A recent posting on Linked In caught my eye. Someone posted an article boasting of the best trout fishing in the world. That is certainly attention grabbing and immediately brings to mind Alaskan and Russian Rainbows as long as your leg, or perhaps the incredibly beautiful streams of New Zealand. I wondered what that statement means to anglers – what is the best trout fishing in the world?
The article is about trout fishing in New Zealand. Big trout. Crystalline waters. Incredible vistas. I have good friends who go regularly. I have one friend who is able to spend many months there – every year – as his work allows him to play trout bum in trout heaven. Lovely indeed.
Still, where, and also what, is the best trout fishing in the world? Is there an agreed upon river or region that is THE BEST? Is there a top three or a David Letterman “Top Ten” even?
If you read books about fishing, you know that former New York Times Editor Howell Raines – a guy who could fish anywhere – would most likely be found on a small stream in the Smokey Mountains casting for native brook trout – many the size of the fly patterns used for the monster trout of Kamchatka.
If you read Dave Hughes wonderful book An Angler’s Astoria, you know he will never tell you which logging road to take to the secret pools that lay between the small waterfalls on Oregon’s coast range streams that hold his beloved coastal cutthroat trout - who rush to take the upstream dry flies without hesitation.
Joe Humphreys, Penn State’s Professor of Trout Fishing, would be found on any number of central Pennsylvania’s magnificent trout streams, likely with several generations of students from his entomology classes in tow. Fly fishing would have to be the BEST college course you ever had and the fishing in central Pennsylvania can certainly rival any place in the world where trout rise to a fly.
And while David James Duncan can now enjoy the Bitterroot, Rock Creek, Blackfoot and Clarks Fork within minutes of his writing desk in Missoula, Montana, we all KNOW that in his heart he will always be the boy who fishes the urban creeks and trickles of Portland, Oregon – finding unlikely trout in unlikely places.
How many of you have tried to sneak a GPS locator beacon into one of Brian O’Keefe’s backpacks in order to discover the location and identity of the desert trout stream fished by Brian and as filmed by Todd Moen in an early edition of Catch Magazine? The mysterious and irresistible draw of that no-name, hidden, grass-cloaked stream full of large trout eating dry flies in the golden light of a late afternoon in East Bumfuck, Nowhere is undeniable. I myself try to keep track of Brian’s whereabouts via Google Earth. We all know Brian can, and has, fished everywhere – yet there he is – on a small desert trout stream near home. Maybe.
What about the Farmington and the Housatonic in Connecticut? Legions of Wall Street types rush up Route 7 every weekend in their Audi coups and Range Rovers to fish the Hendrickson, the tricos, the drakes and finally the caddis – but only after the locals have these streams to themselves all week long. Those rivers are as good as home waters get – for two distinctly different groups of anglers.
My old friend Milton Fisher, an Oregon-based steelhead guide who died tragically and young, would leave the lush coastal forests of Oregon and travel to Montana and Idaho for a sojourn as a summer trout bum – and rumor has it – famously wandering onto writer Tom McGuane’s ranch and private water and, after being busted for trespassing, becoming fast friends with him. That was how Milton was. Milton shared his trout water secrets with me before I began a journey most anglers also do in their lifetimes – a trout fishing journey to MONTANA. I made it to four out of five of Milton’s secret spots. Three out of four places were even better than Milton said they would be. The one we did not fish looms in my memory after hearing stories from another angler who discovered it. Which one of Milton’s Secret Spots was the best trout fishing in the world? That probably depended upon who Milton ran into while fishing there – the people mattered as much to Milton as the trout.
I wonder where John Gierach would declare as the best trout fishing in the world? Would it be one of those desolate and featureless lakes he and AK Best would drive hours to fish? Would it be his home trout stream across the road from his place in Colorado? Maybe the South Platte or the Frying Pan once the crowds were gone? He could, and probably will, write a great book trying to address this question.
