For three days in a row I drove the dirt switchback road all the way up to the high plateau. That’s where the river was. I’d get up early. My campground breakfast: peanut butter on crackers, a banana and a lot of water. I’d always wake up parched. I never hydrate enough when I fish. Sometimes I even forget to eat.
The car thermometer registered 2 or 3C in the mornings. Once in town I’d grab a large coffee, or two, for the drive. Then it was the slow climb up the switchback leaving the fruit trees and vineyards of the valley behind.
In the morning there was always some fog or cloud at elevation and the temperature would drop. Prehistoric looking rock monoliths would appear and startle me as I made my way through the mist. I imagined Sherlock Holmes on the Moors in The Hound of Baskervilles, and a huge dog with glowing eyes on the hunt. I also imagined William Wallace and his clan on foot in the Highlands disappearing into the fog, eluding the English who were also on the hunt.
After the summit it was a short steep drop with hairpin curves descending to the river. I kept my hands clutched to the wheel. It was low gear, foot riding the brake pedal all the way down…coffee sloshing and spilling. By the time I got to the crossing and pulled-over it was around 8:30 or 9:00 am and sub-zero, usually around -4C. Cold. When I exited the car I immediately regretted not bringing waders on my trip.” Stupid is as stupid does”.
By then the top of the hills far to the west were just starting to catch the morning light. I’d watch the glow with envy. I’d have to wait some time before it travelled all the way to me and brought warmth. I was early. Too early. I’m always too early when I go fishing.
I wrestled my wading boots on over heavy wool socks. They were still wet from fishing the previous day and stiff with the cold. On my first few steps I walked like Herman Munster. It was like I had cinder blocks on my feet. As I moved back and forth they loosened up a bit. I got the rest of my gear together. Fingerless fleece gloves made the task bearable in the cold. I checked and double checked to make sure I had everything. I didn’t want to have to come back to the car because of a forgotten item. I wanted a full day on the river. I wanted as much time as the light would offer. I’d be covering a lot of water and wanted to go in only one direction until late afternoon. Until the waning light would remind me it was time to turn around and boogaloo back.
Morning frost turned my boot tops icy white as I crossed a field on the way to the water. Grass hoppers, cicadas and other terrestrial bugs were sluggish, some seemingly in a deep sleep. I knew that would change. The sun would bring some of them back to life and trout would be on the look out for them.
Briskly walking the river banks warmed me and then river crossings would make me cold again. Upstream I went, feet frozen, reading and memorizing the water as I travelled.
Then the sunlight finally reached the river. I embraced its warmth. It was like nourishment. With the sun’s energy I knew things would come alive. With the light flooding the river I was now able to sight-fish. I could begin my search in earnest. My search for Brown trout.
Not much had been written about this river on the high plateau, or at least I couldn’t find much. Several years ago I did come across one good story which caught my attention and stayed with me. It was written by a fly fishing guide. He described the region as wide open, barren, inhospitable and prone to hostile weather, and said the river was moderate in size. For an angler walk-wading, mid-sized water is always welcomed as it is easy to negotiate and locate fish in. The author reported the river did not hold many trout but had some good ones, even a few trophies, and said it fished best at the beginning of the season. Here I was standing on its banks near the END of the season. Wrong time? I didn’t know. I felt there had to be some trout around. And they had to eat!?
I could tell the river had been fished over all summer long. The path alongside it was well warned by wading boots and sheep hooves. With a six month fishing season and a lot of angling pressure, I knew the trout here would be on high alert. With the wide open (no place to hide) terrain I’d have to take my time and be stealthy. I didn’t want to scare the few trout that I might come across. Things were going to be challenging…
By the afternoon the temperature had climbed and I was comfortable. I walked and watched. When I could, I climbed riverside hills and searched from elevation. I continued to make my way upstream. Then it happened. I spotted one.
For three days I fished different sections of the river. Eventually I hit a gorge and it was time for me to stop. I never saw any one. The place was silent. Silent except for the comforting sound of the natural world. Every full day I’d get 2 maybe 3 chances at great trout. I think I averaged 1 or 2 to the net per day, all on dry flies. Although I caught some larger fish in a river further north and saw more of them in a famous river south, the trout in this river were the hottest, most spirited of my trip. I brought my energy and determination to the river every sub-zero morning and these Brown trout more than matched/equalled it. I frequently saw the backing on my fishing reel. Many months later I still keep thinking about two very memorable trout that out-dueled me.
In a region described as inhospitable, I felt at home. In a region described as barren, I found a great river and some amazing trout. The high plateau…best place I’ve ever fished.
Sun. Rain. Gale force winds. Snow. The weather has been all over the place and so have I. I’ve been driving around trying to find a regional river that has some bugs and rising fish. It’s been challenging.
My local tail-water river is running real cloudy…not good. Water management has also been drastically reducing flows resulting in several significant water drops. I found some stranded Parr (juvenile trout) in a puddle 20 feet from the river and transferred them in a plastic bag back to the river.
This tail-water river usually fishes very well in inclement weather. No dense baetis hatch occurred and therefore very few large fish up. However, I covered a lot of water and managed to find a couple.
Another tail-water river I’ve had some success on this summer also had few bugs even on cloudy days. I did manage to hook up with a few great fish. This rainbow took a foam beetle.
