Water Boatman

Discussion in 'Stillwater' started by Jeff Dodd, Apr 1, 2013.

  1. Yesterday afternoon I walked down to Lone Lake (whidbey Island) to look at the number, and type, of bugs on the water. The first thing I noticed were the sheer number of adult chironomids on the water.

    As I am looking and watching the varieties of chironomids, a water boatman swims past me, just out of arms reach. I don't encounter these bugs often but have seen them before. This however was my first time watching one swim just under the surface, in an erratic swimming motion, sort of damsel-esque, jutting left to right, but much faster than a damsel.

    I rarely fish boatman or backswimmer patterns and have only landed one fish using this fly. This was in the Fall, and it was not until one flew into my neck that I tied on the imitation.

    I am wondering, do others fish this pattern during spring? If so, what is the approach and how do you imitate the erratic swimming motion I saw yesterday?

    Wes Neuenschwander likes this.
  2. I fish them in the spring on an intermediate line. Fast jerks and slow strips. The takes are usually pretty aggressive.

  3. Jeff,
    The only times I've ever seen enough of them to put in any effort fishing them have all been in eastern wa. Even then I didn't give them much time.
    I'm sure here on the westside there are times when the fish key in on them, although I've never found one in a throat sample.

    Perhaps board member Go Fish will chime in on this. He and our friend John have had some banner days fishing them on the dry side.
    I recall one day at Dry Falls watching those two put on a clinic using waterboatman. We also witnessed a pretty crazy feeding frenzy on them at Beda with lots of them flying out of the water and the fish in fast pursuit.
    I've always wondered is there such a thing as a waterboatman hatch? If so, that had to be one.
    Jeff Dodd likes this.
  4. I have witnessed this same phenomenon on a south central Oregon lake. It was crazy. The boatmen were able to fly 10-15 yards in the air before splashing down again. The fish were going nuts trying to catch them. I had never had much use for boatmen patterns until that day....
  5. Chief,
    It was indeed quite a site to see. I know nothing about their life cycle, thus my question regarding the possible hatch.
    If anyone knows what causes lots of them to start flying out of the water at the same time, I'd enjoy hearing about it.
    Jeff Dodd likes this.
  6. I've fished water boatman patterns in Canada before and on occation been witness to a water boatman "fall". It looks like its raining and the fish will take notice of them then, but mostly in Washington, I haven't used the pattern much. Kirk
    Jeff Dodd likes this.
  7. I think it was John that first tried the
    water boatman and turned me on to them.
    It is a must have bug for me. It seems to
    work best in E Wa but I have had good
    results on the wet side also. The strikes
    are usually savage which means don't
    go light on the tippet poundage.

    Jeff Dodd likes this.
  8. Thanks for the replies all. I need to tie a few more water boatman flies to stock my box for the eventual day when I run across this boatman rain!

    A member of our club did get into a boatman fall once on Lone, and like you all describe, the fishing was terrific and the strikes jarring.

    I want some!
  9. Yep
  10. What are some favorite patterns to strip on the intermediate line?
  11. I honestly don't what the name is, but my favorite pattern is the one with the olive dubbing for the body, duck wing for the back (blue) and the rubber legs that stick straight out, or slightly forwad. The overall size of the one I use, is where the body is basically like cutting a dime in half.

    If you watch the insect in the water, it's legs actually come to a rest, between stokes, just slightly forward. I have tried the beadhead patterns and don't get nearly the results as the one I described above. The only draw back is that the duck wing back doesn't last that long if you forget to add a little Super glue or head cement.

    The takes are as Beeman said, very aggressive! Sometimes they can snap you off. It really is a different kind of take, until you get use to it.
  12. I was on Lone for a hatch two or three yrs ago in the Spring. It took me a while to figure it out as they really smack into the water with a loud plop and I was thinking of flies coming off and how they could do that??? They were bouncing off my Watermaster too with an auble 'blip' and that's when I sussed it, I had no idea for about 20 minutes but trout were splashing all around me. I didn't have any imitations but I had some leaded black and peacock spiders in size 12, a good general bug imitation. I didn't have to do anything clever, I cast out and typically fish would take the fly on the drop or on the first strip, they were that keyed in on them. The fact they were leaded gave them a really good slashdown. It was an awesome 2 hrs or so of fishing.

    I would cast to rising fish when I saw them. There was one other angler keyed in too, in a pram I think, we had the place or that area at least to ourselves. We didn't talk, just had great sport. I've tied up a bunch of imitations since then but true to form, I've never seen another 'hatch' or perhaps 'landing' may be more appropriate. A silver tag (the air bubble on their butt), brown wool body with a varnished pheasant tail back and two goose biots sticking out as legs. I used some lead underwraps too to assist in the 'landing'. Tied up a load more leaded B&P spiders too :) If it happens again, I'm ready.


    Jeff Dodd likes this.
  13. The water boatman is my go to fly at Amber lake in Eastern Washington. I discovered it one year when the rivers were too high to fish until mid July.
    One day on the lake (mid to late June) the surface was boiling with rises except to the contents of my fly box. As I was searching for yet another fly to throw at the fish, I heard a splash next to me, and noticed a water boatman swimming away. That evening I went home and searched the web for a boatman pattern to no avail. The closest I found was the chrome bug, which is noway close to a boatman.
    After researching this fascinating beetle I came up with a pattern that I have used for the past 10 years. I'll try to get a picture on line as soon as I can.

