Category Archives: Skills That Kill

Observations about the craft of fly fishing

Sweat the Details


The following is how I would fish if I were anal retentive.

How Trout See

A trout’s vision is limited to a cone or window emanating at a 97 degree angle from its eyeballs.  Objects outside of the cone and beneath its banked refraction in air are indistinct to trout, if not invisible.  Objects within the cone are visible.  The cone is more expansive the farther a trout is from the water surface and smaller if a fish is in shallow water.  In other words, a deep-lying fish can see can see more above the water than a shallow one can.  This is pertinent to the approach an angler must take and how on target a cast needs to be to present an imitation within a trout’s field of vision; a shallow-lying fish has a smaller field of vision, requiring a more accurate cast from the fly fisher.

Macrobiotic Drift

Insects are near the bottom of the food chain and yet are some of nature’s most prolific survivors.  They have accomplished this by unwittingly employing several strategies over the eons.   One, insects produce huge numbers of offspring; they breed often and generate lots of progeny, which offsets extremely high mortality rates.  Two, they migrate constantly towards more advantageous settings and frequently under optimal conditions.  In a trout stream, insects engage in frequent searches for greener pastures, deliberately releasing themselves into the current so they will be brought to new habitat, hopefully habitat that can materially support them until they must move again.  Since they are indeed so vulnerable to so many predators, insects stage much of this activity during low or no light conditions, when they are less likely to be seen.  Ever wonder why the fishing is so good in the morning and evening?  Or, in midday, how you see plenty of bugs on the bottoms of rocks but fish don’t seem to be eating them? Perhaps these bugs, being under rocks, are not so easily eaten.


Trout are ectotherms, cold-blooded creatures.  Water temperature affects them greatly, especially at the extremes.  You can run a fly right by the nose of a super cold or hot trout, it won’t eat, and there isn’t a dang thing you can do about it.  Temperature causes trout to eat, not eat, eat certain things only, even migrate.  Trout are happiest in water that is approximately 50 to 60 degrees.  At least that’s the range they seem to eat the most.  Over 70 degrees is approaching lethal; do not fish for trout when the water temperature is above this mark. Sharp temperature changes will trigger certain behaviors, especially in spring and fall, and in lakes.


You must know how to tie the improved clinch knot, the double surgeon’s knot, and the blood knot.  You must know how to tie these knots well, very fast, and hopefully blind.  If you aren’t comfortable with knots, you may subconsciously become unwilling to tie them.  You will change flies less often and will be less likely to experiment with different rigs.  Your creativity will suffer, and you will find you will catch fish only when conditions are just so.  Your ability to adapt will be limited.


 The reality of a cold blooded metabolism is that some or many fish will always be eating and, thus, will be caught and/or removed from a population.  Nevertheless, some individual trout manage to reconcile their metabolic requirements with strong danger avoidance instincts.  These fish are extremely cautious, and they’ll only eat when they are positive that doing so is a safe proposition.  They are often large fish or, from habitual paranoia, are destined to be so.  Anglers who dress, move, cast, or rig with careful intentions tend to catch lots of big fish.

Trout Migration

Trout migrate large and short distances, on a seasonal or even daily basis, in response to certain environmental stimuli.  Understanding trout migration is important, if only so the angler will place a reasonable amount of stock in theories about fish not being physically present at a certain location at a certain time (theories abound when fish aren’t being caught).

Mending and Casting

The difference between catching a fish or not can often be the six inches between where your fly lands and where it should have landed.  It can be the drag that sets in right as your fly approaches your quarry.  It is important to have control over your line while it’s in the air and on the water.

There Are No Rules

Period.  Imposing rules on yourself can get in the way of your picking up on the lessons a day on the stream may be teaching you.



Filed under Skills That Kill

Notes From the Guest Coast

Please welcome one of fly fishing’s most exciting young personalities.  Like me, he’s a Yuba River slave, and no one, I mean no one, knows that river, its insects, or its fish better than Idylwilde flytier and high school teacher and baseball coach Hogan Brown.  To quote one of my favorite authors, “Where is Brown. There is Brown! Mr. Brown is out of town.” Thanks Hogan.

