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Are wild trout really that different?

Posted on May 13, 2020 at 10:40 AM Comments comments (0)



An obviously stream-born fish



I've been asked before on numerous occassions whether or not wild trout are truly different than stocked fish, and my answer has always been resondingly yes. In nature and appearance, wild fish are different and should be held to a different standard. I've seen anglers post pictures of giant trout with worn fins from a creek that, if left to its own devices, would struggle to produce even an upper teens fish. I've heard anglers brag of fifty fish days from single pools that without man's hand should hold in total perhaps ten fish scattered throughout. I've driven past lines of cars parked next to a stream because the hatchery truck was just there a day or two ago. These are the obvious answers to the question. But it might not be the only perspective to use.

Fishing wise, I find that streams that offer wild trout fish better throughout the year, season in season out. There's a reason to it. Stocked trout, particulary stocked catchable adults, are a put and take fishery. The hatchery truck puts them in. Anglers, including feathered ones and other predators, take them. And the stream is once again largely barren. When the state stocks even high numbers of catchable fish in a stream that isn't protected by catch and release regulations or gear restrictions, it doesn't take long for the stocked fish to vanish.

While it is true that long term holdover trout can take up residence in a stream, even a system that experiences heavy pressure, and offer some fishing opportunities once the bulk of the fish are removed, there are fewer of these fish than the wild trout densities in even moderately productive wild streams. All you need to do to confirm this is fish a stretch of stocked trout water in late June or early July, water that looks on the surface very productive to trout. Rocky bottomed, in-river structure, feeding lanes, perhaps even bugs coming off in the evenings. The only thing that's missing is the trout.

Wild stream trout, however, need to maintain resident populations sufficient enough to populate a watershed, meaning that in systems where wild trout are, wild trout are present somewhere in the system every day throughout the year. They offer fishing opportunities long after the the local stocked systems peter out from catch and kill. This is what truly makes these systems special, and worth protecting- the wild fish in these systems are worth more swimming in the river than frying in a pan. Though it is true that without the stocking efforts, opportunities for fishing trout in our general region would be more limited, places where trout are thriving without stocking efforts adds to overall angling opportunity. This is what truly makes wild trout different than a stocked fish- they live in the watersheds that are healthy enough to provide productive, though perhaps challenging, angling year round, not simply in the days or weeks after the hatchery truck drove by.   


Goodbye Steelhead Hello Trout

Posted on May 4, 2020 at 8:00 AM Comments comments (0)


Solid low-20's on meat


Got everything opened up at the PA cabin over the weekend and hit the river hard. It was worth it. The trout were acting trouty. Throwing the big stuff we moved probably fifty good sized fish. Lots of follows. Lots of swipes. Some real nice eats. Saw three bears on the river (didn't get a picture as it was a quick sighting unfortunately). I even caught two nice ones- one wading the first evening I was up there and a second that broke my rod on the hookset. Jeff and Matt all stuck really nice fish, including a couple really good rainbows. We'll be running trout trips in May and June. God I love trout fishing.




Good one on a double Ry-Snack 




Rainbow close to 20 





Matt with a pretty brown





And a solid rainbow





We floated through a snowstorm of caddis and picked up some hitchhikers





Jeff stuck the biggest fish on a double deceiver





This was a rod-breaker





The red on this adipose fin




'19-'20 Season in Review

Posted on April 30, 2020 at 8:40 AM Comments comments (0)



Old man from the sea



It's hard to believe that it's April 30 and we have another season in the books. Like every year, this past season had its highlights and challenges, it's peaks and low points. So like we do, as we reach the end of steelhead season, we like to look back and offer a critical analysis of what we saw, our observations both on and off the water. On the whole, '19-'20 was what we expect fishing-wise. There were not any significant anomalies we saw in fish trends or numbers across the board.

Early in the fall, the Catt fished decently. The flows throughout the month of October were very stable, if a tad low at times. Fish numbers built throughout the month, being sparse in the beginning and growing to numbers I'd say were on the lower side of average, but not alarmingly so. Most days by the second half of October and through November we were finding between a couple and a handful of fish swinging streamers. As usually, the whiskey hangover took most our fish. I don't recall any lights out days where our hookups approached double digits on the swung fly, but it seemed like working water well lead to consistent success.

