If you consider yourself an urban angler, then you know the almost giddy urgency that hits the gut and the head (and occasionally, the bladder, if traffic has been particularly gnarly) once you finally shift the vehicle into “Park” and strike out across the blacktop toward a chosen target water.
I know I’m definitely guilty of that approach. In fact, my fishing buddy, Sean and I have gotten it down to a science to where we can assemble our four-piece 5-weights, tie on new leader material and have flies selected and secured to the tippet in the time it takes us to go from car to water’s edge.
I’m not bragging, I’m just sayin’. The “urban” part of our chosen obsession sometimes leads us to do things with the proverbial “New York minute” mindset.
Recently however, there was a post on the OrvisNews.com blog that caused me to pause and even reconsider my “assault”
mentality. The article offered some very valid and timely tips regarding taking a moment to actually use our God-given senses to assess and evaluate our target fishing area before “flinging the string” – even if it is a location we have fished many, many times before.
Now, regular readers already know that due to the somewhat dubious nature of the various “swims” (as the Brits say) we often choose to fish, we are constantly watching for things like drug deals, drive-bys, enraged Rottweilers, gang initiations, guys dealing with the aftermath of alleged alien abduction, kids looking to score some “free” gear… the usual urban stuff … however, since reading the OrvisNews article, I’ve taken to considering how excessive attention to those non-fishing realities may have caused us to hit the water a little too abruptly and a little too anxiously resulting in fewer fish.
Thus, with that fresh insight in mind, I have taken the liberty of copying below the checklist from the OrvisNews.com article (with my own commentary) in the hopes that learning to “surveil before we flail” will ultimately make us all better urban anglers.
So, assuming you have made it across the lot, soccer field, railroad tracks, chain link or other assorted obstacles typically associated with urban fishing and assuming you have already taken in to account the aforementioned scenarios, also consider the following BEFORE making that first cast, no matter how tempting things first look:
1. Do you see any fish rising?
Sure, you may be on urban water but fish are fish and if you watch carefully, depending on time of day and season, you will see fish rising along the banks, in quiet spots and under overhanging brush. That info alone may help you in your choice of fly and/or tactic for the day
2. Can you spot any fish holding or moving?
Several of the locations we regularly hit require an approach from a hill or steep bank or other elevated vantage point. Consider stopping and watching for a moment before racing as quickly as possible to water’s edge. Polarized glasses really prove their worth in these situations. Observing fish from above and from a distance may alter your approach angle and give you that little edge you need to make the day a success rather than a wash.
3. Are there insects on the water? In the air? Crawling in the streamside vegetation?
Again, fish are still fish no matter the zip code and trout, panfish and bass will still hit insects hovering above or blowing into an urban pond with the same vigor that
their wild cousins do in other settings. Now, it’s not as important to matchthe hatch in the urban setting but an abundance of insects in and around the water might tip your decision toward choosing the ant and hopper imitations over the nymph and bugger choices, making for a totally different experience on water you may have fished a dozen times before.
4. How is the water clarity?
If you can see them, they can see you and heavily pressured urban fish will hunker down quickly if they feel any threat. Consider staying well back from the bank, if
possible, to avoid having your shadow fall on the water. Use wind chop and ripples to your advantage. Though rarely practiced in the urban setting, mostly because you’re likely to be mistaken for a sniper or pervert, keeping a low profile can give you an advantage with spooky fish. Finally, learn how clarity affects fish vision. Talk to the local fly guys. Ask them what is working for the current conditions, and then buy a few of those patterns from them.
5. Is the water higher or lower than normal?
Urban lakes and ponds are generally rather shallow and even small fluctuations in water depth can change the desirability or accessibility of various structure that certain fish would otherwise choose. Don’t automatically assume the usual spots will work if you notice (keyword: notice) a change in water level. However, definitely use low water levels to examine exposed areas. Note structure and shape that was once and will soon be underwater again. Take pictures if you can. We recently spoke to a non-fishing gentleman who lived near a local pond and volunteered that he had observed a deep channel in one part of that particular pond when it was once drained for maintenance. That little nugget alone has helped us pull sizeable fish out of there on several occasions.
6. Can you identify likely holding spots—behind current breaks, near structure, below riffles, etc.?
In other words, “think before you blindly plink”.
7. Do you need to get in the water, or can you fish from shore?
Not typically legal, or medically desirable in many urban waters but in a few locations it really could make a difference in the success of your day. Refer back to the UFV article “Tortilla Flats” for an example.
8. Is there a good place to get in the water that will avoid spooking fish and position you well to cast to likely fish-holding spots?
See comment above.
9. Are there any wading hazards you’ll need to avoid?
Forget wading hazards, in the urban fishing setting, you always need to be aware of potential hazards: broken bottles, rusty pipes sticking up, pop-up sprinkler heads, used hypodermic needles, dead ducks filled with the gas of decomposition ready to explode at the slightest nudge, discarded monofilament that will wrap around
your boots…If you haven’t been paying attention so far consider yourself very, very blessed and consider changing your ignorant ways.
10. Are there any obstacles that you’ll need to avoid while fighting a fish?
I say consider this from a fish-on perspective, a back-casting perspective and sadly, a got-to-get-away-quick perspective. You are in an urban setting – it is a given
that there will be obstacles, including kids on scooters directly behind you. Plan accordingly. Should you tie in to a real fighter while fishing from the bank, most fellow anglers will follow “boat rules” and will reel in or raise their lines so you can pass beneath, especially because as an urban fly fisherman you are still an oddity and they want to see if you really can land something with a fly rod. Also consider that many urban lakes have artificial structure in them, some intentionally placed there to improve habitat and some just there because certain folks somehow think it is fun to chuck stuff into the water. The first time a good bass breaks off by wrapping around a submerged shopping cart you’ll know what I mean.
And there you have it – ten tips to better angling courtesy Orvisnews.com and adjusted to the urban fly environment courtesy yours truly. Now, I know there are probably many more tips and considerations we could come up with if we really tried, The point however is basically the same one we all learned in grade school: “stop, look, listen, then go”. Ironically, in the realm of urban fly fishing that simple, time-tested advice can still keep us from getting hit by a bus but it can also make us much better anglers.
I love this addiction called urban fly fishin’.
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