It’s always been a dream of mine to catch big German brown trout on a fly.
In Montana, if you got a 4- pound-plus brown you would make the wall in Dan Bailey’s Fly Shop. For most of us, a 4-pound trout would be considered a big trout.
I live in Oregon and we also have big browns in some of our waters but they are hard to catch.
I landed my first big German brown in Wisconsin when my friend Dave Halblom and I were teaching a class. On the second day, I spotted a different fish amongst a school of king salmon. After changing my fly a couple of times and working on making a proper presentation I hooked, landed, and released an 11.5-pound brown.
That was several years ago and was all it took to peak my interest.
Since then I have landed and released brown trout up to 22 pounds which were estimated by measuring length and girth. My best day fishing for German brown trout was on the Rio Grande River in Chile where I landed 14 sea-run browns from 13 to 20 pounds.
Many years ago I started fishing the Great Lakes for steelhead, but I also had a strong interest in fishing up-state New York’s brown trout fishery. Oak Orchard Creek was at the top of my list for sure.
John Randolph who was the editor for Fly Fisherman magazine and my friend and Rep Dave Halblom decided to make the trip happen. We were like kids in a candy store and had incredible action for both steelhead and German browns.
Because of our success, the following year one of our accounts asked if Dave and I would host a 2-day class on fly fishing using Teeny fly lines and Teeny flies. We were happy to accept the offer and 12 anglers showed up that day eager and ready. During the 2 day class, they hooked very close to 300 fish. There was so much action that I could not get to everyone for photos. Our Teeny lines and Teeny flies proved to be extremely deadly.
The darker colors of Antique Gold, Insect Green, Natural and Black were all hot colors. Once in a while we would change to Ginger, Chile, or Hot Green and do quite well. Ginger, Antique Gold, and Insect Green were the three colors. The best sizes ranged from #10’s to #4’s.
The Teeny Nymph pattern has proven to be deadly wherever we fish it. I know that German browns are nocturnal but believe me we have caught them in the middle of the day with the sun on the water. Sure, you may need to work harder and make more casts but as long as you know they are out there you will always have the chance at hooking your trophy fish. As in all fishing, it will boil down to your selection of fly line, fly and leader, but most important is the presentation of your fly to the fish.
Sometimes I try to think like a fish that is holding a position in a run or pool. They will protect their territory for sure but also be very careful about what they do or not do. When you are presenting to them they may not even move. There are also times they will take off and you never see them again. The ones that stay in position and let you fish for them are of course the ones you can hook. They feel safe enough, not threatened. I stay with the dark Teeny patterns with the exception of Ginger. Ginger is also the best color to see in the water to track your fly.
I have taken many big trout, salmon, and steelhead on Ginger in Alaska, British Columbia, Chile, Argentina, Russia, the Great Lakes, and of course my home waters in Oregon and Washington. I do change my flies quite often, be it size and/or color. I feel like I am fishing new water all over again when I do this. Sometimes where you stand can totally change how your drift and fly are presented. A big part of fly fishing is the challenge of getting the fish to take your fly.
When you feel the strike, set the hook and say “fish on” or “there he is”— it doesn’t get better than that!
I had a wonderful day on an Upstate tributary to Lake Ontario where I brought to hand 22 browns from 5 to 12 pounds. This is world class brown trout fishing anyway you look at it. I used our Teeny Mini-Tip line which has 5 feet of fast sinking tip. I also had a short leader of 3 to 4 feet. By having a short leader in moving waters you will have a longer and better presentation of your fly that will be in the zone where the fish are holding.
I always fish with my rod tip low to the water and follow my line with my rod tip. This way I am very direct to the fly and can feel the slightest takes and really get a good hook set from the lower rod position and a relaxed arm. When the bottom of a river is dark it is always much harder to spot fish. So when your line is drifting keep your eye on it for the slightest change in the drift. Even though you are after big fish the takes can often be subtle.
I enjoy reading water and trying to figure out just where the fish will be holding, and really necessary if you are unable to see the fish. For the most part in moving water, the fish are not really leader shy and will focus on your fly, not the leader. I prefer to use clear leaders and usually will have no problems.
In slow-moving water or pools we often need to go to longer leaders and lighter tippets. Watch closely if you can see your fish and watch how they respond to your presentations. Adjust accordingly if they move away from your line or fly. A big part of fishing is figuring out what the fish want.
Remember that Brown trout will challenge you on getting them to bite. I normally prefer to dead drift my fly with the speed of the current. This is the technique I use most of the time. On occasion, I will twitch or move the fly to entice a strike. At times in the right waters, I will cross current strip my fly back. It will often encourage savage strikes when you do this. Make your cast and let it drift for a few seconds and then start stripping back slowly. This will make your fly move faster than the speed of the current. The aggressive fish will sometimes respond to this and will chase and attack the fly.
When fishing for bigger brown trout I usually will use 8-pound test or more if I think I can get away with it. I believe in using the heaviest leader possible. This way you can fight and land the fish quickly and release them unharmed.
Once you get dialed in on brown trout you will be ruined for life.
New York does an amazing job for all of us to have a shot at catching many trophy-sized fish. Think about what your fly is doing as it is drifting along. Concentrate and watch your line and if you feel anything different, set the hook. It could well be your fish of a lifetime.
- written by Jim Teeny