American Angler March-April 2019 Edition

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Craneflies / March Browns / Marble Trout / Grayling



WYOMING! ~Off Grid

in the high desert



Carter “Big Boy” Andrews life long passion of fishing and guiding in freshwater BIO: and saltwater both fly and conventional. This passion has lead me around the world in the pursuit of some of the greatest game-fish known. Now I tell these stories though my show, The Obsession of Carter Andrews. TARGET SPECIES: Well, just about all of them. GUIDED ANGLERS TO: from Trout to Marlin and everything in-between BOAT: right now its a SeaVee 270Z FAVORITE FLY: Any one that Drew Chicone ties…actually my fly boxes are loaded with custom flies. There is no substitute for the quality that you receive. Here’s to all the great custom fly tiers out there, go support them FAVORITE RIVER/WATER:Deadman’s to Moose, Snake River, Jackson Hole, WY FAVORITE TYPE OF FISHING: Any kind I am doing with my girls FAVORITE FISH: The next one FAVORITE SAYING: Muddasick FAVORITE NAUTILUS REEL, WHY: The NV Monster. When you are dealing with giant fish, the ones you would be using this reel for, you want to have confidence in what is in your hand. The Monster gives me that. BEST DAY FISHING:There have been so many and for different reasons but if I have to pick one it was December 2016 in Mag Bay and there were so many Stripe Marlin on bait balls that you could just pull up beside them and cast your fly, strip it out and get bit. There was no bait and switch. It was free casting to free swimming Marlin all day!!! BIGGEST FISH EVER LOST:There have been a few Yellowfin Tuna that were well over 200 that should have never been cast to DREAM DESTINATION: I have to pick just one? WHO WOULD YOU LIKE TO GUIDE ONE DAY?: Kristen Mustad WHERE CAN WE GET YOUR AUTOGRAPH?: on every check I write WHEN NOT FISHING: I’m on the farm with the girls feeding 40+ animals WHAT DO YOU LIKE BEST ABOUT NAUTILUS REELS?:The fact that they are involved and promote conservation efforts not to mention the fact that it is a premium product AND ONE TIME A CLIENT: used my bait well as a toilet NAME:


Nautilus ® NV Monster



W Y O M I N G : All Roads Lead to Trout

32 WYOMING VAN LIFE Wyoming’s Bighorn Basin offers some of the best trout water in the West . . . if you can get around the grizzlies to fish it. —Jeff Erickson

42 WHERE OIL AND WATER MIX The North Platte flows through Casper and provides endless opportunity for browns and rainbows. —Jen Ripple

44 CAST AND DASH Ice-out at the Laramie Plains lakes means racing from one reservoir to another, shooting for a 30-incher. —Phil Tereyla

46 TRICKLE TROUT There are secrets to be had in thin water. —Ralph Scherder

50 THE CRICK STICK The author heads to an overlooked stream with Scott’s new F-Series in-hand. —Miles Nolte



At these eco-friendly lodges, it’s not all about the money. Instead, anglers learn about Sami culture and sustainability . . . while targeting big grayling, northern pike, and brown trout. —Jess McGlothlin

58 FISH DEALS Inherent difficulties when “guiding” as trade-out. —John Gierach

Image: Barry and Cathy Beck teamed up for a shot of this nice brown on Montana’s Bighorn River. The Horn is still kicking out good numbers of fish, but not as it did in the “old days.” For more on the Horn, see page 17.

Cover: Brown trout can grow big on Montana’s Bitterroot River, as evidenced by this solid fish that came to the surface during a sparse, spring hatch of bluewinged olives. Joe Cummings image,



Departments MARCH/APRIL 2019 • VOLUME 42 / ISSUE 2 Image: Montana’s Blackfoot River is on the rebound, and in places, anglers can hike in for some great options on native cutthroat trout. The only problem with that equation is you have to hike out.


Temagami brook trout, Utah’s colorful Diamond Fork, Kamchatka Dollies.


Slovenia’s elusive and sizable marble trout. —Rasmus Ovensen


From Alaska to the Yellowstone to the Ozarks and beyond, moonshine has its place. —Ryan Sparks


Two fish dogs earn their stake at a British Columbia steelhead camp. —Darcy Bacha


The Bighorn River Alliance fights for one of the world’s great trout waters. —Joshua Bergan


The cranefly may not be easy to fish, but it pays dividends when trout are keyed in on this big bug. —Boots Allen


Prepping for the early-season March brown. —Dave Hughes


Edgar Diaz and Sight Line Provisions. —Chris Santella


Beavers can be good for trout habitat, but too many of them can be really bad. —Ted Williams


Trash on our streams and the stories it tells. —Dick Donnelly


Blue-collar life, blue-collar fish. —Nick DelVecchio


The author lands an upper Columbia monster under watchful eyes. —Scott Sadil





SIGNATURE by Greg Thomas


’VE ALWAYS ENJOYED HUNTing high-country mule deer and started doing so in Washington State’s Cascade Range when I was in high school. When I moved to Ennis, Montana, I started hunting whitetail deer instead, and have pursued them for the past 15 years. Around Ennis, that was a challenge, mostly due to a lack of public land. So, when a friend invited me to hunt private land along Montana’s Rocky Mountain Front, I gladly accepted. That’s when I met Tom Evensen, a longtime Choteau, Montana, resident who served as our unofficial “guide,” schlepping us from one piece of private ground to the next. These areas included about four miles of river bottom habitat, adjacent to highly productive cropland. The deer were numerous, some of the bucks were large, and by the time we’d decided to fill a tag on Mr. Big, we may already have passed up 50 lesser bucks. We had the same type of setup for upland birds—Tom took us to super productive fields, dropped us at one end, and drove to the other, where he would “block”—meaning he’d shoot at any pheasants we pushed his way. Like us, he loved watching dogs work those birds, which is why he always had a Labrador by his side, often riding shotgun in his old, white Chevy pickup truck. Tom had access to great land for two reasons—he knew everyone in the area and he was respectful and fair. He held daily court at the town’s social hub, a little café simply called “the Deli.” When sitting at the Deli, everyone was quick to acknowledge his presence, usually via some good-natured ribbing. Tom easily accepted those jabs and was adept at the counterpunch. Knowing my Western Washington roots, Tom usually introduced me as an “invasive species.” Tom’s true passion was fly fishing. During most of his life, he worked as a self-employed earthmoving contractor and a dryland wheat farmer. The way I understand it, he pretty much built the Big Sky and Teton Pass ski resorts. His knowledge of heavy equipment led to many side jobs, including building private 4 I AMERICAN ANGLER

lakes and ponds. On many of those waters, Tom stocked and managed trout populations. Of course, Tom invited me to fish those lakes, which I did as often as I could, but never often enough. The trout fishing was off-the-charts good—his favorite lake grew Kamloops rainbows to 15 pounds. My friends and I weren’t the only ones who benefited from Tom’s generosity; any chance he could, Tom took friends and family fishing. I was scheduled to fish with Tom last spring, but changed plans when I got free VIP tickets to a Taylor Swift concert at the

Rose Bowl. I couldn’t have named one of her songs, but my daughters could—I called Tom, and he said, “Take those girls to the concert. We can fish another time.” I got that chance in October. Tom drove me to a shallow end of his favorite lake, pointed to a channel between two weedbeds, and said, “Over the years, I’ve caught more fish there than anywhere else.” We offloaded his pontoon boat; he said, “Good luck,” and then climbed back into his truck to munch on a York pattie, watch me fish, and take a nap . . . not necessarily in that order. I hadn’t fished five minutes before I got the first strike. Tom knew his lakes and he knew those fish. Unfortunately, Tom’s health deteriorated last fall. In November, just after Thanksgiving, he passed away at 88. At the funeral, I watched a steady stream of family file in, including his wife, Fava, five children, 17 grandchildren, and 15 great-grandchildren. I drove home after the funeral, thinking this: His name isn’t in the record books; you never saw him on TV; and he never won any conservation awards; but when you look at a man’s track record, and place an emphasis on encouraging people, young and old, to fish, you’d be hardpressed to find a better outdoor mentor than Tom Evensen. The question is, who’s going to replace him? —Greg Thomas





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OUT THERE Location: Temagami Wilderness, Ontario, Canada Target: Brook trout Note: In September, right before the end of trout season, I explored northeastern Ontario for healthy, wild brook trout. With Erik Fenkell, from Temagami Outfitting, and the rest of our team, we drove through a maze of logging roads to the headwaters of Lady Evelyn Provincial Park. We hunkered down in the van for a day due to massive thunderstorms, but finally paddled to a remote camp. The next day we found the fish, some of the most beautiful wild brook trout you’ll ever see, all colored up in the fall phase. These weren’t all giants, but each was a treasure. Specs Camera: Canon EOS 5D Mark III Lens: 35 mm f/2 IS USM Software: Capture One 11 ISO: 160 SS: 1/4000 AP: f/2.5 WB: Manual Photographer: Gabriel Bizeau-Regis,





OUT THERE Location: Central Utah Target: Brown and cutthroat trout Note: This shot was taken in early April on central Utah’s Diamond Fork River while exploring for brown and cutthroat trout. It was a perfect, cloudy day with light rain and should have been textbook weather for streamer fishing. As always, trout do what they want, and the fishing was a little tougher than it should have been. In this image, I caught up with my buddy Brandon Collett just before he was around the next bend. I love the contrasting red rocks and greenish water, so I used a wide-angle lens and polarizer to create contrast and get the colors to pop. Specs Camera: Canon 7D Lens: 10–20 mm wide-angle f/4.5 @ 125 ISO: 400 Photographer: Jeremy Allan,





OUT THERE Location: Savan River, Kamchatka Russia Target: Dolly Varden Note: Kamchatka’s Savan River is an extraordinary rainbow trout fishery. The river is, in effect, a giant spring creek, and its gin-clear water teems with wild rainbows that are as aggressive as any saltwater species. In addition, the Savan has a strong run of Dolly Varden char, and these fish offer fantastic sport on light single-hand rods and switch rods. Big streamers, like Dolly Llamas, get smashed by these fish, especially when swung across the current. These fish run to good size, meaning 20-plus inches with regularity, and fight hard in the Savan’s strong current. Photographer: Matt Harris,





Travel FEW FISH OFFER AS MUCH MYSTERY AND ALLURE as the marble trout. A shadowy and elusive apex predator growing to more than 50 pounds, this fish is the uncrowned king of the Balkan region’s beautiful, emerald-blue mountain rivers. Not surprisingly, it is among the most highly sought after fish for European anglers. Catching one, however, isn’t always a simple matter. I first visited Slovenia 15 years ago. I was completely unprepared for what awaited me. The country, with its ancient Roman cities, majestic backdrops, and a plethora of rivers, was prettier than I’d imagined. Having little clue of how to approach the gin-clear waters, I didn’t catch anything out of the ordinary. But I did catch my first marble trout. And that fish has kept me coming back. What I find so fascinating about the marble trout is its ability to seemingly vanish. It is a master of camouflage and spends most of the day hidden from view, below massive boulders, cascades, and undercut banks. However, when everything falls into place, and conditions urge the marble trout to feed, it suddenly transforms from a phantom into a reckless predator. Watching one of these fish materialize out of nowhere to inhale your fly is fascinating. And landing one is magical. Recently, I visited Slovenia again, this time a decidedly more experienced and self-confident angler than I was 15 years ago. Having landed more than a handful of 10-pound-plus marble trout, and a few pushing 16 pounds, I knew what to do. This time, however, I found myself in new territory—on a river that proved different from other waters I’d fished. Squeezed onto a small ridge draped by overhanging branches, I came across a fish in deep water toward the opposite bank, some 25 meters from my observation post. There, it was hovering like a ghost, along a depression in the riverbed, surrounded by cold and translucent water, with the sun and a green canopy above it. It took a lucky roll cast, careful mending, and a size 20 Pheasant Tail Nymph, tied onto a 20-foot-long leader ending in 12 I AMERICAN ANGLER

a 7X tippet, to facilitate the eat. The fight was nerve-racking; at one point, the fish came close to breaking me off on a submerged tree. Somehow, though, the stars aligned—the tippet held and the 13-pounder ended up in the net. It was spectacular, a fish way bigger than I’d initially estimated, and to have caught it on such light gear, with two good friends, Jure and Matej, by my side, made for an unforgettable moment. Marble trout have an unparalleled ability to camouflage themselves. In fact, they can easily change colorations according to their current habitat, surroundings, and activity levels . . . and surprisingly fast. For instance, marble trout that dwell along the bottom, under boulders and cut banks, usually display very dark colorations along their backs with broad, black stripes along the flanks. Marble trout that hold in the open and actively feed are usually bright yellow with iridescent marbled patterns and, sometimes, discrete red spots. Anglers may experience marble trout that change coloration during the fight. Marble trout are closely related to brown trout—close enough that the two hybridize and produce offspring that aren’t sterile. Brown trout aren’t endemic to the Adriatic Sea drainages, however. Like rainbow trout, browns were introduced in a wealth of different riversheds across the Balkans. Marble trout hybrids are very common—especially in Slovenia—and are usually spectacularly decorated with a mixture of big black and bright red spots, and haloed marbled patterns along their backs, heads, and cheeks. If one disregards the Danube salmon, which is considered a primeval trout species, the marble is the biggest trout in

The author hoists the reward for his effort, a sizable marble trout.

Europe. There are unverified reports of specimens up to 66 pounds from Bosnia and Herzegovina, and from Slovenia there are several well-documented reports of fish up to 55 pounds. Among these is a fish caught by an Italian fly angler on the Soca River in 2009. It measured 47 inches and weighed an astounding 49 pounds. Because they predominantly inhabit cold mountain streams, marble trout tend to grow relatively slow. To compensate, WWW.AMERICANANGLER.COM

Pursuing Slovenia’s Marble Ghost

they can grow very old—possibly up to 20 or 30 years. Marble trout can be found in a large number of cold and oxygen-rich Adriatic Sea drainages in the mountainous reaches of Italy, Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Montenegro. They are abundant in Slovenia’s Soca rivershed, but generally speaking, they are under a lot of pressure. The species is threatened by hybridization (genetic polWWW.AMERICANANGLER.COM

lution) because of widespread stocking of nonendemic trout species, increased fishing activity, pollution, and habitat destruction. For instance, there are plans to build five new dams on the Neretva River in Bosnia and Herzegovina; this may prevent marble trout from reaching their spawning grounds. The same, sadly, goes for a vast number of rivers in Slovenia and Montenegro. I’ve traveled all over the world in pursuit

of trout, but there are few places I return to religiously. One of those places is Slovenia. It’s a mesmerizingly beautiful country that is well connected to the rest of the world. Its climate owes as much to the Alps as it does to the Mediterranean Sea, and its turquoise rivers are among the most breathtaking in Europe. All of that, however, is just an added bonus. The real attraction is the marble trout: One of the biggest salmonids in the world. —Rasmus Ovensen MARCH/APRIL 2019 I 13



Eats & Drinks

Light of the

Moon MOONSHINE SHANDY Note: You can substitute Everclear, high-strength vodka, or any of the gimmicky liquors that claim to be “moonshine,” but to me that just takes the fun out of it. Ask around. You probably know a guy who knows a guy. Lemonade Moonshine 2 quarts (8 cups) water 13/4 cups white sugar Enough lemons to make 11/2 cups lemon juice, plus extra lemons to slice and place in each jar Moonshine to taste Quart Mason jars Cheap beer of your choice (think Olympia or PBR) Directions: 1. In a large pot, bring the water to a boil and pour in the sugar, stirring until dissolved. 2. Let the sugar water cool in the fridge while you juice the lemons. 3. When the water is cool, add the lemon juice. 4. Slowly add cups of moonshine, tasting as you go, until the mixture arrives at your desired strength. If you want to get fancy, you can use an alcometer, a device that measures the strength (or proof) of alcohol. You are aiming for somewhere around 80 proof or 40 percent alcohol. 5. Top off your quart jars, placing several lemon slices in each jar before sealing. 1. Drink some of the beer. 2. Refill the can with lemonade moonshine. 3. Repeat . . . if you dare.


