SAO Pages

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

A Weclome Change of Pace

A couple of weeks ago I went trout fishing. Big deal, right? Well, kind of... at least for me for it was. It was the first time I'd been on a "real" trout fishing trip since I moved back home to Ohio from California almost four years ago. Sure, I'd messed around a couple hours here or there on my travels through Michigan as a rep, but my heart had never really been in it. After ten years of almost exclusively fishing and guiding for trout on the West Coast, I had devoted the last several years to learning the steelhead fisheries in my back yard. I had no use for trout fishing.

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Fish Camp

A bunch of guide friends and fishing buddies invited me to their trout camp for a couple of days fishing on one of their favorite streams. Not having fished south of MI, I had no idea what to expect. I heard stories of prolific hatches and sweet pocket water full of brown trout, but was a little skeptical. I mean, I had fished some pretty awesome water throughout Northern California and my travels through Oregon, Utah, New Mexico, Montana, and Colorado. What could the Midwest have to offer, I thought. Well, I couldn't have been more wrong. The water was amazing, the bugs were thick, and the trout were willing - well, for the most part.

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Evening hatch

The pocket water reminded me of my favorite river in NorCal, the Pit River. I spent a lot of time fishing and guiding that river. In particular, teaching clients how to tight line nymph - a deadly technique for catching fish in pocket water. The minute I laid eyes on that gorgeous pocket water the first morning, I felt like I was back home in CA. It was spectacular, as good as I had seen anywhere on the West Coast. I couldn't wait to get in and show these guys that I knew a thing or two about fishing a trout stream.

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Nice Brook Trout that fell for the Tight Line Nymphing technique

At first I was little apprehensive about the wading, and it took the better part of a morning to regain the "feel" of properly fishing a tight line. By the afternoon, however, I was slashing across the river wading from one pocket to the next. The feel was back and my confidence was picking up with each fish I hooked.

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Little Brown Trout

During the day we each headed off in a different direction to scope out a section of river and ply various techniques (streamers, attractor dries, short line and tight line nymphing) in search of fish. Late afternoon we would wander back in to camp for a power nap, some food, and to collect wood for that evening's fire. Then as a group we would head out to stake our ground for the evening hatch and spinner fall. The sulphers and march brown were out in good numbers and the anticipation of good dry fly fishing was running high. Unfortunately, the dry fly fishing never quite panned out the way we were hoping. A couple of fish were caught on dries, but for the most part the risers were sporadic and not easy to catch.

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Contemplating the Day's Fishing

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Adding Another Log to the Fire

Even though it was nice to cast a long leader with fine tippet to picky trout, I was having a blast with the pocket water. I was in my element and the results proved it. After fishing a particularly productive run with one of my fishing buddies, I could tell he was getting a little frustrated watching me catch fish across from him when he wasn't, so I let him in on the secret.

Nymphing pocket water requires short controlled drifts. It's critical to get the fly down into the pocket or slot immediately and slightly lead the flies through the drift with a tight line. Keeping the line tight is the secret to success, not only to keep from getting badly snagged but to feel the take of the fish. Sometimes the take can be very subtle, a tick or slight pressure, other times a firm grab. But without a tight line there's no way to feel what's happening. That means aggressively wading into place so the pocket you want to fish is directly in front of your body, and using a LOT of weight to get the flies down and create a tight line under tension of the weight.

So, we ditched the big round indicator and I showed him another trick I used often as a guide. I put two small round foam pinch-on indicators on his leader. The first one I put around 3' up from the weight, the next one about 18" or so above. The key to success is to keep both pinch-ons in a straight line one above the other vertically, if the line has too much slack then they will be horizontal in the water. Doesn't matter if you're fishing in two feet or six feet of water. Another advantage of using the pinch-on indicators is to judge how deep the pocket or slot is and adjust how far to let the weight sink to reach the bottom where the fish are. Once you're dialed into the right depth, it's easy to cover the pocket thoroughly.

Well, as you can see below it didn't take him long to get the hang of it and soon he was into fish as well.

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Dave's Big Brown Trout

That last morning, I fished a run I saved for the hike back to camp. It was a wide run of pocket water at the head with a couple deeper slots at throat that gently slowed into long pool. I was sure it held at least a couple of fish. I hit all the pockets at the top with no result and worked my way down into the deeper slots confident I'd be into a fish soon. I carefully worked the slots from the inside bend of the river from as far as I could wade downstream. Nothing. I was stunned. 

 After a successful morning, I was pretty confident I had covered the water well and was fishing the right flies. But, I was sure there was at least one nice trout in there. Four year hiatus or not, I knew a prime lie when I saw one. Determined to catch one more trout before it was time to pack up camp and hike out, I crossed over to the other side of the river. A big tree was leaning over the closer and what I could now tell was the deeper of the two slots. I had to position myself slightly further downstream of where I wanted to be in order to cast in-between an opening in the tree's branches. I cast upstream and started to let the flies swing into the slot like a pendulum reaching the bottom of its swing. I made a quick adjustment to take any slack out of the line, then confidently lifted the line against the tug of a heavy fish. Fortunately, he didn't want to give up his sweet lie under the tree and after a brief, but challenging fight came to hand. I was thrilled and with a huge smile on my face reeled up and headed back to camp.

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Zen Fish

The walk back was bittersweet. It felt good to be back on top of my game, but my trip was coming to an end far too soon. I hadn't realized how much I'd been missing out on over the last four years. And I was afraid to admit that I might be developing a renewed addition to trout fishing. Just what I needed... another fish to chase, as if my serious habit for swinging flies to steelhead wasn't enough.

Will Turek
Steelhead Guide
Steelhead Alley Outfitters

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