Not Just Anybody’s Saint Vrain

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By Louis Cahill


It’s about seven-thirty on a Saturday morning. It’s mid-September and the chilly Colorado air has coaxed a fair number of lookie-lous, headed up from Denver and Boulder to catch some fall color, into the Stone Cup Cafe on highway thirty-six in Lyons for a cup of hot coffee. A dozen or so of these plains dwellers are queued up like good little office workers waiting their turns when a lanky man in his seventies comes through the door. He is not, at once, remarkable. He’s wearing blue jeans, faded with a hole or two, cinched up with a belt to fit his slim frame. A fleece vest and sun-bleached hat frame an angular face that’s lined like a gazetteer. There is a little white feather tucked into his hat band, like Peter Pan. His white beard seems to pretty much have the run of his face. It’s had just enough grooming to suggest that there’s a woman involved somehow, but she’s learned to pick her battles. His bright blue eyes seem too young for the rest of him. He doesn’t dally. He has the stride of an experienced hiker who sets a pace and covers his allotted miles without complaint, his eye fixed on a distant peak. That peak, at this moment, being the coffee pot.

This fellow may not have raised much attention from the morning crowd when he came through the door, but that quickly changes as he walks promptly past the line, around behind the counter and to the coffee machine where, seemingly unnoticed by the staff, he sets about pouring two cups of coffee. He tucks a couple of bucks in a basket that hangs on the wall by the coffee pot, picks up his two cups and with the same determined stride walks back by the line of dumbstruck tourists. He doesn’t acknowledge them, their galled stares or open mouths. He is completely stoic until he is past the line and makes it to the door. He reaches out his hand and offers me a cup and an impish smile creeps across his face as he says, “I love doing that.” And in that instant, there he is, the man I have come to know through his words long before I laid eyes on him. This is John Gierach.

I met John a year earlier at a fly fishing trade show in Denver. I was at the Whiting Farms booth pouring through a selection of high quality rooster capes when he took up a place next to me and within a few moments began telling me how to kill a chicken with a stick. This would, no doubt, have seemed odd to me had I not known exactly who I was talking to. How could I not recognize this man? I’ve read more of his books than any three authors combined. Of course I knew him and I knew that he had tried his hand at raising chickens at the little house across the street from the Saint Vrain River and that it had been a total disaster and that he had to move when the well became contaminated from the gas station next door and a hundred other personal details that had forced their way into his stories. Had I known all there was to know about raising chickens and been the fellow who had first thought of killing one with a stick and gone on to raise that killing to an art form and had the very act of killing a chicken named after me, I would have still hung on every word. We chatted for a bit and exchanged cards and I expected that to be the end of it.

I discovered John’s writing at the point of one of those great cosmic detours that life takes. I had lost my father to cancer and both of my grandfathers shortly after. I still had a lot to learn from those men when their voices fell silent. I had set a lot of goals as a young man that, once attained, had not provided me with much in the way of happiness. My career as an advertising photographer seemed to be feeding on my sanity. The harder I worked and the more money I made the unhappier I became. My anger rose like a fire alarm ringing in my head and after giving some serious thought to shooting one of my clients, and I don’t mean with a camera, I decided to take some time off to

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Who Says Short Rods Are For Small Streams

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So far, this fishing season he claims the extra foot of graphite has been working wonders for his clients on the water. Dave says, “I find that the ten foot fly rods make it much easier for my clients to mend their fly line, especially when they need to mend a lot of line. That translates into them consistently getting longer drag-free drifts. The longer rods shine when we need to high-stick across multiple currents, and they also allow my novice clients to squeak out a little more distance in their casts.”

