Monday, 13 July 2009

Wild Browns

Good fishing access is tightly held. And really, all good fishing and hunting spots should remain secret; or so I was told by the riflemaker in town when, a few years ago, I pointed out a number of grouse coverts on the map for him and his British visitor (Paul Roberts the well known rifle and shotgun fitter). Well mostly, grouse are where you find them and I didn't give much away hoping for a free fitting. But fishing access is far more limited and unless the spot is already world famous it is best to be discreet. I won't mention location or even the name of the river.

There often is a story (which may or may not be true) that goes with a good spot and which is designed to keep people away. In my experience, the stories are often mostly true: rattlesnakes; dangerous roads; long walks and difficult access; Grizzly bears; mosquitoes; elusive fish and even stories of the crowds of fishermen are all told. For this spot it is the mosquitoes. This is a particularly bad mosquito year all over the northern Rockies because of all the rain we've had. One old timer told me that the mosquitoes haven't been this bad since the 60s. On this river the mosquitoes are always bad, and in a bad year the swarms are just plain absurd. You have to be hardcore to fish with the swarms we encountered. I wore a mosquito headnet most of the time and liberal and frequent applications of deet at least kept them from biting much.

This river has wild brown trout (Salmo Trutta) A fish is wild if they are naturally spawned in the lake or river where they live. A fish is native if they're indigenous; they've always lived in the watershed and were introduced by some natural mechanism. The brown trout was introduced into North America in 1883 from Germany; von Behr Browns. Apparently the introduction was a controversy then and the introduced fish can still controversial be controversial. They displace native fish and there is something that is, well, not quite natural about them. But regarding the introduction of German browns to North America, in 1913 Theodore Gordon wrote that "Many of us can remember how poor our sport was before the first of the brown trout came in." A wild fish may not necessarily be native, but in a river where the environment and bug life is right they provide fantastic sport.

The two most distinctive things about wild fish is their fight and their colors. Trout in heavily fished tailwaters like the the North Platte, the San Juan and the Bighorn may grow to gargantuan sizes but they have all been caught many times before and tend to "learn" to just give in. Wild fish are outraged by the hook. And the colors are spectacular. These particular fish had a distinctive blue spot on the side of the head which you can see in the photos if you click to enlarge them.

I fished with Garrett and Matt. Hoping for some top water action on dryflies I rigged my Winston 9' 4wt rod. You can wade across this stream at the head and tail of most runs and the Winston is a nice size and weight rod to fish it. The rod carries an old Orvis Battenkill Mark III reel made by Hardy in England. It has the spring and pawl drag system so it sings when a fish runs. I'd forgotten what a pleasure it is to cast this rod and to control a running fish by palming the rim of the spool.

The fish were not feeding on the top though there was variously, a caddis hatch, some blue winged olives sporadically coming off, an occasional hefty yellow bodied yellow winged mayfly (size 14) and a spinner fall. We all three ended up fishing nymphs and I had my best luck with a cased caddis pattern of my own design. The center feathers of a golden pheasant tail are spotted and when wrapped on a hook are a perfect imitation of caddis cases from this particular stream. A small green head and this fly is an expressive but virtually exact imitation of the naturals clinging to every rock.

A rather violent thunderstorm blew in and we huddled under willows beside the stream in the downpour while the lighting crashed around us. We were on the edge of the storm. the main body passed upstream from us. After the storm blew over a rainbow appeared in the east we continued to fish, each of us catching a few more. But the runoff from the violent storm quickly colored the stream a deep muddy red until you could not see the bottom in four inches of water. We decided to head home. Sadly this happened just as a rather prolific spinner fall was getting underway. All-in-all I caught a dozen wild brown trout. They were all at least 14" with the largest just under 20", a very good afternoon of fishing.

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