tricos

8 Tips for Summer Trout

The warmest day of trout fishing I’ve ever experienced also happened to be one of my best. It was one of those stifling hot, sticky July afternoons where you lament the fact that you have to wear long sleeves to avoid the nettles, but the Driftless, like many good trout destinations, guards it’s most precious creeks with a fierce wall of bluffs and thorns and more than one type of irritating weed, making long sleeves a necessity if you want to avoid plowing to the creek like a madman. The welts and rashes that these weeds leave are nearly as memorable as the spectacular valleys they grow in.

By late morning we’d hiked nearly a mile through narrow draws and thick brush and awful weeds, and the heat was beginning to get to us. The dense canopy of old-growth hardwoods that towered over the valley floor provided some relief and added a deeply majestic impression to the coulee, hiding the secrets of the valley with a lush blanket of green. This was rugged country, filled with deep coulees, sharp ridges, and dead-end draws that all look nearly alike. You cover lots of ground on this sort of trip, but the bluffs make you wonder if you’re actually getting anywhere. It wasn’t a particularly easy hike, especially in the heat, but the stream at the end of the journey was well worth it.

We rounded the corner of a tight ridge and paused. The valley opened up to a breathtaking canyon bordered by massive, towering limestone bluffs capped with ancient oaks and maples. The canyon floor was blanketed with a mix of wild raspberries and nettles and grass. Bluffs and old-growth forest made for a spectacular scene that I won’t soon forget. But the crown-jewel was the creek that carved it’s way through the fertile valley floor, rushing over boulders and brimming with trout.

The water ran a deep blue color and was stained just enough to hide an angler and get the trout excited. It was exactly what you hope for when you hike through stifling heat and nearly a mile of burnweed to toss some flies at trout, though seriously expecting this sort of thing can be quite dangerous for a fisherman’s fragile psyche. We jumped straight into the creek and cooled off a bit before stringing up the rods. I headed downstream armed with a nymphing setup and plowed through the head-high weeds.

The first stretch, a long, slow pool with a decent riffle at the head, failed to produce any trout in the bright overhead sun, though a few sporadic bankside risers hinted at some promising trout activity. The next piece of water was a sweet sight; a series of swift riffles and churning pocket water plunged into a half-dozen emerald pools. The water was quick enough to make it easy, and a few big boulders shaded part of the creek. In short, a perfect stretch of trout stream.

The fishing was good, too. I pulled over a dozen trout from the fastest spots and shaded pockets, mostly browns in the ten inch range, all wild and feisty despite the stifling heat. A thick-shouldered brown with deep, golden flanks and bold spots highlighted the afternoon.

fifteen inch Driftless Area backcountry trout fly fishing MN spring creek

 

Hot summer days on the streams aren’t always as good as that one. Anglers often battle scorching temps, oppressive humidity, lazy trout, and biting insects and weeds. But the hot summer months can also be a great time to hit the water. Hoppers bring big trout to the surface. Tricos give a challenging yet rewarding game of frustration, tiny dries, and sometimes triumph. And there’s always a flurry of activity at first and last light, along with the trout you’ll coax during the middle of the day.

Here are eight tips we’ve learned over the years for beating the heat and catching more trout during the summer months, in no particular order. They’re mostly aimed at the small trout streams of the Driftless, but they hold true for most trout streams around the Midwest…

#1: Get Stealthy

The low flows and ultra clear water of summer means ridiculously spooky trout in slow runs and pools. Stealth is an absolute necessity. Fortunately, bankside vegetation is at it’s peak, offering anglers a good way to conceal themselves from wary trout. I think good, dirty stealth is something that all truly good anglers have focused on and nearly mastered. It makes sense, really, because melting into the surroundings and approaching fish undetected only comes from a good understanding of where trout are going to be. It’s this sense of confidence and attention to detail that set the best anglers apart in the stealth game.

A stealthy approach is critical for chasing trout in skinny water

A stealthy approach is critical for chasing trout in skinny water

Trout sitting in low, clear water won’t tolerate a lazy, impatient fisherman, so be prepared to do some crawling and bushwacking for a few extra fish. It’s sweaty, muddy work, especially in the heat of summer, but it’s definitely worth the extra effort if you want to remain undetected.

