March 26, 2021
I’m not sure if anyone will ever read or listen to this. In fact, I’m not too sure how to write about the current subject matter. Let me start with a story from my childhood and see what happens:
I’ll spare you all the descriptions of what a kid goes through being brought up in a farm town of 800 people, made famous by one of the most well known serial killers of the 20th century, and a home to one of the nations largest trucking companies. We’ll skip to the day that my father got a call from his son’s 4th grade math teacher. My math teacher called my father to tell him that I wasn’t paying attention in class and that I should be seen by a doctor and placed on Ritalin, a medication for ADHD. My father (a witty preacher) politely asked her if she ever watched football.
Confused she said “NO.”
He insisted, “Haven’t you ever just sat with your husband and watched a game together?”
She confirmed and said, “No, hate football!”
To which my father responded, “My son hates your math class.” And ended the phone call.
I didn’t find out about that phone call until I was much older, and I know why. I’m hyper. A lot of people don’t like that about me. It’s something I always seem to be working on. Listening more, and speaking less. It comes as natural as rain for some but in my world, it’s cost me time, money and unfortunately relationships. As you can imagine, this trait doesn’t do me any favors on the trout stream. It means a couple things. One, I always tend to fish with a friend as an act of socialization, and also, to have an extra set of eyes and ears, and opinions that may help us double down on our odds against the fish. For me, it’s just more fun fishing with another friend and I don’t really see any set backs to it. Although, the second thing means, is that my tendency has always been one that continually has me casting, fishing fast, and never slowing down enough to get a real grasp of what’s going on.
True confession, I live in an area that has tremendous fishing opportunities, ones that don’t necessarily require a guide to catch fish, (don’t tell anyone). The reality is that if you cover enough water anywhere around where I live, you’re going to catch fish. However, the more I start to conquer my tendency to rush things, the more enjoyable the experience becomes, and so far, it’s definitely upped the quality. Without getting over the top, and saying something like, “fishing, is like sex...” let me put it in simpler terms...
We’ve all heard stories about the guy that doesn’t tie a fly on until after he’s chilled to the bone, or on the brink of starvation because he’s developed the mental discipline of a skinny sushi chef. But let’s be real, when was the last time you’ve stoped everything and just watched the water? I’ll tell you about one of my experiences.
It started a few years ago when I found a stretch of water that was home to some big inland brown trout. These are the kind of fish that turn on with aggression, and at some points completely forgo their instincts of caution and replace it with gluttony. Some of these fish reach into the mid 20s.
One night, in my second season of fishing this particular hatch, after I had exhausted every fly and terrestrial pattern in my fly box, I decided to wave the white flag, and embrace another defeat. I waded out into the river to see what kind of bugs were coming down, and find my way back to the car. It was dark, and Even though I hadn’t turned my headlamp on yet, I figured the fish would be spooked by my presence and stop rising. Up to this point, the rises were so constant that they had become the background noise of the night, similar to the bullfrogs that you can forget are there because of their hypnotic repetition.
To my surprise, when I got into the river they didn’t stop feeding. I couldn’t believe it. I wasn’t sure if I should be impressed, or if I should quit fishing all together for my lack of ability to hook a single fish, if not even by accident.
After the amazement subsided, and I was about to continue the search for my car, I turned on my headlamp. The one rule that ALL night fisherman know is that the light of a headlamp to a brown trout is like holding your grandmother’s crucifix to a vampire. Though this may be true, the fish just kept eating! I even had one hit me in the leg as I was walking through the river. If that fish could have spoken to me, it would have probably said, “So long sucker! See you tomorrow, if you’re stupid enough to come back.”
I can’t recall how many of those same nights played out before I decided to take a different approach. Don’t misunderstand me, we caught fish, big fish. But even in the momentary victories, I knew somewhere in the back of my mind, that I was missing something.
Last year it clicked, but not on its own. This spot had started to serve only as a reminder of how much I lacked in my profession. I had been sent home mending a wounded ego, and confused, only to get the momentary bandaid of a landed fish here and there. I took pictures of, and researched every fly I found in and out of the water. Tried emergers, nymphs, steamers, and every dry fly I could possibly think of or find to match what I was seeing.
The issue, that I now see in hindsight, was that, I only attempted to identify the bugs After the gorging had slowed enough for me to realize how fruitless my efforts had been. The way this had played out for the last two years, is by the time I was poking around in the dark for bugs, the main hatch had ended, and any feeding that was taking place was simply fish eating random things for desert. That’s how I’ve figured it anyway.
