I get asked what my favorite thing in fly fishing is a lot. The problem is it isn’t a simple answer. It changes from year to year and varies between guiding and personal fishing.
I love introducing anglers to fish. As a guide the moment the client feels the fish enter the net and they get to meet the fish. The look and body language of each individual is inherently different but also so similiar. The energy is the same. The reactions are similar but how each individual goes through the process of landing a fish no matter the size is one of most awesome and rad things about my job. Being a part of that process and success is incredibly rewarding. I would say that an anglers first fish…and of course those trophy, life ruining fish are some of the best moments.
Guiding has shown me lots of moments that can take the spot of favorite. And it can change from year to year. This year I got clients into a lot of fish. I like stats and metrics to keep teack of how I am doing personally. This year was fishy AF. This year also put more of those ‘trophy’ trout on the fly and in the net. That is for two reasons. We have a good chunk of big ass adult trout that have grown since the 2015 drought. So more opportunity. I have also become a better angler and guide which means we get to meet more of them. Improving my skills both on and off water and on guide trips and off have really started to show.
The most important thing I have noticed and what was my favorite thing this season…was playing those large trout. It is by far the most adrenaline fueled experience of guiding and I am still very much addicted to that.
Playing a fish, or fighting one on a fly rod is a difficult task. Just like everything else in fly fishing…its just a little more difficult and takes skill to do well. It is a dance between the two, angler and trout. Sometimes I feel like the dance instructor and other times my clients have learned and developed the skills to lead the dance on their own.
The land rate has gone up because this season I got a lot better at using the boat during these dance numbers. Over the years I have developed using the boat to put these larger fish in different currents and change angles, and leverage points with the boat position. My boat and I call it ‘chasin trout‘. It usually involves the boat moving around at sharp anglers and changing speeds to help keep the advantage to the boat and angler not the trout. I have this big ‘ol boat I like to use it.
We play offense, before I used to have clients play defense and wait out the fish. Yakima trout play for keeps so that just didn’t produce as much. We lost fish more often than landed. We would land 30-40% or less. These days we land 60% or more. Some days its 80% with some of my more experienced anglers.
Fish would roll off especially when they changed their position from faster to slower and shallow to deep. They would lead the encounters and I would follow with clients. We got our asses handed to us a lot. I started being more aggressive and using the boat as a way to keep the adtvantage to make sure the client can take the lead for the entire dance. Fish ended up in net a lot more this year after fine tuning that process over the past 2.
Feeling the current, anticipating what the fish will do. I learned to read the water after the fish was hooked and how they reacted and moved in the different currents, flows, depths, and areas of the river. I kept a mental catalogue of all those encounters and built up a basis of knowledge of what fish typically do in these dances. Because I was getting to dance a lot so I was able to learn and improve through trial and error. Lots of toes stepped on so to speak. But that work has paid off. We can dance.
Reaching that goal and the process by which I went through to get there and the experiences I got to be a part of is definitely one of my favorite things. Part of that guide work that the average angler may not be aware of. This job takes that kind of work to be at the level I want to reach. Its also the fun juicy stuff of this gig.
Personally my favorite thing this season was streamer related. Normally its dry fly related. But this is the first season in 5 years of guiding and almost 15 of fishing that steamer fishing was my favorite thing. The St. Joe ruined my life a little…in more ways than one. Damn deer. But trout eat meat in Idaho and I had a lot of opportunity to get a lot better at streamer fishing. The aggressive takes especially on the strip on the Joe were f’ing bonkers. Westslopes are ferocious like fucken raptors when it comes to streamers up there. Unlike the swing eaters on the Yakima. These cutties lie in wait using camoflauge to blend in, then pounce on streamers from the side. Swiping at them…’clever girl‘. Joe cutties would bat at or strike to stun the fly…then disappear quickly…only to reapear from a different angle to hoover the streamer. It was amazing to fish and feel that on the end of the fly rod. It was also spectacular to witness. Trout just appearing and literally killing shit. Aggressive, predatory, incredibly powerful. More than I thought westslope were capable of but they adapt so well to their environment and they use it to their advantage. They learned and evolved to eat and hunt that way on the Joe. It was my favorite thing personally fishing this year. I met some amazing fish, and encountered nature and raw power from wild animals in a way I was not expecting and let me tell ya….I liked it a lot. I kept chasin it even after I almost died on that damn river. Mmmm…ya ruin your life a little bit as I like to say.
I tried to find similar experiences here on the Yak streamer fishing and I will say that streamers on the Yak this year were f’ing decent! But over 80% are on the swing. Its how these fish eat it here. Head first heading downstream typically. Occasionally we get a hit from the side or hang down but alsmost always its at the three quarter mark of the swing just before the rig straightens out. Its because our trout here hit that shit head first hard. This fall we got some cutties to eat like the Joe trout but its will take another season of really looking for those areas to find fish that eat like that here. When you are hooking into fish on a 6wt every 3 to 6 casts that get it bent on streamer eats it can be a little addicting on the Joe. Where as here on the Yak its a good steamer day if you get 3-6 fish to hit the fly on the swing. Landing 1 or 2 is a damn good day. Granted the two rivers are very different and fish population is a huge factor.
But every river is different and has its quirks. Learning how fish adapt to each river is kind of the essence of guiding for me. Trout are trout…all the same. What makes them different is the places they live. Each river, creek, body of water they live they must adapt to. Which changes them and how they interact with the environment they call home. Guiding is about figuring that out and guiding clients through that world and the how, why, and what that make up the river. Then we plug in and fish it with that as our basis. This past season that really sunk in having the opportunity to guide and fish another river. It makes me want it more.
Those few favorite things that are always changing keep this gig from ever getting boring. Always a new thing to learn or improve on. New rivers to learn, new dances to share, and more moments introducing anglers to amazing animals and the places they live.
See ya riverside anglers.