Lefty Kreh Teaching Students

I think most fly fishermen will agree seeing a trout rise to a dry fly is pure joy. It is the preferred method for most who seek trout. Yet, it is perhaps the most inefficient method for catching larger trout. I believe every fly fisherman would like to land more trophy-size fish. Of course that means fishing with other techniques.

There is an old saying, “Elephants eat peanuts but they don’t make a living on them.” The truth is that elephants must consume about 50 pounds of forage a day to survive.

Many years ago when I was fishing with bait I learned that big fish are energy conscious and they aren’t going to chase a lot of small creatures to get a meal when they can garb a larger one. The lesson here is big trout may occasionally eat “peanuts” but they don’t make a living on them. If you want to catch trophy trout—you need to offer them an easy to catch substantial meal. Fortunately, trout streams contain many foods that appeal to big trout. The trick is to use the correct tackle and know how to present the proper imitations.

Except at night the most difficult place in a stream to catch big trout is in a deep pool with little current. You need current to help activate the imitations and to carry it naturally to the trout. I long ago gave up trying to catch big trout in deep, calm pools—unless it was at night.
Fly fishermen are lucky because big trout usually feed in the current. They find an ambush place and wait for unlucky creatures to be delivered to them rather than chasing them.

The depth of the water and current speed will determine the type of fly line needed. If moving water is less than three feet deep a floating line will generally do the job. But in swifter current or in deeper water a sink tip line will draw many more strikes. Sink tip lines can be purchased in different sink rates. It is advisable to carry at least two—one with a medium fast sink rate and another that dives deeper faster. This allows you to match sink rate to the current and fly being fished.

Consider the bottom of a stream is comparable to a station wagon driven on a dusty dirt road with the rear window open. The air flowing over the roof tends to curl inward, carrying dust into the car. This is exactly what happens on the streambed. The current flowing over rocks and other structure creates eddies or still pocket of water just downstream.

Understanding this concept is important when offering nymphs or larger imitations to trout in flowing water. The pockets of calm water, despite the current rushing by overhead, allows trout to stay in position behind the structures and not have to keep swimming. That’s why fish can live in riffles.

Nymphs live among the bottom structure, as do the creatures big trout eat such as crayfish, sculpins, hellgrammites and larger nymphs. If any of these loose their grip on the bottom the current sweeps them downstream. Several fishery biologists have told me that except during a hatch they believe trout take most nymphs within 10 inches of the bottom.  The lesson here is that most of the time trout will be feeding close to the bottom—and that is where our imitations should be presented.

While there are exceptions, long leaders defeat getting a good drift close to the bottom. With a sink tip line and long leader the weighted line may be down in the feeding zone, but the long, buoyant leader may be carrying the fly well above the bottom. Most of the time a leader of four or five feet with a tippet of not more than 18 inches works best. Because big trout are sought the tippet’s strength should be at least six pounds and I prefer 10-pound test. The larger diameter tippet seems to make little difference in getting these trout to take the fly.  Once hooked to a big fish you will feel more secure during the fight.

Since the fly needs to be close to the bottom almost all imitations carry some weight. When fishing floating lines some weight in the fly is almost always necessary. But remember that too much weight makes the fly devoid of life as it moves across the bottom. The trick is to combine some weight with the different sinking tips so the fly gets into the feeding zone but drifts naturally.

An indicator helps the fly fishermen know when to strike. Indicator size varies with the fly. The indicator must be buoyant enough to keep the fly from dredging the bottom. With lighter flies the indicator is small, but when using larger and heavily weighted flies indicators, are usually of buoyant yarn. It can be huge, as large as a golf ball.

What are the best patterns that will deceive big trout? They should imitate local foods. One of the best is a crayfish. Check your local streams to determine the color of the crayfish. Some streams will hold olive, tan or even dark green crayfish and it’s best to imitate the local color. Fortunately, the crayfish imitation doesn’t have to be too large since big trout will take one that is dressed on a size 8 or 6 hook. Of all the crayfish patterns I have used I believe Bob Clouser’s crayfish pattern to be the best. It should carry a weed guard since you will often fish it near it or on near the bottom.

Two retrieves work well.  The current will sometimes sweep a crayfish from the bottom and carry it in the water column. The presentation should be drifting drag free. But most of the time crayfish prowl the bottom searching for food and this is where big trout find them. Crayfish don’t leap 10 or 12 inches, instead they move in short spurts. The best retrieve is a hand over hand retrieve with the line, moving the fly only inches while keeping it on the bottom.

All trout seem to love eating hellgrammites and fish fly larva (looks like a small hellgrammite). A wooly bugger is a great imitation and my favorite pattern is with a peacock herl body rather than one of chenille. The fly can be drifted in the water column, or fished closer to the bottom.

The woolly bugger is a wonderful big fish fly and a there is a retrieve that has worked well for me in pools where the water is no more than three feet deep. Approach the pool from the one below. Stay low and do not enter the pool to be fished. Using a floating line, cast a weighted woolly bugger to the head of the pool and allow it to sink to the bottom. Then retrieve it with hand strips as fast as you can.

Years ago the Letort Spring Run, Carlisle, PA,  was accidentally poisoned from something put in it upstream. Many of the trout died. I drove there to see the problem and Charley Fox and I were astounded at the number of dead sculpins. There were thousands of them. It was when we realized that it was major food source for the larger trout.

That is true in many streams. Resembling an ugly brown or olive little catfish, sculpins have no swim bladder. If they stop swimming—they fall to the bottom. They are also nocturnal.

This tells fishermen how to retrieve an imitation. Fishing the fly during mid-day will draw few strikes, since the sculpin is nocturnal---you need to fish them early and late in the day or during a dark, overcast day—or when it’s raining. Since sculpins have no swim bladder they stay within inches of the bottom, as the retrieve should do. My all-time favorite pattern is Dave Whitlock’s Near-Nuff Sculpin, which rides hook up and is weighted to keep it on the bottom. It can be purchased in many fly shops—and is easy to tie.

Long casts usually produce poorly. Rarely when fishing for big trout do you need to cast more than 25 feet. It pays to have a good reel with a light drag. To catch big trout you must be equipped with the right tackle and flies and be content that you will not catch many fish but the ones you do will give you memories you’ll not soon forget.


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