Tag Archives: trout

Jump Starting Someone at Flyfishing

(Notice I didn’t say flycasting…)

My girlfriend loves the look of a trout stream and flyfishing intrigues her.  Although a talented half-marathoner, she freely admits her athletic ability does not extend to false casts and shooting line.   She is busy with 4 teenage kids and has no desire to spend a lot of time lawn casting.
Enter the roll cast – a quick and easy way to get someone started in fly fishing.  Think about it…  If someone can roll cast 10 feet of line with a 9 foot rod and a 9 foot leader,  their fishing range is 28 feet.  I know I’ve caught a lot of fish within 28 feet.

Get your budding Lefty Kreh into a shallow run with a moderate current.  Their rod should be rigged up with an indicator, split shot, and your favourite nymph.  The split shot is important because it helps turn over the leader.

Have your student strip off about 6 to 10 feet of line and show them how to roll cast it upstream.  (Make sure they forcefully push the rod tip in a horizontal line towards the target; many people rotate the rod around the elbow, moving it in a circular path.)  As soon as the fly lands, they should get their hands in the proper stripping position.  At this point, don’t worry about actively stripping line or mending.  Just get their hands positioned correctly and have them follow the fly with the rod tip.

Once that is mastered, introduce stripping to control slack.   With younger kids, it might be time to start some serious trout hunting.  Generally, I would recommend a brief lesson on how to avoid drag by mending.  Finally, teach feeding line as the fly goes downstream.  This last step lengthens the drift and helps set up for the next roll cast.  At all times, keep the length of line manageable, perhaps adding a few feet if the pupil can handle it.

Spend about 10 or 15 minutes on each step – first demonstrating and then having the student practice a few repetitions.  After 30 to 45 minutes of instruction, it is definitely time to go fishing.  Location is key.  Someone shouldn’t wade onto a bonefish flat armed with only a roll cast.  Or stalk sippers on a spring creek.  A roll-casting specialist needs the proper water!

Small, bouncy streams hold many fish within the reach of a roll cast.  But don’t overlook larger rivers.  Places like the Elk River in B.C. and the Yellowstone River in Paradise Valley have a lot of fish close to their bank.

My girlfriend’s first fish on a fly rod actually came from the St. Mary’s River in B.C.  This is a large freestoner  but the cutthroats love to hang out in the boulders in thigh deep water – 10 feet from the bank at most.

After some experience with an indicator rig, the new flyfisher can start roll casting dries and streamers, too.  High-stick nymphing is another technique they can pick up quite easily.  Before you know it, your new partner might not be outcasting you, but they will certainly be outfishing you!  The cutthroat in the picture was the biggest we saw from Racehorse Creek, Alberta.  I didn’t catch it…

Deep Wading

High-Water Fishing Tips for the Wading Angler

Spring run-off in the west and heavy rain storms in the east cause rivers to rise quickly and often without warning, raising the cubic-feet-per-second by many times, on occasion resulting in water levels reaching that particular river’s flood stage, which is when a river is commonly considered “blown-out.” While many anglers consider fishing high water to be hopeless, in actuality this situation can grant you the opportunity to catch fish you might never have a crack at otherwise. Before reading the following tips, however, remember that fishing high water presents safety risks. Therefore, it’s a good idea to fish with a friend and to not only know your limits as a wader, but to understand how the high water will affect the river’s “wadeability.” For example, if you usually wade a certain spot up to your thighs in normal cfs (cubic feet per second) flows, don’t attempt to wade it in high flows, as the current there will likely be too forceful to safely stand in and cast from. The three tips below will help you turn the tables to your advantage during high water flows.

