I thought it would be cool to make a video of a day of fly fishing warm water in South Dakota as one of my “Month of May” blogs.  Sadly, it took me longer than I had hoped to get it accomplished.  Oh well, it’s done and here it is.  One fishing trip one day with my brother.

What I Can

It’s the time of year when trout should eat.  I’ve picked a dreary overcast day, to overcome their aversion to light.  I’ve picked a fly that is the best version I can tie of the naturals on the water. I’ve laid out a cast better than I thought I was capable of.  I’ve gotten a drag free drift.  I’ve drifted the fly into the feeding lane of the trout.  How upset can I be if I don’t catch this fish?

Catching Up

Alright, I’m already a day behind and only one day has passed.  So there you go.  I’d like to say that cosmic weather along with perfect water temperature conspired to make the once in a spring hatch come off and I was busy catching fish so fast I melted my flyline.  I’d like to say that… but I can’t.  Between being a single Dad and my impending birthday (and the friends and dinners that come with it) I just managed to run clean out of time.  That happens so I won’t beat myself up about it.  In fact, I think being ok with that is something flyfishing has given me.

As anyone reading this knows, timing is everything in fishing.  In fact, timing on top of timing on top of timing ad infinitum is everything.  Right time of year, right time of day, right time in the moon cycle, right time in the weather pattern and on and on and on.  In fact, it not just timing at that moment that is important.  It can be the timing immediately following a PREVIOUSLY perfect timing that is important.  The right calm after the right squall that followed the right barometric pressure drop etc.  I’m not sure how far you could go back, but I doubt our tiny brains could wrap all the way around it anyway.  It all gets very large when you start thinking about it.  It also does a fine job of illustrating that skill can take you a ways, but luck and other mystical unknown forces will always hold the trump card in this sport.

Anyway, timing is important, that much is clear.  I’ve had to learn to be ok with dropping everything and hitting the water when it all lines up.  I mean,  I was always OK with it… but I had to get right about all the “should be doing something else” thoughts that come with it.  There are always blogs that were promised and laundry that could be done and floors that should be swept.  If you decided never to fish until everything was complete, you may never make it to the water at all.  The minutiae of life has a way of quietly swallowing up everything around it and if you aren’t careful you will one day look around and see that your whole life is simply moving from one minutiae to the next.  Sure, these things do need to get done, and they will get done.  In fact, I find they are all still there waiting for me when I get home.  It’s amazing how few things in our lives are truly as urgent as they feel.

You see, when I’m on the water my mind can’t be back home sorting laundry, or making the bed.  It has to be right there, in the moment.  If I’m not consumed by the fishing, I’m not doing it right and most likely I’m not doing it well.  So I’ve had to learn to stop worrying about where I should be or what I should be doing.  If I made the decision to go fishing, then fishing is where I should be…end of story.  Hell, fishing is a much more important part of my life and mental health than the damn dishes are.  So fishing has taught me to see where I am when I am there.  To live in that one breathless instant when the earth slows to a halt, the clouds stop moving, the soundtrack to our lives pauses and the fish examines my fly.  The longest instant in the world.

So no, I wasn’t fishing and yes I did promise you a blog. (There was an audible outcry across the globe when I didn’t post one.)  I was at my birthday dinner with two of my best friends, their daughter (who is my daughter’s best friend) and my daughter .  We laughed, ate great food and annoyed the other patrons at the restaurant.  That is where I was, and thanks to flyfishing that is ONLY where I was.  I wasn’t half there and half at work. I wasn’t half there and half at home worrying over a blog.  I was in that moment.  I won’t be getting that moment again so I milked it for everything it had.  If you gotta problem with me not meeting my blogging responsibility, blame flyfishing.   


Every Day in MayEvery Day in May is a blogging challenge issued by How Small A TroutA Fresh Start, and Memoirs of a Flygirl. Other bloggers are jumping in. Don’t get left behind!

ALL YOU HAVE TO DO IS: POST TO YOUR BLOG EVERY DAY IN MAY. Cinchy! Mayfly hatches, spring runoff, spawning fish, tulips, debauched May Day pagan rituals—blog it all. Blog to learn, blog to remember, blog to forget. Document May, the whole thing. We’re providing prompts for each day if you need them, but feel free to interpret, misinterpret, or post whatever you like.

Are you up to it..?

To accept the challenge and pass it on, reblog this kick-off post and graphic, then tag your May posts with “every day in May”. Don’t worry if you see this and May is already here; there are no late fees nor penalties for early withdrawal. To all you who blog about other stuff like scrapbooking or cupcakes or scrapbooking about cupcakes: copy this idea and do your own Every Day In May. One day left!

