I rarely leave the house for a day of fishing with the words Slay and Trout in mind. I find it strange to say ‘slay trout’ when most of us practice catch and release in the fly fishing world, unless its a dirty brook trout or hatchery fish. To Slay Trout means one thing in my mind. To catch every fucking fish in the river that day. Like I said, I don’t fish with this mindset much anymore. There’s a reason why, but when I decide to slay said troots… nowadays it usually goes pretty well.
I’m not here to toot my own angling horn. I am confident in my abilities to trick trout on my homewater and any freshwater river for that matter. A trout is a trout. They have a set of rules they follow like all other things, when you know those rules, and how to bend them and use them to your advantage as an angler…the trouts slay you. I know that I come off as arrogant and cocky to some, loud and obnoxious to others. A wicked good time to most. But there is method and reason behind my madness and sometimes insatiable energy level when it comes to chasin wild trout.
I was young, and naive, thought I was hot shit for a few years when I first started out. I was catching a lot of fish…but not all the fish. I came into the shop one day after what I thought was a pretty damn good day of fishing while wading. I was talking it up like anglers, especially young anglers, will do. When a mentor of mine, just out of the blue from the back of the room, his eyes fixated on a fly in the vise, a feather in one hand, thread and bobbin in the other, “You haven’t had a good day fishing, until you’ve caught all the fish in the river.”
Like a punk, I laughed it off, but the other guys around me didn’t. The guys that knew, that had some experience under their belt, they leaned in. Their attention went to the guy meticulously tying flies in the back of the shop. He had been quietly listening, and being my mentor, let me put my foot in my mouth so I would learn a few valuable lessons from an old timer who really had caught all the fish in his tenure as a river and trout bum.
I will paraphrase what was said, and eliminate a majority of the curse words but ‘Slaying Trout’ took on a whole new meaning to me after that day:
A good day of fishing is when you catch every fish in the river. This was explained as meaning; on any given day in trout season…there are a few that happen every season…that every trout that will eat…eats. They happen more often than you think. And those days are the ones you hear being quietly whispered about at the TU meeting, or at the local shop, or among a handful of close angling friends that get quiet when others walk by at the bar. These are days when the hatch is perfect, the water temps align with the air temps, all the factors that need to come together for once in the whole universe do! These days are truly ‘Epic’ in every sense of the word.
These days have rules and things that must fall into place for it to work out in nature before the angling part even comes into play. The entire winter snows have to be perfect, the snow melt through spring must be on time, the spawn must start and end on a normal schedule. The air temp, cloud cover, barometric pressure, light angles, it all has to come together the way nature intended…and then you will see it….every fish in the river that will eat…eating. It’s like a switch. When you are on river and see it for the first time, engage in it for the first time…its like the fly fishing gods opened up a freaking door to Shangri-la dudes. Fucking Epic Shit…real epic shit.
As my mentor describes all the pieces that must fall into place I see a few of my fellow angling peeps lose interest. They get bored with the ‘how to’ and wanna cut straight to the end product. There are many anglers that just wanna know when these days happen and then show up and fish them…these anglers miss the point and the difference between a few days of ‘Slaying Trout’ and a lifetime of it.
After my mentor finished telling his story…I was in disbelief. The type of day he was describing could not be possible. Something guides told people to sell more trips I thought. I was wrong…The thought of one of these days stuck with me. For days…then weeks…before I knew it my entire off season was enveloped in discovering if there was any truth to the claims of an old timer guide who spent more time tying flies and selling things than he did fishing. (More on that in a later blog…some guys…really have caught all the fish in the river and don’t need to do it anymore.)
My every free moment in between changing diapers and feeding my first kid at the time, was spent chasing this newly developed obsession. I had seen days where fish rose all over the river and you could pick them off, bug number days and big bad ass troots. Weekend stretches where I had caught literally hundreds of fish. But every fish….did my mentor mean to say that you don’t miss a single one? Every fish landed? Was it a joke and even the little dudes under 10 inches counted? (I had a fish size complex for a while back then. Cured it with a 3Wt Fiberglass and fish that had never seen another angler.)
