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Getting started Fly Fishing Warm Water

Turning your trout outfit towards warm water species
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Fly fishing and trout are practically synonymous to the majority of people, even fly fishers. Mention you're a fly fisher and they immediately envision you standing in the middle of a river casting a dry fly to rising trout. If you doubt this, start a conversation with a non-fisher and see how long it takes until you're asked, "Have you seen A River Runs Through It?" Fishing trout streams and rivers are a delight and I try to fish them frequently. However, only dry fly fishing moving waters is a very narrow view of fly fishing. It doesn't do justice to the full breadth and depth of the sport.

The association of trout and fly fishing is so strong, that for many people if you're fly fishing, then you must be trout fishing. Last year while rigging up to fly fish a local pond for bass, bluegill and crappie, a fellow fisher approached me and stated, "I didn't realize there were trout in this pond." "There aren't any that I'm aware of," I replied, "which is fortunate as I'm not trout fishing." He was rather surprised that other species could be taken with flies.
Walleye on the fly at Cherry Creek
Even when you're catching fish people sometimes presume they must be trout. A couple years ago while fishing at Boyd State Park, I found a point with strong wave action. The waves were stirring up the bait and the fish were feeding aggressively. I was catching largemouth bass, white bass and crappie regularly and occasionally I'd pick up a walleye, yellow perch, or bluegill. My success attracted the attention of those fishing around me. Finally, one boater idled over to within speaking distance and asked, "How big are those trout you're catching?" Trying not to laugh, I explained that I hadn't caught a trout all day.

If you fly fish (or are thinking about fly fishing) then you are most likely fishing for trout. This is great and if all you like to fish for is trout, that's great, keep fishing. However, trout are only one of a myriad of fish species that will take a fly. So, if you like to fish, then my question is "Why not fish for everything with a fly rod?" My perspective is simply, if it's a fish, I'll try fishing for it with a fly rod.
Rifle Gap crappie taken on the fly.
Let me give you a few quick reasons why you might want to consider warm water fly fishing (or even saltwater fly fishing). First, by fishing for species other then trout you greatly expand your available fishing opportunities. Literally there are fishing opportunities almost everywhere you go. Case in point, I took a trip to Phoenix this spring for a wedding reception and weekend of play. Most of the party plays golf and scheduled a morning of golf on an area course. I don't golf, so rather than lazing around the motel for half a day I found a local pond and went fishing. Yes, even Phoenix has fishing ponds! My half day's effort was rewarded with several hand size bluegills and a nice 30 inch grass carp on a 5 weight trout rod. Made my day!

A second reason to try warm water fly fishing is its fun. Not only that, the more you fish, the better fisher you become and fishing warm water will improve your trout fishing skills, such as casting. As an example consider the lowly carp (a prince in my eyes). Carp are looked down upon by many, but just try to catch one on a fly! As fish go they are extremely intelligent, wary, and have keen senses. It takes a lot to fool a carp into taking a fly. Once you've managed that task, you're still a long way from winning the battle. Carp are brutes when it comes to fighting and will seriously test the limits of your tackle. I've broken more tippets, lines, reels and rods on carp then all other freshwater species combined. They are such a challenge to land that I frequently use them to "tune up" my fish playing skills before heading out to saltwater fly fish.

Warm water often provides lots of fishing opportunities close to home. It's rare that there isn't a small pond nearby with bass, bluegill, crappie, catfish, perch and/or carp. With all the reasons to fly fish warm water, what's left to stop you from trying it? Ah, that's right; you don't have the necessary equipment! Assuming you fly fish for trout, then at a minimum you likely have the following: 4-6 wt rod, floating line and reel, waders, net, vest, assortment of accessories, tippet and leaders and a collection of flies. If that is the case, then you're set to give warm water fly fishing a try.

That's right; you do not need any special gear to get started! Granted as you progress in the sport of warm water fly fishing you may find a need for heavier rods, different types of flies and specialized fly lines, but that can wait until you see the need. For now, just pick up your rod and go fishing.

