Unicoi Outfitters is north Georgia's premier guide service and fly fishing outfitter, located on the Chattahoochee River near alpine Helen. Look for fishing reports, gear and book reviews, and general musings here from our staff and guides.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

The Angling Learning Curve with Mike Popick

We received this from our friend Mike Popick today and enjoyed it so much we thought we would share it with everyone.  If you know Mike, you can feel the excitement in his story and you can see that grin on his face (Although we aren't sure why he's so serious in this photo).  We think there's something most of us can garner from Mike's story and that is we can all learn from someone who spends a lot of time on the water, regardless of how long we've been fishing.  We hope you'll take the time to live vicariously through his "fishing report".

Trip Report. 10/11/2012

"Never too old to learn"

Always wanted to take a guided trip to have someone evaluate my fishing ability, correct and teach me so I can improve and have a more successful day on the river, but never could justify the cost.  One afternoon while listening to Dave Ramsey telling a listener the things
they could cut out of their spending and reduce their debt, I thought by applying these same techniques it would be possible to save for a trip.  It was amazing how fast my savings grew.  In September I booked a trip with Jake Darling for Oct 11.

Oct 11 - What a beautiful day, the water temps were in the mid 50's, air temp started out at 48 but was forecasted to rise to be in the 70's.  I was so looking forward to it I got to Unicoi Oufitters an hour before they opened.  I knew I had picked the right guide when I saw Jake
wearing a Fish Pond type of vest that was bulging front and back just full of stuff that would be used throughout the day.  We went over what I was wanting to learn and then headed out.

I learned so much that day it made me quite aware how knowledgeable and valuable a really good guide is.  Things I learned throughout the day:

Lesson 1 - Indicator Depth and Weight

Indicator depth is set at about 1.5 x the depth of the water (I was using 2X the depth  and my weight was actually quite a distance from the indicator).
Weight - always make sure I've got my flies ticking along the bottom.  Found out there is a difference between ticking the bottom versus dragging a lead anchor.  Used 50% less weight throughout the day, drift was a lot smoother and I was ticking the bottom.  The weight is placed 12" above the point fly. Point fly is the attractor - second fly 18" from the point fly is the meal. 80-90% of my catches were on the second fly.  A weight too heavy will reduce the ability to feel light takes.

Lesson 2 -  Hook Set

All rigged up and ready to go - point fly was a blue Y2K with an ATOMIC orange tungsten bead.  The second fly was a size 16 rainbow warrior.  Prior to the taking the first cast Jake was reading the water to me, where the seam was, possible places where the trout maybe lying in wait.  Great theory, but does it work - 1st drift -  fish on - fish off.  Uh-oh - here comes Jake.  Time for another lesson.  Fly above me, hook set to either right or left while facing upstream.  Fly below me, swing the rod across while facing downstream.  What I was doing when the fly was downstream and a hit occurred was moving my rod tip upstream pulling the fly right out of the trout's mouth.  Old habits are going to hard to break . By the end of the day that old habit was somewhat gone; it was either hook or not hook.  Jake was able to show me in some clear water the position the trout was taking as my fly approached.  I would have missed the hook set with my old method.

Lesson 3 -  Let the Fish Run

After a hooking large trout, it is important to give your net man time to get positioned to make the net.  Five seconds is not enough time.  If you try to out-power the fish, the size 16 hook will just pull out.  Here comes another lesson.  Jake then explained how to let the trout run, apply some pressure and use the drag on the reel.  Maintain pressure.  I knew all that, but the thought of a large rainbow in the net just did me in.  Spend time practicing on any fish hooked as if it was a large fish.  Later that day, a big one was landed!  

I had the opportunity this past week to guide a wounded vet that was participating in a Project Healing Waters event.  Using the same techniques, I was able to instruct the vet to land a 7 lb rainbow on 4X tippet and a size 16 orange soft hackle.  

Lesson 4 - It's Not the Fly - It's the Drift

How many times have you heard someone asking the guy who is catching the fish "What fly do you have on?" and then wonder why they are not getting any hits.  Watch their drift instead.  Jake did a little experiment with me.  Once I got the hang of the drift, it did not matter if I was using a Rainbow Warrior,  Pheasant Tail or a Hares Ear, they all caught fish.  Mending the line is fairly easy to do and is important to maintain a good drift, when I saw the belly of the line start to get below the indicator I would raise my rod tip and flip the line upstream, what this did is move my indicator 6-10".  After getting instructions from Jake, I was able to mend with only a slight movement on the indicator.  Hold the rod parallel to the water and quickly rotate your wrist in an upstream direction - slack will follow the roll and end upstream.

Then I learned about the unknown "L bend" (as least I was not aware of it).  This is where the line near the indicator would be upstream of the indicator and the main belly of the line downstream.  What happens is the belly pulls on the upstream line and stops the drift.  A slight mend downstream will remove the L bend and the drift continues.  If needed, mend the line back upstream.

Lesson 5 - Sensing the Hit

It was unbelievable that Jake was able tell me I had a hit before I saw it on the indicator but, sure enough, by reacting to Jake's call a fish would be on.  For the next hour all we did was play a game to see if I could detect my indicator move before Jake called out.  He won that game.  However, it was amazing to learn the subtle movements of the line or indicator of a take.  Some hits were so light only the leader would move slightly while the indicator just bobbed along.

Lesson 6 - Time for the Streamers

Forget the wooly buggers, bring on the streamers for big trout, sinking line, 7wt rod, 4" streamer with a skull cap.  This was really interesting.  It took all I had to pick the line out of the water, toss a heavy fly behind me and throw it 40-50'.  No false casting here.  Strip moderately fast with 12" strips, pause after a few strips, strip, pause and wait for a hit, strip, pause.  The side hits were the best and happened right at the pause, a violent hit to say
the least.  The hits from behind could hardly be felt.  Jake would see the fish chase the streamer, inhale it and let go with me never feeling the hit if I was stripping the line.  Big streamers are for the pros and I'll leave it up to them for now.

Did I learn anything?   Yes, a lot of things I thought I was doing correctly were not as correct as I imagined and the things I didn't know I learned.

The guides at Unicoi Outfitters are all outstanding teachers.

How was fishing?  I really was paying more attention to learning and never kept count.  I believe Jake had me down for +30 healthy trout averaging around 18" and a couple of 20"s before lunch.

What's next?  Saving up for a spring trip with Jake.


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