Meat Eating Browns are on the Prowl!

One of my favorite streamers to fish for big browns.
 This is a report I had written up from a trip to the river this week but am just getting around to posting.  It's just a small look into the excitement that is fishing big meaty streamers.  It's an indulgence I don't often partake in, but one that I always wonder why not after an outing like this.  
The river I fish often is about to blow. Rumors of a big release from the Dam starting this afternoon and then doubling again by the end of the week prompted me to take advantage yesterday of one of the few remaining days this spring I may get to fish it. Although if it goes much higher we may be able to break the Drift boat out a little early and get some of the rust off my rowing shoulders.

With the river already having bumped up from 30 cfs to 222 cfs in the last week and the water running a little off color I decided to fling some streamers and see what happened. I certainly wasn't disappointed.

I fished a bank I have come to affectionately call "The Butcher Shop." It is a great Streamer bank with a shallow gravel bar along most one side making it easy to wade along that side and throw big streamers to the protected far bank that drops off quickly into a nice trough with a lot of overhanging brush, exposed rocks, as well as other cover. And to top it off the current flows through there at just about the perfect speed.

I started in at the bottom of the run in a shorter run before it drops off into a minor riffle and then dumps into another long run that lasts about 100 yards. My first cast the Conehead Zonker I was fishing pulled across the current untouched, but as it swung below me and came into view I clearly saw the dark form of a large fish on it's tail. I gave the fly a few twitches, but the big fish was not enticed and I watched the shadow dissipate back toward the center of the run. My heart was officially beating now.  Streamer fishing is not for the faint of heart, as I have had more heart stopping moments tugging big flies than any other type of fishing. I had several on this day and this was just the first.

A few moments later I learned, or should I say, relearned, a lesson I should have known...well okay...I knew better, but I failed to heed my better judgment. Never just assume that the 4x tippet that is already attached to your fly line is an OK choice, and for the sake of convenience ignore the nagging voice in the back of your head telling you to change that or you are going to regret it. Well that's exactly what I did. Anxious to hit the river I had decided to just tie the #4 Zonker on what was left of the leader already attached to my fly line, and soon I got the wake up call I needed. Off the bank came a hard crashing fish, he grabbed the fly and turned back to his lair in a flash, and I hardly even felt it. It was that quick, the separation of fly from the leader was swift and clean. Large fish smacking a moving fly on a tight line can make quick work of too light tippets. I humbly stood in the stream and did what I should have done 15 minutes before.

Back at it after re rigging a much stouter and shorter leader, I hit the short riffle between the long banks. Casting into eddies and pockets behind boulders along the far edge I was coming up empty for the first half, as I casted, and stepped downstream, working the bank thoroughly. At the bottom of the riffle there was a bigger eddy with a nice foam line that looked like a good place for a nice trout to lay in ambush. The streamer landed perfectly at the head of the little pocket and I began the strip. The fly had just entered the faster water when the surface exploded and I clearly saw a beautiful buttery brown roll above the water and come down on top of my streamer. I have had this happen a couple times when fishing streamers, and every time I can hardly believe my eyes. I think if I had a video camera and could slow it down and zoom in on the fishes eyes, you could see they would be glowing red. Sometimes these fish just get crazy mad. He grabbed the fly on the way down and I felt the heaviness for a couple seconds, but just like the other times I have had fish attack the fly like this, it was short lived. It seemed to be an attack out of anger rather than hunger, and that happens in fishing these meaty flies, but it didn't help the thumping in my chest any.

It was only a few casts later when my fly swung across the bottom of the riffle that I felt the hard strike and the heavy weight of a nice fish that played a little too close with that fine line and managed to hook himself. One thing I will say, I have never had a fish that hit a streamer, just roll over and come to the net easily. These fish were mad before, and the sting of the hook takes that rage to a whole new level. I finally landed this fish and it was a very fat 20 inch Brown that was as healthy as I have seen this year on the river.

Big fish like this are the reason I will occasionally fish streamers even in the midst of a heavy hatch, like the BWO's that were popping on this day.

As I continued up the run several more big shadows ghost up behind my fly as I bring it across the river, but none that are willing to take the plunge and grab a bite. Finally I came to a section with a lot of old dead branches hanging over and into the water, and in amongst them was a big nose rising methodically, probably to midges as I see them congregating along the current seam that feeds his little haven. It's a tough lie, and he's sipping dries, so I wonder how willing he would be to grab a streamer. It's worth a try though. My cast hit just above the brambles, and I let my heavy fly sink and tumble with the current into the big fishes feeding lane. As it arrived in the zone I could no longer see the fish, or the fly in the murky water but I figured it was time to start stripping it out of there. As I began the strip I immediately met resistance and felt the heavy shake of a big Brown's head. I managed to sneak him out of the bramble patch he was in without him wrapping me around a branch, and slugged it out with him in the middle of the current where fewer hazards existed. Finally a few moments later I was able to raise the big head and slip another nice trout into the mesh.

