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> > Recipe: Stealth, patience, and NO micro-drag

Report at a Glance

General RegionN Colorado
Time of Day12 to 2pm
Conditions & HatchesOvercast, then bright sun.

Details and Discussion

PaulRobertsSeptember 2nd, 2010, 9:33 pm

Posts: 1776
Sep 2nd, 2010

Fished the mid-reaches of a larger creek today. It’s still a small creek, but on the SSSI scale (Small Stream Stress Index 1-5) it’s a 1 –might as well be a tailwater. Ranges from 15 to 25 feet wide and lined with mature willow –the canopy is open and understory is relatively sparse. Still I managed to hang the same dead willow branch 4 times in the 2 hrs I spent at that pool! Two hours on one pool? And on a small stream?? I may be a “Type A” angler, but I am also patient.

Yesterday I had some time to kill, having work done on my Jeep, which ended up a bigger job than expected. So I wandered the creek that runs through town, sans tackle –just observing. I’ve done a lot of that in the past, and find it fascinating. This particular creek has a number of bridges over the water offering great vantage and if you are patient and observant, the trout put on quite a show. As luck would have it, a guide and his 4 sports were working the stream. I kept moving ahead of them and watching the results from on high.

All four were relative newbs, but three of them could handle their tackle just well enough that, if they knew WHAT to do, they could be in the show. But they didn’t. The guide didn’t either. He had apparently set them all up with those giant yarn indicators, while the water was low, clear, and full of fished over browns. They also appeared to have no idea that trout were spooky, or if they did, how to handle that. The guide was NO help, in fact he kept walking between the paired sports right on the bank over the pools they were fishing! It was a sad affair. When I asked how the fishing was, they all gave me thumbs down. I overheard the guide saying “they’ve got me scratching my head”.

At one large pool I spied several browns at drift sites. The angler stepped in and the two nearest trout bolted for pool center. The guide then proceeded to walk the bank of the pool and put the rest into flight, which formed a fright huddle -9 browns from 8 to 12 inches in the deepest cut just inside the bridge shadow. After the guide left to check on the others, I called down to the angler, “Care for some un-asked-for advice?” He seemed a little sheepish (it’s tough to learn to fish with an audience) but responded, “OK.”

“There are 9 browns in the back section of this pool. They are all in a fright huddle right here.” I pointed to where they were clustered. “Give them 10 minutes and they will drop back onto feeding holds. Then, you’ve got to be very, very, VERY, sneaky with them.” He nodded and I went upstream to watch unmolested trout. Later, on my way back down I saw the same angler, this time with no indicator, but still fishing too close. “Oh well," I thought. And I could imagine the discussion at the end of their day, "A tough day on a 'tough stream' I guess."

On my way out to get my Jeep, I passed a lone angler at the tail of a long shallow pool. Just by his positioning, below the lip of the tailout, I could tell he was potentially dangerous. His casts formed nice tight loops. But, he fished too fast, covering water, which made him sloppy. His casts fell heavily and his line was spitting spray. He received a take on a longish cast and struck too soon, missing. His head fell back as he moaned, “Ooooowwwwhhhh.” Instead of checking the entire breadth of the tail of the pool, he then moved up, too quickly, crushing cobbles and throwing a slight wake. He was fishing water, not drift lanes.

At the garage I got chatting fishing with the owner, Rob, who is a fly-fisherman and just about to head to Montana for much needed R&R. I told him about the guide and his sports, shaking my head. Rob said, “Yeah this creek is darn tough in the summer. They seem to have a sixth sense. Put a line in the air and it’s like the stream is dead.” I backed off: “Yeah, I guess I should have a fly rod in my hands before I start streamside coaching.”

So, today I went back to the same pool the tight looper was in. My goal, of course, was to catch a few, observing a few “rules”:
#1: Don’t spook em! If you do, the rest is moot.
#2: While easily spooked, most trout will resume feeding after a short time period. Patience pays off as well or better than stealth.
#3: Avoid micro-drag (by position and casting). This is where the game is made or broken, even on, (seemingly) calm water.

