Fly Fishing is a unique activity. We intereact with trout in a much different way than other anglers. Tricking trout with a well presented fly, defines the word craft with its very action. While many forms of fishing inolve craft…fly fishing, it seems, is held to a higher standard.
It was a late evening after the TU Meeting this past month. Two good friends of mine and I along with Danny the dog, sat near candlelight in the Teanaway Community Forest. The conservation evolved throughout the evening but when the subject of craft came around my ears perked up.
You see…fly fishing and I fit very well together. I am a science nerd, I love biology, so I am set for learning about trout, their food source, and environment. I soaked up all the information and knowledge I could. I still do. But when it comes to the artisitc side of me things get very cool. I was a musician. I was a drummer, I loved to play the drumset. I don’t do it much anymore. I used to be pretty good at it. Rowing a driftboat with anglers, chasing trout is a lot like being a drummer in a band. The drummer keeps everyone on tempo and entertained. As a drummer I fit right in at the rowers chair. Lots of things happening, people fishing, fish reacting, water moving, its organized chaos and I live for it. It requires craft to do it well. Anyone can row a boat down a river, but not just anyone can create a whole concert complete with opening acts, encores, and all the good stuff. Thats why I like guiding. Its a gig, and its my kinda gig.
Delving even deeper into fly angling we come to the cast and presentaion, as many of us know being able to cast well is a skill that we all practice, being able to cast to weary trout, under an overhang, with wind, and three different cross currents at 30 feet…requires craft. But even further, especially for me the real craft comes in the form of flies. I tie flies for trout. Not to look pretty in the box, sell in the bin, or anything else…they serve a purpose…to trick trout. They may not look fancy, but they get the job done, and after 10 years of doing it I like to think I have become pretty good and creating patterns that effectively
trick trout. Spending the time to create a fly that looks natural and tricks the most persnickety trout is my jam…thats my ultimate gig. I’m a purist in that sense. Tricking a weary wild trout with a hand tied fly is the most sought after moment for me. If fulfills me. It compeltely satisfies me…it requires craft.
What does all this mean? Well craft to me requires one thing above all others…time. A good angler needs to put in the time. We all know fly fishing requires patience…and in order to be very good at it, time is needed. I have devoted years now, to the art and craft of fly fishing. A life pursuit I will never cease. I have no goals of becoming the best, I only strive to share more moments with people and trout through learning and honing my craft as an angler and a guide.
Just a quick blog post today. I have had the subject of craft on my mind for a while now. I will expand on it more in a later post. I’ve got trips stacked for the next two weeks and I am loving every minute of it. Even in this tough year for the river I am glad to be riverside doing what I love and taking care of the river.
A few posts back I wrote about a young man who I had the pleasure of meeting riverside while hefting a bloody motorcylcle out of the river. The Kid, casting like a Champion, in winter, chasing trout. Crazy dude.
It was my pleasure once again to have The Kid and his Uncle riverside this week. I had fished the day before and had a wonderful day of mayfly dryfly fishing and was hoping for the same. The river had other plans for us but more on the later.
I enjoy taking people out on the river more than most things. I have this desire and passion I must fullfill. Sharing the outdoors and moments with trout and anglers is a driving force for me and gives me purpose. It is something that I am happy to be completely immersed in now, much like when I spent more time in the woods than not.
We floated the Upper Yakima Canyon and we had a slow day. A big drop in water temps from the previous day due to low overnight temps made for slow fish. The sun also shone brightly and the Osprey were out. The dreaded W also…did not help. But that is how chasing trout goes sometimes. We saw a few fish. The Kid was bestowed a few new nicknames all of which are hilarous and have been bestowed on many anglers including myself. The Whitefish Whisperer, Fast Water Fighter, Champion Caster, Back Seat Driftboat Huslter. Those are a few. Anchor Line Tangler is a good one too.
