June is the month on Van Isle to dead-drift nymphs for rainbows in rivers that enter or leave lakes. This happens all over Vancouver Island so this calendar item should be on every fisher’s list. A few examples include: the top end of the Cowichan from Greendale. You can wade down a half mile and then walk back up; it is no longer a secret that the best example of this is the Elk River that flows into Upper Campbell Lake; and another is the Big Q where it flows into Horne Lake.
But there are dozens of lakes and streams where this concept occurs and it will take you a couple decades to figure out all such spots on Van Isle – even north of Campbell River will take a decade. The Elk has the advantages that it is in a gravel basin, so it is open, warm, easily waded (but take a staff anyway) and has thousands of rainbows spawning in June. It also has cutthroat that are opportunistic and there to scarf down eggs.
The Elk also has Dolly Varden up in the pools of the canyon. Cuthroat typically spawn in early fall, but can be sporadic around the calendar, particularly where they are sea-run fish (not in Campbell Lake because it has a dam. But add the Quinsam, a very gentle river, for sea-runs, which the hatchery stocks). Dolly Varden spawn in late fall when triggered by water temperature reaching 10 degrees Celsius. They spend the winter in deep pools, and then, where possible, pass back out to the ocean. Rivers like the Cowichan also have Browns which are more disposed to swung Woolly Buggers and meaty flies.
You will be fishing a 4- or 6-weight rod. Your sink tip line will end in a poly leader that also sinks. Stepped down leader to 4-pounds or an integral leader that descends in test to tying on your fly. The fly is typically some version of a nymph, and there are dozens of examples, half-back, gold ribbed Hare’s Ear, Pheasant tail and so on, in size 8 or 10 hook. I make a version so simple it drives dextrous fly tiers bonkers because theirs’ and commercial nymphs are works of art.
Mine simply works and that’s enough for me: use a gold bead head, crimp the barb and slide the slippery bead over the barb (small hole first) and to the eye. Wind on black thread and take some rubber leg material. Make a ‘V’ and tie it down opposite the point, legs pointing to the rear. Use needlepoint black thread from Michaels which is bushy and tie it back along the shank from the bead eye to the V, securely tie in with thread and then back the thread up to the bead eye.
Wind the needlepoint thread back to the eye and then down the shank and back up until the fly has a nice plump body. Wind the thread behind the bead eye, tie in a few wraps, cut the needlepoint thread off and tie in securely. Then a ’V’ of rubbery leg material tied in behind the bead, legs pointing either forward or back. Knot off the tying thread and use enough clear nail polish or Hard as Hull, so that you leave a clear hard back and throat – an alternative to the half back. And voila, that’s all. My flies work as well as or better than works of art, and take a fraction of the time to tie. Digital facility does not reside in my digits.
Use an improved clinch knot to tie the nymph on, and pull the knot away from the hook eye so it helps with the natural movement of the dead drifted fly. In nymphing, you do not stand above the fish because the whole point in dead drifting is to mimic a nymph that has lost its rock and is tumbling as it passes downstream. You stand beside the fish, not above, which means that you have to sneak into position having spotted fish and stand still (so you don’t scare the fish), because this aids the tumble. You rod tip is high and passes downstream with the progress of your nymph.
The reason is that you also have to be in contact with the fly, so that any uptake is spotted and immediately struck. And you do not stand above the fish because the nymph will swing past the fish, connected to the tip of the rod, and this is not the natural tumble a real nymph will present. It is an art to get high-sticking down, but it can be deadly for June fish.
It is a great satisfaction to take such a technique, get it working correctly, and then spend June with your Backroads Mapbook, finding where rivers enter or exit lakes. There are dozens and dozens of such locations on our island that has, if you can believe it, 123 watersheds. So get that gleam in your eye in the winter, planning your spring, and catch and release them rainbows in June. Oh, and there are some lovely March fisheries for cutthroat doing the same thing, even a few rivers where the sea-runs come in in January. And…
Note: A couple of good fly tying books: Skip Morris’, Fly Tying Made Clear and Simple; Bob Jones’/Paul Marriner’s, A Compendium of Canadian Fly Patterns.