The Trout Journals

SAGE & CITRUS

I thought I’d sit down on the ground very quietly, and immerse myself in the wilderness. I imagined I’d run my hands and fingers through the grass and the earth. I saw myself standing in the middle of the scenery, stretching my arms as high as I could, to hug the world. I’d tilt my head towards the sky, close my eyes, and let out an almighty whoop.

I had dreamed about this for so long and I had the perfect plan.

Of course, none of that happened. Romantic anticipation and true reality rarely meet face-to-face. There were lots of nervous moments, brought about by nothing more than my anxious tendencies.

I pressed and rolled the sage between my palms, which heightened the scent and made the smell last longer. It was delightful. Although I had thought about sage a lot before our trip, it wasn’t one of the things that I obsessed about. The smell of it will be one thing that I’ll remember fondly, though. Well, at least as long as my mind lets me remember it.

Looking through the shelves of a big-brand store back in San Francisco, I was excited when I came across candles featuring the promising label “Sage & Citrus”.

Sage & Citrus

What a crushing disappointment. Nothing like the fresh, unobnoxious, clean smell of the real thing.

I’d give anything to be back there right now, for another chance to sit down on the ground very quietly, and do my thing. My religious ritual. It would be so romantic, so perfect.

In reality, that’s a load of shit.

As I write this, it’s freezing in Yellowstone. Literally. At night, it’s well below freezing. It won’t be long and there’ll be snow on the ground, and the earth will be hard from the cold. Many of the wonderfully inviting lodges and amenities inside the Park are now closed for the winter.

And if I was there, I’d be so anxious to fish, I wouldn’t be able to focus on anything else. But right now, there’s no cool, inviting water to wet-wade in. The water is only a degree or so above freezing. In fact, there are shelves of frozen water, all through some of the most famous rivers in the world. Tough way to fish, through the ice, dangling a mayfly nymph, with the very unlikely premise that a cutthroat would take it.

My grandiose expectations and the stark reality of the frozen wilderness are even further apart than the physical distance from Australia to Yellowstone.

But I’d still go. It is, after all, the most beautiful place on earth.

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A LETTER

Dear Dave,

I hope this letter reaches you well. We met recently at Mt Republic Chapel in Cooke City, when Amanda and I were visiting Yellowstone.

Just a quick note to express my genuine thanks for the thoughtfully signed gift of Fishful Thinking: Letters from the Lazy G. Your writing is superb; it’s very easy to read and most entertaining, especially for a fly fishing fanatic like me.

Our trip to Yellowstone was utterly unforgettable. From the fascinating wildlife, to the huge mountains and the famous rivers, my wife and I were continually floored by the majesty that Yellowstone truly is. Driving into the park on our first day, my eyes turned just a little glassy as I blubbered quietly to myself. This was a place I had been dreaming about for many, many, many years – I was so grateful to have had the opportunity for even a brief glimpse of it on our first day there.

Bison

Over six days, we had some great success fishing Soda Butte Creek, the Lamar, the Yellowstone, the Firehole and the Madison. I had fantasised about fishing these waters since I was 13 years old, and the park delivered every single ounce of magic I had daydreamed about since I was a teenager. Our visit has filled my memory with wonderful thoughts that I will recall on a regular basis.

Borrowing an idea from your excellent book, the “last fish” of our trip was a beautiful rainbow from the Firehole which took a skating caddis off the surface, just downstream from Muleshoe Bend.

But the “last fish” I will remember most fondly was a sensational example of a beautiful and healthy Yellowstone cutthroat from the Lamar River. I worked the fish for around 45 minutes, resting it a number of times after I failed to hook it on more than a few drifts. When it finally took a small emerger, I realised how big it was. I think it would have been a typical fish for the Lamar, not enormous by any stretch of the imagination, but a very special fish for me, and much bigger in spirit than its 18-or-so inches.

After I released it, I knew it was time to string up my rod and head back to the car. I knew this possibly would be the last time I visited the Lamar Valley, and the grandeur of the sage covered, open plains criss-crossed by such magnificent rivers. As we left the Valley, I turned around in the passenger seat of our car for one last look.

Lamar

And I cried, and cried, and cried.

Not soft, murmured blubbering this time, but a real river of tears, choked back as best as I could with words of “I’m fine, I promise I’m happy!” to my wife.

