Whitefish to the Rescue

Many a day has been saved by the lowly whitefish

By Rob Breeding

Many a day has been saved by the lowly whitefish. There were times when I was guiding on the Middle Fork and the fishing for trout wasn’t particularly good, so I’d tie a dropper on my client’s dry fly just to get some whitefish action going. In the dogs days of summer, sometimes that’s all we had.

Inevitably, the nymphs would catch mostly whitefish. The occasional cutthroat would bite as well, but four out of five times when the indicator dipped, a whitey would be on the line.

I otherwise avoided multi-fly rigs because they can be difficult to cast for newbies, and guiding often means one or both of the anglers in your boat are new to fly fishing. If I was still guiding, by now I would have developed a formula to represent the rate at which each additional fly, bobber or split shot attached to a newbie’s leader increased the likelihood of a tangle, one that I’d need to anchor up to deal with.

I suspect the curve would be steep.

Whitefish don’t often fight as hard as trout, especially the larger fish. I’ve hooked a few monsters over the years. A whitefish in the 20-inch range will feel substantial at hook set, and will get your blood racing when you measure the bend in your rod and see a flash of color to get an idea of the size, but the fun wears off quickly. A trout that big will give you all you can handle on a five-weight fly rod, but large whitefish just seem to give up after a brief run. Even before I’ve got the fish close enough for a visual I know it’s a whitey. A two- or three-pounder is fun for a moment. Then you’re just reeling in dead weight.

Whitefish made my day last weekend. It was a dreadfully hot afternoon, so the Elk Hunter and I decided to head for the mountains to beat the heat. I’m not sure how well that worked, as it was pretty dang hot up there, too, but at least we were away from people, or so I hoped when we parked at the trailhead. Of course, there were more than a few vehicles of people who had beaten us to the idea.

What I hadn’t expected (but probably should have) was the reaction we got when one of the early arrivals started sauntering down the trail toward us. The hiker got one look at us and stopped dead in her tracks. And there she stood, about 50 yards off, just staring at us for a good five minutes while her own dog ambled about at her feet.

Such behavior is unusual, but not unheard of in these parts. The woman left me with an uncomfortable feeling, though I was pretty sure I had her pegged. After we walked over to have a look at the stream, she finally decided we were safe and made it to her car.

That’s about when we returned, and while we were distracted, Doll, being the friendly English setter she is, wandered over to the woman’s car to say hello. By any measure, this is entirely appropriate behavior for a well-mannered dog at the end of the road on the edge of wilderness.

The woman didn’t see it that way and promptly yelled for us to “get our damn dog.” The outburst confirmed my speculation that she might be an urban refugee still suffering the psychological scars of life in the city. Maybe the interaction of a friendly dog was too much.

Or maybe I should just keep my dog on a leash.

We loaded Doll and left. A ways down the road we found some nice runs. I tied on a green Copper John and gave it a whirl. I slayed the whitefish that afternoon.

The crazy lady at the trailhead was soon forgotten.

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