“LISTEN TO THE RIVER and you will catch a trout” – Irish Proverb
THERE ARE A COUPLE OF RIVERS in my region that produce Skwala stoneflies early in the season. It’s not a significant hatch but sometimes there are enough of them to get the attention of a few good trout. I usually start noticing them while I’m waiting on an afternoon Blue Winged Olive hatch.
Skwalas are relatively big (hook size 10 or 12) and easy to spot in comparison to other early season insects such as Midges and Olives. They are also dark (dark olive sometimes almost black) in color and therefore contrast well on days when a river surface is a silvery-grey which is common on broad, wide open water.
When Skwalas appear I often position myself ankle deep on a large slow moving shallow flat below a riffle. I can usually spot them just as they exit the riffle and begin their long journey over the flat. Due to their size I can follow them for 30, 40, sometimes 50 yards or more before I lose sight. The key is to focus and not take your eyes off of one during its long slow drift. Occasionally one will disappear. This means a shallow water fish has “tipped up” and consumed it. These rises are rarely aggressive such as when trout are focused on the much bigger fluttering stoneflies (Salmon and Golden) later in the season. The feeding is a little more subtle. Sometimes I hear the rise before spotting it. This often happens on a slow moving flat.
Once a rise has occurred I try to mentally mark the location of the trout using the shoreline as a reference point and also estimate its distance from shore. This is easier said than done when one spots a fish 40 yards downstream on a broad river with a somewhat featureless bank and flat featureless water. Once I have an estimated location then I quickly “rock hop” along the freestone shoreline to the approximate location. If there are no other Skwala in the drift then I will prospect the location where I believe the trout was feeding. If there are more Skwala in the flow then I’ll patiently wait for another rise so that I can more accurately pinpoint the fish before making a cast.
In the rivers that I frequent the trout aren’t selective when feeding on this stonefly. Exacting fly patterns aren’t needed. Anything resembling a Skwala is usually taken. I’ve even fished a large, oversized black ant and had a response.
If some Skwalas are around but I don’t see any rises on my favorite shallow flats then I hike to a “collector” area on the river such as back eddy or bay, or a long seam or bubble line where they can get captured. Sometimes I’ll find a good trout feeding there.
Sometimes a Blue Winged Olive hatch never develops and early season Skwala save the day.
Some small CDC beetles. Lighter than foam. Less of a plop/commotion when they land. Sometimes that’s good, such as in low, slow, clear water and with trout that have been fished over repeatedly and therefore easily frightened by any disturbance. I remember one particularly challenging river in NZ where the heavy plop of a foam beetle, even some distance away, sent more than one trout fleeing. I could have made these ties even lighter by also using CDC for the legs instead of fine rubber ones.
There’s a great river out there
SEPTEMBER. IT HAS BEEN CHALLENGING. FEW BUGS ON the tailwater rivers I frequent and therefore few rising trout. I’ve had some luck searching the shallows for moving shadows and prospecting the deeper water with terrestrial patterns. I recently had ten days off of work so I was able to spend some full days on the water. So far September has been beautiful. Smokey at times from the fires west of here, also a few brief cold snaps but generally warm mid-day into early evening. I was able to wet-wade the past several days. Rivers are low and most clear. Tourists are gone. Few anglers around. It’s silent out there. My favorite time of year to spend a day, or ten, on my favorite rivers. Some fine trout on dry flies…
I casted small grasshoppers, large and small black beetles.
sunset and smoke
Hot. Let me repeat, Hot. Full sun. Blue skies. Everything is dry. Fire ban on. Forest fires one province over in BC. Smoke could be on the way.
On my favorite rivers few bugs. Hatches have been weak all summer long. Not many rising trout. You have to hunt to find the odd one. Challenging out there.
With the pandemic everyone seems to be outdoors camping. It’s real busy in my region. It’s busy on the rivers: rafters, kayakers, swimmers, and many, many anglers. More than usual. Can’t find parking in some of my favorite spots. Challenging out there.
Some photos from the past few weeks. All trout caught on small dry flies: mainly Pmds, Ants and Beetles.
I just spent a week fishing in my region. Most of the summer I have been a weekend angler. It was nice to be off work and stretch several river days together. I fish better when I have more time. I also tend to stop and take more photos while roaming around searching for trout.
