Fly rods: not just for trout anymore
Diversify your fly fishing adventures
Paul Thompson is UDWR's Northern Region Aquatics Program Manager. He coordinates all aquatics-related programs and projects in Northern Utah. Paul enjoys the diversity his job offers. He works on everything from native species, to sportfish.
I’m originally from the mid-west, so I have done my fair share of fishing with artificial lures and bait. When I moved to the west in 1992, I quickly became an avid trout angler, but I fished small spinners for years because I always seemed to have success.
When I tried fly fishing, I would get tangles in my leader or catch the nearest branch — it took quite some time before I even caught a trout. I found fly fishing very frustrating, so I stuck with artificial lures for several years.
Upon moving to Utah in 1995, when I began working for the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, many of my co-workers and friends fly fished and I quickly realized that I would need to give fly fishing a little more of my time. Once I gave it a fair shake, I began to realize that fly fishing for trout actually was the most effective way to fish. I’ve been an avid fly angler for trout ever since.
I love fishing the streams and lakes in Utah because of the diversity of trout species. Until a few years ago, I was completely content fishing for trout, but I began to realize that there were many other cool and warm water fish species in Utah. I fished for these species with conventional gear, and while I enjoyed myself, catching them on a fly rod was always in the back of my mind. I just enjoy the fight on a fly rod too much. That’s when I began to dabble in fly fishing for cool and warm water species.
In the beginning, I only had 3- and 5-weight rods, so I needed to upgrade my fly fishing equipment. I realized that some of the fish in Utah would require a rod with a little more backbone, so I built an eight weight rod and purchased a larger arbor reel. Now I’m in business for anything that Utah has to offer.
Part of the experience of fishing for these new species was the fun of using new, larger flies and different techniques. I had help from friends while figuring out this type of fly fishing, and I’ve also been able to convert many people to this method.
The main advantage of fly fishing for cool/warm water species is having the ability to really adjust the retrieve of the fly to fit the mood of the fish for that day. Some days, they want the flies moving fast, and other days very slow. At times, they’ll follow the fly and when you stop the retrieve and it slowly flutters down, they’ll take it.
To date, I have landed many of the species that Utah has to offer, including: largemouth bass, smallmouth bass, bluegill, green sunfish, black crappie, wiper, striped bass, northern pike and tiger muskie. I obviously haven’t caught all of the warm water species in Utah, but I’m planning to complete the list during adventures still to come.
Here are a few tips for those of you who wish to diversify your fly fishing adventures.
Panfish (bluegill, green sunfish and black crappie)
- Fly rod: 2-5 weight
- Fly line: floating
- Good flies: panfish-sized poppers, foam beetles, ants, hoppers, damsel flies and bead-headed nymphs, small white and red streamers, small clousers
Bass (largemouth and smallmouth)
- Fly rod: 5-8 weight
- Fly line: floating or sinking, depending on the flies used
- Good flies: panfish or bass-sized poppers, deer hair mice, articulated streamers, CF baitfish, big clousers
Wipers and stripers
- Fly rod: 7-8 weight
- Fly line: floating for fishing boils and sinking for stripping streamers
- Good flies: pretty much any streamer that has some or are all white, clousers, double bunnies, etc.
Pike (northern pike and tiger muskie)
- Fly rod: 8 weight
- Fly line: sink tip and floating
- Good flies: larger streamers (very large for tiger muskie); all colors seem to work depending on the day, but fire tiger is my default color
Don’t be afraid to try for some trout species that are not known to be accessible by flies. I went to Flaming Gorge in late March of 2012 to fish for lake trout with conventional gear. We were marking lake trout on the fish finder in 60-80 feet of water, but when I saw one chasing a lure to the boat, I decided to try them with a fly. I have to admit, I was pretty lucky when I caught one at 33 inches and 11 pounds, but that’s the thing — you never know until you try.
- Fly rod: 8 weight
- Fly line: aggressive sinking
- Good flies: large white bunker fly with flash, double bunnies, CF baitfish, articulated streamers
I’ll see you out on the water.