Maybe the best trout fishing in the world is the place where you caught your first trout. The first trout to rise to your first dry fly – a fly that did not match anything found in nature. Perhaps the first trout to take your Silver Doctor wet fly, breathlessly purchased from the Spring Edition of the Cabelas catalogue when you were 14 years old. Maybe it was the first trout to eat your woolly bugger you were casting to bass in a Pennsyl-tuckey farm pond. Any of those moments could still be the best trout fishing you have ever had in the world.
Maybe the best trout fishing in the world is the trout fishing that is nearest to your fishing gear room. Have you ever calculated how many steps you are from trout water? How many miles exactly are you from your trout water? Is there trout water flowing past your backyard? Is it a small pond or lake below your back deck? Did you build your wife a Koi pond in your urban backyard and stock it with trout that were later eaten by raccoons? Does your trout water flow right through town like it does in Eugene, OR and Calgary? Can you walk there? Can you take transit while wearing your waders? Do you need four-wheel drive, a passport or a helicopter? It is helpful to know the measure of your journey – even if that measure is in miles, days, time zones or six packs.
Maybe the best trout fishing in the world is where someone who has never cast a fly can step up to the riverbank, roll the rod forward and have the fly land in the water where a trout takes it. Fish on! That would seem like the best trout fishing in the world to that person at that moment.
Maybe the best trout fishing in the world is where the trout you may catch are native to the waters you fish – untouched by any hatchery planting – ever – where the trout have been swimming since the ice age without a single unnatural interruption to their evolution, adaptation and resiliency. There are such places and such species, and they are precious.
Maybe the best trout fishing in the world takes place where you can catch the biggest trout. Like on that little stream in Colorado where their state record fly-caught trout comes from – where those poor rainbows look like swimming pigs on steroids. Or maybe in Tierra del Fuego where you can catch huge brown trout entering the freshwater from the southern seas using a spey rod and sink tips that cut through the incessant wind. Perhaps the best trout fishing in the world can be found in a new place – named after the age of dinosaurs – Jurassic Lake in southern South America – where the rainbows look like rainbows but they are savage and huge – and they run like the wind there that beats you down without mercy. Or maybe the biggest trout are in an old place – like Mongolia – where the trout are named Taimen, Lenok and Amur.
Maybe the best trout fishing in the world is the hardest trout fishing – where you need to cast a size 22 dry fly at least 75 feet downstream against a slight upstream breeze while wading chest deep in crystalline water with boiling spring creek currents to a wise 24 inch-plus trout whose toothy mouth can shred your 7x tippet just by thinking about it. Or maybe the best –and hardest – trout fishing in the world takes place during the dog-days of August when the mighty Deschutes River seems devoid of both bugs and trout from sunrise until sunset. Except for the 15 minutes before the bats begin flying when the caddis swim and begin to emerge and every trout in the river is feeding and the best fish breaks you off on the take and it is too dark to tie on another Silvey’s Emerging caddis before IT IS ALL OVER.
Perhaps the best trout fishing in the world is a place where you can catch the most trout – where you have a fish rising to a fly or taking a nymph on every cast – be it a beaver pond in the Northern Woods where a large brook trout is 6 inches – or on a river when the hatch is on and you have the pattern the fish want and each one takes line off your reel. Maybe the best trout fishing in the world lasted for 30 minutes and you hooked 12 big trout in 12 casts standing in the same spot. That sounds pretty damn close to the best trout fishing in the world.
Perhaps the best trout fishing in the world is the place that is a “once-in-a-lifetime” opportunity – a fabled river or perhaps private water where the fish see only a few anglers each day or each season – where the native trout rise freely and with abandon in each place where they should be – in each place your fly lands – there they are! You are there because of a serendipitous invitation from a friend or a business partner – it is a stumble-upon-moment in your fishing life that you will never ever forget. It is a single day or a week that is unlikely to ever happen again. It is the best. Ever.
So what is the “best trout fishing in the world” exactly?
I definitely have come full circle since I read that posting on Linked In. It is hard to beat New Zealand, Alaska, Kamchatka, Montana – or a few dozen other places. But as a good fishing buddy says, “Don’t make me choose!”
I think the “best trout fishing in the world” is being able to trout fish at all.
What do you think?