  1. Up the diameter of your leader and tippet. When the water is high and off-colored, there is no need to fish 5x or 6x fluorocarbon in most rivers. A general rule of thumb is to downsize by at least 2x. So if you usually fish 6x, try up-sizing to 4x, or even 2x fluorocarbon if the river is dingy (some anglers I know use 12 pound test and higher, which you can often get away with). When the water isn’t clear, the trout can’t see your line well, so you should take advantage and use a heavier pound test, which will help you fight a fish out of a blown out river’s stronger than normal currents.
  2. Target the banks and secondary currents. When the water is up, the main current is often too strong for the trout to lie in. As a result, they tend to push toward the banks, where the flow isn’t as strong and the water isn’t as deep. Here, they can comfortably face upstream or circulate through the current and pick off food items. Trout often seek refuge in eddies as well, which is another spot to try. In large rivers, try targeting back channels or river braids when the water is up. You’ll be amazed at how many fish will stack in what looks to be just a small riffle along the flooded bank. If the eddy is suitable, you may even see trout facing downstream in the current, waiting for the eddy current to wash food up to them from below. If this is the case, you want to get a high-stick drift in the current, so your flies will be sucked down by the eddy and circulated back upstream.
  3. Give them the Good Stuff. When the water rises, the proverbial trout buffet opens for business. All kinds of goodies are washed into the water for the trout to eat, not to mention the various hatches that a rise in water will sometimes set off. High water is a classic time to fish a big, nasty-looking streamer (such as a double bunny or sculpzilla), but it is also time to fish heavily weighted nymphs (such as stoneflies and prince nymphs), as well as San Juan worms in a wide array of colors—just think of all the worms and grubs the high water dislodges from the banks and river bottom. For nymphing, be sure to put on a lot of split shot (so much that your cast may look kind of clumsy even) and move your indicator high up on your leader to adjust for the high water. Then try to find an eddy or a smaller offshoot of the main current and fish away. When you see that indicator twitch, give a firm hook-set to the downstream side, then hold tight…big trout are notorious for eating when the water is high and off-color.

 

Brown Trout

Catching the Spring Creeks Off Guard

Should a Woolly Bugger kind-of-guy celebrate March Madness in Paradise Valley at a BWO hatch?

I used to look forward to a week of skiing in Montana at the end of every March.  And somewhere along the line, probably as I passed through Livingston -  with the sun shining and the Yellowstone River underneath the Interstate – I got to wondering about the fishing.

As it turns out, it’s pretty darn good.  The crowds are gone, the rivers are in good shape -  ‘cause it’s pre-runoff  – and the temperature is likely to be 50 or 60 degrees.

So a few weeks ago, on our way to ski, my girlfriend and I stopped by the Yellowstone Angler in Livingston.  They pointed us toward Armstrong’s Spring Creek and stuffed our fly box with egg imitations, BWO’s, and midges.

A day on Armstrong’s during the height of the summer PMD hatch means booking a year in advance and paying a $100 rod fee.  We got there on a gorgeous Sunday morning and paid the off-season rate of $40.  And had the river all to ourselves.  All the snow was on the ski hill and would have to wait…

I have to admit.  I was a little apprehensive.  Spring creeks and their technical, flat water are a bit of a mecca for small fly gurus.  But I’m no small fly guru.  To me, finesse is replacing the big split shot under my indicator with a small split shot.

Nevertheless, for every flat water glide, there was a deeper, rumpled run.  A 20 mile per hour wind was keeping the BWO hatch at bay.  We tied on indicators, beadhead zebra midges underneath eggs, and a split shot.  I must have been in finesse mode; it was a small indicator and a tiny split shot.

There were six or seven browns and rainbows in those deeper, rumpled runs that definitely wanted to play.  The browns smacked the eggs and the rainbows sucked in the midges.  The browns bent the rods double and went deep.  A couple ‘bows did cartwheels.   The biggest fish was a solid 16 inches.  Not a spectacular day’s fishing, but extremely satisfying.  Especially when fishing back home would be not much more than gazing at an eight inch hole in the ice.

Next year, we may just forget about the skiing altogether…

(We actually spent the next day wading the big, broad Yellowstone River.  There were risers in the slack water by the bank as we pulled up.  I was eager to work on my small fly skills but a 30 mile per hour wind came up and ended the hatch.  So back to an indicator rig with zebra midges and small pheasant tails.  A few eager rainbows and cutthroats soon found our flies.  Unfortunately, after a couple hours, the wind started to feel like a gale and it was time to quit.  Or at least think about going skiing.)