Honestly I'll take that every time. Those years where we seem to see a handful of crazy days spey fishing in the fall also seem to have more days where we work hard to scratch out a single fish, and maybe not even that. I think this is because to have those crazy fishing days means a higher percentage of the run is entering the system at once. When you find that ball of fish, it's a blast. But they move on, and perhaps there are fewer fish following them up over the next few days or week. A slow and steady stream of fresh fish pushing in seems to lead to more consistency in the long view. All in all, and comparing to how the Catt fished (or didn't fish for that matter) for almost the entire 2018 fall season, 2019 was a blessing.

Whereas fall 2018 was the year of the lake run brown, 2019 was the general mixed bag. Like always, we spent a portion of our time up on the Ontario creeks. Brown numbers were nowhere near what they were in 2018, but the fish were there. It seems like every 5-7 years we just get a mega run of browns. Before 2018, the last year I can remember with a comparable run was 2011, though 2011 if I remember correctly even exceeded it. 2019 was the same steady flow and consistent fishing, most days hooking around a handful of lake runs between two people with steelhead and domestic rainbows in the mix as well.

One thing I did notice on the Ontario creeks was the lower numbers of Pacific Salmon but the higher numbers of Atlantics. Though I don't often fish the Oak, the boys made it over there a few times in late October and early November. Some days they had multiple Atlantic hookups, and I saw a handful on the other creeks throughout the fall as well. I really hope that program continues to develop. The lakes are changing. The forage base is shifting and likely will have a disparaging and disproportionate effect on king salmon. Atlantics and trout are more adaptable than kings, which are nearly solely reliant on alewife as a food source.

Over the winter, we had good fishing. The rivers never really froze up, and many times in January and February there were pleasant days of above average temperatures, great flows, and good fishing. By late February, the bulk of the spring run started. Before then we were finding late fall and winter fish, fish darkened from time in the river. By the end of February we started seeing more chrome, fresh run spring fish. Then the virus hit, almost exactly coinciding with the start of peak spring steelhead. And it was a shame. We had a beautiful spring with very consistent conditions and great numbers of fish. Particularly in the second half of April, I was seeing fish between about 28 and 32 inches fairly consistently in the mix on the big river. Most of the large fish were fresh run hens, a bit of a trend that I've noticed over seasons past- a final push of large female fish.

So here it is the last day of April, and we're turning our focus away from steelhead. I do the first trout trip this weekend to the cabin to scout things out. We will be running trips in May and June, and probably throw some smallmouth in the mix too. Here's hoping that the worst is past us now and we have nothing but good fishing ahead.


Tight Lines,

 - D  


End of Steelhead Season

Posted on April 27, 2020 at 11:10 AM Comments comments (0)



Still some beautiful chrome, pre-spawn fish around


Hard to believe it's gonna be May in a few days. Seems like each year the season passes by quicker and quicker. I might sneak out one more day sometime in the next week or two for steelhead, but we're mostly geared up to do PA trout trips now. For anglers still wanting to catch steelhead, there are still quite a few around. The cold temps recently and decent water flows have kept them in the rivers. By now most fish are spawning or downriver fish. If you're looking for pre-spawn fish, look in the upper half of rivers. Most fish down low are downriver fish. 

Was out a couple days ago. Swung up four, of which two were dime bright, prespawn fish, including one that went 31". Was nice to see some larger fish around, as is usual this time of year. Two of the others were between 27-29". Both fresh, prespawn fish were does. Seems like a trend I've noticed that signals the end of the season is quickly approaching- a last shot of larger female fish that push quickly upriver. The two bucks were colored up and battle scarred. I was about 28 miles upriver. Also swung up a big smallmouth, somewhere around 5 pounds. By the size I'd say was a lake run fish, but usually they don't make it up that far.

