The Lower Laguna Madre––The Best There is in Salwater Flyfishing

How to Get Big Speckled Trout to Take Your Fly
by Scott Sparrow
An article published in
Fish and Fly Magazine

The openings between the spoil islands called Benny’s Pass on the lower Laguna Madre of South Texas is one of those places where the current runs faster than it does in surrounding areas. During an outgoing tide, in particular, big speckled trout will gather near the opening in search of a meal, and their dark protruding backs and tails can often be seen moving slowly and deliberately amid the nervous, flickering mullet.

My friend Jaime Lopez and I were scouting the area on the day before the 62nd Annual Texas International Fishing Tournament, hoping to locate the trout that would clinch the fly fishing division for one of us. Neither of us had ever fished the tournament, and were not naturally inclined to do such things, but we had decided at the last minute to give it a shot, nonetheless. Jaime was a hundred yards to the south, fishing from his kayak, while I stood with my five-weight with Benny’s Pass to my back, casting a tiny popper over the edge of the Intercoastal channel and stripping it back onto the shallow, clear flat.

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As I relished the warmth of the rising sun, I recalled a dream of the night before in which my high school band director, Avie Teltschik, reminded me of how important it was not to peak before a performance. Remembering how he had been a master of timing, and had won the coveted Texas Bandmaster Award before he died, I thought, “I’d better not catch the big one too soon.”

Minutes later, I reached up in the middle of retrieving my fly to clean my sunglasses. The trout hit the fly with an explosion that spoke of her size and her intent, leaving a foamy crater where my fly had just been. I fumbled with my rod and missed her just like so many other huge trout that have exploited my inattentiveness. I regained my composure, and seconds later, she hit again. This time, I set the hook in time and felt her heavy body lunge toward the deeper water. But then momentarily, she turned, and came toward me, and I saw her -- an eight- to nine-pound trout at my feet. We eyed each other briefly before she turned and ran, eventually throwing the fly after a spirited fight. Rather than cursing my luck, I thought that at least I had followed Mr Teltschik’s advice.

The next morning just after sunrise, I returned to that very spot and caught a trout that ensured my win of the TIFT Fly Division.

Catskill legend Edward R. Hewitt once said, “First a man tries to catch the most fish, then the largest fish, and finally the most difficult fish.” It is hard to say what accounts for this change of heart -- whether it’s an accumulation of successes, or failures, or the right amount of each -- that takes us beyond crude quantitative measures of success. But when the change comes, then certain fish that have lurked vaguely on the edges of the imagination suddenly come into focus. That’s what happened to me five years ago when the idea of catching big speckled trout became a consuming passion.

Even without a mid-life crisis to bring this dream to life, the quest for giant trout would have happened sooner or later, for the seeds of obsession were implanted at an early age by a father who always regarded them with a special reverence and awe. Even today at 83, Dad imagines hearing a trout in every noisy swirl of a mullet’s tail, and seeing one in every clump of floating grass. For years, my brother and I would groan inwardly at my father’s fantasies. But somewhere along the way, I began to see the world as he did, and then the only things that really mattered were few in number and beyond my reach -- like difficult fish and God.

In fisheries where survival depends on more than sheer luck, the most difficult fish to catch are also the biggest ones. When it comes to speckled trout in the lower Laguna Madre -- a semitropical, usually clear, foot-deep estuary that covers about 350 square miles at high tide -- this is undoubtedly true. For there, solitary trout spend much of their lives roaming shallow flats where they remain visible to herons, cormorants and other birds who would gladly relieve them of a pound of flesh. Clearly, something besides luck keeps them from harm for the eight or more years that it takes for them to grow beyond 28 inches. And that “something” is what makes trophy speckled trout “difficult” -- that is to say, one of the greatest challenges in fly fishing.

The Spotted Seatrout, or
cynoscion nebulosis (“starry nebulae”), is a member of the croaker family, and like its cousins -- the red drum, the black drum, and the croaker -- “speckled” trout range from the Chesapeake Bay to the west coast of the Gulf of Mexico. Before they reach the spawning age of two years, and a length of about 15 inches, schooling trout feed mainly on shrimp and tiny baitfish, while feeding, will attack just about anything remotely similar to the real thing that you toss in their direction. Indeed, small topwater and subsurface flies will draw as many as a half dozen slashing strikes on a single retrieve through a school of feeding trout.

Once they mature, they break free of the schools, and roam the shallow flats in search of larger prey, such as mullet and pigfish. The males stop growing after a length of about 19 inches, but the females continue growing throughout their lives. These mature predators travel alone or in a pack with other large trout or redfish, and feed actively for only two hours out of every day.