Da prompts:

1. May Day
2. home waters
3. current
4. tying
5. fishing
6. praying
7. working
8. hatching
9. grinning and laughing
10. conservation
11. waders
12. something completely different
13. Mother’s Day
14. rod
15. line
16. leader
17. fly
18. fish, fish, fish
19. more fish
20. greenery
21. bugs
22. runoff
23. safety first
24. memory
25. shoreline
26. lessons learned
27. bucket list
28. news
29. inspiration/aspiration
30. fish philosophy
31. achievement

I get it.  Trout are the species inextricably linked to flyfishing. I can’t tell anyone that I flyfish without them asking, “Where do you do that?”  See I live on the high plains of southeastern South Dakota.  The nearest coldwater stream is a 4 hour drive away and even those don’t see much action, considering they are marginal at best.  Yet I fish here, in my own back yard.

Over the last 5 years, I’ve taught myself how to flyfish.  Around here there are few, if any, serious fly fisherman and in 5 years I’ve met only two on the water.  I had no choice but to teach myself.  Oh, don’t get me wrong, I’ve read the books and solicited advice from everyone from the Roughfisher  to Capt. Tuck Scott of Baystreet Outfitters. That said, basically it has been me, alone on the water…warm water… trying to figure this game out.  It’s been a fantastic journey and I still have a long way to go.  That being said, I felt compelled to put together a piece with some of the various species of fish I have targeted and caught.  The descriptions of how I catch them are not all encompassing and are surely not enough to get you into fish.  They should, however, illustrate that there are a bunch of highly underutilized species out there and that you don’t have to live in British Columbia to get on empty water and catch all kinds of fish.

I had to start here.  The Common Carp.  These are the most versatile and rewarding fish I’ve found and about as fun to catch as any out there.  I have caught them tailing like Bonefish or Redfish, clooping (rising) to small caddis flies like Brook Trout, busting bait at the surface like Bluefish and quietly nymphing deep runs like Brown Trout.  I fish carp with a 7wt because, as my saltwater fishing guide friend said on a recent trip up here to catch them, “I didn’t know there were freshwater fish that strong”.  A 15 pound carp (not uncommon even on small water) will test the breaking strength of your rod.

Carp will eventually drive you insane.  While you are correct in assuming that they “eat anything” that doesn’t work as well as you think when it comes to catching them.  They do feed on a wide variety of organisms, but they won’t eat anything you throw at them.  Once they are keyed into a certain food source, they won’t take anything else.  Additionally, their vision and barbules can make them difficult to fool with a fly.  I have read everything from “they have great vision including infrared vision”, to their eyesight is poor.  The best source I know tells me that they, in fact have poor eyesight. (Anytime a blog tells you fish have supernatural abilities.. be cautious).  Either way, a recent Orvis podcast described them as being as difficult to make eat as a Permit.  Whether that’s because of vision or smell or something else, it does give it some perspective.   They have highly advanced lateral lines and move in shoals that serve as warning systems. Couple that with an ear drum that is connected to their swim bladder for amplification and they are as spooky as it gets.  Lastly, like all minnow species, a Carp gives off a warning pheromone in the water alerting his fellow fish of danger.  So, be VERY subtle in both approach and handling.

Another fish species that I find particularly fun are White Suckers.  These are very discerning fish that (obviously) feed on the bottom.  One of the things I am learning is that bottom feeder doesn’t mean head down and actually only eating things that are stuck to the bottom.  It just means that they look for their food sources on the bottom.  That is to say, I have frequently caught white suckers higher in the water column… but they wanted nymphs.

 This is a male in full spawn colors.  I saw him working the tailout of a nice pool.  As he scurried back and forth across the tailout, right where the water speed picks up, he was in a perfect spot to feed on nymphs being washed downstream.  Dead drifting a small Prince Nymph to him 3 times wouldn’t draw a strike.  I finally figured out that he was eating off the bottom and let my fly rise at the end of my drift.  THAT he liked.

This gorgeous creature is a Bigmouth Buffalo.  The coloration on these fish is second to none.  If trout are beautiful like rainbows then Buffalo are beautiful like a Grateful Dead poster under a black light.  A pretty common species of fish; buffalo can be found, but they are not easily caught.  While I have managed to get a couple of them to eat woolly buggers, they seem to prefer nymphs.

They are VERY selective to fly pattern, particularly size, and almost always require a good drift.  The take will be subtle but the rest of the fight won’t be.