I still think my projection last week will hold up. We probably have a couple weeks of decent-good steelheading, and it looks like water levels and temps aren't gonna be an issue. If we start seeing 70's soon, keep an eye out. If the first half of May is like the second half of April, with days fluctuating between the 40's and 60's and intermittent rain, there may even be a decent number of fish around by the third week of the month, though I doubt very many will be fresh, and tired fish and warm water aren't the greatest combination.


Check out some more pics.




This bright upriver fish was too hot to touch. Easily cleared the water half a dozen times! I just reached down with the hemos and unbuttoned her.





Colored up warhorse of a buck that went airborne with the take. Super cool!


Spring Fishing

Posted on April 21, 2020 at 11:30 AM Comments comments (0)



Beautiful dropback





It's getting to the point of the season when dropback kelts are vastly outnumbering new arrivals- a sure sign of nature's progression. There are very good numbers of fish in all the tributaries, but with each passing day that number will drop. As I see it and looking at the weather forecasts, we probably have another three weeks left of the season. The forecast doesn't have any spikes in temperature that would send steelhead scattering. Lake run smallies are also starting to make an appearance. Those guys will continue building through May, so we do have good fishing ahead of us. 


There's still a little bit of steelhead season left for anglers. But we're starting to look ahead. Trophy wild brown trout have been on my mind for the past few weeks, and I will take the first trip to the cabin soon to open it up and scout around, perhaps find a fish or two. Here's hoping that we can do some trips later this spring. Stay safe out there.


  





Tying the Ry-Snack

Posted on April 6, 2020 at 10:30 AM Comments comments (0)


We just love big, wild brown trout. Like this one.




Which is why we tie and fish things like this- the Ry-Snack.


There's simply no other way to say it. Big, wild brown trout are different. While it's fun to catch a bunch of those 8-14" fish, to truly see what your local wild trout stream or river holds, you need to be approaching the game with a different strategy. Enter the Ry-Snack. Named after fellow guide and pattern originator Matt Rysak, this pattern has moved more trout between 18 and 25+ inches than all other patterns I fish... combined. It is a super variable fly that can be tied as either a single or a double. It can be toned down to more subtle and smaller as conditions require. But any we fish it, it is a fish getter. So here's how to tie it.


Step 1: Tie your stinger hook with a yellow marabou feather and a brown marabou feather stacked. (If you're tying on a single hook, ignore this step and do it in step 3).




Step 2: Set up your streamer hook. Tie eyes on the top of the hook so it ride point up. I also heavily weigh the top side with about 8" of .020 or .030 wire layed back and forth on the top.




Step 3:  Tie the stinger hook to the streamer hook. I like to tie the hook points opposite. When I tie the stringer on to the streamer hook, I use 20 lb dacron braid, but any semi-stiff, heavy braid will work.




Step 4: Tie rubber legs, a yellow hackle feather, and brown chenille just above the bend.




Step 5: Wrap the chenille up to the eyes. Palmer the hackle feather through it. Tie in a second set of rubber legs.




Step 6: Tie a tuft of yellow marabou right behind the eyes.




Step 7: Tie a clump of brown Australian possom fur under the eyes and mold into a head.




Step 8: Tie a clump of black laser dubbing over top the eyes to finish the head. Then fish the hell out of it.






Looking for big, wild browns is always a challenge, but it is a fun one. The reason this pattern catches so many fish for me and the people I fish, is that it is the first pattern I tie on in the morning and I am almost always fishing at least one of my guys with this out of the boat at all times. Brown and yellow is a proven trout killer. So if you're looking to head out to your local wild trout fishery and see just what lurks in the depths out there, pound the banks, the logjams, hit the structure. One day, maybe today, you will see a legit monster. Whether that is an 18-20" fish out of a deep logjam pool where the brookies have noticably disappeared from over the last two or three years, a 22-24" fish out of the river nearby where the locals float tube down in the summer, or the 26-27" + fish out of the waters of the Allegheny or other true trophy trout waters, this pattern might introduce you to your best wild stream trout.


See what's out there! 






