When you first get into fly fishing, the name of the game seems to be tiny flies and no added movement. Big trout seem to spook at anything larger than a size 20 nymph, and if you so much as breathe you’re likely to ruin any chance you have at targeting these fish.
That is, until you start throwing streamers. These flashy, chunky flies can get a rise out of even the most unnerved fish in a stream, provoking aggressive attacks from these surprisingly territorial fish. Sometimes they’re just chasing off what they think to be another critter venturing a little too close to their home, and sometimes they’re hunting the tastiest looking snack they’ve seen in the past few hours. Regardless, stripping streamers through fishy-looking water is a great way to entice those elusive predatory trout that make the sport so much fun.
This past September was one for the books. Having thrown your typical wooly bugger many a time with marginal success, I was somewhat skeptical of larger flies outperforming my tried and true nymph setup. But, after a successful summer full of impressive fish in my net, I took the advice of my friend Kyle Jordan and began exclusively throwing flies in an effort to move water and lure some of the voracious predators lining the river beds of our Colorado fishery. With some friends on the way up from Texas to join me for a week of fishing, I prepared my arsenal with a multitude of tasty snacks for our trout targets.
Our first morning began with muddied waters and low expectations. I managed a few whitefish early on with some small nymphs, but as the sun rose a bit higher, the water cleared up, and the game was on. The fish were hungry and within a few casts I was hooked up. Targeting the overhanging banks, we were treated to some aggressive chases from trout ranging between 14-18 inches, all racing after my tan sculpin. Despite not being the monsters I was searching for, the number of eats and overall display of pure aggression towards our streamers left me feeling confident for the days ahead. More importantly it proved that these fish were not nearly as shy as we expected when it came to these larger flies.
After about two and half hours, the fishing began to slow down and we decided to make our way into town for lunch, giving everyone the option to either grab a bite to eat or continue fishing. Unsurprisingly, I chose the latter, knowing had I stopped and stuffed my face with a Real Deal Big Mac from The Local, I would’ve had likely washed it down with an Apricot Blonde from Dry Dock Brewing and enjoyed watching some Sunday football at the bar top, never making it back out on the river.
Wanting to press on as well, one of my friends, Hunter, decided to join me. We made our way down the banks of the river, planning to meet up with the rest of our party after they finished their meal.
The first half mile we fished felt like quite the struggle. The water was ripping through a whole lot faster than our previous location and no fish seemed to care enough to chase our flies, except for an angry pike who split my line before I had a chance to escape its wrath.
Slightly dismayed, I set my discouragement aside and reached into my pack to upgrade my leader and tie on a new streamer. By the time I was ready to fish again, Hunter was shouting for me in the next pool with his rod bent over and a wake moving towards me. Opting to set my rod aside, I quickly reached for the net in my pack and made my way upstream. The trout made a few quick runs, doubtlessly confused how she was fooled into thinking the fly was simply a leech drifting by. With a dart towards the shallows, I was able to net her and land Hunter’s best trout ever.
There wasn’t much more we could ask for day one. After safely releasing his beautiful 18” cutthroat, we made our way back to our friends and drove back home, ending day one with a bang.
Day 2 had us off to the tailwaters. With tons of potential for the day, we scarfed down a quick breakfast, jumped in the truck and made for the river. A parking lot full of cars at the trailhead was an unfortunate surprise, but we readied our gear and trekked down the hill. In an effort to help my friends understand the water, I gave them a quick overview of the river with some tips on how best to fish it before leaving them to it. With a mini dungeon tied on, I began scouting water, working my way up river without any luck. Fish outright ignored my fly opting to feast on smaller prey instead. By the time I had reached the section where the river begins to climb the mountain, some of my buddies had joined back up with me, equally dismayed by our lack of success. Deciding to take a few more casts before calling it a day, I launched my fly behind a large boulder, gave it a few twitches, and watched as a massive brown sped out his home, swiped at my fly, and narrowly missed before returning to cover. The next few casts were not enough to interest him again, so we called it and made back to town for lunch.
