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  • Story: Exploring New Water

    Story: Exploring New Water
    By Spencer Durrant

    The stream was completely new to me. I’d never even seen it on a map before. That I even stopped was a bit of a surprise, because I had a destination in mind, too. It was early spring and snow still blanketed much of the landscape. I was on my way from a small tailwater to a reservoir, crossing through some high mountain passes to shorten the drivetime.

    That’s when I saw the little creek for the first time. It tumbled down the canyon, cascading from one gorgeous run to the next. The sun hit the water at just the right angle to illuminate the bugs buzzing over its surface.

    If I see a fish rise, I’ll fish, I thought.

    I’d been out of the truck for maybe two minutes before the telltale ring of a rising trout rippled through a run.

    Grinning, I grabbed my fly rod and started fishing. I didn’t know what to expect from the creek – brown or rainbow trout, maybe? That high up in the mountains, brook trout were a possibility, too, but I’d never caught many brookies from those mountains before.

    A fish slurped my dry fly and I set the hook, bringing a small cutthroat to hand. It was vibrantly colored, all gold and red. It wasn’t what I expected, but it was certainly a pleasant surprise.

    cutthroat trout

    For the next few hours I fished my way up the creek, finding a few trout in every hole. They were all cutthroat, and some even hit 12 or 13 inches, too. Not bad, for a piece of water I’d never seen before, let alone one I almost drove right on by. And the fishing that day wasn’t a fluke, either. I’ve since fished that little creek as often as possible, keeping it a secret from just about all of my fishing buddies.

    A few years after I found that creek, I took off into the mountains with a buddy of mine, set to explore a river we both knew of, but hadn’t ever fished. It flows into a big lake, and the river below that lake’s dam is well-known for producing some big brown trout. But all I knew about the river above the lake was that it flowed, uninterrupted, for more than 10 miles into the wilderness.

    Parking below the dam, we started the long hike to get around the lake and up to the river. We stopped a few times to catch our breath and dine on the wild raspberries, a welcome treat in the high country. Mostly, though, we walked in silence, marveling at just how quiet and peaceful the landscape was.

    Once we got around the lake and saw the river, though, we got down to the business of fishing. The river was all pocket water, into which we dangled a few dry flies. All day, we consistently caught fish behind and in front of every rock or downed log. Anywhere that the water slowed down a bit, the fish were stacked up and eager to eat anything that drifted by.

    Just as we were ready to call it a day, we rounded the corner to find one last run. We fished it from the tail up to the head, catching a few fish, until something decent finally ate my dry fly.

    Getting it to the net, I was surprised to see an arctic grayling. I knew they were up in those mountains, but not in that river.

    grayling

    Even more surprising was the moment my buddy caught another grayling from the same run – a few inches bigger than what I’d just caught. Taking the two big grayling as a sign to end the day, we started the long walk back to the car, immediately planning a return trip.

    For all the successful trips to new water, there’s plenty of times when I strike out, too. But it’s the trips that work out perfectly that force so many of us to scratch that itch to explore and find somewhere new to wet a line. Maybe this next new-to-you fishery will become to you what my little cutthroat creek is to me. Either way, it’s certainly worth the trip.

    Did you enjoy this story? Let us know in the comments! 

     

  • Fly Casting Tips: How to Improve Accuracy

    Fly Casting Tips: How to Improve Accuracy
    By Spencer Durrant

    What’s the number-one thing you can work on to become a more successful fly angler?

    Your fly casting. Specifically, how accurately you can place flies on the water.

    All the best anglers have one thing in common – they’re able to quickly and efficiently get their flies in front of fish. They spend less time false casting, and more time with their flies in the water. They’re able to get their flies to drift right where they need to, on the first or second cast.

    Achieving that level of proficiency as a fly caster isn’t impossible. It just takes some extra practice. And if you don’t have the time to practice on the water, don’t worry. You can effectively practice your fly casting while at home, too.

    So, let’s take a few minutes to go into detail on how you can improve your fly casting by becoming more accurate.

    Watch the Tip

    By far, the most important thing you can do to improve your accuracy while fly casting is to watch where the tip of your rod goes.

    On your back cast, the rod tip shouldn’t dip too far. The number-one problem I see when guiding, or teaching people to fish, is that they let their rod tip travel too far back on the back cast.

    We’ve all heard the adage to keep the rod at “10 and 2” on an imaginary clock face. The only problem with that is if you stop your rod at 2 – where it should stop on the front cast – the rod tip is still traveling. Depending on how hard you’re casting, the rod tip might not stop until 3, or between 3 and 4.

    fly casting

    Instead, focus on trying to get the rod tip to stop at 2 on the front cast. Conversely, stop the tip at 10 on your back cast. This will probably condense your casting motion, but that’s really what you want. Except in rare circumstances, you don’t need to move your fly rod very much to create tight, fast loops of fly line.

    How to Practice

    Strip out enough line for a 20-foot cast. As you cast, watch your rod and purposefully stop it so that the rod tip stops at 10 and 2. Once you have a feel for when to stop the rod during a 20-foot cast, move on to 30, then 40, feet. You can practice this both on the water, or on the lawn at home.