WHITE LIGHTING. MOUNTAIN DEW. HOOCH. MOONshine—this clear and powerful beast of a liquid goes by many names. I call it dangerous. In fact, after a rowdy night when a mixed batch of outdoors people gathered around a bonfire—and spiked their drinks straight from a still—I nudged my limp-bodied neighbor awake. He groaned from the front porch of a cabin near Bozeman, Montana, rolled over, and asked one question: “What the hell was that stuff?” That gave me pause; coming from Missouri’s Ozark hills, my family has a good deal of experience with what my grandfather calls white mule. So that’s what I told my friend. “I get it,” he said, rolling back over. “It kicks like a mule.” Moonshine has a long and storied history in the United States. From George Washington to Al Capone to Popcorn Sutton, Americans have been making and consuming homemade spirits since the country’s beginning. Do a little research, and you quickly realize this high-octane spirit is as American as apple pie and the Fourth of July. When I was a poor graduate student and a Montana fishing guide, its cost and potency were highly esteemed. For the price of a few bags of sugar and corn, I made gallons of liquor from which we concocted everything from rise and shines (moonshine and orange juice) to crowd-pleasing moonshine shandies. Moonshine was our way of showing that while we might be poor, we were also resourceful. Despite moonshine’s being legal in the United States since 2010, there was a collective feeling we were doing something dangerous and slightly outside the law. After one of my best friends graduated with a fisheries science degree, he moved to a small island off the coast of Alaska to work as a hatchery technician. Anyone who’s spent time away from the Great Land’s population centers knows the absence of booze and the opposite sex weighs heavy after a while. To remedy his pain, friends and I shipped him several jars of moonshine disguised in a box of cookies, with a fake return address. If anyone discovered the contents, “Grandma Dolores” was in trouble. Out of three attempts, two made it, but only one intact. The broken package arrived dripping wet and reeking of alcohol. When my buddy cut it open, it was full of booze-soaked chocolate-chip cookie mush. He tried some anyway. The term moonshine comes from Prohibition, when illegal distillers went about their business under the light of a full moon. We joked about going large scale and opening our “Light of the Moon Distillery.” Of course, the idea was just a pipe dream, and even if it hadn’t been, not far away in Ennis, Montana Willie’s Distillery started producing its own moonshine-style liquor that tasted as good as anything we could make or find, although it lacked the concussive gut-rotting power we were used to. Some of my fondest moonshine memories (an oxymoron for sure) came from lazy summer floats down the Yellowstone River—three good friends, joking and telling stories, half watching their foam hoppers through blurred vision, ripping into anyone if they missed a fish, and innocently sipping cold moonshine shandies in beer can camouflage. It felt as if we were all in on a secret—what was in our cans, what fishing should really be about, and how good life was in the moment. —Ryan Sparks WWW.AMERICANANGLER.COM






Fish Dog

IT’S SAFE TO SAY WE’RE PRETTY tight-lipped when it comes to where we fish steelhead in Canada. If you spend as much time as I and few friends did while finding the prime places—when nobody’s willing to help out—that elbow grease becomes something we won’t give away either. Canada’s rivers and the steelhead that swim up them each fall are a precious resource, and if you want in, you’ve got to earn it. The problem with that is this: I love sharing incredible water with friends. Luckily, my friends welcomed Finn, a border collie, and Adi, an Australian shepherd,


to the crew, these dogs now having fished with us in northern British Columbia for a couple years. And the only things they demand? A perch on the pontoons, a front row to the steelhead fights, table scraps, and the occasional taste of 10 Barrel’s cucumber beer, shared here by angler Chris Nolte. Inviting dogs on the water, versus more sticks, is a pretty good compromise—I know these two won’t tell anyone where the juice is. Having dogs as companions on big trips isn’t just good for the soul. They’re the first to sound the alarm if a critter

arrives in camp, or comes up behind while fishing the river. And the critters in northern British Columbia can get pretty big—we see grizzly bears and moose on occasion, and any hint that signals these beasts are near is helpful. In fact, I had a moose just about walk over my tent this year while camping in the bush, and the only thing that turned it around was Finn’s frantic barking. The next morning I could see where the moose’s tracks spun a 180 about 15 feet from my tent. I heard it when it crashed back into the woods and gave the dog a pat on the head.” —Darcy Bacha



BY JOSHUA BERGAN MONTANA’S LEGENDARY BIGHORN River ebbs and flows like any fishery. Currently, however, it’s experiencing hardship owing to a Bureau of Reclamation policy that keeps Wyoming’s Bighorn Lake, the source of Montana’s Bighorn, too full to accommodate excess water. That, at times, forces too much water into the Bighorn and elevates flows. But the Bighorn River Alliance is pushing back. I spoke to executive director Anne Marie Emery about it. Q: What has the BHRA done to push back against the flow/reservoir levels issue? A: In January of 2018, the Bighorn River Alliance launched its first public campaign, titled Save the Bighorn to bring

public awareness and policy change to overly conservative reservoir management practices that are negatively affecting the Bighorn River in Montana. From this campaign, the Alliance has garnered support from the Montana Fish and Wildlife commission, the agricultural community and U.S. Senators and Congressmen to pressure the Bureau of Reclamation to review operating criteria. Q: If things do not change regarding the flow issues, what could happen to the river? A: Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife & Parks concluded in their 2018 Bighorn Report that high flows, as seen in 2017 and 2018, do not support the fishery, as increased temperatures, turbidity, and channel scouring were observed. While 2018 trout population estimates on the upper Bighorn remained relatively stable to 2017 counts (3,000 trout per mile), the lower Bighorn

revealed the lowest trout count on record, with just under 500 trout per mile. Q: In other news, I read that the BHRA is working with Patagonia to help engage kids of the Crow tribe. Why is that important? A: The wild trout fishery of the Bighorn River is located entirely within the Crow Tribe’s reservation jurisdictional boundaries. Since 2015, the Alliance has teamed up with Patagonia to increase Crow tribal youth involvement with their reservation waters through a program titled Tenkara with the Tribe. This program connects tribal youth with their local reservation waters through the positive form of recreational fishing, while also teaching the kids about stewardship and the importance of their river (and) culture. Check out BHR’s video, The Bighorn: A River at Risk, at

New: Trout Bugs Tied in Maine Fished Everywhere WWW.AMERICANANGLER.COM

207-452-2343 MARCH/APRIL 2019 I 17



Guide Flies

Cranefly Trout are on the lookout for the protein-packed cranefly.

ASK ANY FLY FISHER WHICH BUG they prefer to imitate, and Tipulidae, the cranefly, is likely low on the list . . . if it’s on the list at all. Reasons are many. Cranefly larvae and pupae are rarely evident, even with an intense subsurface search. Adult behavior doesn’t offer a realistic chance for replication. The cranefly’s chaotic hovering is flat-out difficult to imitate—when these bugs actually touch the water, it’s always for mere milliseconds. And, there’s that seemingly short shelf life at the wrong time of year; adults are most active when water temperatures peak, during a few weeks in late summer and early autumn. Still, it’s worth putting a little effort into understanding these bugs and how they may influence your fishing. Why? For one, they exist almost everywhere trout reside—from the Pacific Northwest to New England. And, like most aquatic insects, their larvae are available to trout year-round. If you’ve seen a grub or maggot squirming with gusto, you can imagine something 5 to 10 times that size and the attraction it might represent for a trout. The trick is to get your imitation to dance, and that presentation is best accomplished with a short cast and a short line. Too much line on the surface creates both unnatural drag and substantial surface tension. The idea is to keep the fly moving. At the same time, you don’t want a significant wake behind your pattern. Too much wake equates to too much surface tension. High-sticking your rod and constant twitching are the best approach. Going with patterns that have the right silhouette 18 I AMERICAN ANGLER

Will’s Crane Fly Perfection

HOOK: TMC 200R, or equivalent, sizes 6 to 10. THREAD: Rust 8/0. THORAX (VENTRAL): Rust 8/0 tying thread. THORAX (DORSAL): 1 mm closed-cell foam in gray, tan, or brown. RIB: Tying thread. ABDOMEN (VENTRAL): Rust 8/0 tying thread. ABDOMEN (DORSAL): 1 mm closed-cell foam in gray, tan, or brown. LEGS: 4- to 6-pound chameleon monofilament. HACKLE: Grizzly. WINGS: Gray or tan Microfibetts banded with black prism marker. HEAD: 1 mm closed-cell foam in gray, tan, or brown.


(including proportionately sized legs and wings) and are tied so that the fly hardly touches the surface also helps. Dornan’s Crane Fly Perfection and Keller’s Crane Fly are two imitations that do this best. Imitating an adult cranefly on the surface is one thing; imitating a cranefly’s hovering movement is another. There is one technique, however, that accomplishes this presentation, whether intended or not. I saw it work almost 20 years ago while fishing Montana’s Madison River. A fly fisher was working a long dropper nymph off an unproductive cranefly adult. While she was casting to an undercut bank, the nymph snagged on overhanging vegetation. While the angler attempted to free the nymph with up-and-down rod motions, the cranefly adult repeatedly landed on the surface, then quickly rose above it. The woman did not recognize it at the time, but this action closely mimicked the hovering movement of a natural. It was enough to draw an authoritative strike from a healthy brown. The fish was hooked briefly before throwing the hook. The dropper was lost, but it was one of the more exciting situations she and I had witnessed on a trout stream. I have used this tactic dozens of times over the past several years, particularly on technical streams like the Madison, Wyoming’s Flat Creek, and parts of Idaho’s Henrys Fork. By no means does it work every time. Nor does it always result in a hookup. And the trailing fly is often lost. Nonetheless, if you snag a dropper on the opposite bank, and use that technique, you might see something you never expected. More predictable results are had when fishing cranefly larva and pupa imitations. Only over the past decade have I begun paying attention to these subsurface lifeforms. I identified one on the Teton River in 2009. Since then, I have found them on just about every piece of water I guide. Early subsurface cranefly patterns were almost exclusively tied on straight-shank hooks. Size, color, and silhouette were easily replicated. Imitative movement, on the other hand, just wasn’t there. While WWW.AMERICANANGLER.COM


HOOK: Tactical jig hook or equivalent, sizes 4 to 10. WEIGHT: Tungsten bead in gold or gunmetal ABDOMEN: Tip from microfiber wash pad in tan, cream, brown, or chartreuse, trimmed to desired length. VEIL: Angel Hair or long-fibered Ice Dub in pearl, silver, or root beer. COLLAR: Hareline Dubbin’s Hare’e Ice Dub in peacock, olive, gray, or caddis green.

these patterns still work, modern versions tied with an extended abdomen perform much better. None is more effective than the Mopscicle, the abdomen of which is composed of mop ends, and moves freely in the current when dead-drifted. The going argument is that craneflies are active for about two months—generally August through September—in most areas of North America. Take that with a grain of salt. I’ve observed adult craneflies well into October and popping as early as late June in the Rocky Mountains. These bugs could be present for five months on some western streams. A number of fly fishers plying eastern waters contend a five-month window is the norm. The larvae, of course, are always around (although not necessarily in great numbers). I have observed just as many in the dead of winter and early spring as I have in summer and autumn. Their imitations can be fished all year and on a variety of water. Larvae even work on lakes in late autumn. If you think fishing craneflies is just a crapshoot, remember that they are a big, meaty protein pack, whether found above or below the surface, and that’s a tough offering for a trout to turn down. —Boots Allen

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HATCHES by Dave Hughes

Opening the Season with Western March Browns


HE FIRST DAY I FISHED Oregon’s broad and placid Willamette River with entomologist Rick Hafele, our guides were artist Richard Bunse and photographer Jim Schollmeyer. We were gathering our forces and, along the way, what information we could, in preparation for the long task that became the book Western Hatches. The weather was typical of early spring: we launched the drift boats in a rainstorm, were blown sideways downstream by a windstorm, turtled our heads into slickers against a violent hailstorm, jammed hands in our pockets to keep them from going numb. About lunchtime, sunshine shoved the clouds aside, turned the world bright and serene, caused birds to sing. We emerged and faced a sudden decision: eat lunch or go for our fly rods. Big brown mayflies boated the gentle currents where rain had so recently hammered the surface. A pod of trout

cavorted among them, taking duns down to death with greedy rises. We had no trouble deciding what to do about it. Two hours later, we sat in the boats, rain and sometimes hail beating down again, nibbling at soggy sandwiches. But that was fine. By then, like the trout, we were sated by the March browns. The western March brown hatch consists of two species, Rhithrogena morrisoni, distributed along the west coast region from middle British Columbia through California, and R. hageni, ranging from Southern Alberta along the entire western side of the Rocky Mountains. Their populations overlap, and they’re so similar that entomologists can tell them apart only by the shape of the male penile parts. Trout don’t own microscopes; you can use the same set of patterns to imitate either species. March browns are insects of moderate to large river systems, rarely important on small streams. Their nymphs belong to the flattened clinger group, which means they typically live in the briskness of

The western March brown dun is a pretty insect, with brown mottled wings and a body that tends toward tannish olive on the underside. They’re large, size 12 and 14, and trout feed on them greedily.



riffles. I’ve fished them on gloomy spring days on the Henrys Fork of the Snake, in riffles upstream from the flat Railroad Ranch. Greg Thomas reports them in Rock Creek on warm spring afternoons. Rick and I got into a heavy hatch on the Bitterroot in a snowstorm so severe that trout refrained from rising to them. My best fishing over the March brown hatch happened on the Deschutes during an hour-long April cloudburst, surrounded by trout sending spray into the air in their eagerness to eat them. They’re most common on mature valley systems such as the Willamette and Yakima, where they begin emerging in late February, peak sometime in March and April, taper off at higher elevations into May and on rare occasions early June. The March brown hatch is fished in three parts, but they’re not the normal mayfly succession of nymph, dun, and spinner. Instead, they’re the pre-hatch, emergence itself, and post-hatch. It’s critical to remember that while the nymphs are clingers, and hang out their yearlong lives among riffle rocks, when it comes time to emerge, they migrate to the nearest smooth water, upstream onto tailouts, more often downstream onto flats, or toward softer water at the edges of those home riffles. The duns almost always emerge on quiet flows. It seems nymph imitations would work during the migration to emergence, but I’ve never had success with March browns in that stage. I’d like to hear from you if you have. Instead, I fish the daily pre-hatch period, an hour or two before the expected noon to two o’clock appearance of the first duns, with a size 12 March Brown Spider soft-hackle, a March Brown Flymph, or most often the two of them a couple of feet apart on the same leader. If boating, I’ll keep a long rod set up for what I call Davy Wotton wetting, named for the best wet fly fisherman I’ll ever meet. Davy guides on the White River in Arkansas. His DVDs are titled Wet WWW.AMERICANANGLER.COM

Fly Tying and Wet Fly Ways. His standard is a three-fly setup, but due to ineptitude in casting, I usually catch more fish by using just two, spending less time tangled. The rod for his method is 10 or 11 feet long, somewhat soft for open loops, balanced to a 4- or 5-weight floating line. If you’re wading rather than boating, rig one or two wet flies on the same dry fly rod you plan to fish during the central part of the hatch. Swing those wets through the riffles, on downstream into the runs, and even out onto the smooth flats, as slowly as you can cause the flies to creep. Make lots of mends. Don’t allow the speed of the drift and swing to exceed that of an insect able to swim feebly at best. Takes to wets will often be soft. Watch your line for any subtle change in angle. Lift slowly to set the hook gently whenever you suspect a trout is out there molesting your offering. Don’t yank or you’ll either jerk your fly away from the fish or break it off if it’s a big one. When the hatch begins, you’ll have no trouble spotting the size 12 or 14 duns, or the bold rises with which trout take them. That’s what makes the March brown hatch so interesting: it’s the first insect of some size to emerge in the early spring season. Remember to watch for those rises on the nearest gentle water to the riffles in which the nymphs live, not in the riffles themselves. Because the duns emerge on smooth water, you want imitations that lower the body into the surface film. I was once in Bob Borden’s The author with a rainbow trout that took a swung wet fly during a western March brown hatch.

