Each week wild trout on the fly.com's Mike Miller will try to remember to throw down ridiculous angling stories that always lack verification and usually bemuse the reader. Mike has been fishing for the better part of his life and nothing feels more comfortable to him than the streambed beneath his feet and he enjoys sharing his musings. Just try not to take him too seriously, none of us do.
From stillwaters to midge hatches that perplex, he'll share and bare it all. He hopes you will join him each week as he finds new ways to telling all the old jokes he can remember and even some he can't.
Want to share your thoughts about what Mike's writing? Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org and he will post you comments. All items submitted may be edited by the wtotf staff.
Mike Miller with one of his finned pals on the Blue River. Photo M. Miller.
South Platte River brown trout. Photo M. Miller.
Dropping the Bobber 02/18/2010 m. miller
I watched the five trout feeding in a small lane just on the other side of the river, two of them were easily 18 inches or bigger, nice fish for this stretch of the South Platte River, upstream from the town of Deckers. Kevin and I had been taking our chances at the larger trout and getting good looks, but getting turned down on even what seemed like the sweetest of casts. Between changing flies and finally adding a couple small split shot, I removed my strike indicator and when I finally got to the fishes feeding lane I had one of the smaller fish in the pool, a 15” brown trout, on the end of my line as a reward.
Some years ago these fish seemed a little easier to take on the fly, easily amassing big fish number days with several of them being of a respectful size was the norm, but these days I have had to change my approach immensely to continually hook up with fish here on the South Platte. This is something I have noticed more and more on several of the Colorado creeks and rivers I have come to love and adapting to the increased fishing pressure is just a part of game. What is the biggest change I made? I changed my game by retiring the bane of all traditional fly anglers, the strike indicator.
Recently my buddies Danny and Parker came back from what can only be described as the ultimate trout bum experience in New Zealand and aside from the amazing landscapes and stories of fish as big as your leg, the one thing that stood out to me was that all the fishing was done without indicators and with over 18 feet of leader and tippet. These fish may not be savvy tailwater trout, but with the crystal clear water conditions, these fish learn to avoid anything that looks out of the ordinary. It got me to start rethinking the way I was fishing the heavily pressured waters we have here in Colorado.
Wanting to get back to my angling roots was easy actually putting it into practice was the difficult part. It wasn’t until I started talking with the late Sawan Nail that I actually started using strike indicators. At that time I was using it primarily to detect unseen strikes and not to its full potential. It wasn’t until I started reading the water more and taking the time to observe what the trout were actually doing that I started using the strike indicator to control the depth of my fly. Over time I became very dependent on at first a bit of yarn, and then the now popular thingamabobber. Though this certainly increased my catch rate, I wasn’t able to fool as many of the more heavily pressured fish I came across.
Enter Danny and Parker with their incredible photos, videos and stories of their months traveling the New Zealand backcountry. I started using my line and body to control the depth of my flies when possible. When it isn’t I have taken a page from Landon Mayer’s book and have started using a dry fly of some type to lessen my chances of spooking trout with a big bulky strike indicator. The results were incredible. I started increasing my catch rate and picking up the bigger fish that I would have spooked had I been using ye’ old strike indicator.
Was it the removal of the strike indicator that got me that difficult trout in Deckers? Maybe, maybe not, but one thing is certain, it didn’t hurt. Changing my tactics helped me better understand the trout I love to chase with a fly and helped make me a better angler. If anything, I feel I look a little cooler on the river without the make shift bobber hanging from my rod.
Frying Pan rainbow. Photo K. Pitney.
Taking a Break from Things 01/20/10 by m. miller
As each year begins I start trying to hit as many of the fishable rivers on the westside of the Continental Divide that I can fit in to my hectic schedule. This month, as in years past I spent some time on one of the state's finest fisheries, the Frying Pan. This trip would end up being another memorable trip that included several nice fish, lots of time with friends and some fairly decent fishing weather.
Getting out to hit some of Colorado's most prolific rivers over the winter months can provide some of the most satisfying fishing of the year. As winter lulls on, many anglers choose to stay in. Some tying flies for the next season, some hitting the slopes or some honestly too smart to freeze themselves that stay indoors and pray to gods of spring in hopes of bringing warmth. I have a great fondness for fishing in the winter, with smaller crowds and great sight fishing conditions, in my opinion nothing could be better.
This is just one of the reasons I found myself on the banks of the Frying Pan looking at a run with what I have come to love about this river in the winter, big bows and browns that are easy to take on the fly. Don't get me wrong, with the wrong presentation these fish will refuse even the best tied fly, but for the most part the bite is on and this is the time of year to cash in and hook up with some nice Frying Pan trout.