You’ll learn quickly to walk softly and not wave your line over the fish, yet adding an extra element of stealth and thoughtfulness to your approach can really improve the catch rate. Think about casting angles, shadows, and any downstream trout that might bolt and spook the fish you’re working on. Wade if you must, but do it gently. Take the time to slow down, enjoy the creek, and plan your strategy of attack. Fish long, light leaders (as long as you can handle for small dries and nymphs, sometimes up to twelve or thirteen feet and 6X) and lighter rods. I’d guess that I spook more fish than I end up seeing on any particular outing, making stealth an awfully good and somewhat easy way to improve my angling.

 

#2: Find Cold Water

trout heaven in se mn

High in the headwaters….springs in the upper reaches offer colder water – and often happy trout

Spring brings cool, comfortable water, plenty of bugs, and happy trout, but once the dog days of summer hit, fishing can taper off rapidly as bright sun and warmer water put trout in a mood. Finding cold, comfortable water becomes key to finding happy summer trout, especially during those bright, scorching August afternoons when nothing seems to be moving.

There are a few good options for beating the heat and finding happy trout in the dog days of summer. First, try fishing higher up in the headwaters where cooler temps are more plentiful, particularly on spring creeks and tailwaters where springs and dams pump a consistent supply of icy water into the stream. Another good strategy is hitting the mouths of tributaries or venturing up the smaller creeks themselves. Tributary creeks are often quite a bit cooler than the main river and offer trout some thermal refuge, along with a good supply of food. Terrestrials can be deadly in these spots, and cold tributary mouths often surrender some big trout that nose up into the colder flow looking for a bit of relief from the heat. Fast water also holds more trout friendly temps (see tip #6) and can be very productive.

Note: Don’t accidentally kill trout! Watch water temps carefully and know when to give the coldwater fish a break. Hot water temps can put unnecessary and often lethal stress on trout when they’re caught. Most agree that 68 degree water temps is a good time to stop. For a more detailed look at safe summer trout temps, check out this piece from Hatch Magazine.

 

#3: Fish Smaller Flies

While trout will still occasionally snatch a #14 Hare’s Ear in faster riffles and runs, the combination of low, clear flows and tiny hatches makes micro nymphs and dries a good option for fooling trout consistently in the heat of summer.

Spring creek meadow...perfect water for terrestrials and small nymphs

Spring creek meadow…perfect water for terrestrials and small nymphs

Small bugs are particularly good for those torturously slow pools and runs where fussy trout float like gazelles on an African plain at hunting time, ready to bolt at the slightest sign of anything unnatural or risky. Besides requiring a great deal of stealth and even more patience, these trout can be fooled with tiny, lightweight nymphs floated under a small yarn indicator or an unobtrusive dry fly, preferably a terrestrial pattern.

But micro nymphs have also proven themselves in faster, more fisherman-friendly waters. I haven’t found many days when trout will turn down a tiny #20 Pheasant Tail or Sunk Trico Spinner rolled along the bottom behind another nymph. It’s a deadly tactic, and the extra finesse a tiny nymph offers is often enough to coax a trout to eat even during the middle of the day.

 

#4: Fish Bigger Flies

Fat late-summer brookie that crushed a big hopper

Fat late-summer brookie that crushed a big hopper

There’s nothing like watching a big trout smash a big dry on a hot summer afternoon. Once mid-July and August roll around, trout stop eating the perversely-tiny bugs of early and mid-summer and start attacking hoppers like smallmouth on steroids. It’s some of the most exciting dry-fly fishing of the season.

Cut banks and grassy meadow stretches are prime spots for tossing big terrestrials. Moths, hoppers, crickets, and all sorts of bigger bugs fall from the grass, and trout learn to watch for any big, lively critter hitting the surface. Big Stimulators in #6 to #12 are a good general match for a wide variety of terrestrials that end up in the creek. Hopper patterns in the same sizes are deadly. And if you mind your presentation and approach, leaders for bigger bugs don’t need to be quite as long and fine as those for tiny nymphs, bringing a nice change of pace from the tiny bugs.

#5: Fish Terrestrials

hopper fly rodTWThis one is obvious yet too important to leave out. Ants, beetles, hoppers, and attractor dries are some of the most consistent producers for summer trout. Drift them through pools, slap them near the bank, or toss them through meadow stretches (finding grassy sections or areas that are conducive to bugs falling into the stream is key). Trout love them. Don’t neglect to fish your terrestrials!

