Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Here a brown, there a brown, everywhere a big brown.

We got a few days of rain last week, and I watched the water levels closely on some of my rivers I knew had big, but spooky browns.  The water level spiked, and then started to drop quickly.  I knew it wouldn't be as high as I wanted it to be, but also knew the rain and cold nights were going to get the water temps where they needed to be.

Since my buddy Jerry was going to be in town, I asked if he wanted to join for a Saturday trip to explore some new water and he was pumped to go.  It had been a while since we went out on some trout water together, and he said he wanted to try fly fishing.  I remember the only time he'd tried fly fishing.   It was with me, casting to a salmon in shallow water, trying to get the fly to swing near it to provoke an aggressive reaction.  He just couldn't get the right swing, and handed the rod to me to have me show him what to do.  After he tried for 20 minutes to cast to this fish, I made one cast, let the line swing...and watched the salmon move a few feet and grab my fly.  He was dumbfounded, and I think it put him off fly fishing because of it.  Many people are overwhelmed by everything that goes into fly fishing, but I think Jerry knew he was in good hands, so I set him up with an extra 5 wt rod and reed I have.

We left early Sat, and got to a spot on the river where I'd spotted some seriously big browns before.  The water was back to being quite low, and very clear.  I was worried.  It was an overcast day, and was supposed to rain off and on, so I had high hopes of active fish.

Sure enough, the first pool we stopped at was holding more than one big brown.  Jerry couldn't believe it.  This river was all wild fish, no stocking whatsoever.  We stopped at the pool and watched 2 browns lazily feeding in the middle of the water column.  When it comes to big browns, my go-to flies are streamers, especially for ones in this river system.  I tied on a large, tungsten cone-headed crystal bugger and made a cast in some fast water above the deep pool the fish were cruising around in.  It was a deep, undercut rock structure that we couldn't see into.  I had a feeling something was lurking in the depths.  Sure enough, after the bugger began to swing in the current, and I stripped it...I could see a fish following it.  Jerry was speechless.  He was on the top of a bank looking in the water and had no idea where the fish came from. I did the same thing, this time letting the fly get deeper, and travel further downstream, right by a huge undercut.  Jerry went ballistic, "OH MY GOD!!"  Right as he said that, I felt a small tug.  I set the hook, but no dice.  He was panicking, saying it was a monster, almost twice as big as the already big browns we spotted when we first got there (And these were 18-20" browns)  My heart sank...and I knew that big guy had felt my hook.  He was now a lost cause, at least for now....

We headed downstream to some nice looking, deep water.  I made the mistake of only drifting by a log jam a few times, and when I got closer, spooked a 20" brown out from underneath it.  Yep, figures.

I began to help Jerry with his cast, showing and telling him the basics.  How to hold the rod, what to do with his hands, wrist, elbow, and other hand.  He picked up quickly, but struggled with keeping his wrist straight, causing some pretty nasty loops and tangles.  His problem was he was completely extending his arm out from his body for just a 25' cast.  He had the form and stance to do a 75' cast, so I told him to tuck his elbow and arm closer in to himself, and use his elbow as his pivot point, and to keep his elbow moving in a parallel line to the ground.  Immediately, his loops looked much better, and he was able to get out 35' of line easily.  I set him up with a streamer like mine, just a different color.  I showed him what to do to swing a fly through a run, and when to start retrieving it.  His second cast, he let it swing to a dead stop, and then started to retrieve. This was followed by a "woah!!"  A nice healthy rainbow had grabbed the bugger.  This was his very first fish on a fly rod, how awesome is that?  We somehow both left our phones in my car, which was a bummer.  He continued to fish the same run, getting another rainbow of the same size, and then losing something that seemed to be a bit bigger.  I worked a slower pool while he practiced his casting, swinging and stripping.  He was hooked on it, and would have done it for hours if I hadn't said we should move.  Since the water ahead of us wasn't too great (I was familiar with this stretch) I thought it best we pack up, drive elsewhere and then just explore.  We did that, a few times throughout the day, and it was just amazing.