Effective imitations for western March brown duns show the body of the fly in the surface film, not perched upon hackles. They include (from top left) March Brown Quigley Cripple, March Brown Parachute, and March Brown Sparkle Dun. Pre- and post-hatch periods are best fished with (from bottom left) March Brown Spider and March Brown Flymph wet flies.

office, when he owned Hareline Dubbin’. Some youngsters came in with gorgeous traditional March brown dry flies dressed with full hackle collars. “Those are pretty,” Bob told them. When they were gone, he said to me, “They’re not going to catch anything with such high-floating flies.” Bob’s March Brown Parachute, in size 12 or 14, has the perfect profile of the natural. The March Brown Sparkle Dun also shows trout the correct silhouette. A March Brown Quigley Cripple might be necessary on waters that are heavily fished. Pattern is usually not as important as presentation. If you’re fishing upstream, and the pod of

trout you’re casting to keeps edging away, move off to the side and use the crossstream reach cast, or take a position slightly upstream from the trout, and show them the fly ahead of the line and leader with a downstream wiggle cast. The March brown hatch lasts an hour or less on sunny days, two hours or longer on darker days. When it trickles off, or comes to an abrupt end, the post-hatch period begins, and it’s fished with the same wet flies that worked in the pre-hatch hours. Trout will feed, though not always visibly, as long as a few drowned duns clutter the currents. You might get in an extra hour, sometimes even two or at most three of them, with your swung wets after the last duns have disappeared from sight. By the time your take on wets dwindles, you’ve already fished the pre-hatch and the emergence for several hours. It’s time to float out, look for bald eagles, ospreys, and herons nesting in cottonwood trees that are just beginning to leaf out. Nature is getting restless when March browns begin to hatch, which might be the best thing about them: they’re a sure cure for your own restlessness after a long confining winter away from water. Dave Hughes is author of Handbook of Hatches and Pocketguide to Western Hatches, both by Stackpole Books.




STYLE by Chris Santella

Edgar Diaz and Sight Line Provisions


ARD-DRIVING FLY fishing guides and wandering trout bums are generally overlooked as bellwethers of fashion. But check out your guide’s or angling buddy’s wrists, and you might notice a handsome leather cuff, emblazoned with a distinctive laser-cut metallic trout, the work of Austin-Texas-based Edgar Diaz and Sight Line Provisions. It was a mix of passion and pragmatism that led Diaz to Sight Line. His early artistic ventures were sculptures— primarily cityscapes—fashioned from aluminum cans. After relocating from Orange County, California, to the Texas Hill Country, Diaz began making one-ofa-kind leather bracelets decorated with found antique pieces. This led to the establishment of his first company, Vintage Ware by EMD. It also helped foster his

evolution from artist to designer. “The pieces I was creating with Vintage Ware were very satisfying,” Diaz said. “But it was becoming a challenge to find interesting objects to work with. And I wasn’t always able to express my vision. It was more an exercise of working to highlight the qualities of the object I’d found.” Diaz made the rounds of juried national art festivals to sell his pieces, and would take on the occasional commission. But he longed to develop a line that could be sold through retail outlets, which would allow him to make a living by staying at home and not be dependent on the constant traveling of the art festival circuit. Enter Sight Line Provisions. Edgar Diaz and his Texas-based Sight Line Provisions bring modern flair to fly fishing. His works are treasured by anglers, whether they are salt addicts or spend their time chasing freshwater species.

“People have asked me if I was inspired to start Sight Line Provisions by a deep love of fishing,” Diaz continued. “That wasn’t really the case. From a young age, I’ve always felt a close connection to the outdoors. Growing up, my family did a lot of camping around the L.A. County area, and the occasional trip to the Sierras. I always loved fishing, but I used mostly conventional gear. I’ve really embraced fly fishing in the last few years and I’m all in now, thanks to all the great people I’ve gotten to know in the industry. But if you were to give me a cold beer, a sunny day, and a spinning rod, I could be happy casting for any kind of fish.” Initially, Diaz imagined Sight Line Provisions as a brand for people who enjoyed the outdoors. “But that market was so vast, I realized I needed to focus on a smaller segment,” he recalled. “I turned toward fly fishing because of my love of




the sport. If I’m going to start something big, I figured I might as well have fun doing it. One of the main challenges was bringing the price point down to where the cuffs could be sold at retail. I’d been selling leather cuffs at a premium price point for some time. I felt that if I could talk to someone one-on-one about a particular piece, the sell was easy. I needed to create a simplified object that any shopkeeper could sell.” Given the demands of the market, it was natural for Diaz to focus his first designs on trout. Though he hails from the land of redfish, gar, and Guadalupe bass, fashioning a trout die was not a difficult stretch. “Since I was a little kid, I’ve been obsessed with trout,” Diaz shared. “They seemed exotic; there aren’t too many around Orange County. To be in a small stream with a 4-weight, discovering deep pools and casting to rising trout—that’s an ideal scenario for me.” While the Trout 2.0 and Dry Fly 2.0 designs continue to be best sellers, Sight Line offers 30 different designs, including tarpon, bonefish, redfish, and permit. “People are always asking me to develop designs for other species,” he added. “It’s fun to do, but they’re probably not going to sell like the trout stuff. To keep retailers—over 95 worldwide and counting—in product, Diaz has hired assistants to help create his handsome cuffs, which retail between $50 and $110. “My first assistant came to me through a friend. She had no experience working with leather products, and I had never had anyone working with me—so it was a clean slate. My art studio [which is housed in a converted garage on the property] morphed into a design and production studio. I taught her what I knew about working with leather, and she developed some of her own techniques. She and another new assistant are making most of the cuffs now. As an artist, you’re stubborn. You develop an aesthetic and stick to it. It’s been an adjustment going from being a maker to a supervisor and businessman. We’re trying to make WWW.AMERICANANGLER.COM

money and to meet deadlines, but I do my best to keep things light and fun in the studio.” Building off its success in the fly fishing community, Sight Line Provisions will be expanding its line in 2019, by focusing on the Lost Cast Collection of bronze cast badges in more outdoor-oriented styles. Though business—plus the duties of parenting two teenagers—keeps Edgar Diaz jumping, he still finds time to wet a line. “Living in Texas, there are rivers and lakes everywhere,” he said. “If I need to get a quick fix, I can go two miles away and catch a couple sunfish or bass. And I’m only an hour from the southernmost

trout fishery in the United States, the Guadalupe River. I can leave home at five thirty a.m., get a solid two or three hours of fishing in, and be at the studio before eleven a.m. I get to fish more than many, though there have been times since I started Sight Line when I haven’t fished for three months. I take it when I can get it.” In 2019, Diaz will head a bit farther south to trout-fish—namely Jurassic Lake in Patagonia. “Anytime I’m out fishing wearing one of my cuffs, I’m extending the brand. Though I have to say that I didn’t even try to spin this as a business trip to my wife. It’s a fishing trip.” MARCH/APRIL 2019 I 23


CONSERVATION by Ted Williams

Thinking Like a Trout Stream


O FREQUENTLY DO WILDlife advocates quote Aldo Leopold’s essay “Thinking Like a Mountain” that it has become a cliché. So I’ll condense as much as possible: Leopold describes a mountain, rendered wolfless by humans, on which all edible vegetation has been “browsed, first to anaemic desuetude, and then to death . . . every edible tree defoliated to the height of a saddlehorn” to the point that “it looks as if someone had given God new pruning shears, and forbidden Him all other exercise.” He suggests that, “as a deer herd lives in mortal fear of its wolves, so does a mountain live in mortal fear of its deer.” But the broader lesson is lost on most of the public. A case in point is its inability to accept biological realities of beaver overpopulation. The causes of ecological damage by deer and beaver are identical. Wolves, the major predator of both species, have been extirpated or severely reduced in most deer and beaver range. Heavy logging in deer and beaver range has replaced poorhabitat old growth with deer and beaver candy such as aspen and willow.

Beavers in natural abundance have usually been good for native ecosystems, trout included. In much of the Pacific Northwest, beavers are depleted, and managers are rightly attempting recovery. This from Bill Bakke, founder of the Oregon-based Native Fish Society: “Beavers got sacked in the 1840s. Mainly it was the English trying to keep Americans from coming here for pelts. Hudson’s Bay Company sent out work parties to exterminate beavers. They haven’t fully recovered, and they’re still being trapped. We’re trying to get the agencies to recognize that beavers enhance both fish and water quality.” “God bless beavers and their industrious nature,” writes Trout Unlimited’s Idaho-based Chris Hunt in Hatch magazine. “They make habitat for the fish we love, and opportunities to catch them.” “Beavers . . . create reservoirs of cool water that salmon need to survive,” report the Northwest Treaty Tribes of western Washington State in a news release titled “Beavers Relocated to Improve Salmon Habitat.” Such assertions are accurate in Oregon, Idaho, and Washington, at least

on most high-gradient streams. But when they’re cited as alleged evidence that all beaver populations are great for all species in all states, they’re flat wrong; and they hurt the cause of native ecosystems. Do a Google search for beavers and trout, and almost all you’ll find are effusions about the alleged value of beavers everywhere and excoriations of fisheries managers who attempt to modestly control gross irruptions. For years, the only leg-hold traps legal in my state of Massachusetts were water sets that drowned beavers. But in 1996, voters approved a ballot initiative outlawing all body-gripping traps, water sets included. By the early 21st century, our beaver population had quadrupled. Since then, the state’s beavers have declined because they’ve stripped away so much forage, but they’re still overpopulated. Benthic organisms, such as aquatic salamanders, mussels, crayfish, insects, and hibernating frogs and turtles (some imperiled) die when dams are ripped out by flooded property owners. These days, animal-control agents are called in to “humanely” remove nuisance beavers.




After the beavers are terrorized all night in live-capture traps, they’re clubbed to death and usually landfilled. We’ve converted a resource to a pest. Now, in what were some of my favorite wild-trout streams, where I used to stand on clean gravel, catching brookies, I slog through scat-festooned silt, catching fallfish or nothing.


ut beaver blight in the East is mild compared to that in the Midwest. Angler/photographer Len Harris of Richland Center, Wisconsin, describes the pre-hangover high that comes with the discovery of a new beaver pond: “It’s smile-producing at first because of bigger trout. But the flooding cycle cleans out that dam and all the barren bank. The streams widen and increase in temperature. . . . My home waters have Left to right: Manual beaver-dam removal on a low-gradient brook trout stream in northern Wisconsin; restored coldwater habitat after removal of the dam; Wildlife Services explosives specialist prepares binary charge for removal of a beaver dam too big to breach by hand.


warmed by at least four degrees in the last twenty years. This is from a combination of beavers not being kept in check and climate change. Warmer water, resulting gill lice, and resulting competition from brown trout have stacked the deck against the natives. Humans need to limit beaver expansion near our brook trout streams. Thankfully, a new regime is in place in Wisconsin as of 2019. Science will be back on the books, and our DNR will once again be staffed with caretakers of the streams, not climate-change deniers.” Wisconsin fisheries biologist Scott Braden weighs in as follows: “We pay [USDA’s] Wildlife Services to trap beavers and remove dams in trout streams that have been badly compromised by beavers. We’ve seen great success on the few streams we’ve targeted. We’d like to do more, but the price is so high, we can’t.” When I asked Braden for an example, he offered Beaver Creek and Buckhorn Springs. “They were really beaten up by beavers,” he said. “There was some brook trout reproduction in the headwaters. But they couldn’t get downstream; they were basically gone. All that was left were dark,

sedimented backwater sloughs full of lily pads. It was just terrible. We were walking through chest-deep muck. It really gave you an idea of how much damage overpopulated beavers do. After Wildlife Services trapped beavers and removed dams, that cold water started rushing downstream and scoured out all that muck and debris, making lots of habitat. Within two years, there were just thousands of brook trout throughout the system.” Bob Willging, Wildlife Services’ district supervisor for northern Wisconsin, reports that in 2018, his agency breached 565 Wisconsin beaver dams by hand and blew up 109 others. “The program really takes a very small percentage of beaver in the state,” he explains. “Most northern Wisconsin trout streams are small, narrow, and have a low to moderate gradient, which means a beaver-dam system floods hundreds of acres of low land, basically inundating the original stream channel. Consequently, dams on these systems may have a much greater impact on flow than a dam in the West, where the gradient is much higher. Flow is aided by elevation. So this very real impact on stream flow



can result in warmer water, increased siltation and turbidity, and actual water chemistry changes. . . . Beaver are given free rein on eighty-five percent of Wisconsin’s ten thousand miles of designated trout streams, plus all of Wisconsin’s lakes, ponds, and warmwater streams.” In northern Minnesota, wolves have fully recovered, but beavers have gotten far ahead of them; and with the unnatural abundance of forage, it appears they’ll stay that way. Recreational beaver trapping used to help a little, but it essentially ceased 10 years ago when pelt prices tanked. “Forest management here is geared toward aspen, and the rotation is about forty years,” reports Minnesota fisheries biologist Jeff Tillma. “That means there’s lots of young aspen on the landscape, and that creates prime beaver habitat. Also there’s a lack of shade and large woody input in the streams. Wood isn’t allowed to get old. The trees beavers cut down are so small, they don’t stay put. We’d like better coordination between forestry and fisheries for longer-lived, uneven-aged management. Our beaver management is small scale because of the expense. We do only a handful of streams in each area, and we do them annually. If we stop for any length of time, beavers return. We’ve seen very encouraging results—more and larger brook trout.”


n Wisconsin and Minnesota, as in Massachusetts, concerned citizens

have proved they can make a difference. They’ve also proved that this isn’t always a good thing. Citing accurate but irrelevant data from the far West, they savage Midwest beaver controllers, especially Wildlife Services, which, because of its predator control, they perceive as a terrestrial extension of the underworld. Then, too, non-anglers rarely see fish. Fish are silent, cold, slimy. So for most of the public—including a large element of the environmental community—fish don’t count as wildlife. This is why critics of beaver control invariably proclaim that restoring brook trout, a species endangered in fact if not by official decree, is solely

about increasing fishing opportunity. Herewith, a sampling of comments on sundry websites: “I personally am of the Let Nature Take Its Course school of thought and think many trout fishers here are a bunch of whiners”; “They kill and shitcan thousands of beaver and persistently drain wetlands to make it easier for duffers to fill their creels”; “The thought of how much damage is done culling beaver in the name of fishermen pisses me off”; “When humans get their hands on the naturally evolving environment, they always screw it up even more”; “Wisconsin’s beaver dam policy reminds me of a Naval Sea Systems Command policy from the 1990s: ‘Pull up the tree to see how the roots are growing.’” Watershed Guardians, Inc., submits this advice: “One prudent course is to contact Wisconsin’s U.S. Senators and Representatives and request they defund Wildlife Services.” “Fish Fervor Destroys Beavers,” shouts a piece titled “Wisconsin’s War on Nature” Top: Here’s a Wisconsin beaver dam warming and silting a coldwater habitat and blocking brook trout spawning access. Note the stripped vegetation and erosion on the right bank. Bottom left and right: Beaver ponds can increase trout growth, but on low-gradient streams south of Canada and Alaska, like most of the ones in the Midwest, habitat degrades as overstory is removed, water warms and silt accumulates. Within a few years, trout disappear. Note the siltation at the outfall of the dam on the left.



