From a young age, I have always wanted to fly fish. I have fished with conventional tackle since I could walk, but something always intrigued me about the art of fly casting and how elusive trout are. Trout were also viewed as exotic back then, as Northern Indiana is not known for its trout fishing. I first heard of the Amish Trout Outfitters around 2 years ago from my Friend Luke who spurred my interest in the sport. I gave Andy a call, and a week later we fished. During that trip, I caught a brown trout for the first time in my life and the experience was life-altering. It wasn't big by any means, but it opened my eyes to the ferocity of a fish that is often viewed by many as a sophisticated and relatively docile fish, not one that would hit a streamer with reckless abandon. It was also the most beautiful fish I had ever seen, as it had a nice orange/yellow color with red spots that were encircled with the famous "blue halo." From that moment on I was hooked on fly fishing for trout. I had seen firsthand how hard smaller trout hit and couldn't even begin to fathom the strike of a big brown. My addiction to fly fishing only got worse when Andy showed me pictures of some of the huge trout that had been caught in the Little E and introduced me to Trout Club 22, which is an "elite" society where the only requirements are to catch and release a trout that is 22 inches or bigger. I would soon find out this task is much easier said than done.
After the trip I decided to really go all in on fly fishing. I bought a 4 wt 10 ft rod for "Amish nymphing" and used it for most of the first year of my tenure on the little e and brookville. It was soon replaced by a 9 ft 5 wt rod that I almost fish exclusively as it is the perfect "do it all" rod for the little e, or anywhere for that matter. I was determined to catch a club worthy brown. I caught fish, but not as many as I would've liked. I had so much to learn, and looking back was probably too hard on myself. My biggest advice in this stage or in any stage of fly fishing would be to fish with someone that is better than you and knows more than you. Fishing with Andy and Doc Beachy sped up my learning process substantially. I saw the techniques they used and was able to put my own spin on them. Anyways, I fished every chance I got and still could never seem to find any big trout. I just needed a clue as to where to find them. A couple months in, I finally hooked a nice brown, however I didn't set the hook with confidence and he spit my fly shortly after being hooked. Despite not landing him, I was ecstatic because I finally had the location of a big brown. I then committed one of the worst cardinal sins of fly fishing. I pounded the run day after day and never saw the fish again. I've come to learn that big browns are a lot like women. You need to show them enough attention to keep them interested, but not too much so they lose interest (douchey but true.) I learned that timing is everything as these browns didn't get big in a river full of baitfishermen and other predators by being stupid. I would need the perfect conditions to get a big dawg to eat.
I landed my my first good brown in the Little Elkhart 11 months after I started fly fishing. I hooked a few prior to it, but everything finally came together and this one found the net. This day taught me a valuable lesson in peak conditions to fish for the big ones. Rain. I now almost exclusively schedule my fishing times when a rain storm is going to hit. When it starts to rain, insects and worms get washed into the river which triggers a feeding frenzy from the trout. The rain also acts as overhead cover and the big fish will feel more comfortable feeding with the cover of the rainfall. In addition, it makes the water get off color so the trout can't scrutinize your fly as they normally would in normal conditions. When I fished that day, I was nursing a hangover from the casino the night before and was fishing to try to burn off the booze. The water was low as we hadn't had rain in awhile, however there was a chance of it that day. I got on the river right when the rain hit and it came down steadily for the 4 hours I fished. I caught a lot of fish on nymphs and was nymphing an undercut bank in an area know as the meadow when I struck a snag. In an effort to clean my fly of the weeds, I casted around 25 feet downstream, and when my fly hit the water, I saw a huge flash. Adrenaline was pumping as I slowly waded out of the river and onto the bank where I could get a glimpse into the pool where my fly was chased. I couldn't believe my eyes. There were four trout in the pool, all above 15 inches with the largest being around 20 inches. They were feeding in the open run due to the rain and overcast sky without a care In the world. I watched them for a minute and was able to decipher that they were chasing minnows. I cut off and tried streamer after streamer, however, I could not get one to actually eat my fly as they would chase it but not eat it every time I changed colors. I decided not to pressure them too much and moved downstream, which took a tremendous amount of willpower. I gave them an hours rest and came back on my way back to the car. On my 2nd swing through, I hooked a beautiful 16 inch brown. He smoked my small white streamer and immediately took off downstream into some dicey cover. After a short battle on my 5 wt, I landed him and was content for the time being. My goal at that time was to catch a bigger than average brown. This was short lived as I now had a small taste of what I was after and wanted it more than ever.
Later on that summer I learned of another key element for bigger trout in the little elkhart, which is current and oxygen supply. As the summer heats up, so do water temps. Trout seek refuge in riffle sections and deep holes because they provide adequate oxygen and food supply for trout. In a stretch of riffle water blow the CR 35 bridge, I caught 9 trout Czech nymphing the fast water. Off to the side of the run there was a branch that had washed in and lodged itself in. The gravel around the branch washed away creating a deep pocket just out of the current. I dredged my nymph through and sure enough, a large brown took it at the end of the drift. My light tippet was no match for his powerful downstream run and he snapped me off. But I learned! And a month later was rewarded with a beautiful holdover rainbow in a remote section of the little e. That was my closest fish to the trout club 22 at the time. I had one more encounter with a big brown the day before I left for my senior year at Ball State. My time on the Little E for the summer was up and I failed to accomplish my goal. After all, it is just fishing and I had to remind myself I was supposed to enjoy it (which is not the reason I should be fishing.) I took a step back and realized how blessed I was to be able to do what I love in such a beautiful environment so close to home. With that, I was able to detach myself for a little while (2 months) from the Little E and continued to read and research big fish tactics and became reacquainted with my good friend Jack Daniels in good ole Muncie, Indiana.
In my opinion, time of year makes the biggest difference when hunting trophy trout, especially on the Little E, and I have the numbers to prove it. Check back in for the second installment of this post. Thanks for reading!