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. 

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