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Tiny Fly, Big Trout

Fly Fishing Redside Trout

Redside trout

There are two sure ways to hook a really big trout:

Tie on a monster articulated streamer — dripping with rubber legs, spun deer hair and a stinger hook — carpet bomb likely banks with dozens of casts, strip hard and hang on.

Or go to a stream during a massive storm of big bugs, such as salmonflies, green drakes or grasshoppers. Stalk a big fish and drop that big bug in the feeding lane.

Conventional wisdom is right — to a point.

Most of us have hooked big trout — in my book, any trout that reaches 16 inches is a great fish — and if the tape stretches to 18 inches and beyond, well, that’s an exceptional trout. Some of these trout come to us when we’re fishing the Pale Morning Dun hatch or the evening caddis hatch.

Big fish eat small flies every day of the year. During the past three years, I’ve come to suspect that the best way to consistently hook big trout is to drift tiny nymphs right in front of their noses. The best way to do that is Euro nymphing.

Tiny, Heavy Flies and Long Tippets

There are lots of ways to Euro nymph, and you can make this as complicated — or simple — as you want. Euro nymphing involves long, light rods, wimpy fly lines and long — really long — leaders with long, light tippets. You don’t cast these rods like a regular fly rod. Most of the the time, you’re lobbing a long leader — mine is usually 17 feet long — upstream. Then you’re leading the sighter — usually a short, brightly colored section of leader — downstream until the current pulls your tiny flies off the bottom. Then you lob the whole thing upstream again. I rarely have more than 10 feet of fly line outside the rod tip — unless a big fish is running.

For the past year, my usual leader has been: 5 feet of 15-pound-test Maxima, two feet of Rio’s 0X sighter material, a tippet ring and four to 10 feet of 4X to 6X fluorocarbon tippet. I cribbed this leader directly from George Daniel’s excellent “Nymph Fishing: New Angles, Tactics and Techniques.” My tippet is shorter in shallow water, longer in deep, fast water. I rarely pinch on a split shot.

Daniel is one of the gurus of Euro nymphing, and his other book, “Dynamic Nymphing: Tactics, Techniques and Flies from Around the World,” is also terrific.

Buy these books and read them now. Thank me later.

The light tippet allows my two weighted flies — usually very simple resin-coated bead-head nymphs — to sink like cannonballs to the bottom. I strip in line to keep my sighter angled slightly downstream of my flies. The sighter looks like a downrigger line on a salmon boat. Basically, you’re gently leading your flies downstream through the hole. When the fish strikes, you see the sighter jump, stop, or slide sideways. The line is always tight, so you often feel the fish suck in the fly.

Sometimes you see a flash in the water and hook a fish. That is cool beyond words.

Yeah, it looks like a strike when your flies tick rocks or weeds. You set on anything. After a while, you set on nothing — and there’s a fish. Your brain imprints on what you see, and, after just a few sessions, setting on fish becomes automatic.

All this is a simple explanation of a very complicated angling topic. Read the books, take a class or hire a guide. Euro nymphing connects you to good fish in the middle of the day and in the depths of winter.

Most of all, Euro nymphing is a tool that matches what all trout do all day — graze on small nymphs drifting in the current.

I usually Euro nymph for a couple of hours on each trip to the river. I do this when trout are not rising or bulging on the surface. I’m a fool for rising trout.

New Spots — And Big Trout

October is about to end, and so is the trout season on my favorite section of Oregon’s Deschutes River. Last week, I spent two days on this section, as I won’t fish it again for six months.

This is my home river, and I’ve fished this nine-mile stretch very, very hard since 1984. Euro nymphing continues to show me new spots on this familiar water.

One of these spots is a shallow, rocky riffle that drops into a short — maybe 15-foot-long — deeper trench. The water drops from 18 inches deep to four feet. It’s like stepping off a loading dock. Thing is, the trench is so short that conventional indicator tactics don’t get the fly down fast enough.

The fish in this spot are used to eating a steady stream of small caddis and mayfly nymphs all day long. Bugs pour into the slot from the riffle. Sure, some big stonefly nymphs drop in, but most Deschutes nymphers use big stonefly nymphs to get to the bottom. I am sure that these trout are conditioned to avoid those big flies — especially by the end of the April to October season.

On this day, I crept to the edge of this slot, and lobbed my rig upstream. My bigger fly was a size 16 Frenchie with a heavy tungsten bead. The dropper was a size 20 olive Zebra Midge. The Zebra Midge looked a lot like the size 20 Blue Wing Olive mayfly nymphs that would hatch into adults later in the afternoon.

After four casts, my sighter jumped, and I set the hook. The trout rocketed out of the slot, jumped twice, ripped down the riffle and hit the heavy current.

I got a good look at the fish when it jumped. Oh, boy.

Fluorocarbon tippet is tough stuff — even in 5X — and my long, flexible Euro nymphing rod absorbed a lot of head shaking and sudden runs. The Deschutes is big, heavy water, and the native Redside rainbow trout use their bulk and power to ride the current and rip backing off the reel.

I never expect to land big Deschutes trout on light tippet, but I got lucky this time. I followed the fish downstream, which meant wading under a big bankside alder tree and stumbling over shin-bashing rocks. A little bit of cold river water slid into my waders.

The trout slid into a bankside backeddy, and, a bit later, onto a patch of semi-submerged weeds.

The trout ate the tiny Zebra Midge. That Redside was almost 24 inches long. It was my biggest Deschutes fish of the year.