    Keep it Straight

    Another common problem that causes accuracy errors is whether your fly rod travels in a straight line during your cast.

    The rod tip should move in a straight line between the front and back cast. Often, though, anglers tend to move the rod tip in an oval. This side-to-side movement decreases accuracy considerably. Now, some side-to-side movement is normal, and that’s why you’ll see some fly rod manufacturers boast about eliminating “oscillation” or increasing the “torsional stability” of their blanks. If a rod is built to reduce its side-to-side movements during the casting process, it will inherently be more accurate than other rods.

    fly casting diagram

    Regardless of your rod’s inherent accuracy, most of it still depends on your ability to keep the tip traveling in a straight line throughout the cast.

    How to Practice

    Instead of casting overhead, move your rod so you’re casting more to the side. This makes it easier to watch where your rod tip is going during the cast. As you cast, watch the tip to see if it’s moving in a straight line, or more of an oval. If it moves in an oval shape, try to reduce that movement. Once you feel what a correct cast feels like, move back to casting overhead. Watch the tip to ensure it’s still moving in a straight line.

    Picking your Spots

    You’ve probably seen this done in YouTube videos, but that’s because it’s actually an effective way to improve your accuracy with a fly rod. Set up some sort of target zone where you can aim your casts. Hoops are most often used, but you can use anything if you don’t have a bunch of extra hoops on hand. Make sure to set these up at realistic fishing distances.

    Then, practice casting until you can consistently land your fly in those hoops. Since everyone casts just a bit differently – and so does every fly rod – there are no hard-and-fast rules for how this should look. What you’re trying to achieve, though, is a casting method that consistently allows you to put flies where you want them. By stopping your rod at the correct time on the front and back cast, and ensuring the rod tip travels in a straight line, you’ll probably find you’re able to be more accurate in your casting.

    Wrapping Up

    If you’re not able to get on the water often, try practicing your casting regularly if you have the space. Even just a few minutes every week can make a huge difference when it comes time to land a precise cast the next time you’re fishing.

    Do you have some favorite casting tips that helped you learn? Share them in the comments below.

  • 5 Flies for Summer Fishing

    5 Flies for Summer Fishing
    By Spencer Durrant

    The only problem with summer fishing is how tough it gets as the season drags on. Despite the consistent hatches, great weather, and seemingly endless opportunities to explore, summer fishing has a way of getting caught in its own doldrums.

    Now, it’s important to remember that there’s no such thing as a “magic fly” that works all the time, in every trout fishery. What I’ve found, though, is that there are some flies trout are more apt to eat at this point in the summer, when they’ve probably seen hundreds of different fake flies already, thanks to the large crowds of anglers who fish this time of year. You can hardly blame the trout for getting a bit selective as the season rolls on.

    With that said, we’ll take a look at five patterns I think are indispensable for summer fishing. They’re just different enough to get the attention of most trout, and should help you hook into fish even on your local rivers that get a bit of pressure.

    Partridge and Orange

    If you’ve never fished soft hackle flies, you’re missing out. They’re fun and simple to fish, and they’re effective, too. Soft hackle flies primarily imitate emerging insects, so this is a great pattern to pull out during an evening hatch. These flies are best to fish on the swing, although I’ve had success stripping them slowly back towards me on a traditional upstream cast, as well. Either way, few people fish soft hackles anymore, so when trout see them, they tend to react favorably.

    Killer Caddis


    This is a fly that tends to sneak below the radar, but always seems to work well for me when I tie it on. It’s meant to imitate a caddis pupa, hence all the bright green colors. It works great on any river with caddis, especially if the bugs aren’t hatching yet, or the fish aren’t rising. I prefer tying it with a bead and fishing it deep, but it works well fished higher up in the water column, too.

    Black (or Gray) Ghost


    This is one of the first streamers I learned how to tie, and it’s still a pattern I use all these years later. Popularized in Maine by Carrie Stevens back in 1924, this fly was originally developed for chasing Atlantic salmon, but has since proven to be a wonderfully effective trout fly, too. It’s different enough from all the other streamers trout see, especially in the West, that they’ll often investigate it just out of curiosity.

    Utah Killer Bug


    A few years ago, finding videos that showed how to tie this fly was a challenge. Now, the secret is out on the Utah Killer Bug, but it’s still an effective fly at this point in the summer. It’s meant to imitate a cranefly larva, but it looks buggy enough to pass for other insects, too, which is probably why trout love it so much. Tie it heavy with extra lead around the hook shank and a tungsten bead, and you can drift this through every deep hole to great effect.

    Higa’s SOS


    This fly is meant to imitate mayfly nymphs, but it works as an overall attractor pattern, too. The combination of dark and sparkly materials makes it stand out in the water, which might be why it’s so effective. Even with how popular this fly is, it can still be a great producer on those days when the fish aren’t moving on much else. It’s easy to tie, too, making it ideal for anglers of all skill levels.

