Sunday Classic / In Defense of Trout, Where I Belong

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As Gorgeous As They Come  Photo by Louis Cahill

As Gorgeous As They Come Photo by Louis Cahill


and in the way steelheaders say, “I don’t fish for trout.” I’ve heard carp guys call them “trash fish.” Bass guys just call them, “bait.” In some circles it borders on contempt.

Where did this come from?

How did it happen?

When did trout stop being cool?

I’ll throw a fly at just about anything that swims. “Hey Homie, we got poons,” is all I have to hear to put my ass in the drivers seat of the Subaru for sixteen hours any day of the year. Stripers, bones, musky, snook, bass, cuda, carp, shark. I’ll fish for catfish if you give me enough to drink but if you told me tomorrow that I could only do one kind of fishing for the rest of my life, I wouldn’t even have to stop and think. Trout! I bare no shame for it.

Yet, among the hip fly fishing crowd, that’s less and less the case. Some how, in the never ending quest to be cooler than the next guy the trout has lost favor. Even though it is the trout who brought the vast majority of fly anglers to first lift a rod, and it’s the trout who gets ninety-nine percent of the fly fishing ink on both page and arm, and it’s the trout who throws the fiscal coal on the furnace of the fly fishing industry, like a bunch of Peters, these guys deny him.

A good friend who has fallen in love with tarpon after years as a trout guide told me, “I’m done catching bait fish.” A buddy I lost to musky says he “doesn’t care if he ever sees another trout.” Eight out of ten steelheaders will not even admit that a steelhead is a trout. My own brother, who kisses bass before easing them back in the water has told me, “if we’re going trout fishing I want to take some home for supper.”

Well here’s some news for you guys. An educated trout is harder to feed than a tarpon and a whole lot smarter than a steelhead. Pound for pound he’ll fight twice as hard as a musky and the world record trout is twice the size of his counterpart in the bass hall of fame. What’s more I don’t know if I’ve ever seen a creature more beautiful than a wild trout. Certainly not a carp!

I’m sure I have more than a few of you boiling over by now. Sure, I know that I’m overstating my case. Whipping up a bunch of drama over nothing. Most fly anglers love trout and I’m in good company but the detractors are out there and it’s a shame.

I’m guilty too. I take my trout for granted from time to time. Catch me just back from a bonefish trip or in the middle of tarpon season and you’d think I’d turned my back on trout too. Even when I’m catching them I’ll lose interest sometimes. I’ll turn back a dozen stockers with out even really looking at them. I did it just the other day, and then something happened. The little guy in the photo above ate my fly.

Easily the smallest fish of the day. He barely put a bend in my rod and was to hand in seconds, but when I looked at him, I fell in love all over again. I forgot all about the bonefish and the tarpon. This was the reason I got up in the dark and drove three hours to stand in the river in miserable cold. This was the reason I’ve spent half my life in a car or an airplane. This was why I’ve never had a job and a steady pay check. This beautiful, fragile, fleeting moment when I hold the swimming jewelry in my hand.

That’s how I am. I’ll flirt with the cute little twenty year old waitress but I always go home to my wife. ‘Cause that’s where I belong.

Louis Cahill
Gink & Gasoline
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14 thoughts on “Sunday Classic / In Defense of Trout, Where I Belong

  1. It’s 18 degrees in West Yellowstone at four o’clock this morning and It’s just a two hour drive from here to the source of the Madison. The gear’s packed and I’ll be out the door in a few minutes. After almost 30 years of fly fishing, every wild trout I catch still feels like a miracle to me. Every last one. I hope I never lose the sense of wonder that I feel for it all.

  2. Where did this come from?

    How did it happen?

    When did trout stop being cool?

    In this new era of marketing fly fishing as a “going to battle” and fly guys as “warriors” it just doesn’t seem manly enough to “slay” a 16″ “enemy” when you can get a “hero” shots with a 100 lb tarpon, a 15 lb peacock, a 20 lb dorado, a 10 lb steelhead, a 30 lb king, a 20 lb redfish, a 25 lb permit, or 50″ musky.

    This “go big” mentality lies at the root of these questions. The image or thought or feel or photo of BIGS is addicting to many.

  3. Fly guys seen as “Going to battle” and “Warriors”??! Ha Ha! That is hilarious! This mentality can stay off my trout stream (Cheeseman and other S. Platte drainage) anyday to chase the BIGS. This mentality is the problem with the industry. Guides need to bring these guys back to reality. Thanks for the laugh,”Warriors” geesh hahahaha!