The Ammo

Fine Tune Your Fly Fishing

There was a time when I’d throw nothing more than a wader bag, a couple of rods, a hat and some peanut butter into the back seat and head for the trout streams. There was never any research or planning – not in my pre-trip rituals or in the actual fishing. I’d walk the river, casting at random to whatever looked “fishy.” I caught some trout, but I always suspected I was missing more than I was catching. If I went after bass, it was the same thing. Grab the rods and a tacklebox and drive to the lake. Cast everywhere. Try baits at random. It was less than productive unless they were really biting.

Then, I got a wild idea one day to “fine tune” things a bit. I subscribed to a few fishing magazines, did some research online, actually tried to learn more – even though I already knew it all, or at least thought I did. Instead of throwing a streamer all over the river, I’d sit and stop a while. I’d watch the water. I’d watch the birds. I’d turn over some rocks in search of nymphs or crawfish or whatever I could find.

In my spare time I’d read about “high sticking” and dry fly tactics. I poured over articles about fly fishing for bass and bluegills. I thought about each part of the fly fishing system and how I could improve both my understanding of the gear and the fish. I stopped using 6 lb test mono for a leader and paid more attention to articles on leaders, tippets and what’s needed to “turn over” a #12 hopper pattern. I spent time concentrating on understanding how and why fish feed, where they feed, and on what.

I was no longer just a guy going fly fishing! I was someone who was beginning to learn the in’s and out’s of the game. It wasn’t necessary of course – I could go on just floundering around out there while having loads of fun, but it was clear from the early stages of my fine tuning that concentrating on more than just the basics was paying off. I started to pick up fish more often, and the size of the fish seemed to be getting larger on average. In addition to that aspect of it, I found myself enjoying a deeper immersion in the sport.

The thing about fly fishing is that there’s always so much to learn, no matter how long you’ve been at it. And if you’ll put forth the effort to “fine tune” your learning, it will also fine tune your approach. Your cast, your ability to read the water, your fly choices even your appreciation of the great outdoors. Catching fish is fun. Catching more fish is more fun!

Walker Camp and the Power of Place

I don’t think this place would classify as a river. During times of extreme rain it is little more than a high running creek. The water most days is an endless series of pools accentuated by small rushes of channeled white water. Its life is narrow and thin as it finds its beginnings atop the higher peaks of the Smokies. But this small stream is a sanctuary, a sacred place. The spirit here is profound and thick and it is amazing the amount of clarity you can find if you will allow yourself the opportunity to settle down to its pace.

The canopy of trees and laurel bushes drape over the water as if to protect it. Dark shadows given by the hardwood can be disturbing to those who don’t understand, but for those who see the bigger picture, these sentinels and the shade that they create speak of ancient times; of times we will never know. The moss-covered rocks, the smattering of tiny wildflowers, the deadfall scattered about in wonderful and divine chaos surround this stream. And within this blessed cacophony of nature, I find rest.

I was first introduced to Walker Camp by my friend Jeremy. He didn’t bring me here because of monster trout, or superior angling opportunities. He brought me to that place simply because, like him, he knew I would “get it”. He and I have fished multiple tailwaters throughout the southeast, and though the fishing in those places was good and sometimes downright amazing, the fish were stocked. These expansive southern trout rivers were a result of the great depression and the Tennessee Valley Authority. The small streams of the Smokies were a result of creation itself, and the fish who live their lives here are native. They never knew a stock truck. They never had fins rubbed raw by hatchery walls. They were not relocated to this place; they are this place.

I remember standing at the edge of a large deep pool watching Jeremy moving on upstream, and considering my mortality as my footprints mingled with multiple bear tracks, tracks that were recent and defined. I began roll casting Yellow Sallies to the head of the pool at the point where the water rolls and foams as it falls from the pool above it. The water of Walker Camp is clear, amazingly clear and seemingly devoid of anything but rocks that perhaps began as boulders before the hydrology of the stream, over time, reduced them to stones of brown, grey, and bronze small enough to cup in your hand.

Then, as if by magic, a fish appears. Its bright orange fins tipped in the purist white show up in places where just moments ago you would look and find nothing. Life is hard in the high elevation streams, and the opportunity to eat is not to be squandered, so when the fish commits itself the attacks are swift and sure. It is easy to miss these strikes because once the moment has passed, the fish disappears and you are left looking at an empty stream bottom once again, astonished.

