Matching the Hatch- Part 1

Matching the hatch is a common phrase in fly fishing.  With diehard purist’s it is of such importance that they’ll bring a portable vise and materials to the water and tie a fly to match the exact bug size, shape and color of the day! Matching the hatch on the big lake is just as important.  Tackle companies go to great pains to create a wide enough variety of sizes, shapes and colors for us that we can cover all the possibilities.  But even if we bought every spoon that TNT sells (actually more like 5 to 10 of everything depending on the number of lines you run in your spread) it still wouldn’t mean we’re guaranteed to match what the fish want on any given day (but it certainly can’t hurt).


Why is that?  Color, size, shape, weight, hook size, etc. all go into lure choice.  Speed however is probably the most important factor in trolling once you’ve found the right depth and temp. Why is speed so important?  Many believe it’s because it’s the speed the baitfish are swimming.  Some believe it’s because that’s how fast the fish are willing to go to catch food.  Both are right, but both don’t really mean a thing to us unless speed produces a key component: lure action.  Here’s where it gets tricky.


A lures design dictates how its action looks within a given speed range.  Too slow and a large magnum spoon will just dredge a hole in the water.  Too fast and some spoons like slims and flutter spoons will be so erratic every fish in the area will head for safety.  This is why manufacturers make different sizes and shapes to provide decent action within the speeds you choose to run. If it were only that simple though. There are several factors that affect exactly what the “correct” speed is.   Cold dense water will make a lure act different than warm thin water.  Same with silty water vs clean.  The most influential factor is current.   


Current speed and current direction have huge influences on lure action.  A boat trolling at 2.5 knots with no current, and no waves will have a lure speed of 2.5 knots (for the most part).  Now troll at that same speed against a 2 knot current and the lure speed is actually close to 4 knots.  Trolling perpendicular to the current is a completely different dilemma.  To see the truth of this take your lures to a river and cast upstream.  How much faster do you have to retrieve to see good lure action.  Now cast across the river, how about now?  Then downstream.  You may not have to reel at all and if you reel too fast the lure just goes crazy!


The same is true in the lake with 2 huge differences: 1) the current isn’t always a mostly consistent speed and definitely not always flowing in the same direction!  2) you can’t see the lure!  99% of the time that “one way bite” is because of current and our inability to recognize it and then deal with it.


So how do we counteract it?  The first step is knowing just what the factory speed range of each lure type in your arsenal is.  This is accomplished visually.  I run every lure 10 feet down in calm clear water starting at the slowest speed the boat will go.  (We often have to run on one engine with one to two sea bags in order to get the boat slow enough in some situations.). I’ll then make a note of what that lure’s minimum speed is to achieve what I like to see in the action for it.  Then I’ll speed up until the lure is more erratic than I would ever want it to be and note that speed.  When I know this for every lure (type, size, rigging.  Rigging includes difference leader lengths for flasher/fly rigs) I now know what lures run well together and at what speeds.  Not all lures run well fast and not all run well slow.  The worst mistake you can make is to have a metal/plastic/rubber/fiber warning flag being dragged in your spread.


Now let’s look at some scenarios:


Fishing Sunrise
  1. You’re fishing salmon with the usual spoons, plugs, flasher/fly rigs. You’re following a ledge against a strong current.  You’ve recognized that your downrigger cables were blowing back at a 30-degree angle, so you slow down to a crawl and almost immediately you get two hits on magnum spoons.  You decide to pull the small spoons and put down more magnums.  Over the next mile you get two more fish and decide to turn around and go back over them.  Knowing the current is strong you speed up but still don’t pick up a hit the entire way back even though you marked fish.  What went wrong?

 A magnum spoon requires more water flow to achieve strong action.  With a strong following current it is very likely that you will not be able to troll fast enough to accomplish that. Same with a flasher/fly rig.  In these conditions you have a few options.  You can switch the magnums out to either small lightweight spoons or flutter spoons that do not require the amount of water flow to produce decent action the magnums do.  (FYI the new TNT Flutter spoons have tremendous low speed action and will likely work well in all following currents except those above 5 knots).  You can switch out to plugs or another body bait.  Or you can pull gear and just run back to the beginning and reset.  Sometimes a following current is so strong that it is not likely any presentation will be effective, and the pull and run is the best choice.


