DIY Fly Fishing New Zealand – Chasing Light

THE BEGINNING

All journeys begin in your head. They start with a thought. You imagine what it would be like to go somewhere and you begin to process it. Sometimes you do that for a while then let it rest. Then later on it resurfaces. The thought returns. Sometimes this goes on for a long while and other adventures/ journeys end up occurring instead. Then that particular thought returns.

nz ah big bend

Several years ago I ordered a few books on fly fishing New Zealand (NZ), South Island. Every winter I’d pull them out and read another chapter, look at another road or topo map, highlighted some rivers, search the internet and imagine what it would be like to go there. Then I’d check the cost, look at my insufficient budget and promptly plan a less expensive angling adventure instead. Something closer and more manageable like springtime Rooster fishing in Baja, or a week or two just south of the border dry-fly fishing Silver Creek in Idaho or the Missouri river in Montana….all wonderful destinations in their own right.

nz me distance

author along river, photo by roman

When I thought about a trip to NZ I first felt I’d have to go for a month, nothing less. Well life being what it is, I could never manage to string together thirty days. Finally I came to the conclusion that if I waited for the opportunity to spend a whole month there, it just might never happen. So I managed to put together two weeks and a few travelling days. It would be 13 angling days total in NZ. Not a lot of time but I felt possibly enough to shake off jet lag, orient myself, find my wading legs and get in synch with a few rivers. I felt that if  I could do that and if the weather cooperated, I may have a chance to fool a few amazing NZ trout with dry flies, and hey, maybe even a trophy.

I picked late February, early March as summer in the southern hemisphere would be coming to an end and transitioning into Fall. I hoped less anglers would be around as the prime time season would be winding down; I hoped that water levels would be like they are at home at that time of year: generally low and clear; I hoped for sun so I could sight fish; I hoped the trout would be looking up and willing to eat some of the terrestrial flies that I planned to tie and fish; I hoped for a shot at some special fish. I hoped for a lot.

nz roman dist

THE MIDDLE

I met a friend, Roman, the first week I was there. He had already been there for several days and had warned me from a distance to, “Bring your A game”. He had been catching but reported the angling was extremely challenging. Our time overlapped for a week and then I fished solo for my remaing week.

While Roman was in NZ he bungee jumped, climbed into a bi-plane, and sped our rental car around like a professional rally driver, leaving a good portion of the front bumper  somewhere up on Rainbow Station road. He fished with equal enthusiasm and caught some great trout. On two occasions I was fortunate enough to be close by and photographed some of the ones he caught. His featured rainbow and brown trout below were some of the best of the week. His confidence fly: a yellow humpy. He was a great angling and travelling pal.

nz car window 3

nz bungee

nz r biplane

r big bow

r big bwn

r fighting

roman: fish on!

r fish on

roman with fish off of bank

 

It is much easier to sight fish when it is sunny so on my second week I tried to stay flexible and mobile. I watched the weather reports and went where the conditions were predicted to be most favorable. I chased the light…

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nz head shot

I also chased open terrain. It’s simply where I enjoy fly fishing the most.

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nz curvetail top

brown trout

nz spring c

In the clear low water conditions the fish tended to be in and around the pools and along banks with some depth or those in close proximity to pools. I’d cover the shallow river sections quickly and then slowed down and was especially watchful in the prime areas. That’s where a good fish would be. If not, then it was onward and forward to the next promising pool. In NZ you have to cover ground. Often it is as much about walking as it is fishing.

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Spotting fish was all about maintaining concentration. Lose it and you’ll miss or spook fish. Scare a fish and you might not see another one for a long time. I scared my share, especially in low light conditions.

nz car window 1

nz frost gras

great bank, early frost

nz n willow

 

nz great bank

a great bank

nz hand head

nz n long

nz slab

large bank brown

I caught all of my fish on dry flies, most of them being terrestrial patterns. Usually the smaller sizes were best. By the time we arrived in NZ the trout had been fished over by local and international anglers for 4 solid months. Also two out of the three rivers we fished were quite famous and therefore they probably receive additional angling pressure all season long. I found most trout to be quite selective and challenging. There were signs other anglers had been around but I rarely saw anyone during my 13 days there.

