September 26, 2008

How to fish a clam

So now that we know that roughfish love 'clams', and have finally found a pattern that effectively resembles a freshwater mussel that can catch fish, the question now lies, how do we fish it?

Obviously, freshwater mussels are not extremely motile. Their only means of locomotion consists of a 'foot', which is able to pull the animal along through the substrate on the river bottom. This foot also serves as an anchor, when the mussel is sessile. They are typically found in sandy and rocky areas (not muddy) and require a constant source of clean, cool water.

The 'Darth Clam'

It's been no secret to John Montana and I, that big carp love clams. As I've found out over the past few weeks, this does not just apply to carp, but other mollusk eating fish as well, like freshwater drum, redhorse, quillback, and other sucker species. For these bigger fish, I am fishing these flies in rocky areas adjacent to sand flats that hold vegetation. Plenty of fish hold on those flats, and I've caught quite a few of them on this pattern there, but those fish are typically smaller, with the occasional beefy fish thrown in to the mix. In hindsight, this doesn't apply strictly to the Darth Clam pattern, but to all patterns. Big fish hold in rocky water. The deeper, rocky water holds bigger prey items like crawfish and mussels that these fish can gorge themselves on, while providing a deep water refuge from predators and other threats. They don't get that big without a reason.

As far as fishing the Darth Clam, I don't think it matters as much as to what type of bottom you fish, as long as there are freshwater mussels present there. I am fishing this pattern in an area with known mussel beds. I know this because I've caught a few of them with a fly before. The rocky areas in the main channel have current there. I typically dead drift the fly along the clam beds, bouncing it along the bottom. I have to believe that some of these smaller mussels occasionally get dislodged from the bottom (especially with other fish foraging along the bottom) and with the current, they tumble off downstream. The fish key in to those free moving mussels and pick them off for an easy meal. They must really like them, because almost every strike I've had with this pattern has been aggressive. One carp even had a fly buried deep in the back of his throat, while I was tight line nymphing! It just inhaled it.

When fishing this fly in the flats, find a pod of fish and cast your fly to the edge of them and let it sit there. It typically won't marinate there for very long before a fish takes it. I've tried sight fishing this pattern to a couple of bigger fish in the shallows, but the splash tends to spook wary fish. Tying the pattern with a smaller 4mm bead will reduce the splash, but I like the sink rate of the 6mm bead better. To be honest, I've even stripped the fly in slowly, just to see what would happen, and managed to catch fish with it. I'm not sure if presentation even really matters, as long as this fly is near the bottom.

There are a couple of things to keep in mind when fishing this pattern. I wouldn't advise fishing it with anything less than a 7 wt. While the 9 I was fishing with last week may have seemed like overkill, it was put through its paces. On a couple of fish I was glad I had it along when I was watching my fly line peel down to the backing, the fish still running headstrong in to the current. It was all I could to turn these fish and keep them from running downstream all the way to Fargo. A fighting butt is not a luxury item here, but a necessity. The other thing is to make sure you have a fresh leader, and high quality tippet. I use Rio Powerflex, typically 1X-3X, depending on the rod weight, water clarity and fly pattern used, and have had zero issues with fish breaking off. Use a good knot system. I hand tie my tapered leaders and use double surgeon's knots (I may start upgrading them to triple surgeon's) to connect the sections of leader. For my leader to tippet connection, I use a leader loop connection system using perfection knots to form loops on the end of the leader and start of the tippet. This is the same connection system used on the newer welded loop fly lines and leaders. It is much easier to change out tippet sections with this system, and maintain the length of your leader. Tying on new tippet with the old system resulted in the shortening of the leader over time. For the tippet to fly connection, I use a non-slip loop knot. It allows my fly to freely move, which is at times crucial when fishing nymphs to wary fish like quillbacks. If fly movement is not crucial to you, a palomar knot is one of the strongest knot you can use. You'll typically break off at the tippet/leader knots before breaking this knot off at the fly.

The final thing is to bring a strong, well rested arm. This is one pattern that will give you a work out. You may even break a sweat. This fly catches big fish, resulting in big strong fights. Be prepared. Consider this your warning.

Good Luck! See you on the water.

- the roughfisher