The pool begins at an undercut willow and has a long broad shallow tail that provides a good number of drift feeding sites. Studying the reflections ahead I could see a number of turbulences from larger cobbles unseen below the surface –potential drift sites, and trouble –in terms of micro-drag. Although it was overcast and cool and small Baetis should be on, I started with a visible #14 parachute with a fluorescent post. I was also testing a rod and wanted to see the fly well. Considering conditions –low, clear, and fished over– I would have recommended to anyone a small fly.

But I did not plan on spooking fish too much, and I can be mighty patient. I found fish using sites from just inches of nearly still water at the banks (not atypical of browns), to the main current tongues. They appeared (came back on station) about 15 minutes or so after I arrived at the scene. If these were brookies, 5 minutes would have done it. I then carefully plied several drift lanes and caught 4 from 8 to 10 inches on the parachute. The 10 from a slack water lie next to the opposite bank, where a straight cast caused drag, skating the fly -slowly, but not at bank-side current speed. I think a lot of anglers wouldn’t have even noticed the difference. I used a Humphrey’s underhand cast –very cool cast –that in this case acted like a reach cast for which little body movement is required. But that's not what's cool about it. It comes in really low the the water, developed by Humphrey's to get in under overhanging vegetation. The line fell across current from the fly, allowing the fly to languish in the slow water a foot from the bank. The fish came from the very edge of the bank to smack the fly. Very cool to see such commitment.

At one point a good one –in the 12inch bracket– appeared and occupied a site about 15 feet ahead of me, chasing two smaller ones in the process as if just for sport. The fish did not stay still however, and kept shifting –not much food goin’ on and he appeared restless, even irritable. Here’s where something really interesting happened. I tried to cover him but he moved just as I cast, and came directly at me, so I froze. At that point an apple core floated down to him and he rose and bit it! No kidding! I’d love to catch a good educated low water brown like that on an apple core fly. Wouldn’t that be cool? I didn’t catch that fish. It came nearer still until it was nearly beneath my rod tip and spied me. Educated trout CAN recognize humans, even still ones; I’ve seen this enough to be pretty convinced of it.

I was now running low on time so I decided to get more serious and I moved up a bit to cover the head of the pool where the main basin and undercut are. I gently pulled out, slipped up the bank, slid back in at a shoreline tree, and re-rigged. I added a foot and a half of 6X to my 5X and knotted on a #18 RF Baetis emerger/cripple (the "more serious" part). From where I was, just behind a turbulent submerged cobble, the current exiting the basin was virtually laminar. I was able to throw progressively longer parachute casts, covering the width of the back of the basin and catching another 10 incher. Then at about 40some feet out I had a soft rise, waited a full second and a half for handling, and tightened. A good splash appeared, my rod bent deeply, and I felt a longer fish writhe. “Oooooohhhh, that’s a good fish!” It came down quickly, began to slip below and by changing rod angle got him to turn back up. He then stale-mated me for a bit, remaining upright and strong, running circles around me. I missed once with the net, before I got him above me again, turned him back down and got him in the net. I pumped the air and heard a whoop: Two young guys had been watching from the nearby bike path and one raised both arms straight up gesturing “Score!!” The trout was a big bug eater for this stream, at 14½ inches, and in fine condition.

Stealth, patience, and judicious casting paid off big in "tough" conditions.

AdirmanSeptember 4th, 2010, 4:26 pm
Monticello, NY

Posts: 504
Excellent story!! Very detailed and easy to follow. I like how you described your observations and then formed a plan of attack based on your situation! 1 minor disaggreement I have on something you said:about the time req'd to wait for brown vs. brook trout to resume feeding. Many times I've heard and read about how much easier brookies are to catch but i must tell you , I just don't see it. I've caught many of both species and find them to be roughly equal in catchability. you know what i think: it matters more what kind of stream/river pond/lake etc. the fish are found in than their species! Trout are trout and behave ver similar. That doesn't mean to say there are NO differences but I think the differences are relatively minor and are overemphasized quite often. Browns aquired their reputation due to their presence in primarily heavily-fished rivers whereas brookies quite often are found in remote and wild places where human contact is limited. Therein lies the difference I think!!
PaulRobertsSeptember 4th, 2010, 7:52 pm

Posts: 1776

Thanks for the kind words on my report.