This one was caught on a weighted Hares Ear nymph in about 12 inches of water.  He had worked himself up into really skinny water, where he controlled one side of the current as it split around a small island.  That is to say, he found a place that only he could fit and that funneled food right too him.  We should all be so lucky.

Another species that I have come to enjoy fishing for very much is the Freshwater Drum.  The distinct shape and color of these fish make catching them a real treat.  While this photo does a poor job of giving the subtle coloration it’s due (as all fish pictures do), drum manage to fade from a deep iridescent purple all the way to a reflective gold.

They fight well, using their flat bodies to plane hard in the water and use current to their advantage.

Drum are hard to sight cast to in the dirty water we get around here.  I have had luck finding them busting bait at the surface and tailing in very skinny water.  Usually I can find them flashing as they slash food under the water.  Your best bet for these predators are woolly buggers, small clouser minnows and little crayfish patterns.  I usually find them working rocky areas or stands of weeds.  Anywhere a fish could reasonably expect to find catchable minnows and crayfish.

This strange looking fish is called a Mooneye.  These are probably the best fish in warm water that I have come across, for traditional fly fishing.  They look like a slab of chrome, with large scales and oversized eyes.  The mouth is upturned and the eyes are positioned near the very top of the head.  This design should tell you all you need to know.  The big eyes located on the top and the upturned mouth…it’s a surface feeder.  Nearly every evening I can find Mooneye (and their cousin Goldeye which look identical but for the yellow eyes) rising to whatever hatch may be occurring.  The take is rather splashy and hooking up can be really tough because their mouths are very hard and they have a mouthful of teeth.

I have found catching Mooneye to be an absolute BLAST.  In fact, a couple of friends of mine came here all the way from South Carolina to fish carp.  However, when the sun would start to set and the fish would rise, we found ourselves putting away our thundersticks and taking out our 5 weights to throw dryflies to rising Mooneye.  I have found them to be selective to both size and color of fly.  Fishing a sparkle dun to Mooneye that are rising to dark caddis will not draw a strike. That said, these fish have gone their whole lives without seeing a fly, so they don’t exactly grade your fly tying.

I have caught way more catfish that you would expect on the flyrod.  You know what they are and have seen them before, so I will spare you the description.  I have found and sight cast to catfish in the past.  Sometimes they can be seen cruising near the surface and a well placed fly out in front of them can draw a strike.  I also watch closely for bait fish leaping out of the water.  That can indicate a cruising fish of some kind below them and many times thats a very large catfish.  They aren’t picky eaters but I do think it’s important to throw something rather meaty at them.  Remember, they aren’t going to charge a fly.

My best luck has been dead drifting leech patterns, woolly buggers, crayfish patterns and very slowly retrieved bait fish patterns through rocky  or sheltered water with a current.  The takes will simply stop your fly.  Don’t be afraid to set up on them…getting a good strong set can really increase your chances of landing a cat.

The Mighty Quillback.  This is one of the most challenging fish to fool I have ever come across. Built for discerning feeding on the bottom, the position of the mouth and eyes give them the ability to be very selective in what fly they eat.  That and I’m not totally convinced that the tippet doesn’t get in the way often-times when they try to take a fly.  

These unique fish are golden and silver with large scales.  Their name comes from the extra long front portion of the dorsal fin.  The front spine is something like twice as long at the rest of the fin, sticking up like… well… a quill.  As you can see, this particular fish is wearing blue eyeshadow… so I think it’s a female. Or maybe a … oh never mind.

Quillback can be found working skinny water along the edges of currents and deeper pools where they can find relief from the water flow.  I often spot them initially by the flash, but can usually keep an eye on them once I’ve found them.  Small nymphs dead drifted are the only way I have ever been able to get a strike.  It takes a good fly (matching the hatch is almost a must) a VERY good drift and some luck to get into a Quillback.  I like to use a 5 weight rod and 6x tippet, for the delicate cast, presentation and drift, not to mention the tiny flies that are required.

I don’t think I have ever gone out LOOKING for gar.  That said, once I have found them I will cast to them…until i get bored.

There is a reason these fish tend to bore me.  They will hit about anything that moves… they have long beaks made of bone, meaning it’s VERY hard to hook up, and the same fish will take the same fly over and over and over. 