#6: Hit The Fast Water

Having spent the first few years of my fishing career on warmwater lakes where most fish retreat to the depths once summer hits, going shallow towards the fast water seemed a bit counterintuitive at first, but it can really hold great rewards. There are two primary reasons fast water holds plenty of trout: oxygen and cooler water temps. As water warms, its ability to hold good concentrations of dissolved oxygen – a critical aspect of a trout’s survival and comfort – suffers greatly, pushing trout out of areas with slower current and warmer water. Fast spots hold some of the most oxygenated water in the stream, acting as a natural aerator and providing cool, comfortable temps. This is particularly important on freestones and lower stretches of spring creeks that don’t receive a constant supply of good, cold water.

Black Beetle

Beetles are good producers in fast meadow runs and riffles

Faster riffles and runs that brush up against banks with brush or grass or undercuts that shade the water are particularly productive. They’re usually loaded with hoppers and ants and beetles, which is a good equation for producing eager trout.

Trout holding in fast water also tend to be less discriminating in their fly selection, so it’s naturally a good place to target fish during the summer months.

 

#7: Early and Late

Trico...

Tricos…real good early morning fun

Some of the best fishing of the summer can be found right at dawn or dusk. The lower light levels bring colder temps and plenty of bugs on most days, which usually means some good fishing. Tricos are notorious for blanketing streams at some uncivilly early hour of the morning, usually when air temps hit somewhere around 68*F. These tiny bugs can provide some of the most consistent, frustrating, and rewarding dry fly fishing in the Driftless starting around early July and running through late September (Also, check out  the post on 3 Tips for the Trico Spinner Fall and 4 top flies for the Trico hatch for recipes, Trico strategies, and a few good bugs).

The last hour of the day can also bring some good fishing. In the midwest, many species of caddis hatch in the evening, and there are usually a few trout rising to various bugs as the sun slips behind the trees. A CDC & Elk or a small parachute Adams is good for these sporadic risers.

Night fishing can also be a good bet in the summer. The legendary Hex hatch starts around late June and can provide great fishing when the giant bugs start popping a bit after dark. Mousing can also be pretty epic as bigger browns lose some of their wariness under the cover of darkness.

Mousin' after dark...

Mousin’ after dark…

(note:hoppers and terrestrials are one important exception – those bugs are more active in the heat, so midday can be quite good if the water stays cool enough).

 

#8: Sunken Bugs and Dry Dropper rigs

Sunken Trico Spinner

Sunken Trico Spinner – check out the recipe or try a few from the shop HERE

One of my absolute favorite tricks during the Trico hatch is hanging a sunken spinner off the bend of a terrestrial or nymph. While fishing sunken spinner patterns is nothing new in the fly fishing scene, the sunken spinner adds a bit of finesse that’s enough to fool plenty of stubborn trout, particularly when the hatch isn’t substantial enough to produce consistent risers. But sunken spinner fishing isn’t limited to the few hours of the day when Tricos are on the water. After seeing tons of these bugs wash downstream and get smashed in the current, trout have no problem eating a sunken spinner nearly all day long during the summer and early fall.

Sunken terrestrials can also be killer. Sunk beetles, ants, and even hopper imitations are great for drifting along grassy banks and will often catch trout that aren’t quite willing to grab a bug off the surface. The Black Wet Fly is a good example of an effective sunken terrestrial.

A Pink Squirrel on a dry-dropper fooled this wild brown on a small Kinnickinnic River trib.

A Pink Squirrel on a dry-dropper fooled this wild brown on a small Kinnickinnic River trib.

Dry-dropper rigs are perhaps the ultimate searching strategy. I often fish with a trio of flies to match a few different bugs that are around this time of year. Start with a big hopper or terrestrial like a Stimmy, drop a nymph or sunken terrestrial off the bend (scuds or pink squirrels are usually good in the Driftless), and trail a sunken trico or micro nymph behind the second fly where regulations allow. This rig very efficiently covers the three major bugs trout are eating in the summer – terrestrials, random nymphs/scuds/sunk terrestrials, and tricos/tiny nymphs.

 

Perhaps the best part of tossing three flies is the ability to fine tune your combination once you find what the trout are after on a particular day. It’s really a deadly and very efficient tactic.

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While not all ventures on the creek are quite as good as that day in the valley, summer is an awfully good time to be a trout fisherman. Terrestrials, tricos, and flurries of action at low light bring some of the most exciting and rewarding fly fishing of the season. Hopefully these tips will help you catch a few more trout in the summer months.