    Wrapping Up

    When summer fishing gets tough, it’s easy to want to throw in the towel. Instead, start to think outside the box (literally, outside your fly box) and try flies that you haven’t really used all season. Once fish start seeing flies they haven’t seen a thousand times already, I think they’re a bit more likely to move.

    What flies are your go-to patterns for summer fishing? Share with us in the comments!

  • Steelhead and Rainbow Trout – What’s the Difference?

    Steelhead and Rainbow Trout – What’s the Difference?
    By Spencer Durrant

    Every steelhead is a rainbow trout, but not every rainbow trout is a steelhead.

    While that’s technically true, it doesn’t really answer the question, does it?

    That’s what makes discussing steelhead and rainbow trout a bit tricky, especially for folks who are new to angling. As we dive into the differences between steelhead and rainbow trout, keep in mind the first line of this post. It’ll make more sense as we move on.

    Rainbow Trout

    Rainbow trout (Oncorhynchus mykiss) were originally only found in rivers and lakes that drain into the Pacific Ocean, from Mexico up to Alaska, and west to Kamchatka, Russia. Since rainbow trout are so easily farmed, and adapt well to different waterbodies, they’ve been introduced across the world. Take a look at this graphic:

    Native (pink-hashed) and introduced (red) ranges of rainbow trout. Andrew Muir, Great Lakes Fishery Commission, Ann Arbor, Michigan, United States. Photo courtesy of wildtrout.org

    You’ll find rainbow trout in every state in America, and throughout Canada, as well. Rainbows are popular game fish in many fly fishing rivers, including places like the Madison and Henry’s Fork Rivers.

    Appearance

    Rainbows get their name from the bright pink stripe down their flanks. They usually have dark green backs, with irregular black spots across the entire body.

    rainbow trout

    The coloration of rainbow trout depends largely on where they live and what they eat. Sometimes, you’ll catch rainbows that look slightly “washed out” compared to other fish.

    Steelhead

    Steelhead are native to rivers and streams that drain into the Pacific Ocean. NOAA lists both steelhead and rainbow trout with the same genus species – Oncorhynchus mykiss. 

    steelhead

    Steelhead are endangered throughout their native range, with many groups – like Wild Steelhead Coalition – fighting to preserve the few runs of these fish that remain.

    Appearance

    Steelhead are very similar in appearance to rainbow trout, but usually don’t have the pronounced coloration that rainbows do. Steelhead tend to have a silvery body with dark backs.

    What’s the Difference?

    So, if steelhead and rainbow trout are the same genus species, then what’s so different about them? Why are there groups fighting to preserve steelhead, but we don’t hear stories about protecting rainbow trout?

    Well, the main difference comes down to where these fish live. Steelhead are sea-run fish (the scientific word is anadromous). They’re born in freshwater, then migrate out to sea, where they spend time growing before returning to spawn. Unlike other sea-run fish, however, steelhead don’t die immediately after spawning. They can return and spawn in the river they were born in multiple times throughout their lives.

    steelhead rainbow trout

    Rainbow trout never leave freshwater. They stay in lakes, rivers, and streams for their entire lives. It’s also rare for rainbow trout to reach the massive sizes of some steelhead.

    Steelhead fishing is quite difficult, but can produce one of those stories you tell for a lifetime. Check out the video below for a good idea of what a day (or week) searching for Steelhead might look like.

    Conservation

    Due to habitat loss and degradation, as well as declining water quality throughout their native range, steelhead are facing extinction. Each year, fewer fish return from their time at sea to spawn in fresh water, putting the survival of the species in jeopardy. In the Pacific Northwest, steelhead and salmon use many of the same streams and rivers for spawning, which is why so many groups are pushing for conservation of both these fish throughout the Columbia River basin.

    Have you ever caught a steelhead? Tell us your story in the comments!

  • Everything to Know About Golden Trout

    Everything to Know About Golden Trout
    By Spencer Durrant

    Golden trout are among the most enigmatic of trout. They’re shrouded with more than a bit of mystery. They’re held up as a holy grail of fly fishing. Being in the club of anglers who’ve caught a golden trout is, to some, rarified air.

    While golden trout are truly unique, fun, gorgeous fish, they’re far less regal than Instagram makes them appear. The biggest barrier between you and a golden trout is geography.

    If you have golden trout on your fly fishing bucket list, or you’re just curious to learn more about the different trout species we have here in America, keep reading. All the information you need to know about golden trout is right here.

    What is a golden trout?

    The golden trout that most fly anglers are so intrigued by is the California golden trout (Oncorhynchus aguabonita). Two other fish species are close cousins of this fish – the Little Kern golden trout (Oncorhynchus mykiss whitei) and the Kern River rainbow trout (Oncorhynchus mykiss gilberti), but aren’t the ones that so fully capture the imaginations of anglers around the world.

    golden trout

    Goldens are cousins of the rainbow trout (Oncorhynchus mykiss), much in the same way that cutthroat trout and rainbow trout are related.

    It’s important to note here that the golden trout we’re discussing today are not related to the West Virginia golden trout, palomino trout, banana trout, or lightning trout.

    golden troutThose are four names for the same fish, which is a genetically mutated rainbow trout that’s colored a light yellow. These don’t occur very often in the wild, nor are they a separate species like the California golden trout.