I decided to rocket down to the Missouri river for two and one half days. The first day (the half day) was incredible. Cloudy, little wind and tons of bugs. Trout were up everywhere on tiny baetis may flies. Opportunity knocked and although I didn’t fish well, I did fool a few on size 20 olives/baetis. The next morning the sky sort of cleared (Chinook Arch) and high winds came in. I tugged down my hat and gave it my best but got blown off the river and all the way back to SW Alberta.
I fished a lot in the past two weeks. I was on holidays for one of them and managed to get out most afternoons. I hung in there with the varying conditions, put in my time and made some connections with dry flies.
River paths. For an angler on foot early morning on a river path is always about the promise of the day. With each step one thinks about all the possibilities.
When returning late afternoon or evening on the same path there is always a review of the day. A recalling of great trout seen, those caught, and missed.
A river path takes you in and brings you back out…
“Trashy novels always out sell the classics…tabloids out sell the Times”
In one chapter Patterson describes how some French anglers in economically depressed war-time France, or just post war, survived by designing highly effective flies (killer patterns) for flat water creek fishing (difficult water) that allowed them to fool very discerning trout; I believe they were brown trout. If I remember the story correctly they either kept their families alive with the protein they caught from the streams or they sold the trout to restaurants in order to earn money when there was no employment opportunities in their ravaged homeland. Basically, they fished to survive and because of this they became very skilled and specialized at catching trout on their local water. Thus the term, “French Assassins”. The common feature of all of these flat water flies is that they were tied in a very sparse (airy/light) style.
I wonder how today’s tabloid title, “Man-eater Brown trout” will fare? More hits? I’ll see…
Above and below are some brown and rainbow trout I caught and released over the last couple of weekends sight-fishing late July and early August. The angling was quite challenging. All trout were fooled on Pale Morning Duns (dry-fly/emerger patterns) size 18 and 16. I got lucky as some of the small fly hook-ups held. I also missed quite a few.
I went down into the canyon. It’s a fairly long walk. I haven’t been there in several years…beautiful place, eerie at times, especially when you’re alone. I took Abby with me.
The angling was a bit slow. We are kind of between hatches: the Pmd’s are waning and the hoppers (not really a hatch) aren’t doing the “hop” yet. The canyon can be a good place for terrestrial fishing as bugs get blown off of the cliffs and fall into the river. The trout eventually clue in to this.
They weren’t looking up on the weekend, however, I did manage to fool a few fish in the shallows that were willing to rise: rainbows. I was on the hunt for brown trout. Some fish took a good look at my fly but were skeptical and turned away. I saw several nice ones on nymphs but they wouldn’t budge from the bottom. The good thing is there were fish around and I spotted some.
Sight-fishing in the canyon can be challenging as the light-coloured cliffs reflect sunlight casting an intense glare on the water.
I’ll go back when the grasshoppers are more prevalent (hopefully soon) and the fish are on the lookout for them and showing themselves by rising. Then my terrestrial fly impressions will be more productive.
River levels are dropping. Most are pretty clear. Insects are hatching and trout are starting to rise. Long days. Feels like summer…
WHILE IN NEW ZEALAND ALL OF MY DAYS were consumed with slowly and deliberately walking the stable banks of rivers in search of brown trout. My preference was always to cover these sections while walking upstream (sneaking up behind the fish)…for obvious reasons. Sometimes, however, due to the position of the sun (lighting and glare), I searched while walking downstream. This meant covering the water even slower, being more cautious and also trying to spot trout from a greater distance as I was much more visible/exposed. I located many trout this way. Once one was spotted I’d try to mark the location mentally, then leave the river’s edge/bank and circle around behind the trout so as not to disturb it. Then I’d cast upstream to it. Often this ended up being a blind cast or one with a bit of guess-work involved due to river glare. It all depended on the time of day; the height of the sun. And most trout spotted weren’t rising and therefore not showing off their exact location which made things even more challenging.
Sometimes instead of fighting glare I decided to gingerly walk back upstream and when the river depth allowed, I’d cross it and approach the bank fish from an upstream position, often wading mid-river. From this vantage the fish would still be very visible due to the light. Then I’d cast “Down and Across” to it. This meant staying some distance on the approach, using a long leader, and keeping myself and fly line low. If the fish committed to my impression then I ‘d sweep the rod parallel to the water either to my left or right, in order to set the hook, depending on my orientation to it, with the objective that the hook, often a fairly small one, would catch the corner of the trout’s mouth. Although I didn’t keep stats, my hook-up rate/ percentage seemed significantly better this way than at any other angle/approach. More importantly, with good light I was always able to watch the trout’s behavior and reaction (feedback) to my fly. I wasn’t blind due to glare. I wasn’t casting my leader over a fish I couldn’t see, or see very well, or risk having it (leader) land heavily, especially when trying to punch the fly into difficult wind or making an extra long cast. The method (down and across) meant the trout saw the “fly first” (no leader) as it tracked right to its nose. It’s a well-known technique often used on rivers that receive a lot of angling pressure. It works at home and it worked in NZ.
If the light provided good visibility to approach a fish from behind, then I’d always selected that option. It was my first choice as there was less of a chance of being spotted and therefore frightening a fish. If there was a lot of glare and/or wind in my face, I’d get above the trout and go with a “Down and Across” presentation. I caught some beauties this way on several challenging, heavily fished South Island rivers.
Every day on a river is like a blank canvas. Although there are some basic angling tenets to live by, in the end you get to choose how you apply the paint. Down and across can be a great brush stroke.