December 27, 2014 South Fork Boise River Winter Dry Fly Fishing Report: 30°/Overcast/Very little wind

Posted by Nate at 8:00 PM on Saturday, Dec 27th, 2014

Dry fly fishing in late December is not defined by how well you fish—it’s more about how well you hunt, stock, and deliver. By this time of year the days of the bottoms-up BWO hatches where the surface is littered with rising fish are over. Rises are sporadic and spread out over large bodies of water and rarely does a fish peek its head up and you’re right there to serve him a fly. More times than not you spot the rise, mark the exact location of the fish, and set up an approach specifically to hook that fish. At times you post up under the fish and shoot him a quarter-angle delivery. Other times you position above the fish and run the fly directly down his throat. You must calculate where the fish is feeding and which angle of approach would ensure you don’t spook him. Then you must put a drag-free drift over the fish at an angle that puts the fly on the fish with all dry fly line, tapered leader, and tippet away from the fish.

If a fish is in center channel riffle or flat surface, I like to position above the fish and use what we call an “Upside Down” delivery—shooting the fly down current to the fish’s feeding location. If a fish is in tight to the edge in the slow-moving water, I find it more successful to move up and under that fish, position at a quarter angle, then make a soft delivery placing the fly precisely to the fish. When I serve to a fish from below, I like to wait for the fish to rise before I make the cast. Fish are super spooky in shallow water and you’ll probably only get one shot, so you must know exactly where your target is then make the perfect delivery. I stood motionless in one spot today for 10 minutes waiting for a fish to resurface against a shallow edge, but it paid off with a big, shiny rainbow in the net. If you’re going to chase big rainbows in the heart of winter on a dry fly, you better get your game face on because you’ll be challenged as I was today.

I started my day at 11:30 on a chop riffle on the upper end of the river system. My tie-on bug was a #20 Blood Midge because I calculated that on a cold morning, a midge would be a more likely target than a BWO. There were no fish feeding in the riffle so I began “Searcher” fishing with an upstream cast and a dead drift back to me. I made three casts and the eyes of my rod completely froze shut. Frozen eyes were a recurring event all day long. I cleaned the eyes and re-served the Blood Midge. Out of nowhere, a 17-inch rainbow made a half-body out take on my bug and I landed the first fish of the day.

At the top of the riffle, I hooked a big fish that tore out towards the far bank. When my excess fly line ran out through the eyes of my rod, I discovered my reel was frozen. It is a frantic feeling when the fish is still running and you can’t give him line. The big ol’ rainbow snapped the 6X tippet in a heartbeat. I manually freed the reel and retied the fly. I got no further action out of the chop riffle so I moved downriver.

A few miles downriver I slipped into a riffle that dumped into a short, deep hole then flattened out into another longer riffle. I “Searcher” fished the soft foam lines under the roadside bank without a fish eating my offering. But I marked a fish that fed across the river at the very top of the riffle. I immediately moved downriver where the run shallowed, waded the river, and walked up the far bank to the top of the run. The fish never resurfaced but I had a general mark where the fish had surfaced right against hard current. I carpet bombed his location, and sure enough, he rose up and ate my #20 BWO Colored Emerger. It was a spirited fight but eventually a plump 18 incher nosedived into my net.

While fighting the fish I marked two more fish that fed below me in soft water way inside the edge of hard current. There were a few BWOs floating the surface below me and they were all being pushed into frog water where the fish were feeding. To complicate the matter the fish were on the move. By the time I set up to deliver my bug, there were more fish beginning to graze on the scattered BWOs in still water.

This group of fish gave me a pretty thorough butt-kicking. I had no way to naturally drift the bug to them. They were moving in dead-still water so I was forced to wait for the rise then deliver the bug in the direction I thought the fish was moving. I guessed wrong part of the time and the fish didn’t like my offering the other part of the time. Either way, I had two false takes, changed flies three times, and never hooked a single fish out of the group. The fish quit feeding in a lull in the BWO hatch, so I moved downriver to the next riffle.

When I arrived at the bottom riffle, simultaneously two fishermen appeared at the bottom of the run. Because we arrived at the run at the same time, neither the other two fishermen nor I were obliged to leave. So I took up a position on one side of the river and they did the same on the other. It was unfortunate because they had a lot more feeding fish on their side than I did on mine.

I stood at the top of the run for several minutes scanning the riffle and slick out below me. About 40 feet downriver where soft riffle butted up against faster current, I saw the very tip of a fish nose pierce the surface. Without delay I put a #20 BWO Colored Emerger exactly out front of where the fish had fed. The fly settled and barely began to drift when I saw that same nose appear at my hook. Bingo! I set the hook and the fish jumped then bolted off downriver into my backing. I ended up landing that fish about 40 yards downriver from where I hooked him. He was a super heavy, spectacular colored 19-inch male with iridescent gill covers.

