Lighter Side

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June 12th, 2000

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 Dodge.

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 paperback.

Excerpt from The Riverwatch The Quarterly Newsletter of the Anglers of the Au Sable.

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