Just what is it about small flies that has captivated me for decades ? Hard to come up with an answer but the river is on the rise so I am going to give it a go !
It would be easy to say I like them because I have caught (and continue to catch) a ton of fish on them . The thing is I know that it goes beyond that . I have caught a ton of fish on lots of different flies and yet they don't hold my attention the way the wee ones do . A #12 Quill Gordon just doesn't do it for me the way a #32 Olive v-wing does ! I am thinking it has something to do with the improbability of the endeavor , which is to say that while it is easy to envision an 18" brown rising to inhale the big bite of protein the #12 represents it is much harder to see why the same fish would rise to eat something so small that you could set a dozen on the back of the #12 with room to spare . I guess I have an addiction to seeing the improbable happen ...
Is that all there is to it though ? Hm... nope it is more then that ! I think it also has something to do with the whole process involved with having the flies in the 1st place . Now with a #12 it is an easy matter to secure the hooks . Drive to or call any shop and they are yours , case closed . Not so with the tiny hooks . Most are no longer made so buying a box or 2 becomes a treasure hunt of sorts . There are lots of almost's , thought we had a few's and maybe you could try so and so's for every solid lead you find , let alone for every time you actually score some . It literally often takes , depending on the hook you are after , somewhere between a dozen and several hundred inquiries to strike pay dirt with a Mustad 94840 or Tiemco TMC 100 in a #28 being at the low end of the scale and a Mustad 277 gold real #32 being at the top . Even with the one micro hook that is still made (and imported to the US ) , the Gamakatsu c-12bm in #28 & #30 a dozen calls may get you nothing but "they are on back order , not sure when we will have them again . Tracking them down is a challenge and actually scoring a box or two is an adrenaline rush ! There is almost a "high" that comes with knowing you have a 100 pack of 277's on their way , said high getting infinitely stronger when you get your hands on them ;) .... I guess I enjoy the chase !
Now the tying part , with the exception of the 277's and some of the #30 and #32 emergers , is a fairly easy matter as there is really just some thread and a feather or 2 involved . Still you do have to adjust things to scale (which for me usually requires a "warming up" period) and you do have to really watch crowding . You have to focus and get locked in (more on this is a minute) ! The 277's are a whole other animal .... If someone has never seen one up close and personal (and if they are not darned close they still won't see them) there is no way to convey just how small these things are ! Here are a couple pictures of one (magnified many times ) beside a TMC 100 #28 ...
With these little gems special materials (20/0 thread ) and concerns (you have to create an eye out of 10x tippet ) come into play . Shoot just getting them into the vise is a challenge ! You do this knowing all the while that they won't hold a good trout anyhow but also knowing you will have the pleasure of fooling some that would otherwise not be fooled .... I mentioned getting locked in . This is even more true when fishing the tiny stuff . You have to focus when fishing to a pod of sippers ! Your casting must be precise , your adjustments subtle and your sets swift but oh so soft . Now the good thing is this tends to magnify what I like to think of as the "magic moment effect" that happens with all fly fishing this effect being that it feels like you have only been out an hour or so then look at your watch and it's been 6 ! Hours go by like minutes ... There is a peace that comes from being focused and I guess I find this peace appealing .
Another good thing about fishing them is that they let you touch trout that you otherwise simply couldn't ! If the trout are "on" a white #32 you need to be fishing a white #32 if you mean to do much business . There is an undeniable pleasure that comes from approaching a pool full of rising trout (and full of fishermen in various stages of frustration ) knowing full well that you have exactly what you need to get it done and knowing just as well that in all probability no one else in the pool has them ! There is even more pleasure in being able to share the flies (and the magic) with those in the pool then pulling up a seat on the bank and watching the untouchable trout become very touchable indeed . It's sort of like being Santa for an evening ! You meet a lot of very cool people this way that you otherwise would never have met . You also make a lot of people smile and that is something I have always loved to do .
Finally (for now) I think the appeal has to do with the fact that many of the tiny insects these patterns imitate are here all year long as opposed to a couple weeks so once you adjust to fishing small it's like having a perpetual hatch situation and in many/most cases the midge hatches are infinitely heavier then their Mayfly or Caddis counterparts . It lets you enjoy top of the water column fishing year round and I am an unrepentant top water addict .
PS: It might just be nothing more then that I associate tiny flies with the Lady and she has always made me smile therefore a box full of them is a box full of happiness . Hard to say . See you on the river , might want to bring the 2wt :) !
Wow has it really been 2 years ? That is a long time to be away from something you love or in this case several things you love , those things being taking people fishing and telling stories about it . My hiatus started innocently enough ... It had been a long season and I realized I wasn't getting any younger . Things (like knees & ankles) were starting to hurt , plain and simple and I found myself secretly envying the people at the desks inside , safe from the slippery rocks , flash floods , freezing cold wind , pouring rain , etc ... I noticed 2 things about them . 1st they weren't limping and 2nd that they often just sat around watching TV, texting with their I-Phones (and laughing ) or kicked back reading about fishing in the safe comfort of a leather chair or couch .
As you stand there hypothermic , with water still dripping down the back of your neck , observing these truths , a little voice that seems to come from your aching right knee says "what are you , an idiot " ? The voice then follows this with "isn't it time to grow up " ? While you are searching for an answer it then states , rather smugly , "you'll make more money " ! This last one hits home driven there by the images of those you were secretly envying and you find yourself unable to field a reasonable rebuttal to the little voice and so it begins ...
You take on more resonsibility but get a cool sounding title (manager) and receive a substantial raise , life seems good ! Your knees quit hurting , you sit in a comfy chair and join the fellows at the reading couch debating this or that fishing technique and celebrate the fact that this is much easier then actually doing it . For awhile all is well . Then one day you begin to realize that instead of dealing with picky , stubborn fish you find yourself dealing with their human counterparts and that these counterparts are far less predictable ... Still , for awhile , you tell yourself you made the right choice and your bank statement backs up this contention .
