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by Phillip Dobson
(Butte, MT)

High water

High water

Temps are up and the snow is melting here in Montana. That means high flows and dirty water. I wanted to get out anyway, so I headed out to the Big Hole where I know of a spring pond full of clear water and smart trout.

The "frustration pond" lived up to its name. It was windy and cold, making the necessary patience hard to muster. I hooked a nice brown on a spiky nymph only to have him wrap me around some branches and force me to break the leader off. I called it good after bringing in a modest brown.

There was still daylight and I was curious if fishing would be possible in the flooded river. I found a slower section and landed a couple decent trout on a small sparkly nymph. Turns out that "blown" doesn't mean unfishable.

A little upstream, I found found another slow area mostly surrounded by trees. I didn't have waders on, but I was able to get some short drifts that soon yielded a hookup. This fish held by the bottom for a few seconds, then ran straight away from me. I was surprised by the power of this run and I almost lost control. Usually I would just take a few steps into the river, but I was hypothermic enough as it was. I barely managed to turn the fish in time, then brought him into the net. A nice rainbow to end the day.

Lately, I've been thinking about the differences between fixed line fishing and using a reel. I think much of it comes down to one word: "connection". With a fixed line rod and light line, my body has a tight connection to the flies. This provides control and sensitivity that no amount of mending can alleviate when using a Western setup. That connection means more fish "betrayed and condemned" by your fly, but the real magic comes after the hookset. Fighting a good fish on a fixed length of line is nuanced and personal. Because you can't simply overpower the fish, reading the movements of the fish and reacting appropriately are) become critical. The result is quick, dynamic, and very enjoyable. So much more fun than just hauling a trout in on heavy tackle.

This isn't to say that fixed line is always the right, or even the most fun choice, but it does have some solid advantages.

Comments for Runoff

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Mar 28, 2017
Well Put
by: Les A.

Phillip - Great story! I too continue to ponder why this type of fishing is so much fun! I agree 100% with your thoughts. Another nuance is with Western Fly fishing you can let the fish run, spooling off line tiring the fish. No such option with fixed line fishing. Catching a 4 inch cutthroat on a Kyogi though exciting wasn't much of a fight. So you can overpower a fish with the right rod. The major thought going through my head when I am fighting a fish fixed line is "How can I get this fish to move where I want it to go?" The second thought is, "Is it tired enough to land?" Feeling the power of the fish with such a direct connection is always a thrill that no other method I have tried! I haven't tried noodling yet.

On my way to the bow range a couple of days ago, I spotted a couple of spots on the flooded Boise River that I am going to fish this week. There should be some fish is those areas. Your write-up has encouraged me to give it a try! Bear hunting season begins less than 3 weeks from now! Last year I shot one at 11 yards. A different adrenaline rush! There are two creeks near my bear spot that I want to fish using Tenkara.

Mar 28, 2017
Connection indeed
by: Dave

Had a similar example experience the other week with a lunker bass. Fish would have been all but guaranteed with a reel. Even though the fish won, I wouldn't have it any other way.

Mar 29, 2017
by: Phillip

I do remember trying to grab some nice trout out of a small subalpine creek a few years ago before I started fishing. They're strong and slippery!

I was looking at flow reports and the Big Hole was running almost 10x its historic average for that day. A miracle that I caught anything at all.

This afternoon, I'll be taking the short sticks out to the muddy Beaverhead for some streamer fishing. With the fish hanging out so close to the banks, using my favored long rods is nearly impossible. Last time I went, I was getting most of my strikes less than ten feet from me. What I'd really like is a 7' 6wt with a sink tip, short leader, and big, white, unweighted fly. It's pretty exciting to see a big brown explode out of the murk that close.

Mar 29, 2017
High Water!
by: Les A.

Boise normally runs about 250-300 cfs this time of year. It is running 8,150 today. They say it is going to be high for at least the next two months.
The upper Salmon is still looking good. My fishing partner Josh caught a 32 inch steelhead yesterday with his son. I am going to fish two places on the Boise that look good on Friday and do a bit of scouting. The fish have to be somewhere. Looking forward to a report!

Mar 29, 2017
by: Phillip

I learned on the Beaverhead today that I still suck at streamer fishing. I got several strikes (and one while swinging a full-dress built wing!), but no solid hookups.

On the way back, we stopped by the Big Hole. I put the 4wt away and picked up the Sagiri and a pair of nymphs. I quickly picked up a nice brown I saw rise, and switched to a skwala-esque stimulator that I had tied recently. The next rising trout turned out not to be a trout, it was a beautiful male grayling! Grayling aren't even supposed to live that far downstream! I ended up catching a few more trout on dries and nymphs and went home happy.

Mar 30, 2017
by: Les Albjerg

I really want to catch a grayling this year. Great report! I have been enjoying great streamer action with my long rods. I have done well with Kieth Fulsher, Thunder Creek series streamers. I use a very small split shot about 12 inches above the streamer and manipulate the streamer in an arch with my fixed line rod in very slow water or ponds. I think the longness and flexibility of these rods help impart an illusion of life to the streamer better than a fly line sitting on the water. I find streamers can be fished the same way with my fixed rod as the fly rod by lifting the rod rather than stripping line. To me, streamer fishing no matter with a fly rod setup or a fixed line is similar. My mentor Clive who was an expert streamer fisherman said, "a good streamer drift is only 6 to 8 feet" He insisted that the best way to fish a streamer is to be focused and have a specific target in mind on the river. It worked well with streamers on browns last fall on the lower Boise River. Phillip have you tried any of the Thunder Creek Series of steamers?

P.S. We are having a major storm today and flooding everywhere!

Mar 30, 2017
by: Chris Stewart

If you haven't tried a Minimal Dace, and if you have a regular (undyed) bucktail. Give one a try. Simple to tie and effective.

Just realized there is no simple way to navigate my site to get to that page. Google Minimal Dace. Google can find it.

Mar 30, 2017
by: Phillip

I really do enjoy tying a variety of streamer patterns: from simple bucktails, to big articulated patterns, to full-dress classics. Many are too heavy to effectively cast with my tenkara rods, but I carry a selection that cast very easily.

My favorite series right now for tenkara (and everything else) is tied in a #10 heavyweight barbless. A pair of cock hackles are tied in matuka style atop the shank. A few strands of bucktail complete the wing. I then add eyes and a resin head. Some are flashy, others aren't, and I carry them in different colors. I especially like white and "stickleback" which is tied with Coc de Leon hackle. They have a nice big profile for how easily they cast.

I've caught nice fish on that fly, but I seem to catch many more fish on insect imitations. I usually carry the streamers just in case a trout refuses my other offerings.

Yesterday, I did a lot of fishing with a Zoo Cougar on a sink tip. The movement of that fly is crazy erratic. I didn't catch any fish with it, but I did get a bunch of aggressive, leaping strikes. It was fun enough to watch that I could forgive the trout for missing the fly.

Mar 31, 2017
Minimal Dace
by: Les Albjerg

What to do when the wind is blowing 40mph, and it is nice and clear. Tie some flies! I just tied up a dozen of Chris' Minimal Dace pattern. What an easy fly to tie. It looks good too! Thanks for the suggestion. I am looking forward to testing them in the water soon. it should have been in the "Simple Flies" book.

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