School Of Trout

Todd Tanner has launched a new fly fishing school called School of Trout.  It will be held in Last Chance, Idaho, on the banks of the Henry’s Fork of the Snake River, October 7 – 13, 2018.  His idea is to teach people the skills of fly fishing, in depth, and to go well beyond the usual cursory overviews so common in this sport.  The focus on really learning how to fish—not simply helping people catch a few fish on a guide trip, sets this school apart from others.  

I’ll be participating in the school as the head of casting instruction.  My aim will be to teach and instill good mechanics, and to provide a thorough understanding of the principles of fly casting.  Good fundamentals, an understanding of essential principles, and the additional ability to self-diagnose casting mistakes will provide a solid foundation for any student, allowing them to progress as far in this sport as they like. Todd’s school requires that an application be filled out and accepted.  His website provides all the details: School of Trout.

Firehole Finale: A Big One Comes To Net

The Brown Trout is a Lovely Species

How To Catch A Big Firehole Brown Trout

After a recent blog post, a number of folks have asked me how they might go about catching a big brown trout on the Firehole River.  Seems as though they’re not seeing or catching anything like those I described.  My answer to everyone that asks begins with the question: “How much of your fishing time is spent on your knees?”  Most of the answers I receive hover in the neighborhood of zero.  But I figure that of my own fishing time, around 85% is spent crawling around on my hands and knees.  Without doing that, I believe my own chances of catching a big one (or even many of normal size) are near zero, too.  Note that I’m speaking here of fishing to rising fish; you might catch a big one while standing up if you’re running nymphs or streamers through deep water.  

Big Firehole browns have never been tolerant of violations of streamcraft.  Careful stalking and fishing from your knees is what allows you to get close enough to a fish to make controlled, accurate, drag-free casts.  Brown trout also do not take every natural insect that floats over them.  Far from it.  They rise when they feel like rising, quantity of naturals be damned.  So it often takes a good number of casts before the timing of your drift coincides with the trout’s inclination to rise.  Again, it’s paramount that those casts are accurate, delicate, free of drag.  It will help even further—check that, much of the time it’s essential—to be able to make those casts in the wind.  

Observation and patience are critical factors as well.  You must be willing, if necessary, to wait for an emergence of flies.  You must be willing to wait for fish to rise.  You must be willing to pass on small fish all while knowing there are no guarantees of a big one coming up to feed.  Indeed, you must fish first with your eyes and your feet before you fish with your fly.

If this all sounds like a tall order, know that it is.  But that’s what it takes.  And when it all comes together, I don’t know of a more rewarding Firehole experience.

Firehole brown taken June 8, 2018.

The Heart Of The Matter

A Firehole Brown

Prior to the mid-1980s, fish like this were plentiful in the Firehole River. They’re staging a bit of a comeback now—a result, I believe, of summerkill the river experienced two and three years ago (fewer fish equals larger fish). We’ve caught a fair number of similar browns so far this season. It takes some looking and some good casting, but they’re rising to hatches of Pale Morning Duns. (In the interest of full disclosure, we’ve blown our fair share of opportunities too!)

A Time For Shooting Stars and Rising Trout

The Foundation Of All Certainties

Click photo to enlarge and view on black.

Times Change

The publication of Selective Trout in 1970 (see previous post) permanently altered the selection of dry flies available in fly shops all over the U.S.  This was especially true when it came to patterns designed to closely imitate various species of mayfly.  The waters of the Yellowstone area have long been home to profuse and diverse mayfly hatches, yet it wasn’t until the appearance of Selective Trout that anglers really began tying and fishing better representations of local mayflies.

The picture below is from Bud Lilly’s 1969 catalog, showing his dry fly selection.  Viewed in the light of pattern developments from the last four decades, the flies seem particularly dated.  But 1969 was a different time, to be sure.  We’ve learned a lot about trout stream insects since then.  Today, I wouldn’t wish to be restricted to these flies alone, but if pressed, they would still constitute a workable selection for a fair amount of the fishing in and around Yellowstone.  Two key missing elements would be patterns for Baetis mayflies in size #20 and #22, and a #16 caddis imitation. 

As with Bud’s nymph selection (see two posts ago), I’m struck by the preponderance of large sizes, salmonfly imitations notwithstanding.  #6 Goofus Bugs?  #4 Joe’s Hoppers?  Using such flies today seems like a stretch.  But then, maybe that’s just my post-Selective Trout bias showing through.         


A Prescient Decision

During the years that Bud Lilly fronted his eponymous fly shop, it was considered a mandatory stop for all fishermen coming to West Yellowstone.  His store functioned as a central clearinghouse for fishing information and tackle, as well as a gathering place for every important angling figure, particularly post-1960.  Indeed, everyone visited Bud Lilly and his store.  In his 1970 catalog, Bud devoted a page to Doug Swisher and Carl Richard’s efforts in linking entomology and angling, titling it “Scientific Fishing on Henry’s Fork”.  The end result of Swisher and Richard’s work would be the book Selective Trout, published in 1971, and offered by Bud for early delivery.  Bud also had flies from this new book for sale, tied by none other than Dave Whitlock.

As it turned out, Selective Trout went on to become the most influential and best-selling fly fishing book in American history.  Forty seven years later, it is impossible to overstate the effect it’s had—and still does have—on this sport.  (And thanks to the influence of Nick Lyons, noted book publisher, Selective Trout remains in print today.  For any angling book, but especially an American one, that’s a long life.)

Bud Lilly’s decision to allot a full page of his catalog to Swisher and Richards and their forthcoming book appears, in hindsight, truly prescient.  But even if he got lucky—and I don’t think he did—the atmosphere he and his family created in their shop always put him in a position to be exposed to the people and products that would ultimately prove to be the vanguard of fly fishing as we know it today.  That says a lot about the man.