After hearing those positive comments from Dave, I decided to give them a shot with my own clients, but I’d take it a step further. Instead of just incorporating them on float trips on the big rivers, I’d experiment using them on small to mid-size streams. The first trip out was a real eye opener and success with the ten foot fly rod on one of my 30′-40′ wide trout streams. To my amazement, the longer rod outperformed my standard 8 1/2-9 foot fly rods in almost all fishing scenarios in my clients hands. The only area the ten foot rod underperformed, were spots where the stream narrowed drastically or when it was really tight and cramped. The surprising thing about that, is it actually happened a lot less than I thought it would, and when it did, I’d just handed over the shorter rod I was carrying to my client. The key was positioning my angler in the correct spot, reminding him he had a longer rod in his hand, and then choosing the appropriate fly cast to present our flies.

I continued the experiment for several more guide trips, and it quickly became apparent, that all the fly fishing literature I’d previously read about matching the length of your rod to the size stream you were fishing, was actually just one way of looking at it. If there’s one thing I’ve learned over the years with fly fishing, it’s that there’s almost always multiple options (types of casts, types of rigs, types of gear, ect.) that are feasible for anglers to use when fishing any given situation. Most of the time we end up going with the status quo, which is the obvious and most popular method for the fly fishing situation at hand. Sometimes, however, if we’re not afraid to think outside of the box, and open to use an unorthodox approach, it has the potential to end up performing even better for us on the water.


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Strike Indicators, What Matters to Me

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Do Strike Indicators spook fish?

There is a lot of debate over whether strike indicators spook fish. I’m not going to beat around the bush on this one folks. I truly believe that most of the time they don’t. Especially if you rule out calm and slow moving shallow water. Only when I’m dealing with really spooky fish, do I downsize and dull down the color of my strike indicators. The other 80% of the time I think the fish pretty much just find them interesting, possibly a tasty morsel, or just another piece of trash floating over their heads.

What I really think we should be doing is looking at the other side of the coin. In my opinion, we should worry less about spooking fish with our indicators, and worry more about matching the correct size strike indicator to the type of water and rig we’re fishing. That makes much more sense to me, anyway. Now I know there’s lots of you probably saying this is obvious rookie stuff, Kent. I hear you all loud and clear, but bare with me a minute, because I still find myself having to explain to anglers why it’s a good idea to carry different sizes and colors of strike indicators on the water. And as long as I’m doing that, there’s a need for this information to be out there for people to read.


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Use Birds to Quickly Locate Bait and Schools of Fish

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Certain times of the year in both freshwater and saltwater, anglers can use flocks of actively feeding birds to locate large concentrations of bait and fish.

This was the case during my recent fly fishing trip with Capt. Joel Dickey. First thing, early in the morning, we’d run a wide sweeping perimeter with the boat, as we searched for seagulls on the feed. Binoculars weren’t a necessity but they allowed us to be more efficient by eliminating large areas of water that would otherwise be too far off for the naked eye. Being patient, continuing to cover water, and keeping confidence were the key factors in us successfully locating feeding birds. Be prepared for it to take a little while some days. For us, each morning it took a little while to find the birds, but eventually things fell into place with each scouting attempt. As the sun begins to rise over the horizon, it creates a perfect contrast of light that turns seagulls a bright neon white. You’d be surprised how far off you can pick out feeding birds this time of day. Any birds you find on the water means there’s probably bait and fish near by, but when you find diving birds in good numbers, you know there’s a feeding frenzy in progress.

I’ve used birds many times in the past to locate schools of striped bass on my local reservoirs, but this saltwater trip was my first time using seagulls to locate tarpon. The seagulls and tarpon were feeding on a shrimp die off, that happens during the hottest times of the year in the evenings and at night. During these periods photosynthesis is not taking place, and with the lack of wind, oxygen levels in the water dropped below average. I have to say it was an adrenaline pumping way to fish for tarpon. We’d cruise in on plane and cut the engines at a safe distance, allowing us to coast in quietly to avoid alerting the feeding tarpon. Immediately following, Joel would jump on his platform and quickly pole us into the schools of rolling tarpon.

The key to getting bites was finding a rolling tarpon within casting range, and then firing a presentation quickly 3-5 feet in front of the tarpon. The hardest part for me

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Getting a Grip on Spey Casting

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I love casting mono running line on my Spey rods.

