S3:E38 Fly Fishing for Brookies

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Fly fishing for brookies is one of the great joys of life. In this episode, we regale each other with stories of fly fishing for brookies and also discuss a study from the Minnesota DNR about whether brown trout are crowding out the native brook trout population in the Driftless. We wrap up our conversation with some tips for catching even more of these Great Wonders of the world.

Listen now to “Fly Fishing for Brookies”

Great Stuff from Our Listeners. At the end of each episode, we often include a feature called “Great Stuff from Our Listeners.” It’s the last segment of each episode, where Steve reads one of the comments from our listeners or readers. We enjoy hearing from you, and appreciate your advice, wisdom, and fly fishing experiences.

We’d love to hear a story about the largest brook trout you’ve caught! Please post your comments below.

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The Fly Fisher’s Book of Lists

We’ve published a book for regular-Joe-and-Jane fly fishers called The Fly Fisher’s Book of Lists: Life is short. Catch more fish.

One person who purchased the book called it “cliffsnotes for fly fishers.”

To switch metaphors, perhaps it’s more like a handful of potato chips. It’s an entire book of lists. The goal is to help you find practical help quickly and in an easily digestible format!

Buy it today on Amazon for only $15.99!

S3:E11 One Fine Morning on the Little Jordan

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Little Jordan is a tiny stream that flows through a junky farmyard in southeastern Minnesota. We had our doubts about fishing the stream. We had read about the Little Jordan in Bob Trevis’ Fly-Fishing for Trout in Southeastern Minnesota … a Troutchaser’s Guide. His description of the farmyard – and the great brook trout fishing – was spot on. Listen now to “One Fine Morning on the Little Jordan.”

Listen now to “One Fine Morning on the Little Jordan”

Great Stuff from Our Listeners. At the end of each episode, we often include a feature called “Great Stuff from Our Listeners.” It’s the last portion of each episode, where Steve reads one of the comments from our listeners or readers. We enjoy hearing from you, and appreciate your advice, wisdom, and fly fishing experiences.

When was the last time you took a risk and discovered new water? Any great stories about overcoming some obstacles to find some great fishing?

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Subscribe to 2 Guys and A River2 Guys and A River

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The Fly Fisher’s Book of Lists

For this episode, we are the Sponsor!

We’ve published a book called, The Fly Fisher’s Book of Lists: Life is short. Catch more fish.

We like to say it is a book of bite-sized snacks. Maybe even like a handful of potato chips. It’s an entire book of lists. The goal is to help you find practical help quickly and in an easily digestible format!

Visit Amazon to get your copy today!

S2:E19 Differences between Native and Wild Trout

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Wild trout – those two words together make no sense. Aren’t all trout wild? We all know the story of hatchery trout, but what about wild and native trout? What are the differences between the two? Understanding the category of trout that you catch may not necessarily help you catch more of them. But it will round out your fly fishing acumen, and give you a better grasp of what’s at stake in the rivers you fish. Listen to our episode now.

Listen to our episode “Native vs. Wild Trout”

At the end of each episode, we often include a feature called “Great Stuff from Our Listeners.” We read a few of the comments from this blog or from our Facebook page. We enjoying hearing from our readers and listeners, and appreciate your advice, wisdom, and fly fishing experience.

Anything you would add to our discussion on native vs. wild trout? What is your favorite kind of fish to catch?

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Fly Fishing after Dark

A while ago, I wrote “Resisting the Urge to Fly Fish Until ‘Dark Thirty,'” a short post with the simple point that sometimes, it’s wise to to quit before dark. That’s sound advice. Sometimes.

My point in the post was that if you’ve already had a great day catching trout and you’re expected home at a reasonable time (a time determined in consultation with your spouse and/or children), then peel yourself away from the river. Head home. There’s no reason to be greedy and fish until dark to catch a few more.

However, you need to resist the urge to quit before “dark thirty” if the best fishing of the day typically occurs when the sun goes down and darkness prevails.

A few days ago, I fly fished with my son, Luke, and my brother, Dave, on the Big Thompson River in Rocky Mountain National Park. Unfortunately, my flight to Denver was delayed, so we could not start fishing the first day until 7:00 p.m.

