02 August 2010

Big Hole River Fly Fishing for Trout: Being One with Nature

I probably like fly fishing for trout better than any of the other outdoor activities I engage in, including: elk hunting, backpacking/peak bagging, or cross country skiing. I say "probably" because if you asked me in November or February, or while I'm sitting on top of some craggy peak, you'd likely get a different answer. Truth is, whatever I'm doing in or with nature -- at that moment -- is exactly right or, at least, as perfect as life gets.

Still fly fishing for trout is GOOD. Let me qualify "good": fly fishing for wild trout; fly fishing in the exceptionally beautiful places trout tend to live; fly fishing in a place that is familiar home water; and fly fishing in solitude. Trout do not have to be large: fishing for brook trout on a babbling meadow creek choked with beaver ponds or native westslope cutthroat trout on a plunging mountain stream is equal to any trophy river. As one of life's little celebrations, I took off a few hours last week to celebrate completing the key steps in an application for some academic work planned for Spring 2012.

8:30 a.m., morning sun just breaking into the Big Hole canyon, cool water a little deep & swift for this time of year but wade-able (with care), lots of mayflies and caddisflies on the water, no one else parked in "my" area: so far, so good. I began fishing with a #16 Parachute Adams on a long (12 foot) leader with 5X tippet:

Pretty standard beginning fare. I began by searching the head of a pool--lots of pocket water formed by the many large rocks that dot this section of the river. Nothing much happened for an hour or so: no riseforms indicating a feeding trout, and casting to pocket water I took only a few small fish. But then I moved down into the slow, deep center of the pool and cast to the splashy rise of a whitefish. Though many anglers despise them, I like whitefish--they are a native fish that looks like a cross between a trout and a sucker, and larger ones (18 inches or so) give a good account of themselves when caught on 5-weight tackle. I even kill a few now and then too, as they are excellent smoked. But, this morning, I was simply bored and wanted to catch a sizable fish. Which I did:

I moved down further yet to the tailout--the place where a pool becomes shallow and the water becomes swift. On the Big Hole, it's often leads to shallow riffles and then to the head of the next pool. In its twisting, throbbing struggle to get free (whitefish have a unique fighting style), the whitie had thoroughly slimed my fly, meaning that it would no longer float well. Instead of cleaning it properly (wash, press between layers of cotton shirt, shake in dessicant powder, re-apply paraffin floatant), I simply false cast a few times and hoped for the best. The fly sank into the surface film where I could barely see it 35-feet away, but almost immediately a large trout lunged at it. A bit eager, I struck and missed. But I had figured out what was going on: trout were feeding in shallow water (a foot or less deep) on mayfly duns still caught in the surface film.

You see, the surface of water is a physical barrier that requires force to break through--just as an ant or other small creature can easily "float" on water without breaking that film, so too do emerging insects get caught on the underside. The whitefish, in sliming my jaunty bouyant dry fly, had done me a great favor. For the next two hours, I watched for the flashing color or shadows of feeding fish and cast to them, catching a half-dozen or so larger brown trout (15 to 19 inches):

As an experiement, I tried mayfly emerger patterns, such as crippled duns and this Comparadun (superbly tied by friend Mike Morris):

I settled on the Comparadun just because the color looked more like typical mayfly emergers--but the real secret was having the right size, the right silhouette, and fishing in the film rather than the surface per se. As the sun climbed higher, large trout continued to feed though they refused my fly more often. After adding 18" or so of a finer (6X) tippet, I again hooked up on fish though I also lost a few (6X breaks with just a few pounds of force and quickly weakens in use).

Getting back to where I began with this post, this is why I like fly fishing for trout so much. To be successful, it demands that you play close attention to the natural world and what is happening there. It is not enough to be a passive observer--you must interact, test various hypotheses, and be open to the eloquence of nature. Failure is always possible. Success is always temporary. Each cast demands that you live fully in the moment to observe a feeding fish, cast accurately just upstream of it, and then -- drag free -- drify a fly over it. If the trout takes your fly, you might or might not actually hook it. Strike too soon and you scare the trout so it won't rise again for 15 minutes. Strike too late and the fish has already spit out the fly. And the infiinite number of angles that a hook can enter the complex geometry of a trout's mouth makes for even more uncertainty:

Casting to a feeding trout is total engagement. I forget about the rattlesnake that might be on the path back to the truck, what MollyTheDog might be doing on the bank (luckily she's not one for trouble), whether a thunderhead is about to fling a lightning bolt at me, and certainly about things like completing a grant application or when I'm going to finish the kitchen remodel! Once I take the rod apart for the hike back to the truck, though, MTD does demand some attention in the form of "You throw & I'll fetch this scary root that I've been fighting with for the past hour":

To complete the morning, I killed one good fish to grill for Mrs Rover and I. Savoring its flaky, sweet orange flesh was like stepping back into that morning's grace:


troutbirder said...

Well done Eco. Perfect actually.

Elizabeth said...

Nice catch ER! Look at that beautiful juicy flesh...mmmm there's nothing like fresh trout. Its great that MTD can amuse herself, she looks like she is having a ball with that tree root. Have a great day :)

Maria said...

My husband, Chris, would love to go trout fishing... He just saw your post after I called him over... oh... torture for him to have to work most of the summer. {He'd rather be fishing in the Esopus Creek}

I'm sure when his father comes tomorrow...fishing will be a significant part of their conversations!

Albert A Rasch said...

The more I read about flyfishing, (is it one word or two?) The more I want to become hopelessly in debt with a new passion. Great story Eco!

Best regards,
Catching Rats, Human Rats!

mdmnm said...

Over 13 feet of leader to a Comparadun! To my mind, that's some pretty tough fishing (or at least seeing). Lovely browns and another really nice post.

Judy said...

I have never been fishing, but your description is so evocative! Sort of a zen activity, where you become one with the activity!
Annie flushed three or four wild turkeys this morning! I had never seen them around here before, only 10 miles down the road. I found a feather to bring home!

Should Fish More said...

Nice pic's, ER. I sort of agree about the whitefish, but I'm always muttering about 5 seconds after I set the hook and know it's a whitey.

I went up above fishtrap on Sunday, but there were people in every hole I wanted to fish. I may go again today.

Janie said...

Looks like a successful trip all the way around. You caught a few fish and some dinner, and MTD had her chance to fetch.

ascu75 aka Don said...

I wish I could come and play it looks great. I havent fished in years due to my health but I like reading about those that have . thanks for sharing, Don

tsduff said...

Your last photo left me drooling...