3 Tips for Fly Fishing the Trico Spinner Fall

 3 tips on how to fly fish the Trico spinner fall with less frustration, more trout, and more triumph

There are hardly any hatches that bring as much frustration and triumph as the Trico hatch of summer and early fall. Massive spinner falls of these minuscule mayflies, sometimes stretching down to a #26, bring trout to the surface like lumberjacks eating pancakes. It can be an agonizing hatch, filled with long leaders, uncivilly early mornings, tiny bugs, perversely difficult trout, fine tippet, and often a good dose of tears. But there’s not much in fly fishing that’s as rewarding as fooling a good trout on a Trico dry fly.

Wild Minnesota Driftless brown on a Trico

Wild Minnesota Driftless brown on a Trico

Tricos start to hit streams in mid July and provide consistent and reliable match-the-hatch dry fly fishing until late September. Male duns (hatched mayfly adults) emerge in the evening, followed by female duns in the early morning, but it’s the spinner fall that attracts the most attention, and for good reason. Trout stack up and feast on these tiny dead mayflies, which congregate above the water in sprawling mating clouds that sometimes darken the air like a thick fog on a cold fall morning. It’s an awfully sweet sight for a fly fisherman, yet it also brings plenty of challenges. Spinners tend to appear when the air temp hits 68 degrees F, an affair that usually happens at a horribly uncivil hour of the morning in the hot summer months. But even with the severe shortage of sleep, you’ll have to hold back on the caffeine as jittery hands have a hard time tying on the #20-24 dries that Tricos demand. Trout sipping Tricos also have nasty habit of sitting in calm slicks and glassy runs, affording them plenty of time to scrutinize an artificial fly and its presentation. Long leaders and finely executed drifts are a must, though you’ll certainly get a few refusals even with what looks like a perfect presentation.

Tricos are a game of challenges and stealth and strategy. But that’s partly what makes them so rewarding. There’s nothing quite like the triumph of devising a strategy, making a perfect drift, and catching a trout on a tiny dry fly.

The Trico spinner fall is my favorite mayfly event of the trout season here in Minnesota, though it’s certainly not because I catch lots of fish. The tiny bugs have beat me more than a few times, and I haven’t come close to cracking the code (if it is indeed possible), but I have learned a few things over the past seasons and usually manage to catch a few trout each time I hit a good spinner fall. Here are a few tricks and tactics I’ve learned over the past few seasons that have lessened the frustration and increased the triumph over the Trico spinner fall…

 

#1. Double Dry Fly Rigs

Double dry fly rigs are mainstays in any good Trico strategy. Tracking tiny Trico dries, both for detecting takes and keeping a tidy drag-free drift, is a large part of successfully fishing the Trico spinner fall. Drag a fly over rising trout and you’re sure to get a refusal. Rip the leader across the pool on a misjudged strike and you’ll send any nearby risers straight into the undercuts. A buoyant, visible dry fly tied twelve inches up the leader lets you track and manage your drift, something that, unless you have eyesight better than a blue heron, is quite difficult to pull off with minuscule, low-riding Trico spinner patterns. Sometimes trout will even take the bigger dry.

Small hi-vis beetles, Ausable Bombers, Stimulators, and any other bugs that float like corks and stand out like ducklings are viable options. There is, however, a very real danger of tossing a fly that’s too gaudy and spooking wary trout. Foam hoppers or anything else that splats on the water makes a poor lead fly, while flies with lots of hackle and a soft landing are better options. Leader twist is also a potential problem, as big, air resistant bugs don’t tend to cast well on the long, fine leaders necessary for Trico-sipping trout. For these reasons, I like to fish dries in the #12 to #16 range, preferably something on the smaller end. Lately I’ve been fishing a #14 Pass Lake, an old Wisconsin pattern with a distinctive white, trude-style calftail wing and a pheasant tippet tail that vaguely resembles a Trico and draws a few strikes itself. Tie it to 5x tippet on a leader that’s as long as you can handle, and drop a Trico spinner twelve to sixteen inches off the bend on 6 or 7X, using clinch knots for all three connections. Micro-drag between the two dries can also be a concern, so make sure the trailing tippet is long enough to allow a good dead drift (single dries are nearly always the most fool proof way to obtain a better drift and avoid this, though double dry rigs have their share of advantages).

Whatever bug you decide to tie on, a double dry fly rig can be a very valuable asset in your Trico strategy.

