As your eyes dry out from searching the lake, a sharp sting sets in to the fingers from stripping the iced fly line across creased skin hundreds of times, and hope slowly fades. You began to think, “At least my double haul is looking good” – which is really what you say to yourself to keep from feeling disappointment and gnawing self-doubt.
Photography By: Jason Shields
Stillwater fisheries can provide opportunities to catch some of the largest trout in the world. One of the challenges many anglers face is how intimidating such a large body of water can be. What I’ve learned over the years is that a majority of large trout find a bulk of their diet near drop lines, vegetation, or rocky shorelines.
The most enigmatic of hatches.
Words by Spencer Durrant
I stood in a halfhearted drizzle with my back to a wall of willows while I surveyed the river. It was still at its wintertime flows, both the current and the fish barely moving. What I’d hoped would get the fish moving wasn’t showing up yet, and based on the weather and time of day, I doubted it would.
Ryan McCullough stood next to me and we watched his son Josh and my buddy Mike Kingsbury throw fruitless cast after fruitless cast.
“I can’t figure this out,” I said. “This is perfect weather. Perfect conditions. And nothing’s happening.”
Ryan nodded. “Yeah, it’s weird.”
The four of us were exploring a stream that was supposedly seeing good hatches of early-season blue-winged olives. The bugs were small, dark, and only came off when the weather turned sour. We’d planned the trip to coincide with weather just bad enough the bugs would be out, and hopefully few, if any, other anglers.
So far, we were the only things – fish or people – caught in the rain.
That we’d driven so far to explore a hunch only compounded the feeling that we needed something to happen soon. Mike and I both lived in Utah at the time, while Ryan and Josh drove down from Olympia, Washington. While any time I get to spend with Mike, Ryan, and Josh is certainly a win, we could’ve picked a more convenient location and time to break bread and catch up on life.
“Maybe we should’ve waited a few weeks for the skwalas,” I muttered.
Ryan shrugged. “Maybe.”
Then, cutting through the pitter-patter silence of a rainy day on a small piece of water, we heard the unmistakable sound of fly line going tight. Moments after, the whine of an old click-and-pawl reel filled the air.
“I got one!” Mike hollered.
Sure enough, he stood downstream about 100 yards, his fly rod bent in half. “It ate the dry!”
I glanced back at Ryan. “I haven’t seen any bugs yet.”
“Neither have I,” he said.
Mike played the fish quickly into the net, popped the hook free, then held the fish up briefly so the rest of us could see. Its pale golden flanks glittered dimly in the gray, flat light of midmorning.
Almost as soon as Mike let his fish go, Josh let out a yell. Ryan and I turned to face him, 100 yards upstream, just as the brown trout jumped, landed, then pulled off another 20 feet of line.
“Well, I guess they finally got the memo,” I said.
Ryan and I waded back into the water, giving each other enough room to cast. Between the raindrops, I saw tiny, dark bugs fluttering lazily. Mayflies tend to fly with a nonchalance that’s undoubtedly part of why trout love them so much.
As though someone had thrown a switch, the bugs came off in droves, and the fish reacted as you’d expect. Soon, the once-tranquil surface of the river was rolling from the unending series of rises as far as the eye could see. It was a perfect hatch. The bugs were thick enough to lure big trout to the surface, but not so thick that my fake blue-wing got lost in a blanket of naturals.
I don’t know how many fish I caught that day – I never started counting. The hatch was too good to worry about which fish I landed and which ones went free. It was a rare moment of angling nirvana, where you could thoroughly lose yourself in the machinations of the natural world.
The hatch finally petered out around 4 p.m., almost five hours after it began. The four of us fished without a break, pausing only to tie on new flies, tippet, or to grab the rapidly-depleted bottle of floatant from whoever remembered to bring it. My back ached, my feet were mostly numb, and I was down to my last battered spent-wing fly when I finally called it a day.
Back at camp, we shuffled around in a bit of stunned silence. To this day, that’s still the most magnificent blue-wing hatch I’ve ever witnessed. It reminded me of the picture so many folks I know try to paint of a stonefly hatch. A river full of fish, eager to eat, hitting the surface with something close to reckless abandon. The only difference was these fish weren’t hitting just anything. The slightest bad drift, or one too many false casts, put them down. I broke off a half-dozen flies, at least, because I set the hook before the fish had fully eaten my blue-wing. It wasn’t easy fishing by any means – the fish and the bugs kept me on my toes.
It was the sort of fishing that demanded good casting and attention to detail, but rewarded both handsomely. That I got to spend the whole day throwing dry flies only made the experience that much more unforgettable. I think that’s why I enjoyed that blue-wing hatch more than any other stellar dry fly hatch I’ve fished. Part of fly fishing’s allure is the idea that you’re waging some sort of passive fight against nature; that we only sometimes win is what keeps us coming back.