Excellent point about catchability having as much or more to do with fishing pressure, and other water related factors, than species. At very least, at extremes such as pressured brookies in still water and unpressured browns in turbulent water, it's the browns that recover quicker.

I guess my prejudicial expectations of browns originally came from comparisons with rainbows during my work as a hatchery technician for a summer. (I never did work with brookies). Feeding rainbows of any age was akin to pitching a cow into a raceway of piranha. But, when I first went to feed the young browns I was instructed to creep up and toss small handfuls of pellets, bc my movements and the pellets falling on the surface would spook the browns to the opposite end of the raceway, the pellets would settle and dissolve. It was more cost efficient to approach slowly and toss small handfuls. At first I thought it was a joke. But it was not.

In the “finishing pond”, where yearlings were put prior to release the rainbows would follow me like salivating dogs when I went out to feed them. The vast majority of the yearling browns, however, hung out along the rip-rap wall in the shade of a row of big Norway spruces. To feed them I threw pellets out to them and they’d boil for them. I remember the eyes and spots along that wall.

Later I found domestic browns and domestic rainbows in the Great Lakes and Finger Lakes tributaries were similarly different. The bows were quick to forget, but… after some years of this fishing I began to realize that, while the species differences have some merit, the spawning stage the fish were in was at least as important as species. Prespawn fish of both species were easier, spawners most difficult, and post-spawners the easiest (individually that is, as prespawn usually brought the biggest numbers days due to predictability). Oh yes, saltwater ancestry “steelhead” were generally easier to spook than domestics.

As usual, the deeper we look, the more there is to see. Anglers should not take assumptions too far. Pat answers tend to gloss over what’s really going on. Thanks for taking us a little deeper.
MT319September 4th, 2010, 9:38 pm

Posts: 24
I’d say personally that wild Brookies are comparatively more aggressive than wild Browns and also comparatively more spooky than wild Browns...these both point to the Brookies being the “less hesistant” of the two to take action when presented with positive or negative stimuli...that being said I also find that the difficulty in catching wild browns comes primarily from them being the “more selective” of the two and this “increased selectivity” also corresponds with the above mentioned “lower aggressiveness” in comparison to brookies when presented with the same positive stimuli...accordingly this would make “stealth and presentation” the two most important variables when fishing for wild brookies vs. “fly selection and presentation” being the two most important variables when fishing for wild browns meaning each species has their own inherent difficulties associating with catching them but places a higher premium on certain variables when fishing for one as opposed to another which in turn again makes them both “difficult” to catch in their own right, but “difficult” in slightly different contexts (although in each case presentation is still key). I would also say that on these same small/medium size streams which hold both wild brookie and wild brown populations (as opposed to just one or the other like I speak of above) that the wild browns per capita are the larger of the two species meaning when the two coexist within the same water system that would even further exacerbate both the inherent “spookiness” of the wild brookies (as they are constantly being pushed around/predatorized by the wild browns) as well as the “aggressiveness” of the wild brookies (as they occupy less prime lies and in turn have to be more aggressive/less selective when presented with a food source in order to survive) so I‘d say these same inherent brookie vs. brown attributes get even further exacerbated when sharing the same small to medium sized water system...lastly I’d also say that the “spookiness of wild browns” (ie; third most important variable in catching wild browns) is comparatively greater than the “selectivity of wild brookies” (ie; third most important variable in catching wild brookies) which is why I believe, overall, this makes wild browns the more difficult of the two to catch in any small/medium sized water system where they are present either exclusively or in a mixed population with wild brook trout...of course the fertility of the stream itself will play some role as far as the difficulty of catching trout in exclusively wild brown stream/exclusively wild brookie stream/mixed wild brown and brookie stream A in comparison to exclusively wild brown stream/exclusively wild brookie stream/mixed wild brown and brookie stream B, but none the less I’d still say these same general species inherent traits are still visible at least to some appreciable extent in any small to medium sized river where one/the other/ or both are situated in...regardless tho nice fucking brown man
GONZOSeptember 4th, 2010, 10:08 pm
Site Editor
"Bear Swamp," PA