Most of the largest speckled trout taken on a fly rod are caught on the east coast of Florida or in the “other” subtropical U.S. fishery -- the lower Laguna Madre of deep south Texas. Three of the current IGFA world records were caught in the lower Laguna, a fishery that has widely acknowledged as “world class” for it unique sight casting opportunities. Indeed, the LLM is widely acknowledged as the only fishery in the world where fly fishers regularly sight cast to speckled trout over five pounds in less than a foot of gin-clear water.

Locating huge speckled trout is a large part of the battle, for their movements are as arcane as any fish to be found. If you fish often enough, you may eventually find yourself standing among dozens of trout from five to eight pounds, and you might think that they gather like this every day. Like Percival, who was told that the Grail Castle was simply “down the road and across the bridge,” you might think that the big ones will be easy to find next time. But also like Percival, you will eventually wonder how you could have been so silly.

Big trout usually show up when I’m least expecting them. Take, for instance last August. I had just met Fred Arbona, founder of Climax and author of Mayflies, the Angler and the Trout (New York: Nick Lyons Books, 1989) who was staying on the Arroyo and fishing the LLM. We quickly discovered that we held similar sentiments about the lower Laguna Madre, believing that it was somehow different, and more precious, than other places we’d fished. And so, three days later, we went out fishing together for the first time, along with two of his buddies from Prescott, Arizona. Even though Fred had fished the upper part of the estuary for over 15 years, he hadn’t explored the central LLM, where I did most of my fishing. So, I offered to show him some of my favorite places.

I took Fred and his friends to a small lagoon that most fishermen overlook. I parked some distance away from the mouth of the lagoon, and led the men overland through the marsh and the mangroves. Having caught ten redfish there on my fly rod just two days before, I fully expected to be greeted by the sight of bronze-colored tails and backs. I was looking forward to the guys’ reaction to this. But the reds that often lined the shoreline of the moon-shaped lagoon were nowhere to be seen.

Still, we waded out into the shallow water and began to blind cast. The wind was dead calm, and the surface remained unbroken, except for an occasional leaping mullet. Just before I was ready to call it quits and move on, I saw something that made my heart race -- the black tip of a tail 75 yards away, near the center of the lagoon.

“Fred,” I yelled. “Do you see that tail?”

“Yes,” he said. “And there’s several more over here.”

I moved slowly toward the center of the lagoon, and began to notice a half dozen of large black tails breaking the surface film.

Just at that moment, Fred shouted. His rod was bent, and a big fish was erupting at the end of his line. But a second later, his bent rod abruptly straightened.

“She broke off!” He yelled. Later I discovered that Fred had been using 8-pound tippet, which I consider too light to withstand the violent strike of a large speck. Most fly fishermen I know use 10 to 16-lb tippet for this reason. But after catching over 350 tarpon on a fly rod, Fred has come to a place where the challenge matters much more than success, and relating to the fish matters much more than catching them. Indeed, he recently told me about fishing years before with Lefty Kreh on the Henry’s Fork. Lefty had hooked a huge trout, and was just standing there letting the big fish run.

“Isn’t this great?” he asked Fred.

Fred, being much younger then, replied impatiently, “Aren’t you going to land it?” At that moment, Fred reached reflexively for the rod to help the master fisherman close the deal.

But Lefty pulled the rod away, and lifted the rod abruptly, breaking the tippet with obvious intent. Teaching Fred a lesson that he would never forget, Lefty said, “You don’t have to touch a fish to have a lot of fun.”

The quest for large trout represents a three-fold challenge: finding them, enticing them to strike, and landing them. As for the first part, it takes years of on-the-water experience to discern the movements of gamefish in a fishery that is truly daunting in its vastness. Indeed, I have fished the Bay all of my life, and there are still a some places that I’ve only heard about. As for the last part, landing big trout takes a prodigious amount of luck mixed with a smidgeon of finesse: Most of us lose five out of six of the big trout that we hook. While these factors are largely out of your control, you can still greatly improve your chances for catching trophy fish by concentrating on the middle part of the challenge -- by understanding how to get them to take your fly.

I asked my friend and fellow guide, Skipper Ray, who is widely acknowledged as one of the best fly fishers on the LLM, “What is the secret to getting big trout to take your fly?” In his usual laconic style, Skipper replied, “See the fish before she sees you!” -- as if this should be the most obvious thing in the world. But it isn’t always the first thing that fly fishers consider. Nor is it easy to accomplish once you’ve embraced it as your first order of business.

Before you can see a big trout before she sees you, you must first realize that trout have an uncanny ability to sense your presence. A fly fisher, believing that a trout has not seen him, will often express surprise when the fish flees so quickly and decisively from his first presentation. He will typically attribute the fish’s behavior to a lack of hunger or to its species-inherent “spookiness.” Or he will blame the fly. Such time-honored mental maneuvers do nothing more than prove the axiom that one’s paradigm is always confirmed by operating according to its limitations.

