Confessions of a Trout Guide

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WHAT HAPPEN ON THE RIVE, STAYS ON THE RIVER…USUALLY.

So this time of year in Colorado, the rivers are blown, there is no one in town and all the guides are hanging around the shop bullshitting about their worst/best days on the water. It got me to thinking that I should tell some stories about the worst possible guide trips/situations that we’ve had on the water. Hopefully this does not reflect poorly on our guide services, but it will shed some light on what happens in the day-to-day life of a fishing guide. I know there are a ton of guides out there who will want to one-up me and please do, I love this stuff. Names have been changed to protect the innocent.

Guide #1 (me) was floating with a mom and her son. We were catching tons of fish and having a great time. The son was maybe 12-13 years old and was a stud fisherman aside from giving me a fantastic Hank Patterson “snap it!” cast. As we floated down the river, mom was snapping pictures left and right as son caught fish after fish. At one point we were back-rowing a riffle when all of a sudden mom jumps out of the boat and starts running through a knee deep run towards an island in the river. My first thought is “wow, she really had to pee,” my second thought is “this woman is trespassing, and we are going to be issued a ticket at the takeout.” Lost in all my jumbled thoughts is a calf elk stranded on the island. This woman took it upon herself to rescue this thing. Next thing I know

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Standing in the River Carrying a Torch

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Standing in the River Carrying a Torch

A different kind of love story.

Men and fish parted ways a long time ago. You couldn’t call it an amiable divorce. The fish got everything. The mountain streams, the lazy winding rivers, the deep blue sea, everything. Men had to pack their bags and crawl, with their heads hanging, out onto the land and they were not happy about it. They learned to breathe air and walk on two legs but they never stopped dreaming of swimming in the dark oceans, nor of the long and lovely fish that had sent them packing. They thought about fish all the time. They made their homes near the water and lurked around the shore, peering into the depths. Men wondered if the fish ever thought about them. Probably not. They saw fish from time to time, sliding gracefully through a pool or leaping a waterfall. They seemed happy. They seemed to have moved on, forgotten about men altogether. Men knew they should be happy for the fish, but they weren’t. They were bitter and moody and often cried at night. Men invented alcohol and that helped. It didn’t take their mind off of fish but liquor is a good listener and it doesn’t judge or mind if you cry.

“Who needs fish, Fuck ’em”, men decided. They turned their back on the water and went to the woods and found animals and for a while it took their mind off of things. They stalked and chased and laid in wait and for a while the pretty little deer were fun, but in time those big black eyes just seemed empty. Men had nothing to talk to deer about. Try to explain to deer about the ocean, about gliding through the waves, your body taut and glistening, one with the current. Deer don’t understand what it feels like to rocket up from the depths and break the surface, breaching in defiance of all things that would have you, only to disappear back into the depths. Deer don’t know anything. Eventually these encounters became bitter and joyless. There was no more stalking and chasing, no more lying in wait, just that vapid look in the headlights and the thud, thud under the wheels. Again, men found themselves staring at the water.

Men decided that if they couldn’t swim, they would fly! “Let’s see fish do that” they thought. They made airplanes and took to the sky. They soared and swooped. They glided through the clouds but when they looked down, there was always water. They built better planes. Planes that would take them higher and farther

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The Persistent Angler

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By Louis Cahill

Is there any point in continuing to pound a fish who just won’t eat?

The cool thing about fly fishing is that it offers such diversity. There is a species or a style of fishing every angler can enjoy. If you don’t like trout fishing, you may like bass or bonefish. If drifting dry flies isn’t your thing, stripping streamers may be. There is no wrong answer to the question, how should I fish? We all get something different out of fly fishing and, as long as you’re having fun and being respectful of the resources and your fellow angler, I say go for it! 

Over the years, what I get from fly fishing has evolved, and it hasn’t evolved in the same way for every kind of fly fishing. I freely admit that, in some ways and for some fish, I’ve gotten lazy. I’m not proud of it but I don’t apologize for it either. Trout fishing specifically has become more of an excuse to hang out with my friends or my dog more than a goal oriented pursuit. I’m admittedly more interested in having fun than I am catching huge fish or a lot of fish. I guess that’s why I often find myself just as happy watching a buddy fish a run. I think it’s also why I’m perfectly happy walking away from a stubborn fish. The thing is, I admire anglers who don’t.

I’ve known a lot of anglers who really enjoy catching the uncatchable fish. A couple of them so focused they could care less about the other fish happily rising in a run and spend the bulk of the day butting heads with the stubborn fish who won’t eat. 

The cool thing is that these guys, the really good ones, usually get that fish.

One of those anglers is Justin Pickett, no stranger to regular readers. Justin is one of those guys who almost always gets that problem fish to eat. I’ve watched him work a single fish for three hours. Like a sniper, dug in and waiting for a shot. When he gets locked in like that you may as well get comfortable. Have some lunch, take a nap, read a book, or just clip a walkie-talkie to his belt and go see the rest of the river. It’s going to take a minute.

