Thursday, February 16, 2023

The Responsibilities of Chasing Wild Trout


With the closing of stocked trout waters in Pennsylvania coming soon, many anglers will be getting the itch to go trout fishing. Spring is right around the corner and the rising temperatures match many anglers' rising desire to hit the water to go trout fishing. Special regulation areas and DHALO areas will see more activity than in the last four to six months.  This time of year, also means the most pressure that Class A Wild Trout Waters will receive all year. Being an avid brookie chaser, this time of year scares me to no end. I decided to use this fear to fuel this article. I want to share what I feel are the responsibilities that an angler must take on when deciding to target wild trout.  These precautions should be considered when fishing for all trout, but the future of wild trout fishing depends on the actions we take today.

My good friend and fishing partner, Jeremy Troutman, shows the proper way to navigate a native brook trout stream when the eggs and fry are still in the stream bed.
The most important topic to cover is proper wading techniques in the late winter and early spring months. This is a topic that is rarely discussed but in my opinion is by far the most important. After trout spawn, their eggs develop under the gravel in the stream bed in what is called a redd. It is vitally important that an angler not wade in these loose gravel areas of streams from September to late April. If I must cross a stream during this time frame, I pick areas with large rocks and faster moving riffles. These areas are not prime areas for trout to make redds as there is no loose gravel to deposit eggs into.  One angler who does not know about proper wading techniques during the times while eggs and fry are developing can completely decimate an entire trout stream of that year’s spawn without even knowing that they did anything wrong. Unknowingly stepping on redds can potentially kill hundreds of wild trout eggs or fry.  Most anglers hit on the fact not to fish over spawning trout.  Although that is an important topic, I feel that improper wading is far more of an issue. Avoid stepping in loose gravel areas at all costs when fishing in the late winter and early spring on streams that hold wild trout. Many times, the fall hurricanes, and November rains in the Northeast will often deposit silt and other debris that will make redds extremely difficult to spot. Even if you hook into a monster trout and feel the need to get the fish into the shallows to land it, please do not step into these areas. Most often these areas are located towards the end of pools, where loose gravel is deposited. 

A gorgeous wild brown that I had just picked out of the water for a photo. At the sound of the photo capture the fish was placed back into the net.
The next important topic to cover is proper fish handling techniques. A net is a must to keep the fish safe while landing the fish and removing the hook. Once the fish is in the net, always keep the fish in the water or just above the water.  If the fish happens to jump from the net, you want it to land back into the water and not onto the bank or bounce off of rocks. If you plan on touching the fish wet your hands and be sure they are completely wet. Dry hands remove the protective slime coating that is on the fish that can lead to infection.  When you land the fish do not set the fish on the ground or let it roll around into the leaves. This will make the fish dry out faster and the leaves and other debris that may be stuck to the fish can also remove their slime coating. Just because the fish swam away doesn’t mean that it won’t end up with a skin infection later due to it being mishandled.  I can’t stress enough the importance of a net to avoid the fish hitting the ground and make safe fish handling easier.

Had this spinner still had barbs on the hook, this would have been a difficult extraction process.  This would have increased the stress on this wild brown and possibly damaged the corner of its mouth.

Barbless hooks are a must when fishing for wild trout. Barbless hooks penetrate the fish better and take very little effort to remove, regardless of what is on that hook. Barbless hooks are vitally important if fishing with bait or scented plastics. These types of bait have a taste and fish will attempt to swallow these offerings. You can greatly increase the odds of a fish surviving a hook removal with a barbless hook compared to a barbed hook. If fishing store bought flies or spinners, take the time to pinch your barbs flat before you fish.  You can always purchase a hook file to sharpen where you pinched the barb.  Your goal should be to cause the least amount of damage to the fish as possible, and barbless hooks are the best way to accomplish this goal. 

