And, how to learn from them
By Patrick Straub EBS Fishing Columnist
To say I’ve been around the proverbial angling bush a few times is no exaggeration. My angling travels have spanned the globe and the days I’ve spent guiding anglers of all abilities has certainly surpassed 2,000.
My choice to follow a fishing-centric life happened in my early 20s. I left the trout streams of Montana to study writing at a midwestern liberal arts college, knowing I would return to Montana and be a fishing guide. In the quarter-century since my first season of guiding, I have been asked many questions while a-stream. Here are the top five questions I’m asked and how to learn from them.
What is the biggest trout you’ve ever caught?
This question is often asked by anglers on the first day I fish with them. Many anglers expect an answer of a brown trout from Chile or a rainbow trout from Kamchatka, but the biggest trout I’ve caught came from the Yellowstone River just downstream from Livingston. Measuring a bit shy of 38 inches and weighing nearly 12 pounds, this monster engulfed a large streamer, stripped very slowly through a deep run. To get this fish I used a full sinking line and fished on a snowy, overcast day in early November. The lesson: Commit to fish when, how and where the big fish may be. If you do it enough, they will come.
What is your favorite fish to catch?
This is an easy one: permit. A permit is in the family of pompano and jack crevalle. Because permit are very wary, prefer live bait over artificial flies and are not often in areas best fished with a floating fly line and artificial flies, to catch a permit on a fly is an accomplishment. The lesson: Fly fishing offers many ways to challenge your skills. Sure, racking up numbers with a two-fly weighted nymph rig under a strike indicator might catch a lot of fish, but like playing an easy opponent in a ball game, it doesn’t make you a better angler. Fly fishing for permit demands the quest for excellence in many facets of fly fishing—casting skill, predatory instincts, patience, knowledge of flies and tackle and a little bit of love from the fish gods.
What do you do in the winter?
I’m lucky because I spend my winters traveling to fish, writing about fishing and fishing our local rivers and creeks. The lesson: Whether I’m on a spring creek in Montana or a saltwater flat in Belize, I have learned having bulls-eye accuracy on a 50-foot cast is far better than bombing it out there with a 100-foot cast and hoping for the best.
Do you think it will rain/snow/blow/get hot today?
It is human nature to inquire about the weather. But, to answer this question without sounding flippant—if we’re wet it is raining, if we are cold it is snowing, etcetera—is a challenge. I give a hall pass on this question because I watch the weather constantly. The lesson: Weather dictates many factors throughout a day of fishing. Personal comfort is best ensured by bringing the proper gear: Waders and rain gear are always important as well as sunscreen and a hat. Like humans, fish react to weather changes. Overcast conditions might allow fish to feel more comfortable feeding on the surface. Wind might blow more grasshoppers into the water. Preparation, observation and then adjustments are crucial.
Have you ever guided anyone famous?
I have and plenty of them. However, I have not yet guided Brad Pitt and told him to stand on a rock in the middle of the Big Blackfoot River and begged him to “shadow cast” for me. If he calls, I’d like to make that happen. The lesson: Everyone was a beginning angler at some point. Whether you are an Oscar winner or an NBA champion a trout is unlikely to eat a poor drift no matter how many rings you have or what you are wearing. The best way to learn is to just go fishing and spend time on the water. And, when you’re done watch A River Runs Through It again.
Patrick Straub has fished on five continents. He is the author of six books, including “Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Fly Fishing” and has been writing the Eddy Line for eight years. He’s owned a fly shop and was one of the largest outfitters in Montana, but these days he now only guides anglers who value quality over quantity. If you want to fish with him, visit his website, https://www.dryflymontana.com/.