Brown Trout Supreme

Not once have I ever heard a fellow fly fisherman utter the words, “Oh, it’s just another brown.”  Even small browns are a treat.  Larger browns are a prized possession. Many sleepless nights have consumed my time; time spent searching for a single fish that only comes out to feed in the still of the night.  Brown trout reign supreme in the eyes of many anglers and have rightfully earned that standing.  Despite their voracious nature, they are also extremely wary, offering a challenge to any who are willing to accept.  The past few weeks have offered many exciting opportunities to fish for browns and my friends and I have not been disappointed.

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Henry’s Fork Butter Ball

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Two Handfuls of Streamer Eatin’ Brownie

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Slab of Silver

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Mouthful of Mylar

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Chris with More River Gold

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Magic Dragon Muncher

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Salmon Fly Eater

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Darkie

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Kyle with a Brownie that Smashed the Peanut Envy 

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Hitting the Banks

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Connect the Dots

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Canal Fishing has its Perks

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As Wild as the Come

If you haven’t spent much time targeting browns, now is the time to start.  I promise you won’t be disappointed!

Brown Town

One of my favorite things about fly fishing is the different places that it takes me.  I love exploring new water.  Having only lived in Eastern Idaho for three years, I still have a lot of exploring to do.  There are so many miles of water here, it would take a life time to explore it all.  My buddies and I are always on google earth, sharing screen caps through Face Book messages with comments such as, “Have you ever fished here before?” or “This run looks like it has to hold some serious hogs”.  Often times places end up being a total bust, but every once in a while everything comes together and you find that perfect spot.  There is something about finding a new run that is chock full of fish eagerly waiting to eat your fly.

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Dirty Water Brown

Anyone that knows me knows that I have a bit of a love/hate relationship with the South Fork of the Snake River.  Most of the year the flows are too high to reasonably wade fish.  If you know where to look, there are side channels that can be fished without the use of a drift boat, but they are pretty few and far between.  Late fall through early spring is prime time on the South Fork for the wade fisherman.  Three years ago, fishing was phenomenal on the South Fork.  It was not uncommon for me to go out in the afternoon and fish til dark and land 30+ fish, with at least a handful in the 16″-18″ range.  The past two years have been a different story.  Aside from night fishing, I have had a terribly difficult time catching very many fish.  Even my usual spots were not producing the normal numbers of trout they did in years past.  I attribute this partially to the fact that we have had terrible winters the last two years.  Unusual fluctuations in water flows have messed with insect life and have also reshaped the river, causing fish to hold in different runs than they did previously.  Simply put, I was a bit put off with the idea of fishing the South Fork.

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Last Light Brownie

Last week, I decided it was time to give the South Fork another chance.  I went and fished a couple of my old haunts and quickly caught a couple of small cutthroat trout.  I was much more interested in catching brown trout, so I decided to do a little exploring.  The South Fork is riddled with side channels and almost every one of them holds a lot of fish.  I decided to go fish a new side channel that I had not explored much before.  The last time I had attempted to fish it I had been run off by a couple moose and was a bit hesitant to return.  The deep cut bank on one side and gravel bar on the other made any route of escape a difficult one.  After checking the area and deciding there weren’t any moose near by (at least none that I could see) I decided to jump down into the channel.  Within a couple casts I was hooked up on a decent little brownie.  I quickly released the fish and slowly worked my way down the channel.  At one point in time I was catching fish on every single cast.  The fishing continued like this until dark and I ended up with 30 or so fish to hand, most of them between 12″-16″s.  I considered staying to night fish but didn’t want to deal with fishing in the rain in the dark.  I was content with the day and already planned on returning in the morning.

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Chromer

With my faith somewhat restored in the South Fork, I was excited to return to the newly discovered run the next morning.  Unfortunately, conditions were not going to be as prime for streamer fishing.  A couple inches of snow had fallen, the wind was blowing, and the temperature had dropped about 20-25 degrees.  Water clarity was also beginning to return to normal.  I arrived at the river with the air temp somewhere around 15 degrees, and with windchill, it felt somewhere in the single digits.  Undeterred, I made my way down to the run and began working my wooly bugger behind some boulders.  It didn’t take long to hook up with a healthy 16″ brown.  I worked my way down to the tail out, only picking up three fish along the way.  I figured the fishing would be slower with the change in weather and decided it was time to move elsewhere.

