WHAT WORKED on United Kingdom reservoirs,
however, does not work on our mountain lakes.
The stripped streamer catches only the rare
trout on high-elevation waters. There are too
many differences—the cloudy, rich soup of the
reservoirs versus the clear, sterile water of
mountain lakes; an environment with numerous
species of forage fish versus an environment
with no bait fish except small trout (and not
even those in lakes with no natural reproduction);
reservoirs with rainbows and browns versus alpine
fisheries with the much less piscivorous cutthroats
Joel Hart verified the futility of streamers
on the plankton-feeding golden trout of Cave
Lake with four days of dog-crazy flogging,
hundreds of casts producing not a single hit.
Afterwards it was hard to convince him that
these trout, the "strainers," are catchable.
I had to work hard to persuade him to take me
up to plankton-rich waters like Pear, Druckmiller,
and Cave lakes.
August 7 through 12 (continued):
The Rollover Scud flips because it has a
strip of heavy wire lashed to the top of
the hook shank. This weight unbalances the
fly. The rollover, an action we started
playing with to catch the overfed trout
of the limestone ponds and spring creeks
of the Deer Lodge valley, doesn't depend
on the trout's hunger to elicit a reaction.
I've never seen anything like these lakes in the
Crazies. We've been to three of them by now,
sampling the zoo-plankton populations, and not
only are the plankton populations high for a
mountain lake, hundreds per liter of water, but
they're also dominated by a single, bright red
Copepod (Diaptomus shoshone). There's no doubt
that trout in these lakes are concentrating on
this particular zooplankton during the summer
months. We kept two rainbows each from both Pear
and Druckmiller for breakfast, and the flesh of
these fish was a brilliant red.
These fish aren't uncatchable—and after a great
morning on Druckmiller, even Joel is starting
to have faith in that. We caught fourteen rainbows,
the biggest ones over two pounds, but only one
method worked. There may be more than one way
to skin a cat, but if there's more than one way
to skin these plankton-feeders, it's not in my
bag of tricks. Maybe the "Hang-and-Bob" might
be effective, but it would have to be with the
right fly. The only thing that worked for us was
"Pulling the Trigger" with the Rollover Scud.
Joel kept saying, "We'll see if this catches
those goldens on Cave."
Of course the goldens on Cave are going to be
the toughest trout to fool—among the
plankton-feeders, goldens are always the hardest
to catch. They lock so thoroughly into a slow,
open-mouthed swim-and-graze that they seldom
even nod at a passing fly.
We moved over to the Sweet Grass Creek drainage
and climbed to Cave Lake. We camped here three
days and we could have pounded the water twelve
hours a day in the long summer light. We didn't—we
concentrated on the first few hours after sunrise
and the last few hours before sunset. I did fish
for a half hour during the middle of the day once
just to see if the goldens could be caught then.
By standing on a cliff we could see them, cruising
with mouths agape, at least forty feet deep.
At dawn and dusk they were shallower, no more
than fifteen feet deep, and with a Teeny T-400
sinking shooting head our flies would reach them
quickly enough for the method to be effective.
Just like the trout at Druckmiller, the goldens
here looked at an Olive Rollover Scud, but took
an Orange or a Red Rollover Scud much more
aggressively. How aggressively depended on the
flip or roll of the fly in relation to the fish.
Nothing makes a trout react faster than a
Rollover Scud if the fly flips over close
enough to the fish. The pattern swims upright
when it's retrieved, but it rolls over as soon
as the tension is gone. Or the movement can be
just the opposite—it will sink upside down, but
as soon as the angler tightens the line the fly
will spin into the upright position. Either way
it has a built-in "action" that triggers an
instinctive response in trout—even prompting a
reaction from the plankton-sucking goldens of
Joel and I took turns sighting for each other.
When the fly was at the correct depth—among,
next to, or in front of the trout—the spotter
gave the call. The angler pulled on the sinking
pattern and the fly rolled quickly upright; and
then immediately the fishermen slacked off and
the fly flipped upside down again. Then he
tugged sharply. With this multiple flipping
movement we each caught a number of the goldens
on the Rollover Scud.
Morning of the 9th—3 trout Evening of the 9th—1 trout
Morning of the 10th—7 trout Evening of the 10th—3 trout
Morning of the 11th—6 trout Midday on the 11th— 1 trout
Evening of the llth—3 trout
Our tally for three days was twenty-four
of the "uncatchable" trout. The morning
was always better than the evening because
fish were in shallow water longer. We caught
the one midday golden to prove that
plankton-feeders could be hooked in very
deep water. The T-400 head, sinking at eight
inches per second, took more than a minute
to reach the proper depth. Working a fly at
forty feet isn't something I'd ever do
regularly, but there are anglers who fish
very deep water and I can only admire their
patience. The smallest trout were 12 inches,
but many of the fish were 16 to 19 inches.
We saw some cruising goldens that looked
Joel couldn't believe that we finally caught
the goldens of Cave Lake. This was the
greatest trip for goldens for either of us.
The Rollover Scud triggers an instinctive,
snatch-it reflex in trout when it's fished
right. The best retrieve, known as Pulling
the Trigger, is a "pull slowly, stop, pull
quickly" sequence. Let the fly sink to the
eye-level depth of the trout. To move the
Scud nearer, draw line with a smooth, slow
pull, until the pattern is within two feet
of the fish. Then stop retrieving, letting
the fly flip over and sink. Finally, if the
trout hasn't already taken it, tug sharply
on the line to make the fly turn upright and
jump forward a few inches.
A CONVENTIONAL FLY usually fails on golden
trout— the Rollover Scud doesn't. A twist
on the theories of imitation explains why
plankton-feeding fish, oblivious to any
regular food organism, respond at all to a
certain class of "action" flies. A regular
pattern depends on its visual characteristics
to mimic life, and this is fine if the fish
is feeding on something that can be imitated
visually. The problem is that visual
characteristics appeal to the urge to feed,
leaving the trout a choice. For any fish
grazing on zooplankton the choice is easy.
He is going to ignore a conventional fly,
no matter how lifelike it looks, and continue
swimming open-mouthed through the cloud of
minute food organisms.
A fly that moves suddenly and strangely,
especially if it's close, works on a deeper,
more reflexive part of the brain. It doesn't
mimic any single prey item—with motion it
mimics not just "life" but odd and vulnerable
life. It somehow jolts even a grazing fish
out of its stupor and excites it into eating
a larger pattern. When the trout sees the
strange, quick movement of the active fly,
it has no choice, at least not about making
that first instinctive move toward the pattern.
The closer the Rollover Scud is to a trout
when the fly flips, the higher the chance
of a take. This is why sight-fishing with
the pattern is so effective. The angler
knows when the fly is in the striking zone.
On some waters the Rollover Scud can be four
or five feet away from the fish. When it
turns over, a cruising trout will rush to
take the fly.
The goldens on Cave Lake weren't nearly that
responsive. If the fly was within two feet
when it flipped, a fish would turn to it and
maybe take it. At this range he was more
likely to keep swimming towards an Orange
or Red Rollover Scud than an Olive Rollover
Scud. If the fly was within one foot or,
even better, six inches, when it flipped,
the fish would almost always suck in the
pattern. ~ GL
To be continued, next time: More Fly Fishing the Mountain Lakes