Here in the steep mountains, you must also be aware of the danger of acoustic shadows. Echoes of thunder may reverberate around you so loud that you can feel the vibration in your clothes, yet the sky overhead is cloudless and blue. Storms at this altitude are harsh, and with the sound bouncing from every peak and rise, the bad weather could be many miles away, or just over the next ridge. On this day, the rain came and I found quick shelter beneath one of the stone bridges that traverse the stream. Soaked to the bone I huddled tight against the walls of the passage way until, as quickly as it sprang upon me, it was gone.

The leaving of the rain always brings heavy fog. Fog that gave this place its name crept slowly down from Newfound Gap, draping itself around the treetops, settling into the low places. First you feel the air around you cool, then, within the fog you become invisible and the fishing is easier. You are no longer a foreign shape hovering above the water. You are a formless part of a larger backdrop.  Stealth becomes effortless when you have no need to hide.

I cast my fly, the bright yellow hackle glowing like a beacon through the mist. It drops softly on the surface, and I am not looking for a strike, the visibility is to poor for that. I am just waiting for the moment when the fly vanishes. Then I know of the take.

I lose sight of the fly, hear a splash of water, and raise my rod tip swiftly to the sky.  Setting the hook, I feel the transference of energy up the line, through the bamboo, and to my hand. Violent and urgent, the trout struggles against the unknown, until finally it is pulled from its world into mine. Gold lines meander across the green of its back, the orange of the fins, the dark mouth. It is healthy and large for this stream.

“Nice.”

Startled I wheel around to see Jeremy who had been behind me for God knows how long.  He is soaked and crouched under a mountain laurel leaning the tip of a cigar into a flame.  The earthy smell of the blue-gray smoke mingles with the decay of the forest floor and does not seem out-of-place.

“Amazing.”, I say, lifting the brookie up for closer examination.

“I knew you’d like this spot.” he says with a sly smile.

No more than thirty feet from where I am standing, the steady rumble of traffic echos through the trees.  Windows rolled up tight, air conditioners on, they traverse this magnificent place oblivious to the amazing fish I hold in my hand; a fish whose lineage here goes back to the very foundation of time.  Jeremy snaps a quick photo and I lower the trout back into the pool where it glides from my hand as soft and delicate as a whisper.

In the years since that first trip, I have gone here many times with Jeremy.  We don’t speak much while on the stream.  Most of the time we don’t even see each other till its time to go.  Now, I am making preparations to take my four-year old son to Walker Camp.  The first trips with him will not place fishing on the agenda, that is still a year or so away.  I feel that before he looks at the place as a location to fish, he should first see it in its entirety.  Bugs, animal tracks, the unique stones, imaginary creatures these are the things that make a place more than a means to an end, they will hopefully make Walker Camp a familiar friend, which in itself is the beginning.  For me Walker Camp is more than a fishing hole, it is a place to be protected and sustained, and I hope to teach my son what it means to have more than a passing investment in a blessing such as this.

I take very seriously the responsibility of keeping our native trout waters healthy and safe.  It is of utmost importance to people like myself, my friend Jeremy, and hopefully my son to protect these sacred locations wherever they may be found.  The impacts of air pollution, litter, poor personal practices by visitors, commercial irresponsibility, and the ongoing struggle against climate change, are daunting.  But there are those who are its watchmen.  A great deal of thanks are in order to people like the Fisheries Management staff of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, and the Little River Chapter of Trout Unlimited who work diligently to insure that the clear waters of this important tributary are preserved in the manner in which it is so worthy.

Each year the Little River TU chapter holds Troutfest and much of the monies raised go to protect and maintain the myriad of fishable streams within the park boundaries.  When I go to these events it is almost like a family reunion, because we are all linked deeply to streams like Walker Camp.  When we discussed these waters during the festival, you can see a similar look in the eyes of those in the discussion.  Just as Jeremy said to me long ago…”they get it.”

