Saturday, 5 April 2014

Trout Fishing in America Terrorists

"One of us had a piece of chalk and as a first-grader went walking by, the one of us absentmindedly wrote 'Trout Fishing in America' on the back of the first-grader."  ... "We watched the first-grader walk away with 'Trout Fishing in America' written on his back.It looked good and seemed quite natural and pleasing to the eye that a first-grader should have 'Trout Fishing in America' written in chalk on his back."  
Trout Fishing in America, 1967 Richard Brautigan 

Portrait of a trout No.1
The rainbow spawning orgy is still underway on the North Platte.  Jeff, Brad and I fished from about noon until 5PM.  The fish eagerly gobbled size 20 or 22 WD40's and a size 18 red midge larva all day long.  The mob chucking eggs  had far less luck than we did.  Of course, there are eggs being dropped by the hens, but the eggs were just not as effective today as the midge patterns.  When an egg pattern finally did prove successful to the downstream group, I overheard excited hollering from the group on the opposite side of the river "Was it one of the ones with a red dot?"  This would seem to be the fine point of egg pattern fishing; red dot or no?

When we pulled up  I talked to a fisherman eating lunch by his truck wearing Colorado plates. I asked him what they were taking - he said that the fishing was tough - so I asked him what they weren't taking.  He replied, "Bacon and eggs."  A rig consisting of a San Juan worm dropper with an egg on the point.  This is the standard  recommendation from the flyshops to the tourists. It does catch some fish, but this is the standard recommendation largely because so many people just don't believe the small flies will work or they think they won't be able to tie them on.  Carry a cheap pair of reading glasses if you must.  To me, an inveterate tailwater fisherman, a size 18 is looks huge a size 20 seems standard. Size 24's are small.

Portrait of a trout No.2
On technique:   A good dead drift can only be beat by a dead drift augmented with the occasional twitch. Most of my takes were on the twitch.  After I showed Jeff the technique he started hooking up consistently. Cast upstream and across.  Keep mending line upstream to establish a good drift. Once the fly is down and the drift is perfect - give the rod the a wiggle and a slight lift to move the fly in the water, halting the drift for just an instant, before  lowering the rod and resuming the drift again.  This is the old Leisenring lift scaled to midge fishing.    The WD40, with it's oversized hares ear thorax, is an emerger pattern and the fish are keyed into the upward movement of the emerging insect. It's a wonderful BWO pattern, but I've found it to be very effective when the midges are hatching.   Many patterns go by the name WD40 (just do a google image search to see them) - the real ones look like Ed Engle's pattern (on page 86) in his book Tying Small Flies.

I watched many of the fishermen (and women) on the river expending huge effort false casting.  You can spot the experienced fishermen because they keep their flies in the water more than they do in the air.  Often, false casting is just unnecessary.  It takes practice to develop a well timed crisp casting stroke, but it is far more effective than the long arm full body casts so many resort to when trying to get a few feet farther out.

Another mistake I saw throughout much of the day was that folks tend to wade right out into the best water. Of course this is partially related to poor casting skills - you spot a fish and can't quite get your fly out to it - so you wade a little deeper.  But often, in response, the fish will just move a bit deeper into the run. So you wade a bit deeper still.  Very quickly, you're standing waist deep in the middle of the run.

Brad Watson with a beautifully spotted  fish that took the red midge larva.
 The river was crowded and I started by moving into an inauspicious looking open slot thirty yards downstream from the next man. I intended to cross the river to fish the less crowded side but I ended up fishing my short beat all day.  I lost count of how many fish I hooked but I counted 17 landed.  All the ones I landed were cleanly hooked in the mouth and released as quickly as possible. On the way home Jeff read the regs and we realized we could have kept six fish apiece.  Had we done so - it might well have caused a riot ... and I would have had to buy finally spring for a smoker.

Jeff with a fish that took on the twitch.


  1. Bravo, Jim--for getting out, for catching fish, for reporting so eloquently. Now I've got the fever, and I'm glad. Lovely pictures to boot...

  2. Yes - getting out seems to be the more than half the battle. You have so much good water in striking distance from Missoula.