Notice how calm this fish is. The fish is completely wet, laying on its side in my wet hands. This wild tiger was in a state of tonic immobility.
Capturing photos or videos of fish is the next topic that I would like to cover. I love to capture the beauty and wildness of these fish. I personally feel that you can safely do this but must take proper precautions while capturing a photo. You want to reduce the amount of stress on the fish as much as you can.  Keep the fish in the net and in the water during the entire process until you are ready to capture your photo. Do not let the fish hang suspended by your hook. Have your phone, or friend ready with the camera on and in capture mode. Keep the fish in the net then lift the fish from the net and snap your photo. This should only have the fish out of the water for a second or two. After a photo is captured, immediately put the fish back in the net and put the net in the water. One trick that I like to do is to turn the fish onto its side while it is in the net. This has a calming tonic immobility effect on the fish. When you pick the fish up from net and they are still completely wet, they are far less likely to wiggle and flop in your hands. They still feel like they are in the water in a sense because they are still wet, and your hands are wet. If you keep them out of the water in the net, then touch the fish with dry hands they will flop around as they are trying to get back into the water. Some fish will just be uncooperative. I will only make two attempts to capture a photo of a fish, if both attempts fail, I just put the fish back in the water. No fish’s life is worth risking capturing a photo, period.

A wild rainbow trout from a tiny stream. If this stream was broadcasted on social media it would sure to receive a large increase in pressure due to the rarity of wild rainbow trout in Pennsylvania.

The last topic I want to cover is over pressuring a stream. Pennsylvania is second only to Alaska for miles off streams or rivers. There are plenty of wild trout streams to target. I want to caution anglers from hitting the same small trout water more than a few times a year. If you do target the same small water within the year, space these trips out with a few months between them. You will enjoy finding new water, and not over pressure a stream. Even if you only have one wild trout stream in your area, your are far better off taking a trip to find new water than burning out your local stream.  If you do have a successful day on the water, it is wise not to broadcast the stream names on social media or other internet forums. Doing so will bring added pressure to these small streams, and some of that pressure may come from anglers who do not know about the responsibilities listed above. I have seen some of my favorite trout wild trout streams become barren after the spot was announced to the masses.

My ten year old son admiring the beauty of his first wild brown trout caught on a fly he tied himself.

I don’t want this article to come off as a lecture, but I care deeply for the future of wild trout. It is vitally important that we as anglers do our best to take care of these wild trout so they are around for future generations of anglers. I did not mention catch and release but I hope most anglers would practice the catch and release of wild trout. There are plenty of hold over and stocked fish to take home.  I hope to be able to educate as many anglers as I can about these responsibilities and hope that they also pass on this information. This article in not about greed or claiming these wild trout as my own, but is intended shed light to anglers who may not even realize they are doing anything that may harm these fish. I would love for the mindset and education of many anglers to grow, as well as their love and understanding of wild trout. The biggest point I hope to point out in this article is that there is no stock truck out there to replace any of these fish, so please read and learn from the responsibilities I list above if you do not already do so. Tight lines and best of luck in your adventures.

Tuesday, January 17, 2023

How to Tie the Troutman Special Jig Streamer

My version of the Troutman Special

The eve of Pennsylvania's opening day of trout season found me without a plan. I typically fish alone but the opening day of trout in Pennsylvania is a tradition that is best spent with friends. I hit up my buddy Jeremy Troutman to see if he had plans and if he wanted to fish in the morning. Ironically we were both thinking of hitting the same new water. I have fished the lower section of this stream and the top head waters, but never where he and I were both thinking of fishing. We set a plan to meet early in the morning. I spent the rest of that evening tying up some of my favorite brookie flies in prep for the next days adventure.

A Sunrise photo that Jeremy captured as we gave the first tributary a try

Jeremy and I met up and started our hike to the stream we had both been wanting to try for a while. There was a smaller tributary that we decided to hit first on our way to the target stream.  Both of the streams were a little bit of a hike up some steep terrain so we wanted to get an early start. We arrived at the first stream, and worked around two hundred yards or so.  We soon realized this stream was not going to be the ticket. I feel that because of the way the mountain was positioned the sun wouldn't be hitting the stream for quite a while. The are temps were in the thirties but the water temps on that stream were extremely cold.  We both made the executive decision to head back and go to the main stream we wanted to fish.

Beautiful hen brookie fell victim to my Jiggy Crayfish

My first fish on the new stream was a beautiful hen brookie. I love catching the decent sized hen brook trout as it is a good indication of the health of the stream. This girl came out from and undercut bank and wacked my crayfish fly. Jeremy and I would continue up the stream and have one of the best brookie days we've ever had. We would often find ourselves finding a great pool and whomever was up to bat would catch a brookie, and the other angler would pick up a fish on the next cast. When blue lining it is good practice to leap frog holes while fishing with others.

