Tim Heng said it best a few summers back. A guest was venting his frustrations with the Fryingpan River and its PhD trout, and he said, “You can’t expect to come up here once every few years and expect our fish to treat you like a local.” After the laughter subsided, I thought about what he said, and how true it really is. Anyone can go up the Pan and have a lucky day, but we all know those fluke days are few and far between, and the Pan can be downright tough to fish. But it doesn’t have to be.
I counsel plenty of people this time of year, similar to a bartender listening to the frustrations of his or her patrons. Most often the root of the problem is that people rent waders and a rod, then buy a few flies without even considering hiring a guide, even for half a day. This isn’t meant to sound snobbish or elitist, because I have to save for quite a while to be able to afford a guide on top of everything else when on vacation, being a trout bum making the big bucks working in a fly shop. When I travel to new waters, hiring a guide (for the first day) is a no-brainer. Who wants to spend time and money traveling to a great fishing destination and waste time getting skunked? Getting the local guide’s perspective will show you quickly what they use, where they go, and why. DIY fishing goes much easier after learning what the locals are focused on. What Tim said is true, but there are little tricks and tips I want to impart here that will ease the pain of persnickety fish.
First and foremost, just because you have waders on, it doesn’t mean you need to walk right in to the middle of the river. Stealth is pretty important while trout fishing, and the best key to success on the Pan is not announcing your arrival to every fish in the pool or run. The other side of this coin is that Fryingpan fish are used to people, as we have all caught fish only feet away from us up there. The moral of the story is to wade in as a last resort, and if you do, give the fish a minute to get used to the idea of you standing there before you start casting. If the fish don’t know you are there, your success rate will increase exponentially.
Forget the flies the guy at Bass Pro in your home town says you need. The bugs people tend to bring in are invariably way too big, flashy, inappropriate, or all three. Usually all three. When you see as many artificial flies as Fryingpan fish do, you’ve got to nail down the size, shape, color and even action of the naturals. When there isn’t a hatch to imitate, our go-to flies are plain pheasant tails and Adamses in sizes 16 through 24. Cut the tail off during a midge hatch, and presto, your mayfly dry or nymph is now a midge pattern. On another note, we work very hard on our river reports here at Taylor Creek, and all the insect information is on the web, free, and very detailed. The running joke in the Valley is, “When does the Adams hatch start?” It’s no joke.
It’s got to be fluorocarbon tippet on the Fryingpan. This is usually the most recognizable reason people aren’t catching fish up here. Monofilament is cheaper and floats like a champ, but these fish can see it from a mile away, plain and simple. Fryingpan trout (especially in the top mile) can even see the dimple tippet creates on the water where it is tied to the fly. If your 6 or 7x sinks just a bit, this is not a bad thing, as it is generally light enough to not drag the fly underneath with it. Monofilament reflects sunlight, which is why the fish see it so easily, in addition to its gray color. Flourocarbon is essentially invisible to the fish in smaller diameters, and is much more abrasion resistant too. If it ain’t flouro, you’re wasting your time.
Cement shoes are for gangsters on piers. You can’t have cement shoes on the Fryingpan and expect much success. In other words, you’ve simply got to cover a lot of water. Don’t leave cooperative trout to find more, but I rarely waste much time in a section that has unhappy fish or no bugs to speak of. Ten casts, change flies, ten more casts, then I’m gone if there’s no love. Even moving a hundred yards will often change your fishing dramatically, finding a solid hatch just around the bend from a spot where there was none. It is a pretty common phenomenon for folks who get here once every year or two, they head to their favorite spot on the river and never leave it. For days on end. That nice fish they caught in that spot years ago is still calling to them like a siren, and they are missing the opportunity to fish some different water because they need to stick to what they know. Be not afraid, people. Chances are you will learn a few new favorite spots.
When you can, fire the strike indicators. I noticed this on the Taylor River tailwater years ago, and it applies to the Fryingpan too. Fish tend to learn when they see, hear or feel the plop of a Thingamabobber hitting the water, it’s time to shut their mouths and slide out of the way. We tend to use the indicator as a crutch, and when we learn to watch the flies and the fish versus the indicator, we uncannily pick up more strikes right away. Use your intuition instead of staring at an indicator when and where it is appropriate to do so.
Lastly, it seems everyone races past twelve miles of quality water to fish the upper mile below the dam. Yes, the fish tend to average larger and more numerous up there, but that’s about it. There are quality fish everywhere in the Fryingpan, plain and simple. The access tends to be more difficult, especially on the lower river, but that shouldn’t stop most anglers. Most fly fishers tend to enjoy the occasional challenge, and billy goating around big boulders and steep trails will satisfy that need. The biggest benefit to venturing outside of the upper river is that you can use heavier tippet, on bigger flies, to trick fish that have much, much less paranoia than their upper mile cousins.
The Fryingpan can be a cruel mistress one day and a flirty one the next. You might get your heart broken, or you may fall in love. Or both.
Words by Scott Spooner
Photographs courtesy of Scott Spooner and Taylor Creek Fly Shop