 

The Senex

The Senex – Part 1

It’s funny how certain sounds and smells can remind you of a place.  There is one song, for example, that brings to my mind late nights on North Carolina’s Outer Banks, driving too fast with no lights on and all the windows rolled down, the stars shining like millions of eyes looking down at me.  I can’t walk past a Middle Eastern cafe without thinking of the roast lamb I ate at a street stand in Cairo while I watched a friend play soccer in the street with a dozen children half his size.  And I can’t smell honeysuckle without remembering a morning I spent on my favorite mountain stream.

I have never been an early riser, and there are few things which will pull me out of bed before the sun, but the thought of rising trout is one.  On this particular morning, sometime in early spring in western North Carolina, I was out the door just as the first light of the morning was peering over the eastern horizon.  There was a chill to the air in the cover of the early morning fog, but it was the sort of morning one knew would soon make way for a prematurely hot afternoon.  I broke the stillness of the quiet morning with the slamming of the rear doors of my slightly rusted, forest green 1962 Land Rover.  The air conditioning doesn’t work and the engine sometimes overheats on the hottest of summer afternoons, but I’ve never loved a truck like this one.  I opened the driver side door and allowed Tucker, my young Brittany Spaniel, to hop across into the passenger seat.  He was young, but he had realized that obedience to my commands would be paid off in my affection.

I leaned over to roll down the creaking passenger window so Tucker could poke his floppy-eared head out of the window to bark at anything we might pass.  Although we had an hour drive, followed by an hour hike, before we would get the first cast of the day in, I felt that familiar feeling of excitement and anticipation tightening my chest as soon as I turned off of the gravel driveway on onto the smooth, newly-paved road upon which our house sat, hidden back from the road behind a stand of old growth timber.  Soon, we had made our way to the interstate and headed west, racing the sunrise.  Having had enough of the morning chill, and probably frustrated at having been so unceremoniously risen at such an early hour, Tucker had curled up on the seat with his head resting on my leg.  I leaned over to roll up the window and settled in for the easy drive ahead.

The Land Rover is a fantastic truck on abandoned logging trails and forest service roads, but she feels out of place and a bit frustrated when pushed to her maximum speed, which isn’t fast enough to avoid the condescending states of the tourists and new money folks in their shiny black sedans.  They treat the roads as their racetracks in a vain attempt to prove that their over engineered, track-tested luxury cars are worth the inflated prices they paid for them.  They rarely are.

Some time later, I saw the sign for Bryson City and exited the interstate, thankful to be back at speeds more reasonable for my machine.  I wound through town, stopping briefly at a favorite coffee shop to top off my thermos and remark briefly upon the weather, before making my way toward the Road to Nowhere.  Originally intended to circle Fontana Lake, the road dead-ends before entering some of the most pristine wilderness left in the Eastern United States.  As much as most people want to see the road completed, there is a small, eco-terrorist voice deep within me that screams every time I come to the place.  I tell myself that if I ever see a bulldozer up here, I’ll fill the gas tank with sand.  Maybe I’ll do worse, placing a small bomb underneath the machine to put it out of commission permanently.  I don’t know if I’d be capable, but I suppose we all like to think ourselves revolutionaries when something dear to us is under threat.

The road ends abruptly not long after passing over Noland Creek, one of the half dozen or so streams that flow down from the upper slopes of Clingman’s Dome before emptying into Fontana Lake below.  Even with such easy access for a determined trout-seeker, Noland Creek provides a fantastic window into the world of small stream fishing, where any fish over 10″ can be considered a trophy.  Those of us who frequent these waters find satisfaction in the solitude, enjoying the brightly colored brookies that look like they’ve been painted in the most brilliantly natural hues.

After parking my truck under the branches of a young oak at the edge of the poorly maintained dirt road, I stepped out into the sunlit morning, followed by Tucker.  According to the local regulations, dogs aren’t welcome these parts.  Tucker isn’t like other dogs, though, so I let him walk without a leash, knowing that the smallest snap of my fingers will bring him quickly to my side.  I unloaded my gear, pulling on a pair of waders and double-knotting my wading boots.  All the water worth fishing requires a degree of effort which I’ve found most weekend fisherman unwilling to exert.  I usually end up replacing my boots each season after putting well over one-hundred trail miles on then in addition to wading.