    Where are they from?

    Goldens are native to Golden Trout Creek, a tributary of the Kern River, Volcano Creek, and the South Fork of the Kern River in California’s Sierra Nevada mountains. However, goldens have since been planted in hundreds – if not thousands – of lakes and streams throughout the Western United States.

    Today, they’re still prevalent in the Sierra Nevada. However, the population of golden trout that draws the most interest is located in Wyoming’s Wind River Mountains. Goldens grow larger here than they do perhaps anywhere else in the world.

    Where are they now?

    Golden trout are now found in California, Utah, Wyoming, Idaho, Montana, and Washington.

    • California: you can catch goldens in their native range in the Golden Trout Wilderness Area, located inside Inyo and Sequoia National Forests.
    • Utah: goldens are found in a handful of lakes in the Uinta Mountains.
    • Wyoming: you’ll catch golden trout in the Wind River, Bighorn, Absaroka, and Snowy Mountains.
    • Idaho: goldens inhabit high alpine lakes of the Bitterroot, Sawtooth, and Lemhi mountains.
    • Montana: goldens are in only 20 lakes throughout Montana, in the western and southcentral part of the state.
    • Washington: goldens are found in Yakima, Whatcom, Snohomish, Skamania, Skagit, Okanogan, Lewis, Kittitas, King, Jefferson, Grays Harbor, and Chelan counties.

    Part of the allure of golden trout is that they live in far-flung, remote locations. While some golden trout lakes and streams are easy to access, the majority involve a lot of hiking in difficult, rugged terrain. In keeping with the spirit of fishing for goldens, we’re not going to give out exact locations for these fish. Doing the homework to find them is part of the fun of fishing for golden trout.

    How big do they get?

    Goldens aren’t typically large trout, especially in their native range in California, where a fish over 12 inches is considered big.

    golden trout

    The world record golden, however, was an 11-pound brute taken from Cooks Lake, Wyoming in 1948. That record may never be beaten, but there are fish over 20 inches caught regularly from the Wind River Mountains in Wyoming. Most goldens will be about 8-12 inches in length throughout Utah, Wyoming, Idaho, and Montana.

    How do I identify a golden trout?

    Unless you’re fishing in water that has exclusively golden trout, it can be a bit tough to identify this fish if you’ve never seen it before. Generally, there are a few major characteristics that will help you differentiate golden trout from their close cousins, the rainbow and cutthroat.

    • Very bright coloring
    • Red coloring on the belly and lateral line
    • Bright gold coloring on the flanks
    • Most of the spots concentrated towards the tail
    • Very few, if any, spots below the lateral line

    How do I catch golden trout?

    The tactics for catching goldens depend largely on where you’re fishing for them. In their native range, for example, they’ll readily take dry flies off the top of the river. In Wyoming, plenty of anglers swear by fishing small midge and leech patterns on long leaders, in the deeper sections of lakes.

    Let’s take a look at both the recommended flies and places to fish for goldens.

    The Flies

    For the most part, though, the typical tackle you’d take for any backcountry fishing trip will put goldens in the net. If you’re chasing a trophy fish, then you’ll want an assortment of both dry flies and nymphs. Goldens are known to stay deep and eat microscopic bugs, so small midges and leeches fished on long leaders is a great tactic to use if you’re not getting any action on the surface.

    In my own experience fishing for goldens in Utah and Wyoming, I’ve found a size 12 olive micro leech and size 14 red Ice Cream Cone chironomid to be the best-producing flies. In some lakes and streams, I’ve been lucky enough to catch goldens on dry flies, but those fish were much smaller. All my biggest goldens have come on nymphs, as have the biggest fish I’ve seen caught by my fishing buddies.

    To recap, the flies you should have ready for golden trout are:

    • Standard backcountry/high country dry flies
    • Micro leeches
    • Midges
    • Scuds
    • Chironomids

    The Places

    Again, we’re not going to give out GPS coordinates for some nice goldens. Often, the populations of these fish are very sensitive to overfishing. And, most of that information exists online, anyways. It might take some digging or phone calls to local fishery biologists, but finding good areas to fish for golden trout isn’t impossible. In fact, researching where to fish for them is part of the fun.

    What we will discuss, though, is where you should fish when targeting these fish in a lake.

    Generally, fish cruise the shallows of high country lakes, looking for food. That food can be in the form of bugs blown onto the water’s surface, but it’s often aquatic insects whose growth is spurred on by the sunlight in shallow water.

    However, not all goldens will cruise the shallows looking for food. If you’re at a lake and don’t see any fish cruising, then it’s time to look in deeper water.

    golden trout

    Drop-offs are the first place to look. These are easy to spot, since there will be a line where the water goes from shallow to deep very suddenly. Fish tend to hang just on the deep side of the drop-off.

    Other areas to fish around include any bit of structure in the water that might provide a good hiding place for trout. Rock piles, sunken logs, and areas of the shore that point far out into the water are ideal spots.

