Flies. One of the first mistakes you can make when fly fishing is choosing the wrong flies. While it is important to try to match the hatch, it is also important to keep trying different flies until you find the right one. It’s best to cast for a few minutes, if after a few minutes you haven’t received a bite its time to change flies. This can be very difficult if you cannot see anything hatching. That is why one of the best things that you can do is stop at a local fly shop and ask what fish are hitting on, or you can read updated fishing reports from the area.
Line Mistakes. a) Mending the line is so important when fly fishing. Mending the line helps the fly to drift naturally down the river and keeps the fly line from spooking the fish. It is also important to mend the line gently. If you pull up too hard then the fly bounces or moves in an unnatural motion. b) Setting the drag wrong. If a fish gets on the line and you do not have the drag set appropriately the fish will get off. Either the drag will be too loose and the fish will take too much or the drag won’t be set at all the fish will snap off the line due to sheer force.
Bad Casting. Casting is detrimental to fly fishing. If your cast does not straighten out onto the water or slaps the water too violently, then your cast has failed. If you cast too often your cast is failing. It is important to let the cast drift and then re-cast again. This is especially important in a big open river. If you are fishing a narrow stream with a lot of undergrowth and a small area. It is understandable that you will have to make more casts to hit the water correctly. Try to make every cast count and remember to pause on your back cast. It may feel awkward, but if you watch your line on your back cast you will see exactly how long of a pause you need rather than guessing and erring on a cast.
When you go. The day and time of day plays a large part in when you should go fly fishing. It is important to do your research and find out what times of day there are hatches, as well as monitor the temperature of the water. Trout prefer colder water. If it is late July and 100 degrees and you are fishing a small stream, that water has warmed up and the fish will be lethargic. It is best to fish early in the morning and at dusk in the hottest summer months. However, I have seen fish go crazy at a mid afternoon grasshopper frenzy. Just be sure to watch the hatch and get out fishing early enough to enjoy the cooler water.
Not being Stealthy. Fish get spooked. If you are able to fish over a mound or are able to fish from a location that gives you a low profile, you have a better chance at catching a fish since the fish cannot see you. This is especially important in those small streams in an open field. Try to fish far enough from the bank so that the fish will not see you as well as making sure your shadow is not unnaturally over the water. This little stuff really does make a difference.
If you can avoid these mistakes, you are already on your way to being a better fisherman or woman. Of course there are plenty of mistakes that can happen on the river, but these are 5 that are easy to avoid and learn from.
Valles Caldera National Preserve, located in the Jemez mountains of New Mexico is a prime spot for outdoor activities. The preserve is an amazing place to go for the day to hike, fish, drive, or bike. The cost is $20 a vehicle for a back country pass, and it is so worth it! The only time of year I have been is during the summer. Its up higher in altitude so it remains relatively cool, and there is always the chance of an afternoon rain. The sights and views are nothing short of fantastic, even with the burn scar the preserve suffered back in 2011.
My first visit to Valles Caldera was June of 2014, my Dad and I went to try it out after hearing about the beauty of this place. We chose to fish the San Antonio, which starts in the northernmost part of the preserve and flows west. It starts out as a narrow stream, not more than a a yard or two wide, at times even less. Further down the stream it widens and gets a little more shallow. In order to fish this small stream you have to feel comfortable casting into a small stream. Your cast will make or break your fishing in the small streams. Stealth and accuracy are your best friends.
First thing you’ll notice is the width of the stream, although it is narrow, there are good enough holes, up against the banks, for the fish to hide out. The key is casting from further away from the stream, and longer upstream than you typically would in such a small stream. My Dad won’t agree with me, and neither will “expert fly fisherman,” but I don’t think you need to let your fly drift to far downstream. I tend to only hook fish the minute my fly hits the water. Keep in mind I have only fished Valles Caldera in the summer months. The fly needs to be dry and big enough for you to see it, but not so big the small brown trout can’t grab the hook. You WILL NOT always feel the fish bite, there are some small fish in there! Watch the water, watch your fly, and wait for a fish mouth to gobble it up. Polarized sunglasses are a must have when you fly fish anytime any where so that you can see the water and that fish mouth.
When I fish the Valles Caldera I use a dry fly. Usually a grass hopper or a mayfly. Honestly though, if it has a tail or legs, and you can see it, give it a try. If after 20 minutes you haven’t had a single bite, switch it out for something different.
The best fishing I did in Valles Caldera was this summer, and I was fishing with different variations of elk-hair caddis and mayflies, all dry. One of the reasons the fishing was great was the time of day. I always try to start fishing before 10 AM. I think of it this way, the fish like to eat breakfast, lunch, and dinner just like us, and of course they’ll take a snack if it is prepared beautifully. In the morning they bite, and at around 2-3 PM something is usually hatching, and that is prime time fishing. I’ve also heard, but not yet tried, night time fishing. Apparently brown trouts turn into voracious hunters when the sun goes down. Okay, back to my trip, the other reason it was such great fishing was the weather. Rain brings fish. I don’t ask questions, I just know that I catch fish when it rains. The dark clouds, the blazing lightning, the roaring thunder, and the cool rain scared people off, but not me. I came to fish, and I was not ready to quit. I put on my poncho, prayed that the lightning didn’t hit the bright yellow girl holding a nine foot metal rod, and kept fishing. It was so worth it! I was catching fish after fish. They were all average 8-10″ browns. They were hitting quick and hard.