A beautiful buck brookie that Jeremy picked up in a log jam

One pool that I knew had to have at least on big brook trout in it soon showed itself. As luck would have it I was up to bat. I landed my crayfish fly perfect and picked up a nice little brookie. I called Jeremy up and he hooked into a beauty. Size wise, it was the biggest fish of the trip. At this point I knew that Jeremy had one heck of fly pattern. I don't like to peek into other anglers boxes but I had to ask Jeremy to show me in better detail what streamer he was using. He showed me an, at the time, unnamed jig streamer. 

Our first double of the trip

When I looked at Jeremy's streamer I could see instantly why this streamer was a such fish catcher. It had a lot of movement it its tail. The added micro legs gave added movement but also gave a great illusion of a lateral line when the fly was stripped. Jeremy put soft hackle be hind the bead which also gave the fly a pile of movement in the "fin area" of the streamer. My analysis of this unnamed streamer is that it will catch all species of fish anywhere in the country.  

The most epic double that I have been a part of

We Continued upstream and were having a nock out day. We were not keeping track of numbers as every fish we caught just blew our minds with how beautiful they were. Not often do you get two doubles on gorgeous native brookies on one stream, but we did. The fish shown above were our stopping point for the trip. Our trip was amazing and I had a new fly design to play with. I didn't get the materials that Jeremy used on his streamer but had an idea on what I wanted use to mimic his fly. I'll now show you how I tie the Troutman Special.

All of the materials you need to tie the Troutman Special can be picked up at

HOOK: Lively Legz 310J Jig Hook Size 10
THREAD: 6/0 White
BEAD: 4.0mm Down and Dirty Slotted Tungsten Bead in Gold
WEIGHT: Weighted wire (sized to match stream conditions)
TAIL: Marabou Blood Quill White
BODY: Medium Krystal Flash Chenille in Pearl
LEGS: Grizzly Micro Legs White
SOFT HACKLE: Mallard Breast Feather
ADHESIVE: Loctite Super Glue Gel Control

First I thread the hook and fully cover where I plan on weighting the hook shank. This will help the weighted wire from slipping when wrapping.

Next, I wrap roughly half the shank with weighted wire. I stop at where I will be tying my tail in. This will give a smooth transition to wrap my chenille.

Once you have the weighted wire wrapped up to the bead, cover the weighted wire with thread and wrap back to the bend of the hook.

Tie in your marabou. Depending on the quill, you may be able to tie it in all the way to the bead. You don't want the fly to be too bulky though.

Tie in the chenille. Remove a few fiber strands so that only the core thread is visible. This will reduce bulk and also give you better adhesion to the shank of the hook.

Once I have the chenille tied in, I cover the hook shank with Loctite super glue gel control adhesive. This will really lock my chenille to the hook shank, and avoid any potential slippage due to the amount of material  that is wrapped around the hook shank for this pattern.

Wrap your chenille towards the bead, but leave a gap around 1/4 - 3/16" so you have room to tie in the legs and soft hackle.

I take a complete grizzly micro leg fiber, and cut it from the cluster. Then fold that fiber in half and cut it. Each fiber will give you two legs. I fold the cut fiber in half and tie in the legs. I make 2-3 wraps and then be sure the legs are aligned with the hook shank. You want to try to keep these legs where the lateral line of the fish would be. When you strip the fly those legs will go in a straight line and give the lateral line look.

Repeat this step on both sides of the hook shank.

Tie in your soft hackle. I like to use one of the breast feathers of the mallard drake I shot in the fall of 2021. I like the way that the drake mallard breast feather has dark brown tips and fades to white. This gives a nice natural appearance to the fly. 

Once you have your soft hackle locked in make sure that the soft hackle fibers all point backwards. This is probably the most tricky part of tying this pattern.

Whip finish and consider the fly done. I like to take a small drop of superglue gel and place it where I snipped my thread. You can also put a collar on the fly of dubbing if you'd like. I don't often tie other tyers patterns but watching Jeremy pull out fish on pools after I had fished them made me want to give this pattern a go. You can sub in a plethera of other colors to this pattern. White and my Dace variations are my top producers.

