Delayed Harvest University

By Jeff Durniak
Unicoi Outfitters

As our Delayed Harvest season starts, this DH vet offers a few tips to increase your post-trip smiles and stories. Let’s think of DH streams as colleges and their stocked trout as year-classes. So, welcome to DH University! Hey, bear with me; I told you that I’ll help you catch more fish!

Stepping into streams on the opener, we’re surrounded by Freshmen. In Georgia, they’re fresh transplants from “schools” at Lake Burton, Buford, Rock Creek, and Summerville. Rabunites call them “dumplins,” straight off the stocking truck and looking for Mama Fish Tech’s bucket of trout chow. They hang in schools in pool tails, which must feel like their former concrete surroundings. To find Frosh, cover a lot of ground and attract them with color and movement! It will be famine for a long stretch until you discover where the DNR netful hit the water. Then it’s feast! Here are feasting tips: use small (#10 or 12) Woolly Buggers and bigger, bright junk flies like #10-12 worm and egg patterns, and make sure you move them with twitches and strips!

After two weeks of your fondling, Frosh learn and graduate to Sophomores. Folks who still fish for Frosh see their catches plummet! Why? Sophs have spread out via floods and have learned that gaudy flies stripped across current hurt their lips. Through hunger, they’ve also learned about natural drifting food. Now it’s time to pull out your good drift, read the water, and bump your flies along the bottom. Try the squirmy or egg as your first attractor fly, then add a #16 bright nymph like a Lightning Bug as the dropper on 5x tippet. Those little bright bugs will get their attention.

Soon the sore-lipped Sophs learn that bright bugs don’t look or taste like the real ones, and advance to Juniors. About 4-6 weeks into the season, switch the dropper to natural patterns like #14-16 Pheasant Tails, Hare’s Ears, Prince Nymphs and their soft hackle versions. And you’d better have a good, natural drift.

Survivors soon get pickier and advance to Seniors. Two months into DH and you’re fishing for seemingly wild fish! Turn over submerged rocks and match the small, dark winter nymphs with tiny versions of your Junior flies in sizes 18-20 on 6X tippet behind your egg or #10 Pat’s Rubberlegs attractor. Have a great drift and get ready for very subtle strikes, especially when water temps drop into the 40’s.

If the Seniors are smarter than you, there’s still hope! By design, monthly agency restockings replace fish lost to floods, natural predators, and angler fondling, so you have more shots at underclassmen. Keep the Bugger, Rubberlegs, or egg as your first fly for Frosh, and drop a size 18 Pheasant Tail or #20 Zebra Midge on 6x tippet behind it to show the Seniors you’re still smarter than they are.

Good luck at DH University as you teach those fish some lessons!