I catch both Longnose and Shortnose gar with regularity.  These fish are aptly described as prehistoric and I guess I can’t find a better word for it myself.  They look odd… that is all.  Rather drab in coloration, there is no needing to understand subtleties of colors in order to identify these fish.  You can’t mistake them.  They do, however have some interesting spot patterns on the tail.  The scales are VERY hard, making them feel almost like a shell and if you run your hand along the fish against the scales they will cut you. I mean REALLY cut you.  The beaks (that is honestly what their mouths are called) are made of bone and full of razor sharp teeth.  The best fly patterns have lots of buck tail in them.  Bucktail can tangle in the teeth when you can’t hook them.  In fact, using frayed rope and no hook is a frequent technique in catch gar.  When I do hook up, the hook usually actually enters from the outside of the bottom of the beak.

You can find gar holding in current in large schools or cruising the shallows looking for meat to sink their teeth into.  Gar have an air bladder that doubles as a primitive lung and they can frequently be seen gulping air on the surface (they are NOT eating while doing this).  Throw something that looks like a bait fish in front of them and have a ball. Remember, you won’t hook up alot, and you WILL ruin flies.  You will also have a good time.

Well…there you have it.  Eight species of roughfish that can be targeted with a flyrod in warm water… ANYWHERE.  You don’t need world class fisheries, gold medal streams or plane tickets to Belize to give you anything you could ask for from the sport of flyfishing.  And this is just part 1!!  Next installment, gamefish.  Lucky you!

Chasing Tail

The tail

The result


By this point in the evening, you’ve come to respond to the faceless voice from the poling platform behind you as though it were the voice of the Almighty himself.  Earlier on this February day you reacted to it’s instructions like they were learned suggestions.  Hearing, “2 o’clock, 45 feet out.” you would hesitate, peer into the water, try to confirm the truth of this phrase.  But you learned this wasn’t a question, or request he was presenting, and you had better not act like it was.  You had to take it on faith alone.  He is Moses from atop the Mount, staff firmly in hand, and when you waited for proof that those statements were true, if you waited to act on knowledge instead of faith alone, it was too late.  The school was scattering, the Reds were on the run.  You were trapped in the Hell that is only seeing the target after it has made itself no longer a target.

“Ok, 11 o’clock, 50 feet out.” Is the lastest commandment.  You stip furiously.  While He poled you around, looking into, what is to you, the unseeable, you have been blind casting; flailing about because action seemed better than non-action.  It probably wasn’t.  So now  you are left with too much line on the water and a frantic need to obey.  So you strip as fast as you can, until you have a manageable amount of line on the water.  And then you try to defy gravity.

The rod is drawn quickly back.  You line hand is hauled down and the water sucks on the line with all the tension it can muster.  Your 9 foot long rod is bowed beautifully.  Suddenly it is no longer a floppy willowy stick, it becomes a fiercely well engineered piece of equipment.  Arching to exactly the right shape to drag 25 feet of line smoothly away from the greedy water and send it flowing back in a perfectly straight line.  If you were a better man, this is all the energy you need to shoot that line perfectly forward to 11 o’clock, 50 feet out.  While this is His word, you are not a Righteous man with ease.  You will have to work at it.

So, you bring the line forward and shoot out 10 feet of line, stopping it short of laying it down on the water and sending it back into another back cast.   On your forecast the second time you shoot more line and again reverse course, drawing back into a backcast.  By now, He has got to be impatient, you start to think.  He gave a simple command, and yet you dally.  Your floating flyline can walk on water, and yet  you whip your fly around in the air rather than following the command.  You are working feverishly to get the fly to 50 feet.  A better man could have done it long ago.  But that man would not have had to work like you are.  Strained to obey.  This straining has certainly cost you fish in the past, and He MUST be frustrated.

On the third try you are at 50 feet and with a snap against the pole, you shoot your remaining line.  The snap, you know, means you have worked too hard, exerted more energy than is necessary.  You had one too many false casts.  With more faith in yourself, you could have shot to 50 feet on 2 false casts instead of 3.  No, matter, the fly in in the water.

The instant the fly hit the water, He said, “Ok Wait.” and you do.  You gaze into the distance.  Straining to see the Truth as He does.  To see the fish, know it’s direction and how close it is to the fly.  To eat that apple of knowledge and thus relegate Him to the man that pushes the pole, rather than He who Knows.  It is a goal you will never attain.  You think maybe you see a shadow where He is gazing, or a flash.  That is as close as you will get on this day.  “Ok, strip!” is the third command and you stip your line.

Three, foot long strips in, and the line goes taught.  You raise the rod tip quickly and firmly; saying in your head, “Just come up tight, don’t try to rip his face off.”  Now the fight in on.  Silently, behind you, without your knowing, a fist shoots up into the air.  A small celebration from atop the mount. It was your success He was after and your success He is cheering, unbeknownst to you.