So Much More Than Brook Trout

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By Jason Tucker

TWILIGHT. THE SUN, SETTING UNDER CLEAR SKIES HAS TURNED EVERYTHING INTO BLUE MERCURY.

We have parked the boat on a gravel bar where ripping current meets still water. Fish are rising on the soft side of the seam that trails off the tip of the bar. We are so far north that dusk will last for hours. We are fishing in Labrador with Riverkeep Lodge on the Atikonak River.

Dave is after one large fish that keeps working the seam, rising repeatedly about sixty feet out. It’s too far to cast, but they’re taking skated caddis anyway, and so he has dumped a bunch of line, hoping to reach the fish, or get it to hit his Goddard caddis as he retrieves it back up the seam, a tactic that has worked numerous times.

Suddenly the fish rises forty feet away on the right side of the boat. Realizing that Dave doesn’t have time to pick up all that line and cast across the boat in time, I fire a quick cast to the rise form. The fish turns on a dime, and comes up on the surface as I throw a mend to twitch the fly. The fish rises with head, back, dorsal and tail fins all breaking the surface and it closes on my fly, mouth open, like a submarine on the surface. It takes an eternity for my fly to disappear and the mouth to close, but when I finally set the hook, the fish rolls and sounds, swims straight at us, and as I frantically strip line it jumps clear out of the water a few feet away at chest height. I find myself staring it in the eye, like some Warner Brothers cartoon character come to chastise me. Then it takes off on a blazing run that takes most of my fly line with it. It weighed over five pounds

And that was just one evening at Riverkeep Lodge. Don’t worry about Dave, he caught plenty of fish.

As long as I can remember I have been reading about Labrador and its legendary brook trout. As brook trout became an increasing obsession of mine, it became a lifelong dream to go. So when I got an invitation to go to Riverkeep Lodge with Dave Karczynski, it was impossible for me to say no.

We decided to make a road trip out of it, and when the time came I left my home in Northeast Georgia, drove to Ann Arbor, Michigan to pick up Dave, then we turned it east for the long trek across Ontario and Quebec. The drive itself was quite memorable, especially the long bush road from Baie Comeau to Labrador City, about 375 miles of gravel, pavement, and road construction with one gas station in the middle and not much else in the way of civilization. That story will have to wait for later.

The next day we took a float plane 120 miles into the Labrador bush to fish with Riverkeep Lodge on the Atikonak River. It is run by the Murray family, and their guides Keir and Eric were waiting for us, ready to show off what they have up there. Here’s what we found.

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Three Ways We Lose Fish

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by Jason Tucker

DUSK FALLS SLOWLY ON A JUNE SUMMER EVENING.

Zach and I stood knee deep in the tannic flowing water of a Northern Michigan stream, the calls of the day birds urgent as they headed to bed, before the night birds emerged. We waited, the sky impossibly bright despite the late hour, as the mosquitoes whined in our ears. In the last of the Boreal light the first Hexagenia of the evening emerged. Still we waited.

A few minutes later 3 large brown trout began feeding just upstream from us. They were over two hundred feet away, and just when we start to move upstream to meet them, a small fish fed thirty feet above us.

“Let me feed him some Hex” I said to Zach, tossing a cast up, more a joke than a serious attempt at fishing. My fly landed, and was pulled down immediately in a great sucking gulp.

I set the hook and without hesitation the fish ran upstream and took half my fly line. It paused for a moment, gave three or four great shakes of its head and ran again upstream, taking the rest of my line and forty feet of backing with it.

I looked at Zach in the gloam and said “It looks like we have to go after this one”, lunging forward in the dark water. Even as I did, the fish took off once more and my leader parted. I stood there breathless and stunned. It had all happened so fast.

I was fishing my eight weight rod with a straight twelve pound leader.

There are a lot of reasons we lose fish, and we all have stories of that one that got away. Personally I’d like to have fewer of these incidents, though they do add a certain something to campfire storytelling sessions. I’ve been party to a lot of big fish being landed or lost over the years. Every year, I find I’m kicking myself over some stupid mistake I’ve made that results in the old Long Distance Release. While entire books could be written on the subject, I will focus on three of the most common causes of losing good fish.

Bringing a Knife to a Gun Fight
Very often we either stick to fishing our favorite gear, or we gauge our gear to catching small or average fish. That 3 weight is just fine on most brook trout streams until a big brown comes rolling out from under a log and crushes your fly, and then the battle is on, and frequently lost. Heavier gear is called for if you suspect you have a chance at bigger fish. A 5 weight may work just fine during the day on your favorite stream; late at night when much bigger fish come out you may need to go up to a six weight or heavier. There was a reason I was fishing an eight weight in that opening story, because we had been hooking and catching fish well over twenty inches. I’ll never know how big that fish was, but that night my eight weight felt under powered.

The same can go for your tippet size. My good friend Tom, an excellent angler and caster, told me a couple of years ago that he quit fishing tippet smaller than 4X. He was tired of breaking fish off on 5X. His reasoning was what good does it do to hook up on a fish if the tippet doesn’t survive the hookset or the fish? All you’ve done is needlessly lost a fly without accomplishing anything. Since that conversation I’ve started using heavier tippet and losing fewer fish.

