead-headed flies should also be considered when using this style of fishing. This is especially true when fishing with very long leaders. The added weight gets the fly down faster, provides more undulating motion and adds additional flash to the fly. It is also very beneficial to use a non-slip loop knot which allows the fly to swing freely while suspended under the indicator, it can make a big difference in how much attention your fly may receive. Check out this video on how to tie a non-slip loop knot.

Casting strike indicators can be awkward, especially if using larger or more wind resistant designs. One can avoid real messy leader tangles by widening and slowing down the casting stroke. Long casts are not needed with the use of indicators as they can be very hard to see when floating around in choppy water 70 to 80 feet from the boat. Indicators come in a variety of colours with the most common being fluorescent orange and a fluorescent green. Many solid indicators are painted with a two-tone design of these colours. Light conditions will dictate which colour should be pointing up or down. It’s also important to consider the size of strike indicator being used. Larger ones are more difficult to cast and will not be as sensitive in telegraphing a subtle take of the fly. Smaller ones are easier to cast but can be more difficult to see particularly when there is a light riffle on the water or under low light conditions. A little experimenting will quickly determine the appropriate size and colour for your eyes under various surface water conditions.

Strike indicators are just one of the many techniques used to present numerous stillwater food sources at certain times of the year. Anglers that have not tried them may be in for a pleasant surprise.

Chironomid Tactics 101 by Brian Chan

After 35 years of fishing the rich trout lakes of the interior region of British Columbia there is no question as to what insect emergence I look forward to the most. The excitement begins building in late February, long before any lakes are ice free, but that is when chironomids begin hatching off the South Thompson River. I know we will be fishing chironomids on our favourite lakes in less than 2 months.

Chironomids or midge fishing is a pleasant, aesthetically pleasing way to fly fish. Cast out a floating fly line with a pupal pattern, wait for it sink to the appropriate depth, begin a slow hand twist retrieve and pause regularly to take in the scenery around you. Then watch or feel your fly line move slightly or take off and another trout is fooled. It sounds easy and it is, once you understand the chironomid life cycle and when and where trout feed on them.

Not only are chironomids the first major insect hatch of the year, they continue to emerge in lessor numbers right up until freeze up. Chironomids are members of the dipteran order of insects, true flies having only one set of complete wings. Adult chironomids are similar in appearance to adult mosquitoes except they have plumose or feathery antennae and the female chironomid does not bite. Adult chironomids will range in size from 2 mm to 20 mm in length.

Chironomid Life cycle

The chironomid life cycle includes egg, larva, pupa and adult stages. The life cycle begins when females return en masse to the lake to deposit eggs. Typically, eggs are released as the female dips the tip of her abdomen in the surface film while flying low over the water. The eggs sink to the bottom and within 2 weeks hatch into the larva. The chironomid larva is worm-like in appearance with distinct body segmentation. Larvae live in the bottom or benthic areas of the lake in tubes constructed perpendicularly at the bottom/water interface. Larvae feed on detritus and can leave their tubes to forage but since they are poor swimmers spend most of their time in the tube intercepting drifting food. Chironomid larvae are often referred to as “bloodworms” because of their blood red colouration. This colouration is a result of living in poorly oxygenated water typically associated with deeper depths. A hemoglobin-like substance, which is maroon in colour enables the larvae to survive in such oxygen poor environments. Other larval colours include shades of green and dark brown.

Once the larva is fully developed it will seal itself in the tube and transform into the pupal stage. It usually takes several weeks for the change to occur. The pupa then cuts its way out of the old larval tube and with the aid of trapped gases under the thorax and abdomen, rises slowly to the surface of the lake. Common pupal colours are black and various shades of green, brown, orange and maroon. The majority of chironomids pupate or hatch from shallower depths of from 1 to 6 meters deep. It is the pupal ascent that attracts the attention of trout. Upon reaching the surface, a split forms along the back of the thorax and the adult chironomid crawls out and flies off. Mating occurs within a day of hatching and the cycle is completed.

