Slasher Film

I have this thing for cutties...

Cutthroat are the state fish of Idaho and Wyoming, and some Western states call subspecies of cutthroat their state fish – Colorado, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, and Utah.  I’m a big fan of the cutthroat, and I’ve lived in the Western US most of my life where this trout is abundant – I don’t think it’s a coincidence.  The fish in the photo above was caught on the Yakima River in March, on a windy day, using a mayfly nymph pattern.

Which is more orange - the hat or the slash?

This fish was caught on a streamer on the Yakima in March as well – after a cold, slow day, we settled into a large, deep pool and tied on a black Sculpzilla pattern (see mouth).

Lower Yakima Canyon fish.

Getting the picture yet?  The Yakima’s just feeding a passion for cutthroat, and this picture actually dispels a old fisherman’s tale about the color yellow – it’s supposedly bad luck and leads to a “skunking” on the river.

I think the reason why I favor the cutthroat trout is the memories of catching them seem to stick out more – those trips where a fish made a impression on me.  I’ve caught the very rare Greenback Cutthroat in Colorado, a fish that is fighting to regain it’s historical range.  That trip was special because my wife Annie and I were celebrating an anniversary with a overnight hike outside Colorado Springs, and as the sun slipped behind the mountain, and the silence filled the air – except for the elk hooves on round rock as they walked to the water.  I’ll remember that fish and moment forever.

I’ve recently begun fishing for coastal cutthroat (Oncorhynchus clarki clarki) in Puget Sound.  These fish don’t make the long journey from stream to open salt water, but stay close to home.  There have been a few people willing to share their favorite spots and techniques – tide information, patterns, and how.

Those trips are as memorable – as much as I enjoy creating memories with others when fly fishing, I really enjoy hearing others share their experiences and it forces me to listen.  It’s a recurrent theme in my fly fishing, and something that I try to impart with others when guiding – to listen. And not just with your ears, but with your eyes, your soul, and your mind.  Listen to what the water is saying, listen for your mind quieting.  Notice when you lose track of everything around you and have to remember to breathe, and the darkening night shows the frost in your breath on that high mountain lake.  You’re surrounded by trees older than you are, a moon larger than your hope of finding that fish searching for a quick meal, and calming that fear that your fly is right, the leader long enough, the knot tight enough.

Cutthroat trout hold a special place in my mind, and you can find them in pretty special places.

On Being a Fly Fishing Guide

A question I get asked frequently while guiding is “Who was your worst client?”  At first, I laughed off the question and gave a fairly simple answer – you.  But that didn’t go over very well.  It was good for a short laugh, but the more I thought about the question, the more I found myself wondering about the question behind the question – or, “are there others like me who like to fly fish but are intimidated by it?”  So, short of this being a manifesto about being a guide, a la Jerry Maguire, allow me to share my thoughts about being a fly fishing guide.

I’m a seeker, always have been.  Fly fishing is all about seeking out what isn’t known.  Being comfortable with asking questions, not knowing the answers, working out some solutions, and then testing them.  I’m a natural problem solver.  Well, I’m also known for causing problems, too – but that’s another blog over on Dr. Phil’s site.

Fact is, I love to teach and share my knowledge about fly fishing, and find myself learning as much from clients as they learn from me.  And the honest answer to the question “Who was your worst client?” is fairly simple.  If you’ve chosen me as your guide, and you’re not learning something, having fun, or enjoying the experience – then it’s something I’ve done or not done.  The quickest path to a client/guide relationship gone wrong winds it’s way past the landmarks of being unprepared, not communicating, and foremost – not asking the person who’s made a substantial investment of money and time into learning from a guide – what their expectations are from the experience.

Jarrod K. and Derek on the Yakima in early Spring

On the lighter side, I find myself very willing to laugh at my mistakes – ask my client Bob and his CEO about the “flying rib-eye lunch special” on the Yakima River.  And clients make mistakes too – it’s part of learning.  If the world were full of perfect anglers, well, now that’s just foolish talk.  Point is, fly fishing is an experimental experience – you craft a hypothesis about fooling a few hungry trout and test it.  You learn, you apply, and you gain confidence.

