Giants, Part 3
by Jerry Dennis
Kelly is one of the best you'll ever meet. It's not quite accurate
to say he's a big-fish specialist - I've watched him spend many
hours casting dry flies to eight-inch brookies - but much of his time
of the water is spent targeting giants. His success at catching them
is partly due to the fact that he sees through the many misconceptions
and bits of untested conventional wisdom that bog down so many
anglers. The first summer we fished together, I mentioned something
about big brown trout feeding primarily at night. That nugget of
information is gospel in every how-to book in my library and is a
staple of fly-fishing seminars everywhere. I've heard it all my life.
And since I had caught so few big browns during the day, it was
easy to believe they didn't feed until midnight.
Kelly listened without comment. The next day he drove me to a stretch
of the Manistee that is among the most heavily fished on that popular river.
We waded downstream, at noon, on a bright Thursday in early July.
Kelly rigged a six-weight rod and reel with a full-sinking line, a type-six
Cortland 444 rocket Taper. I don't ordinarily endorse products, but
that particular line is so well suited to the way Kelly fishes that it
deserves mention. It is much smaller in diameter than most sinking
lines, which allows it to sink quickly, yet it is light enough and flexible
enough to cast easily. Ease of casting is crucial when you're fishing
streamers the way Kelly does. He casts with pinpoint accuracy to
specific structure in the river, and does it for hours at a time.
Lead-core lines are too heavy and clumsy for the job.
Right away Kelly destroyed another cherished myth about brown trout.
While I tied a small bucktail streamer to a nine-foot leader tapering to
four-pound tippet, he knotted a one-foot section of twenty-pound test
to his line, added a one-foot midsection of ten-pound test, and
finished with a foot-long tippet of eight-pound test to which he
attached a very large, bulky streamer. His total leader was three
feet long and strong enough to land a tarpon. When I expressed
surprise, Kelly said he's convinced that a trout charging a streamer
is motivated as much by territorial imperative as by hunger, and
that in either case the trout is not looking at the leader. With dry
flies, yes, they can be extraordinarily leader shy, but if a trout is
intent on killing an intruder, it will attack whether the intruder is
attached to a leader testing two pounds or twelve. A heavy leader
also makes it possible to land the fish quickly so it can
be easily resuscitated and released.
We waded downstream, and Kelly cast his big streamer tight to the
bank, slapping it as close as possible to sunken logs, stumps,
overhanging bushes, and every other place that offered cover.
He slapped the water with the fly because he's found that brown
trout, like largemouth bass, are attracted to such stimuli. The
moment the fly hit the water, he began stripping it back, causing
it to swim rapidly downstream, a couple of feet beneath the surface,
darting like a sculpin or other baitfish trying to get the hell out of
I went first, fishing my conventional rig, and in an hour caught several
twelve-inchers. Kelly followed immediately behind, close enough to
chat, and cast into the same water I had covered, but tighter to the
bank and just above or below the deep pools, especially in places
where sunken debris and beds of weeds make microhabitats in two
or three of quick current. Where I had caught nothing, he caught a
twenty-inch brown and an eighteen-inch brown. I became a believer.
~ Jerry Dennis
Continued next time!
About Jerry Dennis
Jerry Dennis lives in Traverse City Michigan and feeds his
obsession for fly fishing (and giant trout) by spending as much time as
possible on the Boardman, Manistee, and AuSable rivers. He has been
a full-time writer since 1986, writes for numerous magazines, and was
the recipient of the 1999 Michigan Author Award. His seven books
about nature and the outdoors include A Place On The Water,
The River Home and From a Wooden Canoe. The
River Home was name Best Outdoor Book of 1998 by the
Outdoor Writers Association of American and is now available in
Excerpt from The Riverwatch
The Quarterly Newsletter of the Anglers of the Au Sable.Lighter Side Archive