All trout caught were released.

nz girth net

nz ant

ant pattern

nz ah prints

others have fished here

nz beetle

beetle pattern

nz fly cicada

larger pattern: cicada

nz long brwn

Brown trout blend in well with any sort of river bottom and with bank shadows and coverage. Often they are difficult to spot. You have to go slow, watch, then watch more, and look for shape and any sort of movement.

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large brown in shallows after release, blending in

nz top shot

another released brown

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subtle path, river to right

nz hand hook jaw

Once March arrived mornings were quite cold, especially on a river I fished on a high plateau. By mid day things always heated up, even the fishing.

nz frost

early morning frost and fog, heading for a river

nz me cold

cool march morning

nz bib mouth

nz ah long willows

nz me 34brown (1)

photo by roman

nz equip

all day fishing equipment

Holiday parks (campgrounds) were a bargain in a relatively expensive country. Here are some photos of small cabins I rented (below)…all parks had hot showers, some had a community kitchen and laundry facilities. Many of these units were booked by vacationers. Town Fish and Chip stands were also a great deal.

nz cabin 1

nz cabin2

nz coffee shop

small town coffee shop

nz me 34brown (2)

photo by roman

Other images…

nz shep jam

nz traffic jam

nz brut

had to beach this big brute

nz ah willows

nz n wind

in open terrain sometimes you have to deal with wind

nz big head

END – LAST DAY

It’s my 13th day here in NZ, my last day and it’s coming to an end. The light is waning. I’ve got this 8 pound plus brown trout feeding on some tiny Blue Winged Olives (BWO’s) riding a bubble line on the outer bend of a large perfect curve on the famous river that I’m on. I’ve read a lot about this river but no one ever mentioned any sort of hatch in their reports. Yet here is this oversized trout feeding on them. It’s windy. It’s cold. I’m wet and I have been out in it for 8 hours without waders. I have a full box of carefully designed BWO flies back in my car a one hour walk away. A lot of good they’re doing me in the bottom of my duffel bag! The big fish took a good look at a small ant pattern I tossed its way but rejected it. The ant has duped several picky fish on this trip.It also came close to eating an Adams like pattern but didn’t. I decide I’ve got to hike back to my car, heat up, organize my luggage and head for the Christchurch airport 4 hours away. I’ve simply run out of time. Leaving a fish like that feeding is sacrilegious but I’ve seen some great fish in the past two weeks and made some connections. I tie on a fairly big cicada pattern and toss it above the trout knowing what the end result will be – he’ll take off! The cicada passes over him, his feeding comes to an abrupt end and he disappears. Game over. Now I can go back to the car and get warm.

On the drive to Christchurch I’m thinking of my time in NZ: All the large, beautiful trout; seeing them rise; the clear rivers and majestic terrain; Roman taking off in the bi-plane; the outstanding brown trout he caught on the bank; great breakfasts at the Wrinkly Lamb; the Aussies talking about a river in the shadow of a high peak north of a big lake where they spotted many large skittish browns; a small fly shop owner talking about the same river and warning us about the Quick Sand around it; another angler looking bug-eyed while describing his experience the previous day on a small river two hours away where he and his guide spotted a 3 foot long brown trout cycling in a pool and how he cast to it and the fish ate but the fly didn’t set; I’m thinking about a Fish and Game officer telling me about a river two valleys south where big sea run browns return and how his friend fished it recently and spotted several but couldn’t get them to take. I’m thinking about all this and that I need to try to get back to the south island and Chase the Light. That’s what I’m thinking. And as I said at the beginning of this post, “All journeys start in your head; they start with a thought”.

nz car window 2

Catch That Sound

pivot

With the cloudy, drizzly and calm weather predicted for the weekend I drove to the Missouri (M0) river anticipating a hatch of BWO’s. And presto, just like that, the little May Fly appeared. In spite of their teeming numbers a lot of the flat water sections I frequent year after year were void of rising trout. It was hard to believe the fish weren’t sipping on the tiny flies collecting in the more gentle/quiet areas of the river. They should have been on them like kids on candy!