 

Destroyer Fly Tying Demo

Posted on March 22, 2020 at 9:10 AM Comments comments (0)



Finished product


We simply call this pattern the Destroyer. And for good reason. It catches everything. It is my go-to lake run brown pattern, a great clear water steelhead pattern, catches the shit out of the lake run smallmouth, loved by stream trout here in the lower 48, and is an excellent AK trout pattern fished either on the swing during the smolt emigration or dead-drifted during the flesh hatch due to the tan and peachy color scheme. That's why we call it the Destroyer. It destroys.


Check out what's hanging out of this lake run brown's mouth. Yep, you guessed it. Same fly tied with a bit heavier eyes.




And this one.




Need I say more?



This pattern is tied out of a string leech template. However I've made some tweaks to the system that really shine. Most string leeches tied with rabbit strips tie the stinger hook directly to the end of the rabbit strip. This creates great movement in the water, but means that you can't change out the hook when it gets bent out or dull. The fly is done. How can this be overcome? You want the movement, but also the ability to trade the hook out. When I tie string leeches, I tie about 1/8" of tubing on the back of the bunny strip and pass the dacron loop through it. I can change out the stinger and still have the weight of the stinger hook adding movement to the bunny strip. Check out the fly tying instructions for the Destroyer below.


Step 1: Start with about a 3" strip of barred tan and olive or tan and brown bunny strip. Tie in a small piece of junction tubing all the way at the back.













Step 2: Set up your hook. Tie a dacron loop onto a cutter hook (one that you will cut just above the bend when the fly is done). Tie in your weighted eyes.




Step 3: Tie your bunny strip in just above the bend.




Step 4: Tie in a 4" strip of polar chenille and 4" strip of peach cactus chenille.




Step 5: Wrap the peach cactus chenille up to the weighted eyes, tie off and clip any extra. Palmer the polar chenille up to the weighted eyes, tie off and clip any extra.




Step 6: Fold the bunny strip forward over top of the chenille, tie off just behind the eyes and clip off any extra.



Step 7: Wrap a collar just behind the weighted eyes of bunny fur spun in a dubbing loop in the same color as the strip and tie off.






Step 8: Tie in a head of tan UV ice dubbing and tie the fly off.




Step 9: Pass the dacron loop through the tubing at the end and pass through the eye of the stinger hook, snug the eye of the stinger hook into place inside the tubing to hold it and clip the cutter hook off just above the bend.







Step 10: Catch all the fish anywhere.


What's a good client worth?

Posted on March 18, 2020 at 6:05 PM Comments comments (0)



A good dude swinging a good run




What is a good client worth? That's a thought I hadn't thought much on until the last week or so. As those involved in the guide industry all know, finding a good client is making a friend for life. As it relates to fishing, even fishing with a guide we don't always crush them every time, day in day out. Sure we have a lot of good days fishingwise. The vast majority of days we catch. But some days we strike out. It's the nature of the game. The ones that can't accept a bad day for what it is aren't ones you want back. The ones that don't mesh well with your specific guiding style- and there will always be people that simply won't- are learning experiences, so take them as that.

But the good clients are the ones that are along for the ride, those that don't complain when the going gets tough- at least wholeheartedly. Sure they'll bust your balls, but that's all part of the fun. They'll give you shit, you give it right back. Hopefully you catch a few fish along the way, and normally you do. Then at the end of the trip, you'll talk a bit about the next one. What the next few weeks or months might look like. What some other fisheries you hit are. Other target species. Other tactics. And they come back because you probably found a client for life, and that is the goal. Repeat business is the highest compliment in the industry, and those good clients are worth every second of every shitty trip you've ever taken with the shitty clients who complain that simply because they're paying you they're supposed to catch every fish in the river. (Hopefully you won't have many of those). 

So I've been seeing a lot of posts from guides and outfitters urging their clients to still come out and fish with them while we are all in the midst of a frightening pandemic. And I get it, people still need to work, bills still need paid. Spending the day on the water with a couple good clients is probably minimal in terms of risks of exposure. That said, I don't think downplaying what the realities are is helpful, either to my business or to the country as a whole. That's why I've opted for informed decision making- making a common plan with those planning on fishing with me. And it has lead to more cancellations and postponements than I've ever had before.