While his Uncle and I talked and we floated, The Kid hung out in the back seat, just slipping casts all over the river… Like a Freaking Champion! I didn’t even have to tell this dude where to put the fly, he knew. The lesson and his independent study shows in his ablity to read water and instinctively know when and where to put the bug. I would look back and his indicator would be right on line, then he’d pick up, give it a quick flick, and BAM back on target below a log, or a boulder. Tight loops for the wind too. He was snaking water from his uncle, coming in behind the frontman’s fly poaching water like a guide would. His uncle would hit a good line, and The Kid would flick his cast that much closer, right on target, just money. All day long I’m telling myself, “Damn its nice to have good rhythm.”
I like my life the speed of a driftboat interrupted by chaotic moments of pure awesomeness and happiness. Its a simple, dirtbaggy way to live, but my lady and I wouldn’t have it any other way. When I am literally going driftboat speed with interruptions by trout, life is that much sweeter with two fly rods flicking through the air while I row down the line. Nothing better than a driftboat riverside.
While the day went by slow in terms of trout, everything else was about perfect when I think about a river float. We were coming to the end and I had all but given up and was haphazardly holding a lazy line along the diversion above Tanuem.
I may have mentioned to The Kid to hit the seam as we came down but he had already picked his line. We moved near the rocks, I see out of the corner of my eye; The Kid bomb a wicked sweet cast into the seam just above the diversion line of boulders. I look down river and put on the breaks with a few good pulls on the sticks.
I look back and The Kid’s line goes tight and we both think its a rock and he yanks on it to set it free…holy…shiznat! It wasn’t a rock… The line goes tight, the fish pulls…its on.
The Kid is on his game right from the get go once he realizes its a trout. And I mean a trout. Of course this fish tries to school the young angler. It heads for the rocks with full force. Take into account the current is pretty good here and we are moving down stream and looking back upriver at this trout now. Like a trout that has been played before, the indicator goes between two rocks and this is the instancne I wince, and everything goes silent. The Kid lifts his rod tip high, I swear he was on his tip toes in the back of the boat. We both watch, him in amazement, me in horror, as this trout goes into the boulders. Then we see it…I thought it was steel at first, this raibow colored slab rolls down the rock into the fast current and runs down river…stealing line, running like it robbed a bank. I tell The Kid to let it run but keep tension. (I knew he had 4X on so I intended for him to play this fish like a mother f’ing boss!) He did too. From the back of the driftboat The Kid out Hustles this wily trout in the fast water…Fast Water Trout Hustler.
As all this is happening, as a guide, I am looking at how we are going to land this fish. It’s the best of the day, at the the end of the float, and its F’ing Decent! I find a soft spot on the edge of the current just large enought for the boat. Its fast and deep, but I can make it work. Like tucking behind boulders landing big fish in fastwater up river. We go across the current, I slide in, couple crab strokes, like freaking butter, just a wicked job if I do say so myself.
The Kid is still playing this fish which is now headed back upstream in the faster water. Exactly what we wanted it do to. Play em hard, get em in, and put em back. This entire process lasted mere minutes in reality. In one aweome guide moment, I drop the hook, hop out of the boat into thigh deep water with current, grab the net and get to work. The water is fast, the boat is held and we have a small seam of slower water to get this done in. Its perfect. As a guide and an angler its nirvana, dude.
I am reveling in the moment unfolding and cannot wait to see if we can meet this trout. It sees the net and runs, pulling line out. I yell, “Let it go!” “Rod Tip Out!” as I motion for The Kid to keep the rod at an angle. His Uncle is just as excited and coaching him perfectly as I move into position. The trout comes close, I reach for it and it runs down just out of reach, headed for a pile of junk just below. “Rod Tip UP!” “Try and get the head up!” The fish turns back towards the boat and moves for me. I get out of the way, I can hear The Kid and all his enthusiasm. Its wicked cool. The trout tries to go under the boat. I duck under the line and scoop the trout into the net just in front of the boat avoiding disaster. The chaos only builds! Its a wonderfully bright, post spawn, leapord spotted, rainbow. Hefty trout, not the longest trout at around 18 inches but fat and full of newly invigorated muscle from chowing down after the spawn.