One day. I bought a camera. I had become very enthusiastic about creating video content of fly fishing. This is a strong point for someone that’s hyper. We can absorb and learn information very fast, and if properly disciplined, someone like me, might just have a good day, and create a writing or capture good enough video content that doesn’t send people away wishing they could redeem the time they just spent taking in some sort of fly fishing content, or “whatever that was supposed to be... “
After learning the basics of a mirrorless camera, I took to the river to document some of our fishing. It was done of course, with a friend, and on a stretch of river that we knew the fish would come out to eat. I got the tripod set up on a bank of tall reed grass. The kind that was comfortable to sit on but also somewhat undercut and spongy , so that you wouldn’t want to step too hard in fear of spooking a fish.
In fact , one night last season, my friend Dave ended up catching what I think was a 21” brown by simply dangling his fly right off the bank where we were sanding. Most of his leader was still on his reel. It was insane and I was in complete shock. The trout must have decided to get a jump on the night and threw caution to the wind. What followed over the next few weeks on this river was seen through the lens of my camera. One evening, we were set up over an extremely shallow run, one that was Sandy and even silty in spots, unshaded, except for what the undercut banks could provide, but served primarily as a good camera position for the next bend, where we knew we would see rising trout. To my amazement one night, while waiting for the fish to turn on, a friend said, “Woah! Look at that wake!”
Sure enough, for the next 25 minutes, we witnessed what may have been 10 large trout move up stream from a deep bank lower down stream into the shallows as it got dark. And their timing was not unlike ours. We had gotten there early and remained quiet. They were doing the same thing because they knew what was about to happen.
What I know now, is that these fish are very partial to a Hendrickson hatch. This hatch can last a few weeks and makes a smooth transition into our March brown hatch. Meaning lots of consistency for a feeding pattern as long as the weather holds. In the past, I would have been too quick to cast to the fish that I saw, with a fly that I only assumed it wanted.
My camera served in slowing me down and gave me the ability to rewatch the entire night at a later date. It gave me a completely objective perspective. In the same way someone responds to the first time they hear their own voice on radio or the way they acted in front of a video camera, I was ashamed to know what I would have been doing had I been holding a fly rod instead of a camera.
Now that I’ve bored you with the backstory, let me share with you what I’ve learned, or, what I think I’ve learned.
I believe the fish hold in the deep, cool protected pools during the day. This area is surrounded by spring ponds that supply a constant seeping of cold water into the river. As evening approaches, there are a number stages of the hatch. The first stage when they emerge right around sun down. It’s is preceded by a convergence of predators. The dragonflies start paying close attention to the surface of the water, picking emerging flies off the surface hard enough that you can mistake them for rising trout. Then, as I said before, you’ll see these very large fish move into shallow water along the banks. My personal opinion is that these fish move into shallow water under the cover of dark so that they don’t have to waste energy high up in a water column. They can sit on the bottom and simply raise their open jaws to the surface and suck a fly with minimal, and repetitious effort.
Occasionally you’ll see a small to medium sized fish eat an emerger or two, but then things shut off. Someone without the patience to sit and wait, might think the night was over. The pause is indicated by the departure of the dragon flies. When these bugs emerge, they head straight for the trees, where they stay for a day or two, and then eventually return to the river to mate and die. The dragon flies have this figured out and retreat to the trees after the emergers are done. The bugs that hatched the day or two before come back out over the water later on, and are followed my the dragonflies. At this point, it’s gotten dark enough that we actually have learned to watch for the dragonfly’s return to signify the smaller bugs moving out over the water. Once this happens, it’s only a moment or two before you start hearing massive eats in the water. As this hatch comes to an end, where they lay their eggs and die, each fish will pick a feeding lane in this slow, meandering river current and eat to their hearts content with little to no concern of anything else, as long as you let them get into their rhythm.
At this point our consistency and success rate when fishing this hatch has become so good, that at risk of bragging, we’ve moved over to the win column on most nights.
Had I not taken the time to sit back and observe what was happening around me, I would still be sulking in defeat or would have moved on to a different section of river, trying to forget about the lumps those fish had given me.
Moral of the story, slow down. Skip a cast or 10 to get a picture of what is happening around you. I understand that most fisherman don’t think they have the leisure of being able to “waste” a night they could be “fishing,” to watch the water like a statue. But if they can learn to channel their inner sushi chef, I’m convinced that in the long run, they’ll become more in tune with the surroundings and eventually catch more fish.
Also, don’t rule out the hyper kid in math class. This one has developed the patience to outsmart a fish.
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