Time rolls along , life changes . These things are facts . In the past , when things had gotten confusing , there was always the river , the trout , the wind and the wax wings to clear my mind and set things right . There are no wax wings behind the big desk . You can't hear the wind inside the building and the river becomes something you look at instead of something you try to become one with . The little voice then changes it's story . Now it acts like it never said anything about growing up or more money . It asks very simply , "are you happy" ?
Now there is a good feeling that comes from playing the business game and getting better at it . You develop a new revenue source , the numbers soar and you find yourself chasing those numbers almost as hard as you once chased trout . You soon find yourself "living" for the numbers with life being good when they are and not so good when they are not . The numbers now define you ! They are you , you are them ! The little voice then says " I didn't ask you if it felt good , I ask if you were happy , they are different things " . It takes awhile but you finally realize that indeed they are . Happiness comes from peace of mind , peace of mind comes from joy and joy comes from love . There is no true happiness in chasing numbers because love is a stranger to them . Love cares not if you make $50 or $50k . Love simply is .
Finally the day comes when you admit to yourself (and the little voice) that you are not happy . In fact you are anything but happy . The thing is though now you tell yourself that you have to do it , happy or not because you need all that money , how will you ever survive without it , never stopping to remember that you did just fine for years with 1/2 as much and were always smiling . It was at this point in the dialog , at the end of a very stressful day, that 2 pieces of advice that I had given others for years were handed back to me , by a brother, like a gift returned... "When the worst thing you have to face on a given day is how to fool a spotted fish it's a pretty good day " and "life is short , you gotta stop and smell the brown trout" .
I did what anyone with even a lick of sense would do when faced with such incontrovertable truths . I fished . I started fishing every day again taking time to listen to her song and watch the wax wings . Slowly but surely it all started to come back to me . This is what I came here for , this is who I am . Numbers can be chased anywhere but only here can you wet wade , waist deep , pondering how to tie something small enough to match those little white things they are feeding on ...
This decision to fish a couple hours every day soon put me on the fast track to the place where I am standing right now .
To hell with growing up , I am happy and I am home ! See you on the river ! Elkfisher
This is the last of the old man's stories/articles that I can find at this time . I am still trying to dig up his piece on fishing the film ....
Posted on March 6, 2012 by Administrator
LIFE IS GOOD By Ken Yufer
It is 5:45 in the morning, and Larry Banfield awakens us to the command: “It’s time to stock Slatyfork.” Larry Orr, Charlie Nichols, Lyndon Davis, Dave Thorne and I reluctantly agree. All the months of planning, organizing, and phone calls are about to be put into motion.
Over a pot of coffee, some last-minute details are ironed out. Then tanks, oxygen bottles, buckets, backpacks, bags, and tape are loaded into two trucks– destination the Edray hatchery. Charlie and Dave will take 1,000 brown trout fingerlings and ten people to the lower end of “Upper Elk”; load the trout in backpacks filled with bags of water and oxygen; and walk up one-half mile and begin stocking. Larry and my other brother Larry will take 3,000 brown fingerlings to the confluence of waters that form the Elk
River. We expect about 20 volunteers to backpack the trout down the river, covering a three–mile stretch.
As the trucks roll into the hatchery, a little before 8:00 a.m., Clyde Lewis and his people are ready to load the trout. Clyde, who has been honored with a Silver Trout award for his long and dedicated service, efficiently gets the trout loaded into the tanks. After ten minutes of fish stories, the drivers are ready to head the trucks toward Slatyfork.
Meanwhile, I Have started greeting volunteers at the head waters of the Elk. Denny Melton and his family are among the first arrivals. The ever-efficient Bill Pauer finds two old tire rims to use in burning stumps at his new home. Fishing experiences are being told, and new fly patterns are swapped. We share our excitement about recent articles in national magazines, which Seneca Creek was ranked seventh best. It is a perfect day, and there is magic in the air.
Shortly before 9:00 a.m., the trucks arrive at the Beckwith Lumberyard parking lot at the river headwaters. Ten volunteers are designated to help with stocking the lower end; they line up to follow Charlie and Dave. Among them are Dave Breitmeier (the guide at the Elk River Trout Ranch) and his fellow employee Shawn Swecker; Sam Knotts (the guide at Appalachian Adventures in Mill Creek) and his son. Several people are wondering why I didn’t volunteer to go downstream with the group.
With the lower contingent on their way, Larry, Larry and Lyndon get set up. I suspect that the turn-out has been even better than expected, and the sighn-up sheet confirms that we have 38 volunteers. A great river will do that for you. One by one, backpackers load up with bags of water, oxygen, fish, and some final instructions; then they begin hiking down the river. Tears come to my eyes as I watch men, women, girs and boys eagerly awaiting their turn to be outfitted. After everyone has gone, Lyndon and I distribute the last 50 trout in the Old Fields branch.
It’s a long wait. The debilitated and crippled (me included) anxiously look downstream. Is it going OK? Finally we see the first returning backpacker. How did it go? Did you lose any fish? No problem, didn’t lose a single trout, what a beautiful river! The hikers start straggling in, all with the same report: no lost trout. About 1:30p.m., the upper-section reports are all in. A complete success!
Sprague Hazard and his group cheerfully discuss their lunch on the river and a game of fetch with their dog. I watch their dog fill up on snacks. (He was probably left out of lunch on the river.) Terry Chegwidden, her husband Nate Casto, and their daughter Holly ask about the next stocking. Holly smiles and says, “This is great!” Frank Hill is getting advice from Ernie Nestor on how to fish small streams. David Simms and Randy Augustine are rigging up to go fishing as are Jeff Nelson and two boys. And so it goes-the satisfaction of a job well done.
Still no word from the lower end. “It’s sure taking a long time.” A van from Maryland pulls into the parking lot, and the driver frowns at this group of clowning West Virginians. I assure him we are not hostile, and after a five-minute chat he begins his hike up Props Run Trail.
Still no one has retuned from the lower end. I mumble, “It’s after 2:00: something must have gone wrong.” Finally, a truck arrives from below–our president Vince Dudley, Norm Dunlap, and Bob Swanson roll in. I don’t even wait for Vince to shut off the engine before asking, “How did it go?” The answer was heavenly: “We didn’t lose a fish.” Great!