The Kid hops out, I know exactly how he feels. The fish took the Dirty Batman Prince I tied up…Double Awesome!! Right in the corner of the mouth. Fly slipped right out with a twist. We held it in the net in the water to let it recover for a few moments, the water was fast and cold so I knew we were good. The trout was still thrashing angrily in the net, when The Kid prepped for the release. Just a healthy Wild Yakima Rainbow. The Kid had a great wet release, handling the fish with respect and finesse. The fish sped back into the fastwater, a wonderful end to the moment. To top it off another guide boat drifted by as the high five was happening and they were just above us listening in on all the awseomeness. (Back Seat Driftboat Huslter). Living in the moment. Living in the life. Epic Moment, and Epic Trout. Both for angler, and for guide.
Its the stuff I live for. That moment when I get to share the world I live in everyday. Not a day goes by I don’t think about trouts. It’s a slower world, a simplier one, a river world, a world where wild fish take flies. Where anglers and trout test one another through river, rod, fly, and cast. I am still jacked about it dude. Just thinking about it makes me want more of it. To chase these trout. To net the fish. I get to introduce anglers and trout and its my life! I get to teach people why its important we have these wild fish, why the trout and the rivers that hold them deserve respect, how sharing in these moments makes us want to keep having them for years to come, and be able to share with all who are willing. I also forgot to mention how much damn fun it is. I mean really…its pure fun.
Driftboat speed with choatic interruptions from wild trout, while being riverside, with anglers. Fly Angler Life…Abide. See ya riverside dudes.
I used to buy flies like a crazy person. I love flies, I would buy a few take them home, tie some that looked identical, and go fish. It’s how I learned a lot of stuff about tying and composition. Deconstructing and recreating fly patterns is how you develop your own as a tier a lot of the time.
As I delved deeper into tying and studied more literature, trout biology, and listened to my mentors about flies, I began to buy flies less, and tie more. I found myself tying flies that seemed dull and dreary compared to the ones in the bins at the local fly shop. The more I tied with my mentor and worked on patterns and skills with him the more I understood what made a good fly.
Now, don’t get me wrong, the flies you pick from the bin is totally awesome and it’s gonna work. If you get all the other pieces of the fly fishing puzzle to fit into place that fly is gonna catch the majority of fish in the river just fine. I just found that more and more the flies that manufacturers were churning out we’re getting more colorful, flashier, larger, filled with foam, and Krystal Flash, just Lady Gaga playing Las Vegas looking patterns.
Did trout suddenly start wanting glitzy looking flies hanging out of their mouths as you fondle them trying to get a good release? No…probably not. Trout…want insects. Not flies. So why do flies seem to be looking less and less like bugs and more and more like pieces of bloody jewelry for trout to wear for pictures?
Well tying at that level is commercial and flies are easier to sell when they catch an anglers attention. Problem is, flies are for trout not anglers. Trout only care about a few things in terms of flies. The better it resembles the natural, the more productive it should be….I mean that just makes sense. Both common sense wise and in terms of biology and science. There is a science behind flies and insect imitation.
Certain materials mimic natural actions of insects such as angora goat and its ability to create a breathing undulating look even at the smallest level. Which lets face it, a trout is looking at little bugs with eyes designed to look at them under water. As a tier, it would be in my best interest, to tie flies that look as close to the natural as possible, maybe not exactly but imitating those key things that trout key in on instinctually is foremost in my mind when at the vise.
Color, shape, size, profile. All important. But what about the way Caddis create an air bubble that sparkles under water, a factor trout key in on. Well throw on some Antron and you are good to go. (By the way, Thanks LaFontaine for making Caddis fishing much more productive through your study of trout!). There are lots of things to consider and even more material to use to mimic all sorts of things that trout key in on in relation to each pattern and natural.
Patterns today, for me, seem to have lost a bit of that. Sure a bright orange stimulator with flash out the ass, and big sparkly legs is gonna catch fish, it looks right. For me though, too many times in my ten year of fishing on the river here; I watch large trouts refuse flies of the store bought nature. Finicky trout are impressive really. A quarry that strikes me two fold: as an angler and a tier. Can I tie a pattern that can trick such a fish? Because, if all the other parts click into place from cast to drift to proper tippet length, and the trout refuses, what else is there but the single most important thing you need in order to trick said trout with a fly rod in the first place?
