Written by: Seth Berger
In mid-August, I hosted a trip to one of the most remote fisheries on the planet, the Kamchatka Peninsula, more specifically the Ozernaya River. The “Oz” is in the middle of a restricted Russian military zone halfway up the Peninsula, about 300 miles from the capitol city Petropavlovsk-Kamchatskiy. The only way in or out being by helicopter, which means that only 70 anglers a year have the opportunity to fish it. This results in aggressive fish that are eager to take your fly.
One of the reasons Kamchatka is quickly rising to the top of anglers’ bucket lists is that the mouse fishing can be ridiculous. Over the course of five days, I caught six species–rainbow trout, graying, Dolly Varden, coho salmon, pink salmon, and chum salmon–on various mouse patterns. The recommended technique for fishing a mouse fly varied depending on which guide you were fishing with, and all were effective.
Below are the four techniques we had success with. I’ve used some of these on my home water in southern Vermont, as well, and have seen similar, although significantly more sporadic, success.
Twitch & Drift
The twitch-and-drift method was the one I had the most confidence in. Cast slightly upstream, sometimes as much as quartering upstream, and as your fly drifts down, pick up the slack enough to stay tight to the fly. As you retrieve line, occasionally use your rod tip or make an extra strip to give the fly a twitch. As the fly gets past you, feed some line onto the water to allow the fly to continue to drift while imparting that same twitching motion. I got the most strikes just after a twitch. This method is very similar to how you might fish a caddis dry fly.
Pop & Swing
With the pop-and-swing method, you can’t make too much noise with your fly. Cast quartering downstream, with a downstream reach-cast or a quick downstream mend as soon as your line hits the water. This will put a belly in you line and get the fly moving right away. As the fly is swinging, jerk your rod toward the bank the fly is swinging/swimming towards, to make the fly splash, much like a popper. The best mouse patterns for this are those that have a lip on the front—such as a Mr. Hankey or Morris 2.0–to ensure that the fly moves a lot of water. The popping noise seemed to trigger fish to make explosive takes, but due to the fast movement of the fly it also resulted in a fair number of missed opportunities. In Kamchatka this wasn’t too concerning because the fish are so plentiful, but you may want to keep this in mind when fishing your local waters.
Along with the short strips, this is the most realistic presentation. Cast directly across the current, or a little downstream, and finish with your rod tip high. The more line you can keep off the water, the better. As your fly is carried by the current, continually move your rod tip side to side. The shorter and quicker the movement the better to get your mouse skittering across the surface. Try to think of the mouse as frantically swimming to get to the bank. Mice aren’t the best swimmers, so they don’t move too quickly. They certainly don’t want to be in the water, though, so they try to get to the bank without stopping. Moving you hand as if you’re coloring in a bubble on the SAT yields some pretty good results. Often, trout hit a mouse fly but don’t eat it, so be patient when setting the hook. If a trout does hit your mouse but doesn’t eat it, let the mouse dead-drift. The fish often hit it first to stun it and will come back and eat it a few seconds later.
Just like skittering, the idea behind short strips is to give the mouse a very lifelike movement. Cast directly across the river or slightly downstream, so that you stay tight to your fly the whole time. When making your strips, the smaller the better. Remember, you’re trying to mimic a mouse swimming, so one- to two-inch fast strips are best. I try not to move my arm but rather just my wrist when doing it. Remember to be patient when setting the hook.
Seth Berger is an Orvis Fly-Fishing Travel Specialist. Click here for details on the 2020 Orvis Week in Kamchatka, July 20-27.