The vast flats of the Harriman Park of the Henry’s Fork, the deeps runs of the Fall River in Northern California, the quiet shallows of Crane Creek in Missouri and similar spring creeks offer the ultimate challenge in trout fishing. Montana’s Missouri River, the Owyhee River in Oregon, the South Holston in East Tennessee and other tailwater streams provide a similar experience. This kind of fishing isn’t for everybody. If you don’t understand what you are doing you’ll likely end up frustrated and discouraged. I’ve spent most of my years fishing one of the world’s most demanding rivers, the Henry’s Fork of the Snake. I’ve seen lots of mistakes and I’ve talked to a lot of frustrated anglers in my shop. I’d like to share ten common mistakes many anglers make with the hope that you can avoid them and be better prepared to meet the challenge of spring creeks and tailwaters.
I. Too much false casting. False casting is useful to extend line, to change the direction of the cast and to dry your fly. In most fishing circumstances, false casting is useless and unnecessary. False casting provides a strong chance the fish will sense your presence, even if you are using a dull colored line. It also has a tendency to spray water over the surface to alert the fish. Keep your false casts to a minimum unless you want to put more odds in the trout’s favor.
II. Casting too far. Your odds will increase if you get into a comfortable position to cast accurately. Even if you are an expert caster you will be more accurate if you get close. It is also easier to get a drag-free drift if you have less line on the water.
III. Under valuing the importance of accuracy. I’m a strong believer that the first cast you make to a feeding trout is the most important. Each successive cast lessens the chance that the fish will take your fly. Many anglers practice casting by casting as far as they can cast. You’ll do better by putting targets out at 20, 30 and 40 feet and practice until you can hit the targets consistently. The best slack line casts are futile if you can’t cast accurately.
IV. Changing flies too often. Some anglers believe that if they get a good drift over a fish and the fish doesn’t eat, it’s time to change flies. If you take time to watch a feeding trout you’ll notice that he frequently allows a number of naturals to drift through without eating them. You must get into the trout’s feeding rhythm so the trout is ready to feed when your fly drifts into his feeding lane.
V. Wading carelessly. Sound waves travel through water very well. Trout also have a keen sense of vibration. You must approach slowly and as quietly as possible. A trout might not spook if he senses your presence but he will usually not hold in the same feeding position. The toughest trout to catch on the Henry’s Fork are those that move away as they continue to feed because they sense your presence.
VI. Impatience. It can be difficult to overcome the urge to start fishing even if there is nothing happening. Randomly casting and covering the water is usually not only unproductive but you will likely spook lots of fish. Once you locate a feeding trout take time to figure out what he is feeding on and determine his feeding rhythm before you start casting.
VII. Not understanding basic aquatic entomology. Speaking Latin might impress the group but it usually doesn’t impress a trout. Understanding the biology of the basic aquatic orders including mayflies, caddisflies, stoneflies and midges is far more important than identifying a specific species. For example if you see caddisflies on the water, you’ll usually be successful if you use a pupa of the right size and color to match the bug you see on the water.
VIII. Overcomplicate Matching the Hatch. In my opinion an accurate, drag-free presentation is far more important than effectively matching the hatch. However, you’ll really increase your odds if you can make a good presentation with the right fly. If you see a feeding trout try to discover what he is feeding on and select a pattern that has the same characteristics as the natural including size, profile, position, brightness and color.
IX. Use the wrong terminal equipment. Most anglers understand the type of rod, reel and line to use to fish spring creeks and tailwaters. However, they sometimes use a leader and tippet that is too long or too limp to cast accurately. In spite of what you may read, there are very few experienced spring creek anglers who can accurately cast a 15’ leader with a four foot tippet. Most anglers should stay with a system that they are comfortable with. Sometimes conditions will dictate your terminal tackle. I like to cut back on the length of my leader and tippet if it is windy or I’m using large flies. Under most circumstances I use a 12 foot tapered leader with about 3 feet of tippet. I always cut off the first 18” of a new tapered leader and attach a tippet section with a blood knot. That way I always know how much tippet I am using.
X. Don’t know how to find fish. It is often hard to locate fish on a large stream like the Henry’s Fork. Large trout can feed on flat water without making much disturbance on the surface. You must take time to watch and also listen. I have had many experiences locating a big trout by hearing him rise instead of seeing him. Look for areas that offer cover and protection from the current like an undercut bank or the base of a weed bed.
I’ve learned most of what I know about fishing from the school of hard knocks. I’ve made all the mistakes. Hopefully you can keep these ten common errors in mind to help you avoid learning the hard way. Good luck!