One of the best things about this fly to me is that Jeremy used to purchase flies from me when he first got into fly fishing. I knew that he would love to tie his own flies, so after a few orders I told him that I would no longer be selling him flies.  This was not the best business practice but I knew that he would really love the art. He picked up a vise and hit the ground running. My favorite part of fly fishing these days is to help new anglers and tyers get into the sport. Jeremy has become a really great fly tyer over the last few year.  To see him create a pattern of his own that I want to mimic is just awesome and there is nothing better than that to me. Give the Troutman Special fly a try, you won't regret it.

Friday, January 13, 2023

Stop Asking "Where", and Start Asking "How", to Turn Your Trout Fishing Trips Into Adventures

Jeremy Troutman working some small brookie water.

"Where did you catch that fish?" "Nice fish! Where were you fishing?" "Where at?"

Stop asking these questions. Yes, that is an order. I understand the curious nature of fisherman, but these questions are keeping you from a world of adventure with your trout fishing. If you are on a social media platform and see someone post a nice fish, instead of asking "Where" start asking "How". Most people who are consistently catching large or beautiful wild trout put a ton of time in to find these fish. When you ask them "Where" it is honestly like asking for a couple hundred dollars as a gift. Sounds crazy, but all the time and gas money spent finding these spots adds up fast. So, if you ask someone for the location they caught that fish, why would you think they would just give that to you? Would you expect a total stranger to just hand you the sixty dollars in gas that they just spent to catch that fish or expect them to hand sixty dollars to all the people who may read that reply on that social media platform?

Dusty Rhoads with one of his mega brown trout. See Dusty in action on his YouTube
"Chasing the Wild with Dusty Rhodes" 

Too many people today want an easy path to success. They want it, and they want it now. They do not want to struggle or put the time in to achieve their goals, they just want them. People see some individuals catching nice trout on a regular basis and they want that too. They don't realize that the person who posted that fish has dedicated a large part of their life to be able to consistently catch fish like that. What's worse is these people get offended when the angler will not reveal the location.

When I get these types of questions, I send the link to my "Blue Line Like a Beast Article". I spent so much time filling that article with tons of information on most of the steps that I use when chasing wild trout. That article can help build an angler a solid foundation to start finding and fishing for wild trout, if only they would take the time to read it. I am not being a jerk by not giving out the locations that I am fishing, I am just making you work for it like I did. I want you to experience the satisfaction of doing research, developing a plan, and making it happen. Doing things like that are ways to get the most out of your fishing trips. When you start asking the "How" questions you will be surprised how much the individuals are willing to share. I can promise you that you won't be getting their stream locations, but you will start gaining knowledge. This knowledge will be far more valuable to you than catching that twenty-inch brown that the poster shared a photo of.

Stegosaurus Brown Trout I caught

Never before has there been so many tools at your fingertips to turn your fishing trips into adventures. I want to persuade you to get out of your comfort zone and put in some effort. I want you to take some risks and venture into the unknown.  Sometimes the stream is a flop but other times you find a Mecca of fish.  There is nothing more satisfying than doing the research on a stream and having an excellent fishing trip. In my home state of Pennsylvania, the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission has a wide variety of tools like fishing reports and interactive maps, to stocking schedules that tell you the exact gps coordinates to the stocking locations of streams.

This wild tiger should get an award for the most requested "Where were you fishing" questions of all of the fish I have caught in my life.
Instead of asking people where they caught their fish, I urge you to put in the time and effort into researching your state's program that governs the sport of fishing and dive into all the resources that are available to you. Learn about the different classifications of trout streams, stocking programs, special regulation waters, case studies on streams, etc. Use the search function on the pages and type in a stream that you may be looking to fish or a specific species that you are trying to target. When you start to put in the effort and truly learn the resources available, you will be amazed at what results you can get.

PA Fish Commission Website
I was old school and started my adventures by looking at topographic maps and seeking out blue lines that looked to be obtainable and within my reach. In today’s fishing world you can use your states resources and all sorts of apps that label streams with Class A designations, stocked trout water, and even streams with natural trout reproduction. Once you find a potential stream to fish put your time in on Google and learn as much as you can about that stream. These advances save so much time compared to old school blue lining and stream finding.   USE THIS!

