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Wild Trout:  Do Fly Fishermen Really Want Them?


Gene Macri 


Wild Trout Stream Conwago Creek at

Most fly anglers say they really want to fish for wild trout but I will tell you that's mostly a lie. Same with Guides! What most fly anglers really want are dumb trout! Most guides want dumb trout too since the hype that many of them have on their websites and in their literature promises tons of large fish. What their clients often get is anything but the truth. I watch guides all of the time on Big Spring and other spring creeks attempting to instruct their clients but have no idea what they are doing and aren't even smart enough to know when the fish have been spooked.

I am the riverkeeper and biologist for a private club, the Conewago Fly Fishers. The stream has mostly wild fish and I can tell you that the fish are smart and that many members have a hard time catching them. Wild trout whether they are freestone or limestone are usually difficult.

Most fly anglers and guides have inflated opinions on how good they are at fly fishing (I could make a sex joke here but I won't). This comes from a variety sources and one of them is from fly fishing out West. Wild trout out West are easy to catch for a number of reasons. There is a lot of water with lots of fish. Some of the fish don't get hammered some do. If you are an average fly angler you can catch lots of fish especially if you float a number of miles you'll catch fish. There are more hatches out West on some streams and the fish will rise which is easier than fishing nymphs.

Nymphing the Gardner River

On many waters fish will move more a greater distance to take fly than they will on hard fished Eastern spring creek or even a tough freestone stream. You don't have to be as accurate a caster as you do in the East. You can also sometimes get away with a less precise an imitation. This may not be true on rivers such as Henry's Fork or the Big Horn but for the most part this is true.

Now use the same techniques, flies, leaders and inaccuracies in casting in the East and you get fly anglers who can't catch fish. Trout in the East get hammered. There is just so much more water out West than in the East. Most fly anglers can't believe they may only get one or two casts on streams like Big Spring and if they make a bad cast it's all over. That's if you don't spook the fish first!

The fly anglers complain even on streams that are stocked heavily with fish.  They complain there aren't any fish because they don't catch fish. This may be true on some streams but other streams I know have a holdover population as well as wild fish which most fly anglers never know that the fish are there. I have fished the famed Penns Creek when on one day you could catch 50 trout and the next day you would swear there isn't a trout in the stream. I've seen Penns go into a lull for a week when air pressures were crazy and the stream looks like listless piece of water. A storm passes through and the stream comes alive.

But this is true of my water too. Fly fishermen think that trout are feeding machines and will take a fly at anytime. Another thing is they can't see fish so they believe the fish aren’t there! They must think the stream is like the Baltimore Aquarium! Many fly anglers fish where they should wade and wade where they should fish. This is further compromised by anglers who won't learn new methods or techniques.

In the East being on the water at the right time is important, less so in the West where there are more fish, more water, and more hatches. Wild trout in the East are difficult task and your skill level will be challenged. You should watch what you wish for because most anglers fail miserably when confronting such fish on Eastern spring creeks or even tough freestone streams! So master your techniques, methods and understand accuracy and stealth in fly fishing which have become the lost art if you wish to catch wild trout.


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