The head

Monday was a perfect day – but we’ve had a lot of those lately.  Still:  70s, light wind, and a menu of bugs that favor such days: sulphurs, caddis, yellow stones, mahoganies.  I wanted to fish the Holy Waters.  Keep it simple.  Catch some small to medium trout and likely get humbled by just as many.  Play the hatch-matching game for a few hours.  Selective Trout  was born on the Holy Waters.  I fish it because the hatches are plentiful and the better trout are hard.  I don’t fish it because I think I’m going to find an enormous trout head-rising across a silver lit brook trout riffle and my contemplative night of hatch-matching will devolve into a dusky half-hour of cat and mouse that would end, finally, in a heart-challenging hook-up.

Damn.  It was awesome.  

Back at the beginning, sorta.  As has been common all week, when I stepped into the river at 7:30 pm the bugs were rolling – caddis, yellow sallies, sulphurs hatching and, hiding in all that cloud of yellow, mahoganies.  And, as has been common all week, at first the trout weren’t really on them.  But…a size 16 Roberts Yellow Drake was just big enough to interest the few fish that were rising and a few more that weren’t.  It was a good solid start, including a twelve inch brown that ate under a cedar and went cartwheeling out into the open.  

On the second bend downstream I found a nice pod of trout rising in a swift bubble line that rod a hard seam just inches from a log.  In those inches between the seam and log was a half-foot of soft water and the trout were in the soft water.  The bugs had multiplied.  The trout weren’t rising consistently but they were rising enough for me to take their rejection personally.  I tried 6x, 7x, sulphur emerger, mahogany emerger, CDC caddis.  I even tried a floating nymph and a regular nymph.  I did not catch one of them.  I did not even elicit a refusal.  

Finally a good fish rose downstream and I stood, waded down to it, and caught it on my first cast.  So there.  

The rest of that pool was quiet, so I waded downstream further, to the little river flat where I intended to fish the spinnerfall,  I walked around a small mid-stream log jam instead of in front of it.  The log jam sits on the junction between a riffle and the flat, a nice little drop-off that I thought might have a pod of decent trout rising off it at dusk. 

I headed to the tail-out and tried my wits on some flat-water fish.  A teener rainbow.  A teener brown.  And some misses as well.  But I felt good.  This, I thought, was exactly what I wanted out of the night.  There has been plenty of awesome fishing this week.  On Sunday, Holden and I finally got out for an evening rise and he came through on a tough fish that ate at the end of a long cast and an even longer drift.  The last ten days have been precisely as good as the ten days previous were bad.  Not every day or river stretch has been a winner, but when it’s been good, it’s been really good.  Everything is wadeable and the fish are getting back to being used to rising.  This is dry fly season, and this, in my opinion, is some of the most fun and challenging dry fly fishing of the year.  

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Holden with a sulphur sipper that was eating EVERYTHING, apparently…

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Sulphurs, Mahoganies, Borchers Drakes…and a Mattress Thrasher!  

I was grooving on the already good night…when I heard the rise.

It was big, a popping, jaw-snapping rise.  

I hunted up through the glare and found him rising off the little jam I’d walked behind.  His head appeared black in the glare with every rise and like most magnum fish, he wandered as he ate.  And he was a he, a big beaked male brown that was clearly one of the largest fish I’ve cast at yet this year, who wasn’t afraid to graze his way across the lip of that riffle, feeding right to the middle of the run and then returning, at his own pace, to rise within feet of the log jam.  That head, that beak.  I crouched behind the jam and pondered my situation.  6x.  Sulphur spinner.  Upstream cast.  I worked the line out and missed short.  Repeat, but slightly longer.  And third, finally, and the head came out and…the head went back down.  No pop.  No eat.  Refusal.  

Brown bug, size 14.  The head came out…but no eat.  

Another, slimmer, brown bug.  Nothing.  He was gone.

I wandered downstream, figured I’d give him a break.  There were three or four good fish now rising in the tail-out.  I hooked one, a leaper, and the hook pulled.  The pool went quiet.

I waded up to the log jam…and he had returned.  The head was now ten feet in front of where he’d last been.  And now he had a friend, six feet to his left.  A new, pretty nice fish that, on a normal night, would have been a dandy.  But not now.  The head fed left, three successive rises.  I whipped over a #14 spinner.  He refused it, loudly.

Mumbling now…I clipped off the 6x and tied on 7x fluorocarbon and the same sulphur spinner that he’d already refused once.  Now he was rising consistently.  Head, head, head.  Pop, pop, pop.  It shouldn’t be this hard, I thought.  It should be just a cast that places the fly two feet in front of his last rise and in his rhythm.  Picture the fish, I thought, as if you could see the fish itself and not just his rise.  Imagine him sliding back and forth across that shallow riffle, feeding to his right, and again to his right, and centering beneath the ring of his last rise, but not exactly liking the hydrodynamics of the river there, and sliding back to the one rock (that I couldn’t see, but fly fishing does, at times, require a little imagination) that forms a small pillow of water in front of it.  This fish was rising in threes and fours, but the first rise was almost always in the same spot.  He would wander in the course of feeding, a brief patrol of the buffet, but he seemed to start just a few feet from the jam.  That’s the spot.  He’s gone quiet.  Wait for the first rise.  It’ll be right there.