 

#2: Sunken Trico Spinner

#20 wide-gap Sunken Trico Spinner... (buy a few here or check out the recipe)

#20 wide-gap Sunken Trico Spinner… (buy a few here or check out the recipe)

One of my absolute favorite tactics for fishing spinner falls is dropping a Sunken Trico Spinner off the bend of a dry fly or nymph. It’s an especially deadly strategy for pressured creeks where trout see dozens of sloppy presentations and artificial flies. Sunken spinners are nothing new to the Trico scene and have proven themselves on many tough trout streams. Like any hatch, fish get wise to the whole (dry) fly fishing game, but sunken spinners will often fool fish that are hesitant to take a fly on the surface.

Along with taking cautious fish, sunken spinners will still provide good action long after trout have stopped rising to the morning spinner fall. This is one of my personal favorite tactics for late summer and early fall. Tricos are one of the most prolific and dependable hatches on Driftless streams (and many other regions), popping of quite regularly during the summer and fall months, and trout become accustomed to seeing sizable numbers of these bugs on a daily basis. Plenty of them get churned underwater and drift through the system long after the duns and spinners have quit their aerial activity. On any given moment in early September, you’re likely to find at least a few drowned spinners flowing through a trout stream, particularly in the lower stretches. And trout don’t ignore them.

Sunken spinners are nearly always on my nymphing rig during Trico season. I like to hang them 14“ behind an attractor nymph, usually something like a Trout Snatcher or Squirrel and Copper. Fish them as you would any prospecting nymph rig, casting to any likely riffles and pools. Back eddies and foam lines are particularly productive spots as they collect tons of bugs – and feeding trout. And while they’re certainly quite effective right after the trout stop rising, don’t forget to toss them during later hours.

 

#3: Double Trico Spinner

Frustrated with hooking trout on tiny Trico dries? The Double Trico Spinner is tied on a #16 hook for more hookups and more trout...buy a few here or check out the tying recipe

Frustrated with hooking trout on tiny Trico dries? The Double Trico Spinner is tied on a #16 hook for more hookups and more trout…buy a few here or check out the tying recipe

If you’re anything like me and occasionally have trouble hooking trout on #22 dries, a Double Trico Spinner is a good change of pace from the tiny bugs. Tied on a #16 dry fly hook, the Double Trico sports two full sets of Trico bodies and wings, offering a bit of extra room for hooking fish. It has saved plenty of frustration on days when the tiny dries prove to be too difficult. And while it’s not the most imitative Trico pattern and won’t perform as well on especially persnickety fish or during sparse spinner falls, most of the time the trout don’t seem to mind the extra body on the hook, making it a great pattern for days when the fish just aren’t sticking.

Glassy, calm flats and runs aren’t ideal spots for the Double Trico due to the extra inspection time they afford the trout. Instead, focus on faster water and foam lines and swirling eddies, where the trout are far more eager to sip an artificial. Trico fish have a habit of sitting in perversely difficult or calm spots, but there always seem to be a few that hold in more fishable areas. These are the ones I’m usually after.

Trailing a standard Trico Spinner 16“ behind it is also a good strategy. The smaller dry gives the fish a more precise option, and if they take the Double Trico you’ll have a much easier time hooking them.

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Despite the many challenges and frustrations, Tricos are one of the most fun and rewarding hatches of the season. There have been many mornings filled with frustration, and occasionally triumph, but all the time I’ve spent standing in a cold, meandering stream, watching the morning fog lift from the water, and tossing tiny dries to hungry trout has been very memorable and rewarding. Next time you find yourself on a trout stream in the dawn hours of a summer morning, remember a few of these tips. Some challenge and frustration is inevitable, and perhaps imperative to a rewarding experience, but hopefully these tactics, flies, and tips will increase the prospects of triumph over the Trico hatch.

Tight lines and good luck on the water!

Conner

 

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(All the Trico patterns mentioned are available over on the Fishing Gear shop. Also, check out the fly box page for tying recipes. Tight lines and thanks for the support!)

