Going Big for Small

Going Big for Small

Jason Borger | Tuesday, 12 April 2016

This is technically an excerpt from my upcoming casting book, but due to page count issues, I decided to leave it out. Maybe it will re-appear in some future edition or in a different project. In the meantime, here it is for SL readers.

One summer, my wife, Kelley, and I devoted a few days to fishing some of less-pressured stretches of Montana’s famed Gallatin River. While the public access points were stacked with Bozeman and Big Sky traffic, a bit of walking and wading often found us a quiet place on the river. One of those places still held the remnants of a modest channel. Its flows were slowed to a crawl by the summer sun, and its thread-bare riffles babbled softly into two deep pools.

After much youthful angling regret resulting from overly hasty approaches, I surveyed the quiet little channel with what I felt was appropriate care. My care was rewarded with a slow, sipping rise in the throat of the upper pool. Despite the pool holding no more water than a good-sized hot-tub, I knew such volume was more than enough to cover a fish as long as my arm (that’s a sad New Zealand story for another time).

In reality, the situation I faced was classic Western spring creek: Gin-clear water, achingly slow drift speed and hyper-aware fish. It was decidedly un-Gallatin-like in its character which further made the scenario one in which I wanted to find success. I had a decision to make: Crawl closer over the exposed rocks and go for a low, tight cast, or stand my ground at nearly 70 feet and make a slack-line cast across the stones and across the top of the pool. Looking at the breathless water and the high sun, I decided to take the long shot.

My first cast was short. I could have screamed. The problem was that I not only had to reach the throat of the pool, but I had to do it with a puddled presentation that stacked slack along the length of the drifting line. The cast was so long (from a real-world, trout-fishing perspective) that I hadn’t compensated quite enough for the high delivery angle and the addition of the extra slack. I waited an agonizing 10 seconds or so for the leader to fully clear the area, and then retrieved the line back. As I did so, the fish rose again.

The next cast was what I was should have made on the first try. The line unrolled high, mostly up-and-over the river-rocks, and the leader puddled softly into the pool’s upper currents. I waited.

The little caddis emerger eased down into the belly of the pool, its wing glimmering ever so slightly in the hot sun. And then, without any pretense, a nose appeared where my fly had been. Before I could even react, the leader jumped tight and it was “fish on!” I raised the rod fast and high over my head, and simultaneously rock-hopped toward the pool, stripping line as fast as I could. The fish felt like a good one—no arm-length brown mind you, but a decent fish none-the-less

The trout soon showed itself at the surface; it was barely more than 15 inches. Hardly the fish that I had hoped for, but still it a strong fish that fought harder than its size had initially indicated. More importantly, though, it was a tough ‘bow, one taken under truly difficult conditions of water, sun and presentation.

Conventional fly-fishing wisdom might question my approach: “You were casting 70 feet—with slack—on a small stream? Are you nuts, Borger?!” No, I’m the guy who caught the fish. I’ve pulled similar moves elsewhere, even casting directly (and long) over a bend in a small stream to get a shot at a super-spooky fish on the other side. I’ll be the first to admit that I’ve paid plenty for such stunts: lost flies, mangled leaders, and missed/lost/spooked fish. I’ve also been richly rewarded for such long-line chances, and will continue to use “big distance” techniques on any and all waters as applicable.