Monday, May 18, 2015

Tips for Catching Bigger Trout

   There came a point in my fishing where I could consistently catch fish.  My casting was pretty good, presentations were decent, and I was hooking up.  I enjoyed it and spent a lot of time on the water.  I learned a ton by slowing down and observing.  I started catching even more fish.  I started tying flies more often and started studying bugs out on the water.  My skills kept improving.  Now, instead of worrying about catching lots of fish, I wanted to catch a trophy fish.  So I started noticing when and where I caught the biggest fish, hoping that one day a trophy would come to hand. 

   That big trophy fish finally came. 

   It was a blistering cold day in February with snow flurries.  After catching a couple fish dead drifting a nymph, I knew it was time to change it up.  My fingers were numb, so I wasn't about to change tippet, so I tied an articulated sculpin pattern on to my 4x (I would definitely recommend heavier tippet for a big articulated streamer).  We were fishing a big, deep, slow moving pool.  I let the sculpin sit at the bottom and gave it 6 inch twitches.  Not long after, I felt the distinctive grab of a fish.  I set the hook, and held on.  The fish I was roped in to wasn't jumping around or running like crazy . . . he just bore down at the bottom of the pool and gave me violent head shakes.  My 5 wt. rod was bent in half.  Luckily, I kept my wits about me and fellow guide and trout bum Jace also helped coach me.  After a few minutes we got the guy to the net, which he filled entirely.  Staring up at me was a handsome male brown trout, taped at 23 inches and approx. 5 pounds.  My arm ached from the fight.

   Since then, I've been lucky enough to land many big fish over 20 inches (known as the "hero" mark).  I've observed and recorded my successes over the years with a special focus on the big fish landed and have compiled the following tips for landing bigger trout from these experiences.  This will enable you to step up your game and take it to the next level.

1.  Don't overlook unproductive looking places and skinny, shallow water
     I've spooked some big fish because I was looking upstream at the next awesome pool and went trekking through unproductive looking water, only to see a big shadow of a fish dart out from behind a rock and disappear.

2.  Throw big flies
     I've heard the debate.  Small flies will catch big fish too, I know this.  I understand.  I've personally caught big fish on small flies.  But hands down, ALL the BIGGEST fish I've ever seen landed have been on big streamers. These include a 23" tiger trout, three brown trout 21" or bigger from the same pool, a 24" cutthroat, and a 24" rainbow trout.  In my 16 years of fly fishing (5 years guiding) I've seem many more big fish caught on big streamers than small flies.

3.  Get off the beaten path
      Pressured fish are much more picky and very unforgiving of mistakes.  If you're not stealthy and/or don't make a good presentation, it's game over.  Finding less pressured water means more forgiving trout and increased chances for big fish that haven't seen every fly in the book.

4.   The biggest fish hold in the the head of the runs, pools, and prime feeding lies
    They're the top dog, and push smaller fish behind them.  Again, I've seen this time and time again in my fly fishing.  I actually expect the fish to get bigger as I work my way up a run or pool.  Just the other week I caught 8 brown trout out of one pool.  I started by casting into the back end of the pool and caught 3-4 fish in the 10-12 inch range.  I started casting further up the pool and proceeded to catch a couple fish around 14 inches.  Closer to the head of the pool I caught a couple nice 16 inch specimens.  Finally, I cast into a fast seam tumbling over some rocks right before entering the head of the pool.  There I hooked and landed the biggest fish, an 18 inch brown trout with solid shoulders, deep colors, and a nice kype.  It was a very healthy male and a great fish for that particular stream.  The biggest fish will stake out the prime feeding lies, so target those.

5.  Know what the fish eat
     Are there crawdads (crayfish, crawfish) in the water?  Then fish something to imitate those.  I guarantee the biggest fish will be eating them.  Are there sculpins in the stream?  Fish those.  Big articulated sculpins are my personal favorite to catch big fish.  Are there a lot of baitfish or minnows?  You better have some flies to imitate them.  Trout are predators and the big ones will attack these food sources with no degree of subtlety.

6.  Take Advantage of the spawn
     Don't fish the redds or walk over them!  We want the fish to reproduce successfully to sustain our fisheries, but during the spawn, trout are aggressive and defensive.  Take advantage by fishing every inch of water with big streamers.  If you haven't enticed an eat within a few casts, keep moving.  I've found the fish strike out of aggression within the first cast or two during spawning season.  If you're getting follows but no eats, switch up the retrieve, and then your fly if you're still not getting strikes.