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Blizzard Fishing

After deciding where to try next, I made the short drive to one of my favorite spots on the river.  It was immediately evident that the fishing was going to be better in this location.  After only a couple casts I had hooked up with a fish.  I worked my way down river for 1/2 a mile or so, picking up fish the whole way, but most of these fish were smaller.  Things eventually started to slow down and I decided to start heading back to my truck.  On the way back, I planned to stop and throw to one of the deeper pools one last time.  In years past I had seen some very respectable browns in this hole, so I knew there was most likely a nice fish in there.  I cast my streamer, this time letting it sink much longer so I could work the deep run more effectively.  I began stripping the fly slowly towards me, and on the third or fourth strip felt the take of a noticeably larger fish.  When big browns hit, they don’t hold anything back.  They attack your fly with a vengeance and there is no mistaking that they are there.  After the initial take, they usually dive straight for the bottom or the river.  As I fought the fish, I did all that I could to work him up from depths of the river bottom.  He did not want to budge at all.  I fish with pretty heavy line, so I wasn’t too concerned about breaking him off.  Fly fishing for carp really teaches you how much pressure you can put on a fish before your knot will fail.  Eventually he came to the surface, throwing a huge wave of water.  I finally caught a glimpse of him and let out a shout of excitement.  Big browns are not very easy to come by, especially in the light of day, and I was face to face with the biggest one I had ever hooked on the South Fork.

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That Head…

I scooped the fish into my net and sat there for a minute, admiring his monstrous head.  His kype was so large that it kept his mouth from closing all the way.  I had never seen such a large head on a trout before and was quite impressed.  I quickly snapped a couple pictures and sent the big guy on his way.  I can’t help but wonder what he might have looked like in October, prior to the spawn.  Sometimes after catching a nice fish I decide that it is ok to call it quits for the day.  This was one of those days.  I looked up, thanked the Lord for the opportunity to catch such a beautiful trout, and made the hike back to my truck.

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One of My Biggest Browns To Date

Sometimes you catch a fish and the entire experience runs through your mind over and over again, like a scratched DVD stuck in a loop.  While fishing today, I couldn’t help but re-run the experience of catching that brown through my mind.  I was already content with the day before I ever stepped out of my truck.  Fishing was a little slower today, but I still managed a nice 22″-23″ hen.  She was still skinny from the spawn, but a healthy and beautiful fish none the less.  Brown trout hold a special place in my heart, and it was nice to take a break from the ‘bows I’ve been more accustomed to this Winter.

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Torpedo

Sometimes all it takes is a couple good days of fishing to restore your faith in an old favorite spot.  Other times it might take only a single fish.  Through a combination of both, my faith in the South Fork of the Snake is once again restored.  Snow pack is looking great for this winter, so I am hopeful that brighter days are ahead for the South Fork in the coming year.

The Path Less Traveled

A few weeks ago I received an exciting invitation to go on a backcountry fishing trip with my friend Brent from Uprising Fly Fishing.  All of us spent the weeks leading up to the trip in great anticipation of what we might catch.  The location was fabled to have large lake trout and trophy browns that would readily chase down a well placed streamer in shallow water.  Like most places that are worth talking about, a little bit of work would be required to get there.  When your mind is so caught up on catching what could quite possibly be the fish of a lifetime, all logical thought processes seem to disappear.  For example, instead of thinking about resting so you have the energy to hike 14 miles, you pull an all-nighter tying up some new patterns that you think might work for lake trout.  The logical thinker would go to bed but the obsessed angler sticks to the vise until it’s go time.  Chris, Brent, and I were scheduled to meet up at 4:30 AM so we would have plenty of time to make the hike in.  Despite the blue bird skies that have been the norm this entire year, we received a warm welcome with one of the wettest days I have ever experienced in my life.  Rain, sleet, and high winds would be the norm for 90% of the day.  I quickly reminded myself why I was there and the weather didn’t seem so bad anymore.  A couple hours later we made it to our destination and got to fishing.  It was neat to look into the crystal clear water and see schools of lakers swimming together.  Most of the year, these fish are in the depths of the lake, nowhere to be seen.  I decided to tie on one of my new creations and went to work.  It didn’t take long to hook into my first laker on the fly.  I was really caught off guard by what a strong fish they are.  The fish we caught were only small fry.  I can only imagine hooking into a monster.  Unfortunately, the streamer only produced one fish.  We all made the switch over to eggs and proceeded to catch a few more fish.  The mack fishing started to slow down a little so we decided to explore some more of the river and went in search of some browns.

