Fisher's weekly update on all things trouty...
I’ve been taking lots of inexperienced friends fishing lately. I love helping people that are new to the sport. It’s exhilarating to watch somebody land their first dry fly fish, or have a technique start to click. It jolts my memories of pulling silver shavings shaped like trout out of a mountain stream as a kid. My joy for fly fishing never wanes, but it has matured. Fishing with beginners puts a mirror to the wonder that is still driving everything I do in the sport. Of course, I treasure fishing with experienced fishermen too. The collaboration, problem-solving, and high-level, technical fishing such a partner brings elevates the experience. It can keep you out of a rut, offering a chance to really flex years' worth of knowledge. It is gratifying to have somebody capable of appreciating what you can do and vice versa. A big fish that you post on Instagram is amazing but the photo doesn’t capture the careful work and study you put in that day, and the years prior, to bring that fish to hand. Plus you can tease fishing partners and tell them they suck at fly fishing.
But last week it was time to get out by myself again. Most of my fishing has been done alone and that solitude is near and dear to my heart. When I am by myself I can fish as hard as I want (or not), without any consideration for others. Now that the salmon fly hatch and the Fourth of July are over, I returned to the Deschutes and was able to fish all day without speaking to another angler. Standing in the water by 4:45 AM, mist rising, sun hours away from touching the surface, I felt joyfully content. And I whaled on the fish; one of my most stellar days on the Deschutes yet.
What really made the day stand out was how many of the fish I landed were large. I landed musclebound fish after musclebound fish, each one pulling harder than the next. I landed my largest Deschutes fish to date. I caught many fish with big heads, the signature of old trout. With the river so low it fished more like one of the smaller waterways I grew up on. The runs are exceedingly legible now, and I was finding fish in all the places they should be.
The majority of my fishing was Euro nymphing although dries worked and I’m sure using a strike indicator would be phenomenal as well. I fished an olive quill Perdigon. I worked it precisely into and around the now visible pockets, boulders, and drop-offs. As my flies came into the spots where a fish should be I often set the hook without any sign of a strike and found this to be very effective. I encourage you to try it. *Deep announcer voice*, And now, for my best tip to help you catch every single big fish in the entire river guaranteed or your money back: effectively and efficiently cover a ton of water.
I would not consider myself to be a great fisherman, but I do catch a lot of fish on the Deschutes, and I think it is primarily because of the volume of water I cover. It's not because of any special thing I'm doing or skill I'm utilizing. If you want to maximize your catch, you need to get technically skilled enough to be able to cover the water in front of you effectively, with a minimal number of casts. For example, if I am working up a shoreline I might put one drift through directly above me, a second out in front of me, and a third at a decent range out from shore, before I take a few steps up. Only three casts and I move. Of course, this is all water, and cast, dependent. If I mess up a cast I’ll fish it again. If I have faith that a fish is present, I’ll fish it again. If there are more pockets I need to pick apart than three casts can manage, I’ll fish it again. And I only take a few steps so every spot is still getting multiple drifts. But I don’t waste time trying to force-feed fish that aren’t eager. If I sat and worked the same nice-looking spot over and over again I could probably make it happen. But that one fish isn't worth it compared to the 4 or 5 I could catch out of 6 or 7 other spots in the same amount of time.
The majority of people I see on the Deschutes take way longer to work a run than I do. It is not uncommon for me to start a run within sight of someone, fish it for a hundred yards, and find that they haven’t moved by the time I get back. This observation is the impetus behind my writing. It’s a simple math problem: continuous movement puts your flies in front of more fish, so you catch more fish.
I don’t want to sit atop my high horse for too long. I’ll most likely get skunked the next time I’m on the Deschutes. And I’m not saying anything new, just a reminder we can all use. Finally, and say it with me now: “there are no rules in fly fishing”. If you enjoy repeatedly working a beautiful spot with a dry fly until you get it just right and the fish finally comes up, by all means. If you only catch five fish but those five are caught the way you most enjoy doing it, then write off my irritating two cents. But people come in every day and ask me for advice on fishing the Deschutes. ‘Cover water’ is the best advice I have. It’s easy to get caught up in the perfection of the spot right in front of you. You’re right, there’s probably a fish in there. It’s a mental skill to be able to put that water behind you. But there is also a fish above and below that one, and you might catch both of those fish if you don’t invest too much time in the picky one right in front of you.