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blue winged olives and perfect raindrop circles

I watched and waited but little happened. So eventually I went for a walk and hunted, and found some good fish in the Mo’s broad riffles, or more specifically, at the tail end of these sections where the riffles started to flatten out/expire.

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brown trout caught on dry fly

Most trout in these spots were focusing on emergers. This is usually the case. I saw many anglers wading right through these sections, never noticing the sometimes quite intense feeding and multiple fish. I’ve done the same in the past. It’s very easy to miss these fish with the grey glare that exists on such a wide river. Riffles also camouflage/mask any sort of surface disturbance made by trout. It can make spotting more challenging. Experience has taught me that if I just stand still and watch (when bugs are around) often I’ll see signs of feeding trout: bulging water or boils, or other subtle, and sometimes not so subtle, surface disturbances. Listening carefully can also save the day as some trout will break the surface and the odd one will occasionally eat on top. I often hear them before I see them. Once you catch that sound, you can then intensify your visual search.

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Although most fish were caught in the riffles and some tail-out spots on large pools, early in the day and then late I picked up a few good fish eating duns on the more enjoyable classic flat water sections. Most trout were caught on a Klinkhammer (body dangling below surface) style fly: dry/emerger. The best brown refused all my surface offerings and was hooked sight nymphing. The nice thing about this time of year is that if you see a fish moving water there is a chance it might be a brown trout as many of the river’s rainbows are still spawning in feeder creeks, and thus are absent. I catch some of my nicest browns in the Spring. Some rainbows were around as the photos show.

The Mo is an incredible sight fishing river. I hope to return in May or June… and Catch that Sound!

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I stayed overnight at Wolf Creek Angler, in Wolf Creek (great name for a town). Basic lodging and manageable price. They also have an excellent little fly shop.

last bwn

brown trout caught sight fishing with nymph

 

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craig bar

Joe’s bar

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rainbow on dry fly

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Favorites

Some favorite photos from the past several years…

tree

Favorite tree

baboo

favorite license plate

 

river trial

favorite river trail

 

net4

favorite trout on trico

 

snowsun

favorite sun

 

pic nic far

favorite picnic bench

 

standoff

favorite riverkeeper

 

herder

favorite sheep herder

 

kutar

favorite brown on dry

 

patriarch of valley

favorite patriarch of valley

 

last day in bradenton 2014 april 18 056

favorite peanut shack

 

chairs

favorite porch

 

redrail

favorite reel

 

papas

favorite riverside burrito place

 

 

dragon fly

favorite bug shot

 

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favorite net shot

 

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favorite address

 

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favorite pier

Plan B

“You better cut that pizza in four pieces because I’m not hungry enough to eat six”

-Yogi Berra

trail

river path

Sight fishing is generally not easy. You need the right conditions to be successful and rarely do all the stars align. When things do come together it can be quite memorable; it makes your season. Lately the sight fishing in my region has been real challenging. Of my three favorite tailwater rivers, two are off color and the third, every time I go there, is being wind beaten to a froth. The reservoirs that feed two of the three rivers are so low they are releasing cloudy/silt-laden water, and it is going to remain that way until next season. Too bad. The visibility on them is only about two feet. That’s a huge limitation when you’re trying to sight fish.

cloud flow

silt flow

thumb brw

brown trout

On Saturday I hiked a lot, covered a few rivers and did manage to locate one good fish in spite of the off color water. I couldn’t entice him to take on the surface. After several casts he moved off and disappeared. I returned the next day with a different strategy; Plan B. I showed up around the same time and found him subsurface feeding in the same area. Like us, trout have their feeding spots. This time I tried one pass overhead with a grasshopper pattern. Like the day before, no reaction. I tied on a small bead head nymph (fished subsurface) but had no success. I then tied on a larger heavier nymph and connected. As Yogi Berra said, “It ain’t over till it’s over”.