in Beaversprite magazine: “Since 1985 the Wisconsin Dept. of Natural Resources (WDNR) has waged a successful campaign to wipe out 70 percent of the state’s beavers for the declared benefit of trout fishermen.” (WDNR has eliminated no such percentage, and it has “wiped out” no system.) Beaversprite goes on to assert that “Beaver co-evolved with salmonids making improbable an essentially negative relationship between these organisms.” Managers hear this claim constantly. Willging’s response: “While beaver and brook trout may have occurred in the same North American regions for millennia, it does not mean trout have any evolutionary adaptations to survive in warmwater environments or to overcome the blockage of a beaver-dammed stream. Also, coldwater stream ecosystems are not just about brook trout, they can be very complex systems rich in species diversity. . . . They often provide refuge for many species from higher temperatures, flooding, and predators. They provide habitat for many unique species, including insects, mollusks, crustaceans, amphibians, and fish. Unfortunately, these coldwater systems are declining in the United States, and in many areas the sustainability of native brook trout populations is in jeopardy.” In the Duluth, Minnesota, area, a group called Advocates for the Knife River Watershed is fighting beaver control on the Knife system, citing all manner of inapplicable studies from the far West and making such preposterous claims as “beaver have been totally eradicated in the whole Knife River valley, over 200 square miles.” “There are a lot of people in our organization who really value the beaver ponds as something that attracts wildlife and increases biodiversity,” the group’s chair, Corlis West, told the Lake County News Chronicle. “Not just beavers, but for moose and mink and waterfowl and frogs and turtles.” “They [beaver ponds] provide special habitat,” added retired University of Minnesota Duluth geology professor John Green. “They’re wildlife magnets for breeding and migrating birds. All kinds of wildlife like them, and people enjoy those.” West and Green are not wrong. But even with beaver control, there is more beaver-created wildlife habitat on the Knife WWW.AMERICANANGLER.COM

system than before Europeans arrived and one hell of a lot fewer coaster brook trout moving up from Lake Superior. The Knife is one of the state’s most important steelhead streams; and, while beaver control benefits native coasters, most of the work is aimed at opening blocked steelhead spawning access. Advocates for the Knife River Watershed charge that the DNR and Wildlife Services are sacrificing a native species for an alien. Does it have a point? No. Because no one is “sacrificing” anything. Beavers are still way overpopulated in the watershed. And while steelhead are indeed alien to lake and tribs, they’re an important, self-sustaining resource adored by anglers and a boon to the state’s economy.

the 1990s, when the Humane Society of the United States whipped up the public to the point that politicians shut down the program. The state hasn’t been willing to step back into that fray since. But eight years ago, Nevada committed to restoring native trout in historic ranges—primarily federally threatened Lahontan cutthroat but also Bonneville and westslope cutthroat, bull trout, and redbands. “When that push started,” reports the Department of Wildlife’s former conservation educator, Kim Toulouse, “we discovered that many single-order streams were infested with heavy beaver populations. Extremely high numbers of beaver dams led to loss of gene flow and precluded the ability of fish to move up and down these systems. Additionally, fish

All the noise has prompted DNR to back off a bit, but some beaver control continues. Duluth Area Fisheries Supervisor Deserae Hendrickson offers this: “Funding is extremely limited, so we’ve had to target very specific mainstem areas in the Knife and Blackhoof–Nemadji watersheds that are critical for migratory fish.”

had difficulty finding suitable spawning grounds due to heavy siltation caused by the dams. The loss of riparian habitat led to erosion, more siltation, less shade, higher water temperatures, loss of native riparian vegetation, and establishment of noxious invasive plants. In some cases, increased sunlight has allowed establishment of nonnative submerged vegetation like Eurasian milfoil.” On Nevada’s Truckee River, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is trying to recover salmon-size Lahontans that migrate up from Pyramid Lake to spawn. Toulouse, who lives within a half mile of the Truckee, fishes it regularly. It’s overrun


almonids benefit from beavers in much of the West; but beaver irruptions are nuking lots of coldwater habitat even there. Consider the situation in Nevada. To save imperiled trout, the Department of Wildlife was taking out a few beavers until



with beavers—bank dwellers because the mainstem is too big for dams. “On a number of reaches, beavers have decimated the entire cottonwood population on both banks,” he says. “That has removed shade and insect populations, primarily terrestrials. Replacing the cottonwoods have been mainly [nonnative] invasives like tall whitetop. It’s very difficult to treat. It takes over everything, and it releases a toxin that prevents the spread of natives.” On California’s Silver King Creek, in the Carson-Iceberg Wilderness of the High Sierras, the Paiute cutthroat was being hybridized off the planet by alien rainbows. The only tool to save this rarest of North American salmonids from certain extinction was rotenone. This organic piscicide, applied at 50 parts per billion, is so short-lived that it can lose toxicity in an hour. It has never permanently affected an aquatic ecosystem except to restore it. The court battles that blocked Paiute recovery for a decade provide more evidence that fish don’t count as wildlife for most of the public. These lawsuits were based entirely on imagined, fictional dangers of rotenone. Rotenone, argued a host of individuals and environmental groups, would kill everything in or near the stream, including beavers. They further alleged that rotenone’s single purpose everywhere it is deployed is to benefit “recreationalists,” who, in this case, supposedly couldn’t wait to run 15 miles uphill into wilderness to catch eight-inch trout. 28 I AMERICAN ANGLER

Providing pro bono representation to these litigants was the Western Environmental Law Center, which wrongly proclaimed in a press release (yet to be retracted) that rotenone “does not just kill the fish in the water but the entire ecosystem, including turtles, snakes, frogs, birds, terrestrials, insects and other animals that live in or drink from the poisoned water.” (Rotenone harms nothing with lungs. Even most aquatic insects survive, and the few that don’t are replaced in weeks.) Paiute recovery would have failed had not managers of the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the U.S. Forest Service facilitated uninterrupted flow of rotenone by removing beaver dams. A few days after the 2015 treatment, the beavers, which hadn’t noticed the rotenone, rebuilt the dams. That was fine with the recovery team because of Silver King Creek’s high gradient. But beavers devastated Silver King tributary Four-Mile Canyon Creek, a vital Paiute sanctuary. “The dams caused a lot of erosion up there,” remarks California fisheries biologist Bill Somer. “Trout Unlimited brought in volunteers and successfully rerouted the stream. The biggest problem I see with beavers is that after they move into an area and eliminate forage, they abandon their dams. When these dams, which have captured sediment, blow out, there’s erosion. I’ve seen that in a lot of places.”

This massive beaver dam is obliterating the entire stream channel of a Wisconsin trout stream.


eavers are like red wine. Because the medical profession affirms that one glass a day is heart healthy, one should not conclude that 40 glasses a day are 40 times better, or better at all. Wildlife advocates need to keep two different thoughts about beavers in their heads simultaneously. Beavers in moderation can be good for coldwater species. What’s bad for coldwater species is not beavers; it is too many beavers—unnatural proliferations caused by human activity, such as clear-cutting and wolf eradication. “Letting nature take its course” doesn’t mean sitting on our hands after we’ve disrupted natural balances. Aldo Leopold was a trout fisherman. Were he alive today, in my opinion, he’d advocate for beaver recovery where needed and for beaver control where overpopulations are eliminating coldwater habitat. It’s unlikely that managers will ever be able to restore more than a tiny fraction of trout streams destroyed by beavers. But, as Leopold wrote in a 1946 letter to his friend Bill Vogt: “That [a] situation appears hopeless should not prevent us from doing our best.” Ted Williams’s environmental writings enjoy national acclaim, and keep the bad guys sometimes honest and looking over their shoulders. WWW.AMERICANANGLER.COM


Trash By Dick Donnelly I am a fly fisher and, like lots of sportsmen, I find, pick up, and throw away the occasional plastic bottle. Or aluminum can. Or rusting Honda 125 motorcycle gas tank. How some of this stuff gets in the river, I do not know. I do this for myself as much as for others. Fly fishing is done in beautiful places. It represents that rare opportunity to escape the sidewalks and retail strip malls and contemplate nature’s subtle moods. A discarded 44-ounce Big Gulp cup (with straw) or the 32-ounce Old English torpedo doesn’t help. As I drive along gravel roads, I see an awful lot of beer cans. I’m not sure why someone needs to throw a beer can out their car window, particularly in trout country; of course, someone who needs to drink while driving through Wisconsin’s flowerfilled valleys is perhaps seeing things a little differently than you and I. To be fair, a lot of the junk we see is no one’s fault. Often it is the result of these booming Midwest thunderstorms that dump six inches of rain FW THOMAS in three hours. Creeks overflow. Small streams become raging torrents, flooding farmland and yards. Anything that can float (plus a lot of things that can’t) gets carried off. I have picked up badminton rackets and plastic bowling pins, bicycle tires and hot-water bottles. I’m sorry, Susie, but you probably won’t be seeing your Hello Kitty school bus anytime soon. It’s interesting that I find nothing of real use. The football has a hole in it; the canoe paddle is broken in two. While fishing,


I’ve never picked up a box of flies. I have managed to drop a couple. You would think the law of averages would eventually even up, but no. I’ve never found a name-brand, fancy waxed logger cap, either. Not saying I lost one, but if you come across it, I want it back. Not everyone is unlucky. My friend Mike picked out of the creek, intact and undamaged, a vintage 5-weight Hardy bamboo rod. He cleaned it up and proceeded to fish with it, but something was wrong. “I couldn’t enjoy myself,” he told me. “It wasn’t mine.” Finding the owner would not be easy. As it turned out, the owner found him. Or his story did. The gentleman was crying on every shoulder he could find at his local Trout Unlimited chapter. Mike heard about it and handed the rod back. The guy was so impressed, he tried to make Mike keep it. “He really wanted me to have it,” Mike said. “I had to make him take it.” Fly fishers. We are a different breed. But back to trash. The other day I picked up a couple empties in a favorite little valley, poetically named Bucksnort. One was a half pint of whiskey. The other read Super Estrus Deer Urine. I do not even want to speculate how this is used. If I met the guy who lost it, I wouldn’t ask. But I would tell him this: Friend, in this lovely country, meant for the enjoyment of all—even the animals—don’t go tossing your bottles of whiskey and deer urine around. One more thing I would add: You might not want to get the two mixed up.



DIY by Nick DelVecchio

Chrome Culture Blue-collar life, blue-collar fish.



ALE-FORCE WINDS SNAP across the lake, sending frigid spray into a parking area packed with trucks. Snow builds in thick, wet piles as anglers pull waders over wool. A layer of ice already forms on the rods when one guy looks to his buddy and says, “Is there something wrong with us?” In my opinion, the only thing wrong with them is that they aren’t already on the water, trying to catch Great Lakes steelhead. Far removed from their native Pacific


homeland, these fish mirror the hardiness of those who pursue them. In fact, the Great Lakes region is inhabited by rugged folk whose lineages are filled with men doing backbreaking work. Steel and iron produced on the Erie, Ontario, and Huron lakeshores found its way onto barges that carried those yields all over the world. Freight going in a hundred different directions could trace its origin back to the world’s largest freshwater lake system. Nothing is given, and everything earned in this blue-collar region that

was once defined by burly steel mills and steely-eyed immigrant workers. You see this in a regional work ethic. And you see it today in our fly fishing culture. These men and women methodically pound runs and riffles with a workman’s approach and braces of nymphs and egg patterns heavily laden with split shot. The process of drift, cast, drift, and repeat— for hours at a time—harks to the shiftworking, assembly-line labor force. There are no temperate rain forests or steel-blue glacial rivers to provide majestic


backdrops. In stark contrast, dilapidated mills and factory sites, once bristling with workers, now bustle with the angling hordes, all in pursuit of eastern chrome. Instead of giant boulders carved by glaciers and smoothed over time, here you find slabs of concrete and contorted chunks of metal. While some western rivers are shut down or on the verge of being so, the Great Lakes is experiencing boom times with economic benefits. Good numbers of fish mean a varied angling lot, all flocking here to chase the chrome. Steelhead aren’t native to the Great Lakes, something that West Coasters are quick to point out. Their foreignness


seems immaterial to their role in the region. These fish have muscled their way into the Midwest and eastern psyche like the immigrants who wove their way into the fabric of American culture. Steelhead fishing is now synonymous with the Great Lakes; from beer distributor banners welcoming fishermen, to towns touting themselves as the “Heart of Steelhead Alley,” it’s all evidence of the fish’s importance to the region. Many communities have traded steel mills for steelhead, an economic move that makes sense. Brian Flechsig, founder of Mad River Outfitters in Columbus, Ohio, said, “In the fly business, steelhead fishing is a huge part of what we do. The general

economy benefits via hotels, restaurants, et cetera.” That means, for a part of the world that has seen its share of economic hardships, the dollars pour into local economies with each fresh run of fish. Steelhead resonate in the Rust Belt; it’s a tremendously tough fish that survives the harshest conditions and returns each year to do it all over again. Hooking one isn’t an easy task, and landing one even tougher. That is both admired and respected by the anglers who chase them. Strange as it might seem, the toughest anglers, who brave whipping winds, driving rain, and dumping snow, love every minute of it. Overcoming in the face of hardship—that’s what makes the Rust Belt what it is.





lot of people can’t wait to get out of Wyoming. They drive fast between its borders and claim that the Cowboy State offers nothing more than “wind, sand, and sage rats,” their commentary on Wyoming’s stubborn breeze and its stable pronghorn antelope population. That opinion isn’t nearly the truth. Wyoming, in many places, is as lush as any other portion of the West, and these simple facts prove just that: Trout don’t live in sand. Wyoming has a lot of trout. One of the most trout-saturated portions of the state is the Bighorn Basin, where anglers test some of the best trout streams in the world. Take your pick—the Wind River, Shell Creek, Paint Rock Creek, the Shoshone River, the Greybull River, the Wood River, Medicine Lodge Creek, Tensleep Creek, and dozens of “secret” options. All could provide lifetime memories. All flow through some of the most scenic western landscape, ranging from high mountains to high desert to narrow, red-rock slot canyons to broad cottonwoodlined bottoms. These waters lie far away from population centers, meaning an important part of the Bighorn Basin experience is small-town USA. It always pays to saddle up to a bar and meet the locals. Doing just that provides great conversation and may win you an invite to fish private water. Remember, no matter which road you take in Wyoming, it leads to fish.





Wyoming Van Life Road-tripping through the trout-saturated Bighorn Basin. By Jeff Erickson




ast September, while

rolling across western Wyoming’s Bighorn Basin in my vintage 1977 micro-camper, late summer heat shimmered above the tawny, sage-clad, desertlike landscape. Giant, bruised-purple cumulus clouds hung menacingly over the Bighorn Mountains, promising roaring thunder, hit-and-miss lightning, and hard rain somewhere in the oceanic expanse. Herds of comely, white-assed pronghorns sprinted away like Ferraris. Fiercely eroded badlands erupted in ocher and tan—showing sensuous bends, folds, and shadows. Pulling over for a beer and a sandwich, this flashed through my mind: Man, I should have packed snake tongs and buzzworm-proof biker boots, not a 5-weight and waders. But I knew better, from previously exploring this quirky, Nevada-like panorama. As dry and forbidding as parts of the Basin appear, it’s a trout nirvana, offering some of the West’s best and off-beat fly fishing. The secret is on the horizon—in every direction—where powerful mountains frame the valley: the soaring Absarokas on the west; the Pryor escarpment along the Montana border; the Bighorns looming to the east; and the Owl Creek Mountains on the southern edge. Snowmelt from these ranges—including runoff from the Bighorn’s 13,167-foot Cloud Peak—feeds numerous streams, such as the Wind, Shoshone,


and Greybull rivers, Medicine Lodge Creek, and other sister waters slicing through deep canyons to the Bighorn River, threading through the heart of this beautiful depression. The wild country along the Basin’s periphery exerts a powerful gravitational pull. It’s a big, rugged, sometimes dangerous land that leaves a mark on you, puts your place in the natural world into a different perspective. Fresh grizzly bear tracks a stone’s throw from my camp one morning on the Shoshone did that for me—adrenaline shooting through my body—with more surprises to come.