It’s done. Charlie Mullins and Norm Dunlap swap ferrydiddle stories [Editor’s note: the spelling of “ferrydiddle” is in question, but not their existence.] I go back to my truck, admire the license plate “Upper Elk”, pour a gin and tonic, and smile. Life is indeed good.
To those who participated: thank you! You contributed greatly to improving an outstanding fishery, and you gave me a day to remember forever.
Posted on March 20, 2012 by Administrator
Well I have posted a number of midge fishing stories , all dealing with the history of the pursuit here . This one , while it is another “tiny fly” story deals more with the future ! One of the best things that I have been fortunate to witness is the growth in the numbers of exceptional young anglers that fish here . These guys can hold their own anywhere and have proven so repeatly on the hallowed limestone streams of the keystone state where they often take the regulars to school ! I recall several of them telling me how a small crowd of Spring Creek regulars couldn’t stand it and had to ask what the heck they (the Elk river contingency) were using and than being amazed by the little #32 flies . Having spent several hundred days there and knowing the pride they take in their abilities up that way , that had to hurt …..
I fully expect this trend to continue . I think it safe to say some of the best midge fishermen in the country now cut their tiny fly teeth on the Lady . She is indeed the home church and one of the few places that people understand that there are times …
When Tiny Isn’t Tiny Enough …….
There has been a lot of talk and a lot of articles written, over the years, about the Elk River 32′s . They ARE micro midges for sure and the 1st look a a person takes at them is often a look of dis-belief . You catch trout on those ? The thing that is hardest to get them to understand is that those micro flies are sometimes not micro enough !
The Old Man and I had our rounds with going smaller yet , cutting off hook shanks to make size 38′s for example , they worked but ultimately we pretty much abandoned them as they were flat out a pain in the behind to tie . This is where it stood for a number of years until the day my friend Jonathan Paine caught the micro fever …..
Jonathan or Brookie as he is known around here , became interested in the 32′s and (as we had years before) soon realized that there were times he knew he could catch even more fish if he could find even smaller flies ! He asked me questions about going smaller than #32 and I told him it was doable but that he might find it would turn out to be more trouble than it was worth . Being an eminently practical sort and not one to be easily discouraged he had a go at it though he approached it a bit differently than Ken and I had . Why cut the hook shank when you can simply tie it “wide body” 1/2 shank ! This is what he did and the Elk River 40′s were born …..
The test run for his new creations took place on the Mill Pool a couple of years ago and it proved to be a very successful test run at that . It was one of those evenings where the fish were rising in pods , there were fishermen everywhere and no one was catching a thing . I am guessing the trout were feeling pretty darned smug at that point . Their smugness was short lived …..
Brookie sat for awhile , watching the trout happily laying a beating on some pretty darned good fishermen . Everyone was shaking their heads , peering into the water , shaking their heads again and changing flies at an alarming pace . Brookie however took at look at the surface , smiled , nodded his head , then tied on the little black “40″ he had showed me earlier and proceeded to open a can of whup-ass on the fish . Rarely has utter defeat been so quickly and completely turned into utter victory ! Fish after fish , they fell for his beyond micro creation and a new chapter was opened in the ongoing Elk River midge saga .People were asking from around the pool “what the heck are you using ” . I wish you could have seen their faces when he replied “#40 black midge ” .”There is no such thing ” was the reply of one fellow , the reply coming as Brookie caught yet another on the non existent fly .
I had a front row seat and from that seat knew I was witnessing Elk River future . I already considered him one of our best but my friend took it to another level that evening and proved to a pool full of anglers that sometimes tiny isn’t tiny enough ! I am thinking the river and the midge fishing tradition here are in good hands for years to come .
Posted on February 21, 2012 by Administrator
editors note : This obviously is rather "time stamped" but as it is one of my favorites .... I have a few more of the old ones to get back up and then we will get back to new material .
There is obviously just a tidal wave of thoughts and writings on 2012 and the end of time (or the age), some of them quite scholarly. This is not one of those ……
By the time most of you read this it will most likely be at least tomorrow , Feb 21st , 2012 or to put it another way exactly 10 months until the end of the Mayan calender . Ok , I hear you ! What does this have to do with Sulphers , fly fishing or Elk River ? Sit awhile and I’ll do my best to attempt an explanation ……
Have you ever asked yourself “what would I do if I only had (pick a time frame here) to live ?” “How would I prioritize the events, happenings and rituals that make up my life ?” If you are reading my blog I feel it safe to assume you are a fisherman and as a fellow angler I feel compelled to help you sort this out ! One thing I think we would all agree on is we would work less . A LOT LESS !! Now working less of course will leave us with more time to spend at other endeavors like ….oh I don’t know ….hmmm…. well lets just say fishing for arguments sake .
Now knowing that these would be the last fishing trips you would ever take I again feel it safe to say none of us would wish to waste them on experiences where the fishing was less then fantastic . For each of us the ideal situation might be different but suffice to say there would be plenty of room on Whiteday Creek ……..
This brings us to the real core of the dilemma . What if ? Now those are two very powerful words when used together ! They have launched every discovery , invention and advancement in human history . Equally true is the fact that you would be hard pressed to find two words that have led to as much heart ache and disaster and are responsible for more mistakes than those two ! Nowhere are these conflicting outcomes potentially more evident than in the context of this story .
What if the Mayans (and the common apocolyptic interpretation of their calendar) were right ? What if this coming season is the last any of us will ever see ? The last chance to ever throw a line , see trout rise , catch a big hatch of mayflies , feel the head shake of a big brown or hear the scream of our drag as a big rainbow streaks down river . The last chance to share a river , or a beer , or a campfire with the ones we love . If we knew this to be the case I suspect there would be a lot of resignations tendered , a lot of houses sold , a lot of loved ones loaded into/onto various modes of transportation and the rivers in Montana , Chile and Labrador would be very crowded indeed . It would be an easy and quite logical decision for a fisherman ! But we don’t know , do we ……Those two words won’t let us know ! This is because “what if” tells us it is equally possible that the Mayans were full of it !
