What appears below is the foreword to Boots Allen's Modern Trout Fishing: Advanced Tactics and Strategies for Today's Fly Fisher. Lyons Press, 2013.
What is modern fly fishing for trout? Aren’t trout the same fish they were twenty, fifty, one hundred years ago? A trout is a trout is a trout, right?. Not so fast with that old-school thinking. Do some simple math if you don’t believe me: there are more people fishing today than 20 years ago; there are no new trout streams being created; and anglers are becoming more knowledgeable with the abundance of information out there. It is simple, for today’s trout angler new methods and new skills are necessary to catch fish. Gone are the days of simply tossing out a fly, getting a half-hearted presentation, and a hungry trout hangs itself on your hook. We have entered a new realm in trout fishing. Trout are still trout, but for you to have continued success it is essential to take your angling and our understanding of trout to the next level. Fortunately, for you, you have this book. I didn’t.
My first fishing memories as a kid were burned on the small streams of the Gallatin Valley near Bozeman, Montana. The Gallatin, Yellowstone, and Madison were the rivers of my youth. Fishing was easy then, maybe not in terms of more fish and bigger fish than today, but less effort was required to consistently catch fish. Fly fishers, even in Montana, were a small group of dedicated men and women who primarily kept to themselves. And most folks would keep to themselves when the long rod and floating lines were the exception not the rule in the western U.S. Fishing access sites were un-improved and many un-marked. Getting permission to fish on private lands was a matter of asking and bringing the rancher a six-pack or nice bottle of wine. Listen to me, I’m getting nostalgic. Things weren’t necessarily better back then, just different, that’s all. Fly tying materials were usually ordered by mail via Dan Baileys, as few fly shop existed (unlike today where there is at least two, sometimes three, on every major river in the region). Most anglers collected their own materials and worked hard to do so. Rods were bamboo or fiberglass. Waders were bulky and hot. Wading boots existed, but most anglers whore hiking boots or old tennis shoes. Fishing for trout was an endeavor, not a pastime or a leisure activity. Then came anglers like LaFontaine, Hughes, Troth, Roos, Barnes, Kreh, Marinaro, and after them Harrop, Lawson, Gierach, Best, Matthews, Dennis, and many others. All of these anglers opened the door to a deeper understanding of trout, their behavior, angling tactics, and some introspection as to why we fish. These guys are responsible for educating most of the anglers today. There is not a skill used today when fly fishing for trout that was not invented or tweaked by the fore-mentioned anglers. They spent countless hours a-stream, a-float, at their tying bench devising ways to match wits with trout. Today’s anglers benefit greatly from their dedication and the anglers of today owe a massive shout-out to anglers before them. For your time, effort, resolve, and love of trout, we thank you. But in this age of high-modulus graphite, boron, Kinnetic technology, sonic seam-welding, Facebook and Twitter insta-streaming, and aero-space technology added to my tippet or emerging PMD nymph, understanding feeding lines and color in a fly is not enough.
There’s an argument to be made that my generation of trout anglers is more concerned about having the newest rod or trendiest pair of waders or shiniest drift boat than improving their angling. We are the anglers who brought magazines like The Drake to the market, spend way too much time posting videos to YouTube or updating our Facebook pages, or drink beer too much beer and count the days till the Fly Fishing Film Tour comes to our town. Anglers before us were passionate, too, just expressed their passion in different ways—conclaves, newsletters, and local chapters. Like the trout of yesterday, anglers today are the same as anglers of the past, we just like our sport packaged a little differently. And, trout today are educated on the tactics and flies of the past. Who cares how that happened, it just did—and thankfully we have anglers of today pushing the envelope to understand trout in the 21st Century.
Boots Allen has seen many trout to his net. Trout from small freestones, large freestone, tailwaters, spring creeks, lakes, and high mountain streams. With this book he’s taken his own angling excellence, and passion that’s fueled his education, and is hand-feeding it to the reader. With Modern Trout Fishing you are getting an inside look into what’s made one of region’s best guides, one of the region’s best guides.