If you’re after big fish at night don’t hold back. I don’t use anything less than 8 pound tippet at night and often go up to 12 pound. You can also shorten your tippet considerably at night.

You Aren’t Mentally Prepared
This is one of the most common mistakes I see– we hook up on a big fish unexpectedly and lose our shit. Never mind

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Snow Day

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By Louis Cahill This story originally appeared in Fly Fusion Magazine Ice in my beard, fingers burning, I haven’t felt my feet for hours. I know from experience that it will be sometime around midnight, standing in my shower with the hot water running out, before I feel them again. My fingers are killing me, so I tuck my rod under my arm and work them into the fleece gator pulled up around my face. I’m a firm believer in global warming, but it’s a hard sell today. I have fished on some truly brutal days. Alaska in the fall, Maine at ice out in the spring. I fished in Colorado one day when it was ten below and I could watch the ice form around my boot freeze when I lifted it out of the water, but this day on the Nantahala river in the mountains of North Carolina may be the worst. You may scoff at this if you live somewhere like Wyoming or Michigan but if you’ve been here and seen it you know, when cold comes south, it comes holding a grudge. It’s about fifteen degrees at the truck. It feels colder on the water. The wind is howling and the snow has tapered off to flurries but what cuts right through the seven or eight layers I’m wearing is the humidity. It’s so humid that icicles form, right out of the air, on every surface that doesn’t have a constant source of heat. They hang grimly off of rods, and tree limbs, forceps and drying patches. I like days like this. I know that sounds crazy but any of the guys I fish with will tell you, the more miserable it is, the more I want to get at it. One reason is nobody else wants … Continue reading

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Tenkara Presentation, Really “Fishing” The Fly

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By Tim Harris

One fly, but many ways to fish it.

In a play of words, it is said that “tenkara” means “ten colors” since the kanji is the same – テンカ ラ. This means ten tenkara fishers have ten different styles of fishing. This could be that they use ten different flies or that they fish ten different techniques. Either way, tenkara is more about presentation and confidence in the fly than it is about the actual fly used, sort of like steelhead fishing.

Last season, and this season so far, I have used one fly only but have employed different techniques to catch fish in different conditions. I believe these techniques are not only applicable to tenkara but also to standard western fly fishing in small streams where you can probably present any fly with the right technique and get fish to eat.

HERE ARE SOME OF THE BASIC TECHNIQUES THAT I’VE INCORPORATED OVER THE THE LAST YEARS TO CATCH TROUT CONSISTENTLY WITH TENKARA.

1) Dead Drift – This one is easy enough and is the standard nymphing or dry fly technique common in western fly fishing and is usually how I start any given stretch of water. Tenkara has the advantage over a standard fly rod in that you can get a true drag-free dead drift since often no line is on the water, which must be mended, only the fly and tippet are in the current. Cast upstream or quartering upstream of a trout or potential trout holding location, keeping the line off the water as much as possible. As the fly drifts downstream, slowly lift the rod to keep contact with the fly and keep the fly drifting naturally. This can be done with the fly in the water or on the surface, depending on the type of pattern you are using. If you stick with one fly, like I do, you can dry out and dress or put on a fresh kebari to keep it on the surface if there is a rising trout you are going after.

2) Pulsing the Fly – This is one of my favorite techniques and goes against all convention of western fly fishing where the dead drift rules. Yet how often is a bug just tumbling with the current. Often they may be struggling to swim or move within that current, and this is where pulsing comes into play. Cast quartering upstream again, but this time

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Each One, Teach One

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By Louis Cahill

I’VE GOT SOME HOMEWORK FOR YOU.

Last weekend Kent and I floated a local tailwater. I’ve been traveling like a demon all summer and it was a great chance to hang out, catch up, empty some beer cans and fish some local water. Days like that are chicken soup for my soul. Spending so much time on the road, I miss my friends and family. As you can imagine, there is a long list of folks looking to be in the third seat on that boat. Good friends who I don’t see enough of, hardcore anglers I always learn a trick or two from, guys who consistently put nice fish in front of my lens. It’s tough to make a choice.

This time out we made a great choice. Rather than rowing an old friend or badass angler down the river, we took Kent’s new neighbor. A great guy with very little fly fishing experience. I’m not sure if Heath knew what he was getting into when he stepped into that boat. Kent immediately slipped into guide mode. He told Heath to leave his rod in the truck and put his setup in his hands. Walked him through the fly selection and how to fish the team effectively. Taught him how to read the water and where to place the fly. Coached him on how to play fish and encouraged Heath at every step, praising every good cast. Before we had floated a mile, Heath had caught his biggest trout ever.

It was an awesome thing to watch. There’s nothing like seeing the lights come on for a new angler. Neither Kent or I spent as much time fishing as we might have but it was well worth it. We boated a real trophy. A new avid fly angler. And Heath’s appreciation was abundant and all the reward we needed.

I remember when I started fly fishing. I sucked for years, trying to figure it out on my own until

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Bob Heads Downstream

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DON’T WE ALL KNOW THE FEELING?