I figured we’d stop about 8:15 p.m. as the darkness began to settle in and head to the town of Estes Park to eat. But the brown trout in the Big Thompson convinced us otherwise. At about 8:15 p.m., they started rising. My brother Dave (pictured above) suggested that we keep fishing. Luke insisted on it. So we ended up fishing until 9:00 p.m. — well after dark. We caught trout after trout on a size #18 parachute Adams. Luke used a size #18 tan elk hair caddis with a black body and out-fished us all. We went back two more evenings, fished from 8:15 to 9:00 p.m., and caught quite a few nice-sized browns.

This experience provided some good reminders and a few lessons.

1. Browns like to feed in darkness.

This is common knowledge, but a good reminder: Brown trout come to life when the day is dying in the west.

Recently, I talked to the guides at the Old Au Sable Fly Shop in Grayling, Michigan, about booking a trip. They told me that their “day trips” in June and early July start at about 7:00 p.m. Then, they fish until midnight. That’s when the big browns come of their lairs to feed on the surface.

2. The white post on a tiny parachute Adams makes it stand out even in low light

If you’re afraid of not being able to see these tiny (size #18 or #20) flies, don’t be. You can see the white post easily enough as long as there is a little bit of light in the sky. The tan wing of an elk hair caddis is easy to spot too in waning light.

3. Assume that any rise in the vicinity of your fly is a strike.

Even after it was too dark to spot our flies as the floated down the current, we caught brown after brown simply by setting the hook any time we saw a fish rise where we thought our fly might be. I don’t have the scientific data to prove it, but I think we had fish on about three-quarters of the time we guessed and set the hook.

4. Go with shorter casts.

For one thing, it’s easier to see your fly and to control your line as the darkness takes over. Also, it will keep you from snagging a rock or a branch on the other side of the bank. The last thing you want to do is to tie a tiny fly onto your teeny tippet when it’s dark.

5. A flashlight can save the day, er, the night.

Some fly fishers will not have the common sense to practice my previous point. Uh, that would be me.

I saw a fish rise about an inch from the opposite bank. There was a branch a few inches above it, but I couldn’t resist. Unfortunately, I snagged my fly on the branch and ended up losing it. Trying to thread a 6x tippet through the eyelet of a size #18 hook was nearly impossible. Neither the river nor the sky provided enough backlight.

Thankfully, the flashlight on my cell phone saved the night! It was a clumsy process, but I tied on a new fly in the darkness and ended up catching two more nice browns before we quit.

6. You can’t fish at night (or in the day time) if you forget your fly reel.

Yes, on our second night, I left my reel in another small pack I had used earlier in the day when we hiked to a high mountain lake. So I was relegated to spectator status. My fly fishing companions mumbled something about giving me a turn to use their fly rods if the fishing was good. But I guess it was too dark for them to see that they were catching a lot of trout. Or perhaps they thought it was too dark to risk transferring their fly rods from their hand to mine.

I won’t make that mistake again.

S2:E3 The Basics of Nymph Fishing

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The basics of nymphing are never as basic as they seem. It takes time to learn the language of this aspect of fly fishing, and it takes a lifetime to become proficient at it. However, it’s worth the effort for most fly fishers. It’s said that 85% of a trout’s diet comes from beneath the surface of the river. As you master the basics of nymphing, you will likely catch more fish.

Listen to our latest episode:”The Basics of Nymphing”

At the end of each episode, we have a feature called “Great Stuff from Our Listeners.” We read a few of the comments from this blog or from our Facebook page. We enjoying hearing from our readers and listeners, and appreciate your advice, wisdom, and fly fishing experience. Please add your ideas to the creative mix.

Are you a veteran fly fisher with advice for those just starting out? We’d love for you to post your recommendations on the basics of nymphing.

What would you add?

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Teaching Your Kids to Fly Fish

So you want to teach your son or daughter to fly fish. How can you make that happen? The truth is, you can lead a child to water, but you can’t make them fly fish.

I have a few suggestions, though, to help along the way:

Get them on the river early and often

I still remember the first time my dad took me to the Kilchis River near Tillamook, Oregon. He was fishing for steelhead. I was four years old, mesmerized by the smell of the river — as well as by the smell of the fish. The experience was formative, creating in me a love for rivers.

