It had been awhile, but my family and I finally were able to get back to the western Nebraska panhandle last week. We stayed a couple of nights at Ft. Robinson, and did a lot of things while we were out “west”: senior pictures, attended a wedding, saw a lot of sights, and spent time with family. But, you know the fishing gear went with us and my son and I put it to use.
The Pine Ridge region of our great state provides some cold-water streams that support trout year-round (Trout Fishing in Nebraska’s Streams). I have been able to explore several of those waters and always have some new spots I would like to check, but on this trip we returned to familiar water and found the fishing there just as good as the day we left it a few years back.
It was H-O-T, hot the day we fished, but instead of trying to beat the heat, we slept in and took our time getting to the water. There was a method to our madness. Late in the morning, we got to our valley, scouted out our stretch of river, then geared up and hiked towards the sound of running water. After quietly sneaking in and identifying the first likely-looking spot, my son, Daniel, flipped his foam ‘hopper pattern onto the water. It maybe drifted a foot before a nice brown trout rushed out and ate it! We fished for a grand total of 1.3 seconds before catching the first fish.
It was like that the rest of the afternoon!
We were a little hyped and seemed to miss a bunch of fish when we started. After we took the edge off, opened the bend on our hooks just a bit, and made ourselves pause before laying the steel to them, our hooking percentage improved.
I mentioned that we fished the middle of the day and it was darned hot. Did not mean nothing–we carried some drinking water with us and waded wet. Cold water sure felt good on a hot August afternoon!
Yes, head-to-toe camouflage for fishing! Stream trout are not hard to catch as long as they are not spooked. With some camo and stealth, trout are usually very cooperative.
It was crazy to fish during the heat of the day, but besides being lazy and on vacation we did that on purpose. See the grassy banks in that photo? Those grassy banks were loaded with grasshoppers. In my experience, ‘hopper fishing for trout is usually best during the middle of hot, summer days. The ‘hoppers are active then, and when a midday breeze blows, it puts some grasshoppers on the water where the trout are waiting. It was amazing how far and at times how aggressive some of those fish were; I watched fish travel sometimes dozens of feet to gulp my foam ‘hopper.
You can see I chose to present my foam ‘hoppers with the fly rod (yes, I can use a fly rod!) while Daniel flipped his baits around with his spinning rod. Both gears worked well, but excelled in slightly different situations. Most of the fishing was tight, lots of dipping and dabbling and both spinning gear and fly gear worked equally well. The spinning rod worked a little better on stretches with so much cover that all a person could do was snake a rod tip through an opening, drop the foam ‘hopper to the water and then play out line as the current carried it downstream. On the other hand, the fly rod excelled on those stretches that opened up a bit; water where a longer cast would put the fly in front of fish without spooking them.
The longer cast of the fly rod resulted in the first cutthroat trout of the day. I had already hooked and lost a couple of cutties when I caught up to my son resting in some shade beside a beautiful pool. He could not flip his ‘hopper to the head of the pool with his spinning rod, so I stepped up, stripped off some line, made a couple of false casts and then slapped the foam ‘hopper on the water. “Splash”, “gulp”, a trout ate it instantly.
I set the hook.
Right into a back cast, slap ‘er down again.
“Splash”, “gulp”, got ’em!
I was pretty proud of myself for putting on the exhibition, slipping that cast right on the perfect spot, right beside the overhanging branches while my son sat there and watched.
I tried it again after releasing the cutthroat.
Ended up snagging a branch. . . . “Pride goeth before the fall”!
Daniel scored a cuttie too.
I just used the word “slapped” to describe our presentation of the foam ‘hoppers. This was no delicate, size #20, dry fly bite. Again in my experience, when the trout are eating ‘hoppers, you want to splat that fly onto the water. The real grasshoppers make some noise when they hit the water and the trout are looking and listening for that cue. You want your imitation ‘hopper to do the same thing.
We lost track of the number of fish we caught. It was wade upstream a few yards, fish a likely-looking spot, catch or miss a fish, repeat, over and over again all afternoon. When we got hot we would stop for a drink, plop down in some shade, wet a T-shirt in the cold water. We easily missed as many fish as we hooked, and I know we landed at least 30 between the two of us. Most of the fish were browns with a couple of cutthroats thrown in for variety. Most were 12-14-inchers, with the big fish running up to 15. We were a couple of hot, thirsty, but very happy boys by late afternoon.
I am ready to do it all over again right now!
If we had more time to spend in the area, we would have fished the same water some more, but also would have fished some other waters and pursued a trout slam!
We used a variety of foam grasshopper fly patterns. They all seemed to work, but the ones we like best are those that float upright all the time. Sure, if you watch the real grasshoppers, you will see some of them drifting on their sides after they hit the water, but most are upright and in many cases kicking towards a bank. Again, as much as possible we tried to imitate that behavior with our artificial flies. Look close and you can see one pattern that worked. . . .
Or here, take a closer look, a “before” and “after” look. . . .
We caught so many fish, they chewed the spots off our baits!
Seriously, Daniel and I each wore out a couple of foam ‘hoppers. Good thing we had extras!
I have not stated exactly where we were fishing; there are enough hints throughout this blog post that you should be able to figure it out. Here is another one, we were fishing Open Waters/Open Fields property; check the new Public Lands Atlas, it is there, you cannot miss it.
I have doubters who believe I sneak out of state to catch fish and then claim they were taken from Nebraska waters. Some of them again will think my not coming right out and pinpointing my location is more proof that fish like that could not have been caught in Nebraska. They were. But, when I tell you that later in our trip we encountered the same water downstream many miles, across the state line, and saw a bighorn ram nearby, that “proves” I caught those fish in some neighboring state. Ha.
We have seen bighorns in Nebraska, near Ft. Robinson before, but not on this trip. Yes, that ram was across the border. But the trout were not. You can find them too, all it takes is a little bit of exploration, a little bit of work. Put the time in, it is worth it.
If you do, make sure to fish the Wild Plum Pool:
And release the big ones so we can catch ’em again. We will be back!