When I look at my clients, there are some clear similarities- most are at or nearing the age of retirement, and most have to travel either long distances by car or plane to fish with me. They're people that have fished with me for years, some since Alaska. They're people that saw an article and reached out. Most of my people are out of state. As they are traveling, lodging is required. Meals are required. The fact remains that on the two to four day trips that most my repeat clients book, exposure to a number of people, people potentially carrying the virus, is the reality. And age-wise, most of them are in the moderate to high risk categories. So my process has simply been communication. I'm not going to just wipe the whole spring season off the calendar by cancelling everything unless I'm ordered by law to stay home. But good clients are worth the honesty of having an open conversation about risk, and for my business there is elevated risk to fish with me for most of them.

If my guys are dead-set on keeping dates as schedule, then fish we will and probably catch more than our fair share along the way. But for those concerned about traveling, about flying or driving, pumping gas at busy, highway off-ramp stations, about eating meals touched and prepared by others, don't come. We have plenty of time, plenty other days to fish. The last thing I want is to force a trip over someone's own apprehension and risk you catching a potentially life-threatening illness.  

You're worth more than that.


Tight lines on your own fishing, wherever that may take you.


 - D 

Agent Orange Tying Demo

Posted on March 15, 2020 at 12:25 AM Comments comments (0)


Finished Agent Orange



Realized it's been a minute since I did a tying demo. Figured with the prior post, I'd do a pattern for swinging in off colored water. This fly is a staple for swinging when the viz is low.

Step 1: Set up the hookshank- tie in your stinger loop and weighted eyes. Notice I double the intruder wire back and tie it down.




Step 2: Tie in about 3 1/2 inch yellow/barred fluoro orange rabbit strip reversed about a quarter-inch behind the eyes.




Step 3: Tie in fluoro orange polar chenille at the rear of hook.




Step 4: Tie in UV yellow cactus chenile and wrap it up to the bunny strip.




Step 5: Palmer the polar chenille through the UV cactus chenille and up in front of the bunny strip.




Step 6: Tie in chartreuse crinkle flash.




Step 7: Reverse tie in black craft fur and fold over the body of the fly.




Step 8: Tie in a pair of jungle cock cheeks.




Step 9: Tie in black laser dubbing behind the eyes, tie off, and brush out, glue off, catch steelhead. 







Swinging the cold and dirty

Posted on February 24, 2020 at 7:35 PM Comments comments (0)



Jeff swings to highly stained water




Everybody has "those days." You walk to a river that glistens that perfect color, and flowing with ideal temperature. Your passes through the runs are rewarded, sometimes heavily. It seems that you can do no wrong, and you catch fish seemingly at will. Those are the days you talk about, the ones you tell your buddies about over beers or glasses of whiskey. If you haven't yet experienced a day like that swinging, you just haven't been at the game long enough. It will happen. But most of the time the fish gods aren't quite so generous, and just as often as not you walk down to a river with the simple goal of determining whether or not the color falls within your own range of fishability.

The steelhead in our rivers here are present through the seasons that also coincide with some of the worst weather of the year, and rain, sleet and snow can all spike and stain the flows. For the lucky few of us, a day or two of dirty water is just that- something to wait out and hit as it's dropping and clearing. But for most of us, time is a valuable resource, so the game becomes making the best of the time you have. So before you walk back up from a muddy river, dejected at the sight of chocolate stained and cold water, here are some things that can help you overcome the obstacles and maybe even put a fish on the board.

FIND YOUR OWN CUT OFF. My cut-off for fishability might be different from yours. Determining your bottomline should be the first thing you do, and it can even be done for specific rivers. What I like to do is try to remember what the approximate visibility for the fish I caught out of the system at the dirtiest flows and then subtract an inch or two. This usually leads me to making a cut-off of between 8 and 10 inches. Why I like to fish water dirtier than what I've ever caught a fish in? Two reasons. It keeps me learning, and I have the genuine belief that fish really do see much better, even in highly stained water, than we give them credit for.



THESE BOULDERS DEMONSTRATE WHAT AN ACTUAL 10 INCHES OF VISIBILITY IS (I MEASURED)

Remember, steelhead will be near the bottom looking up through the water towards a light background. This means that our perspective of standing looking down into the river is obviously not the perspective the fish get. Water with 10-12 inches of visibility can fish surprisingly well when fish are present.