Fishing Strategies

Basically, trout select chironomids in the following situations:

  1. as larvae in or caught out of their protective tubes
  2. as pupae ascending to the surface
  3. as the adult emerging from the pupal case
  4. as females return to lay eggs

Chironomid larval imitations are best fished close to the bottom of the shoals or drop-off areas (generally less than 6 meters deep) as this is their prime habitat. A floating fly line and varying leader lengths (3 to 7 meters) will allow effective coverage of these shallower depths. It is very important to allow the fly enough time to reach the depth zone you want to fish before beginning the retrieve. Weight your larval pattern or add soft putty lead to a tippet knot to get down to the bottom quicker. Larval patterns should be retrieved very slowly or allowed to drift in the wind. It’s always good to intersperse an occasional quick pull to imitate the twitching motion.

It’s the pupal ascent that really gets fish and fly fishers excited. A typical chironomid emergence would see literally thousands of pupae rising to the surface. Individual trout inhale hundreds by just swimming through the water column. Over the years of fishing chironomids, I have found that the major hatches occur between 10 A.M. and 3 P.M. Remember that chironomids can be hatching in very deep water. It is not uncommon to be anchored in 12 meters of water and successfully fishing pupal patterns. The majority of hatches do occur in shallower water (3 to 5 meters deep). These emergences allow the use of floating lines and varying leader lengths. You want to be able to cover the entire depth zone you are fishing. The floating fly line acts as a long bobber. The key to successfully fishing this technique is to allow sufficient time for your pupal imitation to sink to the desired depth before beginning your retrieve. Use the countdown method to determine where your fly is in relation to the bottom of the shoal. Let’s suppose you are anchored in 5 meters of water and fishing with a 6 meter long leader and weighted pupal pattern. Try waiting 90 seconds before beginning the retrieve. If you snag bottom weeds during the retrieve, reduce the amount of time waited on the next series of casts. If you do not get any strikes fishing close to the bottom then further reduce the wait time before starting to retrieve. This method allows you to cover all possible depth zones that the trout may be feeding in. How slow is a chironomid pupa retrieve? It may take 10 minutes to retrieve a 20 meter long cast! I prefer to use a hand twist retrieve as it keeps my hands busy. The biggest mistakes made when fishing chironomids with a floating line are 1) not waiting long enough for the fly to sink, and 2) retrieving much to fast. Remember, the pupa does not swim to the surface but rises ever so slowly.

Sometimes the trout will only feed on the pupa at a very precise or narrow depth zone in the water column. This is when a strike indicator works, as it will maintain your pupal pattern at a precise depth. Make sure you don’t take your eyes off the indicator, as the strike can be very subtle.

Intermediate sinking lines which are the slowest sinking lines made are also effective for fishing chironomid larvae and pupae. The very slow sink rate in combination with a slow hand twist retrieve will allow effective coverage of specific depth zones. A chironomid hatch occurring over deeper water (more than 8 meters) can be fished with full sinking lines. One of my favourite techniques is to use an extra-fast sinking line and cast it out only as far as the depth I am anchored. Allow the fly line to sink until straight up and down and then begin a very slow hand twist retrieve right to the surface of the lake. One word of caution, trout hit the deep-water chironomid hard so be prepared for the rod to be almost yanked out of your hand!

At other times trout will take the pupa just under or in the surface film. The angler will see subtle head and tail or slow bulging riseforms in this situation. Shorten your leader to approximately 4 meters, grease it well to make it float and fish a pupal pattern as close to the surface as possible.

Trout will sometimes feed on the egg laying adult chironomid. Females typically return to the lake in the evenings when winds are down and darkness approaches. In most situations, individual trout will show a distinct movement or feeding pattern, which will allow you to anticipate its speed and direction of travel. Cast an adequate distance ahead of the fish with a floating adult pattern. As soon as the fly hits the water give it a couple of long fast strips so that it forms a wake on the water, then let it sit for a few seconds before repeating the fast strips.

Whatever techniques you use for fishing the chironomid larva and pupa it is important to have complete control over your fly line so that strikes are not missed. It is essential to double anchor your boat (bow and stern) so that changes in wind direction will not swing you from side to side or in circles. Float tubers or pontoon boat anglers should have one anchor out the back and then use their swim fins to control unwanted sideways motion. Also, keep your rod tip close to or touching the water during the retrieve thus providing as straight a line connection between rod, fly line, leader and fly. This is the best position for detecting even the slightest of strikes.

