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.


By the way, we’d love for you to refer our podcast to a friend, your TU chapter, or fly fishing club. Be sure to pass along our podcast to others.

That is the most simple way to help us grow!

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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!

Five Tips for Fly Fishing Lakes

We call our podcast “2 Guys and a River” for a reason. Both Dave, my podcast partner, and I are fond of rivers and streams. We like to fly fishing moving water. But neither he nor I are “anti-lake” kind of guys.

Dave has had some fantastic days catching cutthroat trout on dry flies on lakes in Colorado’s Collegiate Wilderness area. Some of the largest trout I’ve caught on streamers have come out of Henry’s Lake in southeastern Idaho. We have fly-fished lakes all over the Western states and have had slow days and terrific days. It’s just like our experiences fly fishing rivers.

If you are new to lake fishing, here are five tips that will give you a better chance of catching the trout when fly fishing lakes:

1. Do your homework

This seems obvious, but I’m surprised how many fly fishers don’t take the time to learn anything about the lakes they intend to fly fish. I’ve been there, done that. But over the years, I’ve done much better when I’ve taken the time to read a guide book or check a fly shop website or talk to a guide at a fly shop about the lake I intend to fish.

When my friend, Jerry, introduced me to Hyalite Reservoir in the mountains above Bozeman, Montana, he pointed out certain places where the fish seemed to concentrate more than others. He knew spots where the lake was deeper or where the trout had a favorite hang-out by a drop-off or shelf.

I remember the advice I received from a fly shop owner in Estes Park, Colorado on how to fish Spruce and Loomis Lakes in Rocky Mountain National Park. I would have wasted a lot of time wondering where to fish and what flies to try without his expertise.

2. Don’t ignore the shoreline

Lakes resemble rivers in at least one way: some of the best fishing is right along the bank. Now this is not true for every lake. But I’ve caught my share of rainbows (years ago) and Greenback cutthroat (more recently) in Spruce Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park by casting to feeding fish along the shore. This technique also worked well in Upper Two Medicine Lake in Glacier National Park.

Personally, I’ve found that early morning or early evening is a perfect time to find feeding fish along the shoreline of a lake.

3. Go deep

When the fish are not feeding on the lake’s surface, it’s time to fish streamers. But you’re going to have to go deeper than usual. Again, the right guide book or fly shop website or the guide behind the counter will tell you how deep to fish.

Going deeper may be as simple as using more split shot. But if you spend much time fishing lakes, you’ll be wise to invest in a sink-tip line. I carry an extra spool with a sink-tip line for these situations.

I suggest buying a sink-tip line at a fly shop so a guide can explain the different sink rates and which one might serve you best. For example, sink-tip lines are rated (often as Type I, II, III, etc.) for their sink rate. This rate can be anywhere from two inches per second to eight inches per second. If you need to get down eight or ten feet, you can do the math and figure out how long to let your line sink after you cast it before you begin the retrieve.

Also, keep your line tip in the water when you strip in your line. This prevents slack, enabling you to control your line more effectively as you retrieve it.

4. Try a float tube

This is a convenient, inexpensive way to make your way around a small lake. It takes a bit of practice, but after you do it a couple times, you’ll get the hang of it. You’ll want a nine-foot rod (rather than something shorter), because you are a lot closer to the surface.

It’s like casting when you are sitting down rather than standing up.

Safety is critical. I don’t recommend float-tubing alone. Also, you really do need to wear a life-jacket.

Yes, a float tube has at least two air compartments so that the entire tube will not deflate in case of a leak or puncture. But I never fish in a float tube without a life-jacket. Proceed with caution if you are new to float-tubing.

5. Fish the outlet and inlet if you can

This tip is not simply based on my love for moving water. The outlets and inlets can sometimes provide some fantastic fishing. They can get overlooked by fly fishers, yet the trout will sometimes congregate in these places because the food line is rich.

