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Fishing Big Spring
Ron Krista

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© 2011 E. P. Macri Jr.

I generally arrive at daybreak and fish until after sunset. Why? As Gene has so appropriately pointed out in many of his articles, the trout in Big Spring and other limestone creeks are wild and feed when they want to feed and not when you want them to feed. Some days the fish will hold in open feeding lanes and feed all day long. Other days the fish will feed in short cycles and on other days you won’t see a thing. So I’ve learned that to be successful I have to be there when the fish decide they want to feed, whatever time that may be.

As Gene also has pointed out, the angle of the sun is extremely important and at Big Spring Newville Rainbowcertain times during the year, there are certain times of day when the fish are beyond approachable and you’re lucky if you can even get your fly within 5 feet of them without spooking them. It is difficult for someone who hasn’t witnessed this firsthand to believe it but when the fish in Big Spring are in a spooky mood, they will spook at the disturbance created by an 8x tippet gently landing an unweighted #20 pheasant tail nymph on the water even if 5 feet away from them. (Big Spring Rainbow caught by Ron Krista)

As for Big Spring itself, in my opinion Big Spring is two separate streams - the Ditch and everything else.
The fish in the Ditch (the first 300 meters downstream from the spring source) are well fed and also get a decent amount of fishing pressure and because of this they have become very size, pattern, color, and action conscious.

Simply put, over the last two years the fish in the Ditch have gone from difficult but catchable to downright next to impossible to catch.

Light, long tippets are a must and you will be sight fishing to a specific fish. The slightest color shade or size difference or action of your fly can mean all the difference between nothing and possibly a very good day. In the Ditch small, thinly dressed flies generally work better than fat and bulky flies but sometimes these fish will hit a rapidly retrieved #12 green weenie or dead drifted red/pink San Juan Worm but for the most part those tactics don’t work with any degrees of consistently. Also, these fish know exactly what looks, drifts and behaves naturally and it is not uncommon for a “stupid” 6” brookie to closely follow (nose within 1”) and inspect a fly for 2-3 feet before rejecting it or maybe taking it. But use this to your advantage and understand what kind of feedback you are getting from the fish. If the fish shows interest but does not take it generally means the fly possesses some characteristics that are of interest to the fish – you just need to figure out what those are and make minor adjustments (same pattern either larger/smaller; change to a lighter/darker shade - hopefully you’ll find the right match.) If the fish shows zero interest more than likely the fly possesses none of the characteristics the fish is looking for and it needs to be changed. The Ditch is by no means easy and is a source of frustration for many fly fishermen because there are so many fish in plain sight yet they are so difficult to fool. Trust me, that 6” brookie you see 10 feet in front of you is far from being a pushover!


Outside of the Ditch the fish behave differently in different sections and different techniques are required to be successful. Getting to know these sections, where the fish hide, how they feed, how to get the fly to the fish, etc., is the key to being successful and comes with on-stream experience. There are no shortcuts to unlocking the “secrets” of Big Spring so if you are the type of fly fishermen who expects to read about some new trick technique or believes your new magical secret fly tied with rare Himalayan mountain goat fur that some guide sold you from the trunk of his car is the secret to catching trophy fish on Big Spring or other limestone creeks, you are wasting your time and are better off going to the Allenbury section of the Yellow Breeches or Clarks Creek or the Tully.

I’ve been fishing Big Spring for the past two years probably spending 60-70 full days (sunrise to sunset) per year on the stream, year round, mostly fishing outside of the Ditch and it took me about 10-15 visits of solid fishing before I started to even spot fish outside of the Ditch and another 10 or so visits after that until I started to get a very basic understanding of what works and what doesn’t. To become successful you need to build a database of stream knowledge and this can only come with time and hard work. Yes, hard work. Success doesn’t come easy at Big Spring so if you are looking to catch “stupid” fish by tossing a woolly bugger or hopper or scud aimlessly around the stream, stay away from Big Spring – you’ll waste your time and screw up the stream up for others who may be fishing it. This isn’t to discourage anyone but to make it clear that the casual fly fishermen using novice techniques that fool stocked trout will see very little, if any, success at Big Spring. But if your are willing to put in the time and effort and work to figure things out, once you start to figure things out and refine your techniques, Big Spring really isn’t that difficult of a stream to fish.