So how does winter fishing even relate to getting away from things? With the holidays over and the New Year beginning, getting out to the river at this time of year can soothe the soul and relieve loads of stress. Listening to the water bubble and burp as you rest between fish and the occasional sound of wildlife stirring in the distance, the stretching of the elbows and sight fishing to large trout, are just the icing on the cake.
Obsessication with Fly Fishing 12/28/2009 by m. miller
What makes any sane person choose to hit the water during the winter months, especially in a place where the mercury often dips below freezing and the wind can often make you feel as if you are logging time in a wind tunnel? Those who understand the madness call it dedication to a sport that is just as misunderstood as the reason behind Braille on drive thru ATMs. Others see it as insanity, a man standing hip deep in water that is actually warmer than the temperature of the air, just to catch a fish he will more than likely just return to the water anyway, this is something just doesn’t make sense to the uninitiated.
So a couple of months ago I took time to cover up what was probably one of the biggest mistakes of my young adult life, a nasty looking tattoo that I had no real attachment to. The ink that needed to be covered up looked more like something that was done in somebody’s bedroom or a back alley shop in Tijuana, not in a professional establishment and it was something that no person would really want on their forearm for the world to see. I had wanted to cover this piece up for some time, and had found what I thought was the perfect addition to my body art palette, a trout, something that I felt showed my love for what has become a lifestyle.
Fishing has always been a part of my life, from dunking worms with both my fathers to learning the way of the light rod; I have always been drawn to the water and the outdoors. Though fishing was a big part of my life before picking up a flyrod it has definitely become something more, not necessarily something existential, just something more. So when an acquaintance of mine recently made the comment that they didn’t understand why I had a trout tattooed on my arm, it made me wonder how hardcore anglers look to those that don’t have the affliction.
Nothing feels quite like it, having the riverbed beneath your feet and a trout tugging on the end of your line. The first fish on the fly is probably one of the most memorable over an angler’s life and for me it was a life changer. Fishing in Elevenmile Canyon with my buddy Kevin, I finally had hooked up with a 12 inch rainbow with a #18 beadhead Prince Nymph after spending all day on the water. It was amazing how much different the feel of the fish fighting felt on the flyrod as opposed to the spinning rod I had been used to using, it was like love at first sight, I was hooked.
Fly fishing became for me, all I wanted to do in my spare time. If I was backpacking I had my rod strapped to my pack, first with my spinning rod in tow, but as I became more comfortable with my abilities I kept to the flyrod exclusively. If I was hiking with my wife it was someplace that would provide some type of fly fishing and though I always enjoyed my time in the outdoors, my new goal was to fish with every bit of free time I could afford.
Some chilly boots. Photo M. Miller.
I put learning the sport on the front burner and started hitting the water recreationally up to five days a week, with practice sessions on the lawn or the park down the street on off days. Want nervous looks from folks? Take your flyrod down to the local park and fish to the grass, for an enhanced effect wear your porkpie hat, the one with all the flies stuck in the brim, you’re sure to draw a crowd of bemused onlookers.
Most would say I was obsessed with fly fishing, those who know me would tell you I was doing what I always do, pushing myself to learn as much about a subject that interested me. I had done it with both skateboarding and snowboarding and since those lifelong loves had been taken off the roster due one too many injuries on the slopes and the pipe, I had channeled all my energy into fly fishing. To me it wasn’t an obsession, just the yearning for knowledge of a sport that had truly touched my soul.
Standing hip deep in water that freezes as you move from hole to hole and using flies so small you could fit twenty on the head of a dime is not what I would call obsession. Spending as much time on the water as humanly possible is not what I consider obsession, for most it is the joy of being away from hectic day to day schedules and the hustle and bustle of civilization. Others take it a step further and make something that is a hobby for most into their way of life, in either case it’s all about how angling with the flyrod makes you feel. So when my buddy asked me why I had the trout tattoo done with a total look of perplexity in his eyes my only response was 'it’s okay, most wouldn’t.’
Just One More Cast 12/02/2009 by m. miller
Losing a family pet can be one of the hardest things to deal with over the course of a persons life, between answering the questions from your kids about all the whys and wondering if there was ever anything more you could have done to make the pet feel better, it can definitely touch you in ways you never thought possible.
Recently my wife and I had to make, what to date, is probably the hardest decision we have had to make in the 11 years we have been together. One of our family dogs, Moses, recently became diagnosed with a terminal type of cancer that can rip through a dog like fire through a dry prairie and we had to make a choice. We had to make a choice of life or death for a dog that could easily be called one of the best damn dogs of all time.
Moses was a big black German shepherd that not only loved being in the outdoors and with family; he also really enjoyed going fishing. Any person that has ever had the chance to meet me and my two dogs while fishing has seen that dogs can be excellent fishing partners, even with other anglers on the water. I have several pictures of myself fishing side by side with folks on the Frying Pan and both Aiko and Moses in tow.Most every person that met my dynamic duo came away a little happier and many saw just how it is possible to have a dog with streamside manners. Though I mostly took the dogs into the backcountry where running into other anglers isn’t always the norm, they also accompanied me to rivers like the Williams Fork, Frying Pan and several stretches of the South Platte including the ‘Dream Stream’ and the Deckers area.