Jerry was just blown away by the clarity and beauty of this river.  We were walking by and fishing holes that were over 10 deep where we could see the bottom.

We found some amazing log jams, and pockets of water that were holding BIG fish.  I had a few grabs from big browns hiding under log jams, but couldn't seem to get a proper hookset.

Something funny I noticed was that we even saw fish in slow-moving, shallow water....where were they?

They were stationed on top of big piles of leaves, completely camouflaged.  I thought it was awesome to see a 14-16" trout just appear out of nowhere next to a pile of leaves to chase our streamers.  We even spooked a couple BIG fish that were in seemingly motionless water.  It was a learning experience for both of us.  We explored quite a bit of the river, spotting or getting a take from a big wild brown every now and then.  We were just absolutely blown away by the numbers and size of fish we were seeing.  One of our last stops were below a waterfall, which had some scary deep water, probably over 15' in some spots.  But the water was so clear, we could see a few 12-14" rainbows in the middle of the water, alongside a rock feeding.  Jerry had a few takes on his bugger, but couldn't get them to stay on.  I chose to add a ton of weight and stand right near the waterfall and throw out my streamer until I thought it was close to bottom.  The first time doing this, I hooked up and landed one of the most beautiful brookies I've ever caught..

Amazing contrast!

After a while, the pool seemed pretty spooked, and we wanted to cover more water, so we headed back to the car, fishing our way to it.  We chose to head downstream to see what it was like, but stopped at the first hole where Jerry saw the monster grab my streamer.  It had been a few hours, so we hoped the fish weren't as spooked.  I let Jerry give it a go, and told him where to cast, etc.  He made perfect casts, and I was able to follow his fly as it sank and began to drift downstream.  I spotted a brown working his way upstream near bottom, and told jerry to cast upstream from him and let it dead drift.  His cast couldn't have been any better.  The fly drifted downsream, right until it hit bottom.  I told Jerry to twitch it a few times and then tighten his line so it started to swing.  Sure enough, the fly was twitched and swung right in front of the brown.  He turned around, chased the fly down and grabbed it. I told Jerry to set the hook, and I watched as the fish shook his head - the hook was in.  Jerry did a great job at playing the fish, and lead him right into my net.  A stunning brown with amazing color.  Jerry couldn't believe it!

We were so pumped, and I was so happy for him!  Of course, after that fish, the other fish in the same area were spooked, so we took off.

We picked a spot a few miles downstream to try and bushwhacked our way to the river.  We fished some great looking runs, but couldn't produce anything, or even see a follow.  Finally, a smaller fish, appearing to be a brown, grabbed my streamer but shook off.  It was starting to rain, and get dark, so we decided only a few more holes.  Not too long after, we came upon a huge, wide and infinitely deep pool that looked very promising.  We both stood upstream from it, casting at 45 degree angles, letting our streamers swing down and then strip them back.  After a few minutes, I felt my line stop dead, so I set the hook and felt the head shakes of something big...followed by slack line.  UGH!  This was probably the 4th fish of the day over 18" that I'd gotten to take but had shake off.  Of course, I'm not complaining...now I know where they live.

We fished til' dark, in the rain (left our rain jackets in the car, smart right?) but couldn't land another big beastly brown.  It made me super happy that Jerry had landed such a great fish earlier in the day, and the fact that we'd spotted and/or had action from about 8 fish over 18" just blew me away.

Needless to say, we plan on going back next weekend, and will be exploring even more new water. 

New small water, big fish!

Katlyn and I booked a camping spot about an hour from home, and of course, I'd checked Google Maps for possible fishing spots before we left.  We already knew where to go for a ton of smaller brookies, but I wanted to check out new water!

