Wild Trout, Mushrooms and Perspective

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By Louis Cahill

I’m not sure there is such a thing as being lost in the woods.

I certainly don’t feel lost as I walk the trail, once an old logging road looking down on a beautiful, tumbling trout stream. I feel much more at home than lost, even though my new vision is not good in the confusing visual surroundings. The smells and the sounds are all old friends, as are the feel of the dirt and water and fine layer of sweat forming everywhere on my body. The warm, wet embrace of the forest feels like home. It’s Justin that I’ve lost.

It was so generous of him to drive me up here and take me out fishing, knowing I’d be slow and likely a burden. We were both so excited to fish that we couldn’t help but stop where the trail crosses the first stream and see if anyone was home. I was sure I’d seen him start up the trail and, when my calls got no answer, I figured I’d better get after him. I didn’t want to be the invalid slowing him down. I was too concerned with proving I could keep up to realize I was leaving him behind.

I still can’t get used to the idea that I can no longer trust my eyes. Just yesterday, my wife was telling me about a beautiful humming bird in the garden. I couldn’t see it. After she went inside, and I was about to do the same, I spotted him. He was hovering right in front of me, almost like he was blocking my way, so close I could almost reach out and touch him. I froze and watched him for thirty seconds or so before it dawned on me that it was not a hummingbird four feet away, but a big ass bee four inches away, warning me away from his nest. Perspective. Not as easy as it once was.

A mile and a half up the trail, the idea is just occurring to me that it was likely not Justin I’d seen headed up the trail, or it was Justin and this was not where he was headed. Either way, I’m alone to enjoy my stupidity. That’s the charitable nature of my self examination. Too proud to think of myself as handicapped, just enough self loathing to think of myself as stupid. I started back down the path letting out the occasional “Hootie-Hoo!” and listening for Justin’s response. 

I have to keep a good eye on the trail, lest I walk off the edge. There’d be no stopping the tumbling on that slope. Along the edge of the trail I spot scattered orange trumpet shapes. I know that color, not quite orange but not yellow. Chanterelle mushrooms, I’m pretty sure. Kathy will be excited. Maybe too excited, she’s way more comfortable popping forest treats in her mouth than I am. “Pretty sure,” is not a great place to be with wild mushrooms. Damned sure is almost sure enough. I pick two and put them in my pack for further inspection by the smarter half of the family. I “Hoot” again and this time I hear Justin hoot back.

This stream is one of those you don’t talk about. Maybe, after fishing with a guy for years, seeing how he handles fish, seeing how he treats his family. understanding his religion and politics, maybe seeing him take in a sick stray dog, you might casually drop the name. 

“Hey, you ever heard of…”

Then if he gives you that look, like he isn’t sure he should say yes, like he’s quietly judging you, maybe thinking about that time you had one too many and lost your temper with that idiot in the bar in Jackson, and then he says, “Yeah, I fish up there.”

Then the two of you might plan a trip. You hike up there for a day, not more than once a year, because you know how special it is and you don’t want to screw it up. You catch little wild fish on dry flies out of every pocket, and once, maybe twice in your lifetime a fifteen or sixteen inch fish charges out from a dark undercut bank to eat your fly, in a stream you can jump across, and the two of you never forget it but you never talk about it. That’s the kind of day it was.

It was my first real day of mountain trout fishing in over a year. The first time I’d

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The Magic of Soft Hackles

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SOFT HACKLES ARE THE SHARKS OF THE FLY BOX.

Like the shark, the soft hackle is one of the oldest of its ilk, and like those ancient predators, it has evolved very little from its inception. Like the shark, it is a deadly design that could not be improved upon. Take, for example, the Kebari flies used by tenkara anglers for hundreds of years. Basically Soft Hackles with a reverse hackle. So effective, that traditional tenkara anglers only fish one pattern. Many modern fly anglers overlook traditional Soft Hackle patterns that are as effective today as ever.

There are two primary reasons for the effectiveness of the soft hackle. For starters, it’s the ultimate impressionistic pattern. It looks like almost everything on the aquatic menu. A fish who is looking for something specific is very likely to see it in a soft hackle. The second reason is, there’s just no wrong way to fish one. If you struggle with getting a drag free drift, a soft hackle is a very forgiving pattern. As long as it is in the water, it will produce fish.

FISHING SOFT HACKLES

As I said, there is no wrong way to fish these flies, but there are some proven tactics you can employ. For starters, dead drifting the fly as a nymph is never a bad plan. The Soft Hackle is as effective in this role as any pattern. That said, the dead drift does not take advantage of some of the pattern’s unique properties.

Perhaps the most common and most productive presentation for a Soft Hackle is the swing. The hackle has a tendency to trap an air bubble making the fly a natural emerger pattern. There are tying techniques, which I will go into, that enhance this effect. When fished deep and swung to the surface, the glowing air bubble inside the hackle is more than any trout can resist. One of my favorite ways to rig this pattern is to drop it about sixteen inches behind a Wooly Bugger with some weight in front of the Bugger. Drift the team deep through a run then lift them to the surface or quarter them down and across and let then swing and hold on.

