I’ll See You in Boise

On January 10 and 11, 2020, I’ll be in Boise, Idaho, presenting programs at the Western Idaho Fly Fishing Expo. The expo is a yearly event put on by the Boise Valley Fly Fishers, and it features presentations by well-known fly fishermen and fly tiers from around the country. On Friday, January 10, I’m scheduled to do a casting seminar at 3:30 p.m., followed by a slideshow at 5:00 p.m. On Saturday, January 11, I’ll be casting again at 10:30 a.m. and presenting a slideshow at 4:00 p.m.

My casting seminars will focus on sharing what a fundamentally sound casting stroke looks and feels like, and showing easy fixes for some of the most common casting problems. If you want to know how to straighten out your line, leader and fly on every cast, how to prevent wind knots, and how to cast in the wind, be sure to stop by. My slideshows will be part photography workshop, part fishing talk, with a focus on the Yellowstone area.

It’s been a while since I last passed through Boise, so I’m looking forward to seeing many old friends and familiar faces again. If you can make it to the show, please do. I’ll be looking forward to seeing you.

A Brown Trout Quirk

For the past several seasons I’ve been spending much of my fishing time pursuing brown trout. Free-rising brown trout. While so engaged I’ve been reminded countless times of a feeding quirk particular to this species.  It’s this: Brown trout react to food according to their own whims and fancy, completely independent of its presence and abundance. Surround them with a good hatch, spinner fall, or stonefly flight, and brown trout might feed readily, might feed haphazardly, or maybe not at all. Give them the sparsest of hatches and it’s possible for every brown in the river to be on the fin, taking anything that drifts nearby. You just never know.     

Other trout species don’t act like this. Rainbows, cutthroat, brook trout—they all exhibit feeding patterns that pretty much correlate directly with the availability of food. When food abounds they can be counted on to eat it, and eat it well. When food is sporadic, so too is their feeding. But not the brown trout; they feed according to their own schedule. (A Henry’s Fork rainbow can be fickle like this too, but still fails to rank in the same class as a brown.)

What implications does this behavior have for fishing? For one, it suggests that patience is often going to be a key to success. Don’t give up too soon if fish aren’t responding early in a hatch. Brown trout can take what feels like forever to come on to a hatch. Even then, they frequently give the impression that rising is something of a bother, practically more trouble than it’s worth (uh, easily acquired, abundant food? Who cares?).

This quirk of feeding also means it’s important not to pass judgment too quickly about your choice of fly or its presentation. Just because a rising fish fails to take your first cast (or fourth, tenth, even thirtieth) doesn’t mean anything is wrong. Your fly may very well be right, your presentations perfect. Doesn’t matter. Brown trout rise when they’re good and ready.

Success then, at least for me, usually depends on figuring out the feeding rhythm of a given fish. Browns will often rise multiple times in succession and then go down for a period of time. This holds especially true for the largest specimens. Observing how many rises occur in each go-round, the interval between those rises, and the length of time the fish goes down for will help you plan your casting. Naturally, you want your fly covering the fish at the most opportune time. And, stating the obvious, the execution of all other elements of your presentation must be done well too.

I know that this sort of planning and fishing is not for everyone. That’s okay. But if you’re drawn to brown trout like I am, particularly rising brown trout, paying attention to their feeding behavior is more than just an interesting sidelight.  It’s essential to their capture.

“Float Fishing”, from Howitt

“Trout and Grayling”, from Howitt

“Fly Fishing”, from Howitt

211 Years Old And Counting

In the annals of fishing literature, the cover of Samuel Howitt’s The Angler’s Manual has to go down as one of the all-time greats. Having recently had the opportunity to peruse a copy of this book, Howitt was right—there’s nothing here to despise. The book is brief at a mere 28 pages, the text completely unremarkable, but that’s of no concern. The twelve etchings with which the author “embellished” the book more than make up for the text.  They’re nothing short of exquisite. But you can judge that for yourself; I’ll post pictures of some of the etchings in the coming days.      

Click to enlarge image.

Two Views of Black Butte

A Student’s Perspective

Hearing feedback from students at School of Trout is interesting to all the instructors, as it informs our individual and collective teaching approaches.  I lead all the casting instruction, and in the perpetual work of refining my own understanding of how best to teach fly casting, I especially welcome hearing any commentary from our students.

Here’s a link to an article about School of Trout, written by a student from October’s class:https://www.hatchmag.com/blog/what-i-learned-school-trout/7714929?fbclid=IwAR20-Lk4qYNuz789ZIYSt-M0pq5jeQg0E8AGHVUAC3fHTTqv9vZFNQVkgaQ  

Above:  School of Trout students dissect the casting stroke of Tom Rosenbauer.  (Their assessment, by the way, was that Tom’s stroke is mechanically sound.)

A Development Worth Noting

Just recently, the West Yellowstone Public Library was gifted an extensive collection of angling books, amassed over a lifetime of collecting by their late benefactor, Herb Wellington.  Tucked away in one of the thirty-plus boxes was a copy of the 1910 two-volume limited first edition of Frederic M. Halford’s Modern Development of the Dry Fly.  Readers with an historical bent will know exactly what that means—yes, it’s the edition that contains, along with the text itself, thirty-three actual flies, numerous color plates, and a fabulous collection of tipped-in photogravures.

The entire edition of this book consists of a mere 50 copies, which were available for sale only in the United States (a separate run of 75 was printed for sale in England).  Our library’s copy is #17. Extraordinarily rare book that this is, it’s unbelievable to have a copy available for perusal in a small-town library such as ours.  Many of the most significant institutional collections of angling books in this country lack this work (Montana State University, for example), and it surely assumes center stage in our library’s ever-growing angling collection.

The evolution of dry fly fishing as we know and practice it today took place in Victorian England.  Frederic Halford, serious angler and prolific author, is generally credited with codifying and setting in print the philosophy and practice of dry fly fishing that involves imitating hatching insects and casting those imitations to rising trout.  The 33 flies mounted in the pages of Modern Development (tied, of course, to imitate English chalkstream insects) constitute the final selection of Halford’s storied angling career.  They are the antecedents of the very flies we fish today.  Pretty powerful stuff, I reckon, and well worth a look for all serious fishermen.


                                                  Spines of volume I and II, bound in calfskin.
                                                                       Title page/frontispiece.

   One of 18 photogravures in the book.  The Oakley Stream is a tributary of the Test at Mottisfont; Halford was part of a syndicate here for a number of years.

Keeping a few fish and recording their weights is a traditional practice still taking place in England today.

Another beautiful river scene. Plate of Mayflies.  The English Mayfly is the equivalent of the eastern Green Drake in the United States.
Iron Blue Duns are a species of Baetis mayfly.
Flies number #29 and #30 are caddis imitations.  #30 lost its hackle at some point, probably to moths.  

The lineage of many of the caddis patterns we use today can be seen in these sedge patterns. 

Dissolving the Subject-Object Duality