I had one cloud covered rainy day and a strong hatch of tiny olives, and a few larger ones, occurred. The trout were mainly on emergers. I fished a few different dangling fly patterns with some success. The key word is, “some”. That was the easiest day.
emerger pattern, foam post for flotation, hook bent out by trout
caught on olive emerger pattern
blue winged olive flat
The other days were full sun and therefore much more challenging. A few were calm, most were quite breezy. There were still some bugs around but not a lot. The rises were infrequent with the bright sky. And when they did occur they were real subtle. Just spotting the faint sips was an accomplishment. I often had to listen for signs of surface feeding on the blinding sun glazed flats. Most of the good trout located were hovering in just inches of water. It’s my favorite type of angling. In skinny water you have to be “sneakier than sneaky” in order to fool them. Mistakes are rarely tolerated… few second chances. To make things even more challenging the trout were generally only feeding on tiny stuff. Time flew by. Hours seemed like minutes. Relaxing? No. Engrossing? Yes. Fun? Yes.
On another river I used the sun and elevation when possible to my advantage in order to spot fish in the shallows. Then I’d drop down, choose my approach and try to fool them.
snow in the mountains
All week I casted olives when they were around, and fed beetles and ants to located trout when there was no hatch. While roaming around I found some old sheds; hiked some smooth wind sculpted hills; took pictures of small trees ( prairie bonsai) which always attract attention in the stark terrain; and caught a few wonderful trout. I also met a sheep herder taking a nap in the shade of my Jetta. He’s an old friend. Every year without fail we run into each other riverside.
One week, one fly, two feet…
great Pyrenees herder
“If the world were perfect, it wouldn’t be”.
The last couple of weekends I’ve fished a local tailwater river 2 or 3 times. Hatches have been sparse with the bright sun. Due to the same weather conditions and clear water, however, spotting trout has been possible. And fortunately some have been willing to rise.
On my last outing I was with a friend, Roman, who was visiting the region. Early on he landed a great rainbow on a black cricket like pattern. Later on we located several large bank fish that were feeding inconsistently. They were picky and rejected most of what we tossed their way. Bug life seemed minimal and their feeding behavior was somewhat of a mystery.
Roman changed flies several times and then pulled out an old attractor fly pattern, a Royal Coachman, from his Magician’s top hat and started casting it with authority as if commanding the trout to rise. And they did. Mesmerized, they kept coming to the fly.
Then he reached out, his hand palm up and said, “try this”. It was another Royal Coachman. I tied it on and then magically, Presto, just like that, landed a large rainbow with the fly.
We missed several others that day but the fish we landed were very spectacular. All were caught sight-fishing with dry flies.
Here are some photos from the Royal Coachman day and from the weekend before when there was more cloud cover.
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!
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.
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.
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!
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.
brown trout caught sight fishing with nymph
rainbow on dry fly
“I’m gonna win. There’s no way I’m goin’ down. I don’t go down for nobody”.
-1940’s Boxer, Jake LaMotta
A local tailwater river that I frequently dry-fly on has a healthy population of sizeable rainbow trout. This is not surprising as they are the predominant trout species in my region. It also has a good population of brown trout. Also not surprising.
What is surprising is that in spite of this river section being a fair distance from the mountains and the water quality being far from pristine, it has some very healthy Cutthroat and the hybridized Cuttbow trout. These fish can be quite large but what is extraordinary is that they are especially robust. Hook into one on a broad section of the river and they race for the horizon, and can take you into your backing.
I go there when I expect a hatch and look for surface disturbances. It is “technical” water: whether it is rainbows, browns or cutthroat, or a hybridized version, you have to pay attention to what the fish are focused on (eating) and also their rise forms to figure out whether you fish on top, in the film, or have to go slightly subsurface. I sometimes get the subsurface feeders to tip up and take a dangling, klinkhammer style fly, or a helpless easy floating target such as a cripple pattern. Some people have success using soft hackles in this situation.
The river has very impressive rainbows and brown trout but I consider the cutthroat and their hybridized brethren to be the “Raging Bulls” of this neighbourhood. Think Jake LaMotta… they just don’t give up.
Here are some pictures of these fish caught (this and last summer) on small dries: size 16 and 18 pmd’s and one fish on a tiny beetle. All fish photographed on this blog have been released.
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.
“Among famous traitors of history one might mention the weather”
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.
a calm clearing moment