Guest Blogger: Mike Cline, Bozeman, Montana

On a variety of internet forums, members routinely post questions asking something to the effect “How did you get started fly fishing”? I don’t think my story is that unusual except for that obscure book my mother bought me when I was just getting started. At the young age of 14 I learned some basic fly tying skills and had the good fortune to be tutored in fly casting by some old gents at the Pasadena Casting Club in SoCal. My teenage years were not the most productive from a fly fishing standpoint because of where I lived and other pursuits. I did make a few trips into the Sierra’s and caught plenty of fish on the fly, but it wasn’t until I returned from my first overseas Air Force tour in Vietnam in 1970 that fly fishing became a regular part of my life.

I was 22 years old, on my own in the Air Force and now stationed in Western Washington. With a steady income and little else to worry about, fly fishing opportunities seemeed to be around every corner in the lakes and rivers of Washington State. It was still the era of fiberglass rods and discretionary funds allowed the purchase of a nice Fenwick five weight rod and Medalist reel, an outfit I still have today. It didn’t take too long for me to become a reasonably successful fly angler, something I attribute in no small part to that obscure little book my mother bought me when I was 14.

The book, entitled: Worming and Spinning for Trout (1959) by Jerry Woods is a mere 156 pages of pure trout fishing wisdom and makes but fleeting references to fly fishing. However in an era with no internet, no videos and few fly shops, its lessons became a valuable piece of my angling education. Why my mother chose that book, I’ll never know, but its words of wisdom have had and continue to have a profound influence on my angling success. I still have my copy and read various chapters occasionally to refresh my skills.

Worming was a popular technique on hard fished brown trout streams in Western New York in the mid-20th century. This wasn’t worm dunking, but instead the skillful dead drifting of small live worms through challenging lies on heavily pressured streams for wary brown trout. A technique remarkably similar to today’s nymphing techniques. The author goes into great detail on the intricacies of worming, punctuated with interesting stories of days on the stream as he and his buddies tried to perfect the worming technique. In the 1950s, success on the trout stream was measured by the weight of your creel and limits taken at the end of day. On hard fished streams, success was gained through stealth, accurate presentations and keen observation. Success today depends on the same skills even though the days of heavy creels and limits taken are long gone.

Although there is wisdom in every chapter of the book, I think the most prophetic lines are in the chapter entitled: How to Spot Trout Hides. “When you encounter many fishermen, or know that others are ahead, watch the stream constantly with the thought uppermost in your mind of spotting the places other anglers are not likely to fish. …Look particularly for possible hides along the far bank. …There is something in human nature that makes people look for the best they can get. That applies to anglers too. Most trout men will concentrate on the best looking portion of a pool, then move on to the next pool. On a heavily fished stream, these are poor tactics. Instead look for the second-best, third-best portion of the pool and concentrate on those spots.” Invariably, even when I am alone on productive Montana streams, I find myself more than often, fishing those second and third-best spots.

In the same chapter, these lines have been ingrained into my angling education to the point that they are instinctive: “Always look for any obstruction that permits water to run beneath it. Don’t worry about the depth so long as the water will cover a trout’s back. Close observation and concentration is required to spot such places, the kind of places you formally may have passed up. But trout may be found in any pocket of that kind. Hard-to-fish spots of that type are the places on which to concentrate on a heavily fished stream.”  There is a spot on the Madison inside Yellowstone that illustrates the efficacy of this advice. A long, old log lies grounded parallel to the river along a far bank. This section is relatively wide and shallow at the head of a small island. Many anglers wade across this section to reach the far side. They typically walk around the log to head up or down stream to deeper water. What they ignore is the downstream end of the log which covers a three foot long hole about a foot deep. Despite the wide, shallow section, some of the flow tends to gravitate to this small hole before joining the main flow. Whenever I fish this section, I never fail to toss a bugger into this ignored, second-best spot. On more than one occasion, a nice brown has been taken.

Throughout the work there is a lot of advice on stealthy, cautious approaches to trout lies. The worming technique was a short line technique where the angler was rarely more than a rod’s length from a favorable lie. Early in my fly angling days, I was overly conscience of the basics of stealthy approaches to promising trout lies and am always conscious where my shadow falls and where I need to back away from the river’s edge to avoid disturbing fish that might be close. The stealthy part of trout angling is lost on a lot of anglers. Even when there are no anglers around, tell-tale angler’s trails snug up against the river bank on soggy meadow reaches reveal most angler’s disregard the stealth required to entice brown trout to the hook in hard pressed waters. Many of my favorite reaches in the meadows of the Firehole, Madison and Gibbon rivers in YNP have these trails flush again the river bank. On rivers with deep undercuts, I’ll generally fish from about 10’ away from the river’s edge and allow my streamer to sweep back along the undercut I am backed away from. When encountering anglers on the same types of streams I watch as they pound up and down the banks, inches from the water. It is never surprising when they lament the fishing hasn’t been good for them.

None of the advice in Worming and Spinning for Trout is revolutionary and as angling literature boomed in the 1970s into the 21st century, that advice has endured and been published many times. Success on hard fished streams (any stream for that matter), is gained through stealthily approaches, accurate presentations to promising lies and keen observation. You don’t have to read a 60 year old book to be a successful trout angler, but you do have to abide by the enduring lessons captured in its pages. For me, Worming and Spinning for Trout, that obscure little angling volume my mother bought me at the young age of 14 sixty years ago has always had a profound influence on my angling education.

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