Some of my top flies for warm water species are "trout" flies. For example, bluegill love large dry flies, sizes 8-12 and the nice thing is they are not overly picky about patterns. Nymphs such as pheasant tails, gold ribbed hare's ears, and halfbacks can be worked in the surface film or add a small split shot and work them deeper along weed edges for nonstop action on some days. Woolly worms and woolly buggers take large numbers of bass for me. In fact, my favorite bass pattern is a large black woolly bugger. Bottom line, give your trout flies a try and I think you will find they work just fine to catch a wide variety of warm water fish.
  Fat Western Slope Perch fly fishing.
Almost every trout fly fisher starts out with an introduction to dry fly fishing. The transition to warm water is natural. Floating line, 9 ft leader, dry fly, and cast out onto the pond surface and you're good to go. The primary differences are you can and should consider using larger flies, Bass and bluegills are frequently looking for bigger meals so do not hesitate to go "big," sizes 12 and up are good choices. Second, warm water fish tend not to be leader shy, so don't be afraid to use heavier leaders. I rarely fish anything lighter than 3X (6-8 lb). Along the same line, turning over large flies can be a chore. The use of shorter leaders and heavier tippets will ease this problem. Lastly, unlike stream fishing dries on the surface of a pond do not have much, if any movement. A variety of retrieves are in order, just keep trying things, the fish will tell you what they want.

Next to dry flies, I'd guess most trout fly collections include a selection of nymph patterns. Warm water fish have a fondness for insects also. These patterns worked in the surface film or just subsurface, often produce very good results. This is also a good time to try fishing with two or even three flies. This is much like nymph fishing with a dropper in streams.

At times it is desirable to get the flies deeper. An effective rig for this is to use a long leader (9-12 feet) with two or three flies and the point fly being weighted (or a small split shot 3-12 inches above the point fly). Cast out and then give a few seconds for the point fly to sink. Use a slow stop and go retrieve, which will result in an up/down movement (jigging action) to the flies as the floating line will tend to keep them up in the water column. Worked along weed lines, or next to other structure this can be deadly on crappie.

Another pattern that most trout fly fishers carry is woolly buggers or some other streamer pattern. While woolly buggers are more of a leach or crayfish pattern than a minnow that most streamers typically imitate, both can be fished similarly for warm water species with good results. You can fish streamers successfully with a floating line. Simply tie one on cast out, and strip back with a variety of retrieves. Adding a split shot will allow you to fish a bit deeper, but you will be limited to fishing the upper several feet of water. This is because every time you strip the floating line will cause the fly to rise, possibly out of the strike zone. This brings us to the first item that a trout fisher taking up warm water fly fishing is likely to need, a sinking line.

Facing the large selection of sinking line options can be daunting. However, it is really simple. Your first sinking line should probably be a type 3, which has approximately a 3 inch per second sink rate. By using differing counts, allowing 3-4 seconds per foot, you can effectively fish from 2-3 feet down to over 10 feet, covering most depths in small local bass ponds. Unless you already have a sink tip for use in rivers, I'd avoid them as they have the same issue as a floating line, just a bit subtler. Also, wait on purchasing an intermediate or faster sinking line until you're sure of the need.

As your skills grow in warm water fly fishing, you will soon realize that big flies work well at times for warm water fish, especially bass, walleye, or pike. It won't take long to realize that a 5 or 6 weight rod doesn't turn these flies over very well. At that point you're hooked on the sport and a new 7-9 weight rod will be in order. But not until you've done a whole lot of fishing for species other then trout.
Douglas Reservoir Carp on the fly.
As most warm water fishing is still water fishing, many find that a float tube/waders/fins or a boat, and maybe a depth finder are essential equipment. While many lakes and reservoirs can be effectively fished from the shore, being able to work the open water gives you a whole lot more options. So be warned that warm water fishing is seriously addictive and it's not long before the appeal of being on the water will have you seriously shopping for some sort of water craft.
Wellington Reservoir #4 bass taken on fly. Bottom line, if you're currently fly fishing for trout, you don't have a good reason for not fishing warm waters. You already have all the basic equipment necessary to be successful, likely lots of water nearby to pursue fish and a couple of hours now and again to fish. Let's face it, there are few downsides to warm water fishing, primarily ascetics, and lots of upsides, such as plenty of opportunities, cooperative fish, many new species, increasing your fly fishing skills and, most importantly, it's fun! So what's holding you back?

 

© 2014 David Coulson
About the author, David Coulson:
To say fly fishing is a passion for Dave is an understatement, he lives by the adage, ďfly fishing isnít a matter of life or death, itís much more important than that.Ē Simply, if itís a fish, then Daveís willing to chase it on a fly. This includes making two or three trips a year out of state to places like Alaska, Canada, East and West Coasts to fly fish for salmon, northern pike and salt water species, such as redfish. The rest of the time Dave spends his time plying Colorado waters with a fly rod for everything the state has to offer such as bass, perch, crappie, bluegill, walleye, catfish, pike and yes even trout with a fly.
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