The reel's drag sang that raspy whine that always sends thrills through a fisherman's body. The whir of a fly reel on high- speed payout has to be one of the out- doors' best symphonies. It was the fifth time in less than 10 minutes and there was no doubt in my mind just what was on the other end of the line: a chunky Strawberry reservoir cutthroat. It had happened more than 20 times already today and the fish ran from three-quarters of a pound to a couple of three-pound footballs. There was only one problem; it wasn't my line to which the fish was warmly anchored.
I'd fished Strawberry for more than 20 years and always caught my fair share of fish, but today was another story. As John Braden landed another cutt, his 10th in the past half-hour, my finely honed fishing ego had taken all the hits it could stand. After all, Braden was a transplant from Michigan. What could he possibly know about Strawberry trout that I didn't? Turns out he knew a lot.
It was Braden's idea to hit Strawberry on this early fall morning. We brought our bass boats up, made sure the electric trolling motor batteries were topped off, and set out for the shallows near where the Renegade boat ramp sits. Braden had this "new" wind-drifting technique he'd been touting and it was time for him to put up, or shut up. The technique soon proved to be deadly, for his boat. Not 10 minutes after rigging up an olive woolly-bugger with grizzly hackle, the first fish of the day was engaged. It didn't take long for his fishing partner to hang a nice fish either. The cycle repeated itself dozen of times during the first few hours.
On the Brown boat it was another story. Not a bump, nothing. Both boats were moving at the same speed, using only the 15-mile an hour wind to push us across a quarter-mile wide bay in 25 feet of water. We both had the same fly, trailed about the same distance behind the boat. But something was definitely wrong here. Finally, Braden yelled across, "How many ya got?" Now, we knew his eyes were better than that, a mechanical contractor had to pay better attention to detail just 10 feet away. His question was his subtle way of letting us know he'd be glad to lend his expertise to our problem.
It didn't take long to isolate the error. While he and partner Rick Couron were pillaging the cutthroat population on their fly rods with full sinking line, we were doing a slow boil because the sinking tip line attached to our rods produced nothing. A quick line change and our fortunes changed, and fishing at Strawberry hasn't been the same for me since.
Strawberry Reservoir, as anyone who's fished it more than once knows, can be a fickle mistress. When she's hot she's hot but when she's not... well, you know the rest. Doldrums calm can be turned into a three-foot chop in a matter of minutes. The shallow water rolls at the slightest puff of a breeze, and most breezes on Strawberry are much more than a puff. But therein lies the reason for this article.
Since my bust to boom fishing trip with John Braden, I have consistently caught cutthroat and rainbows using the same technique.
It's really quite simple. Outfit a rod with full sinking line, or use a spinning rod with from one to three split-shot sinkers, depending on the wind velocity. Attach a woolly bugger or leech-pattern fly, let out 50 to 75 feet of line and wait. The stronger the wind, the better the success rate. As the wind pushes you across the big reservoir, your fly will drift in front of fish in a natural manner. The lazy presentation is likely the key to the effectiveness of wind drifting.
Wind drift strikes are usually aggressive. A quick counter-set is often unnecessary and can sometimes be counter-productive. When you feel the strike, allow the rod to bend and set the hook with a smooth, sweeping motion. It's not uncommon for a fish to return to the fly if you happen to get a bit over-anxious, so don't give up if you miss the first strike. It doesn't take you long to get the timing.
If you happen to hit of one those dead-calm Strawberry days, don't despair. Sometimes Mother Nature just needs a helping hand, especially during the morning hours. Chances are good that by midday she'll be able to push you along by herself. In the interim, an electric trolling motor is ideal. If your budget doesn't allow for an electric, a gas-powered trolling motor will do, but the noise factor definitely seems to affect the catch rate.
Fisheries biologists tell me there's a good reason the wind drifting technique is so effective. First, the wave action in the lake is enhanced when the wind blows. Small food items are often dislodged from moss beds or washed from shore. These food items stimulate feeding activity.
The cutthroat trout is a pelagic, or open-water fish, used to feeding with little structural reference. A tasty-looking morsel presented in the middle of open water is often just too tempting to pass up. However, you're just as likely to hang one of Strawberry's huge rainbows while wind-drifting.
There's another reason I believe wind drifting is so effective. I ardently subscribe to the falling barometer theory. Experience has convinced me fish bite best when the barometer is falling. This is especially true of still-water fish. Wind is often associated with a changing barometer and provides me with another reason to have faith in the wind drift technique.
While most of my experience with wind drifting has involved the use of flies, on both fly rods and spinning rods, let your imagination guide your lure selection. I've taken fish on Crippled Herring spoons, Triple Teasers and even Pop Gear in exactly the same way.
The same approach works well on other lakes as well. Henry's Lake in Idaho sports many of the same traits as Strawberry. Relatively shallow with lots of summer underwater growth, Henry's can develop a mean chop with very little provocation. Wind drifting is an excellent way to put yourself on top of the lakes' large hybrids.
So the next time the wind starts to howl and the other boats head for shelter, batten down the hatches, rig up a wind drift outfit and be prepared for an afternoon of fishin' fun.