I just returned from my trip to Kooi Noom in southern Argentina and my mind is still racing with highlight reel replays of battles fought with bruiser rainbow trout. The beauty of this trip was that it largely revolved around sight fishing. The angling was technical and challenging, but with some innovative thinking and some well-placed casts, also very rewarding. Most importantly, it was an ideal laboratory in which to test some theories and approaches for hooking and fighting large rainbows.
The run pictured above is a classic example of what I am talking about. For context, I’ll set the scene: The main current is flowing from the top of the frame toward the bottom, on the left side of the photograph. The current pushes against a bank (the one I stood on to take the photo), and creates an eddy, so the flow circles back in an upstream direction in the center-right portions of the frame. Imagine a “U” shape that flows from top left, down to the bottom, moves left to right, then goes straight up the middle.
Most of those black blotches you see in the darker green water are large rainbow trout. (Trust me. Some of those shadows are rocks, but there are about 20 fish in the mix.)
To make things interesting, I should also note that the wind is blasting upstream at about 25 miles an hour, from the bottom of the photo toward the top. It’s about 10 a.m. and the sun is shining from the top-left part of the photo. The two points of land you see jutting in the water are about 40 feet (the top point, upper left) and 20 feet (center frame, with a rock pile in the river), respectively, away from most of the fish. The water is 2-5 feet deep, shallower in the main run, and deeper in the eddy.
So how do you fish this situation, and what flies do you use? Where do you stand first? Which fish would comprise target zone A and which fish are in target zone B?
I’ll tell you what my fishing partner, Peter Dawson, and I did that day.
I fished the run first, and my primary targets were the trout in the main run (the dark shadows in the lower-left corner of the photograph), facing up-river in the main current. I tied on a black string leech streamer with a small, sparse accent of Krystal Flash, and a heavy dumbbell weighted head. I stood on the bank, just below the point at the top of the photo (in the brown moss) and cast downstream, into the wind, at a 45-degree angle, across the current. (I cast out of the picture, to the left side). It was an ugly cast, no doubt, but I managed to unfurl about 35 feet (with an aggressive backcast and gentle forward stroke) and drove the fly hard to the surface, where it splashed down a good 15 feet away from the fish I saw. I threw a HUGE mend in the line so the fly would sink, and then pointed the rod tip to the surface, directly toward my target trout, and kept a taut line. In other words, it was a classic steelhead swing. I let the current do the work. And when my fly swung into the zone, it got hammered. I didn’t have to strip or twitch the fly. This is the fish I landed… on a 6-weight (Scott Radian)!
We let the run rest for about 5 minutes, and then Peter fished the eddy. He tied on a smaller fly—an egg-sucking leech with a heavy bead head. He fished from the second point, closer to the fish, and crouched as he cast in order to minimize shadows over the run. He cast straight to the bottom of the eddy, and let the fly dead drift back toward him, through the school of fish. After his fly landed in the water, he kept good tension on the line, and when he felt resistance he set the hook. In other words, his approach was classic Euro-style nymphing, with a weighted streamer. And this is the fish he caught.
Now, what are the lessons learned here?
First, the more aggressive “players,” the fish that will chase larger flies, are out in the current. You’ll note that my fish is less colored up than Peter’s, suggesting it was a pre-spawn fish that had just run out of the lake into this river. Peter’s fish was a much more selective river resident.
Even though trout may be only a few meters apart in a given run, they can have completely different personalities and characteristics. Understanding this, and adjusting your fly selection and approach accordingly will help you get the most out of the waters you fish.
For those of you who wonder, “why not put the wind at your back?” and fish from the bank where I took the photograph… well, we tried that. But the fish facing down-river in the eddy were in no mood for streamers, and they didn’t like seeing the slack fly line on the water as it approached them. Smaller nymphs, streamers, and even a mouse fly skated through the run and eddy were simply ignored.
All we could do was be happy with the fish we caught, snap one last photograph, and save the story — and the lesson — to tell you now.