We arrived, set everything up, cooked over the campfire, then headed out in the morning to the water.  We drove until we could see some of the water.  We kept driving until we found a decent parking spot.  This time, I'd brought my 3 wt for Katlyn to use, and got her all setup with a big Madame X dry fly.  Not wanting to be redundant, I opted for a small, weighted bugger.

We found out way to the water, and it was just beautiful.  It was pretty small, and barely looked over 20 cfs.  I took a temp and got 58, wow!  Perfect!

I had no idea what to expect until Katlyns Madam X was engulfed by a beautiful, wild 10" brookie.  This was a great sign, and I was pumped!

We found pool after pool, just deep and fast enough to hold a decent sized fish.  Katlyn and I both took turns fishing pools, catching plenty of beautiful brookies, and even a little brown.

As we worked our way up, I had Katlyn fish the pools before me, to give her a chance at some dry fly fun.

While soaking up the beautiful scenery, I happened to look over at Katlyns fly, right as she was about to lift it off the water, a swimming log came to check it out, wait what?

A perfect pool for a large predator

The fish was BIG!  I couldn't believe what I was seeing. Katlyn missed it, and probably thought I was nuts.  I was freaking out over seeing this huge fish chase her dry before she pulled it off the water.  I collected myself and had her wait a few minutes before casting again, but nothing...

My heart sank, I hope he didn't get spooked!  She drifted quite a few times, and we gave it a rest before I decided to give the olive bugger a drift.  I casted at the top of the pool, and followed my bugger as it drifted down, right by the large rock the fish was obviously hiding besides.  After the bugger passed the rock, the big shape came out from besides it, chased down the bugger and swiped at it.  It was a complete miss, but my heart was about to explode.

I was so estatic to see such a big fish in this small water that I'd never even fished before.  All of the brookies seemed to be wild, and after checking the States website, this water did not get any stocked fish, meaning whatever we'd caught would be wild.

After the swipe, I let the pool calm for a while, hoping to get another chance.  After throwing the bugger through all the water and not seeing any signs of movement, I wasn't ready to give up.  I was seeing black and golden stones on the rocks all around me.  I added a black, rubber-legged stone dropper to my bugger and began high sticking the fast water at the top of the pool (Katlyn said she saw it head into the white-water)  Sure enough, a few drifts later, I watched my leader stop dead in place.  I set the hook, and this big guy took off downstream.  Woo!!!!  He was on!  My click & pawl reel was screaming - ahhhh what a beautiful sound.  I was ecstatic, and couldn't believe it.  I finally netted him to discover it a was a beautiful brown.  Not as big as I originally thought, but an awesome sized brown for the size of the water it was in.

Well, within an hour of fishing we'd gotten into a 17" brown...good start!

Katlyn continued to fish dries before I fished below the surface, missing and landing quite a few more brookies. 
Katlyn working a great section of water.  She landed two brookies about 5 feet downstream of this, and another just after this picture was taken.  I pinched the barbs on the dries of course, so we opted to not stress these little gems by taking pictures.
We called it a morning, and were off the water before noon to enjoy the rest of the day camping in the woods.

I was surprised when Katlyn asked when we were going fishing again in the morning.  Naturally, we slept in and woke up to the birds chirping, and the chipmunks fighting.  I checked Google Maps to see where we should park to start where we left off the day prior.  I asked a store owner if we could park in their lot, they obliged and were excited to see we were fly-fishing.  We trekked through a field, and then woods to the river.  We had the same setup, her with a dry, me with a streamer and/or nymph.  We got into more brookies right off.  I opted to fish the harder water first because of either log jams or overhanging trees.  I decided to get in on the dry fly fun, so we switched rods and I got a few nice brookies of my own on dries.  I even missed a few bigger fish that appeared to be 12-14" browns.

