Fishing with the Morgan Twitch
By Tom Morgan
years ago my brother, Jerry, and I were getting ready to fish
the Gallatin River. He knew this stretch of the river better
than I and suggested I walk upstream about a half mile to a good
run where he had done well in the past.
It was late in the
afternoon on a September day with a nice cloud cover, a perfect
time for streamer fishing. Jerry gave me a couple of his
favorite flies, black woolly buggers with some flashabou, and I
I always like to sit by
the river for a few minutes before I start fishing to get a feel
for the river and to see if any fish are rising. If you see a
fish rise to a dry they are good candidates to take a streamer.
Sitting on the bank watching the river and getting my tackle in
order I heard some voices from upstream. To my disappointment a
drift boat appeared around the corner with three anglers in it.
There were two men
standing streamer fishing, and even the rower would occasionally
make a few casts after he had straightened the boat as they
moved down the river. I sat there mumbling to myself how there
wouldn't be much use fishing the run after they worked through
it, but at least I would probably get an idea of how the fishing
was going to be. As they went by I noticed one of them was using
a fly similar to mine while the other two were using muddlers.
They drifted down the run and much to my amazement they raised
only one fish, which wasn't hooked.
In looking upstream it
didn't appear there was another good run for quite some distance
so I decided to let this one rest a few minutes before working
down through it using the Morgan Twitch. As I sat there I
wondered whether or not my success would be any better than
After a few minutes I
waded out into the stream at the head of the pool and made a
cast against the far bank and started working the fly back.
Bang! The first cast a nice brown grabbed the fly. I missed him
but it was exciting to have action so soon.
It had been some time
since my last trip where I did any streamer fishing so as I
continued down the stream I reviewed in my mind my twitching
technique. How I developed it is not clear to me because it
evolved over many year's fishing with streamers. It is a
specialized technique and even though it sounds easy, in fact it
is very difficult to execute correctly.
An unweighted streamer
is fished with a floating line and the fly is right at the
surface. I have used a variety of flies but my favorites are the
girdle bug in either black or olive, muddler minnow, white
marabou muddler, weasel, and woolly bugger. Often the flies I
use are smaller flies, such as #6 or #8, except for the marabou
muddler which is usually a #2 or #4. However, in my opinion, the
technique is more important than the fly pattern.
The fly presentation is
very important so I will give a detailed explanation. It is best
if the fly hits with somewhat of a splash that I think attracts
the fishes' attention. The fly must start right at the bank, and
I mean less than six inches. One reason for this is that many of
the fish sit right next to the bank and you will bring the fly
across in front of them so they see it with both eyes. The only
exception to this is where the water is too shallow next to the
bank to hold fish. Another good place is behind brush piles or
rocks. I have also pulled many trout out of deep water when I
was wading using this technique.
You must cast with a
perfectly straight line, which takes some practice for most
fishermen. When I make my cast the line is straight and the rod
tip is pointed straight down the line, with the rod tip
finishing just a few inches above the water. You must not have
the tip two or three feet above the water because the line
usually won't be straight and it limits the amount of line you
can retrieve before you recast. I cast fairly hard so the fly
does make a good splash. The fly must start moving the instant
it hits the water, that is why the line must be straight. When
fishing from a boat I like to sit and make short casts, 25 to 35
feet. By making short casts I can be more accurate, can quickly
reach likely holding lies, and maintain better line control.
Also the fish are less likely to be spooked.
I theorize that the fish
thinks something has fallen in the water and anything that would
fall into the water does not wait a second or two to start
moving. It starts instantly. I can't stress enough how important
it is to have the fly start moving as soon as it hits. In fact,
I am getting ready to move the fly while it is still in the air.
When I make the
presentation my left hand(I cast right handed) is right at the
stripping guide so I can take up as much line as possible with
the left hand before I recast. I do not strip any line in! For
this technique you only need to retrieve the amount of line you
can take in with your left hand and by raising the rod tip to
about 12:00 o'clock. I never let go of the line in my left hand.
From my experience the fish hits it within 1 to 10 feet and
usually within 2 to 4 feet. By fishing this way you can get many
more casts in than you would by stripping. You also have a
measured length of line so when you cast back to the bank you
will have the correct distance.
In my opinion, fishing from a
boat is the most effective method because the fly is traveling
essentially the same speed as the current and if you cast into
the bank the fly is presented broadside to the fish as you
retrieve it. You also have better control of the speed of the
fly when fishing out of the boat because the boat is essentially
moving the same speed as the water. When floating the boat
should be held back slightly by rowing so it is going slightly
slower than the water. This keeps a belly out of your line.
