It’s not often that someone hates the title of your story before you write it, but that is the case with this piece. Last fall, while fishing with a good buddy (who prefers to remain nameless) we were discussing the merits of the angling method we’d been using for the last few trout-fishing expeditions — fly and bubble. He really liked how far he could throw a fly when the bubble was filled more than halfway with water which got me thinking. “Throwing Bubbles — that’s what I’ll call my article,” I said.
My enthusiasm was met with much manly scorn. And he had a good point. Something that can, at times, be brutally effective shouldn’t be described so frivolously. But it’s my title, and I’m sticking with it.
Many people, like my buddy and I, can only afford so much equipment and devote only so much time to their recreational endeavors. Learning how to fly fish, and getting geared up to do so, is out of the question for many spin anglers. But when the fish are ignoring spoons and spinners, and hitting flies instead, then something must be done to level the playing field.
He had been frustrated by a fishing trip that yielded few bites and no fish, so he went to Bass Pro for some new lures and advice. He left with flies, bubbles, leader and a crude drawing that diagrammed the method of many future excursions. I still have a copy of that drawing somewhere. Since then I have asked others for fly-and-bubble advice, read some books and spent hours out on the water finding out what works best for me. People I have taught have caught their share of fish, so I think I’m on the right track.
For many anglers, the first question would be which pole to use, which would start a debate on lengths, weights, reels, etc. My answer is easy — use the pole you got.
Buy a package of 2-inch bubble floats. While they are made of tough plastic, I seem to either break one on a rock or they crack after repeated whacks on the water, so having spares is a good idea. The bubbles come with a hollow stem that is tapered, which allows you to fill the bubble part way with water for added weight for casting.
Feed the line through the small end of the stem first, then tie it to a snap swivel. The snap swivel should be able to move freely in the larger end of the stem. I have found that a Palomar knot is easiest to tie to the snap swivel though many use an improved clinch knot. Then push on the small end of the stem and dip the bubble in the water and fill about two-thirds full of water, then push on the larger end to trap the water in the bubble.
Some people buy purpose-built, 6- to 9-foot, tapered leaders made for fly fishing. They’re great. But I prefer to tie my own out of 4- or 6-pound monofilament line. My reasoning is that: A. I can adjust the length easily to the fishing conditions. B. I’m cheap. C. Yep, it’s mostly because I’m cheap. For most conditions, I spool off a piece of line as long as my outstretched arms. On one end I tie a loop knot (SaltStrong.com did a comparison of four loop knots and the Kreh Loop Knot won) and I then secure to loop to the snap swivel. The other end of the line is for the flies, which I attach with a improved clinch knot.
Almost all wet-fly, nymph or streamer patterns work well for fishing with a fly-and-bubble rig. Some of the more popular choices include Renegade, Gray Ugly, Soft Hackle, Woolly Bugger, Muddler Minnow, Clouser Minnow, leeches, scuds, Pheasant Tail, damsels, Gold-Ribbed Hare’s Ear and Prince Nymphs. TIP: Add a small split-shot to the leader, 10 to 12 inches above nymphs, to reach fish that are suspended above moss beds or feeding near the bottom. My buddy’s go-to fly is an olive Woolly Bugger, especially when fishing Georgetown Lake. My favorite is a Gray Ugly which has been hard to find in stores, so it pays to know someone who ties flies.
Casting (throwing bubbles) takes a little getting used to. I’ve lost a few flies (okay, more than a few) because I forgot to take the 6 feet or so of leader into account and got caught up in branches along the shore or on something in the back of the canoe. The more water you put in the bubble, the further you can chuck it, but it will also float lower and be harder to see to use as a strike indicator. I like to cast a bit past a spot that likely holds fish, and reel in until I see the bubble move and the leader get tight, then I do a fairly slow retrieve, taking a break now and then to jig the fly or let it settle down a bit.
Strikes can be subtle, so be ready to set the hook. I’ve mostly used this method on trout in lakes and ponds, but I’ve also had luck with bluegill, crappie and bass. Fly-and-bubble angling proves that flies aren’t just for fly fishermen. And fish don’t care what pole you use.
Article and photos by Wayne D. Lewis. Lewis is editor and art director of Colorado Outdoors magazine.