The owner and operator of this fine blog asked me to write a post and at first I was a little skeptical…what do I know about his home waters of New Mexico. I have only been to the O.G. Version of Mexico a few times and have lacked the motivation and money to travel out to see the one person I know who lives in the New Version of Mexico. That said from what I hear there is some decent trout fishing in the “New” Mexico and trout are pretty much the same, more or less, every where I have fished for them so here goes…
Being August here in Northern California we are in the middle of what we lovingly refer to as the summer doldrums or “waiting for fall” fishing. This usually entails some evening fishing for stripers, trout, or the few Chinook salmon that still enter our rivers.  Most anglers I know though are banking their time waiting for prime fall fishing before using those ever precious fishing days their significant others allow them to take off. Being a fly fishing guide and having a significant other that was made very aware of “the program” before she signed on for this life journey I spend a lot of time on the water no matter what season it is. I also, as the seasons begin to change, spend a lot of time at the vise tying up flies for the coming season. That way I don’t have to crank out flies every night or every morning just to fill my coffers for the next day.
Lately I have been filling my small mayfly boxes for the coming fall and winter season with Military Mayflies, S&M’s, Red headed Step Child’s, Indigo Child’s, and some new mayfly patterns I am working on along with various experiments. I usually tie a few of what I need or a scripted pattern then I get bored and start experimenting. Right now though I am laying off the experimenting as I need to stack some warriors for the coming season or I am going to be spending way to many early mornings throwing flies together for the coming trip.
Our trout, and trout everywhere, eat A LOT of small mayfly nymphs…PMD’s, PED’s, Baetis, BWO’s…call them what ever you want, bottom line is they are a #16-20 and trim in shades from dark brown to light rust and black to light olive. One thing I have found over the years as I have tied flies, created flies, and looked at commercially tied flies is that many mayfly nymph patterns are not tied sparse enough. Most mayfly nymphs are no thicker than the shank of a straight shank nymph hook, especially, the swimming variety of nymphs like the PMD’s, PED’s, and Baetis. Now there are the clinger variety of bug like march browns and the various drakes, but these for the most part are spring bugs and are not on my radar for another 6 months.
One way I keep my mayfly nymphs trim is use thread for the abdomen of my along with a small or extra small wire rib. Just like a thread and wire midge. One thing that is important when doing this is make sure that the wire is tied into the side of the hook shank not on top of, or on the bottom. This makes the abdomen wider and gives it a more realistic silhouette. One other tip is to use dry fly dubbing, NOT nymph dubbing, for the thorax. Dry fly dubbing is usually some mix of antron and can be used very sparsely with no stiff fibers poking out. One thing when dubbing the thorax, as the saying goes, less is more. Minimize the amount of dubbing and layer wraps to achieve bulk not dubbing on the thread.
Keep these tips in mind as you tie up your fall and winter mayfly nymphs or just skip that whole headache and go buy a few of my nymphs at The Reel Life in Santa Fe. I assure you I took my own tips to heart.

hogan brown

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What Hot Flies Mean (to me)

So Hot Right Now

Pretty much at any fly shop, “What’re they hitting?” vies for the most common of customers’ daily questions, right alongside, “Where the best fishin’ at?”  And try as I might, I’m still not one of those guys who believes I can prescribe you a half dozen of the latest supposed killer and you will be instantly on your way to full recovery from what ails you.  Everyone who comes into the shop knows me not as a fly person, but as a people person.  Which is to say the fish you catch are a result of your own savvy and cunning.  As for the fish you don’t catch, well don’t blame it on your fly.

I preach with pride that only personal skills pave the road to salvation, not the fly you use.  I say, “Take me for instance, I’ve caught 90 percent of my fish on five or ten bugs.”  Recently, folks are frequently making clear how FOS I am, using my own words against me.

“If flies don’t matter,” they say, “then why don’t you try catching fish on something else?”

Busted.  If I need a money nymph, I fish a Double Jackal or weighted Renegade, a turd, Mercer’s micro mayfly, or Copper John.  My go-to dry is a bugmeister or a Humpy or that golldang Stimulator.  There’s a streamer I tie called the Tenacious D that I love to fish in rivers populated by fishkiller trout, but when I’m really in a jam, a fly called the Camobugger had better be in my box.

The answer of course, is that each of these flies has a technical feature that is irresistible to trout.  A Copper John, for example, plummets to the bottom and really anchors your rig.  The Humpy floats like a champ and gets fishier the more chewed it gets.  The Camo has the colors, and the turd is just a ringer for a stonefly nymph in motion.

Yeah, and I’d like to sell you some swampland in Arizona.  What really matters, and we all know this, is that these flies work for us as individuals, so as individuals, we keep them on the line most of the time.  We can see the trout see them and imagine what goes through their minds.  This imagined picture gets clearer with every fish we catch.  How can they resist it?  Just goes to show you, with faith, anything can be true.


Filed under Skills That Kill