At present, I’m using Rio Slick Shooter. It lives up to the name. I saw a big improvement in my distance when I made the switch. It casts like a dream and fishes well but the down side of any mono running line is that it gets slick and hard to hold when you’re casting.

There’s nothing more disappointing than losing your handle on a cast. That’s when the running line slips from between your fingers and the cork just as you make your forward casting stroke. The rod unloads and your cast piles up in a useless heap. Fortunately my buddy Andrew Bennett showed me a cool trick to solve this problem.

Simply wrap the end of your grip with

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The Redfish Wiggler

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What you may not know about Paul is that he’s a redfish junky. So much so that he recently moved to Charleston SOuth Carolina to be closer to the fish he loves.

I visited The Fish Hawk the other day and Paul took the time to share one of his favorite redfish flies. If you’re headed to redfish country tie a few of these babies up. You won’t be sorry.


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How to Stop the Dreaded Fly Fishing Birds Nest

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Does this look familiar?

Just about every angler has created this tangled artwork at some point, some more than others. I’m pretty good at untangling knots because I get more practice than the average angler from my guiding, but even this one required me to break out a fresh leader and completely re-rig. If you find yourself untangling knots more than you’re fishing, try fixing the problem by following these five helpful tips.

1. Watch your forward cast and backcast when false casting.
“In the film A River Runs Through It”, Jerry Siem (one of the casting stuntmen) never watched his backcast. It’s important to note that his fly casting skill level ranks among the best in the world, which allowed him to get away without doing this. It’s also pertinent to point out he was casting a single dry fly in the movie scene, not a tandem nymph rig with split-shot and a strike indicator. Could he have made the same casts in the movie with a tandem nymph rig without tangles, of course he could, but that doesn’t mean every other angler out there should try to mimic him. The majority of the best casters in the world watch their backcast, especially when they’re fly fishing in areas where casting room is limited. Your first step to limiting the number of tangles you create on the river is to watch your forward and backcast diligently. Your timing will be better, you’ll find you won’t need to make as many false casts, and you’ll keep your flies out of the trees and bushes.

2. Cast with grace, not with power and muscle.
Many fly anglers out there cast their fly rod much harder than they need to. So hard in many cases, that they end up overloading the rod and also get a out of control sling shot effect with their flies. Let your fly rod do the work by executing a smooth pick up of the fly line starting at the 8 o’clock position (rod tip close to the water), then begin loading the rod by smoothly accelerating the fly rod between ten o’clock and 12 o’clock. Make sure you’re stopping your rod quickly for both your forward cast and backcast, not slowing down to a stop. This will have your fly rod stopping at its fastest point at the end of the casting stroke, which will transfer your power effectively from the fly rod down through your fly line. Focusing on these casting mechanics will help you cast more graceful, and you’ll find it much easier to keep your fly rod traveling in a straight line path, and that will allow you to form efficient loops. Slow down and don’t rush your cast either. Left Kreh, is one of the best fly casters in the world at demonstrating how to make a graceful cast to get the most power out of a fly rod. If you want to see what I’m talking about just search him on YouTube.

3. Make sure you’re pausing long enough in between casts.
So you’ve managed to accomplish the first two steps with ease, but as you work out more fly line that’s needed for longer presentations, you begin to feel your fly cast falling apart. Chances are, if this is happening to you, it’s because you’re not lengthening your pause between casts as you work out more fly line

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Keeping a Buffer Between You and the Fish

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Most fly anglers would agree that success in fly fishing is often determined by how well they can stay out of sight from the astute fish their trying to catch.

If your finned adversaries are able to put a bead on you (identify you as a threat), there’s a good chance they’re going to ignore your flies or even worse, run for cover. Your ability to maintain a small signature on the fish’s radar should always be high on your objective list when you’re on the water fishing. Failing to do so, you’re going to be setting yourself up for defeat before you even make your first cast. So make a point to keep a sufficient buffer between you and the fish when you’re working water, and it usually will yield you higher catch rates.