Spencer Durrant is a fly fishing writer, guide, and bamboo rod builder from Wyoming. He’s the News Editor for MidCurrent, and a columnist for Hatch Magazine. Connect with him on Instagram/Twitter, @Spencer_Durrant
Photos by Cole Leishman (@cole.leishman)
Words By Brett Wedeking
There’s a million rods out there these days and a million opinions on what the best one is—and a lot of hype. It’s impossible to say what “the best” rod is out there, but Winston’s Air 2 series makes a persuasive argument for top billing. Over the winter I had the opportunity to fish the new 9’6” 5-weight Air 2 on my homewaters of Puget Sound. What a treat it was.
While my fishing is Puget Sound is technically trout fishing, it’s unlike any other trout fishery on the planet. We need powerful rods that can zip out shooting heads and weighted flies with ease, repeatedly, but still retain a light and sensitive feeling in the hand. And, we’re talking 5-6 weight rods, this isn’t striper fishing. Blending power and finesse is a difficult task but this model finds the sweet spot on every cast, every hook up.
To say this rod blends power and finesse is unfair and simplistic, however. This rod generates the type of power you’d normally find in a 7-weight. And that kind of power is rarely blended with the delicacy and presentation accuracy of this rod. I’m a fan of longer rods for big rivers and this rod is perfectly at home on rivers like the Deschutes, wading thigh deep on slick rocks, trying to sling a stonefly around an upstream bush. Feel confident that the fly will drop where you point the rod and not six feet up in the bush. The line control that six extra inches provides is beautiful. Big mends and high sticking are cake. Roll casting is buttery and effortless.
The length slows down the cast and the rod bends deep into the butt, with kinetic feel from tip to cork. That feel is equally important when trying to sling a baitfish pattern 80’ to the beach or dropping a PMD emerger behind a boulder. While I only fished the former situation with this model, this stick would be my first choice for the South Fork of the Snake in July, where you’re double hauling bushy stoneflies along the bank and fishing hatches in the riffles on the same afternoon.
This rod excels at throwing a variety of fly lines. For floaters, I’d match it with an SA Trout taper or Infinity taper all day long. Don’t be afraid to load a heavier taper either, for turning over bigger bugs. This rod will handle it. I was thoroughly impressed by this rod turning over the shooting heads and baitfish patterns we fish on Puget Sound. I put a 6-weight Rio Coastal Quickshooter and 6-weight Outbound on and the rod slung both lines as far as I cared to cast, with tight loops, in a breeze. This is not your average 5-weight trout rod, folks. Streamer fishing in Montana, New Zealand browns, nymphing on Upper Sacramento, stoneflies on the Yakima, wherever you’re going, this rod is a grade-A option. And, I can’t wait to try out the heavier models.
For more info on fishing in Washington’s Puget Sound and local rivers, check out Brett’s website www.tailoutanglers.com or @tailoutanglers on Instagram.
Photos By Greg Sweney
Words by Brett Wedeking
I chased Redfish last fall in the Biloxi Marsh of coastal Louisiana. I had never cast at a Redfish before and had preconceived notions about what to pack, how to fish, and what is appropriate gear. As it turns out, I was mostly wrong. But, learning and discovery is what fly fishing is all about. So, while I’m still a novice Redfish angler, I have a few thoughts to share for anyone considering a trip to the marsh.
1 – The single most surprising aspect of redfishing, for me, was how short and quick the shots were. While similar to classic flats-style fishing, redfishing is unique and presents its own, fun challenges. I ignorantly expected to spot fish at distance, and wait for the guide to work the boat into position to make the cast. Ha! Our shots came fast and if you weren’t ready with a fly in hand you were toast.
The water is not clear like the Bahamas or Belize, and the bottom is usually mud or sand, with bits of shells mixed in. On top of that, the late fall sun doesn’t ever rise straight up overhead. Consequently, spotting fish at 120 feet isn’t really a thing (unless they’re pushing a wake in shallow water). Our shots came from 15-40 feet. And, when the guide says, “I got a fish, 30 feet, 1 ‘o clock,” you need to spot the fish, lift your rod and begin the cast all at once. It’s fun and fast, both exhilarating and heartbreaking.
2 – Lining your rod correctly is always important and critical for redfishing. Due to the quick nature of the casting opportunities, you want a short tapered, quick loading line. The Redfish specific lines are exactly what you want. They load quickly and turn over flies accurately. Trout/steelhead nymph tapers are another good option (without the high-vis tip). They have heavy, short tapers that are meant for turning over junk at shorter distances. You do not want to fish a standard Bonefish taper or trout taper. Those style of lines have long tapers that won’t load and turn over weighted flies quickly, on short shots. Water temperatures are important (duh!), not only because it dictates fish activity but dictates what lines to use. There’s a reason manufacturers produce both winter and summer redfish lines. Just as you wouldn’t fish a trout line in Panama, you want to match your line to the water temperatures you’ll be fishing.