What if we have quit the job , sold the house and are sitting stream side with a box of flies and the last of our funds in our pockets and Dec 21st comes , then goes and it proves to be the end of nothing but our financial security , having sold everything to afford the “last” fishing trip ! Now what ? Fortunately we can hedge our bets . This is where the Sulphers come in …..
For 6 weeks , every year , every single evening , there is truly fantastic fishing to be had on the Elk ! This is the stuff dreams are made of . The dreams of a fly fishing junkie ! Boiling river , big fish , fogs of insects , Snout Soup !! It is like a 6 week long day . A perfect 6 week long day ! A 6 week long day that doesn’t require selling the house to participate in ….. It is the perfect compromise in the battle of what ifs . What if the Mayans were right ? It’s ok because you had 6 weeks of Snout Soup and that’s a pretty decent way to wrap it up . What if the Mayans were wrong ? That’s ok too because while your boss may be really pissed and might even fire you there will still be a house to sit in and memories of 6 wonderful weeks to keep you in a good frame of mind while job hunting ….. It’s a win win situation !
I will leave you tonight with this …. Life is short be it 10 more months or 40 more years . It passes us all by way too quickly . Worry less , smile more and save a little time for thoughts of brown trout , sulphers and ancient indians . See you on the river !
Posted on February 24, 2012 by Administrator
There are those who will consider my viewpoint tonight utter rubbish at best and heresy at worst ….. Know that I am ok with that !
“The Elk gets too damn crowded ” ! How many times have I heard that phrase over the years ? I am going to guess thousands ! “I pulled up to fish , walked out on the Trestle looked up river , looked down river and saw people fishing everywhere I looked ” . It isn’t what they are saying that brings me up short but the fact that it is usually inferred that life would be better if everyone else was someplace else ! It is almost as if those enjoying the same thing that the individual speaking came here to enjoy have been instantly demoted in rank to the point that they are looked upon much like one would no-see-ums , mosquitoes or an infestation of head lice ….. The individual usually cusses , gets back in their truck and heads for as the old man used to call it “pretty little creek #406″ . That’s a shame and I will tell you why …..
Here is what the fellow , now on his way to “pretty little creek #406″ missed out on . Here are some things he will never know ……
He will never know what it is to sit stream side , covered with Sulpher spinners , drinking a beer with others who are covered with Sulpher spinners knowing along with everyone else present that you have just experienced magic , 1st hand , up close and personal and there were witnesses that can now help you clarify and relive this magic . He will not know how good it feels to be able to share a fly that turns someone’s evening around or to scoot over and wave another in so that they might “sample the soup” with you , laughing like children , both of you , in celebration of the moment !
He will not know how good it is to see each of the many regulars here as they return for the season . It truly is welcoming back old friends . He will not get to see the faces of the new comers , lit up like Christmas trees as they witness the miracle the first time and therefore will not get to relive his own introduction to the Lady , through them ! He will have missed out on the chance to surround himself with the very people who are probably the only ones that will ever understand WHY it is that he does this . People that won’t roll their eyes as he talks of standing for hours in the cold rain fishing an olive hatch . People that understand that sometimes , if the brown is big enough , you throw caution to the wind and cross the swollen river just to have a chance of holding him . People that won’t question the logic of working most of the night ,then driving the rest of it , just to get to stand on the Trestle drinking a cup of coffee and watching the mist rise off the water at daybreak . When one considers just how rare people that understand these things are how could it be anything but good to stand in the presence of a number of them , all together at the same time sharing what it is you and they all love to do ….
I am blessed and honored to have the opportunity to share the Lady with these kindred spirits and it is my great pleasure to “share the soup” !
Now lest I be misunderstood ….. I understand the joy that comes from fishing miles up a tiny stream , alone in a setting that allows you (demands?) the fantasy that you are the 1st to fish there or perhaps the only one this year at least . I will publicly own up to the fact that I still do it a couple times a year and come away from the experience better for having done so . If you fly fish you need to do this from time to time . But it is equally true that you need to surround yourself with your brothers and sisters at times and celebrate just being together , on a great river enjoying a moment of magic in a world that too often has none to spare ….. See you on the river!
Posted on March 2, 2012 by Administrator
More classic Old Man ! This is the 2nd of 3 stories I am honored to be allowed to share with you this week .
AFTERWARDs… By Ken Yufer
Damn! I know there’s a good brown trout under those roots. I’ve seen him several times, but despite my best efforts– no luck.
I have spent many hours daydreaming about this fish and planning how to catch him. I fell asleep visualizing my casts: during high water (streamers); slightly high or turbid (nymphs); normal conditions (we or dry flies, nymphs in the film, etc.). And I awoke to more of the same kind of thoughts. When there is some doubt in my mind about technique or tackle, I hit the reference books. And so it goes!
Sound familiar? I sure hope so. There are few experiences in life that can compare to pursuing that big brown trout.
My love affair began fifty years ago on Elk Creek in central Pennsylvania. When I was seven, my dad decided that was a good age to get me started. He outfitted me with an eight-foot bamboo flyrod, a beautiful handmade wooden net, hip boots, creel, and lots of instructions. My dad was one of the best trout fisherman in the area . He was a bait fisherman, but in those days most trout fishermen used fly rods to fish bait. We used worms , minnows, helgramites, crickets, grasshoppers, stonefly nymphs, and caddis larvae. My dad occasionally even put a dab of paraffin on a bare hook, then pressed the fly to the hook and fished it to get a good look at a large rising fish. It just might be the brown trout that would fulfill his dreams. I never saw anyone fish with artificial flies until I was seventeen. I wasn’t impressed. He caught few trout and no good ones.
I learned to respect and admire the brown trout. The large brown is to be stalked like any trophy; but the greatest satisfaction is that after the catch the trout can be released to produce and reproduce more challenges. In the 1940s I saw very few trout released– particularly large ones. Like many other fishermen in those days, my dad was poorly informed about brown trout aging , and he kept some larger trout that I’m sure he would have returned if he had known that harvesting them hurt reproduction.