My First Mack on the Fly

Chris and his First Laker (Note the Torrential Downpour Taking Place)

The brown trout fishing started out slow to say the least.  They were extremely skittish and not interested in anything we had to offer.  I tried a small streamer and eggs, while Chris and Brent stuck to the bigger articulated streamers.  Eventually Chris decided to tie on his Magic Dragon Pattern and that did the trick.  We walked down a good ways until we stopped seeing any fish and decided to fish our way back upriver.  Chris continued to catch a few more nice browns and during this time, the sun decided to come out, the wind died, and we were all able to warm up a little.

Chris and his First Brown of the Day

An Awesome Underwater Shot From Brent

Chris With Another Dandy Brown – Check out Those Teeth!

We eventually made it back up to where we had first started and I had yet to land a brown.  I had multiple chances and just wasn’t able to capitalize on any of the opportunities.  In fact, shortly after Chris hooked his first brown of the day, I had the same fish hit my fly three time!  I just couldn’t connect with him.  The first area we had fished was in the shadow of the trees and full of whitecaps and I figured the fish would be way less skittish.  My first cast in I missed what felt like a great fish.  I hurried and punched out another cast in the 30 mph+ winds and whitecaps and was able to connect with a fish this time.  I was expecting it to be another laker but upon closer inspection it was a beautiful brown.  I had accomplished both of my goals for the day and was pretty dang excited to have finally have landed a brown.

My First Brown of the Day

Another Shot of the Same Brown

We only had a short time left before it was time to head out so I hurried and threw out again.  A couple minutest later I hooked into my second brown of the day.  It was another beautifully colored male that made all the efforts of the day worth it.  Brent was still downstream from us so I hollered for him to come up and explained that the browns had moved into the hole and were hitting like crazy.  He threw out a few casts and was able to hook into another nice brown.  It was a hoot watching the browns crash up in to the waves to hammer our flies.  It was as if a switch had flipped that said “feeding time!”  We all missed a few more fish and then the fishing eventually slowed down again.  We didn’t want to be hiking out in the dark and decided it was probably best to hit the trail.

My Second Brown of the Trip

Brent with his Brown Trout

About ten minutes into the hike out, we realized we had taken a wrong fork in the trail.  We quickly turned around and made it back to the main trail.  Throughout the day, we heard and saw massive trees crack in half and fall to the ground.  Nature can be very brutal.  The wind caused many of the massive trees to snap in half like twigs.  As we made our way up the trail, it became evident than many trees had fallen along the trail that had not been there earlier in the day.  One tree was balanced in such a way that I have no idea how it was still standing.  I’d have taken a picture but I didn’t want to be anywhere near it, for fear it would fall over.  As we hiked back towards civilization, I reflected on how blessed I am to live in such a beautiful part of the world.  People travel from all over the world to come and visit in what could be considered my “backyard”, so to speak.  Fly fishing is all about the experience for me.  If I wanted to catch brown trout, I could just go to the Henry’s Fork or the South Fork of the Snake.  I love both of those rivers but there is something about being in the middle of nowhere that is hard to describe.  We didn’t find any of the fabled Ten-Pound browns or monster lakers, but we all agreed we’d go back again in a heartbeat.  Spending a day on the path less traveled is exactly what it is all about and encompasses everything I love about fly fishing.

The Setting Sun on the Hike Out