Saturday was the 8th Annual Pet Fly-Smackdown. This is a tournament between friends just looking for a good reason to spend an entire day fishing for trout. This year was held in S.E. Minnesota again, the group met in a rented house that the out-of-towners arranged for the weekend. Breakfast was made hastily as fly boxes were passed around. The entry fee: contribute a pair of flies to the MVP box, these flies must be exactly the same except the size. The entry fly must contain a material harvested from a pet you own. You are allowed to have a team fish a single entry in which you divide the total score by the number of people on the team. You fish the entry pattern, count each fish brought to hand and record the length. You are not limited to a number of flies for the day just the pattern. Total the length and subtract the number of fish caught and you have your daily total. This year I decided on a newer pattern I’ve been fooling around with, a mini leech type pattern called the Hairball made with fur from my cat Patrick. I tied it in sizes 8,12, 16, and 18. I’ve been fishing the larger patterns as streamers for a while now, I tied the smaller ones hoping they would nymph well adding versatility.
A fairly significant rain event hit the area a few days prior and most water was recovering well but showed stain with some of the lower reaches on longer systems being down right dirty. I fished along side a friend of mine and the one who invited me to this tournament last year. For me this is a day to work on presentation, perhaps the most important aspect of your fly. Size, shape, color, all matter but without presentation mean nothing. I watched Heath work a #20 tan “larva” looking fly to trout feeding on Trico’s landing a large number of fish in a short amount of time because he took advantage of a situation and presented his flies to the fish in a way they were comfortable accepting in that moment.
We found some very stained, bordering on muddy, creek water early in the morning. I landed my first brown about 10 minutes in after working a #8 Hairball through a single run several times. The water was high and running fast, a large amount of weight was required to get the flies down and the rest was hoping I could get the fly right in front of a few trout. We fished the dirty water for a while but we moved on quickly not wanting to waste the time. We gambled on a plan I had to find a brook trout holding spot, came up empty handed and lost a bit of time but provided adventure for the morning. We decided to look around the same system for a while to see if a bit clearer water could be found which would avoid burning time to the road, downstream and a few springs later we were fishing in cleaner water but still stained making for decent nymphing and streamer conditions.
Around noon the wind picked up a bit and every so often for an hour a semi-thick wave of Trico’s came drifting past. White wings gave me the impression that these were not spinners, maybe a late batch avoided hatching during the last few warmer weeks and instead waited until cooler weather hit, either way they were causing trout to rise in shallower cleaner sections of the creek. As I mentioned earlier the guy I fished with new better and immediately began presenting his fly to the fish as if he had a #22 Trico on the end of his tippet. My #18 HB took a few trout this way but the bead was keeping my fly a bit deeper in the water resulting in fewer strikes.
We ate lunch and blew off the stained creek for a shot at sight fishing to larger browns, twenty minutes later we were hiking through a mess of 6-8 foot tall vegetation. From the banks a large number of trout could be seen, a bit more stain would have done us well here but we took the opportunity just the same. I made a few overly anxious mistakes tossing my #8 pattern to a few lengthy looking browns, got a few good looks and one attempt but nothing to show for it. I think I was trying too hard to pick up the larger fish, landing the fly about a foot in front of them in slower water wasn’t working. After dissecting the stretch we were on for a while with the larger pattern fished as a streamer resulting in minimal success I opted to swap to the #16 HB and fish it as a nymph under an indicator. Twenty-four inches down with a very slow dead drift and I began picking up trout after trout, the presentation. Meanwhile I can see out of the corner of my eye that my friend is continuing to target the few surface feeding fish, placing the fly right on them and it was working.
We migrated to a last stop to see if catching stocker rainbows in muddy water was possible. This was a gamble, late in the day we had no more time to pick up and move if this didn’t pay off, if it did it meant a larger number of fish to hand in a short amount of time. With the borderline muddy water we both began indicator nymphing but pass after pass came up with nothing, not a single strike. I knew the trout were there, in fact I knew the exact place they should be holding. I dropped the indicator rig with the #16 pattern and instead opted for the #8 Hairball with a splitshot and a down/across presentation. A few passes later I felt a sharp strike, a small brown trout. A few more passes and nothing. I decided to add a second splitshot. I got two more strikes out of maybe a dozen passes. With the down/across approach the current tightens your line allowing you to detect a strike but also pulls your flies up from the bottom. I added a third splitshot, on top of the#8 weighted pattern with a beadhead. A few minutes later I was roll casting this heavy rig to rainbows hunkered on the stream bed. After the first one I knew I had figured it out, it was just a matter of repeating the same roll cast down/across, tighten up the line and let it open all the way downstream, repeat and land rainbow after rainbow. Twelve trout later and the sun was setting. I was beginning to get cold for the first time all day, I was waist deep in cold trout water and had been there for over an hour. Splitting time came and we hit the house to wrap up the day, eat a bit of dinner and see how everyone else did.
Everyone found clean water, most did quite well. We ate delicious pork with pineapple slices and a side of potato casserole while counting and tallying the totals for the day. The last stop with the rainbows helped pad my score out a bit allowing me to basically tie with Heath for second place, not bad considering I had a short lull during the day landing nothing for close to two hours. Randy pulled out the big win landing over fifty trout and the longest trout at 17inches. It sounds like next year the PFSD will be held in Wisconsin, looking forward to a good reason to get over there and fish for a weekend. Thanks to those who worked hard to get everyone together, this was a damn good time.