In the Southern Interior, chironomid hatches are usually in full swing by the second week of May. Lower elevation lakes can have good hatches coming off by mid-April. As the season progresses, chironomid addicts fish higher and higher in elevation to prolong the enjoyment of this most exciting hatch.

Don and Dale's Columbia Adventure (Recap Video)

Check out me and the Bulldog’s Columbia River Fishing Adventure last weekend...It was AWESOME!

The day started cold and windy, which has been the norm this spring. We decided to wait and see if the wind would subside and the weather improve...our patience paid off.

Once the weather improved, we hit the nearest back eddy (big hole), put on Don's Purple Prince 8 feet under an indicator and proceeded to catch fish for hours.

Over a four hour period, we hooked over 40 fish, yes 40!, and landed most of them.

The fishing was incredible!!

The video shows some of the highlights from one hole we fished and earlier live feeds show how good it really was...enjoy!

Bulldog Down! (He's okay)

We've seen everything for weather this April...I'm ready for some warm, sunny days!

We've found the fish are sitting in deeper water this spring (15ft +) and we've had to use our super fast full sinking line to get the fly into the zone. We are usually using a sink-tip setup in 8 ft of water.

Also, The Bulldog went down hard while fighting the biggest fish of the day...too funny and yes, he is OK.

Good Day on the Columbia with the Bulldog

Good day on the water yesterday with The Bulldog (my Bro and the Fly!!!). A few fish in the big holes using Don's Purple Prince and some nice slabs in the runs using the Lake Bulldog. Dale even hooked a Char (Brookie??? Dolly??? Small Bull???)

Proud Sponsor Renzetti

Check out what SFOTF just received! YES, we are like little kids on Christmas day! 

Renzetti sent us a few vises to make our custom flies even greater. We take a ton of pride in our fly tying and you all know how long it takes to tie a fly. Thank you Renzetti Inc., for always hooking us up for our new season! 

Time is of the essence and we know how long it takes to tie certain patterns...tragic! But worth it, right?! As our show motto states, ‘Quality Time, Well Wasted’.

Check out their website at: https://www.renzetti.com/

Understanding Spring Turnover by Brian Chan

More and more western stillwaters are finally shedding the last of the winter ice. The first week or so after ice off can provide some exceptional shallow water fly fishing opportunities. However, these nutrient rich lakes will eventually undergo spring turnover. This limnological event is an important ecological process that refreshes the water chemistry of the lake for the spring and early summer months.

So what is turnover? Basically it is the mixing of all the water in the lake. The end result is the entire water column becoming saturated with oxygen. What was clear water one day will, over a few hours, become quite turbid and have detritus suspended throughout. To the angler this means fishing success will be very poor during a turnover event as the water chemistry during the mixing process is poor.

When the ice comes off the lake the water temperature of the surface or upper layers of water are colder than that of the water closer to the lake bottom. Water resists mixing when there is a distinct temperature gradient. During the first few days to about 10 days after ice off the surface waters slowly warm and become similar in temperature to the deeper water. Water is most dense when it is 4 degrees Celsius (39 degrees F). So when the entire water column from surface to bottom becomes close to 4C the surface waters will sink to the bottom. Add a strong wind and the entire water column will “roll over” or mix. This mixing will sweep detritus or decomposing plant matter up off the bottom areas into the entire water column. Methane and hydrogen sulphide gases which are by-products of plant decomposition that has occurred all winter long are mixed throughout the water which add to the poor overall water chemistry during the turnover event.

It can take up to a week for the water chemistry to stabilize and the water to clear up. The end of spring turnover signals the start of the first major aquatic insect emergences, namely chironomids and the real good fly fishing begins.

Incredible Fishing on the Columbia

Just had two hours of the best indicator river fishing I've ever had. Chrome Bows to 20" for two hours...lost count. Fly of choice... Don's Purple Prince hanging 8' off an indicator in the deep holes...wow!