sunbrwn

brown trout

It was a tough weekend. I covered a lot of water in high wind and connected with only one trout…but it was a good one.

milk water

cloudy water

cliff

sea gulls

roadout

road out of river valley

 

“He hits from both sides of the plate. He’s amphibious”

-Yogi Berra

 

 

 

 

Changing Weather

“Among famous traitors of history one might mention the weather”

Ilka Chase

mtn sno

snow on the great divide

Some pictures taken over the long weekend. The conditions were tough: some snow, heavy rain, and worst of all high winds when the sky started to clear up which dampened the Baetis hatch. Some rivers were off color; some ok. Sight fishing was real challenging. Oh well. Here are a few trout picked up on dries.

clouds

snow

brown 2

brown trout

cotton

riverside cottonwoods

brown

brown trout

bucket

left bank

a calm clearing moment

bow

rainbow trout

Late August

Getting back into a fishing groove wasn’t easy after a two-week absence. A lot changed while I was away. There have been river closures in my area: low, hot water. Most are now re-opened. My favorite sight fishing river is still off-limits. The smoke-filled skies have made spotting trout difficult (reflection) and the hatches have changed and are quite sparse, which is not unusual for this time of year. Fall blows (wind) are also underway.

hike to river

walk down to river

I spent a couple of days on a river (tailwater) I used to fish a lot but haven’t in recent years. It holds some great trout but not a lot of them. When you go there you have to be prepared to get skunked as the river can be quite fickle. It can be a frustrating place, which is why I generally see few anglers there. Often it seems void of trout. However if you “hang in” and put in your time, it can be quite rewarding…sometimes! Rivers like this can be quite special. They’re a challenge. If they were any better or easier, anglers would be all over them. Since they are not easy people tend to go elsewhere. Therefore, on many days you can have the place to yourself.

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brown trout

I saw a couple of young guys fishing it the right way. Their backpack vests suggested they were out for a full day and they were covering a lot of water with their black Lab…working pool after pool.

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Most people who fish it seem to cast over one or two pools with a streamer and then go home. They either hit a home run or strike out…the latter usually being the case. In good grasshopper years you can switch from a streamer to this big bug and have some exciting angling. This hasn’t been one of those years even though it has been hot and dry. After run off some fly fishing guides float the river with their clients as there is enough water. Once the water level drops the rafts disappear and angling pressure is minimal as visitors who pay to fish generally don’t want to walk far.

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brown trout

I learned several years ago that this tailwater fishery (bottom release from a dam) can have some good (not great) small fly hatches which can get the attention of some sizeable fish. It was one of the few local waterways I was seeing some bug life on and the occasional riser, so past experience taught me to stick with it.

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smoky sky

The river meanders out on the prairies way down in a coulee. From a distance you wouldn’t even know it was there. To fish it you have to walk a lot of steep hilly terrain…it’s all up and down. The holding water (pools) are often a quarter to half mile apart, sometimes further, so you have to cover great distances to improve your odds. I use the elevated areas to locate fish when the lighting is right. Much of the river bottom is covered in a yellow sometimes tan to brownish algae so it is difficult in most places to spot trout hugging the stream bed as they simply blend in. High flow areas polish (clean) the river stones and trout show up better in these locations, so it is always wise to carefully watch these spots. Rainbows with their dark backs and flashing silver sides show up better than the brown trout. The browns, master camouflage artists, just don’t show up.

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brown trout

The trout generally need to be actively feeding on emerging insects (rising to mid levels or near the surface) in order to be seen, or prowling the surface current lines for grasshoppers which blow off the cliffs when they are around.

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All the trout I spotted were eating small stuff and being ultra picky. They were focused on emergers and rarely poked their heads through the surface. However, some shallow water feeders were enticed to do so. The trout featured in this post were caught on dry flies. I put in two long days watching the water and was rewarded with a few good fish.

homestead

old river valley homestead

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best of the day, brown trout

The river is a challenge. It’s a sleeper. It’s a special place.

