Easing the frustration of early season fly fishing

A guide's secrets to beating low water, extreme clarity and no hatches

Gale Doudy is a meticulous fly tier and fisher and a highly experienced guide on the Gunnison River.



March and April can be the most frustrating time for an angler. Low water, extreme clarity and no hatches are the major problems to overcome.

The Gunnison River this year has been running about 300 cfs (minimum low), very clear and with sporadic hatches.

For the most part, nymphing is the most successful method in these conditions.

We have all heard the saying “you are standing where you should be fishing.” Normally we think the fish are holding in deeper water, so we wade out to be able to cast farther, trying to find the deeper holding water.

But there isn’t any. The water is shallow, the fish are incredibly spooky and we can’t seem to find a fly the fish like.

Finding fishable water is one of the keys for these conditions.

Instead of wading into the river immediately, sit on the bank and look for the kind of water you like to fish.

At 300 cfs, the Gunnison around the Forks is only 1- to 2-feet deep in most areas.

Look for riffle water moving at a medium speed because that water nymphs better than calm water.

Start with a midge pattern in a size 20 and stay small, using only one fly.

Midge larva patterns work well earlier in the day and later try midge emerger patterns.

I believe color is critical this time of year, with olive, tan and gray the most productive colors.

Be prepared for change: One day only gray will work and the next day only tan.

When I see Blue-winged Olives (Baetis), I always try what’s called a Killer Mayfly Nymph, because mayfly nymphs have incredible swimming ability.

Fluorocarbon tippet is a must. At the end of the tippet, tie on a 16-inch piece of 5x fluorocarbon and pinch a No. 1 split shot above the knot.

Most nymphers I observe this time of year are using too much weight.

There is a saying in the nymphing world “that the difference between a good day of nymphing and a great day is one split shot.”

Find out what depth the fish want the fly by experimenting with the weight, maybe trying a BB or going lighter to a No. 4 split shot.

Sometimes, a tungsten bead-head fly is all the weight you need.

Also use a small strike indicator, avoiding bright colors if possible, and moving the strike indicator all the way to the fly line.

Increase your leader length only to the distance that you can handle — don’t get so long that you cannot make good casts.

I also avoid bright-colored fly lines for nymphing.

Slow down your fishing and make your casts count. Getting good drifts is the key.

Vary your casting distance by moving a step or two before casting again.

Approach quietly, walk slowly, keep a low profile. If you can see the fish they can see you.

Learn to fish a little differently and enjoy the challenge. When the fish start working on top sometime in the spring, then knock yourself out with little drys.

Finally, be friendly, talk to other anglers, share the water and the knowledge.

Gale Doudy has fished the Gunnison River for nearly five decades and is a fly-fishing guide for Gunnison River Expeditions, 874-8184.


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