7.  Fish late evening or early morning
     Again, I've caught big fish all throughout the day, but the most have been landed late in the evening.  By the time evening rolls around, the fish are getting hungry again, and the deepening shadows help camouflage and hide them from predators (this is true for early morning also). This is a great time for hatches as well.  The fish let down their guard a little and eat with more abandon.  Mistakes on your part will be more easily forgiven, offering you much better chances of hooking a large fish.  My father-in-law hooked a huge rainbow trout on a small dry fly at dusk a couple years ago on the Farmington River in CT.  It took him to his backing and took him 30 minutes to get it to his feet. Unfortunately, his net was too small.  As he was trying to get the trout's head into the net, it flipped out and snapped his tippet.  He lunged for the fish but just got a face full of water.  The fish was gone.  It had been as long as his arm.  He called me immediately afterwards and we had a good cry.

8.  Spend more time fishing!
      It's a numbers game.  The more fish you catch, the higher your chances of hooking your trophy fish.  Follow the above tips and spend more time on the water figuring it out, and you'll hook into bigger fish.

21" inch female brown trout that ate a sculpin

Big 22" male rainbow trout
23" male brown trout

21" male brown trout on a streamer

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Blue Halo Spotlight

Blue Halo is a name that by now a lot of us associate with unreal looking fiberglass fly rods.  These rods have such vivid colors that they seem to glow.  These fantastic works of art perform like they look, but how much do we know about the history of Blue Halo? Cortney Boice, president and founder of Bluehalogear, was nice enough to answer a few questions about their company for us and how they got started.

Cortney (Cort) reconnected with an old friend and fellow Idaho native Bo Harding about 4 years ago.  The two shared an interest in wanting to start a business in the world of fly fishing, something they were both passionate about. They soon released a line of fiberglass rods, fly reels, and fly line. In developing their now popular fiberglass rods Cort said, “It took us years to get our rods to where they are now, but we feel like our rods are the best and most beautiful rods in existence.” At Bluehalogear they not only pride themselves for the quality of their products, but for their great customer service, and credit this for giving them the edge over other companies. About their rods Cort said, “The translucent look and soft buttery feel of the rods just makes you smile when you cast them.  Even better… hook up on a fish with one and feel every head shake.”

There are 9 different colors of rods to choose from now and they continue to develop more. They offer 3 different rod sizes including: 7’6” 3 piece 3 weight, 8’ 3 piece 5 weight, and 8’6” 3 piece 7 weight.  You can purchase pre-built rods that start at $300, and rod blanks that start at $150. The rods all have lifetime warranties. Though fiberglass is more durable and less susceptible to fractures like graphite and carbon rods, it is still nice to have the confidence that your rod is backed by a solid lifetime warranty.     

In my brief interaction with Cortney Boice I gained a lot of respect for Bluehalogear and where they are going as a company. Not only does he have one of the sweetest beards in the business, but Blue Halo is a quality company with lots of passion that is here to stay in the fly fishing world. Go check them out at to pick up a rod, line, or some Bluehalo swag. 

Friday, April 10, 2015

Tacky Fly Box Review

  This review was done by our friend and fellow guide Bryan Hunt of Spinner Fall Guide Service. 

Tacky Fly Boxes

                Tacky fly boxes are, dare I say, a “game changer”. It’s not by any means the revolution that the Fenwick graphite rods were in the 1970’s, but in my opinion, the tacky box is the best innovation in supportive gear in a while. By supportive gear I am talking about the items that supplement the fly fishing experience. Some of these tools are extremely useful while some just take up space. There is a good deal of hype surrounding this little box right now. Will it just take up space or will it be the fly box you can’t bear to be without?

                I was given an original tacky box for Christmas and I was instantly sold. The materials used in construction, its simple yet tough design, and room for a shit ton of flies, make for the best box on the market. Here is a link to the original tacky box:
First, I will start with my only negative criticism. Using it in the winter with tiny size 20 and smaller midge nymphs was not easy. Its already dreadfully cold, fish are lethargic, the guides are icing up, and fingers go numb. So trying to get obscenely small nymphs into any fly box is a challenge. This is a problem not exclusive to tacky boxes. Once they were in though they didn’t get lost in the slit or fall out. In other words the material was temperature stable and consistent. Winter fly fishing is just a painful process, physically and mentally.
So now onto what I love about the box! Yeah I said love, I am unashamedly a gear whore so...
I am tough on my gear. I would not say abusive, but well used. For instance, I like to fish with a 3wt. and fly box with no other tools. I put the tacky box in my back pocket and sat down on a rock to make some adjustments to my flies and forgot about the box. I felt it hit, and hit hard. I thought it would be toast. But to my surprise it was fine, a small scrape in the plastic but no cracks or broken hinges. It looked far too pretty to be that durable. Now I was really impressed.
The impressive look of the clear front are not only for aesthetics, but allows identifying which flies are in your box without having crack a hinge.  After hard use I scratched the plastic a few times, yet I can still clearly identify my flies, as you can see in the pictures.
The box holds an impressive 168 small to medium flies. After having used the box for four months the patented slit silicone holds as good as new. That being said, I can even take a larger ant pattern and replace it with a tiny nymph and it holds fine. And we all know what happens to foam after a big bug is used in a slot. Especially when flies are going in and out. I have ripped my fair share of foam taking flies out.  With the tacky boxes, material memory and breakdown is negligible. I think that this will be true for years to come.