You may think that’s cool or you may think it’s crazy but the results are hard to argue with. That fish he spent three hours on, while the rest of us had lunch, was a 32 inch brown trout and, yes, he landed it. There were four of us and no one thought that fish would eat, except Justin. I’ve never seen a more deserved fish.

The thing I think makes the case for persistence is

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Streamer Fishing – Hands on the Line at All Times

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Streamer fishing is a great way to catch both numbers and trophy class fish, but it doesn’t come without some negatives. One of the biggest negatives with streamer fishing is you don’t always get solid hookups every time a fish eats your streamer. One of the biggest contributors to this is when a fish slams your streamer in between strikes and you’re caught off guard. Sometimes, the timing is so bad there’s nothing you can do about it, while other times, it’s 100% the anglers fault due to lolly-gagging around with their stripping hand.

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TENKARA+ Or how people consume fly-fishing

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by Daniel Galhardo

In the 2nd edition of his book, Trout from Small Streams, Dave Hughes writes, “Tenkara can be an end in itself, but it’s also an excellent adjunct to a day hike, backpacking trip, berry picking expedition, or any other activity that gets you out in the world where you might come across a trout stream.”

While Hughes used tenkara in the paragraph above, the same could also be said of fly-fishing in general. Just like tenkara can show people how simple fly-fishing can be, it also shows those interested in the outdoors that fly-fishing and other activities don’t have to be mutually exclusive.

There is a deeply ingrained perception that fly-fishing takes a lot of time, not exactly to learn how to do it, but to actually do it. One reason people frequently mention as for why they don’t fly-fish is time. It seems like it will take time away from other things we could be doing. When a novice talks to a dedicated fly angler, he will often hear about a weekend set aside for the sole purpose of fly-fishing. Then, he will read an article about a trip that took weeks of planning and a lot of time away from everything else.

I believe this portrayal of how fly-fishing has to be consumed has been a reason many people have stayed away from fly-fishing. We can take care of the perceived cost by offering less expensive equipment; we can take care of complexity by showing a simpler way (e.g. via tenkara). But, something that will take a bit of more effort is letting people know fly-fishing doesn’t HAVE to take a lot of time. And, as they say, “time is the most precious commodity out there”.

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Stocked Brook Trout – Strip it, Skate it, Swing it

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I’M VERY FORTUNATE TO HAVE A GREAT TROUT STREAM NEAR BY THAT OPERATES A DELAYED HARVEST PROGRAM (CATCH AND RELEASE FISHING BY ARTIFICIAL FLIES ONLY) THAT STARTS IN THE FALL EVERY YEAR, AND RUNS INTO THE EARLY SUMMER.

I love visiting this trout stream because the DNR stocks big male and female brook trout, some of which, can push well over twenty inches. To consistently catch these beautiful brookies, I usually have to experiment with different types of flies and presentation methods to find out what’s the best option for the day’s fishing. Sometimes all I need is a simple drag free drift with a dry fly or nymph to catch them. Other times, the brook trout will completely ignore my dead drifted flies and I’m forced to impart extra action and movement on my flies to trigger bites. When I can’t get stocked brook trout to rise to my dry fly or take my nymphs dead drifted, I’ll then try fishing tactics like stripping a streamer, skating a dry fly or swinging a tandem nymph rig. For some reason, the added action and movement, often will trigger reaction strikes from stocked brook trout that have lock jaw. Moving your fly upstream, and causing it to make a wake, be it a dry fly or wet fly is another technique that can work wonders. Everyday can be different, so it’s important that you figure out what kind of presentation and type of fly the brook trout want to help you find success. Now that I’ve gone over how movement can trigger bites with the stocked brook trout, let’s talk about each in a little more detail.

TECHNIQUE #1 – TRY STRIPPING STREAMERS WHERE THE BROOKIES ARE LOCATED

I’ll never forget a day on the water with my good friend Joel Dickey several years ago, where he landed two brook trout well over 22 inches with a streamer. They were the biggest stocked brook trout I had ever laid my eyes on in the Southeast, and the only thing that proved effective for catching them that day, was retrieving a streamer across their noses erratically. Try fishing brightly colored streamers that incorporate flash for stocked brook trout. Multi-colored streamer patterns with yellow, orange and blue have served me well over the years. Take an attractor approach when tying or purchasing your streamers, you don’t need to fish natural looking streamers that resemble the local sculpins, crayfish or baitfish.  These can work also, but I’ve found streamers that are colored loudly get the most attention. Your streamers don’t need to be very big either. A two to three-inch streamer is all you need to get the job done. Just keep in mind that the brook trout will not always be fooled by your streamers. I provided this technique first, because right after brook trout are stocked, they usually are suckers for streamers. After being caught with them a few times though, they start to wise up, and will chase but not always eat streamers. Try streamers where you can locate brook trout or know it’s good water for brook trout (usually slow moving runs or tails of pools), and if you don’t have any luck, be ready to try other types of flies and techniques.