2. It’s a calm spring day with no real current to speak of. You’re marking fish between 45 and 70 feet down in 60 FOW (feet of water).  You have a temp probe down and it’s showing the temp drops off 25 degrees in 10 feet right at 40 feet down.  What should you consider?  Two main considerations are water clarity and that temperature break.  The fish in the upper portion of the water column are likely to be the most active feeders.  These are also likely to be very wary fish being closer to the surface.  Those fish in the bottom of the thermal range are there because it’s safer.  They will slide up and down in the water column to feed, moving to locate schools of bait and slow stragglers also looking for safety in deeper water.

 Your presentation in this situation should vary with the depth, slower action deep, faster action high.  The importance of knowing how each lure runs at a given speed is crucial here.  You need to be able to go slow enough to allow opportunistic feeders to move to your baits while still creating action above the mimics the movements of scurrying baitfish feeding on zooplankton.  Again, knowing the speed that allows all your baits in the spectrum to run properly is key.


3. You’re fishing staging salmon near a river mouth after a heavy rain and a hard onshore wind. Paralleling the shore there will be a strong but variable out-flow current where the river dumps into the lake, but worse is the current off the beach.  The current high in the water column will be a wind driven outflow, but near the bottom of the column will be an inflow current.  We call it the bathtub effect. (The flows reverse with strong offshore wind and waves.)  When the wind driven current hits the river outflow current the inflow current direction is gone, leaving only outflow.

Then as you get further away from the river flow the currents return to the way it was.  River angle, shore angle, nearshore ledges, sandbars, etc. all effect how these currents interact with each other.

 What does this mean for lure action?  When running towards shore away from the river the onshore current and wind will be trying to slow the boat down while the offshore return (bathtub) current below is pushing

your lures towards shore, requiring even more speed to achieve lure action.  Then when you make your turn parallel your lures have better action at regular speed but may be susceptible to “tumbling” caused by the cross currents.  When you reach the river current, the cross currents switch pushing baits offshore, and possibly causing them to tumble depending on speeds and flows.  Then when you make the turn away the currents will be pushing the boat faster while the inflow current will be making the lures action even faster!!!  This combination often results in “unfishable” conditions going this direction.  Heavy lures such as TNT’s 5” Magnums are better capable of warding off the effects of cross currents and able to withstand higher running speeds and the likely choices here if anything has a chance at all.   

 Speed measuring probes like the FishHawk will be fun to watch while running in currents but may not give you a reliable indicator of what is really going on down below.  Watching downrigger cable angles, rod bend on dipsy rigs or the drag peel on copper or leadcore lines is going to be the best indicator as to what’s happening at the lure. If a downrigger rod with a spoon rigged on it is rapidly tapping away, you know that spoon is dancing hard below.  If it looks like you’ve got a “dragger” on a set of cowbells, or a flasher rig, you can bet they are thumping away down there like crazy.  Are your downrigger cables swinging to the left or right instead of straight behind?  This skill, and it is definitely a skill that is being lost to reliance upon electronics, is probably the best way to identify what’s happening below the surface. Failing to catch these clues will likely result in a failure to catch anything else.


4. Last one. The wind is blowing 40, waves are 7-10 and stacked, and it’s pouring down rain.  The perfect morning spread for these conditions can be found at your favorite coffee shop.      


I’ve caught salmon while creeping along at .5 mph as well as while blowing by other boats at 5.5 mph.  I’ve had Lake Trout hit a flasher / fly going 4 mph!  I’ve also had days where I didn’t catch more than a small fish or two going the same speed, using the same lures that boated a limit of fish the day before and other days when I swear a rusty tin can with a set of hooks would catch a limit of fish.  I know, that’s why it’s called fishing and not catching, but knowing how your lures run, what affects the way they work, and what you can do best ensure they look their best helps to minimize those empty cooler days!


Tight lines!

Captain Steve Taylor




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