“Fly tackle has improved considerably since 1676, when Charles Cotton advised anglers to ‘fish fine and far off,’ but no one has ever improved on that statement.” – John Gierach
There is no such thing as trying too hard; especially when it comes to being stealthy on a trout stream. My first ideas about fly fishing came from reading Mr. Gierach’s Fly Fishing Small Streams, I also believe this was the first book on fly fishing I read. What I read, I took as gospel; with Mr. Gierach being my high priest of small stream fly fishing, my studies continued. He preached stealth and simplicity. No need to get complicated; in fact, if you read carefully, an old coffee pot and a hare’s ear is all you need. However, both Mr. Gierach’s and Mr. Cotton’s advise should be taken to heart, and this idea ran rampant through my earliest readings, and is the basis of this writing: fishing fine and far off.
Like I stated above, my earliest ideas about the sport came from a Gierach book. Now, I don’t know how much this helped me in other areas of my life, but I know for sure that I wouldn’t appreciate small streams the I do if I had read something else. What I learned actually helped my fishing. I have this distinct memory of a small meadow stream in Montana where everything kind of “came together”. Having recently read Fly Fishing Small Streams, my head was full of new ideas and mental images of multiple pages of descriptions of streams just like this one; what was about to happen? This was my first time to the Big Sky State, I was maybe twelve years old and I just tied on my first hopper pattern ever. This was also the first time I was left alone during a trip to a river. I had complete freedom. I was told to fish upstream from this one big hole; that was my only instruction. As the others turned away and headed downstream, I turned and looked toward the pool. I thought: what would John Geirach do? Looking at the water, I continued thinking, and came to the conclusion that he would creep around that one bush, lay down behind said bush, and cast this here Letort Hopper out into the middle of that fast water. So that’s what I did. As soon as the deer-hair hopper splatted in the current, it was slurped down the way a fly is supposed to be slurped. My next thought was “oh s@#* it worked!” After I returned the little cutthroat to it’s aquatic environment, I thought, “there must be something to this whole being stealthy thing”; you’re damn right there is kiddo!
Now, I have increasingly gotten into keeping myself hidden from view while trouting. I still refuse to wear camouflage, although it may work well, I just do not believe there to be much of a reason. In fact I could make a fairly good argument for why we don’t need to where camouflage while hunting either, but I’ll leave that one alone. I am not saying I wear bright colors, it is quite the opposite. My uniform consists of mostly olives and tans, with the occasional burnt or crayfish orange; never should any respectable troutman be fishing in a white shirt, unless he intends on scaring every trout to the next county. Now the majority of my trout fishing experience is on small meadow or mountain streams. Very close quarters. Though not too many people fish these creeks, the fish are incredibly spooky. More so than on the larger tailwater nearby, where the fish are just selective as all hell. This is directly attributed to the amount of fishing pressure. On a larger river with higher angling pressure, the fish will be selective rather than spooky. What I mean by this is that trout that see pressure know exactly what a fisherman is, and that as long as the fish stay clear of the weird furry things ripping across the surface, they should be just fine. If your fly is presented in poor fashion to selective trout, they will just refuse your offering and sulk on the bottom until you go away. Trout living in small, under-fished waters, don’t necessarily know what you are, and that is the problem. When these trout see you they run as far as they can, hiding deep within under-cut banks with absolutely no intention of coming back out to feed until late tomorrow evening.
I guess my views on things are skewed, I only fish small streams. When I think of trout fishing I imagine a small mountain brook, deep blue pools lined with laurel and hemlock roots. Modest sized trout, iffy bug life and long walks with no other people around is what I enjoy. And to be honest I lack significant experience on rivers averaging wider than one hundred some feet. I quiver when I remember my first view of the lower Madison and I have terrible nightmares of wandering aimlessly along the banks of the Bighorn; looking at approximately twenty-seven Gunpowder rivers all winding together, carving massive undercuts that evidently swallow whole cars. This is truly horrifying to a small stream fly fisherman.
But I must continue preaching the importance of small stream stealth, as the gospel of Gierach says to. Before you even get close to that next pool upstream, pause and look at the lay out. Where the fish are sitting should be the first thoughts that enter your mind. Your next thoughts should be where you can hide. Is that boulder big enough? How about the laurel bush hanging over the top of the pool? These should be the questions going through your mind as you approach your intended fishin’ hole.
We all know not to look out over the bank or throw our shadow on a run if we intend to catch anything; but have you ever thought about the vibration you cause by walking along the bank? If you step heavy, you’ll send disturbances through the ground, down into the water where the fish can feel it on their lateral line, putting them on high alert or just spooking them upstream, never to be seen again. It is a known fact that no one likes to spook fish, even little fish. So try not to walk super heavy along the bank, take your time approaching the river.
The most important thing above all is to try to be more aware of what is going on around you while you are fishing. Stop, look, listen before you make a cast. Try this next time you go out, I am sure you have pleasant results.
By Rob Lepczyk