The river is in motion. It carves a path that erodes its rocky bottom and gnaws at its bordering banks. It cuts lanes and moves channels, constantly shaping the valley into something new. And within the river’s path is structure — all the things that give a river character: logs, tree parts, rocks, boulders, gravel bars and rootsy banks. That structure forms seams where trout live. (Find the seams and you’ll find fish.) And the best way to see them . . . is to look way upstream.
The structure in your favorite large river or small brookie stream creates seams extending well beyond what is obvious. The two distinct lanes running along each side of a midstream boulder create a third zone, a stall, right in the middle. It’s easy to see those three water features up close to the rock, but the further downstream the water travels, the more those features fade and blend into each other. And such is the beauty of a trout stream.
This simple nymph is a winner. The Bread-n-Butter looks enough like a mayfly nymph, enough like a caddis, or enough like a small stonefly to be a very productive pattern. Whatever trout take it for, it gets attention and seals the deal frequently. It’s on my short list of confidence flies.
Yes. It looks like a Hare’s Ear nymph. Half the stuff in my box looks like a Hare’s Ear or a Pheasant Tail. When you turn over rocks to see what kind of bugs trout are eating, most of what you find fits under the category of “little brown things with some moving parts.”
My theory of fly selection is based in simplicity. I don’t carry hundreds of patterns, because I’ve found that I don’t need to. And carrying fewer flies forces me to adjust my presentation — to fish harder — instead of blaming the fly and changing what’s on the end of my line.
Go ahead. Look back through the Troutbitten archives and you’ll find a bunch of photos featuring big, beautiful trout. Chasing the biggest wild browns is part of our culture. It’s a challenge, and it’s a motivator — something that pulls us back to the rivers time and again.
I have friends who are big fish hunters to their core. Nothing else satisfies them. For me, I guess chasing big trout is a phase that I roll in and out of as the years pass. And although I don’t choose to target big trout on every trip, I always enjoy catching them. Who wouldn’t?
Hooking the big ones is part of the allure of fishing itself, no matter the species or the tactics used. What fisherman doesn’t get excited about the biggest fish of the day? It’s fun. And it’s inherent in our human nature to see bigger as better. But is it? Better what? Better fish? Better fisherman?
Look at the water. Your target is two feet on this side of a current seam that's drawn downstream from the tip of a gravel bar. Three trout are steadily rising within casting distance, lined up and distributed in the riffly, bubbly seam. Golden noses poke through the surface and slurp Blue Winged Olive duns without reservation, with early-season, confident rises and none of the skittish hesitation that you'll see in a month or two. It’s as if a long winter erased the trout's memory of all present dangers — of anglers and shadowy herons.
Yes, these trout should be (almost) easy. Your leader is well designed, tapered to a long soft piece of 5X nylon. Your position is downstream. Behind the trout’s vision and just off to the side, you stand in ankle deep water on the soft, inside part of the seam. You mentally process the targets and plan to pick off the most rearward riser because he’s closest to your position. And with luck, you’ll hook him on the first few casts. You’ll set the hook and use his upward momentum to pull him sideways and downstream, away from the top two risers. The other trout will be undisturbed — hopefully.
I guess I’ve been searching for something.
For months now, I’ve spent my limited opportunities on the water fishing progressively more remote locations. Turning down offers to float and cast over abundant wild brown trout on our major rivers, I thought I was looking for solitude. What I’ve found is a companion so powerful it cannot be passed off as simple memory. It’s my own history, and I’ve felt it so presently that it seems at times my flat shadow may take form and rise from the leafy ground to start a conversation.
I’ve returned to the waters where I’ve been, to revisit not the fish, but the places in time. These memories are eminently tangible out there, without the clutter of accumulated things in my home, the garage or the grocery store to get in the way. A trout stream, miles removed from hard roads, and sunken into a valley beyond the distance of average effort, offers a peaceful reward and a natural, blank slate for anyone willing to seek it. And when thirty years have passed between visits, the reflections I’ve found in these old, familiar waters are astonishing.
I guess I take casting with a fly rod for granted. It’s not that I’m some fantastic caster or I don’t have my struggles, but in truth, I can usually put the fly where I want it. And after all these years watching good and bad casting from other anglers, I believe the difference comes down to one key element — speed.
My own education happened naturally. Over a period of years, fishing day in and day out, I developed a casting technique and style that works for me. But it took time, and not everyone has that luxury. Inevitably, the anglers I meet who struggle to cast a fly, whether working with a dry line, tight line nymphing, whether casting wets or streamers, it comes down to one thing. They aren’t aggressive enough.
The fly rod needs an angler who will take control and be bossy. Good casting requires acceleration between 10:00 and 2:00, with hard, deliberate stops at those points. That’s what I mean by aggressive. The cast should be crisp. It must stop between two positions, and it must stop with purpose. The casting stroke should never be lazy, and it should not be cautious. Otherwise, fly placement and accuracy falls apart.
The more time we spend on the water, the better we fish. No news there, right? But why is that? If I don’t fish for a week, it’s not like I’ve lost the skills to get a good drift, nor have I lost lost the ability to read trout water. Shouldn't it be like riding a bike?
Fishing skills certainly can grow some rust, but after a couple of hours on the river, everything about your game ought to mold back into shape (assuming your layoff wasn’t months long). Because once we’ve learned something in fishing, it stays with us — thankfully though, there’s unlimited potential for refinement.
So still I ask, why? Why do we fish better when we’re out there multiple times each week?
Sighters are game changers. A visible sighter allows you to stop guessing where your fly might be and know where it is instead. By having a visual reference at a fixed point on your leader, you can track the movements of that leader, in relation to the currents, and have a very good idea of what your flies are doing under the water — or on the surface.
Not only do I build a sighter into my nymph and streamer leaders, I also add small, subtle sighters into my dry fly leaders. As my friend, Jimmi Ray, says, “Why wouldn’t you?” Sighters, however, are a staple in tight line and euro nymphing leaders, and in the Mono Rig.
I absolutely believe in the effectiveness of long mono leaders for nearly every underwater presentation to river trout, but here's one major drawback: without the fly line, there’s nothing to look at. A sighter gives that visual back, better than ever.