What was he talking about!!!? I watched and read everything I could. Every tutorial, every fly pattern, every technique, stuff from all over the country’s trout rivers, journals, fishing reports, bought books and movies about trout feeding habits, metabolism, weather, scientific studies, if it could be linked to having an effect on a troots desire to feed…I was waist deep in that shit. I wanted one of these days…at first it was because I wanted to be there…rod and fly in hand ready to catch every fish in the river…but as I went through this process of learning, expanding my knowledge and truly opening up an entire world of angler and nature interaction I became…Enthralled.
Was this what my mentor was talking about? Learning the sequence…the algorithm, the code behind how a river, trout, and angler worked. (Keep in mind I was knee deep in an IT and Business Management degree at college during this time…and spent more time on river than in class.) I was into it. Like really into it. My lady hated it. I’d have a kid on my knee with food sliding down her face, flinging a spoon around telling them both about all the cool shit I was finding. I was up late every night, tying flies to work in conjunction with all the things I had learned. The way I thought about trout, the way I tied my flies, the way I approached the river, my cast, the way I waded, everything about my angling began to change. The trout season was fast approaching…and after a long winter I felt I had come out of the thaw with a better understanding of what I was looking for in these days of ‘Slaying Trout’ and catching every fish in the river.
Now this isn’t about to go into a few paragraphs of it happening right away. Hell no, like all things in my fly fishing career…it took months of frustration filled patience and a side of crazy. I broke two rods during this time…like a bad golfer throwing a fit on the fairway dudes…I was that guy. I knew all this shit, where are the damn fish!? Then you get the shanks, you start hooking lots of fish…but missing…80% of the bastards. They outsmart ya at every turn, you get a shitty hook set 7 out of 10 times. You’re so focused you miss out on…IT. It wasn’t until the Golden Stonefly Hatch that July…9 months later…after I had listened to my mentor tell of such a day…that I was present for one finally. (I knew full well I had missed so many of these day during the season. Just hit the tail end of it, missed it by a day or a week. Happened all season. Until July came.)
July…mid July if memory serves me right (I‘ve enjoyed a lot of smoke since then) it was warm…but not so warm my fat ass was sweating in my board shorts and a pair of shitty Teva water sandals at the end of the day. I had some ridiculous Simms fishing shirt on now that I think on it. I had a fishpond vest filled the brim with stuff…still have it…sitting in the closet. I remember taking it off to wade out into the summer current in the upper river that day after seeing it all unfold. I was in my early 20’s and would wade shit I wouldn’t even touch without my boat now. (Such a dumbass back then.) But I’m getting ahead of myself.
The day started early. Wicked early. I skipped class that day. For good reason…I had a feeling…the first spark of that intuition I rely so heavily on now. I remember leaving the house wicked early and my lady asking what I was doing…I just said ‘fishing’ and grabbed that silly vest and left. She was wicked pregnant…our son was born a few weeks later. We need this day, I was on her nerves, our son was on her bladder all the time, and I was running on empty with the toddler. Needed some dad time. Of course, I spent it riverside.
I was out the door before she could say no…not that she would have. Drove to one of my favorite upper river spots just above the State Boat Launch east of Cle Elum. (I didn’t have a boat yet. Was a hardcore wader. The following year I was swimming the rapids of the Cooper River with a 3Wt in my teeth chasing 10-12 inch wild AF little troots more on that to come.) I love the side channels and braids of this section in the summer. An adventurous angler that is a strong swimmer can access some amazingly untouched water for the Yakima River in the summer. The entire drive my mind was foggy with all the factors leading up to this particular day making me wake up at 4 am and drive to the river. The previous few days had been productive…but something seemed to be happening…I could feel it. The fish were…just weird, man. They were in the right places…but they wouldn’t f’ing eat. I could see them! They were right there…there’s my freaking fly…just eat it…literally fish touching the fly with their nose…and giving me a big fat…’NOPE!’ Ugh. (I fished a lot, 3-5 days a week in between classes, sometimes only for an hour.) And things seemed to be staging for something. All the things I had read and absorbed during my winter solstice of trout enlightenment had lead me to believe that something was about to happen…and I didn’t wanna freaking miss it. I had been working toward this…was this it…was this the day all the trout in the river eat?
