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Predators

Words & Images by Steve Dally

It's time.

Time to rewrite what you know about the nature of brown trout in a river.

Time to see a that lazy, slow, foreign fish turn to implacable hunter-killer, a pure predator chasing down and eating whole its prey. Time to set aside the notion of fly fishing for trout as solely a gentler, kinder pursuit where the art is in the delicate presentation of a floating fly, upstream.

It’s predator time: the soft air of dusk in summer, dawn on a spring day, or under a low sky of bruised clouds brimming with February snow, when you know you are throwing that fly into harm’s way. Time to see that shadow, so familiar when gracefully ferrying across the current to pick off morsels in the drift, turn stone killer; come up on its fins and hunt ahead of that big broad brown tail. Set aside fishing snacks, the Skittles and Cheetos of our day-to-day fly boxes, and tie on a 24 ounce steak on 15 pound test. Make it swim as though sick and injured; life’s not fair down there.

It is streamer time.

Streamer time is what you make it, many hued and multi-faceted, from elegant married wings, ubiquitous buggers, lead-eyed Clousers to modern, multi-sectioned articulated patterns, imitating that which swims: sculpins and minnows, suckers and shad, trout, in creeks, rivers and lakes, fresh, salt and sometimes purely in the tyer’s imagination. Big fish eat small fish, and not always as small as one might think.

There is a school of thought that big flies only get eaten out of a territorial or aggressive response, until you watch a 14” rainbow attempt to turn flying fish, leaping its way across a riffle pursued by an impossibly large bow wave. It ends in a swirl, soon swept away on the current, and a longer, sobering silence. The scientists will tell you brown trout become piscivores somewhere in their teens. Watching the regulation 20” trophy brown trout on your line get monstered by a White River behemoth brown tends to reshape your paradigms of Salmo trutta as a predator.

Predators

If brown trout grew to 15 feet long, we would need bigger boats.

Brown trout holding in the current snacking on the drift of bugs are easy to find, but this is the Jekyll to the predatory Hyde feeding behaviors: flushing sculpin off a gravel flat; laid up in ambush on a cut bank, or cruising a deep-water drop off like a great white shark, waiting for the unwary to venture too far.

They are built to predate, the dark over light color scheme of a deep predator broken with spots, big eyes for a visual attack, a full body array of sensor for scent and taste, crushing jaws and that big tall motor on the stern capable of blistering instantaneous acceleration.

Predators

If the Buddhists are right, please don’t make me come back as a minnow.

Poll any group of streamer addicts and you will find a bunch of sight fishing addicts, it’s the visual side of the big streamer game that turns them on. The flash of a “drive-by”, a yellow flank and dark spots burned on your retina in an arcing swing and miss. Fumbling the line, trembling like it’s a first kiss, all those lectures in your head pick up cast again, hit the spots, swim the fly, fish the structure and don’t trout set.

Words that become as elusive as the river mist when a big white mouth opens, and slams shut, then opens, a killing blow to be followed by a meal at leisure. That is if the pseudo meal hasn’t been ripped away on a premature set. It’s a sinking feeling watching your fish of a lifetime looking around for its vanished meal.

Win or lose there is an extra spice when you can see it all unfold. Pursuing big trout on big flies is a calling: don’t take no for an answer, ask your own questions and write your own tale. Don’t just look at fall, or winter, find the triggers on your water: the low light patterns, the rise of a spate or push of a tailwater, fish turbulence, find the congregations of protein or the grumbling gloom of an imminent summer storm. It’s streamer time.

about the author & photographer

Steve Dally was born on the island State of Tasmania - the first place brown trout were raised outside their European home.  A Sage Elite Pro, Steve is also a photographer, writer, fly designer and runs Dally's Ozark Fly Fisher fly shop in Cotter, Arkansas. In his words: "My upbringing was all about saltwater: surfing, fishing, diving, hanging about in boats; most of the significant moments of my first 34 years occurred around saltwater. Like any rural Aussie kid I played ridiculous amount of competitive sport, which is basically how I fell into (sports) journalism then the bigger game of political journalism. By the time the fun had worn off, I’d discovered fly fishing my home waters, and a sabbatical to the US to fish, and spend time with an American lass, was more attractive. The relationship would bring me to Arkansas, and while it wouldn’t last, I’m still on the banks of the White River, 15 years later. A goodly part of the credit goes to my wife Becca." 
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