People often inquire about the most effective fly patterns for fishing in San Luis Reservoir. For years, my response was quite straightforward: Clousers. However, during a recent fishing expedition with Dan Blanton, I posed a thought-provoking question: Does being a skilled fly tyer enhance one’s prowess as a fisherman? Dan’s response was that you can indeed excel at fly fishing without tying your own flies if you rely on accomplished anglers to develop and purchase them. Nonetheless, it’s worth noting that I can hardly think of any master fly fishermen who don’t craft their own flies.
My journey into fly tying initially began as a means to save money. However, I quickly realized that fly tying was more about the art of deception than frugality. One of the first books on fly tying that I ever perused was “Selective Trout” by Doug Swisher and Carl Richards. The notion that a well-crafted fly could be the difference between catching ten trout or none at all fascinated me and drew me deeper into the world of fly tying. Success on the water was directly tied to one’s ability to fashion a fly that convincingly imitated a fish’s natural diet. In recent years, I revisited this principle while striper fishing in San Luis Reservoir and O’Neill Forebay.
Among many seasoned San Luis fly fishermen, there exist tried-and-true patterns that consistently produce results when the fish are actively feeding. Many firmly believe that if a fly worked in the past, it will continue to work, which holds true for the most part. In fact, I can recall instances of catching stripers on nearly bare hooks and even on a weighted snagging treble hook. When the fish are ravenous and in a feeding frenzy, the specific fly pattern becomes less significant compared to other variables. Even when the fish are less eager to bite, as a well-known guide once told me, “Even a blind old hog finds an acorn once in a while.”
However, what if you could gain an advantage when the fish become selective and finicky eaters? What if you discovered a fly that outperforms the rest in your tackle box? It’s not often that experienced fishermen find themselves outdone by someone in the same boat using identical lines, leaders, and retrieve techniques but with a different fly. I’ve experienced this firsthand. Eliminating other variables such as line type, sink rate, leader length, and retrieve method makes it apparent that the fly design might be the key. Perhaps, when you’re not having a day with a bounty of 20 fish, fly design could indeed provide you with the edge you need. For many, they will remain skeptics until they conduct their own experiments or one day experience how a simple change in fly can make all the difference.
Ever since I installed a livescope in my boat, I consider most of my fly caught stripers “site fished”. I rarely cast to fish I don’t see on the livescope. After spending days looking at flies go past Stripers on the scope I can usually tell when they see the fly and just aren’t interested. Most of the time, I start changing my flies this happens.
Over the years, I’ve also experimented with using a pulse disc to infuse additional movement into my flies. Initially, I believed this always made a significant difference, but careful observation has led me to understand that there are moments when a plain fly performs better than one equipped with a pulse disc. Sometimes, introducing this extra variable into the equation complicates the already challenging task of determining which fly to use.
Furthermore, there’s another variable that’s even more intangible – the confidence you have in a particular fly. When you’re fishing solo, without a control (another angler in the boat using the exact same gear), the belief in a specific fly can undoubtedly provide you with an edge. Focusing on detecting strikes and executing flawless retrieves with each cast can elevate any angler’s performance.
The fish in the Lake and Forebay possess a remarkably diverse palate. While their primary diet consists of Delta Smelt and Threadfin Shad, they exhibit opportunistic feeding behaviors, devouring creatures that most other striped bass populations wouldn’t touch. These local stripers have been known to consume juvenile 12-inch stripers, American shad, adult red ear sunfish, and crappies. On a lighter note, I’ve examined stomach contents revealing the presence of scuds, grass shrimp, damselfly nymphs, midges, snails, crawdads, and Gobi fish throughout the year.
To further complicate matters, the size of the Delta Smelt and Threadfin Shad can fluctuate between 2 inches and 6 inches, and this variation isn’t solely tied to seasonal changes but also depends on water conditions. As I write this, the Threadfin Shad in the Forebay measure around 2.5 inches, whereas last year, they reached 4 inches in length.