We worked our way up, and I was very pleased with the water we were seeing.  It was all great holding water with plenty of cover and undercut banks.  We worked on up and found a run that was a bit hard for her to fish with a dry because of the overhanging trees.  I gave it a shot with a dead-drifted bugger.  I couldn't see my fly, but noticed my leader stopped moving downstream - so I set the hook.  A few head shakes later, and a big brown began flailing around the pool.  WOW, another nice brown!  We were hooting and hollaring!  This guy tried to run me in between two large boulders 3 times, luckily I could stick my rod tip in the water to turn him.  I was running 6X, so I knew if he ran in between the sharp rocks, it was over.  I managed to keep his head pointed away from the sharp rocks, but he started to run downstream.  I put the brakes on just enough so I could get behind him to have him run back up into safer netting water.  After a failed net attempt, he gave me another chance, and I found myself throwing my hands up in the air in excitement.

Another healthy, beautiful & wild brown.....wow!  I couldn't believe it.

Another healthy brown, almost 17"

I released this guy and just sat for a few minutes, soaking it all in.  I was so happy, wow!

We continued upstream, catching the usual brookie  or two every other hole, and we came across an absolutely beautiful log jam.  It appeared to be very deep along the downed tree, so I grabbed Katlyns rod, and added a bead-head PT dropper about 18" from her dry fly.  I showed her where to stand, and pointed to where she should try to get the fly to land .

It was picture-perfect.  She made a cast, the dry fly landed right at the top part of the pool, directly in the "feeding lane" of the pool.  I knew if something was lurking under that log it would see her flies.  That's when it happened.....

This big brown comes flying out from underneath the log jam and grabs her dropper.  At the time, she didn't realize he had grabbed her dropper, so she instinctively set the hook after she thought he went for her fly.  She turned to me in disappointment and excitement at the same time, thinking he missed her dry.

"He's on!  You got him, you got him!!!!"

"Huh?" "Oh my god!"

She started to freak out.  Having only really used a fly rod for less than 10 hours, she had no idea what to do with such a big fish.  I could tell by her left hand holding the fly line she was doing the "death grip".  Something beginners do with big fish without even knowing it.  They'll hold the fly line in one hand so tight that when a fish runs it usually breaks the tippet.  I walked her through what to do, and to let the fly line slip through her hands until all of the slack line was gone and the line leading to the reel was tight.  She did great, and had the fish on the reel in seconds.

I was super nervous....  There were about 4 trees downed underwater, and it was heading right to them.  I told her to put the rod tip right in the water whenever he went towards the log to disorient him, and it worked perfectly.  I managed to slip the net under the fish while it was disoriented from being spun around.

I was so proud, wow!!!  It's not every day you hook into and LAND a big wild brown on a fly the third day fly fishing (a dry-dropper setup at that!)

All 3 browns have a blue spot on the cheek, but this one was very prominent.  So pretty!

She was scared of hurting the fish by doing the grip'n'grin so this was the best shot we got.  It was just a little bigger than the 2 other fish, coming in at 18"  I was unbelievably proud, and she was so stoked!  We had just an amazing fishing experience so far, and it couldn't have gotten any better. 

We fished for a few more hours before calling it.  We continued to catch brookies, but couldn't find any more deep holding water for big browns.  We started the trek back to the car with smiles on our faces, and rightfully so. 

The last day of our camping trip, we decided to fish a little on our way back home.  We fished the same water, but a few miles lower.  The temp was 63 at about 10 A.M. which wasn't too bad at all.

Since it was a short trip, we didn't fish more than 3/4 of a mile, but I noticed how much wider and flatter the river was in this area.  I wasn't really impressed with the water, but we did find a few holes that held fish.  There was quite a few section that had no shade, and it was a sunny day.  We noticed a lot of minnow life though.  There were thousands of creek chubs swimming around in the warmer, shallower water.  After a dozen or so fish and/or takes, we decided to call it and head home to unpack.

All in all, it was an incredible fishing trip, and I'll never forget it.  Watching Katlyn cast a dry-dropper setup perfectly on a run, and then watching this nearly 18" brown come out from underneath the log jam and grab her fly...just...wow!

