Hang up or Hook up
Up top or underneath, we must cover water to catch trout in a river. My days astream are a constant push and pull between reasons to stay and reasons to move on. Hanging around in a tailout for an extra fifteen minutes may be wise if I see swirls and flashing trout at the lip. But moving on and working more water is my default approach. The challenge, then, is knowing when to give up the ship and knowing when to stay on. And for that, I have a strategy — hang up or hookup.
I fish the sweetest spots until I either hook a trout or I hang the fly on something other than a trout’s jaw.
I remember watching fishermen at the bridge holes when I was a boy. And I never much understood the allure of plunking a five gallon bucket on the bank and casting over and over to the same spot — to the same trout. Later, I learned the distinction between stocked and wild trout. Sure, there may be a pod of recently stocked trout hanging in the shade of the the bridge abutment, but I won’t give them all day to make a decision. I find a reason to move on. And usually it’s hang up or hookup.
One point here: Most of the water I cast to is wadeable, and I’m the guy who goes in for the snag rather than breaking off the fly. I don’t like leaving hooks and leader parts on the bottom of the river or the neighboring trees, and I don’t like the empty slot in my fly box. I figure if it takes me two minutes to untangle a fly from a wet tree branch, and it takes me five minutes to tie a fly at the vise, then I win everytime I rescue my fly.
I’ve previously written about working into the prime spots — about not aiming for the bullseye right away. Instead of going for the jackpot on the fist cast, I like to pick off a few targets on the perimeter.
I work up to a prime lie, casting nearby as I approach it. But once I’m there, once I’m casting to the sweet spot, I don’t leave until I either hook up with a trout (or two, or three), or I hang up on an obstruction and must retrieve the fly.
John played it cautious at the outside bend. He waded into the middle current and cast toward the roots until his yellow #6 Charlie Boy Hopper landed three feet from the root wad. It was a big chunk of tangled organic ropes separated from the earth and broken from its parent tree. Bowled over and turned topsy turvy, the mass had temporarily lodged at the outside bend of a side channel, awaiting the next major flood to come and plow it over again.
John cast as close as he dared the second time, and the foam grasshopper landed within a foot of the roots. The rubber legs jiggled in the current. The tippet went slack. The grasshopper copy drifted like the real thing.
Then Mr. Brown took a look from underneath. Hunkering under the safety of a foot-wide slab of spruce, he slid out for a moment, but he stopped. Generations of learned instinct made the decision for him. The grasshopper was too far away. Too risky. Mr. Brown slid back under the dark spruce, and John moved upriver too.
The pair would never meet. It’s a sad story.
Get ‘em next time . . .
Next time you’re at the outside bend, take a chance at the watery stump. Cast to its perimeter as you approach, and target the prime water when you’re in the best position. But before you leave, take a chance. Cast the fly close enough to the stump to either hang it up on a root or bury the hook in a trout’s jaw.
Dry fly, streamer, wet fly, nymph — the same rule applies. Throw a streamer in for some danger. Risk more.
And while you’re nymphing a juicy swirl that you know holds fish, don’t leave until you hook a trout or you finally hang up on something deep. If you snag the fly, at least you know you took the presentation to the bottom and down to the trout. Wade out, get the fly back and move on.
Then treat the next prime spot with the same approach. Hang up or hookup.
Fish hard, friends.
Enjoy the day.
T R O U T B I T T E N