Example of a topo map I would use while targeting brookies

One of my favorite responses or posts is "I live too far away from any wild trout waters, can someone take me out?" With all the advances listed above, there is no reason that one cannot put in the time, to locate an area with multiple wild trout streams and develop a game plan. When I am doing research on new streams, I always try to pick an area with multiple stream options. You can look at google maps and see exactly how long it will take you to get to a place. You can even go to the street view and look for places to park and get an idea of what the canopy of the stream will be like.  For example, Let's say the closest wild trout area is two hours away from you.  This means that you will have to get up at four to be at the stream at six. Looking at a map you may see that you will have to walk roughly a mile, so add that time into the time it takes you to be on the water. I try to plan as best I can to be on the stream and able to fish at daylight. Depending on how far the walk in is going to be, I will often start walking to the stream a half hour before sunrise. With my busy schedule most of my trips are only two to three hours so I need to be spot on with my time calculations.  To catch extraordinary fish, you have to do extraordinary research. In my opinion these types of questions are more of a "I don't want to put the time in to do my own research so please take me to your spot" statements than questions.

Absolutely stunning native brook trout I caught on an adventure
When you start figuring out how to find your own streams, and plan adventures around that, you will wonder why you haven't been fishing like that your whole life. The excitement of the unknown, and the thrill of landing fish on unfamiliar waters is second to none. It is so rewarding to put in the time and research to catch trout. Most of all it is a way to expand your fishing time. If the weather is bad or streams are blown out, you can always start planning your next adventure and putting your time in researching. If you are reading this blog post, you have everything you need to start researching and finding streams. The next time you find yourself typing “Where” please take a minute and ask the “How” questions and see where it takes you.

Monday, January 9, 2023

One Week PA Wild Trout Grand Slam

2022 was my toughest year fishing of my life.  I started my year off great by catching some nice wild browns, and had and epic first day of trout fishing for native brookies with a good friend of mine. I caught some huge stocked fish, and got to net my daughters biggest trout ever. That great kickoff was followed up my least amount of fishing ever. Multiple factors added up that prevented me from getting much stream time.  New Years Eve is always a lucky day for me to be on the water. I always have something amazing happen if I can get out on that day. The fact that New Years Eve was on a Saturday this year allowed me to sneak out to the stream one last time to close my 2022 fishing season.

I was finally feeling better after spending the week of Christmas with the flu. I had tied up some flies the night before and was trying to decide on what stream I would hit up. We had some serious snowmelt in my area, and the rain from the previous week narrowed the streams I could fish. I decided to hit up a small stream that I haven’t fished in 2 years that had a healthy population of both native brook trout and wild brown trout. This stream seems to be feast or famine for me. It seems that if the weather or water is not perfect one must fight just to catch a trout or two.  If you do hit that stream right though, you are in for an action-packed day.

As I crossed the upper reaches of the stream I could see that the streams levels and color were about perfect to fish. I knew that the only issue I may face would be water temperature. I parked and began my trek to my starting point. I decided that I would be tossing a small streamer that I call my “Go To Brookie Streamer.” My second cast was hit and I brought my first trout to hand for the day, a pretty Wild Brown. “Well, at least I won’t get skunked today.” I thought to myself. I worked up to the next pool and didn’t catch a fish.

The hole after that is what blue line anglers dream about. A nice bend with an undercut bank and a fallen tree right against the bank. Holes like these are so exciting to fish because you never know what may be lurking under that bank. I dead drifted my streamer through that hole a few times and didn’t have a hit. I thought about switching to some nymphs, but experience taught that it’s not always the fly and that I may just need to change up my presentation. My next cast I jigged the streamer through the hole. I could see an lighter colored trout chasing my streamer the whole way through the pool. I figured it was a lighter colored brown. I cast out again and had the same result. This little fish was super aggressive and was side swiping my streamer 3-4 times on each drift. I knew that I would need to jig the streamer to get the fish wound up, then let the streamer “die” to be able to hook the fish. My next drift I jigged the streamer hoping the fish would still chase. After I saw the fish flash I paused after a quick jig. BOOM! The fish inhaled my streamer and was on the end of my rod.