 While I was fighting the fish I marked a big rainbow in center current around a small cluster of sunken boulders. After releasing the fish, I began “corridoring” over the location I’d seen the fish rise. A few casts in and a fish breaks the surface at my fly. I set the hook and before the fight even begins, he jumped and kicked the hook.

I studied the run and another big fish rose downriver, more or less in the zone of water where one of the fishermen across the river was fishing. I figured what the heck? He’s nymphing anyways without a snowball’s chance in hell of hooking that fish. I’ll just make a long cast and see what happens. First cast and the fly was riding the surface about 60 feet below me when a big fish porpoises at my fly. I set the hook and eventually landed a beautiful 18-inch female. I felt a little bad about slightly encroaching on another fisherman but I guess if you can cast to it, it’s still on your side of the river. I hooked one other fish in center current and lost him in the fight but I spotted a fish feeding right against the bank across the river. He was just upriver from one of the fishermen and I marked the fish’s location.

The feeding fish on the run diminished and the two fishermen across the river left. To their credit, they hooked one white fish and one rainbow nymphing. As soon as they disappeared I crossed the river, waded up the far shore, and took a position below where I’d seen the fish rise against the bank. I’m not sure how long I stood in that position, but it was at least 10 minutes. All of a sudden I saw a tiny ring form in shallow water about 3 feet off the bank. The fish was about 20 feet above me as I moved out into current to set up an angle to deliver. When positioned, I shot the cast. The #20 BWO Colored Emerger was on mark and I watched it as it slowly drifted over the fish. There was the tiniest of ring at my fly and I gently set the hook. Fish on, and I fought another big rainbow to the net.

From there I moved back upriver to the run that I had fished earlier. I focused my attention on the riffle flowing into the top of the run; sure enough, I saw a very subtle rise exactly on the edge of soft current to fast riffle. On the second cast, I hooked that fish on a #22 BWO Convertible. I’d nearly won the battle when the fish kicked the hook about 10 feet in front of me in calm water.

I couldn’t mark another fish on that side of the river so I waded back across with the intention of moving upriver to see how my buddy Nick was doing. As I reached the far shore I glanced upriver and immediately I saw a fish feed in calm water about 8 feet inside of hard current. I slowly wade up under the fish and wait. The fish rises again closer to the bank and I make a cast to him…no take. I wait and the fish rises again—this time closer to the main current. I made another cast and my fly is almost motionless floating in the calm water inside the main current. The fish does a full-head out take on my bug and I hooked and landed that fish.

While I was fighting the fish, I see the very tip of a fish nose break the surface above me about 50 feet. He was tight against the bank feeding behind a boulder with a tiny chute of current moving around it. It was a near impossible delivery to this fish without casting straight over the top of his location. I tried two casts, one on either side of where the fish was feeding thinking I might get him to come sideways to the fly. He wouldn’t move sideways so I just hucked a cast right over the top of him knowing that it would probably put him down. The fly floated exactly over where I had last seen the fish feed and then his big ol’ head peeks up and eats my Convertible. I set the hook and the fish explodes into a sideways jump then races toward heavy current. He plunges into deep water through a chute of boulders and I feel my line catch on one of those boulders. I quickly move upriver to free my line but it was too late. The fish was gone along with my fly and all I had left was a mangled tippet. I don’t know where that fish was hooked but it flat-out made him mad. He jumped at least eight times completely out of the water trying to shake the hook after I lost him.

I replaced my tippet and tied on a #20 Black Colored Emerger and moved upriver. I parked into the same place I’d started the morning. I talked to my buddy Nick a bit then took a few casts in the riffle where I fished first in the morning. About a half dozen casts in I hooked a fish and immediately lost him. I cleared ice from my rod eyes and made a few more deliveries. Bingo! I see a subtle rise at my fly and set the hook. I began fighting a pretty nice fish when a blue heron flies downriver and lands directly across the river from me. I get the fish a little closer to the bank and the heron flies across the river and lands about 20 feet downriver from me. The fish moves upriver and I turned my back on the bird. The fish moved downriver and when I turned back, the heron was about 8 feet below me. I started having crazy visions about having to fight a blue heron to save this fish. What the hell was I going to tell my wife when I got home, all bloodied up from a barroom brawl with a blue heron, especially if the bird kicks my ass and steals my fish? I slid the fish into the net under the watchful eye of the bird. I brought the fish to the bank in the net and laid the net in shallow water. The heron moved closer to within 6 feet of me. I looked at the bird and he’s focused on the fish, and I’m not sure if he wasn’t drooling. I quickly photo’d the fish, picked up the net, and carried the fish out to deeper water. I then turned the net upside down emptying the fish in deeper water with my net over him in case the heron attacked. The fish swam free and the heron flew away. I’ve seen some odd things on a riverbank, but I’ve never been jumped by a blue heron expecting me to fish for him!!

Flies that Caught Fish:

#20 BWO Comparadun
#22 BWO Convertible 
#20 BWO Colored Emerger 
#20 Black Colored Emerger
#20 Blood Midge  

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