    The basic formula is : Hook Size 10 dry fly (I often use fine wire hooks)
    Tail 3-4 strands holographic flash
    Underbody White foam
    Body 4-5 peacock hurls
    Shell back lacquered pheasant tail
    Legs large black rubber legs

    This is a floating pattern that I fish with an intermediate line. I use a leader that is a little longer than the depth of the water. I never use less than 3X tippet because the takes are typically very hard and this fly is fished in and near heavy weeds.
    If you are lucky enough to happen upon a mating or migration flight ( they have wings beneath their hard shell backs) hold on. Slap the fly down hard on the water, like a hopper, and let it sit for 5 to 10 seconds before doing a series of short fast strips. When reentering the water the boatman have to hit hard to break the surface tension and I think the trout key in on the splash.
    This fly can also be fished the rest of the year over weed beds and right in the tules. I tend to fish right in the weeds like I was fishing for bass.
    Like I said, I'll try to post a photo.
    ganglyangler, Jeff Dodd and Stonefish like this.
  14. Phil Rowley's Greater Water Floatman.

    Roper and Jeff Dodd like this.
  15. Jeff, I'm a big proponent of fishing waterboatmen patterns in early spring and mid-autumn, both in eastern WA and up in BC. Mid-autumn is the best time, as that is when you get the biggest waterboatmen migrations, but early spring is also good, before the chironomid hatches get going. On a clear day with no rain, watch for what look like small BB's hitting the water or what look like bird droppings hitting the water, except that there are no birds overhead, or raindrops even though there are no clouds. Most likely, those BB's are actually waterboatmen hitting the water hard to break the surface water tension. At Dry Falls Lake one September, I returned to my car and found 7 dead waterboatmen that had hit the top of my black car roof, as they must have thought the car roof was water. Since waterboatmen have to get to the surface to get air, you'd think that waterboatmen would only be over shallow shoals, but I've found fish taking waterboatmen patterns even down to 35 feet. I think the waterboatmen can swim very deep and can last for a long time underwater before needing to get air. Any fly pattern that is small (#10 to 14), short & stubby and dark will work, like a Halfback, black GHRE or Prince Nymph. In my opinion, having legs on your pattern is not important, as I usually catch fish on my waterboatmen patterns that don't have legs. A beadhead helps to cause the fly to jig or dive slightly. The way the fly pattern is retrieved is the key, not the fly pattern. I recommend retrieving the fly in very short (1 to 3 inches), very quick (think dealing cards, except quicker), erratic strips with no pausing (if you suffer from repetitive stress injury to your wrist, this technique is not for you). Strikes will be very hard, so I use 2X tippets when fishing this method. If the "tug is the drug" type of fishing appeals to you, then you'll love fishing waterboatmen patterns; it is one of my favorite ways to fish due to the aggressive strikes. Another reason to fish waterboatmen patterns in the early spring, even if you don't see any waterboatmen hitting the water, is that I believe that waterboatmen are a major source of food for the trout when the lake is iced over. Waterboatmen continue to move about during winter and have to go up to the surface or to air bubbles under the ice to get air, so the trout intercept them on their way up and down. So, in early spring, before the chironomid hatches begin, the fish are still keyed in on waterboatmen, so using waterboatmen patterns at that time makes a lot of sense. I haven't found floating waterboatmen patterns to be any more effective than non-floating patterns, although I know some fishermen swear by the floating patterns to imitate the motion of the waterboatman swimming down to the bottom and then back up (using full sinking lines). I fish the waterboatmen patterns just under the water surface, or just above the weeds over the shoals and down deep off drop-offs and the flat bottom in really deep areas. Retrieve your fly all the way in to the surface or to your boat, as sometimes the fish will follow the fly for a long time before taking it at the last second. I also feel that in general, you get better fighting fish when using waterboatmen patterns than chironomids because a fish that has to chase down a quickly moving bug will have more energy and aggressiveness than one that just meanders around and just open and closes its mouth.

    Jeff Dodd and Stonefish like this.
  16. Thanks to all the forum members who have responded to my questions. The water boatman, and the patterns that represent them - I have underutilized them and your responses have provided patterns and strategies!

    Thank you
  17. When they are diving down into the water the yo-yo retrieve is effective......floating dressed pattern on a sinking line.
  18. If I'm not mistaken I was there with you that day as well. A waterboatman "fall" is a very peculiar - and once recognized, unmistakeable - phenomenon. They typically hit the water quite violently (and, yes, boats too). As previous posters have noted, very much like someone throwing BB's (or rocks) or big bird droppings plopping on the water. Both before and after that day, I've frequently at least tried waterboatmen at Lone, but only rarely have found them productive. Odd, though it may reflect my ineptness and lack of repertoire in waterboatment fishing. Will have to give it another go or two, using some of the techniques and patterns in this thread.
    Jeff Dodd likes this.
  19. I've only encountered a boatman "fall" twice. Both on Spokane-area lakes in the fall. The first time I didn't realize what I was seeing until I was loading up and another angler clued me in. The second time I throat-sampled a fish and found a half dozen freshly eaten boatmen. I tied on a pattern suggested at a Spokane fly shop and had an awesome 15 min of catching before breaking off a big trout in the weeds. Of course, it was the only bug in my box that really worked. I later went back to the shop and bought 6 more. That was about 5 years ago and I haven't encountered another hatch but I still carry the patterns.
    Jeff Dodd likes this.

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