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rainbow trout

hake back

grassland hike to river

Sweating the Small Stuff Under a Big Sky

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“The Littlest Birds Sing the Prettiest Songs”

-The Be Good Tanyas

When I moved to the West to fish its many trout streams I was anticipating the big fly hatches: Salmon flies; Golden Stones; Green and Brown Drakes; etc. I soon realised the emergence of these exciting big bugs is often brief and unpredictable. What was reliable, however, and brought trout to the surface day-after-day all season long and then some, was the small stuff. It was the littlest bugs. That’s what I consistently caught my best fish on. Quickly my fly boxes started being filled with tied Midges, Olives, PMD’s, Tricos; small Caddis flies; and little Beetles. Just about all of the trout featured in this blog have been caught on small stuff (small dry flies).

BOAT craig becks camera 2013

bird

Then one day I came across a book that clearly described what I was experiencing on the rivers in my region: Small Fly Adventures in the West, Angling for Larger Trout by Neale Streeks. Neale, a seasoned and observant Missouri river guide, wrote about why smaller flies are often more effective at catching more and larger trout. As I turned the pages I kept saying, “Yes, yes…yes”. What he authored matched what I encountered every time I slipped into my waders.

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brown trout on pmd dry

If you fly fish tailwater rivers, spring creeks, and other rich (alkaline) flows with dry flies you owe it to yourself to find a copy of this out-of-print book. It will make you a better angler and you’ll end up enjoying sweating all the small stuff!

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brwnnet

same brown trout

Here are some photos from a recent outing. All the trout featured were caught on small flies (PMD’s).

midge dog 2

a little midge after my breakfast burrito

bow and hand

trout boot

 

 

 

Up Sheep Creek Road

pothole rd

sheep creek rd

Sheep Creek road; North Picabo road; Kimpton bridge road; Spring Coulee road…and the list goes on and on. What they all have in common is they are dirt roads; back roads. Follow them and like the North Star or Southern Cross guide an ancient mariner, they deliver you to rising trout. All are in the middle of Nowhereville and Nowhereville is always a good place to be if you are into trout. Here are some photos taken while casting dries somewhere up Sheep Creek road.

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rainbow trout caught on micro may fly, size 20

leaf

river side cottonwood shade

tent

travelling light

vista

boot

run water

sock

sheep creek rd, wet sock on dashboard reflection

 

brown glow

brown trout on dry

tree row

l brown

brown trout on dry fly

 

Fly fishing and Managing Yourself

My favorite book about dry-fly fishing hands down is Spring Creek by Nick Lyons. Nick wrote it after spending a full month each summer for several consecutive years fly fishing an amazing private spring creek somewhere in Montana. He often had the place to himself. Lucky fellow. Although it’s an angling story and not a “How To” book, it simply oozes with valuable information on how to fish to selective rising trout on slow clear water. I have read it several times and return to read sections of it every winter.

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Nick says he became somewhat obsessed with this type of angling and the creek, and eventually had to put pen to paper. He was searching for trout angling that was more challenging and he wanted to try to catch “harder” fish. Spring creeks and tailwater rivers offer that challenge. Nick had a rude awakening when he first cast on the creek and over time he had to refine his tactics, equipment, flies and skill level in order to connect with the spring creek trout. He is helped along the way by the owner of the ranch and creek, a gifted and intimidating angler who has fished it for many years and problem solved many of the challenges and mysteries of the creek. This character alone makes buying the book worth it. All of what Nick writes about rings true to me having spent the past 14 yrs wading and casting dries often on similar water.

cliffs

oldman river, alberta

 

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rainbow trout, oldman river

Nick often describes how his mood and thinking on any particular day affects his fishing. There is little room for error on the creek and impatience, poor concentration, poor observation and even self-doubt, and other internal variables, influence his success as much as, if not more, than his skill and knowledge level. I call this the internal side to fly fishing. It is how you “Manage Yourself”. And on spring creeks and tailwater rivers you need to do this well in order to be consistently successful. What you bring to the river affects your day. If you can manage yourself and have a reasonable skill set and understanding of the type of water you are on, you’ll be able to trick fish. Of course, how you manage yourself can change with each angling outing and even within a particular angling day, or even when casting to one specific fish. Even when you get pretty good at it you will experience times when it seems you don’t have it; that you’ve somehow lost it. Of course it is still there.

