Fish Stories

Fish Stories

I’ve caught more fish than you’ve lied about!

7 min read

I’ve caught more fish than you’ve lied about

Limping up the stairs to the second floor of Gary Brown’s shop, my hamstring reminds me it hasn’t yet healed. I wonder if I’m overdoing it by lugging my videography equipment up in one trip. Maybe two would have been smarter.

I make it to the top and find Gary, Rod Dines, and Dennis Coyle, local Trout Unlimited folks, waiting for me.

They help me get organized, then sit down in front of Gary’s beautiful fly-tying table and start mindlessly tying flies while we chat. We go deep on fly fishing in McCall and the role Trout Unlimited plays in creating an engaged community of fly fishermen and women as well as the organization’s efforts to conserve our streams and lakes.


The Mission

Brown, president of the local Trout Unlimited Chapter—at least until he can convince Dines to take over—brings me up to speed.

“Trout Unlimited started in the Great Lakes—it’s international now—with a mission to protect cold-water fisheries. So, salmon, trout, steelhead, your landlocked fish, and so on.”

In addition to drinking beer, fishing, and tying flies, which Brown says (with a laugh) they “do a moderate amount of,” the McCall chapter of TU, as they call it, takes on smaller projects. Right now, they’re focused on a watershed restoration project off Heinrich Lane with help from Simplot, the Bureau of Land Management, Valley County, and Idaho Fish and Game.

“We’ve planted bushes and trees and stuff like that a couple times down there,” says Brown, “with more work to follow.”

As Brown notes, they’re a small chapter, so they partner with local non-profits to fund their projects and extend their reach. 

“We hardly do anything alone; everything is with partners. We’ve done a couple river float clean-ups; we’ll be doing another one this spring. That’s a lot of fun. We fill the boat up with trash and tires and leave the place better than we found it.”

Planting Willows on the banks of the Payette near Hat Ranch.

I find this last part surprising. I fish the Payette from the dam by Shore Lodge down to Smiley Road and can’t say that I’ve ever seen trash. But, as Brown points out, “It’s not terrible, but it’s amazing what you find when you start looking.”

“We had Dave Hall, the guy that just passed away. He found a tire in the middle of the river,” says Brown. “He dove underwater, four feet underwater in a swift current, digging it out.”

“He brought snorkel gear and everything,” says Dines. “It was pretty funny.”

The Sweet Sound Of Laughter
If TU had a soundtrack, it would likely be laughter and a willingness to share their knowledge with anybody interested. 

“We meet monthly,” says Brown, “just to chat about projects we want to do and then catch up. We meet at the visitor center for Ponderosa State Park and sometimes at Drift West, the fly shop next to KB’s Burritos.”

In addition to monthly member meetings, TU also runs 20 fly-tying sessions each winter for anybody who wants to participate—members and non-members.

“Dennis is our resident expert,” says Brown.

“Well, not expert,” says Coyle. “Rod’s the man when it comes to tying.”

Sessions are held at Broken Horn and the high school. The high school sessions take place in the art room and are sponsored by the Arts & Humanities Council.

“We do it in partnership with them,” says Coyle, “and because of the donations we receive, primarily materials, we’re able to do it for free. Arts & Humanities advertises for us and handles the registrations. We teach the class and provide the materials.”

It’s a win-win—like most of the things TU does.

“Our casting clinic in June—at the green field next to the high school—is a fun day,” says Brown. “I was shocked the first time we did it, how many people came up to us with brand-new stuff they got either themselves or as a present and put it on our table and said, ‘How do I put it together?’”

And so, with their trademark laugh, the folks at TU did what they do best and taught folks how to rig their rods and cast them.

“You’ve got to wear eye protection,” says Dines, “because things are flying everywhere. Nobody gets hooks (just a piece of yarn tied to the end), but it’s a lot of people casting, in many cases for the first time, so it gets a bit crazy. It’s a blast.”


Casting Secrets—A To B
When it comes to casting a fly rod, you can go down the rabbit hole that is the internet and find theories on top of theories. Many of them espouse the 10-to-2 strategy, which works if you keep the line flat and don’t turn that 10-to-2 into a 9-to-5 or an 8-to-3. 

The TU guys feel like there’s a better, easier way.

“Lefty Craig revolutionized casting,” says Brown. “[Prior to him] it was the 10-and-2 and a lot of the books we gave out at the banquet still preach the 10-and-2, but Lefty's philosophy was you cast like you throw a baseball. So, if I'm just going to throw a baseball a few feet, I'm just going to have short-arm action, right? But if I'm going to throw a baseball to the end of the driveway, right, you're going to reach that ball way the heck back and you're going to put your body into it.”

Coyle agrees.

“It's all about keeping—when you bring your line back,” says Coyle, “keeping it straight so A to B, that's all you must think about, A to B. And so, you can be at an angle like this. You can be at an angle like this. But if this is on a straight line and, as Gary said, if your line goes straight up on that tangent, you're fine, right? You know, people get anxious and mess it up. It’s easy to do.”

“Wait a little bit,” says Dines, “and then you get the timing. Once you feel how to do it right, you’ll get it. You just need to get the feel.”

Tips For Fish Survival
Once you’ve figured out your cast and are catching fish, then the boys at TU want you to know nine tips for fish survival:

1.     Don’t play fish to exhaustion.
2.     “Keepemwet”—Keep fish in or over water.
3.     Wet hands before handling.
4.     Fish barbless hooks.
5.     Use a hook removal device.
6.     Remove the hook with fish in the water.
7.     Use only a rubber net.
8.     Take photos with fish in the water.
9.     Prior to release, hold the fish facing the current. 

For more information, visit www.keepfishwet.org.

“Oddly enough,” Brown says, “nets are a big deal. Using an older net with string and knots takes the slime off the fish and kills them. Rubber nets really make a big difference.”

The TU boys tying up some flies.

Secret Spots
The beauty of McCall is fishing opportunities abound—creeks, rivers, and high alpine lakes all combine to provide endless chances to explore. 

When I ask the TU guys where I should fish, they tell me, “I think you should fish in the water,” and laugh.

“So, you’re not going to give up any spots?” I ask.

“Can’t do it,” says Coyle. “It’s not because I don’t want to, but it’s a self-preservation thing. If I tell you, then when I show up at Monday morning fly-tying, somebody’s going to slap me.”

Fortunately, this isn’t strictly true.

“We’ve got four reservoirs we’re going to promote,” says Brown, “Brundage Reservoir is one. The others are Granite Lake, Hazard Lake, and Big Hazard Lake.”

“How do you fish Brundage?” I ask.

“I like to go subsurface,” says Brown. “I like to use Woolly Buggers. I troll them along. They vibrate underwater. I don’t put weight on.”

“The best fishing is in the fall,” says Coyle, “ants and hoppers.”

“I think there’s three feeding types—cruisers, the ones that are out farther, and then the ones that are sitting low and pick up on nymphs or Woolly Buggers.”

Regardless of the technique or location, the boys at TU love to share their knowledge. If you want to join them, visit www.tu.org and navigate to the McCall chapter. If you want to join, you can do that, too, for as little as $35.

As a parting gift, Coyle tells me a quick story.

“My daughter, Erin, just got back into fly fishing after a 15-year (or so) break. She told me, ‘Dad, I kind of figured it out. Dry fly fishing is like fine art, like drawing with watercolor and [indicator] fishing is like drawing with crayons.’”

The boys laugh and Brown chimes in, “I like to catch fish, so I like to draw with crayons.”