Posts: 1681
Paul, A-man, and MT,

I quite agree that fishing pressure and water type have a lot to do with perceived differences in the "catchability" of various trout species. Anyone who has a chance to compare the (recently revived) wild brookies of PA's Big Spring to some of their mountain headwater relatives would surely notice these differences. However, other characteristics also play into this, especially when one compares wild brown and brook trout that occupy the same mountain tribs.

On a favorite example, the brookies are segregated from the browns by barrier waterfalls. The browns have driven most of the brookies out and almost entirely dominate the water below the falls. They are larger on average, more difficult to catch, and fewer in number. On one of the larger holes below the falls, one would be very fortunate to catch 3 or 4 browns. A very similar hole above the falls might yield 10 or more brookies. The brookies can be so responsive that after you have caught all of the willing takers on a dry, you can often switch to a wet and continue to take fish from the same hole. Of course, some of this might be directly attributed to brookies' tendency to "overpopulate" small waters and the competition that results.

The fascinating thing (to me, at least) is that it's not just a matter of a given weight of fewer but larger browns replacing a nearly equal weight of more numerous but smaller brookies. The reason I put "overpopulate" in quotation marks is that, on this stream, it might be more accurate to say that the brookies are simply more productive. The brookies actually produce significantly more pounds of fish in the same water. Though somewhat smaller on average, they are not stunted, skinny fish. PF&BC biologist reports bear this out: The brown trout water below the falls averages about 90 kg/ha (kilograms per hectare) and the brookie water above the falls averages about 180 kg/ha. (PA Class A minimums are 30 kg/ha for brook trout and 40 kg/ha for brown trout.)
AdirmanSeptember 5th, 2010, 4:37 am
Monticello, NY

Posts: 504
Paul ,MT319. and Gonzo;

Thanks for the replies, all very informative and insightful. Please understand that in no way am I INSISTING that I'm right about my contention regarding brookies/browns catchability. In many fishing situations browns may well be a little tougher to catch than brookies; however, all I'm saying is that in many streams that i have fished, I've seen some pretty spooky brookies where I had to actually crawl up to the side of the stream, gently cast on my side w/o waving my rod around too much lest I spoil my chances. If and when I did spook them, it would take much longer than 5-10 minutes suggested before to get them to resume their normal routine so to speak. On the other hand, I've also fished areas where the brookies behaved more in which you've decribed. I do agree that they're probably a bit more aggressive than browns but I still think the difference is not as much as one might think. Hopefully, I can go out today and fish and come back w/ some observations, either supporting or debunking my position!!
Thanks again,
PaulRobertsSeptember 5th, 2010, 7:24 am

Posts: 1776
Good stuff all.

Aman, no worries, I didn't take it that you were insisting. You made a VERY good and interesting point. You opened the door for a good discussion.

Loyd, I was thinking the same thing when I read MTs post -thanks for that MT -spring creek brookies. I haven't fished them enough to have a bead on the degree of difficulty compared with browns. But I know they are not the "brookies" I'd come to know lol.

As to biomass of browns vs broookies: browns grow faster, get bigger quicker, and rather quickly outgrow the food supply, as it takes more food to maintain a larger individual. You can pack more little brookies into a piece of water, whereas browns reach a certain size and then appear to disappear (usually 12-15 in most waters). They drop out, die, or switch to pursuit hunting. They are not bug eaters any more. (I am sure you know this stuff, just putting it out there to chew on.)
PaulRobertsSeptember 5th, 2010, 8:08 am

Posts: 1776
So...what do you all think about that educated brown rising to an apple core? Why would he do that? I have two thoughts

The thing that made me chuckle about it was that the fish were VERY drag sensitive, as educated fish, especially, are. The work that was cut out for me that day, besides not spooking them, was avoiding micro-drag. And those were the two things that apple had on me LOL!
GONZOSeptember 5th, 2010, 10:19 am
Site Editor
"Bear Swamp," PA

Posts: 1681
Please understand that in no way am I INSISTING that I'm right about my contention regarding brookies/browns catchability.