Last summer, our family stayed in some cabins on Montana’s Boulder River. I watched my two sons-in-law fly fish while toting their little kids in backpacks. Now my sons-in-law were not wading, nor were they near deep water. So my 3-month old grandson and my one-year old granddaughter were safe! I was proud of the guys for getting their young children into the great outdoors at the river’s edge.

The time to introduce your kids (or grandkids) to the river is even before they are old enough to fish.

Get them hooked on brookies

When we lived in Helena, Montana, in the early 1990s, we occasionally made the 40-mile trip over MacDonald Pass and then up the Little Blackfoot River to a national forest campground. We fished the river—not much more than a little stream at that point—and caught quite a few brook trout.

My technique was to get a brookie on the line, hand them the rod, wait a couple seconds, and then say, “Hey, I think you’ve gone one!” Later, when they were old enough to go solo, I taught them to fish with a spinning rod and drown a worm. They eventually graduated to fly fishing.

Brook trout are a beginner’s best friend. They can be wily at times, but they are often forgiving of sloppy casts. If you do not live near a trout stream, even blue gills or sunfish will do. It’s important that your youngsters catch some fish.

Get them started on nymphing

Once your kids are ready to handle a fly rod, nymphing is a great way to get them started. Their casts do not have to be as precise as in dry fly fishing, and it’s easy to teach your kids to watch the strike indicator (I like the small plastic bubble) as it floats down a run.

About the only thing your kids need to learn is to mend their line. I’m surprised how early my boys caught on to this technique. Both of them caught some nice rainbows in the Madison River with nymphs. Later, when they became more proficient, they graduated to dry flies.

Make it fun, not too technical

Most six-year-olds are not going to respond well to a lecture on tippet size or your instructions for tying an improved clinch knot. Nor will they care much about the difference between a copper john and a prince nymph. Just let them fish.

This is also not the time to refine their casting. Be patient, and be prepared to take some deep breaths—and to spend time untangling lines and leaders.

Give them a break and let them explore

Don’t be upset if your child loses interest in a hurry and wants to explore. Encourage it. My youngest son, Luke, would often stop fishing after a few minutes—even if he was catching trout!—so that he could look for frogs and garter snakes. It’s all part of the outdoor experience. Your child’s love for fly fishing may develop later, after they first become enamored with all the cool things they find along the river’s edge.

There are no guarantees, but if you teach your kids to fly fish, they may continue it or even pick it up again later in life.

A funny thing happened last summer when we were camped out on the Boulder River. My sons-in-law taught my daughters how to fly fish. My daughters remembered the days we spent catching brookies on the Little Blackfoot about 25 years earlier and decided it was time to try fly fishing.

Meanwhile, my older son taught his wife to fly fish. Then, in the biggest surprise of all, my youngest son taught his mother (my wife). He was there when she caught her first trout on a fly rod. At first, he felt bad that he didn’t let me teach her how to fish. Both my wife and I reassured him that it was for the best. He was more patient with his mom than I would have been!

Later, as we watched the sun set from the porch of our cabin, we realized that we were seeing the results of a commitment to teach the kids to fly fish.

Give your kids a video game, and you’ll make them happy for a few hours. Teach them to fly fish, and you’ll make them happy for a lifetime.

Episode 46: One Magical Day on the River

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Ever have a magical day on the river? Of course you have. But such days tend to be less common than we imagine. In this episode, we recount a magical day on the river that we know will never be repeated. Three of us fly fished a stretch of water on a warm August day when the trout feasted on hoppers and the runs seemed endless. May the memory never dim.

Listen to Episode 46: One Magical Day on the River

We’ve recently introduced a feature to our podcast – “Great Stuff from Our Listeners.”

At the end of each episode, we read a few of the comments from the blog or from Facebook. We appreciate your advice, wisdom, and experience. Please add your ideas to the creative mix.

Do you have a day on the river to remember? We’d love to hear your stories.

Also, don’t forget to visit Casting Across, a blog we mention in the podcast.