CONTRASTING COLORS. Everybody has their own thoughts on color schemes to match the day's conditions- bright colors for bright days, dark colors for dark water, natural colors for clear water, the list goes on. I don't know of a single rule in steelhead fishing that never fails, fly schemes included. But there are certainly some trends that have proven productive over the long term. In cold and heavily stained water, I like big profile with contrasting colors. For anyone who has ever pulled plugs for salmon, a fire-tiger in heavy sediment is a producer. Translate that to steelhead on the swung fly. Color schemes of black, chartreuse, and orange are some of my most productive flies in heavily stained water.




MY DIRTY WATER RIG

A good indication that a fly is a hunter is when you drop it in the water near your feet and it just glows. I don't know how else to put it other than that, but when you see it you'll know. Start messing around with heavily contrasting colors with brights and darks, keep the profiles big but the fly sparse enough that it sinks well. I like reverse tied craft fur with the under fibers stripped out. It cuts through the water but the reverse tie puffs it out and makes it pulsate in the water.

FISH WHERE THE FISH ARE. It's cool as hell to send bombs across the river and touch a fish way out there. As spey anglers, the casting is very much a large part of the process. But casts don't catch fish. Proper presentation matched to the right water does. K.I.S.S. Keep it simple stupid? Well kind of. Keep inside and short. Don't overthink it. If there's ten inches of visibility, then any depth more than that is adequate to cover and conceal a fish, plus shallower water offers better light penetration. Fish see better.




WE LITERALLY HOOKED FISH WITHIN FIVE FEET OF WHERE THE GRAVEL BECOMES UN-VISIBLE IN THIS SPOT

If there's one piece of information that I think is key, it is concentrate hard on the inside. When I fish dirty water like over the weekend, I find the casts I make are roughly half the distance as those I'd make if I were fishing the same water in clearer conditions, and we hook good numbers in water between 1.5 and 2.5 feet of depth.The inside of runs, the soft water shoulders, the casts that might only put you out the distance of the shooting head or less are the money spots. Fish them well.




JEFF SWINGING SHORT ON THE INSIDE

Fish use these softer water places. In dirty water, they pull off to the side, plus these are the running lanes. If someone forced me to swim up a river, particularly in cold and dirty flows you can bet your boots I'm going to be swimming up it as close to shore as I possibly can. It saves energy. Fish do the same thing, and stained water is migrating water. If you're casting to those mid-river buckets that fish well in ideal conditions then you probably are casting, and fishing, beyond the fish.

DREDGE THE SHIT OUT OF IT. Steelhead hug near the bottom under most conditions, and in clearer high water fishing a light tip on the inside is effective. But in cold, dirty water, the fish might as well be in contact with it and you should be bumping it a little more frequently too. How do I know this? The grabs we get when swinging in those conditions. Over the past couple days, most of our takes came after we found somewhat regular contact with the bottom. And this is normal for high, dirty and cold flows. If you aren't hanging up on the bottom with more regularity than when you're fishing that inside seam in better clarity, you might not be fishing right.

Why does it matter if you know that your tip gets the fly to just above the rocks? It is not that the flies are necessarily fishing different depths. It's that they're fishing at vastly different speeds during the swing. Having your sink tip roll along the bottom during that second half of the swing in cold, dirty water gives you the slowest presentation through the best water. The ticks and taps on the bottom will grind your swing to almost a hault. Throw those big, inside mends and even pull it along with the rod tip if you have to to get it moving again, but just know that your dog's out there hunting. Control your swing. Find the bottom, then get it moving again. Lift the rod tip slowly after an inside mend. Fish it well.




SUCCESS

So get out there. Don't be afraid to swing, even when you think the water's a bit dirty. Remember, the worst you can do is not catch a fish. And even that's not so bad, especially if you're spending the day with a good buddy or two. But keep these pointers in mind, and hopefully you can put a fish or two on the board on a tougher day.




THESE GUYS ARE STILL OUT THERE



Tight Lines,



 - D  


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