American Angler has published it’s May 2009 issue! Featured in this issue are several articles on cutthroats trout. Struggling for survival in a tiny portion of its native range, the fish that fed American explorers is trying to make a comeback.
The state fish of both Montana and Idaho is actually misnamed, for westslope cutthroat occur on both sides of the continental divide. Although it can be difficult to identify the subspecies by sight, anglers can often recognize one of these gorgeous fish by the distinctive pattern of spots. Small, irregularly shaped spots are sparse on the back and head, and they become more numerous as you move toward the tail, with the belly and sides often spot-free. The average size is 6 to 16 inches, and an 18-incher is a trophy.
Return of the Native
The three main causes of its decline are habitat loss, the introduction of non-native species, and hybridization with other subspecies of cutthroats. The widespread stocking in the northern Rockies has been a disaster for the westslope cutthroat: brook trout outcompete the westslopes for food in small headwater streams, and larger species—rainbows, browns, and northern pike, for example—prey on the native cutts.
By the late 1950s, the cutthroats were confined to headwater streams that were protected by downstream barriers such as waterfalls or dams. Recent decades have witnessed a concerted conservation effort to save the westslope cutt and restore it to many waters from which it has disappeared. Montana Fish, Wildlife, and Parks is in the process of using rotenone to remove non-native species and reintroducing westslope cutts to 21 high mountain lakes.
Take It to the Bank
When it comes to stillwater success, we have much to learn from our brothers across the pond.
In nearly 30 years as a fly-fishing instructor and guide, I’ve received many requests from clients for advice on strategies and techniques for fishing still water for trout. Whether you’re wading in the shallows or casting from the bank or a dock, there’s no doubt that fishing lakes can be daunting, if not downright intimidating to stream anglers who are used to reading currents and seams. When, at age 16, I made my first visit to 40,000-acre Lough Mask on the western coast of Ireland, I felt like curling up into the fetal position.
The Scottish, English, Irish, and Welsh have taken stillwater fly fishing to an art form still rarely seen on these shores. The UK is a crowded place, and as huge reservoirs were built to supply towns and cities with fresh water, those reservoirs were also used for recreational activities, such as boating, bird watching, and fly fishing. The reservoirs are close to the cities, and many farmers and landowners saw an opportunity to cater to fly fishermen. Thousands of stillwater fisheries—some developed as clubs and some created for pay-as-you-fish—were opened across the UK and in Ireland. Some fly fishermen I know in the UK have more than 50 years in the sport, and they have never fished in moving water.
For many fly fishermen, these fisheries have given them access to fish that they otherwise would not have because the fishing rights of many rivers are privately held and a day’s angling can be cost-prohibitive. In North America we are spoiled because we still have countless places to fish; all you need is a valid fishing license. One up for the colonies. The downside for us is that we haven’t concentrated nearly so much on developing stillwater tactics and techniques, and it’s high time we started catching up.
Northeast anglers anxiously anticipate the revival of inshore waters and some of the year’s most enjoyable fly fishing.
Outside of taking a destination fishing trip, most northeastern anglers bide the long off-season by reading, tying flies, attending to gear, or otherwise engrossed in productive off-the-water activities. The unique coastal action that suddenly materializes in late April and up to May and runs through June is a welcome starting point to the season, bringing out boyish enthusiasm in even the saltiest anglers after four or five months of daydreaming.
In spring, a multitude of perennial prey spawning activities yields rich feeding opportunities for northbound migratory game fish, including stripers, bluefish, hickory shad, and weakfish, as well as stripers emerging from wintering areas within New England coastal rivers. These breeding phenomena ignite shallow estuarine environments, which are often bordered by fertile salt marshes. Coastal bays, salt ponds, and river mouths warm quickly with intensifying sunlight. They are nutrient-rich and sustain abundant forage, meaning that fly-rodders at all levels enjoy perhaps the easiest fishing the sea has to offer in these pristine waters.