And it was.

The head appeared, and I false-casted twice and dropped it above him.  He fed once, and I didn’t set, and he fed again and I did set, tentatively, but enough to hook him.

He pulled for the jam and I high stepped upstream around the jam, rod angled low and away.  My high-stepping spooked some deer that had been crossing the river above us, and for a moment, between my high stepping and the deer leaping and the fish pulling, that flat water was pretty loud.  The head shakes were slow, and enormous, and I thought just maybe this big old male brown trout might just shake and roll away from the cover and perhaps, with some coaxing, I could lead him to a more neutral stretch of river for us to do a proper battle.  But no.  No!  The hook pulled free soon after.  The river was dead quiet.  A sliver of moon.  And a planet.  What planet was it?   The trout was gone.  It was, on a sulphur and on the Holy Waters, the trout of my dreams.  

My phone buzzed.  Joe from the shop.   

Forgot to bring my keys on our float.  Can you come pick us up?  You still fishing?

Nope, all done.  I wrote back.  Be there soon


This week has been exceptionally good for the hatch-matching crowd and while today’s cold snap put a slight damper on the dry flies it didn’t stop the fish from feeding.  Everything is hatching now.  You can’t beat pre-drakes for variety.  Every good evening produces clouds of spinners in three or more varieties.  Mix in the daily March of the Caddis, the hatches of sulphurs and mahoganies, and the increasing stones, and there’s just a lot to choose from.  My best advice is to go to battle with something that fits squarely between everything.  A Purple Patriot, a Borchers, a Roberts Yellow Drake, or a spinner-y type parachute.  From there, work down until you key in on what the fish are really eating.  I think this sort of fishing will continue through this weekend before all this hatch-matching fun gets absolutely buried by the heat-induced brown drakes and, not too far behind the drakes, the exciting and longer lasting Isonychia.

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Holden admiring the brown bugs that would provide a worthy encore to the sulphurs

As we bounce between extremes, our once high rivers are now low, the fire danger is very high, and we could use the rain we aren’t to get.  I expect to see ever-increasing numbers of March Brown duns and spinners through the weekend (size 14 Roberts Yellow Drake for the dun and size 14 Borchers for the evening), as well as the maddening Bat Flies, the start of the Dorothea (size 18 sulphur) and everything else that tends to lead us into brown drake season.  By next week, this is going to be an evening/after dark game.  For now, we can expect great fishing throughout the day and evenings as the still-cool overnight lows provide the temperature change needed for the spinners to drop.  I plan on savoring every last bit of the brown bug season, which is what we tend to call the second half of May.  It’s been a good one.

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May 27, Garage Sale Donations at Gates Lodge, 9 am – 11 am

Got old fishing and hunting stuff?  Or, old art, collectibles, camping gear, or just some sports equipment?  Think no one would want it?  Think again! Mason Griffith Founders Trout Unlimited needs YOUR donations to make their All Sports Garage Sale a successful fundraiser.  This great event relies on you donating your old sporting gear (fishing, ice fishing, hunting, etc) to them, which they will sell on August 11th at a big old garage sale.

It’s easy, bring all your stuff to Gates Lodge on May 27, from 9 am – 11 am.  Volunteers will remove from your life, and even say thank you!


May 27, The Outgoing, by Thomas Buhr — a book signing!  12 pm – 2 pm

Join us for a big, beautiful May book signing with Thomas Buhr, author of the thriller The Outgoing.  Tom is an excellent fly-fisher, wordsmith and conservationist who spent many years behind the editorial desk of the Riverwatch.  The Outgoing is perfect trout camp fodder.  Trust me.  We’ll have books for sale right at the lodge.  Outside if it’s beautiful, and inside if it’s not.


June 3, R.L. Winston Day, 10 am – ?

If we are synonymous with any rod company, it’s  the R.L. Winston.  Rusty got me into Winstons when I was teenager and I haven’t stopped being into them.  My rod rack glows with green sticks.  Winston has a stellar line-up right now, the best in years.  The throwback Pure, the delightful Air 2, the streamer-winging Air Salt and Alpha.  We will have package deals, giveaways, and a whole bunch of rods for you to test cast.  If you have Winstons on your mind, well, June 2 is the day to satisfy that urge.  Peter Gadd from Winston will be here to help you along the path of the green stick.

Previous Fishing Reports

Trying hard

You have to try hard this time of year — harder now than a few weeks ago.  I got out a few times this week and had a blast.  Yesterday

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A quiet wade

There is a little patch of the South Branch that I consider something like my home water.  It’s not my favorite stretch, but I love it.  As teenagers we used

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