By Mike Loebl - March 2020
I’m at a strange place in this game of fly fishing for trout. I am trying to catch fewer trout. At the same time, I am trying to catch trout in such a way that the act of catching them is more enjoyable and memorable.
I spent the first roughly 15 years I was in Montana trying to become as efficient as possible in targeting fish in all of the waters I frequent. Along the way, I got pretty good at catching fish. Unfortunately, I’ve also grown increasingly aware of my impact on the resource from me hammering on the fish day after day.
As a guide, this puts me in a bit of a quandary. It’s one thing to get the right fly dialed in for my guide trip tomorrow, another thing to sore lip every fish in a stretch of river. It doesn’t help your future guiding when you’ve hooked every feeding fish. I’m certainly guilty of doing this in the past.
I’ve seen great spots dry up due to too much pressure, certainly, I have fished spots out to where the fish simply pack up and leave.
So for my own personal fishing, I am now trying to minimize my impact on the resource and on the fishery while maximizing my enjoyment.
This is a relatively new idea in my pea brain, so bear with me. It might take some time to fully suss out.
So for one, I am trying to make fly fishing for trout harder. Let’s see me try to hunt for the big fish that is rising to those BWO’s rather than just catch the easy ones rising all around. Let’s try to catch the one fish in the spot that is nearly impossible to get the fly into. Let’s try that seam waaaaay over there that requires a perfect slackline cast into the wind. If I fail and catch nothing….Oh well. If I succeed, then the enjoyment will be far greater than if I just cleaned up some easy fish. This is going to take a bit of a reset in the brain but I think it’s worth it.
Another thing I can do to minimize my impact but increase my fishing enjoyment is to use methods that are just more fun to fish with. Sure I catch less fish trout spey fishing than Euro Nymphing….but I catch enough, and they are certainly more memorable. Wet Flies, attractor dries and other methods that require the fish to move to the fly are certainly effective, but have much smaller bite windows than dead drifting flies right to the fish. They are also more fun to cast.
Speaking of casting, I’ve been designing and building bamboo fly rods, which is another avenue to increase my satisfaction while fishing. You know that excitement you get when you come up with a fly pattern to solve a particular fishing problem and it works? Well now consider, coming up with a rod design to fish one particular river, that feels perfect with the right amount of line out to cover the fish in these locations, that has the right amount of fish fighting power to let the fish show their stuff without playing them for far too long, casts in the wind with the flies normally used. Yeah. Then build that rod. Or build that rod several times, scrapping each previous version due to imperfections until the design gets closer and closer to ideal. Finally, the rod is just the way you wanted it. Then go fish the rod in the scenarios you made them for. This is immensely satisfying. I’ve finally got a few of those rods complete. To say I’m looking forward to fishing them would be an understatement.
Other things that still get me super stoked to fish are numerous. I love solving any on stream problems, from presenting the fly in a tough spot to finding a better fly for particular conditions. Checking out new water, no matter how productive it may be is always worthwhile, and Southwest Montana and Yellowstone offer no end to the river miles one can fish.
The longer I do this, the more I am content to catch nothing while trying new things, or new spots. I’m planning on fishing a ton this year and having a blast while I’m doing it. I just hope I can catch a few less fish along the way.
Mike began fly fishing at the age of 7 in his home state of Michigan, where he would later start his career in the industry at a fly shop in Northville. Fast forward to the present and Mike has been with MRO for the better part of the past two decades. Mike has been instructing both single hand and two-handed fly casting throughout his time at MRO. He spends an excessive amount of time on the water trying new techniques and refining his approach to the river. As a guide, Mike loves to help his anglers hone their skills and teach folks how to be more effective fly fishers. When not fishing, Mike can be found spending time with his wife Alice Owsley (also a fly fishing guide in the area) and their dog Norman.
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