Weather plays an important role in the quality and timing of spring fishing—both seasonally and day-to-day—as water temperatures are a key factor influencing both predator and prey behavior. Lengthening spring days warm the surface and stimulate activity within shallow bottom sediments, producing ideal conditions for spawning prey and their young. But an “early” or “late spring” can accelerate or delay the start by as much as three weeks. Once things get going, fishing is generally consistent through the end of June when spawning events conclude and many game fish depart for deeper, cooler ocean waters.
Working the Line
Use mends to make your flies dart, skip, or rise, adding fish-tempting action to your presentations.
For many anglers, a fellow guide once argued, “mending is a simple concept poorly understood.” Most fly-fishing professionals will agree that even some of those clients who know how to mend don’t necessarily understand why it’s such an important part of a proper presentation. The reason for this, of course, is that mastering the mend requires the angler to conceptualize how the behavior of his line on the surface—which he can see—affects the drift of his fly, which, if it’s a nymph or a streamer, he often can’t see. The day it all makes sense represents a great leap forward in the development of a fly fisherman.
But once you’ve learned to use line mends to render your drifts lifeless, it’s time to think about using these same concepts to give patterns life—to activate the presentation. Rather than counteracting the effects of current on your line, you can instead use this tension to make a streamer dart erratically without pulling it out of a good lie, make a nymph rise in the water column, or work flies into spaces that you could never cast to. Using the current and your line to work the fly means you can keep it in the strike zone longer, fishing slower, or make multiple presentations within the same drift.
Since we’re talking about imparting action to flies, this technique is most useful when you’re fishing streamers. One of the simplest ways to move your fly using mends is to cast quartering downstream and then start making short, sharp downstream mends very quickly. This has the effect of causing your fly to dart up and across the current as the line swings. Especially if you’re using a pattern with a lot of marabou or other soft fibers, this darting motion will cause the pattern to pulse in a lifelike manner rather than simply move across the current stiffly—as in the traditional Atlantic salmon or steelhead swing. And since you’re not stripping line, the fly doesn’t get pulled out of the strike zone as quickly.
Googling the Backcountry
Online mapping technology can help you find new, untapped waters and offers a way to create detailed fishing journals.
This blows,” and other bitter thoughts run through your mind as you’re faced with a familiar scene: There’s not one open parking spot at your favorite put-in. Looking up and down the river, you can see other anglers fanned out like the crowd at a parade, shoulder to shoulder in places. Worm-dunkers with coolers are setting up their lawn chairs at the foot of the ramp, and the canoe hatch is starting just upriver. You’ve got to get out of this place, but how do you find quality water where you can fish unmolested without a boat?
What you need is a way to take advantage of all the public land out there, all those waters flowing unfished on the way-back forty of a remote tract of national forest or BLM property. But the problem is obvious: You don’t have time to search hundreds of acres of public land just to find two or three good fishing spots. What you need is a shortcut. You need Google Earth.
What Does It Get Me?
No matter where you live, within a couple hours’ drive are some big chunks of public land. Chances are, these big areas contain lots of fishable water, but there’s a problem: How do you find the good water without wasting tons of time and wearing out your hiking boots? Sure, you could hike every square foot of a watershed, but there’s a better way to refine your search.
There are lots of reasons you might want to fish on public land, as opposed to, say, a well-known tailwater. First of all, there’s the privacy. Nothing beats a remote forest creek for solitude; you won’t see any canoes or party floats here. Second, the fishing can be great. Obscure species, such as Southern-strain brookies and Apache trout, are obvious targets, but many public properties hold lots of bigger fish, too. Rainbows and browns alike make spawning runs out of lakes into tributary streams all over the country. These lake-run fish can easily cross the five-pound mark, and many of them have never seen a fly. Enthusiastic fisheries managers planted steelhead and even salmon in many out-of-the-way locations back in the anything-goes 1960s. Some of those fish hold on, too. For obvious reasons, nobody’s going to lead you by the hand to such excellent fishing, so if you want in, you need to stake your own claim.