This little fish had a lot of fight in it. When I lifted it out of the water and into my net he spun and I could only see his stomach, “What a neat looking brookie,” I thought. When I knelt down to see this brookie, my jaw dropped as I could see that this fish was a wild tiger trout. I quickly grabbed my phone out of my waders to capture a few photos of the fish. When I picked my net up I could see that its head was hanging out of the net. “OH NO!” I shrieked as I could see the hole in the net. Luck was on my side as I was able to get the tiger back in the net.  I was able to capture a few nice photos of the fish and took a quick video to remember it by. I was in complete shock at the events that had just unfolded.

The fish was stunning. The tiger was a neat green color with intricate striping and had a burnt orange colored belly. I kept the fish in the net in the water for a few more seconds to take in its beauty. I wanted to try and film a slow motion release of the fish, but watched him swim right out of the hole in the net and back into the perfect pool. I was shaking from excitement and took a few moments to collect myself. 

Now I wanted to catch a nice brookie. I continued fishing that stream for two more hours and was only able to land one more wild brown trout. This was one of those famine days on this stream but I was feeling super blessed that my first wild tiger wanted to play the game. What a way to end my rough 2022 year of fishing.

On New Years day I was able to take my twins out fishing for brookies. They caught a few and enjoyed the hike. I also made the decision on New Years Day that my goal for 2023 was to catch my first wild rainbow. Wild rainbows are hard to come by in my area of the state so I knew that I would need to do a bit of research. I spent time researching a few streams that have wild rainbows and tying flies that would work for them. The stream I decided to chase them on did not have many large fish so I tied up some size twelve “Go To Brookie Streamers” and some smaller nymphs than what I normally fish. My first chance to fish would be exactly one week from when I caught my wild tiger. During my research I learned that the stream I was going to target also had a native brook trout population.

My goal was to catch one wild rainbow, but in the back of my mind I was also hoping to land some native brookies as well. I was up early and made the decent drive to my target stream. The stream was a beautiful fast-moving stream tucked up against the side of a mountain. The hemlock and rhododendron were plentiful. I had high hopes of landing my wild rainbow in the first few runs I would fish. I missed one fish, and had no luck in the first 25 yards or so of gorgeous water. I came up to a pool on the back side of a log and tossed out my little streamer. I felt a few quick taps and set the hook. I could see a little trout around three inches or so and instantly thought it was a brookie. I was wrong and had just landed my first ever wild rainbow. The fish was not extremely colorful but the par marks were beautiful. Mission accomplished, I was eager to see if I could land a few more before it was time to call it quits.

The next nice hole I came up to was perfect. A log jam with a long deeper pool waited for me. There was a hemlock branch that made it quite challenging to set the hook and cast. I watched in dismay as trout after trout would attack my streamer and I would miss. I was watching trout as small as the size 12 streamer try to eat it. I switched to smaller nymphs but just could not hook any of these trout.

I continued up stream and picked up a few more brookies and wild bows. The prettiest bow came out of a difficult pool. There was a downed tree and rhododendron surrounding the hole. I snuck in between the rhododendron and held my hand up high to plop my streamer into the pool. The fly landed and was immediately grabbed by a little wild bow. I caught this one and got a nice photo. I was taken back by the beauty of this little gem.  I fished up to the stopping point of my trip and ended the trip with two nicer sized brook trout.

I walked back to the Jeep and was out of time to be able to chase a wild brown trout, but really wanted to try to get the “Single Day Wild Trout Trifecta”. This would be a native brookie, wild brown, and wild rainbow all in the same day.

As luck would have it my twins had a birthday party to go to, so I was able to hit a local stream in hopes of landing a wild brown. The first fish of this stream was a beautiful wild brown trout, thus completing my “Single Day Wild Trout Trifecta”. Only after landing that brown did I realize that I had also completed the “PA Wild Trout Grand Slam” earlier that morning.

Never in my dreams would I have thought that I would be able to accomplish the grand slam in a week. I doubt that is something I will ever do again. To many anglers, walking miles to catch fish that most would consider to be minnows sounds crazy, but to me it is the best way to fish. These days I am not an angler that needs to put up big numbers, or even catch big fish.  Taking these mini adventures into the unknown, seeing the beautiful scenery, and catching beautiful wild trout is what I live for. Fly fishing for wild trout in the Pennsylvania wilds is something that is burned into my soul and is something that I just can’t live without.