The morning was cooler than normal. Light breeze…blowing slightly upriver. A slight shiver in the trees at times from it. The cloud cover was around 30% that morning. Better than any other day that week. Temps only hit 78 on the river… in the river was a nice 58 rising to 60 or so that day. I waded into my usual spot to watch. I found a side channel the boats couldn’t access due to a log, still there, that filled with trout during the summer flows. Was a bitch to bushwhack to but today it was particularly worth it. This spot requires some swimming in summer flows, unless you use the trails and possibly engage in a little trespassing…maybe. I found myself there by my normal means, and watched. I could see trout. This time of year they were always in there resting out of the irrigation flows in the main river. This area also gave me access to 3 good miles of water to work…and work it I did.
I waited. I didn’t want them to know I was there. They weren’t ready yet. This could be the day…this could be it. As I sat there watching the fish, prepping my gear, checking my flies, I remember thinking about the birth of my son coming up. It was distracting me, stressing me out, was a big reason why I was fishing so much. Those pre-baby jitters Dads can get. Took me three tries to tie the fly on. Then my attention shifted to the river.
I saw it. Like a cliche dudes. So much time had past since I had sat down I almost missed why I was there in the first place. It was a faint flash. The fish I had spotted moved. For the first time. It moved out of its way and ate something. Then I saw another. SHIT! I had the wrong fly on. Like a noob I rigged up my dry rod first. I grabbed my nymph stick and put on a nymph that I still use today. A single golden stonefly nymph lightly weighted, under a small yarn indicator about 3 feet for this section. So I missed those first few feeders…but what came after my hurried run down the bank into the river, was by far something amazing to witness and be a part of. Literally…every fish in that side channel was eating. Every where I looked there was a flash. I looked into the river and there were stoneflies…everywhere. The pre-hatch…the migration…the time of the day when you put up the numbers. The light was just starting to hit the river. Early…cool…my feet were cold. Each flash caught the morning sun and each trout was eager to eat. Not every cast…but pretty close. Didn’t even need the little yarn indicator as I could see the fish eat everything. By the time I was done with releasing one fish I had another one to deal with. This went on for a good 20-30 minutes. I lost count after the first 12, like I usually do. Big and little, cutties and bows, fat and healthy, hard fighting with super charged turbo boosters. I could see the others spook when one would run through them, and then reset immediately after the commotion died down. The food was there…they were hungry, they didn’t care about anything else, the conditions were as close to perfect as they were gonna get…and I knew…this was just the first part. The fish go into that trance like state of feeding and an angler matches it with every cast. A single nymph…sight cast to feeding fish in gin clear summer water…utter bliss for 30 minutes.
Then it stopped. The flashes ceased. The fish were done. I spent the down time moving to my next spot. Carefully thought out ahead of time, knowing that when the hatch starts this spot had the best opportunity. All those things I spent the winter delving into, my mentors words, it all was resonating in my head after being jacked about some stellar fishing that I was just part of.
The next spot. Water had dropped a little. Excellent. Didn’t need as long a cast. The Purple Chubby, not a hand tied I know, but cutthroat are stupid for purple and a good starting fly. I waited. An area on a bend with brush and trees close to the bank, slightly shaded this time of day, known to hold large fish under the root wads and junk submerged. Not a good spot to nymph, but a place where stoneflies crawl up after hatching. (The Golden Stonefly in the upper Yakima hatches like a drake mayfly. Many times you will see them together. They pop up out in the middle of the river making all sorts of racket as they hatch. Fish holding in deep fast summer flows are known to shoot up through several feet of water and explode on these big yellow insects…like a big trout twinky!)