    So, to recap, you should target these areas in a lake when looking for goldens:

    • Shallow areas near the bank
    • Drop-offs
    • Structure, like rock piles or sunken logs
    • Points

    Wrapping Up

    Golden trout are among the most beautiful, and most sought-after trout in North America. Their relative scarcity, and their remote living situation, make them uniquely difficult to catch. They may not grow to huge proportions, but what they lack in size they make up for in splendor. You’ll never regret the time you spend fishing for them.

    Do you have any stories of fishing for golden trout you’d like to share? We’d love to hear them in the comments!

     

  • Fly Fishing Hoppers Effectively

    Fly Fishing Hoppers Effectively
    By Spencer Durrant

    Fly fishing hoppers is some of the most fun you’ll have all summer. For me, few things are more exciting when trout fishing, than seeing a fish just attack a hopper pattern.

    By learning how to fly fish hoppers more effectively, you can increase your catch rate and extend the amount of fun you have while fish blow up these big bugs.

    So, let’s take a look at a few tips and techniques to help you start fly fishing hoppers more effectively.

    Forget The Dead Drift

    When fishing with dry flies, we’ve all been taught that a good drag-free drift is of the utmost importance. Natural bugs don’t skate across multiple current seams, and trout know this; they’ll rarely hit flies that are creating massive amounts of drag.

    However, flies don’t just lie down on the water and accept their fate as eventual fish food. Many try to get out of the water, and back to safety.

    Hoppers are no different, and being a terrestrial bug, they have a bit more to work with in terms of getting out of the water.

    Once, years ago, I was in Wyoming fishing a river famous for its big cutthroat trout. It was the middle of hopper season, yet neither my buddy nor I could get a fish in the net. Frustrated, I finally asked someone back in town what I was doing wrong.

    His response?

    “Just twitch it. Move the bug a little bit. It ain’t just gonna lay there waiting to get eaten.”

    So, I went back to the river and started wiggling the hopper on my retrieve. The first twitch of my foam Chubby Chernobyl elicited a strike from a gorgeous cutthroat, which was the first of many that evening.

    That advice changed how I approach fly fishing hoppers, and I reckon you’ll see some of the same success. Next time you’ve passed a hopper pattern over a run that looks too good to not have a fish in it, try twitching the hopper. Imagine that you’re trying to scuttle the hopper out of the water. The bug is kicking its legs like mad, desperate to reach dry land.

    If you can impart that level of frenetic energy into the hopper, chances are you’ll be rewarded with a fish.

    And don’t just take my word for it. Watch what happens when you put this into action.

    So, to recap: forget the dead drift if it’s not working for you. A drag-free drift is always the right first choice when presenting a fly through a run, but if you’re not getting a response, don’t be afraid to twitch it.

    Get On The Bank

    Although we group them into the catch-all category of “flies,” grasshoppers aren’t a fly in the aquatic sense. They’re terrestrial bugs that aren’t comfortable on – or in – the water.

    So, that means hoppers are most likely to enter the water near either bank of the river. Banks with tall, high grass – a favorite place for grasshoppers to live – should be the ones you target first, if they’re available.

    Hoppers tend to slip or fall into the water while munching on grass. That’s where you should aim to land your fly. Getting it as close to the bank as possible means the big fish living beneath the banks are that much more likely to take your hopper.

    In many cases, it’s recommended to actually cast onto the bank, then slowly pull the hopper into the water, more closely mimicking the movements of the real bug.

    This video below explains this tactic in great detail.

    This might look tough – or like a recipe for losing a ton of flies – but it’s deadly effective. If fish aren’t reacting to hoppers drifted in runs towards the middle of the river, you’ll want to focus your efforts near the banks, instead.

    Don’t Be Gentle

    When hoppers hit the water, it’s not with the grace of a mayfly ever so gently drifting through the still morning air. Grasshoppers either fall, or are blown, into the water. Their landing is less-than-ceremonious.

    Which means that you, as the angler, need to imitate that. Don’t be afraid to smack the hopper down with a bit of force.

    As you can see in this video from Jensen Fly Fishing, the hoppers land with anything but grace – and the fish love it.

    Obviously, you don’t want to get too crazy with hitting the water with your flies. But definitely don’t fish a hopper like you would a mayfly. They’re two entirely different types of bugs, and deserve to be fished as such.

    Wrapping Up

    Fly fishing hoppers is a ton of fun, and you can make a day with hoppers even more enjoyable by employing these tips. Twitch the bug if a dead drift isn’t working, don’t be soft and gentle with your presentation, and get as close to the bank as possible. These tactics are simple, but very effective.

    What’s your favorite way to fish hoppers? Do you have any tips you’d like to share with the rest of us? Leave a comment below.

  • The Value of a 2wt Fly Rod

    The Value of a 2wt Fly Rod
    By Spencer Durrant

    With the right skill and know-how, a 2wt fly rod can land fish just as big and feisty as your average 5wt. 2wt rods aren’t reserved solely for fishing small dry flies to even smaller trout.

    How is that possible? Isn’t a 2wt fly rod light, soft, and gutless in the wind?

