A month ago I described my “Trout Bowling” rig for using a spin fishing set- up to catch trout with flies on large rivers.
Last week I took a local family to the Big Horn to put my rig to the test. Joining me was the Willey family: Stephanie, her 12-year-old son Ethan and daughter Alexus, 11.
Remember from my last column that the Bowling rig set-up is just a 4-foot section of 6-pound or 8-pound spinning line with a swivel at the top, a bell sinker at the bottom, and two 10” dropper lines with flies attached in between. I was reminded by a pharmacist at Hospital Pharmacy that this rig can be used on a fly rod as well. It’s called a “Teton Rig.” The only difference is that you use a 10-foot non-tapered 8-pound leader with the droppers attached in the last 4 feet. Then you use a couple of 3/0 split shot instead of the bell sinker (an actual bell sinker is pretty tough to cast on a fly rod). The casting of this rig with a fly rod is more of a “lob” cast, almost like casting with your spinning rod.
The key to the fishing technique from a drifting boat (bank fishing is a different story) is to cast to the side, at least 30 feet, get the line tight as soon as the cast hits the water, and then keep the rod high in order to feel the strike. This is a “dead drift” technique; you do not reel the flies through the water. They must sink quickly to the bottom and tumble along as naturally as possible (note the photo of Ethan with his rod held high as he fishes from the boat). With the rod high, and the line tight, you can actually feel your “bowling ball” rolling and bouncing along the bottom headed for a “strike.” Lastly, don’t waste time casting into water that’s two slow for the amount of weight you’re using that day – it won’t roll.
While the sinker bounces and tumbles along the bottom, the rig is obviously moving slower downriver than the boat traveling on the surface. Thus your rig will eventually end up drifting back upstream behind the boat. As your boat drifts downstream, it always spooks and scatters fish out from under the boat. Remember that spooked fish are not feeding fish. You have to fish outside of this 30 feet. “scatter zone” around the boat. As your rig drifts back upstream, it will obviously re-enter the scatter zone and eventually bounce along directly behind the boat. Do not let this happen! I’ve seen folks try this rig and end up spending most of their time with the rig trolling directly upstream behind the boat. They’re fishing the scatter zone which, for them, is the “dead zone” as far as hoping to catch any fish. What’s the solution? As soon as your rig gets a good distance behind the boat and begins to cross into that 40-foot wide path the boat just covered, reel in your rig as fast as you can and re-cast it back out to the side.
On my day with the Willey’s, we fished with a #8 worm fly along with a #18 sow bug. The worm served as an “attractor” fly, with the sow bug imitating what the fish were feeding on most. Ethan got right down to business, and hooked a nice 13-inch Brown on his second cast from the boat. He’s a very intense fisherman and a quick learner. He would immediately apply every bit of advice I passed on to him. Over the next five hours I’m sure he landed more than thirty fish, ranging in size from 12-inch to 17-inch. He even accomplished something I’d never seen before, which was to hook three final trout at the end of the float while standing next to the boat ramp as we packed up to head home for the day. I wonder if he’d still be standing there fishing if I’d just drove off with the girls. Probably, but that’s OK because I would have done exactly the same at his age.
Alexus was initially a little dubious about fishing, but after her Mom hooked four fish in the first 30 minutes, she knew she could “do better than Mom.” Once Alexus landed about 15 trout, she wanted me to do whatever I could to help her land a whitefish, of all things. She’d caught a whole bunch of Rainbows and Browns, but only Ethan had landed a few whitefish (sibling rivalry at play?). I couldn’t ever quite get her that whitefish, but the dreamy smile on her face, as she napped on the ride back home, told me that “bowling for trout” all day had left her very happy and contented indeed.
GORDON ROSE works as a commercial fly tier and operates Sheridan WYO Healing Waters, part of a national nonprofit organization which teaches disabled military veterans fly fishing, fly tying and fly rod-building as part of their therapy.