After a late lunch and a trip to the grocery store, we settled in to watch Monday Night Football, and within about 15 minutes I was itching to get back out there. I could tell Hunter was also unable to sit still, unsatisfied with the success of the day thus far. Without hesitation, he agreed to join me and in a few moments we were back in the river on the property where we had fished the first day. Planning to quickly fish the stretch from top to bottom, we alternated pockets of water to afford both of us a few opportunities before running out of daylight.
In the second pocket of the bank I was fishing, I felt a bump, set the hook, and promptly missed my target. With a quick haul, I replaced my fly just a few inches from where my previous cast had landed, stripped it a few times, and on about the fifth long strip, I set into what I was sure to be a log. That is until it started to move. With a violent headshake, my line began peeling off my reel and a wake, the size of which I had never seen from a trout, fled from the scene like a bandit on the run. This time, it was I, shouting for a net, knowing it would be an olympic feat to land this fish on my own. By the time Hunter made his way over, the fish was into my backing, and I had cranked down on my drag in order to prevent its escape into the roots along the bank.
At this point, I was sure it had to be foul hooked. It was far to hard to reel in, even when swimming towards me. I effectively began to gaslight myself for believing it was a large fish. But as the fight went on, I couldn’t help but wonder how a fish could continue to make run after run against my 6 wt without being of substantial size. The elusive prize at the end of my line continued to evade our vision, staying just deep enough to avoid detection. By the time it decided to calm down, we had chased our fish up and down the bank numerous times and were growing weary on our own. With one last ditch effort, she swam upstream, found herself stuck beneath some rapids, and Hunter managed to encourage her into the net.
I’ll never forget the look on his face as he netted that fish. In a complete loss for words, his jaw hung loose, simply staring at the fish lying in the net beneath the water. I still had yet to see this trout. After a few moments, he remarked, “You’re not going to believe this”. Making my way over to him, all I could see was her tail hanging out of the net, but I knew it was the largest trout I’d ever seen. Upon closer inspection, the sheer size of the fish became apparent. Nearly spanning the width of the net, and far exceeding the length, this beautiful rainbow was a testament to the water of Colorado. In truth, I believe I had spotted this monstrosity of a fish about a month prior further upstream on our property. I had exclaimed then to my mother that this was easily twice as large as any other trout I’d seen in the river.
Flash forward to our present point in time, the wave of emotions from landing my personal best trout was hitting me all at once. My cheeks were aching from smiling so hard, my hands were shaking with excitement, and my heart was racing from all the adrenaline built up from the fight. This fish was an absolute slab. I was unable to fully grip her tail, and her collar was barely able to rest in the palm of my hand. No other fish came close to the absolute behemoth I currently held. With no choice, we turned in for the night and made our way back in the darkness, completely elated with our success.
Arriving back at the cabin, we told our tale to the rest of our friends who listened in utter disbelief. It was a night to remember, my only regret being that it was the second day of our weeklong adventure.
Waking up on day three felt like a dream. Still stunned from my prior nights catch, I committed my efforts to helping the team land some impressive fish of their own. Choosing to have a more relaxing day, we loaded the truck with our inflatable paddle boards, and drove out to an alpine lake. With winds whipping across the lake, any progress we made was quickly taken back, and the fishing was not anything to write home about.
Unfortunately, to our own dismay the skies opened up and unleashed a torrent of water down the rivers, forcing us to resign to the cabin after only a few decent fish from the party.
Day four was back to the grind. Clear skies led us to hungry fish and high expectations. Venturing to a new location that I had yet to try my luck at, we got to the river mid morning and got to work. Hunter led the way, eager to find a fish to top his first day’s efforts. We rounded a bend in the river and found a slow but deep pool that had brush lined banks to provide extra cover for our targets. We quickly discovered the multitude of pike inhabiting this stretch, ranging from a few inches to a few feet, all ready to “finding nemo” our flies. While my friends with lighter leaders chose to avoid the minefield of pike, I opted to play with a few of them, and almost immediately had one in my net. After removing my hook, the familiar sound of Hunter shouting for a net rang through my ears.