3 – A happy Redfish will eat just about any fly you put in front of its face. However, while they aren’t Permit, reds can get a little picky about fly size, weight, color and presentation. We fished a lot of dark colors like black and purple with bunny tails and brass eyes, 3-4” long. The water is often stained and the bottoms dark and silty so a fly that shows a strong silhouette is more visible. Lighter color and lighter weighted flies are important to have ready too. We learned that in clearer and shallower water that crab and baitfish patterns in tan or olive would be hoovered up, while heavy, dark flies were ignored.
Even smaller reds can get spooky, depending on tides, weather, and angler pressure. Naturally, the bigger fish will be a little more wary, but are regularly fooled and will pull hard and run far. Don’t be complacent, make the best presentation you can, every time. Trust your guide. I’ll say it again, trust your guide.
4 – It pays to have a popper rod rigged and ready to go. You can find plenty YouTube videos showing big bull reds destroying poppers, and that’s a good way to get jacked for an upcoming trip. However, just like trout fishing, reds eat a subsurface offering more often than on top. But, we aren’t bait fishing, we are fly fishing, and the challenge is part of the point of it all, so when you see reds pushing bait in 8 inches of water, grab the foam, throw an accurate cast and enjoy the show.
5- A house on stilts is constantly moving and shooting pool in these conditions makes for a challenging game even when you haven’t dipped into your beer fridge yet.
6 – When traveling to fish and spending precious vacation time, you want reliable, high performance gear. I took a pair of Saltwater AIR rods, a #8 and #9, to the marsh. I was impressed with both rods and they match well with the needs of redfishing. These rods are fast and require a heavy tapered line to load quickly and make short shots, especially for this type of fishing. When you get the right combo, the sweet casting becomes even sweeter when you hook up. These rods are extremely powerful and throw tight loops in the wind. They track straight and turn over weighted flies despite windy conditions. Accuracy is important for reds and the Saltwater AIR rods put the fly exactly where you point the tip. These rods also have good lifting power to turn big fish headed for the deep.
Though I didn’t get to fish the Alpha+ rods for reds, given the fishing I’ve done with them at home, I’m taking a full quiver down next time. The Alpha+ loads deeper than the Saltwater AIR and maintain exceptional feel through the casting stroke (think like a modern version of the classic BIIx rods). These rods bend into the cork to unleash high line speeds and straight casts that easily translate to precision accuracy when it matters. Alpha+ models tame the wind and deliver flies where you want them. And when you hook a good one, you’ll find that the rod bends deep, while maintaining a ton of power and control.
If you only pack one rod to fish reds in the marsh, make it a #9. This gives you maximum versatility for fly size, fish and wind conditions. A #8 is excellent for throwing poppers or calmer conditions. Some anglers prefer a #10 and that’s a good idea too, especially if you have extremely windy conditions and are casting heavier flies in deeper water.
7 – While you won’t have a Redfish peel 200 yards of backing off your reel like a GT or Tarpon, the big ones still pull hard and will test your gear. On top of that, you’re fishing brackish saltwater, which can be harsh on reels. For these reasons, you should bring a machined aluminum reel with a solid disc drag. The marsh is not the venue for plastic cassette reels. The Bauer RX series is perfect for saltwater applications like this.
8 – Even though Redfish receive the modeling contracts, the fun variety of species available in the marsh was unexpected. Our group caught reds, Black Drum, Sheepshead and Sea Trout. In warmer months, you will get opportunities at Jack Crevalle and Alligator Gar too. Traditionally, anglers chase bull reds in fall when the biggest fish migrate to the flats, but big fish can be found year-round.
9 – A properly stocked beer fridge is crucial after a warm day of fishing and luckily New Orleans sports some really good beer. Find some cans from Urban South Brewing and NOLA Brewing for starters.
10 – If you’re fishing in southern Louisiana, you’re likely flying into and out of New Orleans. This was my first trip to NOLA, but won’t be my last, and anyone headed to the marsh needs to spend a couple days enjoying the city. It sounds deranged, but I would visit NOLA even without doing any fishing. The cuisine and music are worth the trip alone. The WWII museum is humbling and awe-inspiring, and the weather is a welcome break from gray or snowy northern winters.
Again, I’m still green when it comes to roping Redfish, but I think this list is a good starting place when considering a trip to the marsh. Having fun is the most important part of a fishing trip and going into it with the correct gear and expectations goes a long way to putting smiles on faces.
If you’re interested in joining Brett on a trip to the marsh, or elsewhere, he hosts trips throughout the year and can be found at www.tailoutanglers.com or on Instagram @tailoutanglers.
Photos by Tyler Bowman (@t.bowcreative)