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View some of our most recent podcast episodes on iTunes or on Stitcher, if you have an Android.

Episode 44: Identifying Trout Lies

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The ability to identify trout lies in the river or stream may be the single biggest predictor of your success. This is as basic for an aspiring fly fisher to learn as casting. Not all places in a stream or river hold trout. Spotting a trout lie, especially when fish are not rising, is a skill that a fly fisher uses every time out on the river. Listen to Episode 44: Identifying Trout Lies as you prepare for your next fly fishing trip. If there are trout in the river, there are trout lies, and understanding even a little bit about how fish survive (and thrive) goes a long way towards great days on the water.

Listen to Episode 44: Identifying Trout Lies

We’ve recently introduced a feature to our podcast – “Great Stuff from Our Listeners.” At the end of each episode, we read a few of the comments from the blog or from Facebook. We love the idea of adding your ideas to the creative mix.

What kind of trout lies do you fish most? Post your stories about how you read a river or stream.

In this episode, we mention Gary Borger’s book, Reading Waters. You can find Reading Waters and other books in “Fly Fishing, the Book Series” at www.garyborger.com.

Download a Podcast App on Your Smartphone

Be sure to subscribe to our podcast feed. You can do that on your smartphone or tablet by downloading a podcast app. The most common app used by 2 Guys feed subscribers is “Podcasts.”

View some of our most recent podcast episodes on iTunes or on Stitcher, if you have an Android.

Why Great Days on the Water Are Hard to Remember

Great days on the water are hard to remember. They just are. Last summer, Dave and I had one of our best days ever on the water. A friend invited us to fish a creek in a remote area of Montana. We fished a stretch that meandered through a large ranch, miles from any fishing access. In recent years, the ranch owners have allowed few people to fish on their property. They have saved it for veterans, particularly wounded warriors.

But thanks to our friend, Dave and I were invited to spend a day on the creek.

Slow to Crazy

The day began slow, with a trico hatch that, as Dave said, “I just didn’t have the energy to fish.” Tricos are so small, and we came prepared to fish terrestrials, the big bugs. This was one of the last days of July, and it was warm. The creek was small, but we wore waders, in case we stumbled across a sunning rattlesnake.

About mid morning, the trout began to rise to hoppers – and just about anything else that was big and floated. And they never stopped. By mid-afternoon, Dave and I had each landed over forty trout apiece. They were mostly browns and rainbows, most in the 14-16 inch range. We also landed a few brookies and a couple West Slope Cutthroat.

The crazy thing is that I can’t recall any particular fish I caught. That’s unusual. I usually remember the 17-inch brown that emerged from an undercut bank to attack my hopper pattern. Or the 16-inch rainbow that darted to the surface to snatch a Royal Trude as it drifted by a rock. However, I don’t remember anything like that. I have a couple photos of rainbows I caught. Both are striking fish with their crimson stripes against their dark bodies. But I don’t recall catching either one of them.

Great Days on the Water and Angler’s Amnesia

So why do I seem to have angler’s amnesia when it comes to those fish? I have some theories:

First, I think my inability to remember a particular fish was due in part to sensory overload. Catching 40+ fish is an exhilarating experience. I highly recommend it, and I would love to do it again. But the more fish you catch, the less any particular fish leaves an indelible mark on your memory. Maybe that’s the beauty of days when you catch only a half-dozen fish, and one of them is a plump nineteen-incher. I caught a rainbow trout like that a decade ago between Quake and Hebgen Lake. I fished all morning and only caught one other trout. Oddly enough, I remember that fish vividly, while 40+ trout I caught a few months ago have seemingly vanished from my memory.

Second, I think the surroundings had something to do with my case of angler’s amnesia.

I was more captivated by what I saw around me than I was by any particular fish. What I remember from that day is landing a trout right under the railroad trestle where a scene from “A River Runs Through It” was filmed, where Jessie drives her Model T through a tunnel with Norman hanging on for his life in the passenger seat. I also remember the sight of an old trapper’s cabin. And then there was the railroad bed over which the Ringling Brothers used to haul their circus equipment to their ranch for winter storage. The two railroad tunnels were stunning, too.