Is the brown trout really unique? I definitely think so. They are not smarter than the brook or rainbow, but their instincts and habits serve them well. The brook and rainbow are called “aggressive feeders”. The brown is moody: a sporadic feeder, often feeding at night. Occasionally the brown does indulge in a feeding frenzy– usually during or shortly after a storm when the water is rising and becoming cloudy. I had my best West Virginia big -brown day on the upper Elk River during hurricane Hugo. Also, the brown lives almost three times as long as a brook and up to twice as long as a rainbow. The big brown has become the wise old man of the mountain.
The color schemes of these trout are also distinctive. The brook is admired for its vivid oranges and blues but the dress seems a bit gaudy. The rainbow is flashy, with its silver backdrop for a brilliant red stripe from head to tail. But the brown is top drawer all the way, with the pale gold, subtle blue, and shades of rust and red of a Brooks Brothers’ paisley tie.
More seriously, the brown is unique because he’s harder to catch than the brook or rainbow. That’s the crux of it. The excitement of catching a big brown is hard to describe, but everyone who has done so needs few words– just memories and daydreams. The experience reminds me of an author friend of mine who has solved the problem of dealing with the mandatory sex scene in his stories: he says the best way to describe the love scene is merely to write “Afterwards…” Reader then think of their own most pleasurable sexual experiences.
A few anecdotes may help explain.
This fall I received a call from our founding father, Ernie Nester. He was quite animated: “ Ken, I caught a 23-inch brown trout. It’s the largest trout I ever caught!” For the next ten minutes I listened to his marvelous story. I was captivated by the tale and relived the experience with Ernie. His fishing partner cast to the large trout but got snagged in a tree. He yelled to Ernie, who also got snagged (this stream is small with unforgiving canopy). That day however, the brown-trout god smiled on our leader. The next cast led to a fifty-minute battle that neither Ernie nor the trout will ever forget. One might say the trout couldn’t have been too smart. It should have been spooked. It was spawning season, and the trout was a hen.
I listened to Ernie and Max Robertson (arguably the chapter’s best dry-fly fisherman: he caught a 22-inch brown this season on a dry fly) comparing notes and relating subtle differences in catching a particular big brown. Both men knew the hiding place of an 18-½ inch brown. The stream is small and very difficult to fish. The two experts used different tactics, but both were able to catch the trout in the same year (hence the confirmed exact measurement). The glow emanating from that conversation made me feel good all over: and excited that we were going to stock brown trout fingerlings that morning.
From across the stream I could see the joy on Charlie Nichols’ face as he battled a 19-inch brown trout. “Kenny, this may be the one,” he yelled. Not quite, but very close. Charlie is trying to enter the “big-brown club”–20 inches or more. He’ll make it ! In the meantime, he dreams, plans, and learns. That same brown later taught him a valuable lesson: don’t pull a large streamer after the first strike unless you feel the weight of the trout. Wait for the second strike. I use four-to-five- inch streamers, and the trout’s first strike is to stun the prey. The second is for dinner. Charlie will never make that mistake again.
That same day, Larry Banfield caught the largest trout of his life–a 22 inch brown. That night his face beamed as he told the tale of the big brown yet another time around the campfire. Larry almost exclusively fishes the caddis fly, so it seemed appropriate that that was the victorious dry fly. Every time I sit around the campfire at Larry’s trailer, I can see the twinkle in the eye of its owner as he again described THE caddis pattern that outwitted this memorable fish.
Seven or eight of us sat on the front porch of the National Science Camp listening to Joe Crowder tell us about the biggest brown he ever caught on a flyrod: he couldn’t get his camera out, and he kept yelling, “Matt, Matt!” His son Matt ran up the rocky bank as fast as he could, but not fast enough . The brown had suffered enough indignity for one day; he jerked free, heading for his secluded lair. We all smiled, and mentally thanked Joe for yet another memory. One doesn’t have to catch the big brown to enjoy the occasion–just catch the fever.
I implore you to spend some time researching and daydreaming about big brown trout. The pursuit comes at a price: when the stream is rising with just the right color to it, resist the temptation to see how many trout you can catch or how many patterns will take trout that day. Think BIG BROWN! Whether you are a bait, spin, or fly fisherman–think big, and fish exclusively for that brown of your dreams.
Damn! I know there’s a good brown under those roots…
We continue “Old Man Week” on the blog with a short entry . Ken wrote this for the KVCTU newsletter in early 2004 I believe . As always there are quite a few posts below . Scroll down to take a look !
Tough Fish by Ken Yufer
The image that the phrase “tough fish” paints for many fishermen is of that large trout they know is there ;they fish for it every chance they have . I understand that feeling . There are large trout I pursue whenever the conditions are favorable, and I always check their lie to see if they may by some chance be feeding in low water . However for me the tough fish are those that say , “I’m here; I’m feeding every day; catch me if you can .”
Dave Breitmeier and I had been working on small-fly patterns for quite awhile . If only we could get small enough hooks (#30-32) we could catch the midge-feeding trout in the Elk River . Dave located some size 32 hooks in a flyshop in Virginia , but they had no eye . Dave , the expert at fly-tying, crafted our patterns on these hooks and cemented 8x tippet for an eye – that was before 9x and 10x tippet . We were really proud of those patterns !
I went to the Mill Pool on the lower Elk Catch and Release (C/R) to try out my three new can’t miss patterns . I netted for midges ,found a pattern that closely matched the dominant midge , then sat down and watched for midge feeding trout . A six-inch brown trout was sipping regularly near a large rock . I ecided to start with him . I got in position , waited until the trout was sipping in a rythm , and cast . Our perfect pattern drifted into his feeding lane . He followed the fly for about 15 feet , then in a show of disinterest , returned to his feeding station . Six casts; six rejections . I tried a second pattern , which was also refused several times . The third pattern was not even rewarded with a look . Devastated , I went back to Dave and told him that we still had a long way to go .