However, wading and fishing the fly can also be very effective
as my story will prove.
The fly rod is also very
important. You want a rod with a fairly soft tip. Many graphite
rods don't work well because the tips are too stiff. My favorite
is a glass rod because of its soft tip. I like a 5- or 6-weight
rod because you make a lot of casts during a day and the heavier
lines are very tiring. You are not casting a long distance or
weighted flies so you don't need a heavier line. I usually cast
25 to 40 feet and use a leader 8 to 9 feet long with a 3X
All of these details
must be followed exactly to be most effective. Now comes the
hard part. Moving the fly correctly. I have had a lot of trouble
teaching people how to do this but most have picked it up after
I move the fly in what I
would call a very rhythmic and even pattern where the fly
"pulses" through the water. The fly movement is only 3 to 4
inches with about a 1/2 second stop between movements. And it
must stop! This is what is hardest. Most people move the fly 6
to 12 inches or more in almost even movements with the fly
moving all the time. This pattern just doesn't work nearly as
well. It must make the rhythmic start and stop movements to be
I move the fly the 3 or
4 inches I want by raising the tip then dropping the tip down to
make sure the fly stops. When I drop the rod down I take up the
small amount of slack with the left hand. As the fly gets closer
you also keep raising the rod until finally it is about 12
o'clock and your left hand has taken all of the slack it can.
You are then ready to make another cast. I never false cast if
at all possible, just up and down. If you try to move the fly in
these small twitches just by raising the tip instead of dropping
down after each twitch it is very difficult to stop the fly.
From my experience the movements get too big and are too smooth.
As I continued to work
on down the river I rose one fish after another where the
anglers in the boat had just fished raising only one fish. They
were using what I would describe as the standard streamer
technique of moving the fly in big movements(12 to 18 inches)
and smoothly through the water. That technique will catch some
fish, but not anywhere near the number mine will.
As I fished down the run
I ended up raising twenty six fish in the same run three anglers
had raised one! I was feeling real good about the Morgan Twitch
about then. How many fish I caught I don't remember exactly, but
I think it was 7 or 8. For some reason, the technique does raise
many more fish than will be hooked. I have kept track over the
years when fishing from a boat where you can see fish flash at
the fly or make a move for it compared to those actually hooked.
From my experience, it runs one hooked to four or five seen.
Sometimes you beat this
average. I remember a few years ago I was fishing on the Smith
River with a friend of mine, Chase Hibbard, and I was trying to
show him the twitch. I was casting into a riffle while he was
standing next to me trying to learn how I moved the rod and the
fly. I couldn't show him how because I caught either 8 or 9 fish
in a row so fast he couldn't see what was happening. We had to
move to another spot where there weren't any fish!
Another example occurred
some years ago when I was floating Lambert Neidringhouse from
Sheridan, Wyoming, down the Beaverhead River on another perfect
fall streamer day. It was in late September and there was a good
cloud cover with a light drizzle. It looked like Lambert was
doing a good job of fishing the streamer but he had only raised
a few fish.
We came to a run I knew
well and I asked him if I could try his rod and fish this run
because something seemed wrong, he should be raising more fish.
He agreed and I waded and fished down the run. I raised 7 fish
and landed two nice ones in just a few minutes!
We got back in the boat and I
started coaching Lambert to start the fly right next to the
bank, move it with the small rhythmic twitches, and pause it
between twitches. I realized he had been moving the fly a little
too much and wasn't paying strict attention to where the fly was
landing. After about an hour he had the technique down and was
raising one fish after another. He ended up catching twenty some
odd fish and was a believer in the technique.
It will probably take
you some time to work out the technique so you can present the
fly just right with a straight line and then move the fly in the
rhythmic pattern that has worked so well for me, but it is worth
the effort. You will be amazed at the number of fish you move to
the fly. In fact, if you are like me, many of the ones I miss
are more fun than the ones I catch. Some will do back flips over
the fly, make a rush and miss the fly, miss it several times
before hitting it and sometimes two will fight to see who gets
it first. The technique works anywhere from spring creeks to big
rivers. It has provided a lot of fun on days which otherwise
might have been unproductive. Some day when not much is
happening give it a try-I think you will be surprised.
Tom Morgan 2011