Chasing Greybull Cutthroat Yellowstone cutthroat are the native Bighorn Basin trout, historically roaming up to the Wind River headwaters. During the past century, exotic brook, brown, rainbow, and even lake trout were stocked in the drainage; they thrived, appropriating much of the water. Free-rising Yellowstone cutts endure mainly in freestone headwater streams, and there’s no better place to find them than the upper Greybull River. Prior to trekking up the grizzly infested upper Greybull— hanging out in Meeteetse’s venerable Cowboy Bar—I read with concern in the Cody Enterprise about two western Wyoming hikers and hunters killed by grizzlies during the course of my


A camper and a desire to fish give you lots of options in Wyoming. The author spends time in the Cowboy State each year, probing well-known and obscure waters. Everywhere, he finds good trout, including lots of native cutthroat.

trip. In the fall, Basin rivers like the Greybull are natural highways, funneling hungry bruins out of the mountains to lowerelevation feeding grounds for their pre-hibernation pig-out. I have a lively imagination that sometimes works overtime, and was already pondering grizzly avoidance strategies that wouldn’t unduly hamper my fishing or get me maimed. I reassured myself with a line from Edward Abbey’s Monkey Wrench Gang: “When the situation is hopeless, there’s nothing to worry about.” The upper Greybull has an edge-of-civilization vibe, with cathedral-like cliffs, otherworldly badlands, and jagged Absaroka peaks. It’s a place where anglers with backpacks or packhorses can disappear into the Washakie Wilderness. A long Forest Service gravel road takes anglers to the wilderness boundary, at the Jacks Creek Campground. Below the Shoshone National Forest, the river threads state land and sprawling private ranches. A major tributary—the Wood River—also offers fine angling, camping, and exploring. Also in the drainage, the Sunshine reservoirs afford stillwater action for large trout. As with much Basin water, attractors, terrestrials, and garish foam hybrids rock. You can match hatches, too, and on these waters, you may see PMDs, Baetis, drakes, Tricos, yellow Sallies, golden stoneflies, and myriad midge and caddis species. The Greybull has benefited from extensive conservation work, and is renowned among wildlife biologists. In addition to holding strong populations of elk, bears, and bighorn sheep, it is the site of the world’s last remaining black-footed ferrets. In 1981, an intrepid dog named Shep presented his owners with a weasel-like creature he discovered while roaming the Pitchfork WWW.AMERICANANGLER.COM

Ranch. The specimen was turned over to biologists, who located a colony of an animal believed to be extinct. Pitchfork ferrets were subsequently used to build populations for reintroduction, rescuing them from oblivion. There are intriguing cultural remains, too, like Kirwin, a goldmining ghost town tucked below 12,000-foot peaks. And high in the headwaters rest the lonely, unfinished remnants of Amelia Earhart’s planned retirement cabin, a refuge she never enjoyed after her plane went mysteriously AWOL over the Pacific in 1937. That’s the way it is in the Greybull: You feel like you’re straying beyond terra firma.

The Bighorns’ West Slope Canyon Country A nice rise rippled Medicine Lodge Creek, then another. I maneuvered into position below a large log, plopping down a size 18 foam beetle with my 4-weight. A rise and a miss, then another. On a third cast, a solid 19-inch brown rocketed out of the water. Severely testing 5X tippet, I muscled the powerful fish out from under its log haven several times, and was beginning to search for a landing spot when the fly inexplicably pulled out. Disconsolately, I watched the fish rest in plain view for a while before it slipped back under the timber. What was extraordinary wasn’t necessarily my inexplicably losing another linebacker-sized fish, but doing so in a popular state park, a block from my campsite, on a stream a three-legged ranch dog might easily hop across. The limestone-fueled productivity of Medicine Lodge Creek produces big browns that grow fat and sassy even in the campground. A recently completed stream improvement project will make fishing even better. MARCH/APRIL 2019 I 37

Rainbow Brook



Brown Cutthroat



Medicine Lodge Archaeological Site offers superb fly fishing, and one of Wyoming’s best collections of Native American pictographs and petroglyphs. Archaeologists determined the site to have been occupied continuously for 10,000 years. Excavations went down 26 vertical feet, through 60 cultural levels, uncovering projectile points, grinding stones, among many other artifacts. Its residents found everything they required, including shelter in caves and under heat-reflecting sandstone cliffs, abundant big game, a diversity of life-sustaining plants in four different vegetation zones, and plenty of fresh water and fish. A former Wyoming State Archaeologist and anthropology professor, Dr. George Frisson, led digs here beginning in 1969—he calls it the “oasis of the Bighorn Basin.” In his treatise titled Prehistoric Hunters of the High Plains, Frisson said, “The Medicine Lodge Creek site is probably the most complex campsite known in the Northwestern Plains.”



supplies, a room and a shower, or a tasty meal not cooked over a campfire or Coleman stove. Starting at the south end and moving clockwise around the Basin, “major” towns include Thermopolis, Meeteetse, Cody, Powell, Lovell, Greybull, and Worland. From a traveler’s perspective, Cody offers much, including diverse restaurants and lodging. It also hosts one of the finest attractions in the Rockies—the Buffalo Bill Center of the West— with five separate venues under one roof: the Buffalo Bill Museum, Whitney Western Art Museum, Plains Indian Museum, Cody Firearms Museum, and Draper Natural History Museum. If the weather turns ugly, wayward anglers can easily spend several days exploring the treasures here. Another popular draw anchoring downtown is the historic Irma Hotel, founded by Buffalo Bill in 1903 and named after his daughter. Mile-high Cody boasts excellent fly shops, so if you need gear or expert advice, this is the place. And you won’t have to go far to test it: The Shoshone River flows through town, with good public access and sizable trout. Hamlets have their charms, too. Meeteetse—gateway to Greybull country—boasts one of Wyoming’s most historic watering holes, the Cowboy Bar. The Cowboy has a beautifully crafted wooden back bar laboriously shipped across the Great Plains in 1893. In remote enclaves like Meeteetse, bars do triple duty as museums, social centers, and refuges. As brief diversion from nursing a whiskey shot, careful observers might spot—or imagine—bullet holes from long-settled gunfights. Butch Cassidy was arrested here in 1892 for stealing a horse worth five dollars (rather than for other escapades like robbing banks and trains); he was sentenced to two years in the Laramie state penitentiary, the only jail time of his lengthy criminal career. In The Last Outlaws, Thom Hatch writes, “Butch would later remark that he was a petty criminal before entering prison, but his experience behind bars had hardened him into an outlaw.” Adding to Meeteetse’s intrigue, one of America’s most wanted murderers—a violent Arizona prison escapee—washed up in 2010, making new friends at the Cowboy before being recognized and arrested. On an earlier trip here, we just missed crossing paths. A bartender who served the killer told me she hadn’t recognized him from relentless TV mug shots because “they didn’t show the tattoos and missing teeth.” The Cowboy’s owner said he’d visited with him for two hours one day: “He seemed like a pretty nice guy; otherwise, I wouldn’t have talked to him that long.” For angers visiting Medicine Lodge or Paint Rock Creeks, tiny Hyatteville is the place to get a beer, a juicy burger, and restock the precious ice supply. The Paint Rock Inn offers all these, amidst classic rural Wyoming bar décor (e.g., local ranch brands, massive bull elk mounts, and so on). For a change of venue—and an opportunity to visit with local ranchers—try the Hyatteville Bar next door. Who knows, you might even get an invitation to fish some nearby private water. And if your casting arm is sore from landing jumbo-sized browns and rainbows in the Wind/Bighorn River, Thermopolis is what the sagacious MD ordered. The town is famous for its sybaritic hot springs—among the world’s largest—with a retro Disneyland-like feel. And if you rise early enough after a good Mexican dinner at Las Fuentes, catch the Trico hatch levitating like smoke above the Bighorn, right in the center of town.



Much of Wyoming’s best trout water courses through grizzly habitat. Smart anglers keep one eye on the water and another on the bankside brush. Doing so might reveal another find— Native American rock art.

Medicine Lodge is only part of the geological, archaeological, and piscatorial treasures in the dramatic canyons ripping apart the Bighorns. Nearby, Paint Rock Creek cascades through a trout-filled gorge, accessible to hikers, backpackers, and horsemen. In the lofty, 9,000-foot-high headwaters of both Medicine Lodge and Paint Rock lie alpine trout lakes, with several Forest Service campgrounds and a historic log lodge. To the north, Shell Creek follows U.S. Highway 14 through a magnificent canyon riddled with rapids, waterfalls, and cataclysmic walls. On the south end, the other major route over the Bighorns, US 16, follows Tensleep Creek into the core of the great range. And then there’s a real sleeper: Little Canyon Creek, in the Nature Conservancy’s Tensleep Preserve. Permission is required to fish.

The Wind Morphs into the Bighorn Along with the Snake, Green, and North Platte, the Wind River quietly ranks among Wyoming’s marquee trout streams. It also has a Januslike nomenclature, mysteriously morphing into the Bighorn River in the fertile canyon tailwater between Boysen (Reservoir) State Park and Thermopolis, at the so-called Wedding of the Waters. As it works through the Bighorn Basin, it gradually becomes a warm, silty, high desert stream, more suited to catfish than trout. Farther downstream, however, it changes again, into another exceptional trout tailwater below Montana’s Yellowtail Dam. Because of the Bighorn’s renown, the excellent water upstream in the Wind flows somewhat under the radar. For anglers seeking lesser-traveled paths—far from bloviating politicians and blustery talking heads—the Wind is a treasure, framed by lush riparian cottonwoods, rugged buttes, and serrated, snowcapped peaks. The drainage offers a wide diversity of water and trout, with trophies, including some giant browns, possible. In the upper reaches, the best water runs down to about Riverton; this stretch loops through the Wind River Indian Reservation, requiring anglers to purchase a tribal permit. Above the reservation, there are scattered public access points running WWW.AMERICANANGLER.COM

up through Dubois, above which the much smaller Wind descends from high country public lands near Togwotee Pass. Part of the Wind’s allure is an excellent maze of tributaries, including the East Fork, Jakeys Fork, and Bull, Horse, Torrey, and Dinwoody Creeks, along with constellations of icy alpine lakes. The East Fork of the Wind is notable as a stellar Yellowstone cutthroat stream, producing opportunistic beasts craving large, leggy bugs. The upper reaches weave beneath volcanic Absaroka peaks in the Shoshone National Forest; lower down, the stream cuts through the state’s Spence & Moriarity Wildlife Management Area, mixed with parcels owned by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), private ranchers, and the Wind River Indian Reservation. The Wind has deep cultural links with the Shoshone, Arapaho, Gros Ventre, Crow, and Cheyenne tribes. (The first two share the Wind River Reservation.) The tribes skirmished for regional control, and a significant geological feature in the drainage was named after one altercation. According to David Lageson and Darwin Spearing (Roadside Geology of Wyoming), the legend is: Chief Washakie led the Shoshone . . . against the Crow Indians, led by Chief Big Robber. In an effort to save lives, Chief Washakie suggested that he and Chief Big Robber fight alone at the top of this butte—the winner would eat the other’s heart! Washakie won and the butte was named Crow Heart. In his old age, Washakie was asked if actually ate Big Robber’s heart; he replied, “Youth does foolish things.”

Fishing the Shoshone River with Mr. Griz My long road trip winding down, I camped on a ridge overlooking the South Fork Shoshone, near road’s end. It ranked among the (Continued on page 63) MARCH/APRIL 2019 I 41

pull in my fly for the umpteenth time and clear it of vegetation. It’s the third week of September, and conditions are not exactly perfect. I have come to Casper, Wyoming, to fish the Miracle Mile, and instead find myself floating a section of the North Platte River called Grey Reef, which is located about 25 miles southwest of the city. As I wonder if my fly will ever make it past flotsam to those fat, acrobatic rainbows lurking beneath, a rhythm begins. Cast. Mend. Clear the fly. Cast. Mend. Clear the fly. The repetition puts me into a trance. The North Platte is considered one of the best trout fisheries in the country, and for good reason. In this area, the strange bedfellows of oil and water combine forces to protect the thriving ecosystem below my boat. Many regional oil companies have headquarters here. Many Casper residents work in the oil industry and are avid fly fishers, too. These people give back to the river via conservation projects, the most noted being Casper’s Two Fly Fly Fishing Tournament, which is modeled after the famous Jackson, Wyoming, One Fly event. Money raised from the event—more than $2 million over the past 15 years—goes to river restoration projects. In a town where fly shops work with the federal government to improve water quality, water has no political party. 42 I AMERICAN ANGLER

dream, and a recent securement of public land makes in-town fishing that much easier. By Jen Ripple I set my mind back to the job at hand and make small talk with my two partners in crime; my fellow angler Kim Cross and our guide, Ty Hallock out of the Ugly Bug Fly Shop. Ty is a renowned fly fishing artist whose work is seen on many a Yeti cooler and in fly shops across the nation. His talent with a brush only pales to his prowess on the sticks. It’s his expertise that brings us to Grey Reef. Fishing this area can be difficult on your own because of landowner rights. In the Cowboy State, landowners own the streambed, meaning you can float across private land on navigable waters, but you must stay in your boat at all times. You aren’t allowed to wade or bank-fish on private property, and you can’t anchor your boat without obtaining permission. Because of these restrictions, hiring a guide is important. Your guide will not only know where the fish reside, but understand the laws, as well, and many times will have obtained permission to anchor along the way, which is important if you want to stop for lunch or take care of business. WWW.AMERICANANGLER.COM

Wyoming is full of great trout waters, and some of the best flow in and around Casper. A quality section of the North Platte runs right through town and offers a quick escape for local and visiting anglers.



FISHING: The upper river at Grey Reef is open all year; however, sections of the river may freeze in January and February. The Ugly Bug Fly Shop has ramps on private land and can usually get around the ice to fish, even during a freeze. April through May is considered prime time. For those who enjoy a challenge, September through November can be good depending on water quality and bug hatches, but the amount of vegetation floating in the water can be difficult to deal with. GETTING TO CASPER: While there aren’t many direct flights to Casper, it’s a quick flight from the Denver Airport to Casper. WHAT TO SEE: In addition to hosting world-class fishing, Casper is a cosmopolitan city bustling with activity. Visit the Nicolaysen Art Museum or spend a day at the National Historic Trails Interpretive Center. WHERE TO STAY: The Crazy Rainbow Fly Fishing Lodge is a perfect place to relax after a day on the water. This lodge has all the comforts of home and accommodates individuals or large groups. Meals can be made on your own or provided by a lodge chef. For those who can’t get enough of the water, the lodge sits uphill of a beautiful stretch of river, which you can fish before or after your float. EAT: Racca’s Pizzeria Napoletana is a must. I suggest the Del Re specialty pizza with fresh mozzarella, truffle cream spread, mushrooms, prosciutto di Parma and fresh basil. Pair it with a glass of wine from an extensive wine list. DRINK: Pick your poison in Casper. If you like beer, the Frontier Brewing Company is the place to be. It’s warm and inviting, with great live music and craft beers. Try the Dark Rye if you like a dark, mouthy beer and a Front Copper IPA if you’re into balanced bitterness and love hops. If cocktails are more your thing, stop at Backwards Distilling Company for a creatively made drink from one of its many high-end spirits. This vintage, circus-themed distillery offers Strongman Gin, Sword Swallower Rum, and Ringleader Vodka among others. No need to thank me. SHOP: No trip to Casper is complete without picking up a pair of cowboy boots from Lou Taubert Ranch Outfitters. This specialty store has served the West since 1919 and has over 10,000 pairs of brand-name cowboy boots in stock. You can bet your cowboy boots I came home with a pair. MORE INFO:


While many anglers rightfully choose to nymph these waters, which is no doubt the most effective fishing style here, I love to see trout come to the surface and hammer a big bug. When Ty suggests the hopper–dropper method, I am all about it. A double fly system such as this affords me two opportunities to attract the trout. While I prefer fast-action rods, I’ve brought a moderate-action 6-weight. This allows me to play bigger fish on light tippet, in the hopes of not breaking them off. It takes only a few algae-free drifts before my rod is bent. I’ve hooked a rainbow, and it’s stronger than I expected. I know these fish can tip the scales at 10 pounds, and while not 10 pounds, this one is putting up a decent fight. We are in a section where we can’t anchor, so Ty maneuvers the boat brilliantly, keeping this fish out of the grass. After a few minutes, the ’bow is in the net. High fives all around as it slides back into its watery home. The skunk is out of the boat. Apart from our group, we don’t see another boat all day. The fishing is excellent, and by day’s end, Kim and I have scored a boatload of beefy rainbows, each one released back to the river to be enjoyed another day. With Day One in the books, the Miracle Mile, which I’d really wanted to fish, is now far from my mind. After a night out on the town and a comfortable stay at a local lodge, the morning starts with a trip to Fremont Canyon. This is a spectacular walk-and-wade destination that is open to the public. Here, high canyon walls adorn the sky as emerald green, fast-moving water plummets over giant rocks behind which big fish lie. It’s the picture-perfect setting for those who love fishing fast-moving pocket water for big strong fish. Unfortunately, this is not our destination but merely a stopover point on the way to our next float. Downtown Casper is a hotbed of activity with the North Platte running directly through it. This is the section we’ll float Day Two. Floating through town, as opposed to wading public areas, allows us to cover more water than we could by wading. But, if you’re restricted to wading, this is a great place to do so— in September, just before my arrival, the acquisition of 646 acres of public land opened up 1.5 miles of river to fishing access. This section of the North Platte tends to produce more fish of smaller size than Grey Reef. Once again, nymphs are the special on today’s menu, with Kim catching fish after fish. I love to streamer-fish, and even though I know that my fish-to-hand ratio will be much, much lower than it would be if I fished nymphs, I have to try. Ty ties on streamer after streamer, which produces a big, fat zero. At the end of the day, my stubborn self relents and it’s back to the hopper–dropper. I cast under a low branch, tight up along the bank. I know as soon as the fly lands that this is the golden ticket. I see the flash and feel the tug. I set the hook and it feels like a whopper. It is—two fish on two different flies. While I land only one, it is still the most excitement I’ve ever had trout fishing. The North Platte comes through again. Jen Ripple is editor-in-chief of a female-focused flyfishing publication, Dun. MARCH/APRIL 2019 I 43


ts 3:30 a.m. when the alarm ends an already restless sleep. As coffee brews, I gather camera equipment and doublecheck the car, making sure all my gear is ready to go. It’s spring, and anglers up and down Colorado and Wyoming’s Front Range are flooding the North and South Platte River drainages in search of migratory monsters. While sight fishing for large trout in my home waters on the South Platte or swinging two-handers for large rainbows on the North Platte holds a special place in my heart, today has a different feel. I’m after stillwater giants. After a painless three-hour drive north, a friend and I finally arrive at Twin Buttes Reservoir, one piece of water that makes up a series of reservoirs known as the Laramie Plains Lakes. These lakes are located roughly 15 miles west of Laramie, Wyoming. The previous week, ice covered half of Twin Buttes. Today the lake is ice-free and the wind creates enough chop to give our chironomid and Balanced Leech patterns just enough movement to draw in a potential giant. There is no need for a boat or tube; during the three to four weeks following ice-off, pods of large rainbow and brown trout cruise the shorelines and drop-offs searching for food, all within an easy cast from shore. The first five minutes prove the drive worthwhile; while rig-

ging my rod, my friend’s indicator disappears and we are off to the races. After a short battle, we marvel at a beautiful rainbow resting in my net, with a Mayer’s Titan Tube Midge firmly lodged in its jaw. In the next hour, indicators continue to disappear. The fish are thick-bodied rainbows and browns that averag three or four pounds and take chironomids, scuds, leeches, and crayfish imitations. After that early morning action, the fishing slows, prompting a five-minute drive to Lake Hattie, the largest of the Plains Lakes, ranging between 1,500 and 3,000 surface acres, depending on water levels. Along with large rainbows and browns, Hattie boasts fast-growing cutthroat and even kokanee salmon. Fishing near a dam, we make some casts with our 7-weights, targeting fish just 15 to 20 feet from the bank. I look down at a drop-off and see groups of fish swimming right along the lake’s edge. A quick depth adjustment, moving the flies only three to four feet below the indicator, and casting no more than six feet from shore, results in an almost immediate hookup. Unfortunately, that fish wins the battle, escaping with my fly, something that happens quite often here with a combination of relatively light tippet and oversized fish. Typically, 1X tippet is the way to go; if you’re a risk-taker and think these fish are leader-shy, you might drop to 3X.

During spring, especially just after ice-off, anglers find rainbows, browns, and cutthroat cruising the shorelines. Some of these fish stretch past two feet long. (Inset) A big, colorful brown trout from Twin Buttes Reservoir.




A follow-up trip a couple days later brought different conditions—blue skies and calm water provided little security to the trout. Because of that lack of chop, we decide to test our rotator cuffs and cast streamers, which is another proven method on spring trout, no matter where you find them. The Plains Lakes have a solid crayfish population, which makes flies like Barr’s Meat Whistle an excellent choice. But slowly stripping these streamers along the bottom proves fruitless. Then I remember what John Blyth at Four Seasons Anglers in Laramie told me. He said, “My personal favorite time on the Laramie Plains Lakes comes during the late afternoon and evening during the middle of summer when the traveling sedges hatch. The fish absolutely crush greased-up Muddler Minnows and Hornbergs that we strip across the surface. It’s about as good as it gets.” Even though it was early season, I decid to fire out a Pyramid Lake Tadpole and hope for similar results. While this fly is famous for catching trout over 20 pounds on Nevada’s Pyramid Lake, I have no clue whether it will work here. Ten minutes or so pass without a touch and I became skeptical. Then I add a small split shot that sinks my fly a few inches below the surface. Immediately, a wake emerges behind the fly, and after a few strips, the

line comes tight. A few minutes later, I have another big Plains Lakes rainbow in hand. One of my most memorable trips to these stellar Wyoming still waters—and one that keeps me coming back—came during a multiday trip one April. I planned to fish the North Platte, but stopped at one of the lakes on my way north. Walking the shore, I noticed numerous wakes in inches of water—rainbows engaged in full-force spring spawning mode. I sat on the bank and watched a group of 30 or more fish ranging in length from 18 to nearly 30 inches, chasing each other’s tails. I went back to the car and drove north, knowing that catching those spawners meant nothing. This I knew: I’d be back for those 30-inchers when they might chase sedges. Whenever I drive a few hours north from my home in Colorado Springs to the Laramie Plains Lakes, I never know if the next fish will be an average 18- to 22-incher or one of those 30-inch beasts. These lakes are one of the great options on the Rocky Mountain Front—and because the trout are so large, it’s never a burden to get out of bed when that early alarm sounds. Phil Tereyla works as a fly fishing guide in Colorado Springs, Colorado.


Cast & Dash Ice-out at the Laramie Plains Lakes means racing from one reservoir to another, shooting for a 30-incher. By Phil Tereyla






he rougher the road got, the narrower the stream became, and by the time our convoy arrived at its destination, the flow was little more than a trickle. I’d decided to join a team of biologists from the Pennsylvania Fish & Boat Commission as they electroshocked the headwaters of one of my favorite streams. Although the mainstem had been designated Class A Wild Trout waters back in the early 1990s, its tributaries were never surveyed. I jumped at the chance to join, but I wasn’t expecting to spend the day sampling such skinny water. The stream was only ankle deep where we began. Upstream were a handful of deeper pools and undercut banks where I expected the biologists to turn up a few good-sized native brookies. But as they slowly worked their way up, probing every inch of water and recording everything that went belly-up, I got excited. Not all those fish were young-of-the-year fingerlings. And not all were brookies.

Trickle Trout

There are secrets to be had in thin water. By Ralph Scherder RALPH SCHERDER




he area we surveyed had received a good bit of rain the previous week, but the stream was still barely six feet wide. As the biologists worked the water, I tried to guesstimate the quality of fish we’d find. There wasn’t one pool that really tripped my hot button or looked as though it might hold anything other than a scattering of tiny trout. Long, shallow riffles separated small, unimpressive pools. In short, it was the type of stuff you disregard on your way to better water. The beauty of trout, though, is that they are where you find them. At times they’re ferociously territorial and live out their lives within small quadrants. Other times they’re more transient than a band of gypsies. Later in the afternoon, the biologists moved on to a second stream they’d surveyed the year prior. That survey had produced enough trout to warrant a reassessment, to see if it would meet the requirements of a Class A water (40 kg of biomass per hectare). One of the biologists was especially excited about the resurvey be-

cause the first one had produced healthy numbers of wild browns up to 20 inches long. Again, this stream was about six feet wide, and in many places narrower than that. Another trickle. As the crew worked upstream, beginning at the same point they first surveyed, their findings were considerably different. All those big fish were gone. They turned up a few browns in the 9to 12-inch range, but none of the bruisers they’d anticipated . . . until they got to the really skinny water, maybe three feet wide. Suddenly, every pool with a little depth and good structure produced a wild brown over 16 inches. “That’s a relief,” one biologist said. “I was beginning to think these fish were going to make a liar out of me.” According to the team, this was normal. The reason they clip a sliver of caudal fin on every trout they capture is so that they know which ones they’ve caught before when they resurvey a section. They often find that fish caught a day before have relocated. After spending a day surveying these trickles, I decided that a nice-sized brown lived in every little bit of holding water. When I applied that approach to the streams I fish, and the trickles I’d walked right by in the past, my catch rates went up and I started picking up bigger fish than I ever had. I also realized that, in trickles, big trout don’t always uti-


When one of the biologists prodded a small plunge pool under a fallen log and a beautiful 18-inch wild brown trout floated up, my jaw dropped. To me, it was impressive. To the biologists, who survey small streams often, this was typical. By the end of the day, I’d gained a new appreciation for those little trickles and their ability to harbor fish. And I realized that many of the tiny streams I’d taken for granted for so many years probably held some nice wild browns, too.

(Right) The author found surprisingly large brown trout, up to 18 inches, in water that he formerly ignored. When casting to fish in these skinny waters, he wants the fly to drop quickly. Bead heads achieve that goal. (Below) Browns aren’t the only fish you’ll find in small headwater streams. Brook trout can surprise, too, and they are some of the prettiest fish you’ll ever see.




lize the most obvious holding water all the time. Watching the stream survey was fascinating in that deep pools, even ones with desirable undercuts and root systems, didn’t necessarily guarantee big browns and, in fact, were often void of fish. That doesn’t mean those pools went unused; lunker trout spend the majority of their time around other structure and move into the deeper pools to feed. The catch, of course, is that you never know when they’ll decide to feed, which is why it’s best to assume they’re always present. In trickles, the holding water trout prefer is the kind that’s almost impossible for anglers, or other predators, to approach without being seen. It doesn’t have to be deep, but it must have structure that trout can slip under (usually long before you make a cast). During my time following the survey crew, the most surprising find came in a stream only three to four feet wide and in a pool less than calf deep. When they probed a narrow gap under an overhanging rock, a hefty 16-inch wild brown floated into their net. I couldn’t believe that a trout of that size could thrive in such skinny water. It was the equivalent of finding a 50-inch muskie in your bathtub. WWW.AMERICANANGLER.COM


he question that should be asked is, do trout live in trickles year-round? The answer, most likely, is no. In my experience, wild brown trout work their way into these diminutive streams during two occasions—when spawning in the fall (when water levels are up) and when seeking thermal refuge in the middle of summer. (Note: Although the air temperature approached 90 degrees Fahrenheit the day of the stream survey, the water temperature rarely exceeded 50 degrees F.) Wild brown trout in these heavily canopied coldwater sanctuaries are often overlooked by most anglers who think it takes big water to produce big fish. Therefore, it makes the most sense to target these trickles during those two times. During summer, some trickles get so small that trout simply cannot work very far into them due to natural barricades, such as waterfalls and long stretches of shallow water—and by shallow, I mean less than a couple inches deep. Usually, if you find large fish above natural barricades, it’s because they arrived in the fall and were confined when water levels dropped. But, as long as they’re trapped in a pool with enough MARCH/APRIL 2019 I 49

overhead cover or structure and potential food sources, they’ll continue to thrive and grow. Also, just because the bigger fish are unable to navigate the stream doesn’t mean that youngof-the-year fry don’t still move around a bit. And when they end up in the same pool as a larger fish, you know the deal— they get slammed.



nowing they’re there is one thing. Catching them presents a whole other challenge. First of all, if you have to enter the water at any point, chances are you’re already beat. I never realized how many trout I was potentially spooking until I watched the stream survey. The reason they survey streams multiple times is because a percentage of fish evade their probes. Numerous times I witnessed trout bolting upstream, sometimes 10 yards or more ahead of the crew, that were long gone by the time the bios got there. The smaller the water, the more sensitive trout are to the vibrations on land, and especially to those on the streambed. It’s helpful if you can spot fish before making your first cast, but that’s usually impossible. In larger rivers, where water depth itself is a form of structure, trout feel safe in the open. Trickle trout don’t have that luxury. Typically, anglers first see them as they bolt from under a rock, log, or some other structure, either to take your presentation or vacate the premises. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t spend considerable time just watching the water. Sometimes you can pick up the slightest movement or a change in the shadows next to structure that indicates a fish. It’s not uncommon to have trout move into and out of a pool as you’re fishing, seemingly without rhyme or reason. That said, I still don’t spend a lot of time at any given pool. Trickle trout are opportunists, and if I’ve covered the water effectively with just a few casts, I move on. Sometimes you have to cover a lot of water to locate big fish that are accessible. In truth, many wild browns living in these diminutive dwellings are simply uncatchable because of the lairs they’ve chosen. I don’t fret over fly choice when fishing skinny water. However, I do use mostly weighted flies because I want them to get down quickly in those tiny pools and pockets. Mastering the art of the short cast is almost a prerequisite to success on these waters. I have no preference when it comes to working up or down a stream. I prefer to walk well back away from the water and observe the pools from a distance, then approach and fish from the middle. My logic is this: If I start at the tail or head of a pool and spook trout, those fish inevitably spook other fish. If I start in the middle of a pool and spook trout in the tail, then I’ve effectively cut them off and still have a shot at the ones at the head of the pool and vice versa. No other situation or conditions—or quarry, for that matter—test your skills at such a precise level. When you catch a nice wild brown, even if it’s not a monster compared to those found in much bigger rivers, you know you’ve done everything right. For me, chasing wild browns in trickles is an addiction. And it’s one vice I’ll happily encourage everyone else to try. Read more about Ralph’s fly-fishing adventures on his blog, 50 I AMERICAN ANGLER

Fiberglass flex feels fantastic.

