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New Fly Guy - The After Action Review
Wednesday, November 07, 2007

The US Army has a long tradition of doing an "after action review".  These reviews are no holds barred, frank discussions of what went right and wrong during a particular operation and is key to improving the capabilities of a unit and its leaders.

In that context, I looked back over my first season as a new fly guy, I have to ask myself the question...

Am I really dumber than a fish?

If not, why are they so hard to catch?  or, better framed... Why are big fish so hard to catch?  ... even more specific... Why are big fish so hard to catch in the MD, VA, WV area? ... narrowing it down... Why are big trout so hard to catch in the MD, VA, and WV area?

I can round up any number of bluegills, chubbs, greenies and bronzebacks.  Early in the season, I can get my share of "normal" size trout - like on Morgan Run or Big Hunting Creek.  I can go fishing in California and have great luck with the big guys on the McCloud, the Pit, the Trinity or the Upper Sac...

But here on the East Coast, the big boys and girls remain elusive.  I'm shunned and outcast; slammed down on every occasion by trout that detect and then mock my presence with a flick of a tail or a swirl at my fly.

I've got all the toys.

  • Decent rod and reel
  • Backup rod and reel
  • Backup backup rod and reel
  • Spools with 4wt, 5wt, 6wt, 7wt for various wind and stream conditions
  • Bass taper 6wt
  • GPS and topo maps
  • Flies - dry, wet, streamers, terrestrials and nymphs - some of which may actually attract a fish as strongly as they persuade a fisherman to buy them since they "look good"
  • Doodads hanging all over my vest
  • All sorts of stuff that is branded Orvis or LL Bean (so... it must be good?)
  • Fly fishing books and DVDs - Lefty Kreh on my laptop for the breaks at work
  • 48 years of experience reading water
  • An empty savings account as my new addiction gained control

I've got the book smarts on fly stuff from reading all sorts of guides, soaking up magazines to hone technique.  I joined TU.  I practiced in my lawn.  I participate in forums and treasure the advice gleaned there and look at the pictures of massive, big beast trout others post with a longing eye. [Check out what BayEKane constantly posts on www.tristatesportsmen.com - Look at this post - I want to get this good!]

But, I'm just as likely to come home skunked as not.  You can spout flowery language for hours on the joy of the remote fishing experience, the thrill of the hunt and the energy drawn from being in the woods, but at the end of the day, you need to feel that jerk so strong that it almost pulls you off your feet; the fish fight that leaves both of you exhausted and heaving with barely enough energy to release that demon back to fight another time, another day.

Two conclusions.

  1. Like real estate, Location, Location, Location
  2. You can't fight weather

Location:  To catch a nice trout, you have to go where they are.  Duh.

I know the folks who love the little native brookies will disagree, but I'm done with them.  I enjoyed the Shenandoah when I worked it heavily in 2006 and got a huge kick out of releasing the rare 9 inch brookie back to fight another day... but then I hit the North Branch and never turned back. In one trip to Lostland Run where I caught the biggest trout of my life - one of those big brood trout they throw into the river every now and then - I became an obsessed elephant hunter, a pig catcher... I want BIG game.

In 2007, I worked my way through Gelso's book - Guide to Maryland Trout Fishing - and now realize that most of the water covered is small, dainty water. Upon closer read, he extols the wonder of the scenery more than he addresses the size of the catch.  Yeah.  I know many will be shocked, climb up on a soapbox and proclaim that it is the hunt that matters.  Catching a skittish 5 inch brookie should provide equal satisfaction to the true purist.  I'm not there yet.  Maybe I will grow into that attitude.  But I want the big boys.  I want to brag.  My ego demands a trout of equal or bigger size... at least every once in a while.

Conclusion: You only find beasts in water that will support them.  That's big water.  That's where I will be next season.

Weather:  This leads to the second conclusion.  You can't fight the weather.  You will not find a trout in water that gets too warm - like Town Creek or the Patapsco.  Both have delayed harvest programs, but even the State encourages anglers to keep their catch when that restriction is lifted since the water warms to the point where the trout die anyway.  I get it.  There is a reason that all the state stocking programs end in May or early June and most of the delayed harvest areas open up for slaughter on June 15.  Everyone else must get it as well - and those locations are probably cleaned out by July 15 and the trout are dead from heat by August.  Water that will not allow a trout to survive year round, will not grow a dinosaur.  The only biggies that exist in those waters are the big brooders that plop off the stock truck to spend their last days on earth in doleful anticipation of the hook and the barbeque.

Conclusion: Let it go.  Switch from Trout with the weather

ok.

Looking back on this first fly season, I realized that I was still fishing for trout in small water well into July.  I've still got plenty of trip reports to put up on places like Owens and Great Seneca Creek.  Small water; small, hot water.  No wonder my catch rate went down - the trout were already gone (pardon the ego). The trips to these streams was still worth it from a recon perspective.  I'll be able to share what looked good and what was bad as we head into the trip reports over the next several months.

Looking into next season, I'm going to watch the stocking reports more carefully.  Not that I want to be there when the truck pulls up, but if I am going to go to a stretch of water, I'll hit it within 3 weeks of stocking.  That puts me in with the trout.  The stocking programs include seeding a percentage of the bigger guys, so that's fine as well - I just need to get there when the trout are there.

Second, I will move on to smallies much earlier next year.  Smallies are tough guys and, in many ways, more fun than trout.  Why?  They are not stocked and have grown up in the wild with all the fight of a wild fish.  Many stockers just roll over and give up.  Smallies like pretty much any water, but they will not grow to massive size in small water - so this means I need to spend more time on the Potomac, the Rapp, Rapidan and other major rivers here in the tri-state area.

Third, I'll hone my emerging fly guy skills on the stockers since they are not stream smart. I need to take some candy from babies to learn how to trick their older siblings.  There is a long list of things associated with presentation that I am still doing wrong.  I'll diagnose them and the solution via tapes and friends.  But nothing replaces the feedback from an actual trout.  So, the stockers will provide that feedback and allow me to gradually get better. 

Fourth, I'll recognize that you do need to crawl around a bit more and be sneaky.  Over the last month, I've watched fish scatter as I walked up or waded a little too fast.  Got to slow down to do better.  I'll get a pair of kneepads (no jokes about using them at work as well).

I'll also look forward to the next opportunity to be trapped in California on business over a weekend to head north and tangle with the monsters that lurk in the Mount Shasta region!  Dang.  I'm missing a record steelhead run on the Trinity as I type this.  Oh well.

Finally, I really do want to thank everyone who has offered encouragement as I completed the transition - I wish I had done this years ago!

California wild rainbow

The beast of Lostland Run

 Unless stated otherwise, this article was authored by Steve Moore

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