I’ve enclosed a few flies that are used here in Australia, in the saltwater estuaries close to where Amanda and I live. My passion is trout fishing, but I wanted to send you some flies that are a little more unique to fishing here in Australia. The flies represent crustaceans – shrimp and crabs – and small baitfish.

The tackle used for saltwater fish like flathead, bream and tailor is quite a bit heavier that that used for trout fishing. Straight leaders of up to 20lb aren’t looked upon strangely and don’t seem to impair the fisherperson’s ability to fool a fish into taking the fly.

Thank you once more Dave, for thinking to give me a copy of Fishful Thinking: Letters from the Lazy G. It will sit proudly on my bookshelf and I will read it often as I remember our fantastic vacation to Yellowstone.

Best regards,

Jon

A LONG TIME COMING

I thought about Dad and tied on a biggish deer hair sedge; I thought a bigger fly might catch the attention of a hungry fish in the fading light. For some unusual reason, the thin tippet slipped straight through the eye of the hook on my first attempt. When the light fades on days I’m lucky enough to be on a stream, I’m regularly reminded that my eyesight is slowly deteriorating.

Deer hair sedge

I walked down the bank quickly and quietly and saw a pair of ducks sitting on the near side. My approach started them and they hastily paddled their way to the far side of the creek, quacking and chuckling.

“Bloody hell. There goes my last damn chance.”

If I had a 12-guage instead of a five weight, we would have had duck for dinner.

Going through the motions, I put my line slightly upstream and to the far side, just down from where the pool widens after a narrow run. It opens up straight across from me; the current is strongest there. The swiftest water passes right beside some overhanging ti-trees.

When you watch the flow of the water, you can see that it slows as the stream gets wider. It could be as deep as two or three metres in the middle. The surface current curls around to form a little eddy right in the centre. Right where I’m standing.

No response to my fly on the far side. I try again, but it all seems fruitless. It’s depressing.

Then it happened. The rise form was clear, despite the fading light. The fish surfaced right at the downstream edge of the eddy.

With a quick flick, I put the sedge in front of the fish. And I couldn’t believe it.

The last sizable fish I hooked, on the Murrumbidgee at Bolero, tricked me. He was big. He forcefully burrowed his way to the bottom of the hole. I’m sure the conniving beast sensed my anxious tendencies – were my knots true? Would the leader or tippet snap if he shook his head? My hesitance gave him enough grace to wrap the line around a strong snag at the bottom of the pool. The fly popped and landed gently at my feet. If he had fingers he would have given me the middle one.

I wasn’t going to fall victim to that shit today. I had waited too long to catch this fish. I had lost count of the dreams I’d had about what lies at the bottom of this mysterious, dark, boulder strewn hole. The browns in this creek are more sheepish than the woolly creatures that fill the paddocks alongside it.

When I got the fish in the net I let out an honest and loud expletive. It was the biggest brown I had ever caught. A true leviathan from the small creek. A resident of this sheltered, quiet, cool spot. Too majestic to roast over a fire. Maybe Adam’s boys will catch him one day.

Right on last light (grayscale)

It’s a long walk back to the hut after fishing all day. Up and down hills. Negotiating gates in the dark. Puffing and panting as my PVC waders trap my sweat and turn them into a little portable mini-sauna.

Not today. There’s a spring in my step. Today I finally unlocked the secret to this wonderful old trout stream. I danced along the track to the hut in the moonlight.

BOOK REVIEW: “THE TROUT BOHEMIA”

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Second in this wonderful series by Derek Grzelewski, “The Trout Bohemia” is just as good as “The Trout Diaries”, if not better. Even though I love reading fishing books, it took me longer than planned to getting around to this one. Life has a way of delivering curveballs that sometimes demand your undivided attention.

One of my favourtie parts is when the author meets up with guide Miles Rushmer to fish the small streams near Bay of Plenty. Pursuing enormous brown trout in the most confined of spaces, Messrs Rushmer and Grzelewski resort to some advanced stalking and bow and arrow casting techniques. Miles featured in one of the films profiled at last year’s RISE Fly Fishing Film Festival. In “Levithan”, he demonstrated these techniques first hand, and the electric fishing that comes about as a result.

As if hundreds of pages full of lucid and colourful details about his latest fishing exploits aren’t enough, Derek includes stories about the challenges faced by many of us with regards to life – and love. Along the way he figures out some of the answers. But like most of us, the answers to many questions wait patiently. In the mean time, we might as well keep fishing.

As a consequence, this book sometimes reads like a novel. Other times, it’s a guide book with useful information about specific parts of this island nation I call “heaven on earth”. At other times, you might think it’s a conservation piece.