Dry Flies and Driftless Tricos

The past few days have been a little chilly, but it was downright cold this morning when I hit the river before sunrise. I was freezing by the time I had waded a few yards upstream in my shorts, but the crisp morning air got me excited for the cooler fall days ahead. Fishing was a little tough this morning. I fished for about an hour and only pricked a fish, tangling a few rigs and losing a few flies in the process. I got my first trout of the morning indicator nymphing with a #20 pheasant tail in a sweet hole that brushed right up into a big logjam. Once I landed that first trout, things started to pick up. I managed a few nice browns in the riffles before coming upon a good run that flowed against the rip-rapped bank, very similar to the pool we found tricos in yesterday morning.101_5403

A few fish started rising against the bank and I spotted a few tricos floating downstream. The trico spinner fall was on again! I switched to a dry-dropper rig with a #20 trico spinner. I had a blast casting to selective trout in the run. Again, there were fish taking flies in the faster water along with slower eddies on the bank. It was a fun challenge to get the perfect drift through tough currents and hook the fish on the tiny dry when he finally ate it. I took half a dozen on the trico before the fish slowed down. Once the trout stopped rising, I tied on my dry-dropper nymph rig with the big orange stimmy as my dry, a #14 squirrel and copper, and a #20 CDC trico trailing a few inches behind the nymph.driftless brown on a trico

wild brown tailThe drowned CDC trico proved to be deadly. I kept hiking upstream and pulled wild trout from the riffles and seams. I think I’ve found the ultimate rig for this time of year in the Driftless. A small, dark mayfly nymph is always a good choice, and the fish get so accustomed to seeing tricos over the summer they eagerly sip the sunk trico, even late in the day. A big terrestrial dry for the indicator rounds out the rig and covers the other major food source in a trout’s diet during the late summer, terrestrials. Most fish ate the trico, but a few took the squirrel and copper in the fast water.

Wild brown with a trico stuck right in the corner of his mouth

Wild brown with a trico stuck right in the corner of his mouth

A few awesome pools flowed through the open stretch I fished.

log jam pool in the Driftless AreaI hiked way upstream to the confluence with a small spring creek where I found a sweet pool where the currents swirled together. I took a few trout in the big confluence pool on the nymphs. I ended up losing the nymphs and just fished the Stimmy. A feisty brown surprised me by smashing the big dry right in the riffle, a great way to end the morning.

The confluence pool

The confluence pool

This weekend was amazing. It was great to finally hit the Root and sample some of the excellent trout fishing it offers, especially the legendary trico hatch. There’s nothing like a solid weekend of relaxing and trout fishing in the Driftless.

Fall and hunting season is coming up quickly…should be a great season!

Tricos on the Root

September 1, 2013

Day 2 – I persuaded Noah to hit the river with me early Sunday morning. It was another beautiful morning in the Driftless as we hiked down the trail and started fishing. This time we headed downstream and hit some of the deep, turbulent pools that brush against the limestone cliffs. Both of us fished dry-dropper rigs in hopes of picking off a few browns, but didn’t have any luck. After fishing nymphs for a while, I noticed a few sporadic risers feeding in a slow tailout. I checked the river for bugs, and sure enough a few tricos were floating downstream. I quickly chopped of the nymph and tied on a #12 Pass Lake dry with a big white calftail wing followed by a #20 trico spinner twelve inches behind. South Branch Root River fly fishing The trout were still rising inconsistently, and the first few browns I floated my trico over didn’t eat. Noah and I moved downstream to a long, choppy run ending in an even longer slow pool. The fish were rising steadily by now, but not the finicky, slow water sippers you’d expect from a trico hatch. These trout were set up in the riffles, snatching the tiny mayflies with a splashy rise. Though most of these trout were smaller, it was a treat to cast #20 tricos to fast water where the fish didn’t have a ton of time to inspect your flies. There were, of course, a few stubborn risers sitting right on the bank sipping bugs in swirling eddies.

Small clouds of tricos fluttered over the river as I carefully crept up to the riffle. A good dead drift resulted in a rise and the first wild brown of the morning in the net. Noah quickly got in on the action and caught another trout in the riffle while I tied up another trico rig. The trout were hard, but not impossible, and a good dead drift with a reasonable fly did the trick. The good fishing continued under clear skies, and we stayed in the same pool casting to rising trout all morning. I switched flies a few times when I started getting refusals. I fished a CDC trico spinner, Double Trico Spinner, and CDC Trico Comparadun, and all caught fish. Noah stuck a few awesome wild browns on the trico spinner, and I ended the morning with nine trout, all on trico dries. The browns were small but feisty, jumping a few times before coming to the net. The fish stopped rising around eleven o’clock, so we headed back to camp for some lunch.

