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No Days Off: Fall Float Trip with Rachel, Jimmy and Davis

It should come to no surprise that my favorite aspect of working in fly fishing, is actually going fly fishing. At Anglers All we take the retail side of the business, customer service and overall success of our clients very seriously. Equipping anglers far and wide with the right gear for their time spent on the water is what keeps us thriving. What keeps up going is our experience on the water, executing in our field of work. These on the water adventures reinforce our ability to assist each customer online and in-store and has done so for over 65 years. Earlier this month we hitched up the raft after work and drove west from Denver in search of good times, streamer eats and long drifts. The crew for this mission would be Jimmy Juliana, Rachel Therkildsen and myself, Davis James. To get the trip started right we stopped on our way up for a team dinner, then hit the road over the divide until we landed at our hotel for a good nights sleep.

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When the hotel is serving instant coffee that tastes like a sock you pack your own kit to get the morning started right. That may seem a little extra, but after a long drive the night before we needed a pick-me-up. Our hotel was conveniently booked across the street from the boat launch; making our morning commute that much easier. 

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After running a shuttle Jimmy and Rachel spent a little time swinging streamers through the run at the ramp just before pushing off as I snapped the first couple photos of the day. Right off the bat a white dungeon moved a fish on the 3rd cast. This was the type of reinforcement we were looking for. Streamers were getting looks and we were prepared to yield the (Wednesday morning) meat train all day. If you’ve been following us on Instagram for any length of time, “Monday Morning Meat Train” is a part of our regular Instagram schedule for a reason. These patterns are tried, true and proven to yield results at the right place and right time. I guess you could say that about all fly patterns…haha I digress. 

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In fly fishing we are constantly looking for patterns. Weather activity, flows, sunlight, and the positioning of fish in the river are all correlated. If you are observant, these factors align to develop a rhythmic pattern you can use as a framework for the rest of your day on the water. As things settled down during the first 2 miles of our 10+ mile float, a pattern started to develop. Flashy, white flies in various sizes were getting chases but the fish weren’t committing the way we would have liked. Despite a few exciting moments and glimpses of hope, fish would not commit to leaving their holding areas. The day was still young and our next several fly changes cycled through black and bulky, skinny and dark, olive with ample movement and colorful/downright gaudy. Rachel was fishing an intermediate line up front and Jimmy, a 4” per second line out back. At this point we began thinking that the fish needed more time and a slightly warmer temp to get into the prime feeding stage. 

We eddied to the side and pulled out a 6wt nymph stick to cover a juicy run more thoroughly than we would be able to with streamers. After rowing the first part of the morning I stepped up to the plate to yield the nymph stick. My co-workers winced at the thought of nymphing so I took on the burden of rigging a two-fly setup. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with nymphing but it’s generally not my chosen method of offense on a float trip. Seeing as I was already concerned about finicky fish, I decided it was worth the trouble. I modified a tapered leader for maximum depth charge while Jimmy hopped on the sticks. We were held by the lack of current and working as a team. Several drifts was all it took along an obvious seam, in an obvious winter holding run to feed a fish on a home-tied leech. Said fish found the bottom of my newly replaced Fishpond boat net and we safely released a beauty of a cut-bow back to the depths. 

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Having only put 3 drifts through the run I handed over the rod and hung out while Rachel systematically worked the tandem rig through the water column. Sure enough, about 5 minutes later and a quick flash of an obvious slab, we were off to the races. With the rig consisting of mostly 5x Umpqua Phantom X tippet from the indicator all the way down to the flies we knew we would have to be careful not to break this fish off. We kept the boat moving down the edge of the seam as Rachel applied a liberal amount of side pressure against this high energy fish. Once we had it out of the faster water and into the eddy it was only a few seconds before we had a slab of a brown in the net. Two fish in about 5 minutes, brought to hand with thin fluorocarbon signaled it was time to refine our presentations a bit. Streamer fishing was still going to be the primary approach but we needed to adjust leader length and consider a small class of baitfish. 

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Streamer fishing can resemble a broken record sometimes. Despite each rotation being just as scratchy as the other, the record remains playing. If the previous run we fished gave us any indication, it was time to change records (flies) and slow things down. After a few modifications to our terminal tackle we managed to land a much smaller, but very feisty bow. This pattern we observed seemed to be valuable. 30 minutes passed and it seemed like we had the correct fly size but we were still getting rejections and cycling through flies. The sun was getting high in the sky and a bluebird day emerged. If we were going to continue yielding 7wts we needed to really dial it in. At this point in the float I think we all had cycled through our confidence flies on hand. It was at this moment with my hands fumbling through every foam slot in my box I noticed a double Thin Mint that was begging to be tied on. The Thin Mint is a confidence fly for me so I snipped off the fly Rachel was fishing and tossed on the Thin Mint. I took a quick look downstream and adjusted our route to fish the left side of the river where a narrow channel rejoined the primary flow and some lingering 11am shade was present.

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Rachel might be new at the shop but she has skills. I would even go as far as saying she’s one of the better casters in our shop crew. She sent a laser loop out to the side channel and at that point I think we all knew (and hoped) what was going to happen next. A gator of a brown trout nailed it instantly. I’ll never know if it was the fly, the water type, the angler or the time of day but it’s those moments that keep us persevering through the slow times. Fishing streamers might not put more fish in the net but it certainly has a way of livening up the day. As Rachel came tight on our first apex eater of the day we simultaneously erupted in a choir of f-yeah’s. If anyone was watching you would've assumed we had won the super bowl. Streamer fishing has a way of doing that. 

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As we pushed downstream through the latter part of the float we couldn’t help but notice the success guides were having with clients. The majority of the boats we saw we’re fishing with 2 anglers, each armed with indicator rigs adorned in tandem size 20 baetis and midges. We were cognizant of our boat positioning, leaving the obvious seams and eddy’s untouched so guides could give their client’s the best shot at unspoiled water. After a short conversation in passing one of the guides made a comment to the effect of “You’d be surprised at how small of a set of flies you need to fish a river this big.” Clearly they were catching more fish on nymph setup's than we were slinging meat but I can GUARANTEE we were having twice as much fun.