I carry a large pack when fishing, keeping all of my supplies directly related to the task at hand in front and all of the equally important, yet less frequently used, gear in the back, such as rain slicker, thermos, water, first aid kit, and food for Tucker and me.  For this type of backcountry fishing, I fish a Scott fiberglass rod, a 7′ 3 wt. with a beautifully balanced feel and the delicacy needed to land active fish on light tippet.  I paired it with a little green Galvan reel and a dark green fly line, giving myself some small illusion of stealth and camouflage.

Before starting the hike, I tied on a small Yellow Stimulator, one of my favorite flies for these small, backcountry streams.  With Tucker at my side, chasing the shadow of a bee flying above him, we set out on what might one day become, God help us, a road to somewhere.  An easy thirty minute hike led us to the point where we would drop off of the main trail and do a bit of bushwhacking as we made our way upstream.  I suppose I should mention, at this point, that I am intentionally leaving the name of this particular stream from my tale, choosing instead to grant it some degree of anonymity, although quick investigative work would surely reveal a few likely candidates.

On this stream, I like to head to head upstream for half of a mile or so in order to achieve the feeling of true solitude. I’ve always been uncomfortable in crowds and utterly disgusted by close proximity to fisherman who didn’t arrive with me.  Upon reaching my favorite starting point, I stopped dead.  I saw an old timer lining up a gorgeous amber-colored bamboo rod with silk line.  My frustration at finding another angler in my favorite spot began to subside as I observed the gentleman make his way carefully into the shallow stream.  Not wanting to be seen, I found a fallen tree on which to sit and observe.  A snap of my fingers brought Tucker to my side.  He looked up at me, slightly confused, before making himself comfortable on a bed of bright green ferns.

The old man’s movements were deliberate and carefully considered.  He moved with the ease of youth, albeit slightly tempered by the weight of age.  Settling in the quick current, he paused, standing motionless for a full minute before moving again.  Maybe he was acclimatizing to his surroundings; maybe he was letting the trout become accustomed to his presence.  Either way, he had become, in just a moment, a fixture in the stream as seemingly permanent as a fallen tree or water-rounded boulder.  His face was emotionless, calm but for a flaming intensity in his gray eyes.  He didn’t act as though he owned the stream; rather, he had become part of it.

Continued here: The Senex – Part 2

Product Review : Dakine Waterproof Duffel

Most people don’t think of Dakine when they think of fly fishing gear, but I am here to tell you that they should. A perfect example is the Dakine Waterproof Duffel. This gear bag is made of waterproof fabric and all the seams are sealed. It features a roll-top that runs along the long side of the bag and a small zipper pocket on the outside. The roll-top closure can be secured to clips on the side or by clipping both ends together.

Fly fishing isn’t always perfect sunny weather and, frankly, I don’t think we would want it to be. Fishing takes us to tropical climates where afternoon rain is expected and to rivers where steelhead swim and often times we are hoping it rains. Honestly, we would be surprised if it didn’t. In the modern world, most of us are packing electronics (phones, cameras, etc.) and, if we are smart, carrying a dry change of clothes…for that unexpected swim. A good dry bag should be of extreme importance and there are plenty of choices out there. The Dakine Waterproof Duffel is the most simple and well thought out one I have found. The biggest problem with most dry bags is that they open on the small narrow end. This means it is difficult to rummage and find what you need. This bag opens on the long side, providing better access to everything in your bag and allowing it to stand on its own while you are working inside. At 23″x16″x12″, it is a great size for stowing in the bottom of the boat or tossing in the back of your truck. It can also adapt to bigger or smaller loads by simply rolling the closure a few more times.

Pros:

  • Easy access: Wide opening on the long side of the bag.
  • Waterproof: As long as it is closed.
  • Adjustable size: Roll more to take up excess space.
  • Multiple carry options: padded shoulder strap, carry handles or by the roll-top clipped together.

Cons:

  • Side Pocket: While it is a zippered closure, it will allow water in under extreme conditions. Don’t learn this the hard way (like I did). The pocket is so small that it is almost inconsequential.

If you haven’t already figured it out, I am a huge fan of this product.  If you ever intend to fish when the weather might be less than ideal, I highly recommend this bag.