The day continued with this theme and by the end of a couple hours 7 big heavy fish had found their way into my net, all on streamers, right in the midst of a massive Blue Wing Olive hatch that I simply ignored.  What a day. Nothing like the heart pounding action when the fish are mashing streamers.
This nice fish put the finishing touches on a great day on the river.


The Joys of Spring, Blue Wing Olives, and...Popcorn? Part 1

I will admit in the past Spring has never been my favorite season.  I know the ideal image of spring brings to mind thoughts of fresh sprouting green grass, soft gentle rains, budding willows, and freshly bloomed daffodils, but it seems that the reality is often closer to dull gray skies, harsh winds, and sticky brown mud...everywhere.   Okay that may have been the pessimist in me coming out.  But in the past I have always felt that Spring was a bit overrated as a season, and just a necessary transition that must be endured until summer finally arrived.  As a fly fisherman though I have garnered a whole new found respect for that formerly overrated season, thanks to one tiny bug.  The Blue Wing Olive.  

A freshly hatched BWO rides along the calm surface.

The reality is that BWO's can have a presence throughout the year, and make a strong reappearance in the fall, but their spring time arrival is about as welcome an event as you can have for both fly fishermen and fish alike.  Other hatches get all the hype, but these little bugs can make fish go bonkers, and in weather conditions that used to rank right up there with the reason I felt spring was over rated, these bugs flourish.  If you ask me now what days in the spring I look forward to it would be a fairly cold 45-50 degree day with overcast skies spitting a few rain showers, with even a little breeze thrown in.  Of course not enough of a breeze to make casting a fly rod difficult, but just enough to push those little sailboat profile mayflies around on the water, and concentrate them between a swift current seam and a grassy bank.  Natures way of creating an all-you-can-eat buffet for hungry trout coming off a cold lethargic winter of snacking on whatever requires the least amount of energy to be expended.

As I stood in the midst of a frenetic river last week watching one of the most amazing hatches of Blue Wing Olives come off, it reminded me of watching popcorn, except, unless you really like popcorn, a bit more exhilarating.  There is the quiet calm where the kernels sit quietly in the slowly heating oil.  It can be hard to tell when this stage starts as all the action is underwater, hidden from the anglers eye.  It may look like the water is quiet, but underneath  the surface things are starting to happen.

Then the oil starts to sizzle and pop.  Like when you start seeing those first rises.  Usually just dorsal fins, or tails as the fish take the rising nymphs as they swim for the surface.  Things are getting more heated now.  And the first kernels are starting to crack.   You hear that first pop in the pan, or you see that first dun on the surface gliding slowly along drying it's wings.  A fish here and there begin rising for the later stage emergers, and  a couple are even up on the few duns floating down river.

Suddenly, like that moment that the kernels begin exploding, not one at a time, but  at a constant thunderous rate, things get bananas.  In that run you could have sworn was void of any fish just minutes before there are more rises than you can count.  One look at the water and you see exactly why.  The evidence is littering the surface as the small sailboat profiles are everywhere.  Where once a sporadic bug or two drifted alone, there are literally hundreds...no thousands!  It gets crazy.  You hope this crescendo lasts for a while.  The fish are going nuts and so are you.  In the right conditions (see my new favorite spring weather above) this stage can last quite some time, and when it does I count my lucky stars or what ever that saying is.

Then just as quickly as they started popping things subside.  Again you can only see a couple duns drifting on the surface.   Some of the stragglers, like those half popped old maids in the popcorn bowl, are struggling to make it off the water.  Something has happened in  this process for them and they aren't going to make it.  Like those half or unpopped kernels that settle  and collect in the bottom of the bowl, these wounded and battered bugs get pushed helplessly by the current into protected pockets or up against a grassy bank where they become more concentrated.  Much of the surface activity has subsided as well, but a few of the wiser and larger fish are still around.  Tucked into those little nooks where those crippled and half drowned mayflies have been rounded up against their will they sip away quietly.   It's the tail end of the action, but the careful eye of an observant angler knows there is still action to be found in seeking out these protected areas and keeping a keen eye out for those stealthy rises.  Then the river is quiet, waiting silently for the next out burst. 

I am no entomologist, and certainly no fly fishing expert.  I just know I love to watch a good hatch develop and reap the rewards that come along with it.  There are plenty of frustrating moments in this process for myself. But it is what keeps me coming back.  If things were always easy, then what would be the point?  These BWO hatches have given me some great study material this spring.  I have learned, and I have gone back to the drawing board.  Many times, but it's all part of the process.

A nice fish that came early in the hatch on an early stage emerger pattern.
This fish fell for a more standard upright wing pattern mimicking the BWO Dun

One of those fish spotted after the hatch sipping cripples that collected along a shallow grassy bank.


A Great Day on the River

Not a lot of big fish but the day was perfect for a BWO hatch. Fifty degrees, overcast, drizzling on and off. A sure recipe for hatching bugs and the fish were eating. Midges also made it onto the menu.

Average size of the catch was down today, but the numbers were on the rise. Maybe spring is making a comeback after all.