Summertime Trout Fly Fishing: What to do when it all goes wrong…

Most of the day I really wanted to turn my favorite two piece into a 6 or 7 seven piece. That got me thinking…let’s have a little fun and take a break from over analyzing whether there are more blue legged or more yellow legged purple hackle long-necked doodlebugs around and stare into OUR refection in the water….

I had a really ‘interesting’ day fly fishing recently that got me thinking about some of the patterns and habits we as fly fishers fall into and what happens when those patterns stop working and everything falls apart. I awoke around 5am bristling with anticipation and energy. It was a Wednesday, which made it all the more special as I was ‘stealing’ a day from the other parts of my life. I was headed toward my favorite big fish, highly technical, fly fish only, catch & release stream. I was sure the big shadows in my favorite plunge pools and runs were already looking up ready to crash a big hopper or beetle at full light.

I arrived, got geared up, and strolled the mile upstream to my favorite run, which if it’s on, I wouldn’t even need to move to hook, fight and net those big shadows, take some stunningly beautiful photos of large terrestrials hanging out of their mouths, and release them so the next big shadow in line could pose for the camera. I’m telling you I KNEW this going to be a banner day! One for the ages!

I approached through the bush carefully, and just as I was approaching the point where I could see where the big shadows had set up their feeding lanes, I saw the two other fly fishermen fishing the run. Hmmmm. Well that’s OK, not in the plan but hey plenty of other water to fish right? Only slightly deflated from my previous high, I moved on.

Hmmmm again. Wow, there sure are a lot of people fishing this stream on a Wednesday. Most of the holes I usually fish are occupied. Well no matter, I’ll fish a big slow pool I know holds some large fish. Sure it’s clear and the delivery is difficult but I’m up for anything today!

It was at this point everything really starts to fall apart. Trees, bushes, and rocks are eating my flies at an alarming rate. I mean every cast I’m wrapping my leader on something. They wouldn’t come loose either- every incident resulted in a SNAP! and a retie. My knots weren’t holding for some reason I could not fathom. My leader is knotted. I am rushing everything from my cast to my knot tying to my fly selection. My arm begins to tire from long casts that I’m putting too much effort and frustration into, I observe what I previously had believed to be a log charge my large beetle and inhale it! The day is looking up and this fish will make one heck of a photo for the website! My rod bows as I set the hook, line disappears quickly and the drag engages smoothly and then …. nothing. Limp line and rod are all I’m left with. I reel in to discover a half hitch in my tippet two feet above the fly had given with only a little pressure. Oh I knew it was there- that was the painful part- I just didn’t think it was issue, and remember, I was rushing everything.

This is when the real heartache sets in. I’d just lost a big ‘daymaker’, I go into my fly box and discover I have donated all of my hoppers, beetles, and other terrestrials I was aiming to catch fish on to the wilderness around me. Strangely the desire to continue fishing drains out of me. I don’t bother to retie. I just shove my rod under my arm and begin the walk to the car. I’m done. This was not the day I knew it would be.

Halfway back I passed a gentleman fishing a small plunge pool. I hadn’t really noticed it before as I was usually in such a hurry to get to ‘my’ spots. This fly-fisher was calmly and methodically sweeping his small weighted nymphs through the pool. Minimum motion, not too much effort, and frankly it was relaxing to watch. Gordon (I learned his name was later) calmly lifts his rod to have it double over and a short time later smoothly nets a very pretty 16” Rainbow.  We chatted for a while, he allowed me to snap a quick picture, and we parted ways. Was the sun a bit brighter? Was the breeze a bit more pleasant? My mood lightened as I had just been shown undeniably that yes, it was in fact possible to land fish on this day of all days… I did a 180 and began walking back the way I came. My fishing day was not yet over.

Gordon’s colorful trout that turned my day around

What did I need to do differently to turn this day around? My mood was improved, I was back in the moment and ready to just enjoy the day. Here is what I came up with on a 10 minute walk through some beautiful forest, alongside my favorite stream, on a Wednesday after a REALLY tough morning:

– Go back to the basics. Return to the methodical way you first learned to fly fish for trout.

– Don’t outguess or try to control the trout, or the situation. The trout will eat, or not damn well eat, when and where they please. They really don’t care what kind of photo you want.

-Try new spots and let go of old habits and patterns.

– Go with the flow (fly fishing). Don’t fight the patterns. Embrace them. Don’t make them overly complex- they beat to the drum of the world that occasionally you’re good enough to tap into. Slow down, observe, and see what’s going on around you.

– Go with the flow (personal). You’re where you want to be on this day- so take the time to be there.

I poked my way down a little path, discovered a deep plunge pool I had never been to, relaxingly drifted a weighted Montana Yellow #12 (which is a really nice bee or wasp imitation) and quickly nailed a beautiful 18+” Rainbow. After a satisfying fight and a few (reluctant) poses for a few photos, she was returned to her deep haunt. I kept that short because that’s what it was. It should read the way it happened. Meeting Gordon, snapping the photo of his fish, to me catching that trout was maybe 15 minutes (including walking and exploring time) after a really painful 4 hours.

The ‘daymaker’. The fish that turned it all around.


It was perhaps another 15 seconds after that I once again had my rod tucked under my arm strolling down the trail headed for the car. After I released the trout that was not my biggest, best, most colorful, heaviest or any other descriptor I realized immediately that was easily one of the most SIGNIFICANT trout I had ever caught, and my day was well done.

Apparently I was heard to remark later: “What a great day trout fishing!”

Tight lines and catch ’em up!


Josh @





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