Understood, A-man, and it would be OK with me if you did insist that pressure and water type are very important when it comes to catchability, because I think that's right. Despite whatever drives real or perceived species differences, it's also good to remember that fish are individuals who sometimes display odd and unexpected behavior--like an educated brown rising to an apple core. (BTW, I once had a little brookie rise 14 times in a row to my dry fly before finally getting hooked. I actually felt bad about hooking him, but I was curious to know how many times he would try before giving up. Now, I'll never know.)

Why would he do that?

I'll refrain from speculation on that one, Paul. For Spence's sake, I don't think we should go any farther down the "fruit fly" road. He doesn't have room in his overcrowded vest for another box of flies. :)
PaulRobertsSeptember 5th, 2010, 10:55 am

Posts: 1776
Ah! Fruit flies! Of course!! LOL I think Spence would have to make his own hooks for those -size 42? Bet Shawnny could take care of that for him.
GONZOSeptember 5th, 2010, 11:34 am
Site Editor
"Bear Swamp," PA

Posts: 1681
I'm sure Shawnny could do it, Paul, in gold no less. However, I'd like to see him try to create his dazzling little "hook signature" on a #42. That would be something like the guy (Willard Wigan) who creates microscopic sculptures out of things like dust or sand grains and paints them with insect hairs. :)
PaulRobertsSeptember 5th, 2010, 3:20 pm

Posts: 1776
Holy Moly! My son will love that.
Shawnny3September 5th, 2010, 10:15 pm
Pleasant Gap, PA

Posts: 1197
What a great thread. Just getting a chance to read it. Thanks to all for some wonderful reading.

I used a Humphrey’s underhand cast –very cool cast

Not sure I know this one. I'm envisioning no false cast, line in the water behind or beside you, using drag to load the cast, then flipping it sidearm at the target. Is that it? If so, it's a really good cast in tight spots. Didn't know Humphries developed that - pretty creative caster, though, so not too surprising.

I actually felt bad about hooking him, but I was curious to know how many times he would try before giving up. Now, I'll never know.)

Maybe you should have clipped your hook off at the bend and strike-and-release fished, Gonzo. That would have padded the fishing logs.

That would be something like the guy (Willard Wigan) who creates microscopic sculptures out of things like dust or sand grains and paints them with insect hairs. :)

That guy is truly inspiring. My favorite part is his having to work between heartbeats. I saw an interview with him once, and he was talking about how he sometimes loses the pieces he's working on. He recalled having worked for a really long time on a piece, only to have it disappear from in front of him. "I think I inhaled it," he said. My favorite, though, was his response to the obvious follow up question - were you frustrated? He said, "No. I just started all over again." Then he added, in his typically dead-serious monotone but without a hint of haughtiness, "I think I may be the most patient person in the world." I try to remember that when I screw up a fly I've been working 30+ hours on. I figure, I only need a fraction of his patience, so there's no excuse to get frustrated.

Ah! Fruit flies! Of course!! LOL I think Spence would have to make his own hooks for those -size 42? Bet Shawnny could take care of that for him.

Be careful what you wish for, guys. I was doing a little gold-work today, as a matter of fact, so I decided to whip up a little fruit-fly hook for you. Just posted here:


Jewelry-Quality Artistic Salmon Flies, by Shawn Davis
AdirmanSeptember 6th, 2010, 4:11 am
Monticello, NY

Posts: 504

Thank you again, for responses all. Very informative and I learned alot!! I especially enjoyed the description of the differences in brown vs. rainbows at the hatchery! Also, somebody mentioned that catchability of species is influenced by spawning behavior. Again, i never really considered that!! Browns spawn in the spring whereas brookies/rainbows in the fall right? any body know how you can find out when fish typically spawn specifically(i.e., dates) on a particular water? That info would obviously be invaluable! Also, it was said that spawners were harder to catch whereas postspawners were the easiest and prespawners somewhere in-between. Any opinions as to that observation?
AdirmanSeptember 6th, 2010, 4:14 am
Monticello, NY

Posts: 504
Oh yeah, I forgot: Like Shawnney3 said, what is the humphrey's underhanded cast?
PaulRobertsSeptember 6th, 2010, 9:20 am

Posts: 1776
I actually felt bad about hooking him, but I was curious to know how many times he would try before giving up. Now, I'll never know.)