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dry fly side channel

 

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brown trout, oldman river

If you can get good at managing yourself you’ll be rewarded on those challenging creeks and rich tailwater rivers. It is a big part of what I find so enjoyable about this type of water. A good day (a few good trout) means I managed myself well. The internal and external come together. A good day means I blended in; I watched the water patiently; I spotted difficult to see fish; I approached the fish cautiously; I calmed myself when necessary and made my cast at the right time; I watched the fly being sipped and then paused before gently raising the rod tip or sweeping it to the left or right. In baseball, the best percentage hitters don’t swing at every pitch, they wait for the right pitch. They manage themselves well at the plate…as in baseball, as in fly fishing…as in life.

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2 foot rainbow on dry fly

 

hatch (1)

march browns

Some middle of May trout tricked and released while sight fishing with dry flies on the lower Oldman, a tailwater river, in SW Alberta. The hatches: BWO’s, March Browns and some Skwala.

 

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stalking trout, nick in spring creek

 

Brown Trout on Dries

By perseverance the snail reached the Ark.

Charles Spurgeon

I spent the last two weekends fly fishing the Missouri river. The place was buzzing with anglers. The first weekend was cloudy and cool. The second one sunny. Not surprising the dry-fly angling was better when it was overcast. Trout are more likely to rise in low light. The main hatch: Blue Winged Olives; secondary hatch March Browns.

jet

anotherbrwn

brown trout

A lot of people nymph the river. Many also throw streamers to the banks while drift boating it. The river has such phenomenal insect life that I can’t imagine fishing it any other way than with a dry-fly when the conditions are favorable and the bugs are out. I find that walking the river in search of a few good rising fish is just about as exciting as trying to trick them with a fly. It’s the hunt! Any garage sale or flea market aficionado would understand.

longshot

flat side

dry fly side channel

 

pyrm

Missouri river

On this trip(s) I was trying to spot Brown trout. I eventually located a few good ones feeding in the shallows. I spent most of my time focused on one particular trout as it proved to be a challenging fish, at least for me. I spent more time than I care to say trying to fool it. I spooked it several times and then had to sit for long periods waiting for it to settle down and then reappear. Waiting was easier when my retriever, Brooke, was with me. She’d sit by my side often leaning against me while we watched the water and I’d occupy myself and let time pass by picking hundreds of burrs out of her thick golden coat. Her presence made me a better angler.

first week brw

brown trout

 

brown2 (1)

brown trout

I had hooked that particular trout a week ago but it tugged me around and eventually broke off. This weekend I pulled a fly out of its mouth, and then later “nicked it”. I did eventually land it on a size 18 olive…more perseverance than skill. Late afternoon shadow on the water pulled it out of its lair and it started feeding with more of a rhythm. A fish eating this way is easier to trick.

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olive hatch

 

goose eggs

perfection

 

bunny

riverside bush bunny

When I tried taking a picture of the trout my camera batteries failed. I did, however, manage to fiddle around and get a few shots. I would have liked to get more. I had spare double AA’s  in my pack but decided to release the fish as it took a fairly long time to land it.

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late april light snow

 

brown2 (2)

brown trout

 

ist week brw2

brown trout

Here are some trout (brown and a few rainbows) and western landscape pictures. It was nice to spend some long Spring days outside by the river and witness all of the life along it, and be part of it. All trout were caught sight fishing with small dry flies, size 18 olives, in shallow water.

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rainbow trout

 

match

trying to match the hatch

 

crawfish

crawfish

 

river trial

cold afternoon on favorite trail

 

sunrays

warm morning

art bow

rainbow trout