Braden also had a productive morning. He hiked upstream and caught ten wild browns up to twelve inches on a dry-dropper rig. Most of his fish took a brown #14 Trout Snatcher Nymph, but a few ate his Ausable Bomber. Interestingly, he didn’t have any rising fish or a solid trico hatch. I did notice the hatch was quite sparse and isolated, with fish rising consistently only in one pool over the morning. I’m not sure if the trout key in on different types of water when the spinner fall is spotty, or what the deal was, but the trout were just as eager to eat a nymph in stretches of the river just a few hundred yards away.

A nice wild brown on a MTMN

A nice wild brown on a Trout Snatcher

After lunch we toured Mystery Cave, the longest cave in Minnesota with over 13 miles of passages. The cave is the life source of the Root, providing the cold water and nutrients that are vital to its existence as fertile trout water. Upstream from the cave area, the South Branch of the Root is a warmwater stream, but it literally disappears in the summer as it takes a shortcut underground through the cave. It emerges several miles later in a few springs, greatly enriched and cooled from its trip. It was pretty awesome to see some of the water in the cave that eventually ends up flowing in the section of stream we had fished earlier in the day.

Pool in the cave

Pool in the cave

"Turquoise Lake"

“Turquoise Lake”

Cave bacon and limestone

Cave bacon and limestone

The three of us fished a bit in the evening, working our way downstream and casting to likely spots. Braden picked up two more browns in a riffle on a Trout Snatcher, while Noah and I didn’t interest any fish. I ventured up the same small creek I hit yesterday and pulled out one trout on a sunk trico spinner.

The red tail and spots are amazing on this brown Braden caught

The red tail and spots are amazing on this brown Braden caught

The fish started rising again just before dark. I tied on a #16 CDC and Elk, and tossed it against the far bank. A brown gently rose and sipped it as the light was fading behind the bluffs. I set the hook, and after a short fight landed a beautiful ten inch brown. Once it got too dark to see the dry I tied on a chickabou Wooly Bugger and started swinging it through the fast water. A heavy trout slammed it, but he popped off after a few seconds, so I decided to call it a night. I hiked back to camp in the dark and ended another great day in the Driftless.

Fly Fishing the Root River

During the past long weekend, we camped on the South Branch of the Root River for a few days of good fishing and hiking. The Root is one of the premier trout streams of southeastern Minnesota’s Driftless Area (Fly Fisherman even ran an article on it). Winding through valleys bordered by limestone bluffs, the Root harbors a great population of wild browns approaching a few thousand a mile in the prime reaches. The river is born from springs in the headwaters after taking a trip through the subterranean passages of Mystery Cave, emerging as a cold, clear stream enhanced by the nutrients from the cave. We pulled in the campground late Friday night and set up camp in the dark. I had heard and read about the Root and it’s prolific trico hatches before, but we’ve never fished it, so I was pumped when we decided to head down for the weekend. I was so excited to get on the water I hardly got any sleep!

Mist blanketed the river when we arrived down the steep bluff trail early the first morning. The river was amazing. The sound of rushing water and the crisp morning air produced the tranquility and peacefulness only a trout stream at daybreak can create. I quickly tied on a small Trout Snatcher under a dry, setting up a similar rig for Noah. Despite the crazy heat we got in the past few days, the stream was icy cold when we hopped in at 6:30 in the morning. I started the morning by hooking into a feisty little brown out of a riffle, but he popped off after a few jumps. Noah picked off a few chubs in a side pool before we moved upstream.IMGP1520

I had hoped to see a few tricos, but they never showed themselves in the riffles and pools we were fishing. A few fish rose once in a while, and the odd trico would float down the river occasionally, but the hatch never materialized. The stretch of river we fished was gorgeous. The turquoise-blue water wound through a mature forested valley with mostly gentle, riffled stretches, but occasionally rubbed up against a bluff and formed a deep, blue hole you couldn’t see the bottom of. I waded up below a good riffle and started nymphing the skinny water. I caught my first trout of the morning along a root wad in the riffle, a pretty wild brown of about ten inches that ate the Trout Snatcher. I landed one more trout on the nymph and another on the big orange Stimmy. Braden found a sweet corner pool in a meadow section and had good success on the nymph. He pulled out half a dozen browns to twelve inches on the Trout Snatcher. A few came up and smashed his Bomber before we waded back to camp.