TECHNIQUE #2 – TRY SKATING A BIG ATTRACTOR DRY FLY

Skating big dry flies across the surface of the water can be highly effective for stocked brook trout. I like to fish large dry flies that float well and have enough bulk that they’ll create a nice V-wake when I’m skating and twitching them. A bright foam body with rubber legs, stacked deer hair and a palmered grizzly hackle feather works well. If you don’t tie flies, a

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The Permit Story

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By Louis Cahill

Stop me if you’ve heard this one, and if you’ve spent any time fly fishing salt water, you have.

I was talking with my buddy Bruce Chard yesterday. Thank God for living vicariously through my friends! Since I’ve been dealing with multiple eye surgeries, I haven’t touched a fly rod in five months. I haven’t been five days without casting a rod in twenty years, so I’m losing my mind and talking fishing with my friends is the only thing that keeps me going.

My buddy Scott had just sent me a photo of a friend of his with a huge permit. He was holding the rod, holding the permit and grinning like a cheshire cat, was Bruce. Just by chance, Bruce called me with in the hour, so I had to get the story. The story was not only familiar but a little disheartening. 

This guy had never fly fished. He was in the keys visiting family and his brother-in-law had Bruce booked for the week and gave one of his days to this guy and his wife. Bruce poled them around a little and when they started losing interest, he took them to some nice spots to snorkel and picnic. I’m sure they had a blast but it makes me want to bang my head on the wall. You booked one of the best flats guides on the planet to take you snorkeling? OK.

“We’ve got about an hour left,” Bruce told them, “Why don’t we go check out this permit flat.”

Bruce was thinking he’d at least do a little scouting for the next day when he would be fishing his client who generously offered his day to these folks. A guy deserves a permit after such a gesture, right?

Bruce poles up on the flat and, as soon as they are ready to fish, he sees a permit swimming right to the boat from six O’clock. Not an ideal shot and no time to turn the boat.

“Throw that thing out as far as you can behind the boat,” 

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Fly Fishing: Belly Crawling My Way to Big Beautiful Trout

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I know what you’re probably thinking, “Come on Kent, you wrote another freaking post about the importance of stealth for spooky trout? Yes, I did, but this isn’t your average stealth post. Most of us already know spooky trout require anglers to move slow and quietly. We understand how important it is to pay attention to our shadows, to work fish with our leader and fly only, and that delicate presentations are critical. Last, but not least, we’re smart enough to realize that even when luck is on our side, all we’re probably going to get is a couple good shots before the game is over.

Most of the time, if we maintain our stealth in all of the above areas, catching trout isn’t a problem. But from time to time, we do find ourselves on trout streams, when fly fishing conditions are so damn challenging that our standard everyday stealth tactics aren’t enough to get the job done. In order for us to find success in the toughest of conditions, we have to be willing to push our stealth efforts a step further. And that means going above and beyond what other anglers are too lazy or physically unable to do to catch trout. That’s right, I’m talking about dropping to the ground, and crawling on all fours into position to make a cast.

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3 Tips For Better Bonefishing

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CHANGE THE RETRIEVE BEFORE THE FLY

If the bonefish are following your fly but not eating it, the fly may not be the problem. As fly fishermen, we always want to blame our fly. I think this comes from trout fishing and the idea of matching the hatch but often, whether fishing in fresh water or salt, the problem is the presentation and not the fly.

When you cast your fly to a bonefish and he keys on it and follows the fly for a good ways, then turns off, generally it’s the retrieve he doesn’t like. Often changing it up will solicit the bite. If you’re stripping slow, speed up. If you’re stripping long, go short. Most often I find that a series of short fast strips followed by a pause does the trick. The beauty is that you can make this change immediately and catch the fish at hand.

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Gold Nugget

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Trophy brown trout like this one are worth their weight in gold.

I’m a big fan of that Gold Rush TV show filmed up in Alaska. I don’t know what it is about that show but I’m hooked. Go ahead, call me dumb for wasting my time watching it, I’m just dying to see one of those crews dig up a fortune of gold that will give all of their families peace, security and well being. If there’s one thing I’ve learned after watching Gold Rush for almost three seasons now, it’s that gold mining does not come easy. It requires every ounce of energy and stubborn persistence to find enough gold for you to come out ahead, and then, even the biggest of crews can get outperformed by one lucky schmuck with a metal detector. Just ask that Australian amateur gold prospector with a metal detector who recently found a 12-pound nugget worth well over $300,000. Sometimes, no matter how diligent you are, it all boils down to timing and luck. The entire deal felt eerily similar to a giant 26″+ wild brown trout a client of mine landed last week.

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