Fishing the Egg Drift
Mid-October is a busy time for Lake Ontario tributaries. Not just for fishermen, but for the fish as well. As mid October approaches an approximately 100,000 salmon will run and spawn in an 8-week period. They will invariably have a big impact on the rivers. One of the biggest impacts on the river, that we as fishermen can take advantage of is the egg drift, that will arise or in this case carpet the river bottom.
Brown trout and the first of the steelhead will be starting their spawning runs and will be arriving right in the middle of the salmon’s spawn. As these fish start to arrive the river bottom will be saturated with eggs. Spawning is the prime concern for both the Brown’s and the Steelhead. But when they are presented with such a feeding opportunity at this magnitude, the fish will take full advantage of it. And so will we.
The feeding opportunity for both the Brown’s and steelhead will rival anything that these fish have experienced. The feeding opportunity can be so large that the Brown’s and the Steelhead will stop spawning and go on the feed. Brown trout have been observed alternating between spawning and feeding, in sections of the river where eggs are unusually heavy. The Steelhead will at times stop running and start to feed. It is not uncommon to find fall Steelhead concentrated in one spot for days as they feed.
At this time of year salmon can be caught with a well-presented egg. We can only guess why but when salmon are charging around and spawning where there are a lot of eggs drifting around. Salmon can often be a sitting ducks for an egg fly.
Despite all the salmon in the river at this time of the year, the egg drift is not a river wide event. Even though fish can be caught all through the river system with egg flies at this time of the year. The heavy concentrations of eggs are a local event; the fish are just keyed into the eggs. The key to finding the heavy concentrations of eggs is obviously where the salmon have concentrated for spawning. The river bottom will be dug up and filled with eggs. And then dug and filled with eggs once again, by the spawning salmon. The prime gravel beds will have several groups of salmon, moving in and spawning only to be replaced with fresh fish to carry on with the whole process once more. It does not take long for the salmon to load up the gravel with eggs. Fresh salmon will move in and dig up the spawning beds of the salmon before them. With all the salmon digging and spawning they will create what I refer to as an egg drift.
Understanding what happens during the egg drift will help the fishermen be more effective while fishing egg flies. The egg drift is much different than the nymph drift that most fishermen are familiar with. The most important thing to remember is that nature has designed the eggs to be densier than water, so that they fall into the river bottom and stay buried in the grave, not withstanding a 30-pound salmon digging them out. Nymphs have the same density as water; this will allow the nymphs to be able to swim and crawl along the river bottom. Eggs are heavier and will quickly fall to the river bottom and drift or roll along and around the rocks, much slower than the river currents. I like to describe this, as a sub drift.
The runs and slots in the tail outs of the spawning beds can be one of the best locations to fish. The tail outs of the spawning beds can have a steady flow of stray eggs all through the spawning season. As long as the spawning beds stay active or when there is an increase in water flow that will dislodge a few stray eggs. Fish can be found in these locations for weeks even after a spawning has stopped. The Brown trout and Steelhead can be found within and around the spawning fish. At times sitting a few feet behind the spawning fish. And sometimes right next to the spawning fish so close that they can be easily overlooked.
The best method of presenting egg flies is the dead drift. The dead drift is best fished, with a floating fly line and 10’ leader. That is 7’ of leader and 3 feet of tippet. Keep the split shot at least 3 feet from the fly. Too close and it will spook the fish, to long and you lose fly control. Start by casting upstream and beyond the intended line to be finished [At About 2:00]. Follow by an immediate upstream mend of the line; this will help to get the fly down much quicker. As the drift progresses downstream mend the line as needed, to continue to maintain line control. First by raising the rod tip and when needed strip in line as the drift progresses downstream lower the rod tip and feed the line out as needed.
The big secret to drifting flies to tributary fish is to maintain contact with the stream bottom. Most of the time the best technique is to use split shot placed between the leader and the tippet. Remember eggs are a little different by nature. Eggs are designed to be heaver than water. This means the flies must drift much slower so that the flies actually drift between the rocks as natural eggs would, unlike nymphs.
Fly design can make a big difference, especially with the lower water flows of fall. I like to keep my fly boxes simple during the fall. I will carry nuclear roe bugs, my favorite egg fly for the fall, and carpet flies, good at any time and are the best egg fly I have seen. I have found that glow bugs do not work as well with the lower water flows that are common during the fall, but I do carry a good supply. I tie these flies in; chartreuse, orange, Oregon cheese and pink. That is about all the colors I will carry. As I said earlier I like to keep the fly boxes simple.
More often I will find a fly design change is more effective, than changing color. For an example, feeding Brown’s will sometimes take a carpet fly and eject it quickly. If the fish are not seen taking the fly, then the take will not be detected. Switching to a nuclear roe bug, the glow bug yarn will hang up in the fish’s teeth and you have a chance at setting the hook.
The egg drift does provide an excellent opportunity for Brown’s and Steelhead fishing at this time of the year. Fishing egg flies is not the only option. With all the spawning fish digging up the river bottom, these fish will knock loose a lot of nymphs and aquatic life that the fish will take advantage of. Drifting nymphs behind the spawning fish wherever the river bottom is extremely snag prone. Nymphs may not be the hottest fly to fish but the fly can be presented properly and that can make the fly hot. Nymphs drift a little higher in the water, and out of the rocks.
The egg drift of mid October is just one of the opportunities that fishermen can take advantage of. All we must do is recognize the opportunity and take advantage of it.