Moody skies spit patchwork light through skeletal trees rimming a sweet little creek. And when the sun finds a portal, you can’t help but pause mid-cast, close your eyes, and turn skyward. Snort that warmth deep, hold it, because there’s snow falling one drainage over. You can smell it. Now go ahead and cast that supple little stick again. No matter how cold the day gets, it’ll flex to the cork. For lots of trout anglers, fall and early winter fishing is an echo chamber of spawning hogs, scrambling eggs with bacon, or ducking under cannonball hamsters flung from 10-weights. That’s not really my scene. I turn my mud-skein truck off the main road that cuts the big river valley and head east, up a side canyon. The road’s in good enough shape, but even if it turns sketchy farther on, I pocketed enough tip money on the big water this summer to be riding new tires. Austin’s sitting shotgun and rolling a cigarette that he’ll be polite enough not to smoke until we reach our destination. He needs something to do with his hands as we pass fishy pools en route to the pull-off by the waterfall. While other folks are trying to entice sex-crazed Salmos to chase chickens over polished gravel, I prefer feeder streams where resident cutthroat are bulking up on October caddis, Baetis, midges, and whatever else drifts past their greedy faces. I’ve heard it said that August is the time for creekin’, and while I would argue that anytime you can get some is a good time for creekin’, I prefer to fish them late, even into


Scott’s new F-Series fiberglass rod provides big fun on smallish trout . . . especially on feeder streams.

the winter where allowed. Midsummer these streams (cricks where I live in Montana) barely exist. Agriculture demands irrigation, and the valley fields need constant summer wetting. In August, you’ll be lucky to find any flow at all here, and certainly no fish. August is a great time for high country lakes and backcountry brook trout trickles, but a terrible time to fish the feeder streams. I think about the term feeder as we pass a mechanized sluice gate plugged into a four-foot steel pipe that disappears incongruously into the woods. Such infrastructure seems better suited to a city sewer than a mountain stream. This vein of the mountains feeds so much: it feeds the grass that feeds the cows that feed our insatiable palaces of wax paper hamburgers. And now, after the irrigation has ended, it feeds native trout that feed my late-season impulses. And it feeds the big river again. After the taps have been turned off and the diversion dams sealed shut, these creeks come back to life. God knows where the trout go when their lifeblood gets diverted and turned into bovine manna, but soon after the water returns, they do, too. Since we’re past the accepted window of fishing season, and beyond the appropriate time for walking small streams, these blue lines see very few fishermen, even postcard-perfect ones, like this, that parallel an easy road. We pull off at the muddy bulge where National Forest land grinds against no trespassing signs and barbed wire. Leaf-spattered trails stumble through the trees to the precipice of embankment. The water is clearer than the turbid sky. Sitting on a boulder, shrouded in pine, we see fish: A knot of




frenetic dwarf rainbows huddle in a tailout, scrapping for scraps. Upstream, bigger cuts wave over bone-white boulders, plucking spoils languidly. Cutthroat remind me of my favorite southern grandmother, now deceased; they refuse to be rushed. Down in the mainstem, this order of pecking gets inverted, but the living isn’t easy up here, and the natives are far better equipped to handle the cold water and the narrow windows of sustenance. They grow bigger and claim the best lies. We slide into stained waders and lace boots. Roll-up smoke swirls through Austin’s beard as he arranges cameras and lenses. Fly fishing media won’t pay either of us a wage beyond the extravagance of, say, full-time servers at a mid-priced chain restaurant, but it does come with perks. We get to call what we’re doing today work, a fact that filled the truck cab with our giggles on the drive in. Our primary purpose is to play with a new F-Series fiberglass rod from Scott. Testing this new “crick stick” gave us an excuse to share a drive up this shrouded canyon and breathe air pricked with the pins of impending winter, to fish for trout on a weekday without a whiff of guilt. I feel no rush or anxiety on arrival. This is low-stakes fishing—a 15-incher is a pig—but somehow I still manage to miss a guide. That’s impressive, since there are only seven of them on this six-foot-six-inch rod. Austin laughs. “Aren’t you supposed to be some kind of a professional?” I laugh. He sets down his camera and rolls another smoke. I start over. We have time. A red Trude brings the first good fish of the day to hand. We started at the back of the pool, pricking a half dozen stunted rainbows as a warm-up. I miss the foot-long cutty on the first rise, but it’s kind enough to give me another chance. Austin and I trade spots, fishing together because that’s what you do on small water. The scale and abundance lend themselves to largesse, and when you’re not fishing, you get to sit on lichen-smeared boulders and look around. You get to close your eyes and feel air moving through the passages of your body the same way it moves through pine needles and fissures in rock. The rod flexes beautifully and the fish cooperate. The orange under their chins matches the color of the fiberglass. After a while, we drive up to where the small stream whittles even smaller. The trout are fewer here, but there are some good ones, all natives, and you can spot most of them if you’re patient. In the first scalloped pocket, Austin spots a solid cut. I hand him the rod and he passes me the camera, making sure the right dials are spun and buttons pushed, so that all I have to do is point and click. Through the viewfinder, I see the parachute land and swirl. I notice the trout lift from kaleidoscope gravel, watch the snout elevate to meet the fly, marvel as the rod bends back to the handle, and get to appreciate the smile on my friend’s face as he kneels in the shallows of this tiny creek, cradling joy. —Miles Nolte




Life. Simplified. In Swedish Lapland At these eco-friendly lodges, it’s not all about the money. Instead, anglers learn about Sami culture and sustainability . . . while targeting big grayling, northern pike, and brown trout. Article & Photography by Jess McGlothlin




magine a place where anglers can fish 24 hours a day . . . without a headlamp. A place where the local fare is hearty, the coffee strong, and the residents, mostly indigenous Sami people, are friendly and welcoming. Best of all, this place offers crystal clear rivers filled with big grayling, marshy sloughs with aggressive northern pike, and remote lakes filled with large brown trout that rarely see a fly. Welcome to Swedish Lapland. I recently visited the region and found a mixed landscape of tundra, craggy mountains, and a seemingly endless supply of promising water. I also discovered that Lapland is one of those places that seeps into a traveler’s soul, offering a reset to the most basic, good things in life. It’s a place that encapsulates why we travel—to be so far removed from our norm that we lose those things we most often depend on, and gain perspective in the process. That’s what I gained when fishing at two destinations—Tiuonajokk and Guenja—each providing a unique experience and some of the best grayling and northern pike fishing I’ve ever seen.

Tjuonajokk A visit to Tjuonajokk feels comfortingly familiar in a fishingcamp kind of way. The lodge is just a short Eurocopter ride from the mining town of Kiruna, and rests on a vast tundra, which is interrupted only by jagged mountain peaks that seem to rise from nowhere. Tjuonajokk is a Sami word that translates to “goose creek” (some say “glimmering creek”) and provides a home to healthy, wild fish—chiefly grayling. Located along the Kaitum River, this is a fishery for all skill levels. Many beginners have caught their first grayling in these waters, while seasoned international anglers travel here for trophy fish—heavy grayling topping 20 inches are not uncommon, and the average size of these fish would impress anywhere in the world. Even so, you don’t need to get technical here; Klinkham54 I AMERICAN ANGLER

mers are the preferred grayling fly, so much that the camp bar has a Klinkhammer Krossing sign prominently displayed. Exceptional fisheries require exceptional care—a concept Per Jobs, the driving force behind Tjuonajokk, realizes. A composer by trade, Jobs now operates three Swedish lodges: Tjuonajokk and Ammarnäs in northern Sweden; and Gotland, an island in southern Sweden that offers wade fishing in the Baltic Sea for sea-run browns that range to 10 pounds. All are booked through Fish Your Dream, one of Sweden’s premier sport fishing businesses. Jobs could bring more anglers and common tourists to these lodges; however, he’s more focused on a long-term goal—sustainable tourism. He realizes the resource—the place and the fish—is more important than peak visitation. It’s the old game of quality over quantity, the experience versus the almighty dollar, and Jobs wants to ensure these resources will be around for years to come. He’s found that people are willing to pay more for a legitimate experience in the wild, not the “canned” outdoor adventures that seem to be trending. “Time is more precious to people in these days,” he said to me during my visit last July, while sipping coffee from a guski, the traditional Sami wooden mug. “People are more urbanized and are seeking a better experience [when they travel]; learning sustainability and other things. The more people are in nature, the more interest they have to protect it.” Sustainability rests at the heart of all three Fish Your Dream destinations—Tjuonajokk and Guenja are two of 67 Swedish destinations to be granted the coveted Nature’s Best certification, a national quality label tagged to lodges and tour operators providing an ethical, sustainable experience. Jobs knows that some aspects of running a camp are unavoidably intrusive—Tjuonajokk, for example, is accessible only via helicopter or a very long, very ambitious hike from Kiruna. Jobs WWW.AMERICANANGLER.COM

In Sweden, the backwaters abound with northern pike, while the open water lakes and streams provide opportunity for some very large grayling. These fish aren’t educated; simple bugs suffice.



realizes this is simply part of doing business and is actively taking steps to make the camp as sustainable as possible, including the gradual switch to solar power and utilizing local ingredients in meals. His fishing guides are well trained in proper fish-handling techniques and are eager to educate clients on the benefits of keeping fish in the water and releasing them with minimal handling.

Guenja Guenja is a Sami ecolodge (really, a homestead that allows the occasional guest) and is surrounded by mountains. It’s perched on a bench above Lilla-Tjulträsket, an ancient glacial lake that sustains a lively population of brown trout. While not trophy size—most average 14 to 18 inches with some stretching to 24— these fish are aggressive, which is what you would expect in a lake that is rarely fished. The surrounding mountains and forests are refuge for moose, reindeer, wolves, bears, wolverines, lynx, and Sweden’s elusive and endangered arctic fox. It’s made clear in the simple vastness of the location that this is the reindeer-herding Sami people’s place—not ours. We’re merely visiting, spending a few days of our lives under 8,000-year-old glacial mountains, catching and releasing fish. For owners Mikael and Anki Vinke, life at Guenja looks much the same as it may have centuries before. The outpost has been in Mikael’s family for generations, and some buildings still standing today date back to 1843. Many of the buildings have been restored over the years; everything built by hand using natural materials found in the area. Rooftops are composed of of birch bark, carefully installed in three layers for weather resistance and topped off with a hearty layer of peat moss, a natural insulator that keeps the buildings remarkably cool in summer and warm during winter. The hearthstones in the main cabin tell a tale—Mikael gathered them from a looming mountainside across the lake, brought them across in his wooden canoe, and carefully created the hearth, which seems to be the heart of Guenja, a gathering place to share stories and trade notes about the fishing at Lilla-Tjulträsket. The outpost is overseen by the keen eyes of veteran moosehunting dog Daiju, whose name means “sharp eyes” in the Sami tongue. It’s easy to imagine the lean, seasoned dog sprinting through the snow to corner a moose under the darkness of winter while Mikael stalks steadily behind, rifle at the ready. Daiju’s home was recently invaded by Dalvi (which means “winter”), a bouncy puppy of the same breed. Dalvi is proving to be a joy and a challenge—visitors must guard their shoes, as the pup has decided they are her favorite chew toys. Just 12 groups per year, each with a maximum of 12 people, are allowed at Guenja. While Mikael prepared the property to first accept guests in 1995, Anki built an ecotourism society, learning the delicate balance between sharing a resource and preserving it. The lodge’s first guest arrived in 1998 and was none other than the king of Sweden, King Carl XVI Gustaf. One morning, with mugs of strong coffee at hand, we sat in the small dining room, soaking in the heat of sunlight filtering through a window, and talked about the future of Guenja. “Ecotourism for me is a way of living,” Anki said. “In your bone, in your blood. Who you are.” She realizes that young, 56 I AMERICAN ANGLER

would-be guides just getting into the tourism sector need training that values culture and sustainability—without the resource, they have nothing. She and Mikael are actively involved in the Arctic Fox Fund (the largest surviving population of arctic foxes resides in the region) and are actively involved in Nature’s Best. For Anki, ecotourism and fishing are a way to ensure the place her life revolves around stays pure for generations to come. When I visited last July, she had a grandchild on the way, and it was clear the longevity of Guenja was on her mind. Fly fishing is secondary for the Vinkas; harvesting fish has always been a part of the Sami lifestyle, but sport fishing remains somewhat of a foreign concept. While they do have a number of fly fishing guests every year, it’s in part that lack of pressure that ensures Lilla-Tjulträsket’s fishery remains exceptional. As mentioned, the lake supports a sturdy population of brown trout that are more than willing to play. Wet flies, especially March Browns, are the order of the day, but when the evening hatch really kicks off, the fish come to the surface and attack drys. For me, it’s comforting to know that in distant areas of the globe, balance is found between fisheries management and sustainability. And it all makes perfect sense: without the Kaitum’s grayling or Lilla-Tjulträsket’s brown trout, we have no industry. Looking through my travel notes, often jotted while riverside under the midnight sun, one paragraph best sums up my experience fishing Swedish Lapland: “Feels like I’ve been here a lifetime . . . the Arctic sun turning life into one long day itself . . . a simple cycle: fish, eat when you can, sleep (a little) when possible . . . life morphs into a series of modest tasks, all overseen by Arctic skies.” Based in Missoula, Montana, freelance writer and photographer Jess McGlothlin is happiest working in the far-off corners of the world . . . where the good stuff happens. WWW.AMERICANANGLER.COM

A seasonal scorecard shows the fish to beat, while a cozy, rustic bar offers a place to tell stories about those fish caught and lost, including some big northern pike, as shown here.






Fish Deals Inherent difficulties when “guiding” as trade-out. By John Gierach


’ve taken my periodontist fishing a few times. (Simply put, if your dentist is the person who takes care of your teeth, your periodontist is the one who keeps those teeth in your head in the first place.) I didn’t purposefully set out to find a periodontist who was also a fly fisher; it just happened in the seemingly random way that like-minded people bump into each other more often than you’d think they would through chance alone. Coincidentally, his name is also John. This connection didn’t exactly make us best friends overnight, but the shared frame of reference illuminated what would otherwise have been a purely professional relationship. For instance, our appointments always begin with the usual questions about where we’ve fished lately and what we’ve caught, and sometimes one or the other of us will whip out a snapshot of an especially nice fish. There’s nothing competitive in this—it isn’t as if every fish has to outdo the last—it’s just that we’ve both long since learned to save our bragging for those who might be impressed. So, when I needed some expensive oral surgery done and my eyes bugged out when I learned how much it would cost, John said, “I’ll tell you what, why don’t you just take me fishing and we’ll call it even.” Of course, I recognized the offer as charity disguised as barter in order to preserve my pride as well as my teeth, but I took him up on it anyway. Taking someone fishing isn’t the same as guiding—it’s less formal, no money changes hands, and you’ll also fish instead of merely hovering with a landing net. But it’s similar to guiding because you’ll decide where you’re going, do the driving, and once there it’ll be up to you to suggest a fly pattern or maybe even supply one. And if you’re in the proper spirit, you’ll leave the best water to your guest, or at least give him first crack at it. It’s also like guiding in that the success of the trip depends on you in some ill-defined way. The hardest people to take fishing are kids, which is why



that’s a chore best left to their parents. I remember being taken by my father and a favorite uncle beginning around the age of four. I don’t remember being a pain in the ass, but I must have been because at that age all kids are. They can’t be left unsupervised for even a second around potential hazards like bodies of water, fishhooks, pocketknives, and bait that they’re just as likely to play with as feed to the fish. Also, they don’t know anything and can’t understand much, so they have to be instructed constantly, repeatedly, and in the simplest imaginable terms. It’s not their fault. They’re clumsy by nature, have short attention spans and no practical experience, and have only recently learned to deal effectively with things like gravity. As old as the adults seemed to me then, they were barely out of their 20s, had young, pretty wives, and had already been through a lot. They’d grown up during the Great Depression, gone off to fight in a world war and were now back home with their shoulders to the wheel, building families and careers and accumulating responsibilities, of which I was one. I was the quintessential baby boomer, born late in 1946, almost nine months to the day after Dad got home from the war. That’s a story I could never tell while Mom was alive, because the racy implication of it made her blush. These were busy, hardworking men, and it’s a fair bet that they didn’t really look forward to dragging a kid along on the rare days when they had the time to go fishing. But a kid had to be taught certain manly skills, like how to fish, and if they wouldn’t do it, who would? At least I was gullible enough to watch my bobber and keep quiet so I didn’t scare the fish. It would be a few years before I’d start to wonder why I had to be quiet, while the men could not only talk freely, but laugh louder, more often, and in a raunchier way than they ever did at home around their wives and daughters. I wondered what was so funny, but their sidelong glances in my direction told me I wasn’t supposed to know. If you can weather the boredom of soaking bait at a tender age, they’ll say you took to fishing like a duck to water, but it comes more naturally to some than to others. There are those who can’t stand the inherent uncertainty of it, or are intimidated by the knowledge that there’s another intelligence involved with an agenda that’s the opposite of theirs, so even if they do everything right, it’s still not a sure thing. And fishing with a fly rod adds extra difficulties. At least in the beginning, fly casting seems counterintuitive and all that line in the air occasionally gets the best of even those you’d have to call experts. When people ask me about it, I say that if you’re not naturally patient or if you’re one of those people who can’t stand for things to be all tangled up, this is not your sport. Or as the motto of a fly shop in Minneapolis called Mend Provisions puts it, “Fly fishing is hard, think twice.” I’ve taught two people to fly fish and so far I’m batting a thousand, not because I’m a good teacher, but because they were good students. One was a lifelong bait and spin fisherman with great fish sense who didn’t forget everything he knew just because he’d gotten his hands on a different kind of tackle. The