Finished the rest of the day in a few of my favorite slow water runs and hooked some slabs...even landed a couple. The Lake Bulldog and Brent's Purple Enticer were very effective.

Fun Afternoon Fishing with Kale Stanchuk

Fun afternoon with Kale Stanchuk on the Columbia. Brutal winds and chilly weather but landed some nice fish. Kale lost a brute...

Proud Sponsor Loon Outdoors

 
Every angler puts a lot of thought into what he or she brings to the water. We believe it is equally important to think about what is left there.
— Loon Outdoors
 

We are proud to have Loon Outdoors as one of our proud sponsors!

Their philosophy of “fishing with a conscience” is aligned with who we are at SFOTF.

When we have sponsors like Loon Outdoors, it is easy to be on the water and know we have the best tools possible to do what we love to do…fly fish!

Cheers to Loon Outdoors! We are happy to have you on board!

Upcoming Youth in Fly Fishing - Anika Juergensen

Are you keeping your eyes out for the upcoming youth in fly fishing?  We are! 

Today we are excited to highlight the amazing, Anika Juergensen, who has been fly fishing with her dad since a very young age and is still living out the sport in her teens. 

She is not only a wonderful fly fisher but now makes her own mooching reels and fishing nets...how's that for talented!!!

Early Spring Stillwater Tactics (Boatman & Backswimmers)

There can be some great ice off fly fishing opportunities in our productive stillwaters. Anglers need to remember that the most consistent success will be found in very shallow water. Often, we will be fishing 10 feet of water or less and sometimes, water less than 4 feet deep will harbour some big, feeding trout.

The fish are in the shallow water because of the diversity and abundance of food sources such as leeches, scuds, immature damselfly nymphs, mayfly nymphs, waterboatman and backswimmers. Many fly fishers are unaware of the importance of boatman and backswimmers as an early spring food source.

These air breathing insects overwinter in the lake by congregating in air pockets that form under the ice. These insects trap a bubble of air along their abdomen which allows them to swim through the water. As the ice recedes both of these insects become quite active and trout will key in on them. Watch for bulging or splashy rise forms which are formed as the trout chase down these bugs.

Boatman and backswimmers can be fished on floating lines and sinking lines from intermediate to type 5. Both insects have an elongated and feathered pair of hind legs that propel them in short but fast bursts through the water. A fast, 2 to 4 inch strip retrieve is ideal for imitating their swim. The next time you are on the water take a look around for these early spring trout treats as they may help you have a great day on the water.

- Brian Chan

New Flies Available

NEW FLIES AVAILABLE!!!

Dale and I with a nice Skeena River Steelhead with ‘Brent’s Purple Enticer’ visible in its mouth.

The creator of the ‘Enticer’ pattern is our good friend and expert fly tier Brent Schlenker. Brent originally tied this fly in several sizes for trout in various colours such as olive, brown, tan and black which produced well over the years in both lakes and rivers. 

We now have two Enticers for sale plus a handful of new flies on the website! 

Anika's Red and Black Intruder
Brent's Purple Enticer
Brent's Pink Enticer
Columbia River Nymph (Olive Green)
AND "The Bruiser" IS BACK IN STOCK! 

You can check them out on the website now: http://shop.sfotf.ca/

Here's a little story behind the Enticer:

A few years ago a friend was heading on a salmon/steelhead trip and asked Brent if he thought the ‘Enticer’ might work for these species if they were tied in brighter colours. 

Brent gladly whipped him up a few in his favorite salmon/steelhead colors (purple, pink, etc) to try as an experiment and it turned out to be an absolute killer pattern. 

He had the best trip of his life and often caught fish following other anglers through the runs and pools where their offering had been refused, but subsequently fell prey to his ‘Enticer’.

We have now been utilizing this simple but effective fly on all of our salmon/steelhead trips. 

The fly is nicely balanced with weighting that gets down to the fish, and the rabbit breathes life over the body of ice dub which gives it a little sparkle to help “entice” a strike. It is a consistent producer and can be fished both swinging or dead drifted, it is a “must have” in any salmon or steelheader’s arsenal of flies. 

The “Enticer” fly is now available for purchase in the SFOTF online store http://shop.sfotf.ca/