Wednesday, March 17, 2010

The Old Adage

This Sunrise Sickle MOAL took this bright buck with the sun on the water and three feet of visibility on the Washington Coast. (Photo: Mark Shamburg)

A fish’s eye is very similar to that of humans with a few exceptions. Both human and fish retinas have structures called rods and cones. Rods help to detect the presence of light while the cones help to identify different colors. Fish that live higher in the water column have more rods while bottom dwellers have fewer because of their lack of need to pick up color. These fish use other senses such as taste, lateral line and smell in their feeding practices. On the flipside, fish that live at higher depths have more rods that help them detect things in the water at low light phases and cones that allow them to see ultraviolet light. Thus fly color becomes important.

Light is filtered when it hits water and depending on the structure and color of the river bottom and water, light can be reflected back up. At these times neutral colors may fade into the background basically because of glare near the bottom of the water column but make objects near the surface stand out. At this time bright flashy colored flies would stand out more because neutral or dark colors will be washed out in background near the bottom. Thus your fly will be seen when it hits the upper water column during this phase of light.

You ever wonder what the Silhouette looks like in low light conditions? (Photo: Brian Chou)

During periods of low light, dark flies are useful because there is less light reflected off the bottom. At this time dark flies provide a silhouette that can be seen and contrasting colors or materials in flies become valuable so that fish can see them.

So during periods of a lot of light and especially with a lighter color river bottom I like to fish bright flashy flies. However when fishing on or near the surface I still have confidence fishing neutral or dark colors because the fly will provide a silhouette regardless of color. At these times and especially in colder water I like to use flies with a little more movement with different materials such as marabou or bunny fur to not only provide a visible silhouette, but also attract attention to it.

In time periods when ambient light or the light available is low such as dawn and dusk, remember the acronym Roy G. Biv. Red, Orange, Yellow, Green, Blue, Indigo and Violet. These colors are arranged in decreasing wavelengths of light. For instance red is the first color to disappear when ambient light fades. It is also the first color to disappear in the water column when fishing deep. However we do not have to worry about depth in the case of swinging flies because nobody in their right mind would be swinging fifteen feet deep. Do you ever wonder why purple flies are popular here in the Pacific Northwest? Dark dreary days, dark basalt river bottoms, and lots of shadows from overhanging trees or canyon walls lead to flies that can be seen.

Water clarity is also another thing to take into consideration in fly choice, however I stick by the old adage with once exception. I usually increase fly size. Fish will not only feel safer with the added color in the water, but also move closer to shore. Thus your presentations no not have to be as technical, but you need to make sure to cover the water closer to shore and especially the hangdown.

Every steelheader has their go-to flies or combinations that work for them. I personally like orange and chartreuse with off color water regardless of light. By off color I mean brown and nasty. When you start to get a few feet of visibility and the river starts to turn to green I move to pink and then pink and purple. By the time you get three feet of visibility I go back to the old adage. Regardless, steelhead have a way of fooling you, and you never know if they are there or willing to move to the best presented offering. This is just another mystery that keeps us at the chase.

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