South Branch wild brown with some great colors

South Branch wild brown with some great colors

One of Bradens' browns

One of Bradens’ browns

Another wild brown Braden got on the MTMN

Another wild brown Braden got on the Trout Snatcher

 

Later in the afternoon I hiked up a small feeder stream. This little spring-fed creek was glorious, ice cold and super clear with a handful of deep, blue pools stacked with wild browns. Lined with burnweed and brush under the canopy of old trees, casting was difficult but a well-positioned cast seldom went without at least a strike. The trout were ultra spooky, so a stealthy approach and a reasonable, unobtrusive fly were a necessity. Just the kind of trout fishing I love.101_5389

I carefully began working the little riffles and runs, softly landing my trio of flies in likely spots, and sometimes in the trees :). My first wild brown was only about eight inches, but still a respectable small stream fish displaying some awesome colors. I found one particularly good pool where a riffle flowed into the opposite bank, creating a deep blue hole riddled with a few logs and lots of trout. I crept into position behind some tall weeds and enticed three browns on a #20 sunk trico spinner.

My rig consisted of a big #8 orange Stimulator followed by a #14 Mercer’s Micro May and a #20 sunk trico spinner. The sunk trico proved to be deadly, as the fish are accustomed to seeing these bugs get washed down the river all summer, even in the middle of the day. I ended the afternoon with around half a dozen wild browns. None were big, averaging nine or ten inches, but they made up for their size with some amazing red spots and feisty attitudes.

Today was a great day of trout fishing, and I really enjoyed it since I’ve been looking forward to a solid day of small stream fishing for a long time. I tied up a few sunk trico spinners by lantern light while sitting next to the fire before crawling into the tent. Tomorrow we’ll hopefully get into a trico hatch and some more wild browns on dries!

 

Tricos- Four Patterns to Fish the White Winged Curse

Over the winter I have been tying a bunch of trico patterns to get ready for summer fishing. If you have ever fished this hatch you know how challenging and fun it can be. These guys can be just maddeningly difficult, but they bring up lots of trout. Tippet down to 7X and a precise drag free drift are a must. Tricos usually emerge (very) early in the morning from July to September. Here are four patterns to fish the “white winged curse”.

Trico Spinner

I like to throw my spinners about 10-12 inches off the bend of a big bushy dry fly for better visibility. An Ausable Bomber works great for this. For a female spinner, use light olive thread.

Hook: #20-24 dry
Thread: Black 8/0 UNI
Tail: Microfibbets or grizzly hackle fibers, splayed
Abdomen: Thread
Wing: White or cream Antron yarn
Thorax: Black superfine dubbing

Double Trico SpinnerDBL Trico Spinner enhanced FG

If you are having trouble getting hook-ups with the tiny flies, tie one of these guys on. Most trout don’t seem to mind the extra body on the same shank, making it a great bug if the #22’s and #24’s just aren’t doing it. It’s particularly good during a blanket hatch (err..spinner fall) when trout are rising profusely. A sparse spinner fall or extra finicky fish are much better fished with a Sunken Trico or a smaller CDC spinner tied on a wide gap hook (for horribly selective fish, rocks launched aerially into the center of the pool work well too :) )

Buy them here over on Fishing Gear
 
Hook: #16-18 dry
Thread: Black 8/0 UNI
Tail: Microfibbets or grizzly hackle fiber
Abdomen: Thread
Thorax: Black superfine dubbing

CDC Trico

I am a big fan of cdc flies. It floats really well and adds lots of movement. After a few fish, dry it off and dust it with some Frog’s Fanny to keep it floating.

Hook:#20-24 dry
Thread: Black 8/0 UNI
Tail: Microfibbets or grizzly hackle fiber
Abdomen: Black superfine dubbing
Wing: White or gray cdc

Sunken Trico Spinner

This is one of my absolute favorites for persnickety trout or sparse spinner falls. While it’s certainly not new to fly fishing, the Sunken Trico Spinner fished behind a nymph or dry usually extends the hatch a good few hours after the trout have stopped rising. Man, fish it nearly any time of day during trico season (I’ve written a bit more about sunken spinners and dropper rigs here)…

Hook: #20 dry
Thread: Black 8/0 UNI
Bead: 5/32 gold brass
Tail: Microfibbets or grizzly hackle fiber
Abdomen: Thread
Wing: Gray or white cdc
Thorax: Black superfine dubbing

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