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Releasing A Trout

Fly Fishing Tips & Skills

Chama River Rainbow Trout

Though we primarily fish in Northern New Mexico and Southern Colorado, these fly fishing tips and skills can be applied on rivers, streams and lakes, anywhere in the world.

Below are some excerpts from the literature we use in the fly fishing classes we give. Hopefully you will find some things that will help to make fishing more fun and enjoyable! If you are on a guided trip with us and there is one particular skill you would like to work on our have us help you with, please don't hesitate to ask your guide about it.

Note: We offer full day fly fishing and casting classes for individuals or groups. Please call or email us if you have any questions or would like us to do a class for you and/or your group. Classes can be done indoors or we can arrange to do them outside, on the water. Please check out the video "Los Alamos Fly Fishing Class - April, 2010" on our NM Fishing Videos Page.

Covering The Water:

Cover The Water
When you fish a pool or run, you need to try and get your flies to go through every part of it, especially the best holding water. If you look at the illustration to the right, the dotted lines show where the fisherman has made each cast. From where all the casts land, the flies are then dead-drifted downstream well past where the fisherman is standing. At the end of each drift, they are picked up and cast again to the next location in the run. The run in the illustration has been divided up into five sections (A thru E). The first cast was made in section A; the next cast in section B and so on across the river. You always want to fish the water closest to you first and then work your way across the river. This is so you don't scare any fish that are closer to you by casting over them towards the far bank, before fishing for them directly. In sections C and D the holding water and structure looked better so more casts were made there than in sections A, B and E. Before you start fishing any type of spot in a stream or river, divide it up visually and make your casts and drifts so you get your flies to go through all of the water.

The All-Important Mend:

Getting your flies to drift naturally also known as "dead-drifting") your flies is crucial to getting fish to bite them. The most important way to accomplish this throughout the drift is to "mend" your line, often multiple times. A mend or "mending the line" is simply flipping a section of the line in between the rod tip and the indicator or dry fly so that it doesn't get caught in the current and create drag (as previously discussed, line drag will screw up your dead drift). The most typical mend will be to flip the middle or "belly" section of your line up-current (upstream) so that it won't get dragged below your indicator or dry fly. This is accomplished by flipping the line with your rod by moving it in a circular motion.

Mending A Flyline
The first illustration to the right shows the basic technique of how to mend the line upstream. The fisherman has made a semi-circular motion with the rod causing the line to flip upstream. For a smaller mend, this motion can be nothing more than a flip of the wrist. For a bigger mend, across a large distance, it will be a motion using the whole arm and shoulder. Notice that the fisherman in the illustration made the mend as soon as the indicator or dry fly was directly in front of him. This is a good general rule of thumb to follow. The further down stream from you the indicator or dry fly is, the greater chance that your flies aren't getting a good drift. The bigger the downstream belly in the line, the harder it is to mend it back upstream. Also, take note of the position of the indicator/dry fly - it didn't move from the mend, just the line did. This is an extremely important component of making a good mend. The idea is to keep your flies fishing throughout the whole drift. If by mending you jerk or move the indicator or dry fly, your flies won't be fishing correctly.

Mending With A Fly Rod
The middle illustration is an in-stream, aerial view of the upper illustration. The fisherman is fishing across the main part of the stream to the far bank, where most of the fish are; a very common occurrence. In this situation, mending correctly and at the right time becomes essential to getting a good drag-free drift and getting the fish to bite. The issue is that the flyline is in the middle of the stream where there is more current and your flies are drifting along the far bank where there is less current. This means that the fly line in the middle of the stream will be drifting/dragged faster than the flies along the bank. In this situation you will need to mend quickly and more often (see the bottom illustration).

Upstream Mend Fly Fishing
1) Shows the fisherman has made an upstream and across cast to the far bank, where the fish are. Notice that the fly line is right across the middle of the steam in the stronger current. 2) This where the first mend is made. Even before the flies were across from the fisherman, there was a down stream belly in the line that needed to be corrected. 3) This is where the second mend is made. Once again the middle section of the fly line has started to be dragged downstream, faster than the flies are moving. A smaller mend was made to remedy the problem, before the flies started to drag. By making multiple mends, the flies were fishing well throughout the whole drift.

Here are a few "mending pointers" to keep in mind...
  • Don't "over-mend"! Most people try to mend way too much line and with too much force. This usually leads to jerking your indicator and flies. You are better off to mend just enough line; more is not better with mending.
  • It is always better to make multiple, smaller mends than to wait until the last minute and attempt to make one giant mend. Making multiple smaller mends will keep your drift more consistent and allow you to make subtle changes to it as needed, without interrupting the fishing.
  • Try and pick a spot on your line (i.e. the junction of the fly line and the leader) to use as a target. Mend to this target and use it as a point where your mend stops on the line. This will help you to not over-mend. It will also help your accuracy and to not move your indicator or dry fly.
  • In a spot where there is a strong current, you can consider throwing an upstream mend as soon as your fly line hits the water after a cast. This will help to get the drift started off correctly at the beginning.
  • As you improve your mending skills, you can start to use your mends to help place your flies in specific areas of the stream/river that will hold fish. There are also many variations other methods of mending (i.e. the "Stack Mend") which you can learn and apply once you master the typical mend described in this article.

