Lees Ferry Anglers
Lees Ferry is generally a midge fishery, so one of my favorite flies is a size 18 to 22 Beadhead Zebra Midge. Ted Wellington designed the fly in my shop years ago, and to this day, it’s a must-have pattern here and on other tailwaters. Another pattern we use often is a ginger or pink Deer Hair Back Scud in sizes 14 and 16. It’s a local pattern tied on a straight hook since a scud swims with a straight profile. Scuds aren’t so productive here as they are on the nearby San Juan River, but San Juan worms in brown and tan, also tied on a straight hook, are a must.
Beadhead Zebra Midge
HOOK: Dai-Riki 125, sizes 18 to 24.
THREAD: Black 6/0 Uni-Thread.
BODY: Black 6/0 Uni-Thread.
RIB: Extra-small silver wire.
HEAD: 3 /32-inch silver bead.
I recommend fishing two flies off a nine-foot-long leader with a few extra feet of either 5X, 6X, or even 7X tippet with split shot placed above the tippet knot. If you’re fishing water that’s five feet deep or more, use a Thingamabobber indicator because it can support all the additional weight on the leader to get the flies down. In shallower water, use colored yarn indicators in white, blue, or green. They aren’t obtrusive and land gently on the water.
My favorite rod is a 9-foot-long, 5-weight Sage X. It has the backbone to turn over long leaders with split shot on long upstream casts, and make long-distance dry fly presentations. I’ve recommended Abel reels for years because they’re bombproof, and work great with a Scientific Anglers line. On that note, I’d also advise selecting a line and reel with a less “noisy” color, like green for instance, to help avoid spooking fish.
Words of Wisdom—Fish go where the food is, and midges like shallow water. But at the same time, the fish won’t necessarily congregate, so the more water you cover, the better. That means making long casts upstream and long downstream presentations. It’s not uncommon to get a strike with all the line off the reel, so when you set the hook, lift the rod tip up with your right hand and simultaneously pull the line down and to your side and then strip, strip, strip. Last, change your weight before you change your flies. Fish can’t refuse your pattern (insert drum rimshot here) if it’s not in their zone.
On the San Juan, midge-pupa patterns are my favorite, and of them all, my go-to is a chocolate Duranglers Flash Midge Pupa. The WD-40, which former Durangler guide Mark Engler designed years ago, is also a good one. Baetis nymphs are also important, and the San Juan RS2 in sizes 20 to 28 is a good pattern, as is the Brown Baetis Nymph in sizes 20 and 22.
Duranglers Flash Midge Pupa
HOOK: Dai-Riki 125, sizes 18 to 22.
THREAD: Brown 8/0 Uni-Thread.
RIB: Extra-small amber UTC Ultra Wire.
THORAX: Brown Wapsi Super Fine Dubbing.
WING: Pearl Krystal Flash.
To rig these flies, I advise starting with a 7½-foot 5X leader, then adding 12 inches of 6X fluorocarbon, your lead fly, another 12 inches of 6X fluorocarbon, and your dropper fly. If you need weight, add split shot above the tippet-to-leader knot. When fish are feeding just below the surface, as San Juan trout typically do, continue to use a two-fly nymph rig, but attach a size 9 split shot a few inches closer to the fly and change to a small indicator such as a piece of yarn or the sticky foam indicators, and attach it close to the flies, too.
Rod choice is always a personal thing, but I really like the 9-foot-long, 5-weight Sage X. You’ll hear a lot of guys say a fastaction rod is not good on light tippet, but for me, I like to get tight to a fish quick, and that rod does exactly that. I like any reel with a weight-forward line and a quality drag. Because we use light tippet on the San Juan, we’re playing most fish on the reel and letting them tire out on the constant, smooth pressure of the drag.
Words of Wisdom—Replicating the size of the bugs is the key to matching the hatch, whether you’re imitating midges or Baetis. The San Juan River has a low gradient, and when you’re nymphing slow-moving water, the takes are sometimes imperceptible. You can’t think about setting the hook; if you thought about it, it’s too late. Anticipate takes, and when in doubt, set the hook.