When fishing from a boat, it’s very effective to cast a Soft Hackle straight across the current and retrieve it slowly, about four inches at strip. A hand-twist retrieve works well. This is also effective when teamed with a Bugger. Even more fun,

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Use Old Plano Boxes For Bulk Fly Storage

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Of all the thousands of dollars of bass fishing gear that I’ve accumulated over the years there’s very little of it that I can find a use for in my fly fishing today.

Well, I could probably find a way to use some of it, but I’d definitely get bashed for it by my friends. My Plano tackle boxes, however, have proven to be very useful for me in my drift boat and when I’m traveling across the states on my fly fishing trips. I can load up one Plano box for my drift boat and I’m good for the day, and if I’m traveling out west, I often use one to throw all my big dry fly patterns or streamers in, so I don’t have to keep up with several smaller fly boxes during the trip. Every morning I’ll take out what I need and stow them in one or two fly boxes that I can carry easily with me on the water.

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The Blanket Octopus is the Damnedest Thing I’ve Ever Seen

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Watch the Video!

FROM THE “WHAT THE HELL IS THAT?” FILES.

On a recent blue water fly fishing trip with Captain Ron Doerr out of Jupiter, Florida, I saw something truly strange. It looked like a woman’s scarf floating in the water. Bright red, yellow and green, it seemed to be just floating out there a foot or so under the surface. It didn’t look like a living thing, well a space alien maybe, but nothing I’d ever seen. Nothing Capt. Ron had ever seen either, in his thirty years as an offshore captain.

It drifted up next to the boat and my buddy Kristen touched it with his rod, as he is want to do, and the rod came back with some pretty scary stuff on it. It looked like jellyfish tendrils. That didn’t make sense. Jelly fish don’t just come apart when you touch them. Was it dead or alive, animate or inanimate? None of us were sure until we saw its eye. A big black creepy eye.

I stuck the go pro under the water and captured the video below.

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The Bimini Twist

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The Bimini Twist may be the the most mysterious knot in fly fishing.

I love the look you get when you tie one. It’s as though you pulled a rabbit out of your fishing hat. In reality, the Bimini Twist is not a difficult knot. Once you understand it it’s very easy to tie and it can not be beat for strength. It is the best method for attaching you backing to your fly line and a knot every angler should know how to tie. Here’s Capt. Joel Dickey to show you how easy it is.

WATCH THE VIDEO AND LEARN TO TIE THE BIMINI TWIST!

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Beginner Series: Fly Lines, Leaders, and Tippet

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By Justin Pickett

So you’ve decided to dive into the world of fly fishing and need to outfit your new rod and reel purchase with a fly line, leaders and spools of tippet.

Does it matter what line you get? And what about leaders? What the hell is tippet?! These are all typical questions that the beginning angler will have, so don’t worry. We’re going to work on flattening that learning curve!

Fly Lines

To a beginner, trying to learn about all the little intricacies of fly line tapers is about like trying to rearrange deck chairs on the Titanic. The good news is that you don’t need to get too caught up in tapers and grain weights to catch fish. Learning about the various aspects of fly lines will certainly help you down the road, however we’re going to focus mainly on weight-forward, floating lines. Today’s fly rods are typically faster than those made even ten years ago, almost requiring a more compact, heavier line to properly load the rod. Some “beginner” lines are even manufactured a half weight heavier to help load today’s faster rods. As a beginner, a weight-forward line will better suit your casting needs with the more popular five weights found in fly shops, and a floating line will enable you to cover a large majority of fishing scenarios. All of the fly lines listed below are inexpensive and are great all-purpose fly lines whether you’re slinging parachute adams or foam poppers.

Airflow Super Dri

Orvis Clearwater WF

Scientific Anglers AirCel Trout

Rio Mainstream WF Trout

Leaders and Tippet

Leaders and tippet are other items that you will need in order to get going and hook up with that first fish. You’ll hear of many anglers that tie their own leaders and have their preferred recipes. While you may one day tie up your own leaders created from your own secret formula, for now, keep it simple. I would say

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Casting Distance Does Play A Factor In Success