Sounds like remote high country brookies and cutts that have NEVER felt a hook, and have short growing seasons. You can prick them with a fly and they will take again! Interestingly, drag is... still a drag -but less so.

The cast:
Humphreys calls it the "underhand lift cast". It's a sidearm cast but you loop your rod hand in a quick, deft, half-circle motion at the end of the forward stroke. The line comes under the rod on the forward stroke. With a tight loop the line and leader come in low and the tippet and fly land delicately. Depending on the power you apply it can be driven under overhangs with variable amounts of slack in the tippet. It's a fun cast to perform and can open up new possibilities. Do it and you'll feel how Joe (or George Harvey) discovered it –fiddling with fly-line, trying to get a fly where he just couldn't get it. Because it’s a sidearm type cast it opens to your dominant side (I’m a righty but working on ambi-dextry) and so is acts like a reach cast to cover drift lanes, like when covering far shorelines, where closer currents are faster. But this cast requires no body movement to get the reach effect. Try it. I think you’ll find it useful. Oh yes, in my mind it requires a fast, or powerful (possibly under-lined) rod. Don’t need no stinkin’ wimpy tip rods here lol.

GutcutterSeptember 6th, 2010, 9:30 am

Posts: 470
huh. i've been making that cast for about 20 years. never knew it belonged to anybody.
when i hired an instructor to teach me to double haul when i started saltwater fishing many years ago, he asked me to cast for him to evaluate my stroke. he watched me cast and then told me that i already knew how to double haul. he just had to help me out with a little bit of timing.
i guess most of us adapt our casting to suit our fishing needs and not to publish articles or books claiming to have invented something.
All men who fish may in turn be divided into two parts: those who fish for trout and those who don't. Trout fishermen are a race apart: they are a dedicated crew- indolent, improvident, and quietly mad.

-Robert Traver, Trout Madness
PaulRobertsSeptember 6th, 2010, 9:40 am

Posts: 1776
Oh I don't take it that he is laying any claims. He's been an angler long enough to know there is rarely much that's completely new. He named it because he was describing it in writing. I used that name, giving him credit, bc that's where I got it.

We all reinvent the same stuff, bc we are confronted with the same tasks, but we also get "new" ideas (to us) and inspiration from others. And I try to give credit to those people that have inspired me.

Browns spawn in the spring whereas brookies/rainbows in the fall right? any body know how you can find out when fish typically spawn specifically(i.e., dates) on a particular water?

Browns and brookies are fall spawners. Brookies Usually go first: Sept/ October. Browns October/November. This is locally dependent on water temperature, and flow levels, thus it can vary a bit. Males get the urge first it seems (and may explain the apple core strike).

Rainbows and cutts are spring spawners. But domestic bows can get either thrown off or carry genes from earlier spawners (long story) -they can be late winter/ fall spawners too.

Oh sht: gotta go -being evacuated -a forest fire.
Flyfsh4lifeFebruary 2nd, 2011, 6:26 pm
Harpers Ferry WV

Posts: 1
Im glad I found a spot where I can read some of your amazing stowies Paul! You can find me here now if you wanna chat trout! Tyler
OldredbarnFebruary 3rd, 2011, 8:45 am
Novi, MI

Posts: 2608
Oh sht: gotta go -being evacuated -a forest fire.

Paul...Paul...Buddy...You kind of left us hanging here...Was everything ok?

"Even when my best efforts fail it's a satisfying challenge, and that, after all, is the essence of fly fishing." -Chauncy Lively

"Envy not the man who lives beside the river, but the man the river flows through." Joseph T Heywood

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