Third, I think the human imagination struggles to preserve sharp images of what moves us most, including our most poignant memories.

A few miles from the ranch where Dave and I had our banner day, the south fork of the little creek we fished curls by a knoll on which a sheepherder’s cabin is perched. Western writer extraordinaire, Ivan Doig, was in the cabin on his sixth birthday with his parents when his mother took her last breath.

Asthma claimed her life.

Doig writes about his struggle to remember the event in a haunting sentence near the beginning of his memoir, This House of Sky:

    Through the time since, I reach back along my father’s tellings and around the urgings which have me face about and forget, to feel into those oldest shadows for the first sudden edge of it all.

Every momentous event in life is a bit like that for me. I try reach around the photos or the accounts of family members in an attempt to relive memories which are trying to elude me.

Beautiful Memory Loss

So the next time you have an unforgettable day but forget the details, be assured that you’re not experiencing memory loss. You might simply have sensory overload. Or maybe your day was full scenery or experiences more remarkable than the fish you caught. Or maybe it’s the common human struggle to recall vivid images of life’s most momentous events.

Whatever the case, your inability to remember the fish you caught adds to the mystique of your experience and makes it unforgettable.

The Texas Ranger Who Taught Me How to Fly Fish

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It took a Texas Ranger to introduce me to fly fishing. I credit him with teaching me how to fly fish.

This was not the kind of Texas Ranger who was armed with a six-gun or a baseball bat.

He was a college professor from Texas who worked every summer as a seasonal Ranger-Naturalist in Rocky Mountain National Park. His name was Jerry Williams, and he led a weekly fishing demonstration in the Moraine Park campground amphitheater. My younger brother, David, and I attended our first one in 1977 when we were both in high school. We must have attended one of these hour-long sessions for five years in a row.

Every year, the demonstration played out the same way:

Jerry Williams began by showing us three dry flies that would work in most places in the park– a size #14 Adams, a #14 Renegade, and a #14 Royal Coachman. Then, he had us in stitches telling us how some kid with a spinning rod and a big ugly Budweiser plug for a lure caught the monster brown trout that he had been trying to catch for weeks out of a stretch in the Big Thompson River, which meandered through the meadow in Moraine Park. Next, after admitting that his favorite meal was catfish and hush puppies, he said that he had found a sure-fire recipe that would work with even the biggest, tasteless brown trout.

“Just put that trout on a pine board, put it in the oven at 350 degrees for twenty minutes. Then, take it out, throw away the fish, and eat the pine board!”

The audience, usually about thirty campers, doubled over in laughter every time.

All of this led up to the dramatic moment of the presentation.

Brookie Coaxing

For over a decade, Ranger Williams had always gone down to the Big Thompson in the meadow below the ampitheater and caught a trout. He had never failed in a decade of weekly fly-fishing demonstrations.

Would today be the day to end the streak, or would it continue? The tension was palpable. But every year he caught a fish and kept his streak alive.

His secret?

The Big Thompson River, and all of its side-channels that ran through the meadow, were full of brook trout. Even on a bright sunny day, Ranger Williams could coax an eight-inch brookie from an undercut bank to take his fly.

This inspired my brother, Dave, and I to pool our money and invest in a fiberglass fly rod. The reel set us back about $7.99, and the double taper fly line (Jerry said we needed to get a decent double taper line) was more expensive than the rod! During our high school years, we dabbled off and on with fly-fishing. Our casting was, well, nasty. Often, the slap of our fly line created ripples and sent trout scurrying.

But most of these pools and runs had ample time to recover, though, because our #14 Royal Coachman spent about as much time lighting in the branches of a choke cherry bush or a Ponderosa pine as it did on the water’s surface.

Still, we always managed to catch a handful of brookies.

Rise amid the Clutter

It was almost two decades later before I really got serious about fly fishing. But even with my crude skills, I had enough sporadic success to keep me hooked on fly fishing. The moral of the story: find a good stream or lake with brook trout. Not only are they a beautiful fish, they are forgiving. They fight like crazy, too.

Ranger Williams was right. Even when your line and leader land in a tangled mess, a brookie will often ignore the clutter and rise to take the fly in the middle of it.