Needless to say, I will be back to explore more of this river before trout season closes.  


Every year, I like to visit a few honey-holes that I've only showed a few people, and have never seen anyone fish.  It is a small stream with big pools that holds a variety of wild fish.  A few weeks back, after we'd just got a few days of light rain, I figured it would be a good chance to check out the stream to see how it's doing.

I got a later start than I wanted, but arrived just before the fog lifted, which was a great sight.

I rigged up my 4 wt and started the walk to the stream.  There is something to be said about heading out to fish early in the morning while it's still chilly and foggy...I just love it.  It reminds me of some of the best fishing I've ever had.

The stream was surprisingly low, even though we'd gotten quite a bit of rain over the last week.  Not unusual to see after a long dry spell though.  I started off nymphing a golden stone with a small pt dropper without much to show for it.  It wasn't until that I switched to a size 8 olive crystal bugger that I started to see fish on the move.  I could see a few fish in a large pool, one looking to be over 16"  I was stoked, but after landing a gorgeous 10" brookie, knew that I had no chance of landing the bigger fish(he found a spot to hide and refused to budge).  From my experience, these wild trout are very spooky and get lock jaw when spooked(more-so than say, a salmon that is just aggressive and will hit the same fly more than once).  It can be very frustrating, but humbling at the same time. 

I took my leave and worked my way upstream.  I decided to fish higher up than I usually do, which is difficult because of the private property surrounding the water.  I knew if I stayed on the side of the stream the whole way up, I'd be fine.  After missing a few nicer fish swinging the bugger, I arrived at a hole I hadn't fished in a few years because of the hard access.  It was much different than last time, but still looked great.

A large pool with a smaller, much deeper pool was above it (and I mean DEEP, 10+ feet..) made the fishing difficult because of the swirling current, so I started by stripping the bugger in the top of the water column for fish looking up.  It worked just as I thought, and I had two fish in hand within 5 minutes.

I switched tactics to try to reach fish closer to bottom and ended up with a 14' leader with quite a bit of weight that really wasn't easy to toss, but I made it work.  I added a golden stone dropper to the same bugger that had been producing and began to find the right spot to cast to get that good drift without the swirl pulling my line.  It was evident that I found the sweep spot when I felt a hard tug on my line, followed by a spunky 14" rainbow flying out of the water.  So much fun on a click & pawl reel!  I was running 6 and 7x tippet, so this guy ended up taking me down a few pools before I could lead him into the net.

I was psyched! I let the pool rest for 5 minutes and gave it another go by high-sticking with the very long leader.  Within minutes, my line stopped dead in place...fish on!  I had another bigger fish on.  When it got close to the surface, it looked like a nice brown.  It wasn't until it turned on its side that I could see it was a big brookie!  An obvious male with a huge snout and wicked vibrant color.  I'm always a bit more cautious about handling brookies for some reason, and he got the better of me before I could snap a quick pic in the net.  He flopped out and went on his way.  Judging by when he was stretched out in the net, he could have hit the 13" mark!

After that, the pool was pretty well spooked and I headed back to the car to drive downstream.  I drove down a few miles and parked on the side of the road and walked to the water.  It's 100 times easier to fish upstream than downstream, so I stayed away from the water while walking downstream, until I spotted some water I liked.  I hit the water and picked up a small brown on the bugger, but ended up hitting a wide, flat section of the stream with no holding water.  After a while, I hit a section of water near an open field, with a couple of nice log jams with very promising pools.  Surprisingly, I got no love until I was near the end of my adventure. 

To me, this looked like brownie heaven.  I stood behind the jam, to the left and tossed the bugger upstream to the right of the picture.  When the fly sank and drifted almost underneath the log jam, I gave it a twitch and started retrieving it.  Right as it got to the surface, this spunky little brown took it upon himself to make it his lifes work to destroy this bugger.  He came out and hit so fast, he nearly flew out of the water!

What a great way to end my morning jaunt!