In the pictures you may be able to see a triple-double (similar to a double renegade), it is a size 12. For dry flies of size 12 and lower the hackle fits in the box with plenty of clearance. Tall size 12 flies may smash. This box is designed for small to medium sized flies, it is not meant for streamers or large terrestrials. So if you are looking for a box that will hold all of your flies, this is not that box. If you can get one box to hold all of your flies, then you need more flies.
I would recommend the Tacky Fly Box to fly fishers of every skill level. Flies are expensive in either time and materials or just plain expensive so having a good box to protect that investment is a must. The Tacky Original Fly Box costs $25.00, which is a really good deal for what you are getting, hell for any decent fly box I expect to pay at least $20.00. I am going to invest in a few more of these in the months to come. When they come out with a streamer and boat box, you better believe I’m going to get those as well.

Bryan Hunt

Green River fly fishing guide

Spinner Fall Fly Shop

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Simms Headwaters Convertible Waders Review

      Last spring Simms announced their new lineup of products.  Among the bulletproof offerings was the supposedly new and improved Headwaters waders.  They were now convertible from chest high to waist high waders and sported a 3 layer GORE-TEX Pro Shell technology. I probably can't explain the Pro Shell as well as Simms, so here's the link  It basically says the Pro Shell is the most rugged, durable, breathable, and waterproof material they have.  I haven't ever owned Simms waders, but as a fly fisherman and guide I definitely know their reputation.  My apparel of choice, since our fly shop is an Orvis dealer, has been Orvis.  My waders and boots were nice Orvis products, but were a couple seasons old and were showing some battle scars.  I lost one such battle to a willow that punctured the seat of my waders and, consequently, my pride.  So I was hunting for the next pair of waders to abuse.  Friend and fellow guide Jace Adams had been rocking a pair of Simms G3 Guide convertible waders that were bombproof.  They were at least four years old and going strong.  This is quite a feat knowing Jace because he's harder on his gear than anyone I know.  In that same time I can think of at least 3 pairs of wading boots he annihilated, but his waders are still great.  I was also jealous of the fact he could change his waders on the fly from chest high to waist high waders.  This was the biggest selling point for me.  We walk and wade a lot of small creeks (actually, none of the rivers we guide on are big enough to float) and rarely wade higher than our waists. We work up a sweat hiking up and down creeks all day long.  The ability to change my waders to help my comfort level became a top priority.  The Simms Headwaters were available March 2014.  I bought my pair in May and called it an early Father's Day present.  My wife loved that.
      Well, I've ruined myself for life.  I warned my wife that I was ruined after one busy week during the summer.  I was busy most evenings fishing the (huge) green drake hatch and had done three guided trips too. And for the record, when brown trout are keying in on size 10 dry flies, you have to fish!  After crawling and scrambling over rocks, up and down river banks, and plowing through thorns and thick vegetation that whole week, I realized my waders weren't even scuffed!  Seriously, it was incredible.  The waders were very comfortable and actually a joy to be fishing in. Especially since I wore them as waist waders during the heat of the day and then chest highs once the sun started to set and the temperature dropped.  I have no problem wearing them all day long, traveling to and from the river.  That has never been the case before.  And after almost a year of fishing and guiding, the waders are still remarkably clean and completely waterproof with no pin holes or leaks.  This is why I've been ruined for life.  Once you've owned the best, it's hard to settle for anything less.  It's like the time my friend showed up at my house in a brand new luxury Jaguar XJ and let me drive it . . . I thought I had broken something when I sat down and it automatically adjusted my seat for me to the optimal driving position based on my height. And apparently the car remembers each person's custom setting for the next time . . . the car was so powerful, yet silent and smooth, that I now compare everything else to it.  This is what my new Simms waders felt like. All my other waders were fine and did the job, but not with the same comfort and quality.  The cost of the waders scared my wife upfront, but now I see that the investment is well worth it.  I expect to get at least 4 years of use out of these, like Jace and his G3's, but most likely they'll last even longer.  My Orvis waders lasted two years before letting water in along the seams like busted water main.  The two pairs of waders I owned before that only lasted a year each.  So in three out of four years I had to purchase new waders.  I can already tell that won't be the case with my Simms.
       The waders are backed by Simms' ironclad warranty and I have no problem endorsing these waders.  The $400 is steep up front (trust me, I understand, I'm a married college student with 2 kids) but the investment is worth it.  The conversion from chest high to waist waders is simple and easy.  They have a small zippered chest pocket for a few small items; the belt system is heavy-duty and tough, and the the waders are very durable.  Just by handling them you can tell they're sturdy and well crafted.  They look good too! I'm a Simms fan for life now and can say with pride I've been ruined in the best way.  At least I'm not buying Jaguars . . . yet.