Allen begins the book explaining how trout see. Marinaro blew the minds of many anglers a long time ago with his book on this subject, but Allen truly takes it to the next level. He adds how color plays a role in what trout see; he talks about the auditory characteristics of trout and how that relates to the density of the water in which trout lie—I had no idea trout hear and feel 800 times better than humans or other mammals. That fact alone will change you how fish. Allen talks about how a trout views the world. Some of this stuff is techy, but, you know it will make you a better angler as the real world application applies when the approach you take upon entering a stream.
If your approach is crucial, then exactly where you plan to put your fly is equally important. Boots discusses how gradient , velocity, and depth relate where trout hold, what flies to use, and even talk about the game of inches. Case in point: this book will de-mystify why a trout might hold in a riffle one day, a flat the next, and an undercut bank the other. A thorough breakdown of the various holding lies, structure of a stream and the detailed illustrations that accompany move this book from armchair reading to desirable angling tool.
Like the author, I’ve spent a lot of time at the oars or a-stream guiding. What I always find surprising is the small number of experience anglers who lack some basic skills. This book will expose you to these useful tools. Like an over-cast and a reach-cast. It will also open your angling world to usefulness of slack. Ever heard of strip-setting a dry fly? Now you will and you’ll learn it’s deadly. But Allen goes beyond explaining these skills in words, he’s taken step-by-step photos illustrating these useful principles. There’s in-depth diagrams on fishing two dry flies. Yep. Two dry flies. As guides we’ve been fishing two dry flies for years. But not until now has a book detailed the best way to make it work, aka, to keep from making your leader a coiled mess of tangles.
For kid growing up in dry fly country, nymphing for trout was nearly as naughty as looking at girlie magazines. When I began guiding on the Missouri River below Holter Dam, nymphing for trout became a necessary tool. Modern Trout Fishing will make you a better nympher. There’s instruction on how to assemble an effective nymph rig; the knots to use; the indicators to use; tackle considerations for nymphing; and even descriptive photos on casting these clunky, yet damn effective rigs. This book may not cause you to give up sight-fishing to rising trout (but this book will make you better at that, too), but you learn more about what happens under the surface.
Allen has caught many big fish and most of them on streamers. He has a full chapter dedicated to fishing the big flies. Like most experience guides and anglers, we would probably choose to fish streamers of 20-foot 6X leaders with size 24 dry flies most days. The heart-stopping take of a trout on a streamer is addictive. All it takes one hit early in the day to keep most anglers persistently chucking the big bugs. Here you will learn a few deadly retrieves, like Allen’s Figure 8, a tricky little tweak on the basic strip-strip retrieve. You’ll learn how to pick out rods and lines to effectively target big trout. There’s a section on stinger hooks and articulated flies. And, careful thought and observation placed on a hug misconception of streamer fishing—the missed take. Read it. You’ll catch more fish if you do.
Angling in the 21st century means your fly tying needs to be brought up to date. Allen details over a dozen deadly flies. But these aren’t your grandpa’s patterns. They used various hooks and sizes. Incorporate materials like razor foam, Z-lon, glass beads, tungsten, laser dubbing, and more. The flies listed in this book were not around ten, certainly not twenty years ago. They will work in remote streams AND they will work in heavily pressured waters when used with Allen’s modern tactics.
Pressure on our local waters is no laughing matter. In fact, there is an argument that pressure has made the fishing tougher. My response to that is the fishing is not tougher, just different. The growth in fly fishing over the years is a positive. The more people appreciate the environs trout live the better change we have of protecting them.
Climate change is real. Conservation is essential. The main reason I agreed to write a foreword to Boots’ kick-ass book is his closing Afterword. He dedicates it to conservation and the role it has for the modern angler. We all play a part in preserving the great angling we enjoy now to ensure it’s there for future generations.
It’s taken me nearly 15 years of guiding, outfitting, and angling to feel like I am modern angler. With Modern Trout Fishing, it establishes why this sport is so great: the more you learn, the more there is to learn.
Oh yeah, and mend, mend again.
Modern Trout Fishing: Advanced Tactics and Strategies for Today's Fly Fisher. Lyons Press, 2013. Can be purchased on Amazon.
Pat Straub is author of six books on fly fishing and is the owner and outfitter of two Montana fly fishing businesses, Gallatin River Guides in Big Sky, Montana and Montana Fishing Outfitters on the Missouri, Madison, and Yellowstone Rivers.