other simply had a mind sharp enough to sort out and follow my imperfect instructions, plus the kind of thoughtless physicality that made it come naturally. A few casting lessons on the grass and a little time on a stream to illustrate how moving water differs from a lawn, and they were both in business. Almost overnight they went from the kind of people you take fishing to the kind you go fishing with. Usually I’m taking a friend from out of town as part of a long-running economy of favors offered and returned until neither of us knows or cares who’s ahead. Most of these folks already know how to fish as well as I do—if not better—so all I have to do is pick where we’ll go. But that decision keeps me awake at night. Do I shoot for a sure bet or take the long shot? Will planted rainbows do, or should we hold out for wild trout? Do I pick a spot where if we can catch ’em at all, we’ll catch ’em on dry flies or go someplace where we might have to dredge nymphs? And what about season, stream flow, weather, the timing of hatches, and all the other things that are out of my control, like water managers who’ll blow up a river in the middle of the pale morning duns because folks downstream want to water their lawns and flush their toilets? All I can do is take my best shot, keep at least one backup plan in my hip pocket, and trust that if it doesn’t work out, my guest will understand. It’s not that I aspire to be the Martha Stewart of fly fishing; it’s just that when you take someone fishing, you want things to go well. After all, you’re playing the role of the local fisherman who knows the score, so you don’t want to embarrass yourself. And then there’s the matter of lunch. Usually I’ll make sandwiches at home. Nothing fancy, though maybe a step up from peanut butter on white bread. But sometimes we’ll stop along the way. As the host, I’m supposed to choose a location because my guest doesn’t know where to eat any more than he knows where to fish. Given the kinds of places we go, we often don’t have a lot of choices. I think it was Jim Harrison who said you should never eat at a place with gas pumps out front, although if I remember right, even he made an exception for French truck stops. A lot depends on the person you’re with. When my friend Oliver comes to visit, I know that he dearly loves fly fishing for trout and is pretty good at it, but that he lives in a suburb of Paris and doesn’t get out as often as he’d like. He also once told me that most of the fly fishermen he knows in France will say they had a good year if they landed six or seven trout, so I take him to places where, if everything goes well, he’ll land 20 in an afternoon. So far, everything has gone well and, if nothing else, his happiness is infectious. The first time I took Oliver fishing, we made a quick stop for hot dogs at a Shell gas station. At the time, he assured me that he “adored” American junk food, but later he joked with a friend about how I’d had the gall to feed a Frenchman “roller dogs” for lunch. So on his next visit, I made sandwiches with fresh bakery bread, good deli roast beef, Havarti cheese, and the kind of spicy

We must have resembled two of those codgers you sometimes see sitting together on a park bench, going over the same ground for the hundredth time as if they were still searching for the car keys they’d lost in 1962.




mustard that clears your sinuses. He said they were “okay.” The last time my friend Ed came out, I decided to take him to a big pool I’d discovered high up on a small stream near here. I’d done well there twice before, and both times I’d caught fish that made me reconsider my opinion that the fishing here wasn’t as good as it used to be. It was the kind of place you keep to yourself for a while, and then grudgingly share with certain close friends, with the knowledge—or the hope—that they’d eventually share such a thing with you. I even orchestrated the day by ducking off the trail far enough downstream that we could work our way up through pocket water that held some lesser, but still good pools and leave the big one I had in mind for the late afternoon finale. It was a solid plan, but this was late September of a drought year and the creek was uncharacteristically low, clear and bony. Furthermore, it was one of those brilliant fall days with the high altitude sun blazing in a cloudless afternoon sky: the kind of conditions that make wild trout almost uncatchably spooky. By fishing small flies on long, fine leaders and even longer casts, we managed to eke out a few small trout, but even then the fish would sometimes explode away from our casts like shrapnel. I’d tried to imagine what the big pool would look like in this low flow, and as it turned out I called it about right. It was shallower and narrower than I remembered, with once-submerged cobbles lying bleached and dry on the inside bend, and the gushing riffle at its head reduced to a dribble. The highwater stains were clearly visible on the rocks, and Ed said he could imagine how good it would be on a cloudy day with a better head of water. The best we could manage was a couple of small browns and brookies. I wondered if the pool had been discovered and fished out in the six weeks since I’d seen it last, although it seemed more likely that the big fish had simply gone wherever it is they go when you can’t find them. Before long we were sitting on the exposed roots of a huge Englemann spruce, ostensibly resting the water for another try, but really just talking away the rest of the afternoon the way we’d talked away so many before. We must have resembled two of those codgers you sometimes see sitting together on a park bench, going over the same ground for the hundredth time as if they were still searching for the car keys they’d lost in 1962. The first time I took John (the periodontist) fishing, we went to a trout lake on a lease I used to belong to. This was a sprawling, shallow reservoir that was dammed up ages ago to capture spring water for the stock on a working ranch since turned into a weedy, buggy fish pond full of fat rainbows that could be real particular about what they’d eat. It was rare to hook a trout under 16 inches long; the biggest one I ever landed measured 29 inches; and there was a legendary 10-pounder that some claimed to have seen but never hooked. I didn’t know it then, but this place was on its way out and WWW.AMERICANANGLER.COM

it was on that trip that I noticed what, in hindsight, turned out to be the first ominous signs. This was the summer after the thousand-year flood of 2013 that, along with all the other damage, had somehow rearranged the water table in such a way that the springs feeding the lake were going dry. It didn’t happen all at once, but the day John and I went out there, I noticed that the big springs weren’t running as hard as usual and a few of the smaller ones weren’t running at all. I didn’t think much of it at the time, but within a year, the springs would give out entirely, the lake would warm, the trout would begin to die off, and I’d drop out of the lease. But that day the place fished as well as ever and we caught trout as if there were no tomorrow. Some of them were nice and big, but John lost his biggest fish. I won’t guess at its size, but he’d landed some well over 20 inches, and this one was larger still. The fish shook its head for a few seconds, made one long run, and then headed straight for a lone fence post in the shallows where he deftly wrapped John’s leader and broke off. What that post was doing in the water is anyone’s guess. The American West is lousy with these steel T-posts sunk in places that must have made sense once, but are now real head-scratchers. The next time I took John out, I hired my guide friend, Jin, to float us for a green drake hatch, and it couldn’t have gone better. We launched Jin’s raft at an improvised put-in and dawdled through the late morning casting caddisfly drys and droppers, picking up a few trout while we waited for the main event. This was the kind of fishing that occupies your attention, but leaves enough room to notice and appreciate the lovely little river we were on, the steep canyon it flowed through, and the pleasantly warm summer day. We saw our first drakes more or less on schedule at around 11:30 a.m., and within 15 minutes the fish began to rise. From there on, we caught trout at a steady clip on drake patterns—hair-wings, feather-wings, emergers, whatever. A fish that wouldn’t take one fly would usually take another, and those that wouldn’t take anything could be ignored because there were so many other good trout to cast to. Sometimes we fished from the raft, sometimes we stopped to wade-fish runs, and in the end, Jin paced the day so that we were in mayflies for four or five hours and when they finally petered out we were no more than a quarter mile from the takeout. There’s a lesson in storytelling here: It’s hard to build narrative tension when everything goes according to plan. Long story short, it was as close to a perfect day of trout fishing as you can get in the real world. Even lunch was good, and as I bit into my luscious deli sandwich with my solid, useful teeth, I was reminded again of my debt to John. But even that had begun to feel less like an obligation and more like just one more excuse to go fishing. John Gierach lives and works in Larimer County, Colorado. His most recent book is A Fly Rod of Your Own. MARCH/APRIL 2019 I 61

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(Continued from page 64) loop across a minuscule bite of the river. Again I try leaning on the fish. Again I curse. Then finally it yields. I reel as fast as I can, the edge of the handle rattling against nail clippers and a pair of reading glasses dangling from my neck. I promise to watch my language if I can just see this thing. The fish turns and swims directly our way. I curse again, skipping backwards over the rocks to keep the line tight, finally reaching up to strip line that falls in a dangerous pile at my feet. “This is fun,” says the gal, smiling above me on the jagged rocks. “I always lose the big ones.” I manage to get the loose line back on the reel. The fish bulls this way and that in the broad pool alongside the ledge. Beyond the quiet water, a vast upwelling lifts the river into a long wave that advances like a tidal bore our way. “There it is!” The gal aims a finger at the pool. Wow,” she adds. Wow is right. I inch my way down to the wet rocks, searching for a landing spot. “I’ve got a net,” says the guy. I guide the fish through deep water and a tangle of ledgy rocks. A shorthandled trout net appears; it’ll have to do. The fish makes a sharp, frightening run into the shadows of underwater rocks. Then another. Finally the fish breaks the surface and I guide it to the net. It all feels way too serious to celebrate. Maybe it’s my age. I take the net, the fish. I hold the fish in both hands, raise it toward the butt of the rod—only to remember I’m fishing a 6-weight, not my usual trout rod with incremental 12- to 26-inch marks on it. “What do you think?” the guy asks. “Twenty-four? Twenty-five inches?” I get the fish back in the water. I keep hold of the thick wrist of the tail, all the while admiring yet another faultless UC trout sparkling in the sunlight, good as they come if not nearly so big. The body flexes; I open my hand and the fish glides free, already beginning to fade into shadows. “There it goes,” says the gal.

(Continued from page 41) most beautiful places I’ve ever seen, with the razor-edged Absarokas rearing over a broad, scoured-out floodplain resembling a deserted Alaskan river. I stood behind the camper, plotting my fishing moves and scanning the braided, willow-fringed riparian zone for grizzlies. While debating the wisdom of hiking solo into the Chief Washakie Wilderness for wild cut adventures, another angler pulled up, a friendly Cody local who generously shared insights. We discussed the wilderness trail and he mentioned this: “It’s real good fishing up there, Jeff, but a Forest Service ranger told me I’m crazy to hike in there by myself, even with bear spray. I was at the trailhead once and saw a mama grizzly atop a horse trailer, shoveling feed down to her hungry cubs. . . . I’m not trying to scare you; you’re from Montana, after all.” Sensing this was not merely a self-serving diversionary tactic well known to anglers, I felt my previous enthusiasm for hiking into the wilderness ebb some. Trying to be optimistic and keep fear at bay, I replied, “Damn, I knew there was a reason I brought two cans of bear spray on this trip!” The sprawling Shoshone watershed breaks into several components: the headwaters, meaning the North and South Forks; Buffalo Bill Reservoir (with comfortable state park campgrounds); and the productive canyon tailwater below the impoundment, offering excellent fishing all the way past Cody. The forks are both inviting, but different. The South Fork is wilder, but with less public land below the wilderness boundary. Anglers need a good map to locate scattered riverside BLM, Forest Service, and state parcels. Conversely, much of the North Fork traverses the Shoshone National Forest, with a string of campgrounds following the river, below spectacularly eroded hoodoos. The disadvantage is the North Fork is hugged by the highway leading to Yellowstone National Park’s east entrance, and is very busy during prime season. Post Labor Day sojourns are perfect for easy wading, reduced crowds, and fall color. Yet there’s another consideration: With the first hint of fall, many trout migrate downstream into Buffalo Bill Reservoir to overwinter. The later you go, the fewer trout you’ll cast over, including some of the biggest. The prime window

Scott Sadil lives in Hood River, Oregon. His newest fiction collection, Goodnews River, will be released soon by Stackpole Books. WWW.AMERICANANGLER.COM

is narrow. As with most Basin water, visit before July and you’ll likely confront a tsunami of mountain runoff.

Wild Mountain Postscript Happily hiking back to my remote South Fork camp after bear-free fishing, I spotted an almost hallucinatory sight at the nearby Boulder Basin trailhead, sending a chill up my spine: flashing ambulance lights, milling emergency personnel, and a just-landed helicopter. I immediately thought, Someone just got mauled by a grizzly. I hiked over to the chopper to assess the situation: The EMTs received a report of an injured elk hunter above 9,000 feet, but didn’t know the circumstances. They were letting the wind abate, gearing up for an emergency rescue in an area punctuated by two-mile-high peaks. I watched the chopper lift off, darting dragonfly-like over canyons and ridges, disappearing over the wilderness. An hour later, I heard the copter again, a speck over the high peaks. As it came into better view, I saw the wounded bowhunter, dangling from a 50-foot rope, getting the ride of his life. The terrain had been too rough to land, so they harnessed him in while the copter hovered above. Now, the expertly piloted ship slowly descended, lowering the stricken man to a waiting ambulance. Turns out, I unfairly blamed bears for the mishap. The hunter was bucked off his horse and busted several ribs. But that’s the way it is in the spectacular Bighorn Basin country—the high rewards of venturing into one of the wildest landscapes in the Lower 48 come with risk that, when adequately assessed, is generally worth taking. In the interest of an adventurous, road-tripping outdoor life, sometimes you just throw yourself at the world, letting the chips fall where they will. Ultimately, it’s what we live for. As Ed Abbey penned in Desert Solitaire, “May your trails be crooked, winding, lonesome, dangerous, leading to the most amazing view. May your mountains rise into and above the clouds. May your rivers flow without end. . . .” Jeff Erickson pens travel articles for numerous fishing publications and is always on the hunt for untamed trout. He lives in Helena, Montana. MARCH/APRIL 2019 I 63


WATERLINES by Scott Sadil

Upper Columbia


OU KNOW IT WILL happen eventually. Stand on the bank at the bottom of the Long Eddy, launching casts that swing to heavy fish rising against a rock ledge, where the current bends and slowly accelerates and finally dumps back into the gut of the upper Columbia—all just below the Canadian border—and you can’t help but imagine the worst. It’s drake season, and the fish takes a Black Quill emerger, size 8, swung on a taut line. You have a much better chance from the downstream reach of the ledge. But as luck would have it, a guy and a gal showed up, the two of them spread apart along the spiky outcropping, a spot that suggests a station from which better to target inshore bonita. Or calico bass. The rumble of upwelling currents, plus the sudden reversals of tens of thousands of cfs, stretched out in undulating patterns the size of football fields, does nothing to quell the sensation of surf-fishing for misplaced rainbow trout. The guy can throw a long line. He wishes he could throw it longer.

I realize the odds as the fish backs out of the bend and is gulped down the chute by the main current. I’m already rock-hopping. A two-foot-long trout has a lot of sail area; if they push five or six pounds or more, surface area alone allows them, in current, to empty a reel—even if they don’t turn around and race downstream. The current here, pressed against the end of the ledge, looks like the bow wake coming off the stem of a racing sloop. My line creases the far corner, dark and jagged as a rusty hull. What are these upper Columbia trout? Where do they come from? How do they get so big? Anglers who happen upon these unruly waters, the largest trout river you’ll likely ever fish, invariably ask themselves about the nature of these remarkable fish. Are they native redbands? Vestigial steelhead from a time before the great salmonid vasectomy executed by the construction of Grand Coulee Dam? Can they really grow to such impressive dimensions eating just insects—even if the black quill and various caddisfly hatches can seem, nightly, on the order of dangerous infestations? Just 20 years ago, there were still state fish-

eries biologists who argued that there were no resident rainbows living in this section of the river—while at the same time, a handful of savvy anglers concocted size 6 and 8 dry flies to imitate the dark summer mayfly that was first called, mistakenly, a Hexegenia. Much else has been learned about this fishery—although nobody with a fly rod in his or her hand still knows exactly what to do when a 30-inch-plus trout, running with the roiled currents of the biggest river in the West, threatens to empty a reel of every inch of line. Somehow I’m still tight to the fish when I come up alongside the gal casting from the downstream ledge. “You may have to swim after it now.” She’s blond, of course, all smiles, half my age. We stand there, staring into the boiling blue river. Colliding currents swirl, swell, roar. Every time I lean on the fish, it takes more line. I apologize for a long string of obscenities. “I can’t believe you ran over here without falling,” she says. “I can barely walk on this stuff.” Nearby, the guy lobs another long (Continued on page 63)




Every inch counts.

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