A professional fly fishing guide is a teacher, a student, a friend, a trusted adviser, and a facilitator in your learning about fly fishing.  We know bugs, water, casting, and fish.  We know how things are connected, and we can help you discover those connections.  We know that you’re passionate about fly fishing, and we’re here to help you learn and gain confidence in your own skills – that you can pass along to a child, a friend, or just experiment all on your own.  But I bet you’ll learn that the most important aspect of fly fishing is just getting out there and learning.

And that is why I guide – yes, I have an enviable desk job.  It’s just that mine is made of fiberglass and floats on water.  It’s time for you to schedule a meeting.  Don’t we have some learning to do?

New Fiberglass smells so good…

There’s something to be said for new things – and I’m going to say just one thing about this new drift boat I picked up from the fine folks down at Clackacraft.

Trout love it.

Road Trips

I really like taking road trips – there doesn’t even have to be a reason, but most of my destinations have cold water and the promise of trout. The promise of a road trip is what you know, what you don’t know, and what you’ll experience in the process. I hesitate to even call a road trip a “process” because that puts a label on it, something that defines it. The best road trips are beyond definition, but always undertaken with at least an idea of what’s coming.

What’s your idea of a great road trip?  Where have you gone lately?  Where are you going?

Presentation and Prejudice

Being generally unimpressed with the “classics” in literature, I do however happen to find that a copy of my daughter’s book Pride and Prejudice to be quite relevant to fly fishing on the Yakima River in March.  If you’ve read the novel, you’re familiar with a Mr. Bennett- who, in a flash of insight, turns his wit on himself during a crisis with characters Wickham and Lydia — “let me once in my life feel how much I have been to blame. I am not afraid of being overpowered by the impression. It will pass away soon enough.”  I know the feeling, Sir, and you’ve inspired me to write about one of the critical aspects of catching fish on a fly – presentation.  It has also been said, and I paraphrase, that it is worse to know “where the fish are, but not able to present properly to them, than to be able to present properly, but not know where the fish are.”  Either way, your pride is going to be challenged and you may find fly fishing more intimidating than it has to be – so let’s focus on presentation in this month’s update.

Most of what a trout eats is under the surface of the water.  On a recent float trip through the upper river canyon, East of Cle Elum, I used my bug seine to collect samples of the food that was available to the fish.  There was an abundance of very small chironomids, or midges, present in the water.  Midges are a year-round food source on the river, as these insects are less susceptible to variations in water temperature.  Therefore, you’ll find that trout have food available to them when they’re hungry, so they’ve seen a lot of natural insects coming their way – enter the sure-footed and strong willed fly angler who is trying to imitate those insects – black, green, gold, and other colors all contained in a bug about the diameter of a #2 pencil lead, and about one-quarter inch long.  So, picture yourself standing on a drift boat watching the river course by, swirling and gurgling underneath you, or knee-deep in the cold water trying to balance your fly rod, your lunch, and scratching your head thinking “what are these fish eating, and how do I catch them?

Most fish on rivers that receive any degree of fishing pressure are wary to us and can be spooked easily.  That’s what makes presentation so important – you’re replicating a very small insect in swiftly moving water, trying to achieve the right depth and angle, and have that fly look as natural as possible.  When using the nymph form of the insect, you’ll need to be familiar with the term “dead drift” – meaning, casting your line and flies in the feeding zone and avoiding drag on the flies.  Drag affects the way the fly looks to the fish – and they’ll easily determine the natural from the imitation.

Don’t let the small food sources drag you down – warmer weather and more active fish are coming soon, and that means casting big, buggy dry flies.  You can’t blame the fish for not taking your midge pattern in March, but you can improve your presentation and save your pride at the same time.