LOW WATER. FINALLY CLEAR WATER. No bugs. Still windy but not gale force like on the weekend. Sunny and some high clouds. In fact, beautiful clouds. I started seeing a few trout mid afternoon. The lighting was good but past prime time; the dimmer switch was being dialed down. Days are short in mid October. The first trout I missed. He ate but the hook didn’t set. I thought, “my one chance”. I soon spotted another but he bolted before I could exhale. Two strikes, one left! I then decided to walk a river section I call the Beach. It’s a perfect late day spot: the sun over your shoulder; shallow water; consistent light colored bottom. I see well there and it’s all about seeing. Trout sometimes prowl the shin deep water along the Beach. They inch up the river with the sun in their eyes, blind to an angler just upstream. I walked softly on the pebble edge, controlled my shadow and spotted one. A downstream cast…feed line. Slow current, slow drift, slow motion rise to the caddis imitation. Then four high speed runs. Two right across the river. The trout didn’t want to give up.
Overheard riverside (Bucket means river pool, slab is a big thick fish):
” That bucket was real good to me this morning. I took 3 or 4 slabs from it and then decided to leave it alone. I don’t like over working a bucket. This double nymph rig was the ticket. This stretch has a lot of good buckets. You see just up the river, up there, there’s another good bucket. And there’s one just downstream, just past the island. I’m heading downstream below the rifle range. There’s a couple of good buckets there. Looks like you are going to be here for a while. If you want we can meet later, around noon and travel in my truck to a river access spot even further downstream called the Dump. I can show you some good buckets there. Not a lot of people fish there. Could stick some real slabs there. It has 3 or 4 good buckets”.
Here are some images from this past Saturday while sight fishing a river out on the plains. It includes several photos of two rainbows. They were caught on dry flies. I spotted them mid morning. It was a scorcher out there. Forest fire smoke started clouding the sky mid day. The river seemed to shut down by noon, at least for me. Bucket man probably continued to stick slabs all day!
There’s this river I go Bonefishing on. I don’t really catch Bones there, I catch trout. But it’s just like Bonefishing. The angling is all visual.
Around mid to late morning when the sun gets high in the sky I look for some shallow water areas that have a fairly light and uniform bottom; or as uniform as a trout stream bottom can get. The presence of trout and their movement is harder to detect when I’m walking so when I get to a promising location I sit or stand still and watch.
The trout in this bonefishing river often move out of the deeper water into these shallows and prowl for food. They tend to cycle in and out of these spots. If I see one exiting such a location for deeper water I wait as it will probably be back. If you watch cycling trout for a while you soon realise they often repeat the same route or path over and over. If a trout disappears I plan for its return and strategize my approach and get ready to cast. It all sounds easy but with wary fish in clear shallow water on a bright sunny day, a lot can go wrong. Trout are always hypervigilant, especially for any kind of movement from above.
To spot these fish I look for movement. A blue sky with few or no clouds to create reflection is ideal. Clouds and sun can turn the river surface milky white blinding your vision. Light colored riverside cliffs are just like clouds, they reflect light and create glare when it is sunny. Dark cliffs with vegetation are good but unfortunately my favorite sight fishing river has little of this. I prefer river terrain that is flat and open on a sunny day so there is little around to reflect light. The neat thing about this angling style is that you can often sight fish even when there is no hatch occurring, and on my Bonefishing river there has been an unusual absence of bugs lately. This makes the game even more challenging.
I do best with this type of fishing when the river drops and I can wade across it in many areas. This allows me to take advantage of the changing light as the sun arcs throughout the day. A good spot late morning is probably not going to be as good mid-afternoon. Cross the river and you can sight fish again. The key is to use the light to your advantage so you have maximum vision and can spot movement. This type of angling is all about seeing. I move around until I can see real well and look for a section of river bottom where a fish will stand out.
Once I spot a cycling fish I stay low and still. I often creep up on fish and cast from my knees. Drab clothing helps me blend in. A white shirt or hat in full sun is like waving a flag and causes trout to bolt. Forget about those shiney silver or gold fly reels. I also tuck away anything that glitters or shines on my vest or pack. I try to blend in, stay still, cast side arm and if I have to move for a better position I do so when the fish turns away from me or re-enters deep water. It is best to approach a fish from behind but often that’s not possible. I catch many from the side or feeding them the fly from above (downstream presentation). In these situations staying low, still and at some distance is even more important.
My Bonefishing river harbours some great trout but not a lot of them and therefore on any given day you only get so many shots at a good fish. If you throw in a bit of cloud, some wind, intense summer heat and an absence of bugs, and some snooty/selective fish into the equation, then a hook up becomes even more special. I often come home from such an outing knees sore from crawling on hot river rocks and eyes tired. On my last outing I hooked several but only landed one.
“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).
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.
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!
Here are some photos from a recent outing. All the trout featured were caught on small flies (PMD’s).
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.
“I once gave up fishing. It was the most terrifying weekend of my life”.