See more of Bob and the art of Andrea Larko on Etsy.

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Fly Fishing: Salt Life Isn’t Always Fair

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MY PREVIOUS FISHING TRIP TO THE SALT REMINDED ME LIFE IS NOT ALWAYS FAIR

Wool socks and thermals on, fleece on top of that, buff raised high on the nose, I battened down the hatches on my final layer of protection, my rain jacket and pants. Wind howling and white caps crashing in the distance, I try to pretend my finger tips aren’t tingling with pain from the bitter cold morning temperatures. As we motor down the canal towards the redfish grounds, with the pier very much still in sight, I already find myself thinking, “Today’s fly fishing is going to suck”.

I’ve spent enough time on the water over the years to know when there’s little hope for fishing success, and I no longer feel obligated to torture myself, hoping for a miracle to happen or spend the day falsely proclaiming to my buddies, all is good. Today, not even the pelicans think it’s worth their time to head out fishing. Their huddled together on the bank with their beaks tucked tight against their chest. They’re noticeably shivering, clearly not happy, and they’ve all somehow found a way to agree it’s a good idea for them to check their egos, in the off chance they can gain some warmth in numbers.

Yesterday, of course, the weather was absolutely perfect. Unfortunately, that beautiful fishing day was spent driving the eight hours down to Delacroix, LA and our fly rods were stowed in their tubes. Why does it always seem to play out this way for me? I’ve been looking forward to heading down south to get my saltwater fix for months, and I’ve even managed to get two of my favorite buddies to accompany me on the trip. We finally get here, and our first day is a total bust, from the horrible weather. What can I say, life in the salt isn’t always fair. That’s at least what I’ve learned as a mountain man and trout fisherman who only finds a couple times a year to head down for some fly fishing in the salt. I always remember to say my pre-trip prayers to the Fish Gods, problem is, my prayers aren’t usually answered.

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Spey Casting Diagnostics Checklist

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By Jeff Hickman

SPEY CASTING IS A PROCESS REQUIRING SEVERAL STEPS TO BE FULLY COMPLETED IN A SEQUENCE.

To effectively and consistently make good spey casts you need to focus on these steps, especially when learning. But even veteran and advanced two-handed casters also need to focus on the important steps. Everyone who has Spey fished has had a meltdown at some point where their cast completely falls apart. In my experience these meltdowns are triggered by one small element changing. That one element starts a chain reaction that wrecks the entire cast. The cause could be external such as a change in the wind direction or wading depth or the change could be internal — you got lazy on your anchor placement or started dipping your rod behind you.

Recently while presenting at the annual Sandy River Spey Clave in Oregon, I jokingly made a reference to a fictional Spey Casting Diagnostics Checklist that I printed on waterproof paper and kept in my wader pocket. I was simply trying to make people laugh as Spey casting presentations can be a bit on the dry side. After the presentation many people came up to me and asked if I could give them one of my checklists. Since I did not actually have one, I told them I could email a checklist over. But it occurred to me that this is something that people want, so here is my short checklist that you can print and bring with you to the river next time:

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Articulated Nymphs, All Hype or the Real Deal?

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IF YOU PULL ANY SERIOUS STREAMER FISHERMAN ASIDE AND ASK THEM TO NAME THEIR FAVORITE STREAMER PATTERN, CHANCES ARE THE FLY PATTERN WILL BE ARTICULATED.

Ask the same question instead to a serious nymph fisherman, and most will answer with names of nymphs that aren’t articulated. I agree you don’t have to fish articulated nymph patterns to catch trout, but I do find it a little odd that we aren’t seeing more of them in the spot light today. As far as I can tell, the concept has been around almost as long as articulated streamers have. The last couple of years I’ve started to incorporate articulation into my fly tying for many of my nymph patterns. Just about all of them have done very well for me on the water. In some cases, my articulated versions have caught trout 3 to 1 over the traditional non-articulated versions. You can’t tie all nymphs articulated because many fly patterns and species of aquatic

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Landing Big Fish: Video

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Watch the Video!

So you’ve hooked that fish of a lifetime, what’s Next?

I hear from a lot of anglers who are struggling to land bid fish, especially on their own. It’s definitely a skill that has to be developed and the only way to practice is to catch more big fish. That’s also the only thing that takes the sting out of losing that big boy at the net.

Netting fish is really pretty simple. There are just a few things to remember and once you have them down everything should go smoothly.

4 TIPS FOR NETTING BIG FISH

Pick your spot.

Always try to work the fish into soft, shallow water where you have the advantage.

Use your reach.

Extend your rod hand behind you as far as possible, with the reel pointing away from you. This puts you close enough to the fish for a good scoop.

Net the head.

Most anglers learn to net small fish by scooping them from behind. A big fish has the power to jump right out of the net if his tail is in the water. He may even be too long to get the whole fish inside the net. If you scoop him head first, he’s got nowhere to go.

Keep ‘em Wet!

Once the fish is in the net, hold him in the water. He’s not going anywhere. Let’s release him in good condition.

WATCH THIS VIDEO TO SEE THE BEST WAY TO NET A BIG FISH ON YOUR OWN.

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