Catching a trophy trout can be the top moment in many fly fishers experience. The thrill of catching, and landing, that big brown that has thus outsmarted both man and nature long enough to grow to a large size is something that can keep anglers coming back to their favorite waters in hope time and time again. Yet, there are a few things we can do to increase these chances, above and beyond just “putting in the time” on the water.
Easy enough at first, you have to be in the right waters to catch a big fish. A small stream noted for 8” brookies just might not hold a 30” brown, period. Internet searching, hanging out at the local fly shops, and loose lipped anglers can help you home in on waters that hold the big fish. Don’t just trust reputation alone though, search around and see what people are catching and exactly where they are catching them.
Okay, you’ve got the river picked out and found the beat you want to work over. What next? Well, timing can play a big factor too. My favorites are spring, and again in fall. In spring, many fish are working on fattening up from the harsh winter, and also eat more to support rising metabolisms that come with the warming of the water. Also in spring, we start seeing some bigger insects starting to come off. Mother’s Day Caddis, Stoneflies, Salmonflies all start to wake up and hatch, and that buffet can be too much for even the oldest, wariest trout to resist.
On the flip side of spring, fall is also an excellent choice. The energy-sapping hot water of summer is cooling off, and the trout will be looking to fatten up for the upcoming winter. Many species of crayfish begin to molt in the fall, and those soft, unprotected little lobsters are a favorite of big trout. Another advantage in the Fall is a lot of waters often begin to see a big decline in pressure from other anglers, boaters, and others as both the weather and water begin to cool off.
Beyond just picking a season, the day you go can be important too. Often times fishing will be better in the middle of the week, giving the fish time to relax after that busy weekend of anglers bombarding them and boaters buzzing over their heads.
So, your now at the river, during your favorite time of year, and are ready to fish. But the best approach isn’t always to just hop in there and start carpet bombing those riffles. Take time to observe the water where you intend to fish. Really watch the flow, and make notes of any changes. Changes can be periodic eddies, a fallen tree blocking flow and creating a rest, a large boulder creating a swirl. Any spot that may be unique to the run. Trout, and especially old, wise trout, are surprisingly lazy. Any spot in the river that will trap or direct a swept away insect allowing feeding while expending minimal energy are worth your attention. Before approaching, make a note of where your shadow is being casted.
Take the time to plan out those casts, too. A single bad presentation or poor mend can put that big boy off to your flies, too. Settle down, take a deep breath, and lay out your best work to the head of the run, and hang on.
WHAT THEY EAT
There’s an old belief that big fish like big food. And while that may be true at times, don’t hold it as gospel. I’ve personally taken more trophy trout on a #20 zebra midge than any other fly. Match the hatch, and offer them as much as you can. A single copper john may out produce a sculpin pattern if there’s mayflies coming off and the water doesn’t even hold sculpins. If you can fly fishing up to three flies, do it. Start with the biggest fly first, then move down in size as you go along. Don’t be afraid to stick a small nymph behind that big, meaty streamer, either.
Keep in mind, big fish can be few and far between. No matter how juicy that tail-out looks, there simply may not be a trophy lurking in there. You need to cover water, and not waste time repeatedly fishing holes that don’t hold big fish. There really is no set rigid limit on how long you should stay in an area, but try to be as efficient as possible. You don’t want to be sitting in the same spot all day, but you also don’t want to be making too few casts into prime water either.
MOST IMPORTANTLY, HAVE FUN
Don’t put too much pressure on yourself. Lower your expectations. You aren’t going to catch a trophy every single time you go out and attempt it. Remember, fishing is supposed to be fun! Take in the sights around you, enjoy the views and smells out of the city, take lots of pictures for your fish and fishing reels, and leave with a smile on your face, even if you didn’t land that big bruiser.
Author - Jason Lighthall from Sparks NV US