Skwala! Not many around but enough to get some trout looking up. Bugs are always appreciated as this is a blog about dry fly fishing, and I need them if I’m going to have material; something to write about. I’ve been going out a few evenings after work looking for rising trout and also checking things out on weekends. It has been an early Spring in SW Alberta but my home rivers have been quiet. Usually I’m into surface feeding fish at the beginning of April. We are in the third week and things still aren’t under way in spite of the Crocuses being up; calves spotted streamside; campers running the highways; neighbours aerating their lawns; some midge flies in the air in the evening and even some olives riding the currents in the afternoon. It was the Skwala (a stonefly) that got the attention of a few trout on a local tailwater river this Saturday and I managed to hook several mid-sized fish. Here is a picture of the best one of the bunch.
After a winter of fishing blind with a two handed rod it was a real pleasure to sight fish with a light 4wt rod and dry flies this past weekend. I spent two days walking and wading the Missouri river in Montana. I tossed midges all weekend and on a couple of occasions a small beetle. Most fish were on emergers (bulging the surface). A few could be found eating dries, especially when the wind died down in the flat water sections of the river. Some bulging fish could even be enticed to eat on top; however, many would not. A lot of the midges were clustering in the mid afternoon so cluster fly patterns worked fairly well. A few Blue Winged Olives were out but not many. This hatch should be developing soon which will make the dry fly angling easier. All of the fish below were caught on dries. I spent my time fishing flat, shallow sections; slow wading ankle deep water. Some great fish landed; many more missed. Some humbling moments. Trout fishing doesn’t get much more challenging or better. If you love dry fly fishing you owe it to yourself to one day visit this river.
Most of the streams I fish flow through arid sun baked terrain. The edges however are often lined with tall grass growth. They shoot skyward with the summer warmth, stream moisture and nutrients. These edges are places of life: waterfowl, insects, eggs, feathers, even the odd golden retriever…
Trout prowl the aquatic side of these edges. I often sit hidden in the grass and watch the water for movement; for trout. If you sit still long enough the flowing water and swaying grass become mesmerizing. Then a soft rise or flash of a feeding trout wakes you up.
Here are some pictures of soothing creekside grass taken along the rivers I fish.
Two or three times I’ve driven a great distance across a high plains desert to fish dry flies on a wonderful spring creek. It’s just miles and miles of sagebrush, the odd cow, then an unexpected crystal clear serpentine creek. Kind of a mirage.
I grew up in an eastern region with a lot of precipitation; green and lush three seasons of the year and where many small trout streams are canopied; and yet my favorite rivers in the west are out on the dry alkaline flats or ones that flow through barren rolling windswept hills. Go figure. I like the openness and the light, and that the trout are where it seems they shouldn’t be.
Here are some high-speed car shots on the way to the creek from several years ago…and the creek.
“At one stage I fished the Yellow Breeches Creek, along which I lived, almost eight evenings a week.”
Charles K. Fox – This Wonderful World of Trout
GETTING GOOD PHOTOS OF TROUT IS ALWAYS CHALLENGING especially when you fish alone, which is what I do most of the time. Fish aren’t cooperative. After you land one you have to do a number of things in order to get a picture. All seem easy but aren’t, especially when you’re kneeling in moving water, and often in imperfect weather conditions. You have to gently control the fish; keep it in the water and unhook it; dig your camera out of a deep pocket; turn it on without dropping it into the river; focus the shot; ensure there is no water on the lens (I still have trouble with that one); check where the sun is in order to avoid shadow; etc. And you want to do all of this fast so that you can safely release the trout. I have had many great fish bolt on me before I got all of the aforementioned tasks done, and therefore missed a wanted image.
I was lucky this past August to have a photographer with me for part of an afternoon. I felt no pressure when I was directed to, “Go and catch a trout…I’m all set up to shoot”.
Although SW Alberta has great rivers, quite a few people fish here (angling pressure) and the trout are wild, wary and usually not easy. The river that I was sight fishing is especially challenging. It is a quality not quantity fishery. It runs through wide open terrain where it is often sunny and there are few places for an angler to hide. The trout are spooky; some even seem clairvoyant. In order to have a “crack” at a great fish you generally have to do things well. In mid summer when the water is low and clear the resident rainbows simply don’t tolerate mistakes and catching one on a dry-fly in my mind is always an accomplishment. Usually each good fish takes some time.
Well, shortly after being directed to, “Go and catch a trout”, I caught one! If you fish a lot you know that it doesn’t usually work out this way. I was lucky, things just came together. Having a photographer nearby made getting some nice shots so much easier. It simplified things. I just had to focus on safely handling the trout.
What I like best about some of the images taken is that they show the girth of the trout. That’s something I have trouble capturing when I’m taking pictures by myself. The rainbow is quite representative of the ones I catch there. I have caught more large trout on small dries there than on any other river along the continental divide, either side of the Medicine Line. The place is an ace.