John Gierach made the statement, I think in Sex, Death and Flyfishing, that you should avoid fishing with folks that say they have a fishing dog and want to bring it along for a day on the river.
Moses the fishing dog, you'll truly be missed. Photo M. Miller.
He says that regardless of how good these folks think their dogs are that most just don’t have it in them to play it cool while his master hunts for trout. Many anglers, myself included, do find it very annoying to be on the water with your normal water loving pooch. Most the time the dog will be all over the water and if he isn’t scaring the fish he’s probably getting into your backcast or bugging the guy downstream from you. If your really lucky the dog will be with his owner, but most of the time the owner is about as clueless as his water loving dog, meaning you get to deal with his mutt while he gets into the fish. This applies to most of the dogs I have run into on the water, but I have to admit, my dogs have always been what I feel is the shining example of what a true fishing dog can and should be.
It's just one hell of a bummer that one of my good fishing partners just won’t be there for the next cast, or next backcountry trip. You’re in our hearts and the hearts of most everyone you came in touch with Moses, you will truly be missed. I just wish you could be here for one more cast.
The Egg Hatch 11/16/2009 by m. miller
There are some anglers that spend their efforts on the water trying to hit what most would call the big hatches, the Mother’s Day Caddis hatch on the Arkansas, the Drake hatch on the Frying Pan and Roaring Fork Rivers and the Salmonfly hatch on the Colorado. I would contend though that there is one epic ‘hatch’ that many anglers tend to rely on more than any of the before mentioned true hatches on almost every river in the lower 48 where wild spawning trout reside, the infamous ’egg hatch’.
Most would of course tell you that fishing with eggs during prime pre-spawn, spawn and post spawn times, is not in fact utilizing an insect hatch to fool trout and I would agree, but I am not against utilizing what occurs in nature to help in the fooling of trout. I am especially all for the tactic when there are large fish involved. I am even more for the tactic when these large fish are gorging themselves with reckless abandon providing one of the most opportune times of the season to catch that big trophy with minimal effort.
That is why I headed up to the Williams Fork River recently with fellow wtotf staffer Kevin Pitney and one of our newest angling friends, Michelle Edwards. We had been hearing that the Fork was fishing outstanding so we made the trek up to Parshall to fish what can be considered the best brown trout fishery in the state. After the typical parking lot routine and the less than strenuous stroll out to the river, we found the river to be in a low, but still fishable state. It was easy to spot the actively spawning trout and target the bigger non-spawning fish in the river, and the best part was there were grips of fish that were keying in on the eggs big time.
The best part of this ‘hatch’ is that it generally happens every year and the biggest determining factor is the flow rate of the water in a particular river. This makes it easy to determine which waters to hit and when to hit them.
Williams Fork brown trout. Photo Mike Miller.
wild trout on the fly friend Michelle Edwards shows off some brown. Photo Mike Miller.
Williams Fork River brown trout. Photo M. Miller
Another nice attribute of fishing the egg is that there tends to be a larger window of time for catching trout during the whole process of the spawn. In states with varying climates the spawn can occur throughout much of the fall and winter allowing for a larger window of time to hook up with fish keying in on eggs. Anglers that are familiar with the Frying Pan River can attest to this, with spawning browns seen in the water flowing from the bottom of Reudi Reservoir some years through January.
This trip produced some nice fish that were all hungry for the egg. As we saw it the spawn was still running hard and there were numbers of fish that were just in it for the food. There was the occasional fish taken on the always popular tiny tailwater midge, and when I say tiny I do mean tiny and as always, the Williams Fork trout couldn’t resist this standard offering. All of us hooked in to our fair share of fish and the river wasn’t particularly busy so the day, in my opinion, was an absolute success. Michelle impressed both Kevin and I as she humbled us both with her skills with the stick.
The hardest part of fishing the ‘hatch’, if it can be called hard, is finding the fish that aren’t actively spawning. This usually isn’t too difficult as long as you keep your distance from active beds, fishing below or to the far sides of redds. The past couple seasons here in Colorado have shown more and more spawning rainbow, cuttbow and cutthroat in what is typically known as the brookie and brown spawning periods of the fall. With the active spawners, there are always fish that will key in on the high in protein egg.
I always enjoy getting out during this time of year, the fishing is outstanding, the scenery is usually second to none and the river is generally deserted. So as this season wears on and the snow starts to fly, I suggest hitting up your favorite water to check out the ‘egg hatch’, it may just be the best fishing you’ll have all season, you know I'll be there.