    • I’ve never thought I was a warrior. Just a stoner that smoke more weed then most and is at home on any river. Let’em go catch the biggens

  4. I have to think the industry has helped push the attention other fish get. The normal angler can only buy so many 2-6wt’s for trout. When you can talk up 2-handers for chrome, 11wt’s for muskie, sealed disc drag reels, and all the stuff that goes with it the companies will make a few extra bucks. On the same note I’m totally okay with that, those hip crowd articles got me into smalljaws and pike on the fly, and I’ll always be greatful for that.

    • you took the words out of my mouth! now the industry can sell 7-14 weight rods, lines, heavy ass tippets, gigantic flies, saltwater flies, weird new tying materials, etc! great job on their part i must say. do i have a problem with it, no

  5. Could it be the fact that fly fishing for trout has an undeniably elitist image and has traditionally been seen as something of an expensive, genteel pursuit for the well-heeled sportsman?

    And today there is definitely an anti-elitism vibe in society at large.

  6. Here is a section of the Introduction to my book, Angling Days: A Fly Fisher’s Journals (NY: Skyhorse, 2016). I’m with the trout lovers on this critical issue:

    I fished in fresh and salt water with live bait (earthworms, night crawlers, sand worms, blood worms, small frogs, grasshoppers) and artificial lures (C. P. Swing, Mepps, Jitterbug, Hula Popper, Flatfish, Daredevle, lead jigs, popping bugs) by every conceivable means——cane pole, spinning rod, ultra light spinning rod, bait casting rod, fly rod, surf rod——for panfish, yellow perch, suckers, largemouth bass, smallmouth bass, pickerel, bullheads, mackerel, snapper blues, striped bass, weakfish, and flounder, but it was trout that led me on in ways I could not have imagined. Renowned naturalist John Burroughs said in his classic 1870 essay, “Speckled Trout,” that he had “been a seeker of trout” from his boyhood, and a similar enthusiasm has been mine as well. Trout as a species and fly fishing for them became an aperture through which I viewed an intriguing and increasingly large area of my avocational life.
    Trout have remained my signature fish for reasons I don’t always fully understand or even care to dissect too closely. A particular fish becomes our special fish or our favorite quarry for reasons that have nothing to do with reason. Romanticism, sentimentality, affect, nostalgia, yes, but not rationality, Harold Blaisdell suggested in 1959 in The Philosophical Fisherman.
    Perhaps it has something to do with size——because most trout are scaled in the right proportion to their habitat; perhaps it has something to do with beauty——because all trout are colored like resplendent hand-painted artifacts; perhaps it has something to do with geography —because trout tend to live in earth’s desirable places; perhaps it has something to do with environment——because trout are prime indicators of water’s organic health, in which we all have a stake; perhaps it has something to do with books and paintings¬¬––because the extensive written and iconographic records on trout are among the absolute glories of sporting literature and art.
    And then perhaps it is as simple as saying that in their welcoming familiarity as a species, trout suit my sensibility, speak directly to my temperament. I understand other anglers’ similar and sometimes exclusive fascination with tarpon, salmon, bonefish, or permit as exalted species that signify the meaning of what the fly fishing pursuit and mania are all about, and I say more power to them——fish and men——but I am content and comfortable to keep my focus most of the time, anyway, riveted on trout. That’s my story of monogamous attraction and I’m sticking to it.

  7. The day we forget, or denigrate, the species that gave us our passion and the sport of flyfishing will be a sad one. It’s history can be traced back to the Macedonians and the “speckled fish”. I for one will never downgrade trout, especially the brown trout.

    I have had the good fortune of bonefish tearing across the flats, tarpon acrobatics and big snook head shakes, but my most endearing memory of any species was the time I lost to a short, strong power house of a brown trout who smashed me up more than once, in fact I believe twice in the period of one year. Of course it could have been a different fish, but I knew this beat of the river well and doubt very much that any other trout could have ousted it from its prime real estate. This fish was well known to the “in the know” local flyfishermen and his lie was incredibly difficult to get at, but when I managed it he made short shrift of me both times and had me in the roots, branches and smashed up before I could do much about it and I have good reflexes. Of all the fish I have hooked that trout is the one at the forefront of my memory.

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