    Yes, yes, and not always. A 2wt fly rod is actually a more versatile and effective fishing tool than you probably expected. Let’s take a look at the different ways you can use a 2wt.

    Using a 2wt Fly Rod

    Before we get started, it’s important to address the functionality of 2wt rods. While they are light and soft, they’re still fantastic fishing tools. Paired with the right line, they’ll throw a tight loop that’s accurate out to about 35 feet or so.

    To preserve torsional stability (the ability of a fly rod to not wiggle side-to-side while casting) most manufacturers keep their 2wt rods at lengths of 7 feet or shorter. So, you shouldn’t expect to win any distance fly casting contests with a 2wt, but you should expect good accuracy and line control at reasonable distances.

    As you can see in this series of photos below, a fly cast on a 2wt looks just as natural and normal as what we see on 4 or 5wt rods.

    2wt fly rod

    2wt fly rod

    2wt fly rod

    As those photos illustrate, achieving a good cast with a 2wt is possible. You’re really only limited by distance here, which shouldn’t be a huge concern when fishing rods this light anyways.

    Now that we’ve addressed the functionality of 2wt fly rods, it’s time to look at the fishing situations in which they perform best.

    Nymphing

    With the rise of Euro nymphing over the last few years, we’re seeing manufacturers push the envelope when it comes to building Euro rods. A great Euro rod needs to be light and sensitive – two qualities inherent in 2wt fly rods.

    That’s why just about every major Euro rod builder offers a 2wt. While the 3 and 4wt Euro rods might be a bit more popular on larger rivers, a 2wt is the perfect blend of sensitivity, feel, and backbone for the waters that are off the beaten path.

    If you’re looking to go ultralight in your Euro nymphing approach, or just want something that’s more suited to picking trout out of high-country pocket water, a 2wt is worth considering.

    Tough Situations

    We’ll cover the value a 2wt has in fishing dry flies in a moment, but it’s important to also note that a 2wt has some characteristics that make it great for use in tough fishing situations.

    I really enjoy fishing small dry flies to large trout. It’s a fun game of trying to match a tiny fly to what big fish are eating, all while getting the cast and the drift as perfect as possible. In some situations, a 2wt fly rod is the perfect tool for achieving that goal.

    The only caveat here is that playing large fish on such light tackle can be draining for the trout. You can play a trout to death, and it’s easy to do if your rod doesn’t have the backbone to force a strong fish into the net.

    In the hands of an experienced angler, and with a buddy to net the fish, a 2wt can be a great tool in tougher fishing situations.

    2wt fly rod

    Dry Flies

    The use case where a 2wt fly rod shines the brightest is, of course, when fishing dry flies. Surprisingly, you can fish fairly large bugs on a 2wt – up to size 8 or 10 cicada and hopper patterns. That’s not the most enjoyable experience, but you can get it done.

    A 2wt shines with smaller dry flies in the 16-20 range. Because a 2wt is so soft and light, it can lay these bugs down with hardly a splash on the water. When you need to stealthily approach wary trout in low, clear water, a 2wt is one of the best tools for the job.

    And, being such a light rod, playing fish of any size on a 2wt is a ton of fun. The light rod makes the fish feel bigger than they are, but provides enough backbone to tame trout up to 15 or so inches.

    Wrapping Up

    Overall, 2wt fly rods are more versatile and useful than you probably expected. From Euro nymphing to handling tough dry fly situations with ease, you can probably find an excuse to add a 2wt to your quiver.

    Do you use 2wts? Have any fun stories you’d like to tell? Share with us in the comments.

  • Killer Chironomid Fly Patterns You Need Right Now

    Killer Chironomid Fly Patterns You Need Right Now
    By Spencer Durrant

    If you want to catch big fish consistently from lakes and ponds, you need some killer chironomid fly patterns.

    Chironomids are found in tons of lakes. Fish love to eat them. Chironomids are simple to use, easy to tie, and deadly effective. The patterns included here are time-tested, so you can have confidence in knowing they’ll work when trout are actively looking to feed on these bugs.

    Before we get too far into the weeds about patterns, though, we should take a minute to review what chironomids are, and when and how to use them.

    What Are Chironomids?

    In simplest terms, chironomids are just large midges. Technically, they represent one of the largest insect families on the planet, but as far as the bugs fly fishers are concerned with, they’re the nymph (pupa) stage of large, lake-dwelling midges.

    When to Fish Chironomids

    Spring and fall are typically the best times of year to fish chironomids. This coincides with when chironomids are moving up from the lakebed (where they hatch from eggs) higher into the water column, before emerging into their dun stage. As these bugs start moving, trout key in on them. Because these bugs hatch when fish are typically most ravenous, it’s not uncommon to catch some of the biggest trout of the year on chironomids during the spring and fall.

    chironomid life cycle

    How to Fish Chironomids

    One of the most effective ways to fish chironomids is beneath an indicator. Another popular method is using a hand-twist retrieve to gently pull the bugs through the water, but an indicator rig is simpler (and arguably more effective).

    chironomid fly pattern rig

    The rig is simple – stick an indicator about 2-3 feet above your first chironomid, depending on how deep you’re fishing. Then tie anywhere from 3-5 feet of tippet off the end of your first fly and attach the next chironomid there. You should adjust the length between flies based on how deep the lake is that you’re fishing.

