BASALT - Those who fly fish around here and probably everywhere have all had one of those days on the river: Trout are rising all around you. You can clearly see what insect they are eating, whether it be caddis, blue-wing olives or, especially, midge dry flies in the fall and winter.
And these fish are totally ignoring your fly as if drifts overhead, sipping naturals mere inches away at an astounding pace. You change patterns and sizes, and each selection is ignored or refused upon close inspection by the fish.
What gives? There are some things to consider to help you hook up in these puzzling situations.
Is your fly drifting on the surface in a drag-free fashion? Bugs on the surface and the ones trundling downstream underneath aren't attached to fishermen, and your offerings need to behave the same way. Watch bubbles or leaves on the surface and make sure your fly travels at the same pace. This is the time to utilize reach casts and mending to achieve the correct drift.
Positioning, or "mending" your line and leader up or downstream of the fly always aids in presenting a drag-free presentation. Water flows and bends, speeds up and slows down, and your fly needs to do the same. This can change with every few feet that you move up or down the stream.
A reach cast can be utilized when you realize your line and leader need to be left, right, up or downstream immediately after your fly hits the water. Cast as you normally would, but "reach" the entire rod left or right at the last second, laying the line and leader out in the desired, redirected angle.
Now it's time to look at that leader and tippet, especially the length and diameter. Most days you can trick trout with nine feet of leader and a foot or two of tippet, but on these particular days you need to go long. Twelve feet and even 20 can make a world of difference. The longer your tippet material is, the longer it takes to unfurl and for the current to snatch and drag your fly.
Is the tippet light enough and of high quality? These tough days can require 6x and 7x if drift correction didn't make a difference. Fluorocarbon will reflect less light and is practically invisible, and a key feature is that it will sink a centimeter or two below the surface if you allow it to do so. On some days, the fish are seeing the dimple that tippet can create near the fly on the water's surface, and they're ignoring the fly as a result.
Carry a small dip net with you on days you expect good hatches. You can snatch naturals off the surface with ease. Inspect their size, shape and color, set them free, and you will gain some valuable information quickly.
If you see someone nearby hooking one after another, compliment their casting and superior angling abilities, even when it's not necessarily the truth or how you feel. Most times, after a few more fish, they'll amble over and show or even give you the right fly. A little civility goes a long way out there.
Some days, especially when you start to get a little peeved at persnickety fish, my best advice is to move elsewhere. There are probably big fish just around the bend eating everything they see. The beauty of casting flies is always, for me, what could be waiting around that next bend.