In order to be successful it takes patience, good eyesight, and good trout stalking Large Rainbow from Big Spring Middle Areaskills. The biggest single “secret” I’ve discovered to becoming successful at Big Spring is simply observing the stream and learning through experience how to get close to the fish in different situations without spooking them and where in the vertical water column they are feeding. Getting close to the fish in order to get a good drift is important because of all the subtle horizontal and vertical velocity gradients. These velocity gradients have a tremendous affect on drift. You will not see success tossing a scud or dry fly 40 feet upstream or downstream. I would say 100% of the fish I catch at Big Spring are caught within 25 feet of where I am standing with 80% probably caught within 15 feet. And despite the glamour of fishing dry flies or terrestrials on spring creeks, probably 90% of the trout I catch on Big Spring are caught using subsurface flies. ( A huge rainbow caught by Ron Krista on the Middle section of Big Spring

The fish in Big Spring are spooky BUT you can also get a lot closer to them than most experts want you to believe. Forget the Norman Rockwell picturesque kneeling on the bank, hiding inside the weeds, crawling on your stomach and making long distance casts – that’s all crap and you’ll spook more fish trying to be invisible than simply moving slowly and carefully and not making any sudden movements because the fish in Big Spring will spook at quick movements and overhead disturbances. If you or your line or rod tip suddenly appears out of nowhere into the fish’s field of vision you are guaranteed to spook him and more often than not you won’t even know there was a fish there. Because Big Spring is so crystal clear, relatively shallow, and very open, the fish have a pretty large window of vision and can spot you coming a long way away. However, that doesn’t mean you can’t get close to them if you move slowly and methodically up or down the stream; pay attention and look ahead of you; and once you spot a fish, stop, watch him and plan your approach carefully. Then execute your approach and make sure you watch the fish and its reaction to your approach. If you spook the fish on your approach that’s okay, it will happen, but think about what you did and ask yourself what you could have done differently and learn from your mistakes and successes. If you do this and pay attention, over time you will see certain successful patterns develop. I have walked up on large rainbows that were actively feeding and actually stuck my hand in the water and touched its tail. I’ve also fished for and caught large rainbows that were feeding no more than 7 feet away from my feet. These fish knew I was there but I got myself into position without making a commotion and spooking them. I didn’t throw line over their head, I didn’t wave the rod tip around and I simply managed to blend into their environment slowly and therefore was never viewed as a threat. These are not the norms but it does prove that it can be done.
Hunting for fish. As Gene has pointed out many times you are hunting for fish. Generally speaking hunting for fish is either (1) spotting a fish that is actively feeding and spoon feeding him your fly or (2) knowing where the fish hold and hide and getting your fly to him in a natural and convincing manner. Because there is such an abundance of food in Big Spring and because the stream is so shallow and coverless, the fish in Big Spring will not normally chase your fly from their feeding lane or out from their hiding spot so the novice techniques and methods used for catching trout in heavily stocked freestones simply won’t work on Big Spring. You really have to figure out what feeding lane the fish is feeding in or where the fish is hiding/holding and get your fly to the fish in such a manner that the fish can easily intercept your fly with minimal movement and effort. If the fish aren’t in open feeding lanes, look at the stream and observe - it really isn’t that difficult to figure out where the fish have to be hiding if they are not in the open water. The open, coverless water probably comprises 70% of the stream so when you really think about it, 100% of the fish are holding in probably 30% of the stream. So ripping streamers down, across and up or bouncing scuds or nymphs along the bottom of the 70% of the open stream that doesn’t hold fish will not yield results. Neither will floating hoppers, ants and beetles. If you don’t see a fish actively feeding you’ve got to target that 30% of stream where you know 100% of the fish are hiding and get your fly into those little hiding spots in a convincing manner where in can easily be intercepted with minimal effort on the part of the fish. There is a lot of easily fishable non-productive water in Big Spring and unfortunately that’s the water most of the fly fishermen spend all their time fishing. You must fish the “difficult” productive water in small increments generally no more than 3-5 foot long sections at a time. Target a specific pocket and fish it effectively. If you fish the productive water in small sections I guarantee you will see success.

Last, a little more on horizontal and vertical velocity gradients. I’ve found the major secret for presentation is getting the correct balance between fly weight and where you need to land your fly on the stream based on the depth/speed of the water and where the fish is holding vertically so the fly floats naturally in the correct horizontal/vertical drift lane. If I see a feeding fish I like to think that the fish has a 2” diameter 2 foot long tube attached to its mouth and I have to get my fly to float naturally into the open end of the tube and have it float straight down the middle and into the fish’s mouth. Too little weight and you’re fly won’t sink fast enough causing you to cast too far upstream in order to get it down and inevitably you will get drag. Too much weight and your fly will be descending vertically as it approaches the fish and it won’t look natural. With the correct balance the fly will sink to the correct depth and drift naturally to the fish.






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