    We fish chironomids like this because it’s a great method to replicate the natural movement of these bugs in the water. The indicator will bob slightly in the water, which moves your flies in a way that’s eerily similar to how real chironomids travel through the water column. Although we often like to think of lakes as a static environment, there’s almost always some slight drift that results from either wind or gentle currents.

    By suspending your flies beneath an indicator, you’re allowing them to move naturally under the influence of wind, currents, or both.

    Must-Have Chironomid Fly Patterns

    Now that we’ve reviewed the details of chironomids, let’s dive into the killer chironomid fly patterns you need in order to successfully fish these bugs.

    Ice Cream Cone


    This is probably the most iconic chironomid pattern in existence. It’s deadly easy to tie, and just as effective. The white bead on the end of the fly mimics an air bubble, which is an important feature because real chironomids will have some air trapped around their heads as they rise through the water column.

    The subtle ribbing over a dark body is another feature that makes the Ice Cream Cone chironomid a must-have in any trout angler’s box.

    Crystal Chironomid


    This is just one example of many variations on a clear-bodied chironomid. As far as lifelike imitations go, this pattern is fantastic. It looks just like a real-life chironomid, and the fish enjoy eating this pattern, too.

    Body Glass Chironomid


    Body Glass is a great tying material, and the folks at Fly Fish Food make good use of it here in this chironomid fly pattern.

    This pattern sticks out because it combines the look of a bug with an air bubble trapped around its head (that’s what the white yarn and bead are meant to do) but uses good other materials to create a very bug-like body in both color and physical appearance.

    Bloody Pearl Chironomid


    This chironomid fly pattern aims to imitate blood midges, which are a high-protein food source trout are more than happy to eat. In early spring, right after ice-off, these midges are a must-have food item. They work for the rest of the year, too, but they’re deadly in early spring.

    Up in Smoke


    This is a unique pattern that has everything you should look for in a chironomid. It’s simple, has the right proportions, and has the physical appearance of an actual bug. The smoky body is a nice touch that’ll really make this fly stand out to trout.

    Wrapping Up

    For any dedicated trout angler, these five chironomid fly patterns are must-haves in your box. While they’re most effective in spring and fall, you’ll catch fish year-round on chironomids.

    What are your favorite chironomid patterns? Do you have a unique method of fishing them? Let us know in the comments.

  • How to Hold Trout for Pictures

    How to Hold Trout for Pictures
    By Spencer Durrant 

    If you don’t know how to hold trout, it’s easy to kill them.

    Does that seem hyperbolic?

    Well, consider this – a mishandled fish only has a 62% chance of survival after it’s returned to the water.

    Trout that are out of the water for 30 seconds have just over a 50-50 chance of surviving. And since they’re not in the business of making new trout streams these days, it’s vitally important that we do all we can to conserve the fish we currently have.

    That means learning how to hold trout, especially when you’re grabbing a few pictures to share on social media.

    How to Hold Trout

    It’s important to use these techniques not only when you’re taking pictures of fish, but whenever handling trout. It should go without saying that regardless of how you fish (conventional gear or fly gear), if you’re not planning to keep what you catch, the least you can do is educate yourself to become a good steward of this wonderful resource.

    Finally, before we get into the meat of this post, I want to stress that I’m in no way talking down to anyone. I certainly don’t think I’m some sort of enlightened angler because I release most of the fish I catch. I see this as a way to help folks learn how to take better care of what we all love so much.

    Don’t Squeeze

    One of the most important things to remember when holding trout is not to squeeze. Fish are pretty tough critters, but even they can’t survive having their internal organs squished.

    holding brown troutAs you can see in this picture, this rainbow trout is being held just enough to support it in the water. It’s not getting squeezed around the pectoral fins, which is a surefire way to kill a fish.

    I know it’s counterintuitive, but I’ve found that holding fish a looser grip actually makes them easier to handle for both hook removal and pictures. Focus on supporting the fish instead of squeezing it, and I bet you’ll have a similar experience.

    Keep it Wet

    The folks over at Keep Fish Wet have done some of the best work in educating the fishing community about the value of keeping fish in the water as much as possible. If you’re curious about any of the information I share here, you can find most of it at the source over at Keep Fish Wet.

    Fish need to stay wet as often as possible throughout the landing and releasing process. The more a fish stays in the water, the better chance it has at surviving being caught.

    I try to keep fish in the water while removing the hook and getting ready for the picture taking process. Once I have the fish in my hands, and someone has a camera at the ready, I lift the fish out of the water for just a few seconds at most. Remember, trout get their oxygen from the water, not from the air.

    Part of keeping the fish wet is making sure you get your hands wet before touching a trout. Even if the fish is still in the water, dip your hands in before touching the fish. This helps minimize the amount of slime you remove when holding a trout. That slime layer actually helps keep trout from getting infections and disease, so it’s important to remove as little of it as possible when handling trout.