Then I saw it. The first of thousands. Like Salmonflies on Rock Creek MT, they appeared. Big fluttering buttery colored morsels. They were everywhere, coming up off the river, coming down from the trees. Just all of the sudden popped. I cast. No shit…didn’t take three feet…fish all over it. Nice 12 incher just wailing on the fly. Another fish chasing it as I brought it in. The hair on the back of my neck bristled. Aggressive fish…was this it…was it about to happen? I could feel it…its sound corny but its true. I cast again…closer to the bank…another fish. Another cast, another fish. Then…they started to rise. I couldn’t keep up. All of the sudden there were slashes at bugs all over the river. There were fish rising in places I didn’t even know fish would be! I stopped fishing. I watched. One after another…10-15 rises all within a few moments of each other, looked behind me down river, same thing happening. Bugs…everywhere, flapping by, hitting my face, falling from the trees, the ones that hatched yesterday oviposting, the ones currently hatching not standing a chance, the birds…good god the birds dive bombing the sky, darting above my head taking stoneflies out of mid air…a few trout doing the same to oviposting females. Literally the entire section of river alive, moving, breathing, everything in sync…a new fly…and then I cast into the fray.
When I say every cast…I mean it this time. I would spot a trout rising…cast 2 feet ahead of it…catch it. Release…see another rise…2 feet upstream…boom. Release…another near the bank below an overhang…skip underneath the limb…BOOM! Release…repeat. Then I started targeting the bigger rises. The ones that made a big gulping sound or a violent slash when they broke the surface. Big fish…the bigger, and biggest fish. In the foamy seam sipping heavy, 1 inch from the bank, in the eddy literally chasing down skittering bugs, in 8 inches of water in the shade of a downed log, behind the big rock in the fastest run, hit the rock and drop the fly, boom! Every fight hard, no fish left behind, every one hooked and netted, every fish that I saw eat I cast at. Every fish that I cast at…ate.
My mind was blank, or at peace I guess. There was just me, this stretch of river, and this wondrous event unfolding in front of me…and I was playing in it. Like a nerd. It was awesome…it was Epic. Everything that I thought it would be…before it was even over I was satiated. I knew what to look for now. I knew that all the time studying lead me to this day…and if I kept at it…I’d get more days just like it. At the end of it all, walking back to the truck, the day I had been searching and waiting for finally at an end, success on the fly fishing front…my mind turned to my soon to arrive son. The drive home I was able to think about being a dad to a son clearly, the stress of the ‘what ifs’, am I ready, all those questions and more…they just faded away. They didn’t matter. I was having a son, and if we get to share even a piece of the moment I had just experienced I knew things would be good.
That’s what I got out of, “A day when all the fish that will eat. Eat.” I was there, I saw trout, river, wildlife, all of it come together…and do what it does best…just be there…ya know…doing…it. Life. That’s life, the struggle of the stonefly to pass on its genetics, the struggle for trout to feed and survive among their brethren and the wilds and stresses of their life in the river, the connections the birds and other wildlife have to these moments of life on the river where everything works together and happens the way its supposed to. The snows that had to fall to get the water just right, the days leading up to this day that brought the insects, trout, and river all together and aligned. The time I spent learning it all, getting to this point, seeing everything that my mentor lead me towards. What followed in my fishing career just opened that world to me even more. Life happens, you just need to get after it. Sometimes getting after means hooking every one of those trout that rise and enjoying life no matter what it throws at you. (Are you the stonefly ormm the trout so to say.)
That day and many days since, I have left the house to ‘Slay Trout’. I figured out the code, I understand the solution and how to arrive at it. After that day angling took on a new path for me. I chased fish, and those moments when life presents itself and I get to be there and witness it, I became addicted to it. Chasing those days when everything aligns and you see it. Something happens to me now when I am there. There is a connection to that event when a trout eats your fly…a connection I have a hard time disconnecting from. Fly fishing is different for everyone. But to me its life, in every sense of the word.
I rarely leave the house for a day of fishing with the words ‘Slay and Trout’ in mind now. I’ve done it. Its fun, I do it from time to time now. Its more about exploring those moments with others now, including my son. But when I see a trout rise or flash, and I know all the things it took for that to happen…and I cast to that trout…and I catch it, I remember those days I’ve had and look forward to ones I will have. I appreciate each day on the river more than my younger self because I understand what To “Slay Trout” really involves. Remember that when you catch a trout on a fly next time, a lot has to happen for that to work. You get to play in the original playground, and share it with people, enjoy and witness it together. Never shirk off the awesomeness of it all. Pass it on and don’t doubt that there is more to fly fishing than just tricking a trout with a fly and a good cast.