A 12-inch rainbow in the Priss Hole (also on the lower Elk C/R) was another tough fish that I remember . By this time thanks to Tiemco and Varivas , we had legitimate #32 hooks and 10x tippet , as well as lots of small-fly patterns . About mid-pool , there was a log against the near bank . Trout midged there regularly . This became my laboratory for a rainbow about 15 yards upstream . I always went there first to see if he was feeding . Without fail , that rainbow would be feeding about 8 inches down in the film , very selectively feeding on nymphs and larvae .
Back to the log ! I experimented with various flies in the film (down about 8 inches) . Many days I felt confident , because I was catching quite a few trout . I would then move up above the rainbow’s lie , check the drift and depth , then get in position to wait for him to feed in rhythm , and cast . In about 50 outings , I caught this fish a total of only three times . Even rainbows can be tough fish .
The railroad bridge on the lower Elk C/R may be the most heavily fished hole in West Virginia – there were five people fishing it December 29th , 2003 , for example . Day in and day out , myriad fishermen pursue these trout . The fish primarily feed on very small flies . Frustration drove Dave to snip off a #32 hook to immitate a size 38/40 pattern to see if the trout really were eating these smaller flies . They were and are; tough fish !
Three foot-long brown trout have become the most sought-after targets in this stretch of the river . They feed in the eddy on the road side of the hole – in plain sight . These three browns have humbled many a fisherman . After netting insects at the lower end of the hole and watching the fish feed , I usually start to fish up through the hole toward the bridge . On many occasions , my luck was good until I got to the eddy . There would be the three brown trout , feeding at various depths , with changing feeding patterns – always with unpredictability . One day Dave walked across the bridge and heard me yell: I had just caught one of these three tough fish !
Your favorite trout stream probably has tough fish , and they can be great fun , as long as it doesn’t bother you for the fish to win more often than not . Most often these fish seem to be found in heavily fished waters , and they are usually not large fish . Do seek out these crafty trout and give them the attention they deserve . They are the perfect example of the everyday mystery we try to solve . I hope the trout God continues to provide us with these elusive gems .
This Trout Ranch era story was written by my mentor and fishing partner Ken Yufer , the old man of the Elk and appeared in the KVCTU newsletter many years ago . I am sharing it to give all of you who ask for info about him a feel for the Old Man and for the camaraderie that was shared here in that era . At least 1 mentioned in the story is no longer with us . It also really spotlights alot of folks who are still , all these years later , working to protect our waters.
Trout fishing the Elk River during the first week of June has become a tradition for several of us lovers of the Elk . It started several year ago , when Charlie Nichols (a past president of the Kanawha Valley Chapter of Trout Unlimited) , Larry Banfield and I fished for 4 days in early June with great success . Each night we sat around the campfire at Larry’s trailer and relived the day on the river. We were so excited that the trout stories lasted well into the night. Charlie keeps an exceptional stream log, and the pages were crammed with new data. We decided to lengthen our stay to a full week the following year- an thus was a tradition begun. Charlie and I have never missed since then.
The Elk River goes underground about five miles downstream of the headwaters an reemerges at Cowger’s Mill, where it is fed too by a spring from the Tygart River drainage. After catch-and-release regulations were put into effect on the two-plus miles from the Cowger’s Mill Pool to Rose Run, more people began fishing this stretch. The word spread: What a stream! Many out-of-state fishermen came, and inevitably the question was asked, “When is the best time to fish the Elk?” The answer is clear: the first week in June. The tradition has captured many, and familiar faces are seen every year. Several Ohio groups also have a love of steelhead fishing, and they relate the previous year’s experiences on the tributaries of Lake Erie. Many have western trip stories to share. Every night at dark, people arrive at the Elk River Trout Ranch to swap stories-a gathering my wife Dot (a nonfisherman herself) has christened “the 19th fishing hole.” Many evenings fifteen or more people from all walks of life and areas of the country congregate to fill the soft mountain air with trout chatter until the wee small hours. This great river has provided both told and untold pleasure to countless people.
Most of the predicted hatches merge in late May and the first week of June: Green Caddis, Dun Caddis, Tan Caddis, Giant Black Stonefly, Light Brown Stonefly, some Little Yellow and Little Green Stoneflies, Big Sulphur (Rotunda, Little Sulphur (Dorothea), March Brown, Gray Fox, Eastern Green Drake, Blue -Winged Olive (Ephmerella Cornuta), Mahogany Dun (Isonychia Bicolor), and several midges. The variety of insects provide a smorgasbord for brown trout!
The Cowger Mill Pool is our favorite for evening fishing. As the hatches begin, the number of species of flies and the volume increases until the pool is filled with insects in all stages of hatching. Fishermen try to determine what the trout are taking. Nymphs, emergers, pupa and stillborn patterns fished in the film, or a nymph or pupa fished deep are good first choices. Some rods begin to lift, and the banter among us increases. An excited fisherman yells, “Gray Fox emerger!”. (The rule is that if you catch three trout on one pattern, you announce it to everyone in the pool . Our solutions of the mystery of what the fish are taking are usually fleeting. Often the trout switch the fly of choice every 15 minutes, and trout in different sections of the pool are feeding on different insects, or on different stages of the same insect. The cry of success ten yards away may not help you at all. Many times three fishermen have trout on simultaneously-all using different patterns. The trout are celebrating the most fun they’ve had for a year-and inadvertently providing us with even more enjoyment. Dusk arrives much too quickly. slowly we leave the pool, grinning, to relive the evening.
Although I must admit to being a nut about the Elk River, and I fish it often-I still look forward eagerly to the first week in June. This year was no different: we began coordinating our plans in April, and our fishing trips in May relieved our cabin fever and warmed us up for the week. Like all watched pots, it seems to take forever, but it finally happens: it’s another week in June!
I arrive at the cabin on Friday and get things in order. The core group will arrive tomorrow: Charlie, Dave Thorne, and Max Robertson, a former DNR executive, who is a charter member and past president of the Kanawha Valley Chapter of Trout Unlimited.
Saturday morning is spent with visions of what is to come dancing in my head. Charlie is the first to arrive, calling “Hey, old man, let’s go fishing!” Charlie is settled in, reliving experiences in past years, when Max pulls in. He hasn’t fished here since the catch-and-release regulations went into effect, and our myriad stories have lured him up “to fish the Elk.” Dave Thorne (a former DNR fish biologist) rolls in about 4:00pm, dinner is served, and we’re off to fish.