Fly tying is an art, and the art for the trout chaser such as myself, is in the ability to tie effective flies that trick the most leery of trout. I have spent seasons testing flies. Searching for those finicky trout and testing my patterns. Hitting hatches with handfuls of different patterns and seeing which ones work best and developing more from there. It’s some of the most fun for me in terms of angling. Having a trout be tricked by a dry or nymph pattern I have tied is that pure moment I yearn for. Some anglers it’s the perfect cast before the hookup, some dudes it’s the big fish, others it’s the perfect Snap T, the perfect take, whatever it is it’s awesome. For me it’s tricking a wary trout with a fly no one else has. The fish that no one has caught, the fish that every one tries for, big or small, I wanna trick it with my fly. Ya man, that’s my jam.
Tying used to be a necessity as there was no where to get flies unless you knew a tier. There are troves of literature and journals on flies from all over the life of modern fly fishing. Going back and finding that many patterns that were the most effective were simple, subtle, and more natural looking. It wasn’t so much about selling flies as it was discovering what made up a good fly and why? It was about tricking fish. Guides and writers would sell flies to go fishing and fly shops would buy them until the sport got so big it required mass production of flies. A little bit of the art of tying died or kind of faded away.
For me, when I browse the bins at the fly shop I typically end up buying nothing. I just never find anything that stands out to me and I feel that the flies in the bin aren’t going to trick that persnickety trout. They will trick the other trout just fine but that’s not my mindset when angling as much. It’s less about tricking lots of fish and more about tricking those fish that stand out. The one 14 inch cutt that isn’t slashing the surface like all the others. The one sipping instead, maybe it’s been caught before, maybe it has some cool marking, maybe it’s bigger than I thought? Doesn’t matter, it’s in the zone refusing flies left and right. Let’s see if one of these patterns will trick him? That’s what goes through my mind when looking for or tying flies.
When you look for flies at the shop, look for subtle, smaller patterns. Yes a salmon fly dry is a size 6 but when you cram a bunch of foam and flash on a size 8 4X long hook so you can fit all that crap, the fly is huge to the trout. A size smaller is typically a better idea when looking for flies for the larger insects. Look for buggy flies, both nymphs and for dries, but especially nymphs. A Pats Stone will catch fish and I’ve even got big old steel on it, but for that trout hiding behind the boulder that flashes but won’t eat shit…ya smaller buggier bug, that’s gonna give you a better chance. I test myself on this every time I fish. Especially when working on patterns and fine tuning fly composition and material selection.
So, if you seem to be having trouble with fly selection and trout not taking your flies, think about what you are throwing and how it looks to the trout in comparison to the natural. If you are unsure, find a trout nerd and ask them.
I’m not gonna get all foofy with this one just a quick update. I’m tired and hitting the river again tomorrow and need to tie some.
The weather was sunshine but cool. The high on the river today was about 44. The water temps topped out around 42. Fishing was slow but fish were eating.
Nymphing is still the main game in the upper stretches. The skwalla stonefly nymph is working but the river gave me another opportunity today with a March Brown Hatch. Around 1 pm the mayflies starting popping. Nothing prolific but there was enough. I found two areas of feeding fish. I hooked up on the emerger pattern and one cutthroat hoovered the size 14.
The big producer today however, was my possum hares ear.
I tied it under a stonefly nymph. Hooked up 6 times with it during and after the hatch. Got 4 of them to the net. Lost a monster trout around 3:30 on it. Feisty trout outsmarted me going under the boat then running to the bank and getting enough slack to roll off.
Didn’t see a single sqwalla dry but did see nymphs. The flows are perfect, if the water temps bump up after this cold spell we will be in the thick of it. March Browns and Sqwallas, hungry trout, and eager anglers.
I’ll plug my guiding now by saying, give me a call and get on the schedule, as the weather gets even nicer and the river heats up things are going to get fun and some really great dry fly fishing is right around the corner.