Education in Frustration

“Cress bugs! Spring Creek is loaded with cress bugs!!”

The personal advice Joe Humphreys once gave me rung hollowly in my ears as I slapped another streamer down next to a bank, and stripped it deliciously through another perfect Spring Creek riffle. The conditions were ideal for “chucking meat”, and yet, not a single trout had tasted a hook in the 2 hours I had spent fishing streamers. My “confidence building” afternoon on Spring was not going as planned, just as most of my fishing trips have gone to start 2016.

As my poor casting skills and an overhanging tree separated another fly from my tippet, I was still not ready to listen to the local legend’s advice. Witless, I decided to consult the stream bottom. You can guess what I found covering each rock I turned over.

“Cress bugs! Spring Creek is loaded with cress bugs!” Fat, juicy, cress bugs that were powerless in the strong current.

With a complete loss of confidence in my own abilities to predict the brown trout’s feeding behaviors, I finally conceded and tied on a double nymph rig of two cress bugs. If Joe and the stream were telling me something, I was going to be doubly sure of it.

Sure enough, it worked. For the next hour, as the sunlight waned in Spring Creek canyon, I steadily picked up wild, lively brown trout. I was able to bring a few to the net while others shook the hook or evaded my hook set, but I had finally found my confidence building fishing trip.

Twilight in Spring Creek Canyon

Twilight in Spring Creek Canyon

I would be lying if I said the short span of 2016 has been a success for me, fishing wise. I have never felt more confident in my knowledge of the streams, technique, and attention to detail, yet my trout numbers have been depressingly low. I have been drastically outpaced on many occasions by fishing buddies that I usually can go fish for fish with. However, my frequent failures have taught me how to better adapt to winter trout behavior.

In the end, fly fishing is a relatively simple pursuit. Put a recognizable food source in front of a feeding trout, and chances are, you will earn your share of strikes, no matter the season or stream conditions. The trials of winter fishing can lead anglers to become increasingly creative, and thinking outside the box can lead to some spectacular days. Yet I find that the stand-by food sources will provide more consistent success, across various fisheries. For the limestoners in my area, that often means cress bugs, midges, and versatile patterns like pheasant tails and hare’s ear nymphs.

Gordon releases a brilliant brown that fell victim to the simple zebra midge.

Gordon releases a brilliant brown that fell victim to the simple zebra midge.

Below are a handful of simple tips that have helped me to turn around my bad luck and have several successful days since my afternoon on Spring Creek:

-Do not overthink fly selection. New and unorthodox patterns and techniques are fun to try, but it is good to go with the tried and true flies first, switching to other methods as needed. For impatient anglers (like myself) who are quick to chalk an excursion up as a loss and lose focus, this is particularly important. I find that hooking up with a trout or two towards the beginning of an outing greatly increases my productivity and effectiveness for the rest of the day. The “famous” patterns are often the most basic and versatile, and as a result will fish well across almost all types of streams.

-Do not rush through a stretch of water. Everyone knows that a trout’s feeding lane will drastically constrict with colder water temperatures, yet how many of us adjust our fishing strategies accordingly? Every fish that I hook into on the 15th or 20th drift makes me wonder how many I may have missed out on when I have given up on a piece of stream after just a few casts. Anyone with basic trout behavior knowledge can easily find fish. Finding the patience to wait for them to strike is where I usually fail.

-Always find enjoyment in your fishing. This is easy to do during the vitality of spring, pleasant temperatures of summer, and brilliant foliage of fall. The raw and rugged, yet underappreciated beauty of winter is something that I have come to enjoy more and more these past few months. Helping to distract from cold fingers and numb toes, noticing your surroundings will help to make the lulls between fish more manageable.

Winter streams possess a unique type of beauty.

Winter streams possess a unique type of beauty.

Be sure to hit the stream next time with a few of these thoughts in mind. As always, comment with your own methods of making winter trout fishing more productive and satisfying!

Tight Lines,


4 Responses to “Education in Frustration

  • Scott Huebner
    3 years ago

    Good read Ethan

  • Gordon Dimmig
    3 years ago

    Good to see you’re confidence is back brother. Now let’s go destroy some new streams! Great read.

    • Of course! I was getting tired of watching you catch more fish than me…

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