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I have never been one to spend a lot of time fly-fishing, but if there were ever a time to pick up the long rod and whisk it around the alders, the middle of June is it. The streams I like to fish for trout in June are invariably small, densely foliated and jammed with obstacles like logs, tree limbs, spider webs and blow downs; none of which make fly-fishing easier or more enjoyable. But, at this time of year the trout seem to be particularly fond of bugs (maybe because there are so many of them) and, of course, fly-fishing is all about flies, so the logical thing to do is get out there and see what can be done.
What keeps most fly-fishermen going is the hope that one day, somewhere, somehow, they’ll find the perfect pool with the perfect lie (the place where the trout is lying in wait), plenty of room for a back cast and nothing but open water all around so that playing the fish will be easy. As most Maine fly-casters know, this is a dream if you’re fishing small streams for trout. The reality is that you’ll be crashing through alders, trying to cast under sweeping hemlock boughs and hoping to drift a fly over two feet of slick water before it, the line or the rod gets hung on up brush, branches, rocks or a spider web you can hang your hat in.
The movie A River Runs Through It did wonders for Brad Pitt’s career, and it also generated a slug of new fly-anglers who bought into the romantic notion that any angler can make perfect 90-foot figure eight casts whenever he felt like it. The first five minutes of those fly-fishing careers must have been interesting! It’s been said that you can learn the basics of fly-fishing in five minutes, and that’s essentially true, but you can spend the next 40 years working on a way to make a smooth, drag-free cast to a small stream bend under an alder tangle 10 feet away. Some lies are impossible to fish using standard fly-casting techniques, which brings us to those pesky little Maine trout streams I was talking about.
When the water is low, clear and relatively slow moving, as it is on many backwoods streams at this time of year, plopping big lures, chunky baits and giant night crawlers into a placid, tea-colored pool is not going to get the job done. Once you spook a pool, the trout will scatter and not come back for quite a while, so this is a time for stealth, finesse and accuracy.
Many years ago I made myself a serious Maine trout stream fly rod that consisted of a not-quite-6-foot glass blank provided by Orvis, a tiny reel and a 3-weight floating line. In most cases, I’d never get to use the fly line – the 6-foot tapered leader was enough to reach the fish that were, essentially, swimming around right under my feet. I learned to sneak up on a pool (which means open water the size of your average TV screen), reach way out with the rod tip and drop a wet or dry fly into the middle of the pool. Any trout within 6 feet of me would dash in and take the fly, and all I had to do was lift the rod tip and swing my wriggling prize over the alders and into my creel, a simple operation when everything went as planned.
On streams where you can jump back and forth across their widest points all day, the trout are surprisingly easy to catch. I have the feeling that most of them have never seen another angler, and in these cases the normally aggressive brook trout is a pushover. For this reason, I started crimping the barbs of my hooks down to make releasing the mostly under-6-inch fish a little easier. I might catch a dozen such trout before I landed a “lunker” (anything over 8 inches), but in a steady morning’s fishing I could end up with a limit of brightly-colored jewels that were perfectly delicious sizzled in butter and served with potatoes and fresh fiddleheads.
The secret is to move slowly, look over each pool you come to and consider the many ways you can fish it. Always assume there are trout waiting there. They may be suspending near rocks, logs or other obstacles, or they may be tucked up under the mossy bank. Sometimes, an empty-looking pool will be full of trout, but you won’t know that till your first fly hits the water. Creep rather than walk, and get low and close before you start waving your rod over the water. The best approach is to slowly extend the rod tip over the pool and just let the fly drop onto the water like a mini crane. Don’t be impatient – most trout will ignore minor movements, but the instant the fly breaks the surface they’ll strike. One of the bigger trout I’ve caught in this kind of situation almost fooled me when he drifted slowly up to the fly and just hovered beneath it like a hungry pickerel. When I jiggled the fly to clear the line from a clinging spider web, the fish hit and all but swallowed the fly.
If the water is moving swiftly, as it often does at bends or near rocks and other obstacles, feed a little line out and try to get a clean, unimpeded drift for a few feet. Most of these trout will strike as soon as they see the fly, but if the fly isn’t acting like a real bug, the fish will ignore it. Nothing turns off a trout faster than a fly that just sits in the current, cutting a nice V-wake in the clear, cool water. Even the most naive brook trout knows that something isn’t right with THAT bug!
Patience is a virtue if you’re going to try fly-fishing small streams in June. The best approach is to believe that every inch of water holds trout and then fish accordingly. Of course, there won’t be a fish under every rock or log, but if you fish as if there were, you’ll have a great time!
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