How to Set the Hook, Fight a Fish and Catch It:

So your flies are dead-drifting along perfectly under your strike indicator and you are watching it like a hawk. Here is (hopefully) what happens next. You notice that the indicator jerks ever so slightly. You set the hook and you have a nice fish on. You fight the fish until you can net it - well done! Let's go over the whole process of what just happened, step by step, detailing it as we go...

1) Strike indicators maybe should be called "fish-on" indicators. What this means is that as soon as you see the indicator move, a fish has already taken any slack out of the leader and swum far enough to make the indicator jerk. So what this tells you is that: a) You always need to keep your eyes on the indicator or you will miss the strike, b) you need to set the hook immediately and c) you need to set the hook whenever the indicator moves, twitches or
even if it just stops

Fly Fishing Hook Set
2) You have detected a strike and need to set the hook immediately; how do you do it? Basically setting the hook is a quick jerk of your fly rod to get the point of the hook to "set" into the fish's mouth. The best way to do this is to snap your wrist, moving the rod in a down stream direction. You don't want to make a giant vertical sweep as if you were making a cast (this is known as a "Hail Mary Strike" and it doesn't work well). If you look at the illustration to the left, you will see that the fisherman has detected a strike and set the hook downstream with the current, keeping the rod on a horizontal plane. Considering that most of the time fish are pointing upstream when they are feeding, setting the hook this way often produces a better hook-set into the corner of a fish's jaw.

Try to remember to make the hook-set lightly. If you set too hard, you run the risk of pulling the flies out of the fishes mouth and, if you are using lighter tippet, you can break it instantly. Another benefit to setting lightly is that you won't yank your flies out of the drift, if you miss the fish, and they will still be fishing.

If you can learn to master this style of hook-setting, you will catch lots more fish. It take practice and it helps to try and stay relaxed and not over react. Needles to say, this is easier said than done. Note: All of the same general setting principles apply for dry fly fishing. The only real difference is that sometimes, when fish are feeding on the surface slowly, you don't want to make the hook-set as quickly as you would when fishing wet flies with an indicator.

3) Fighting a fish on a fly rod is pretty intuitive and how much pressure you apply and drag on the reel you use will change from fish to fish. As with any other type of rod and reel fishing, you need to keep a strain on the fish and the line taught at all times but you don't want to force things and break the tippet or pull the hook; a happy medium is required. The first thing you need to do is get any slack line you have out, back onto your reel. Don't try and fight the fish by just stripping in the line with your hands, you have a reel with a good drag - use it! Try and keep your rod in a vertical position with a bend in it. Let the fish take line off the reel when it wants and, as soon as it stops, start winding the line back in. You don't want to force the fish but don't let it just sit there either. Once again, there is a happy medium between the two.

4) After the fish has tired and you have got it close enough to get it in your net, lift your rod up and back. This will help to slide the fish into the net. One thing to watch out for at this point is that you don't wind too much line back onto the reel! If you do, you run the risk of getting the leader to flyline knot stuck in the guides and breaking off your fish. A good rule of thumb is to never wind the leader to flyline knot closer than 3 feet from the rod tip.

Keep Your Wading Gear Clean & Free of ANS:

Didymo On Rocks
We as anglers often unknowingly carry Aquatic Nuisance Species (ANS) on our wading and fishing gear when we move from one fishing location to another. The whirling disease parasite (myxobolus cerebralis), New Zealand mud snails and didymo algae (didymo filamentous) commonly hitch a ride on a fisherman's wading shoes, waders and nets. Unfortunately there is no safe and simple universal, one-size-fits-all, silver bullet solution for neutralizing these various invasive aquatic flora and fauna So what can one do? The most workable solution is to simply inspect, clean and whenever possible completely dry your fishing gear when moving between fishing locations - especially when moving from waters where ANS are known to be present. Below are few simple steps one can follow.

CHECK: Before leaving any waters you are fishing in, remove clumps of algae and sediment from your wading gear and fishing equipment.

CLEAN: Soak and scrub all wading shoes and waders for at least 1 minute in a 2% by volume solution of household bleach or a 5% solution of salt. The cleaning solution should cover all surfaces of the gear that was exposed to the water you were fishing in. Water-absorbent equipment should be soaked to ensure that it is not infected. A soft brush is useful when cleaning the boot seams. If you chose to use a bleach solution to wash your gear, here are some easy formulas/ratios to mix up, which will give you a 2% solution:

Mix 1/3 cup bleach with 1 gallon of water.
Mix 1 and a 1/2 cups bleach with 5 gallons of water.
Mix 3 cups bleach with 10 gallons of water.