A Turkey Tail Nymph is a sparse, thin, realistic fly with a perfect mayfly profile, which is why I reach for one more than any other pattern. It’s my ace in the hole. Typically I use a size 14 and 16 most often, but drop to a size 18 during the late season or in low-water conditions. Other effective tailwater flies I use include the Super Pupa, LaFontaine’s Deep Sparkle Pupa, an original Serendipity, and a Ram Caddis.
Turkey Tail Nymph
HOOK: TMC 200RBL, sizes 14 and 16.
THREAD: Tan 8/0 Uni-Thread.
TAIL: Three fiber tips of a turkey tail.
RIB: Fine gold wire.
ABDOMEN: Four or five turkey tail fibers wrapped to create a tapered abdomen.
THORAX: Same as abdomen.
WING CASE: Turkey tail fibers.
LEGS: Three turkey tail fibers tied on each side of the thorax.
I generally prefer to fish a 90-degree, or right-angle, nymph rig. I’ll blow up a water ballon to about the size of a dime and attach it three feet down the leader butt section with a clinch knot. I prefer a balloon over something like a Thingamabobber, as it is more sensitive to trout takes and easier to cast. You can also attach a straight section of tippet (3X if you’re using something like a big stone as the lead fly, or 4X for smaller patterns) to get your flies into a trout’s zone faster than you can with a tapered leader. I typically use something that’s either equal to or 1½ times greater than the depth of the water.
For a tailwater rod, I recommend a 9-foot long Winston B3X 6-weight because it will cast any rig you’re fishing, and cast it well. For reels, I get tired of hearing trout guys say, “It’s just to hold line,” or “Trout reels don’t need drag.” Well, it’s all fun and games until you hook a 24-incher that blows your click pawl drag apart. That said, I really like the Hatch 5 Plus lined with a weight-forward Airflo line.
Words of Wisdom—Many anglers see the calm water behind big boulders, but often ignore the calm water directly in front of it. If you’re fishing only downstream of structure, you’re overlooking a prime location. Brown trout are like largemouth bass—they don’t want to expend energy, they want to be lazy and wait for food to come to them. The biggest fish in the river will sit upstream of something like a boulder and at times even let its tail touch the rock, because it’s the first spot in the buffet line. When you’re targeting those areas, don’t mend up to the indicator—mend beyond it. That indicator has to be upstream of your line and flies to achieve a drag-free drift. When you make the first mend after a cast, lift the line and indicator up off the water and upstream of your flies.
Carl “Boomer” Stout
Trout Creek Flies
My favorite tailwater pattern varies depending on the season. However, a WD-50 is a great imitation for Baetis in the spring and fall. A generic tungsten beadhead PMD nymph and a chartreuse-colored midge nymph in size 20 are also good patterns. A common rig we use on the Green and other tailwaters is a 7½-foot long 4X leader with another 16-inch piece of tippet going to the lead fly, which is often a size 14 or 16 Tungsten Zebra Midge above a WD-50 dropper.
HOOK: Dai-Riki 1150, sizes 16 to 20.
THREAD: Olive 6/0 Danville.
TAIL: Light bronze mallard flank.
BODY: Olive 6/0 Danville.
THORAX: Olive Wapsi Super Fine Dubbing.
WING: Light bronze mallard flank.
WING CASE: UTC small flat pearl tinsel.
I recommend a 9-foot-long Loomis GLX 5- or 6-weight to my clients or any similar 9½-foot-long rods because they offer a little more power and the extra length is nice for mending. Attached to the rod butt, I like the Ross Evolution spooled with RIO’s InTouch Outbound Short line for clients because it’s a very user-friendly line that turns over any rig with ease. Failing that, I’m personally a big fan of the Wulff Triangle Taper line. It’s a good line for delicate presentations, and the taper makes it perfect for roll casts.
Words of Wisdom—Consider what is hatching during that time of year and time of day, and think about what fish are keying in on. For example, during the spring I’ll start clients with a midge in the morning and then switch to a Baetis nymph during the afternoon, or fish a small scud early in the morning and later in the evening, as those are the times scuds migrate. Then think about where fish are holding in the water column and match your rig and technique to the scenario. Many anglers often overlook that step. After nymphs become active in the water column, fish will naturally gravitate to wherever the food is.
John Fedorka is a freelance writer from Shohola, Pennsylvania, just downstream from the cold Upper Delaware River. When not fishing, he spends time with his bird-crazy German shorthaired pointer, June.