Later in the afternoon, post rain, a hatch opened up. I couldn’t tell you what it was. My insect education isn’t quite there yet, but what I can tell you is that it had a tail and was most likely a may fly. Now, most people will tell you to match the hatch to your fly and you will catch fish, but I get a little more creative than that and usually do okay. These small stream fish are not too picky, and do not see as much action as the big river, quality prize fish get. I matched the color, and cast my dry elk haired caddis into the stream. It is bigger and bushier than a mayfly, and the fish loved it! It would hit the water between a pile of a drowning mayfly, also known as a fish all you can eat buffet, and the fish would choose the elk hair caddis instead! It was a NY strip steak versus a filet!
Anytime I have fished the Valles Caldera I have caught 10-30 fish ranging from 4 inches to 12 inches. If you are looking for size, Jemez stream waters are not the place to fish. If you are looking to catch fish back to back to back, and have a hell of a view while you are doing it, then Valles Caldera is the place to go!
I know I need to stick to my strengths, and mainly tell you about fly fishing, but I think I have told you enough of my Valles Caldera fishing secrets. I have to show you a few other reasons why visiting the Valles Caldera is such a rewarding thing to do. I live in New Mexico. I was born and raised here, and I had no idea this diamond in the rough existed. New Mexico is just one of those places, it always has something more beautiful, more special, and more unique around every corner.
When we went to the Valles Caldera it was Elk calving season. All the elk mamas were having their babies. Valles Caldera has one of the largest, if not the largest, elk population in New Mexico. We had the chance to see a baby elk and a mama grazing, and when that mama elk saw our car she took off running to draw us away from her calf and the calf dove into the long grass, to hide until she returned. It was a beautiful moment to witness.
There are also a ton of grazing cattle who call the preserve their home in the summer. Believe me when I say, they are not afraid of people, or cars. They will invade your space while you fish, and take over the whole road while you are walking or driving through. When I got close enough to moo at them on foot, they did eventually run away. Also, notice that this is a dirt road. It is not always a smooth ride, and if it perchance rains, you will need all-wheel drive. Plan on an hour drive from the ranger station to the stream.
Now the best part of my 2014 trip to the Valles Caldera with my dad was not the fishing. Wait! Don’t curse me, The picture explains it all! On our way back to the entrance from fishing there were three horses waiting for us at the gate. My Dad and I are horse crazy, well animal crazy.
We want all the animals to be our friends, and when we saw those horses we couldn’t resist! We rolled down the windows to give the horses apples and breakfast crackers, and it was an amazing mistake. One of the horses would not leave me alone after his apple treat, and stuck his entire head in our car, and nudging my head for more apples.
Needless to say, Valles Caldera is a magical place. If you are a nature lover, if you need
some rest and relaxation, if you want to catch and release a ton of fish, then the Valles Caldera is a place you need to go visit. I encourage everyone to be a tourist in your own state, province, country, and even city. Doing things like this make for a great adventure!
Thanks again for reading, and please continue to share my blog. I am really starting to get excited when I post and see more and more people who read about little old me, and little old New Mexico fly fishing!
Last bits of important fishing advice: when fishing protected waters always use single barbless hooks. This is better for the fish and gives other people the chance to catch the fish you return to the water! Always have a state fishing license, and lastly, I wish you good fishing, cast your heart out, curse when you miss a bite, and smile when you hook ’em!
I thought I would do a different kind of piece this time. Rather than write a how-to, or a description of one of my fishing ventures, this time I am sharing a creative piece I wrote describing why I love to fly fish.
Last semester I was taking one of the most challenging and rewarding classes I’ve ever taken, called Stylistic Prose. One of the challenges my professor gave us was to write a short paper without using any of the forms of the verb “to be.” That includes the words “is” and “was” and “are”. Can you imagine talking that way?! What an enormous challenge! I wrote that paper and found out my writing was immensely improved and action-packed. Alright, alright, enough geeking out! The point is this is my fly fishing piece in this style.
Here it is, why I love to stand in that cold water all day fly fishing:
Fly fishing succeeds as a stress release and a quick escape for people worldwide. The sport of fly fishing revolves around the use of your wrist, cautious finesse, and understanding the river. The fly should never whip the water, instead, it floats through the air and falls gracefully on the water. This positioning of the fly on the water replicates the moment when a bug would fall from the tall grass above, onto the river beneath. The fly line, carried by the ebb and flow of the water, moves from eddy to eddy awaiting a bite from below. Ah-ha! You see the fly dive beneath the water, and the time comes to set the hook. At the elbow, bend the arm back away from the water in order to establish a firm snag on the fish’s mouth. While holding the rod in one hand, use the other hand to manually pull the fish on the line towards you. As the fish pulls, jerks, and leaps, release line, and gather it again. To achieve ultimate success without losing the fish, or your fly, you must tire the fish and force him to exert all his energy. At last, after precious time and energy elapses, the fish sways in the water close enough to net. Finally, you grasp the fish in your hand, and gently remove the hook from its mouth. This small victory lasts less than a minute. A few short moments and the fish bolts from your hand into the river ahead. The river calls and beckons, and you cast the line back into the water, re-casting and casting, until the next fish bites.