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Saltwater fly fishing often calls for long accurate casts for the chance of success, and quite often it holds just as true on your favorite trout streams. Of the countless hours I’ve spent guiding my trout clients the past ten years, I’ve witnessed over and over again, how important just a couple more feet of distance can be in getting a trout to eat. You just can’t always approach a hole and make a routine short cast. Often no matter how stealthy you are, you’ll spook the fish if you try getting closer. Occasionally, obstacles such as low hanging trees can make it impossible to get the proper casting angle unless your standing farther away. Other times you may run into a situation where different current speeds between you and your target require a longer cast to get an adequate drag free drift. That’s why it’s so important for fly anglers to get comfortable making above average casts. I’m not saying you have to be able to bomb out eighty feet of line, or that you’ll have to make super long casts all the time either. I’m just saying, there are times when you won’t be fishing that angler friendly pocket water that just calls for short roll casts and quick high-stick drifts. You need to be prepared to make longer casts when the need arises. Believe it or not, quite often trout will follow your flies down stream a good ways before deciding to eat. If your fly gets too close to you the trout will often see you and won’t eat. Making a longer presentation will provide that buffer zone for the trout to inspect and eat without seeing you. Remember that trout don’t have eyes in the back of their head as well. If you don’t get … Continue reading

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DIY Fly Line Loop with Step-by-Step Instructions

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Most fly lines these days already come with welded loops at the ends for the easy attachment of backing and leaders. If you fish as much as I do though, eventually they get worn out and need to be replaced. Most anglers just use a standard albright knot or nail knot to fix this. It works perfectly fine, but I prefer instead to tie my own fly line loops with a fly tying bobbin and thread. Done correctly, it will provide a stronger connection to your leader than the manufacturers welded loops or knots you tie (this is important when fly fishing for big game species). The bright thread that you tie the loop with also works really well as a spotter. It comes in real handy when you’re fly fishing and you have conditions where it’s hard to keep track of your fly in the water. That bright spot on the end of your fly line provides a quick reference that your fly is a leaders length away. Below are step-by-step instructions for tying your own fly line loops.

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Every Long Wade Starts With A Single Step

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By Louis Cahill

After a year of recovery I tentatively made my first step into a trout stream.

I can not tell you how good it feels to be back on my feet, and for those feet to be cold and wet. I have fished a few times since getting back on my feet from multiple eye surgeries, but only from a boat. Fishing from a boat was a good way to start. I could work on getting my casting back and start figuring out how to drop my fly where I want it, without depth perception. At first I had to put a piece of black tape on the lens of my glasses over my bad eye. Without the tape my cast was wild. It could go anywhere, like watching someone else cast. Eventually my brain started to learn to use the left eye and ignore the right, which had always been dominant. Now I can cast without the tape and my accuracy gets better every day.

“Fortunately, I like a challenge.” I’ve said that a hundred times, half in jest, as I struggle to do things that used to be second nature. Things like pouring a beer, you know, actually into the glass rather than all over the floor. Fly fishing, it turns out, has just a few more moving parts. I’ve met those challenges pretty well so far but it isn’t the casting or mending or the tedious tying on of flies that has been the most challenging, or at least the most daunting. Wading it seems is my new nemesis. 

It’s really hard to explain my new vision. It isn’t just that one eye doesn’t work. I think that would be fairly straight forward. I have vision in my right eye, it’s just the kind of vision you might expect in a german impressionist horror film or a cubist painting. Yes, it’s fuzzy and unfocused, but it’s also wildly distorted and doesn’t line up with my left eye so everything is double. It gets weirder though. I also see a lot of stuff that isn’t there. I can actually see some of the scarring of my retina, like bright etched lines across dark spaces. There are also hundreds of tiny bubbles in the oil that fills my eye. I see those, and the scarring, even when my eye is closed. Weirder still is the trick my bad macula plays on me. Anything I look directly at disappears. I look away and it comes back, look at it and its gone again. 

Try to imagine seeing all of that overlaid, but not lined up with, your normal vision and no depth perception, and think about stepping into a trout stream without busting your ass. That makes me more that a little nervous, especially about fishing alone. I can easily see myself taking a header on a sharp rock, or just wandering off and never finding the truck again. Fortunately, I have friends who are willing to put up with me and it’s a horse I’m determined to get back on, so last week I took that first step back into the water.

It was fitting that I make that first wee trip with my buddy Gary Lacey. Not only a dear friend, it was Gary who taught me to make bamboo rods so many years ago, which was ultimately responsible for rekindling my love of fly fishing and led me to where I am today. Over the last two years Gary had health issues of his own and was unable to walk or use his hands for some time. Fortunately, he is on the mend but I wasn’t sure what shape I’d find him in, though I was sure we’d make quite a pair on the river.

I was pleasantly surprised to find Gary seemingly his old self. Precocious, full of piss and vinegar, and busy in the shop making bamboo rods, classic S-handle reels and even

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Emergency Line Splicing

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Watch the video

The other day I was out fishing with my buddy Rob Parkins when things took a sudden turn for the worse.
I was making a cast and the line at my feet caught on something sharp. I shot the line with so much power that my eight weight line was cut in two. We were a long way from the car and a spare setup. It looked like my fishing was going to be cut short.

I got the head back. About sixty or seventy feet had been cut off. It was enough line that I could make a short shot but shots were scarce that day and I hated the idea of being limited. I tried tying the line with a blood knot but it was impossible to get through the guides. Rob came up with a brilliant solution.

He suggested

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