    Ditch the Bank

    Whenever I see a picture of a trout covered in grass, dirt, or leaves, laying on the ground next to someone’s fly rod, boot, or beer can, I cringe. Laying trout down on the ground is a surefire way to kill it. Not only are you removing it from the water for more than ten seconds, but you’re removing the slime layer, too. That’s a double-whammy fish don’t need after a fight to get to the net.

    big brown trout

    Keep the fish in the water, or just above it, at all times. It’s not worth killing a fish just to show Instagram how big it was compared to your boot.

    Keep it Quick

    The most important thing to remember about holding trout for pictures is to keep the whole process quick. The less time you spend handling the fish, the better chance it has at surviving the encounter. I aim to have a fish out of the water for no longer than ten seconds.

    I know it’s tempting to stare at at fish for a while – especially big trout – but that ends up doing more harm than good. Fish are wild creatures, and being stuck in a net or your hands for extended periods of time will add more stress to the trout.

    Quick, simple pictures like this are often enough to remember a fish by.

    brown trout

    Again, if you look at this picture, the fish is just laying in the water. It’s still getting oxygen from water flowing over its gills, and it’s a unique perspective that we don’t see too often with fish.

    Taking Your Own Pictures

    Some of the most memorable pictures I’ve taken of trout aren’t the traditional grip-and-grin shots that dominate Instagram. You can get pretty creative taking pictures of fish by holding them in, or just above, the water’s surface. Lifting a trout quickly out of the water creates a really cool “drip” effect, like this picture below.

    brown trout

    As you can see, the fish is barely above the water and the dripping water makes for a unique photo.

    And it’s easy to get cool shots of fish in the net, too.

    brown trout in net

    The key to getting these shots is to keep the fish in the water as long as possible, and to minimize how much you’re handling the trout.

    Wrapping Up

    I know it feels counterintuitive, but the less time you spend holding trout, the better. Keep them in the water, and keep the time they spend out of it for pictures to a minimum.

    Learning how to hold a trout properly will ensure that we all do our part to conserve these fish and leave plenty of them for other anglers to catch.

  • Getting a Good Drift

    Getting a Good Drift
    By Spencer Durrant

    The most important thing you can do to become a better fly angler is learning how to get a good drift.

    A good drift makes more of a difference in catching fish than any other variable in the sport. What fly rod you use, the line on your reel, and even the flies you pull from your box aren’t near as important as a good drift.

    So, what separates a bad drift from a good one? Let’s take a look.

    A Good Drift Looks Natural

    A drag-free drift is so important because it looks natural. As fly fishers, we’re trying to imitate the natural world as best as we can, and that includes making the way our flies move through the water look completely normal.

    Now, good drag-free drifts aren’t just for dry fly fishing. You need them when nymphing, too.

    As bugs drift down the river, they’re moved and jostled by the current. Bugs don’t skitter across multiple current seams, leaving a wake in their trail. They certainly don’t move a few feet in one direction suddenly, either. Bad drifts and bad mends will make flies move that drastically, which tells the fish one important thing – those bugs aren’t real.

    A Good Drift with Dry Flies

    Getting a good drift with dry flies can be boiled down to one skill, I think – line management.

    In the video below, you’ll see guide Chris Sinclair manage his line perfectly as he demonstrates an upstream and downstream drift with a dry fly.

    When casting upstream, you want a line with as little slack as possible. That way, when the fish rises, you can set the hook quickly. If you have too much slack in the line, the fish can often spit the fly out before you set the hook.

    A tight line also reduces the opportunity for stray currents on the river’s surface to grab a belly of slack line and pull your fly away from the lane it’s drifting in.

    A Good Drift with Nymphs

    Drag-free drifts with nymphs look a lot different than what we see with dry flies. I don’t keep near as tight a line when nymphing as I do when fishing dry flies (unless, of course, I’m Euro nymphing).

    When nymphing, you’re often throwing a line across a few different current seams to get your flies into a good-looking piece of calmer or deeper water. That means you’ll need to throw a few upstream mends in order to get your flies to drift where you want them, which requires more slack line.

    Of course, the opposite of that scenario plays out frequently, too. This is where it’s critical to learn how to dead-drift your flies, as Louis Cahill from Gink & Gasoline demonstrates so well in the video below.

    Whether you call it dead-drifting or high-sticking, the end result is the same – a drag-free drift that gets your flies in front of fish while looking as natural as possible.

    Wrapping Up

    Managing your drifts to look natural is probably the most important skill to learn as a fly fisher. Without natural drifts, flies lose their semblances of reality, and it gets really tough to put fish in the net.

    One of the first times I fished the Green River in Utah, I stood in the middle of rising fish in the big flat just upstream from Little Hole. I stood there for hours and didn’t catch a single fish, while all the anglers around me put trout in their nets.

    The difference between me and them was drift. They managed realistic ones, and I couldn’t get a good drift to save my life.

    So, take the time to work on these techniques as much as possible, and stay tuned for a long, in-depth piece of content from us in the future on achieving realistic drifts.

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