Our choices of spots for morning and afternoon fishing reflect individual preferences. Either the faster water below Cowger’s Mill Pool, or a nearby brook-trout stream is usually our choice. But come evening, it is always the Mill Pool Hole, where the catch-and-release section begins.
We set up in our appointed stations. Charlie wades across above the pool and sets up in the upper reaches where the current breaks into the deep water of the pool. Dave Thorne commands the large rock on the near bank. I am always the slowest at getting rigged up, and the tail water has become my allocated spot. Max joins me there. Others fill in the rest of the pool. Dave Thorne catches the first trout on a western pattern, the cripple, then another. The rest of us are all thinking the same thing, “What the hell is the cripple pattern?” But it doesn’t matter for now, the success is over, and no more trout take the cripple pattern. Charlie catches several trout on emerger patterns. Max and I are still fishless at the bottom of the pool. Dave Breitmeier, the guide at the Elk River Trout Ranch, and Mike Cumashot, who often guides on the Elk, join in the fun. The pace picks up, and shouts of encouragement begin to ring out. I see some Eastern Green Drakes coming off, then the spinner (Coffin Fly). I tie on a Coffin Fly pattern, and the trout god smiles on me. When I hook the third trout, I yell, “Coffin Fly!” It doesn’t help my buddies. The trout aren’t taking that pattern anywhere else in the pool. Luckily, I am set for the evening, but it doesn’t happen that way very often. The others solve their own mysteries – several times. Eyes strain to see the fly, and mine begin to moisten for a different reason: another wonderful day on the river is over (My wife says that she’s been accused of being so tearful that she would cry over reruns of “Gilligan’s Island,” but that I cry only over reruns of the first week in June.) As darkness falls, we slowly exit to reassemble at the 19th hole.
The social hour begins. New faces are introduced to everyone, and the common bonds of love for the sport of trout fishing and for the river melt all barrier. Everyone has a story to tell, and soon we settle down and relive each fisherman’s experiences of the day. One thing I have noticed with appreciation is the lack of bragging. “I had a 20-trout day,” is a phrase rarely heard. That’s not what it’s all about. Giving someone patterns that help them to have a 20-trout day is what’s important. Like the evening hatch, the night gathering afterwards passes much too quickly. Too soon we begin to say good night and wish each other “tight lines” tomorrow. If there is better therapy for the trials of life, I haven’t found it.
Back at the cabin, we slowly unwind. More stories, much discussion of unsolved mysteries, and then to bed to dream of the pleasures of today and tomorrow on Elk River.
The daily routine is well established: first coffee, then breakfast. Charlie and Dave are the morning chefs, and the rest of us cook dinner- served at 4:30 pm, in order not to interfere with the evening hatch. After breakfast, some fish in nearby spots. Charlie and Dave, our bug experts, uncase vials containing insect specimens collected the day before; our pick-up trucks also provide good samples of the previous evening’s hatch. Hours of research usually ensue. Charlie proclaims, “It’s not a 16, it’s not an 18- it’s a 17.” We find that an English firm has size-17 hooks, and we plan to order some.
But this Sunday after coffee belongs to Eleanor Mailloux, owner of the Hutte Restaurant and bed-and-breakfast in Helvetia, which is about half an hour away. I promised Eleanor that we would do a survey of the two streams near her inn and try to determine if she could advertise them as viable trout streams. We have a good team for the job: Charlie is an expert bug analyst; Dave and Max are experienced in all phases of stream analysis. Dave will conduct the underwater aquatic-life evaluation, and Max will assist and provide the benefit of his knowledge in fishing small streams. I am an expert tag-along and go-fer.
We decide to analyze two stations, or areas that typify the stream as a whole, on the Left Fork of the Right Branch of the Buckhannon River (only in West Virginia do we come up with these memorable names for streams). In addition we will analyze two stations on Upper Trout Run and one at Czar, three miles below the inn. The results on the Left Fork are encouraging: water temperature 62 to 65; alkalinity 12 to 19; PH 7.1 to 7.4; varied aquatic life; and three year-groups of brook trout. The two stations we check on Upper trout Run, which joins the Left Fork at Eleanor’s inn, provide similar results. When we finish that station, I excitedly run over to show Eleanor the vials of aquatic life. She is notably unimpressed with the introduction of these samples into her restaurant. The station check at Czar produces reasonable numbers, but Max states that the lack of shade cover might present a summer-temperature problem. (Another visit in August proves him right).
Our analysis done, we head back to Eleanor’s for the wonderful brunch featuring traditional Swiss and German cuisine. We all eat far too much; then we recount our findings to Eleanor. We believe that the Left Fork above the restaurant and Upper Trout Run are viable brook trout streams. She beams, thanks us, and wants to provide brunch on the house, but we refuse. The trip back to the cabin is pleasant. Dave sums it up, “This is what Trout Unlimited is all about.”
Abut a fourth of a mile below the Mill Pool, the fast water is slowed by a large hole filled with logs-hence ” The Log Hole.” This hole is of particular interest to Dave Breitmeier and me. Neither of us has caught a trout in this hole in three years, and we have not heard of anyone else catching any. It is the perfect spot for the granddaddy of all trout. The largest brown trout we know about was 29 3/4 inches. The trout in the Log Hole has crept into our conversations for three years, and we have fished the hole at daylight, dusk, during rain showers, and at all times in-between without a single bite.
“Dave, how big do you think that brown trout is?” I ask.
He ponders. “It could be the 30-inch brown we dream about.”
On this Monday I approach the hole, as always dreaming of the big brown. I sit down and watch. There is a dimple in the water under that big root, and then another dimple. Could it be him? I choose a size -24 midge pattern. Luckily, the first cast produces a drag-free drift under the root, and I see the fish take the fly. I lift the rod, holding my breath. The trout shakes his head in disbelief, giving me time to head him away from the root and out into the main pool. He heads down toward the next set of logs. Can I turn him again? Slowly he eases back out into the pool. About five minutes later I bring him to net, and my heart sinks. I measure twice to be sure: 19 inches. I carefully release the trout.