Once again I tossed my rod on the bank, removed my backpack, and made my way towards him. It was at this moment that Hunter realized he had messed up. After repeatedly choosing to ignore my advice, he was left to his own devices and was now hooked into a trophy brown with 4lb flouro as his leader. Upon this realization, he opted to fight the fish by hand instead of his reel, slowly making progress only to lose it each time the fish chose to run again. After about 20 minutes of this losing battle, his trout had decided to cement itself to the bottom of the river, about 9 ft below the surface. Knowing he couldn’t move it without breaking his line, Hunter chose to have us try and spook the fish out from its underwater abode. We tried wading towards it, but ultimately a few rocks tossed near the end of his line was what encouraged the fish to swim into shallower water where it found a rock to bury under.
Now we faced a new problem. While the fish was no longer 9 ft underwater, it was tucked under a large slab of concrete and refused to budge. Knowing the slightest abrasion could compromise the integrity of the line, we brainstormed possible solutions to our dilemma. While the dust settled, the water cleared and I happened to notice the tail of a substantial brown trout poking out from the rock. Reaching down, I was able to grab the fish, but ultimately it slipped through my fingers and disappeared further beneath the rock.
At this point, we were stuck between a rock and a hard place, or should I say, the fish was. Unable to horse it out of there, our previous solution to try and scare it into moving yielded no success. Left with no alternative, I tried my hand at lifting the rock, and to my surprise, it budged. Armed with my new found confidence, I prepared Hunter for the fish to escape, grabbed a corner of the rock, and lifted it away from the line. Startled by the lack of cover the trout now possessed, it returned down stream and we took off after it. Within a few moments the fish sought out cover under the bank but I was there to defend our position. Having exhausted its resources, I followed in pursuit as it turned back toward Hunter with nowhere to run. Before realizing what had happened, this beautiful brown trout was being scooped into my net and our cheers erupted in triumph. We snapped a few pictures, shared some high fives, and returned our new found friend to waters from which he came. Three days into our trip and we’d already had more success than we thought possible.
Only I couldn’t let the fish from the day prior out of my mind. Despite having already landed my best fish on the fly this trip, the ache of losing that fish was tough to shake off. The acrobatic display would not stop playing through my head, and I knew I’d need to try for that trout one last time before the end of the trip.
A hot coffee and the crisp morning had me in the truck ready to go long before the rest of the guys awoke. Except for Hunter. We made the drive back to the familiar stretch of water jumped in the cascades, and proceeded to cover every inch of fishable water. Upon arriving at the pool below where I had previously encountered my target, I placed a delicate cast into the white water, let it sink, and started twitching my fly. A couple long strips later, I felt a thump, strip set my line, and watched as the brown trout now connected to my rod sped towards me, holding on for fear of losing it once again. To my luck, its race led it over to Hunter who promptly scooped up my prize.
This pretty brown, while impressive, left me wondering if it was indeed the same fish that had escaped me days prior. Unable to say for certain, we packed up, headed back to the cabin, and rejoined the rest of our group, forever leaving me wondering if I’d ever see that fish again.
The rest of the day went about as expected, with a few more decent fish landed, and some even better ones last to the river. But that’s fishing for ya. Even with large prey for our predatory friends, sometimes the 2/0 hooks aren’t enough to prevent their flight. All said and done, it was trip for the books, and one that will long live in my tales of adventures past.
If you’ve never had the opportunity to throw big streamers at some hungry trout, I would highly recommend giving it a go. All in all, we had three personal best trout caught in a single week, all on our tried and true purple & black mini dungeons. Pick up a few to try next time you’re out in the wild, and let us know how you fare. #thisisit