Like “Diaries”, the book includes a few nicely arranged photos, courtesy of Grzelewski. One, of the Tongariro, is of an exact spot I have fished. Seeing it, I enjoyed a satisfying sense of camaraderie. Perhaps Derek would like to fish with me – and vice versa. And the illustrations in the second book in this series are by a new artist: Stella Senior. They add to the gentle feeling communicated by Derek’s musings.

Finally, this edition has a fantastic conclusion. With an epilogue that covers more than six pages, it’s wrapped-up really well. And the whole book is just so damned easy to read. I finished it in around three days. It was over the Christmas holidays and I wasn’t working, but even if I was busier, it’d be pretty easy to finish it quite quickly.

Looking forward to reading Derek’s next literary offering.

NEAR JINDABYNE

The fish was rising steadily, if not predictably.

I tied on a Royal Wulff and drifted the fly over it. Nothing. A few more casts and the fish hit it with a splashy rise, but I couldn’t connect. I waited a few minutes and made another cast. Again, the fish rose to the fly, but I couldn’t set the hook. Boy, it was fast!

Perhaps another fly would set better. A Stimulator. Same thing. The fish rose to it several times, but I still wasn’t good enough to set the hook.

Try another fly – what the heck. This fish wasn’t shy; it was definitely focussed on feeding.

On went a Stu Tripney Elk Hair Caddis. And wouldn’t you know it, the first time the fish rose to it, I was on. It screamed up and down the river, painfully close to the very snags that offer it protection from predatory cormorants – and fishermen.

A lovely Snowy Mountains brown trout.

Image of brown trout

Later in the day, the weather turned. But what a view.

Backwaters

On this stretch of the river, upstream from where I caught the brown, there were a few wonderful looking backwaters. Quiet places where trout forage for food that gets washed through. John McInnes wrote about these beautiful places in “Tread Quietly”.

“Backwaters! Our noses probably wrinkle at memories of stale smelling weed, dank banks, overhanging trees and stagnant slime. But the backwaters I mean have a different character. They are still patches of water, connected easily to the main river and perhaps freshened from upstream trickles percolating through cooler deeps of gravel. For me, especially in the summer, they are favourite places which I am prepared to walk a long way to find. When I come upon one I stand or sit quietly for ten minutes or even twenty. Eventually one or two shapes pass unhurriedly by, stopping, pausing, tailing, turing and even breaking the surface to suck in a pot-pourri of waterboatmen, snails, damsel fly nymphs and other desirables.”

I didn’t get to fish these backwaters on this day. Hopefully one day I will.

BOOK REVIEW: “DYNAMIC NYMPHING”

Dynamic Nymphing

Ever since I became interested fly fishing, I’ve been a fan of nymphing. Most people love the dry fly, but the idea that trout get most of their dietary requirements sub-surface had me focussing on nymphing from day one.

I’m still a beginner in this great sport. So the fantastic stuff in George’s book had me pouring over the detail, and even making notes.

From Pennsylvania, George Daniel was on the US Fly Fishing Team from 2006 to 2010, placing fifth at the 2006 world championship and was also the US Youth Fly Fishing Team coach in 2008 and 2009. It’s fair to say he knows a thing or two about fishing.

George’s book is one of the most in-depth references to nymph fishing I’ve come across. I’m not saying that I’ve read every fly fishing book ever published, but I’ve seen a few. The table of contents for this all-inclusive book looks like this:

  1. Dynamic Nymphing
  2. A Nymphing System
  3. Casting Weight
  4. Tight-Line Tactics
  5. Suspension Tactics
  6. Fly Patterns
  7. Fishing Pocketwater, Riffles and Runs, and Pools
  8. Nymphing the Extremes
  9. Nymphing Small Streams

Like many other fly fishing books, this one covers casting, reading water, trout biology, and other basics. Where George shines is the detail he imparts about tight line strategies and suspension approaches. The author does a great job promoting the idea that a good fly is one that is the right size, shape and colour for the conditions at hand.

And he champions the idea that good technique is more important than the “perfect” fly.

Good advice for a bloke with only a few years under his belt in this wonderful world of fly fishing.

NEW STUFF

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

My new fly tying desk and lamp. The Whitetail antler is from Wisconsin. The stones are from the Tongariro. And the Ausable Bomber is from Alan Petrucci in Connecticut.

Time to get tying.