He’s gone. The big one is gone. I crawl up on the bank and sit there in a daze. How can this be? Did he die of old age? I hope so. Did the floods get him? I hope not. After what seems an eternity , I slowly get up and do the only thing I know to do: start fishing again. Mechanically, I stay in the Log Hole and catch a 12-inch and an 8-inch brown trout. The big one would not have tolerated this intrusion. He is definitely gone.
Late that afternoon on the way back to the cabin, we stop at Dave and Bonita Breitmeier’s cabin. I break the bad news: he is gone. Dave slumps to the ground. I relate what happened again, and we share our grief. We both hope he died of old age.
Max muses, “I never saw anyone so upset about catching a 19-inch brown trout.” Then he lapses deep into thought. He finally breaks the silence with a question, ” When was the last time you saw him?”
Almost simultaneously Dave and I respond, ” oh, we have never seen him.”
A look of incredulity crosses Max’s face, and I can read his thoughts, “What kind of nuts am I fishing with?”
The evening fishing isn’t much fun for me. Late that night, after everyone else has gone to bed, I sit on the cabin porch for hours, thinking about that brown trout and others I have pursued. Finally about 3:00 am, I am able to smile and go to bed. I hope he died of old age.
The next day Dave Thorne renames the hole- “The No-See-Um Hole.”
Written by Ken Yufer
Posted on February 15, 2012 by Administrator you will have to scroll downg
Our little group had now grown to three with a local youth by the name of Chad See joining us most evenings . It was evident from the beginning that this one had potential and we both adopted him almost immediately . So there we were , sitting on the tailgate of Ken’s truck , night after night , drinking Gin (Coke for Chad , he was 15 at the time ) from plastic cups and discussing the need for even smaller flies . Not just slightly smaller than our #28′s but substantially so ….. The search began . Chad took to the internet and I started to canvas fly shops around the country in seach of the (in our eyes) legendary , eyeless , gold Mustad 277′s #32 which hadn’t been produced in years . Most people you talked to claimed to have seen them , some claimed they used to have them , alot of them claimed to know somebody that used to have them (and still might) and ALL of them thought we were crazy for even wanting such a thing !
Chad found a fellow that shipped him 1/2 dozen handmade #32′s (from Europe I believe it was ) ! Unfortunately they were like 10x long 32′s . Still it was progress . So many promising leads , so many dead ends . It started to feel like we were searching for the Loch Ness monster or the Holy Grail only tougher …… Finally lightening struck ! A buddy from the Jackson River called one morning to say he had found 2 packs of 100 at a little tackle shop in Covington , Virginia and asked if I still wanted them . YES !!!! They arrived a few days later and I ripped the package open ill prepared for the reality of a true #32 ……
The hook on the inside of the now familar Tiemco 518 #32 is the Mustad 277 #32 ! The scale is in millimeters !
None the less patterns were tied and it was off to the river with the new secret weapons …. Success !! Well …sort of ……The trout were indeed feeding on the little white things as we suspected , they took the 32′s as innocently as they had the hackle midges a number of years before but all the better fish simply pulled loose ! The little hook got enough of a bite to hold some of the 8″- 10″ fish (with the best to hand around 13″ ) but every single hookup with a fish larger than that resulted in a long release . Hmmm… you would have thought that successfully completing the search for the Holy Grail would have brought better results …..
So that was that . It sure looked like the end of the road . Enter Ed Koch ….
Ed Koch was one of the true legendary anglers that came out of the limestone streams in south central Pa . His book “Fishing the Midge” is what got me started tying and fishing tiny flies in the 1st place . He was not however somebody I thought I would ever have the chance to fish with any more than I would have the chance to trade guitar licks with Clapton ! Funny how things work out …. He visited the little mountain town of Helvetia with his wife , had dinner at ”The Hutte” where the subject of fly fishing in the area came up . The owner gave him the business card of my friend Sam Knotts (an excellent guide) who he subsequently called . Sam knowing of my plight mentioned it to Ed who then gave him his number and said”have him call me” . So I did !
From the 1st minutes I felt completely at ease talking with Ed though I had to talk myself into making the call . We talked about the Elk and our problem and he said “I have something new to bring you , well actually a couple things” . A week later he pulled into the Trout Ranch , introduced himself and handed me a little bag ….. Inside were a dozen of the 1st run of Tiemco 518 #32′s and a spool of 10 X Varivas . Neither was available commercially yet . It was like Christmas ! Flies were tied and off to the river we all went . The 15″ brown tips up , he takes , got the set and …..he is still hooked ! The new 32′s worked great . He stayed a few more days that 1st time and left with a promise to round up more hooks for us . One week later a box arrived with the inscription “care package for Dave , Ken and company” and inside were 2 packs each of #30 & #32 hooks (100 hooks per pack) , several spools each of 9X and 10X and a note saying simply “enjoy” ! More flies were tied that day and that evening it was down to the Angle Hole with Ken …
About 10 minutes into the evening the old man hooked what was obviously a big fish and brought it to net pretty quickly . I yelled across the river “looks like a good one ” to which he replied “right at 24″s ” . Nothing out of the ordinary as he caught plenty of fish that size or larger . Later at the truck having our nightly gin and discussion session I asked what pattern he was using and he told me it was the #30 gray larvae I had tied him then continued to say that the 10X really worked well . A couple plastic cups of gin later it occurred to me that I had witnessed history ! To the best of my knowledge the old man was the 1st person EVER to use 10x tippett to land a 20″ or larger trout on a #30 or smaller fly ! 10 – 20 -30 Club , membership 1 .
So there you have it . Dues were paid (several years of struggle and learning) , there were bylaws (rules governing hook , fish and tippet size ) , meetings (literally hundreds of get togethers on the river) and definitely a few odd rituals practiced repetitively (ever watch someone net an eddy in the dark ? ) . Over the years there have been perhaps a dozen members that I am aware of join the club but there will only ever be one who was 1st …..
See you on the river !