There’s several variables anglers should look at and weigh-in to determine the size of the buffer they should maintain. Fast moving riffles (choppy water), freshly stocked fish, dingy water, overcast skies or fish positioned deep in the water column, are all variables that generally shrink the size of the buffer needed by anglers. Trout in these conditions usually feel relatively comfortable and safe, and therefore you can get away with moving in order to make precise presentations. On the other hand, if you’re dealing with flat water (slow moving or calm water), crystal clear water, wild educated fish or fish holding closer to the surface, anglers should keep as large of a buffer as they can, without losing their ability to execute a good presentation and drift.

It’s important to note that I think presentation trumps the importance of a buffer altogether though. If you can’t get a good cast and presentation because you’re positioned too far away from the fish and or target zone, that will seriously decrease your ability in getting fish to eat your flies. Skill level and experience gained over time will eventually get you where you can quickly analyze the conditions on the water, and determine the correct

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Save Your Fingers Fly Fishing – Use Lycra Finger Sleeves

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Today’s the day for a big fish.

It’s perfect streamer fishing conditions with overcast skies and there’s been lots of aggressive fish. I’m pounding the banks with my favorite streamer for thirty minutes when I notice the grit on my fly line is starting to agitate my fingers. The fly line feels like it’s coated in fine sandpaper from the silt and grit it’s picking up from the floorboard of the drift boat. I tough it out for another half hour, telling myself, be a man dude, but every fast paced jerk-strip retrieve has my fingers getting beat up even more. The fact that I’ve yet to land a fish only magnifies my discomfort. I’m willing to put up with the sore fingers if there’s a reward every once in a while but that’s not happening today, and I’m seriously considering yelling uncle and manning the oars.

Then there was my last saltwater fly fishing trip where I had botched two strip sets on tarpon back to back failing to get satisfactory hook penetration. My guide and partner both sighed in total disappointment, as I missed two perfect fish opportunities. I asked for forgiveness and promised them that my next eat would end in a perfect execution. An hour later my shot arrives. I present my fly, initiate my long slow strips, and my line comes tight as a big tarpon eats and turns away. I set the hook hard and hold on tight to my fly line. The hook buries but as the tarpon realizes it’s hooked, it screams off into the distance at full speed and rakes the fly line across my bare skin fingers. Instantly, I know I’m going to pay for holding onto the fly line too long, but I land the silverking beast, and it’s all worth it. After the victory cry, high fives, and adrenaline rush wears off, the throbbing sensation of chard fly line fingers begins. That’s when I silently ask myself the question, why didn’t you consider wearing finger protection dumbass?

Have you been in this situation before on the water? I’m thankful to admit it happens to me only on rare occasions these days. After scouring the web looking for a solution and talking with other fly anglers, I’m glad to inform everyone, I’ve found the perfect product that significantly eliminates finger chaffing. Ever heard of the fabric material Lycra? It’s basically a tight woven stretchy spandex material that can be sewn into finger sleeves that you can slide on and off with ease. They provide fantastic

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Realistic Flies Are Worthless Without Movement

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Worthless may be a little overboard, but there is some truth behind it.
Every year new fly tying products burst onto the scene that are specifically designed for making our fly patterns look extra realistic. I’ll be the first to admit many of them are amazingly cool and innovative. I mean, who wouldn’t want black eyes on their tungsten beads, or a perfect set of pre-molded wing pads or stonefly legs you can plop on a hook to make your nymphs look ultra life-like, right? Seeing these new innovative materials for the first time always gets me giddy, like a fat guy spotting a 5 for 5 deal at Arby’s. But here’s the real question I think we should be asking ourselves. When it comes to purchasing and tying our fly patterns, should we only be focused on how realistic they look?

I say hell no, but you’d be surprised how many fly fishermen out there believe “a realistic look” trumps all other attributes in a fly. Ask a fly shop owner why they carry them if they don’t catch fish, and they’ll quickly tell you, because they sell like hot cakes, that’s why. I think a fly being realistic is great, but there needs to be more working elements in a pattern than just a flashy realistic look. I’ve personally found,

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