I finally have an honest understanding about what draws me into night fishing. Yes, it’s the fear. And of the serious night anglers I’ve known, it’s the same for all of us. Fear is the crackling spark plug . . .
For many years, I believed that it takes nothing special to catch a big trout. I argued with friends about this over beers, during baseball games, on drives to the river and through text messages at 1:00 am. My contention was always that big trout don’t require anything extraordinary to seal the deal. They need a quality drift, a good presentation, and if they are hungry they will eat it. I frequently pushed back against the notion that big wild trout were caught only with exceptional skill.
So for all who’ve heard me make this argument, I’d like to offer this revision: I still believe that large trout don’t need more than a good presentation. But what is GOOD may actually be pretty special. Meaning, it’s rare to find the skill level necessary to consistently get good drifts and put them over trout (large or small).
Rivers are built from just a few parts. While the sand and soil of a streambed is fluid, the framework — the shape of a river — is directed by roots and rocks. Time and the tenacity of flowing water changes the shape of the hardest rocks, eventually carving granite into a new form, eroding and molding a riverbank toward a new course. And while nothing is eternal in a river or its floodplain, there’s enough permanent structure in a stream — the immovable objects — that good trout take notice. So does the big fish hunter . . .
It takes about five minutes to feel the flex of a rod and learn the breaking strength of our chosen tippet. And a simple experiment is all that’s needed. Once you’ve tested both the tippet and the rod’s strength, a new confidence follows. Then, when the fish of your dreams shows up, you are ready.
When you know the maximum pressure available from your fly rod and tippet , you can put more pressure on a trout and bring him in quickly . . .
Somewhere in your favorite stretch of a river there’s a depression at the bottom. It’s wide enough and long enough to hold a trout, nose to tail. It’s as deep as the trout is tall — or a bit deeper. The river flowing over this depression in the riverbed is fast enough to bring a continuing buffet of food. And the water comes with the right shade, ripple or depth to offer good protection. This is a special bucket. Let’s break it down . . .
“You look at where you’re going and where you are and it never makes sense, but then you look back at where you’ve been and a pattern seems to emerge.” That’s from Robert M. Pirsig. And man, does it ever apply to finding big trout.
Just downstream of a run, right where it blends into what can fairly be called a flat or a pool . . . is the spillout.
I suppose you can point to a spillout every time a run dumps into the neighboring pool. The feature is always at the transition. But for our purposes — for seeking out big trout — only a small percentage of these spillouts are good targets. So let’s talk about that . . .
It does not take exceptional technique or skill to catch big trout. It takes an understanding of where they are and what they eat. It requires some forethought and persistence.
. . .Ninety percent of what you hear about most rivers is probably bullshit. Explore and learn these places for yourself. Try to forget the rumors. Discover the truth.
. . .Now I go to certain water types and river structures to target big fish. Every watershed that harbors the big ones has a few of these locations. It’s up to you to find them and fish them well . . .
A top-tier river trout is a beast. The inherent nature of a river, with the endless obstacles, rocks, tree parts, current breaks, high gradient runs and undercut banks challenges the angler at every bend. So when you finally hook up with a Whiskey, a new game begins. It’s a match up between trout and fisherman. Who will win that fight?
Bringing a trout to the net requires a series of accurate calculations, thoughtful moves and a good dose of luck. But with a few guiding principles and a bit of experience, you can minimize the luck required and get a good handle on the outcome. One of the best of those principles, is to keep ’em down . . .
With a ten inch trout, none of this really matters. The little guys don’t challenge your tackle or fish-fighting skills. But with a trout longer than your arm, if you don’t put the fish on the reel, problems are right around the corner.
Whether you have a high-end disc drag or you palm the spool with an old-school click-and pawl, getting the line on the reel is the first order of business. It’s the only reliable method of fighting fish . . .
You can’t stop fishermen from holding their trout. All of the Keep ‘Em Wet campaigns and the Ketchum Release tools will not stop anglers from reaching into the water and lifting their prize. It’s a desire to complete the act, to finish the catch, an instinct to hold the creature that we set out to capture.
And why wouldn’t we want to hold a wild trout — to touch the majesty of Mother Nature — to feel a fleeting, darting, irrefutably gorgeous animal and admire it, and to look upon that which eludes us so often and for so long? No, you’re not going to stop fishermen from holding their trout.
Instead, let’s spread the word about how to safely handle trout without harming them. What follows is a real world, riverside understanding of how to hold a trout, all from a fisherman who’s held a few trout, large and small . . .
Day six on the water. Given the timing (end of March, pleasant weather) and considering the tendencies of cabin fever fishermen, I knew I should think outside the box to find any solitude. So I managed a pre-dawn alarm, and I brewed strong black coffee to open my eyes, to kick-start some motivation at the chemical level. Meat on bread, water bottles filled, rods loaded, truck packed, garage door up and headlights burning into the dark morning, I set out on a Saturday adventure. Within forty minutes of the ringing alarm, I crested the second of three mountains. And on the other side, I saw the first sliver of sunrise from the east.
. . . After the initial surge and downstream run, my big trout turned. He was forty feet below me and angled to the far bank. I was in no position to wade much further without going for a swim, but I needed the trout above my position — upstream — so I could finish the fight and land him quickly. At the critical moment when he slowed, my trout and I worked out an agreement . . .