I’ve had days where I’ve done much better in the outlet of Upper Two Medicine Lake than in the lake itself. When I hike beyond Mills Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park to fish The Loch Vale or Sky Pond, I typically do better in the outlets and inlets than in the lakes themselves. In fact, one of my sons asked me the other day when we can go back to this glacial gorge just to fish the outlets to these lakes.

Two Guys and a Lake?

Dave and I still love our rivers. Neither one of us thinks we’ll change the name of our podcast any time in the future. But there is some great fly fishing on lakes. We look forward to our next opportunity to cast a fly on one of them.

Great Expectations on Upper Two Medicine Lake

In episode 21, we discussed the challenges of fly fishing lakes. When Steve was nineteen, he fulfilled a long-time dream to fish a lake where his father and grandfather had a stellar day of trout fishing years before. He expected to duplicate or exceed their success. In this piece, Steve muses about how great days on the water are not necessarily a harbinger of what will happen the next time you fish the same spot.

It was one of those magical days, and I dreamed about re-living it.

When I was seven, my dad and his dad hiked four miles from our campsite at Two Medicine Lake in Glacier National park to Upper Two Medicine Lake. U2, if I may call it that (with apologies to Bono), sits at timberline and is surrounded by cathedral mountains which shoot up to the clouds. It is simply stunning. All I remember is that when my dad and grandpa returned, they each had a creel full of brook trout. They laid them out in rows on the picnic table benches.

As I grew older, I often heard stories of that magical day. The Kodachrome slides of the experience burned it into my imagination. Here is the short version. My dad and grandpa set out with their fishing poles (neither were fly fishermen), a carton of night crawlers, and a box of spinners. The limit was around a dozen brook trout, and they had heard reports that the fishing in U2 was good. When they arrived at the lake, there was not another soul to be found. They quickly baited their hooks, made their first casts, and … nothing. Not a strike.

After a half hour of casts to the left, the right, and straight ahead, my dad decided to try a Mepps Spinner. The brookies went crazy. My dad said that he caught a fish on every cast. It only took a half hour or so for both my dad and grandpa to catch their limit. The brookies were all in the 10-12 inch range, and they were great eating. Every time I heard that story or saw pictures of it, I couldn’t wait for the day when I could make the trek to U2 and revel in that kind of fishing.

Great Unmet Expectations
I finally made it to U2 when I was nineteen. My parents and my brothers and I camped in the Two Medicine Lake Campground, and my dad and brothers and I hiked to U2 with great expectations. We had visions of brook trout leaping in our heads. By this time, my brother, Dave, and I were novice fly fishers. So we took our fly rods. My dad and my younger brothers, Mark and Kevin, brought spinning rods. The fishing started out like my dad and grandpa had experienced. Nothing. Eventually, we started catching fish, but not in large numbers. As I recall, we each caught a trout. But none of us caught more than two. However, each brook trout we caught was in the 15-17 inch range. I managed to catch a sixteen-incher off of the surface on a Royal Coachman.

I left with a strange sense of sadness and elation. I was thrilled to catch a sixteen-inch brookie on a fly rod. That’s a monster. But I was sad that I didn’t quite have the magical experience my dad and grandpa did twelve years before. Besides, it was tough going around U2. My dad said that the head-high underbrush we had to fight through along the shoreline was not that high when he and my grandpa had their exceptional day.

Over the years, I’ve learned to savor the magical moments. As much as I hope to duplicate them, it simply doesn’t work that way. Each new day on the same lake or same stretch of river you fished in the past will be different. It might be better, but it often does not live up to the expectations you brought to it. I had great expectations on Upper Two Medicine Lake, but they were flawed.

The experience changes like the river itself. The spring runoff changes the flow. Beavers leave their dams. Silt happens. Good holes disappear. Yet new ones emerge. And sometimes the trout get bigger. A lake may not yield a dozen foot-long brookies. But maybe it will give you a sixteen-incher. And that sixteen incher will become the stuff from which new dreams are made. Go ahead and dream big. But temper your great expectations with reality. Be grateful for whatever the river or lake gives you on any particular day.