DRY: If you thoroughly clean and then completely dry all of your gear for at least 48 hours, even without using a salt or a bleach solution, your gear should be ANS free - but it needs to be completely dry! If fishermen take just a little extra time to perform these relatively simple tasks, they'll be doing their part to help prevent the spread of Aquatic Nuisance Species and "Hitchhiking Invaders". You can find more information on ANS and other methods to protect your gear at the website below:
Protect Your Waters

Pictures Above: These images are of didymo algae (a.k.a. "Rock Snot") which can be devastating to the ecosystem of any river or stream.

The Best Methods of Catch and Release:

Holding Fish
Releasing the fish we catch is the best way we have for preserving a quality fishery. If you want to have good fishing tomorrow, please release the fish you catch today. Just because a fish swims away after it leaves your hands, does not necessarily mean it is in good shape. A fish that is carelessly handled and then released, may die later the same day or may be so weakened and injured that it dies a week or month later. It takes care and caring to properly catch and release a fish so it stays healthy. Please try and follow the guide lines below:

  • When holding a fish, either for a picture or to look at it, always use both hands. Cradle the fish by cupping your hands under the forward part of the body and the tail. (Don't pick a fish up with one hand in the middle as you see in so many photos; it hurts the fish - especially larger ones picked up this way).
  • Where applicable, use barbless hooks. An easily removed hook reduces the amount of fish handling. You can pinch the barbs down with a pair of pliers or hemostats.
  • Try and land your fish as quickly as possible. The longer you play a fish, the more exhausted it becomes and the less likely it is to recover.
  • Before handling a fish and/or taking it out of a net, wet both of your hands. This helps prevent the removal of a fish's protective slime.
  • Don't squeeze the fish; don't put your fingers in its mouth, gills or on its eyes; don't grab its tail and lift it out of the water.
  • Back the hook out carefully. If it helps or is needed, use a suitable tool such as forceps, pliers or de-hooking or catch and release tool.
  • Try and keep the fish in the water at all times. If you want to take a photo of the fish out of the water, get everything set up, then lift the fish up and snap the photo quickly. Put the fish back in the water immediately after you take the picture. Try and limit the fish's time out of the water to less than 15 seconds.
  • Don't let it flop around out of the water, on the ground or in the bottom of a boat. If possible, un-hook your fish and take any photos of it over or better yet, in the water - those pictures of a trout lying in the grass are not a good idea and very harmful to the fish.
  • If the fish is hooked any deeper than the lips or in a part of the mouth where you can un-hook it easily, clip off the fly and let the fish go leaving the fly in it (the hook will rust out quickly).
  • If a fish rolls over on its side or back, it's exhausted. You will need to take special care of it (see the next section).
  • If your fish is exhausted and appears weak and overly tired, you will need to revive it. To revive a fish, grasp it gently in front of the tail and just behind the gills by cupping your hand underneath the belly. Move it gently back and forth so water works through its gills, providing it oxygen. Don't let go the first time the fish tries to swim away; let it go the second time, making sure it is revived. Try and do this in an area where there isn't much current. If need be, you can block the current with your upstream leg and revive your fish in the quiet water behind it.
  • Don't dump a fish into fast water. It can start to tumble and not be able to get to a safe location where it can rest and breathe. Try and let it go gently in calmer water so it can swim away easily, at it's own pace and find some shelter.

Thank you in advance for releasing the fish you catch. We owe these fish quite a debt of gratitude for letting us catch them and providing us with such enjoyment. The least we can do in return is to release them correctly and try to guarantee their continued survival and health. The quote below says it all...

"The finest gift you can give to any fisherman is to put a good fish back, and who knows if the fish that you caught isn't someone else's gift to you?"
Lee Wulff

As with everything in fly fishing, all of these tips & skills will become second nature to you
with a little practice and experience. Just get out on the water, relax and have fun - that is what it is all about.
Good luck and good fishing!

Fly fishing guides for the Santa Fe, Chama, Taos, Los Alamos and San Juan River areas.
Fishing trips on all the best streams, rivers and private ranches in Northern New Mexico.
San Juan River • Rio Grande • Red River • Chama River • Brazos River • Pecos River • Costilla Creek • Rio Vallecitos • Cimarron River
Cow Creek • Rio de Los Pinos • Jemez River • San Antonio Creek • Guadalupe River • Rio Pueblo de Taos • Conejos River • The Valles Caldera

Phone: (505) 629-5688   ~   Email:   ~   Land of Enchantment Guides: PO Box 55 Velarde, NM 87582