Actually, a trout’s lack of interest usually stems from having already sensed the fisherman’s presence. Indeed, more often than not, the fish is already in a state of mild alarm before the fly fisher ever makes his first cast. Sparse Grey Hackle once asserted, “The real expert is always willing to credit the fish with the inordinate wariness which it always manifests, and he is willing to take the trouble to stalk as he should.” Based on this assessment, it’s up to us -- not the fish or the fly -- to turn our failures into successes.

Cold water fly fishers know that stream trout will eventually get used to your presence, and resume feeding after a few minutes. Big specks will reward you similarly if you give them time to adjust to your intrusion. Taking time to enjoy the beauty of what’s around you, to give thanks for the day, or to replace a knotted tippet, can make all the difference between offending your hosts, and going unnoticed.

Just yesterday, for instance, Kathy, Fred and I went out in search of big trout on the crystal clear flats of the east side of the LLM. With Fred wading to my left and Kathy to my right, I spotted three big trout passing between Fred and me. I yelled to Fred, and pointed, and he spotted them, too. Unfortunately, they quickly moved upwind and out of reach in the 20-mph wind. Two of the fish disappeared, but one of them -- a hefty 28” fish -- came to a halt just 50 feet from me. Rather than continuing my downwind wade, I edged ever so slowly toward her while she faced upwind, and then I stopped about 30 feet away from her. My slate-colored Aqua Design shirt closely approximated the shade of a blue Heron’s plumage, and I moved slowly and deliberately every once in a while as a hunting heron would do. Meanwhile, the trout turned toward me, and milled around, obviously becoming aware of my presence. With my hands to my sides, I glanced at her every once in a while to ascertain that she was still there. Meanwhile, I stripped out about 30 feet of line, preparing to make a back-hand cast to her if she should move across and downwind from me. Almost 15 minutes passed before she moved into range of a cross-wind, back-hand cast. Not willing to press my luck any longer, I false cast only once, and dropped the Mother’s Day fly about two feet from her. Without hesitation, she rushed toward the fly, and took it before it had sunk more than a couple of inches. Taken off guard, I stripped desperately to remove the slack, but felt her only briefly before the fly came loose.

Obviously, my willingness to blend into her world had convinced the big trout that I was no threat -- except as another predator who might have stolen her meal.

Even if a trout seems to adjust to your presence, she will still react instantly to any unnatural movement that you make. Tom Kilgore, who held the IGFA 4-pound-test speckled trout world record for over 10 years, says that he casts as much as possible with his arms close to his body to minimize aggressive-appearing behaviors. Further, he will not look directly at a big trout once he spots her, so as not to alarm her. Fred supports Kilgore’s tactics by repeatedly emphasizing that one must “walk like a heron” to approach these wary gamefish. To the uninitiated, this may sound like superstition. But by adopting such subtle tactics, Kilgore and Arbona regularly encounter opportunities, and achieve successes, that few fly fishers ever dream of.

Let’s look at some basic guidelines for achieving maximum stealth.

Maintain a low profile. It is rare for a fly fisher to catch a big trout from aboard a boat. Trophy specks rarely stick around for high-profile intruders, and a boat is the gravest offender. If my clients ever express a preference for catching big trout, I tell them that the first thing they must do is to get off the boat. And then I advise them to crouch as low as possible -- even to the point of getting on their knees in the water --whenever they spot an approaching trout.

Kayaking is becoming the method of choice for fly fishers stalking big trout on the lower Laguna Madre. My wife Kathy and I often strap our kayaks to our skiff, and carry them to areas where big trout can be found. In a foot of water, you can ride “side saddle” by putting both of your legs off on one side, and then scoot along with your feet on the bottom. You will be surprised by how close you can get to feeding trout this way. Of course, it takes a while before you get used to coordinating your fly rod, paddle, line, and anchor, but it only takes a trip or two to get it all together.

Go slow, and then go slower. Big trout are difficult to spot, especially on a dark, grassy bottom. Unless we stop and study the water carefully, we will spook most of the fish before we see them. It’s good to remember that the fish are almost always on the move, and that we don’t have to “catch up” with them or to create opportunities that aren’t there: We just have to wait for the fish to appear. By wading very slowly, and remaining stationery for long periods of time, we will see more trout approaching us, giving us excellent opportunities for making effective presentations.

Blind cast only when you can’t see anything. Many fly fishers cast continuously, hoping to strike it rich by accident. Unfortunately, by doing so they “line” the water between themselves and the farthest reach of their cast, creating a dead space all around them. It’s better to hold off on casting until you see something swirl or break the surface. If nothing appears, then you might opt to make short casts all around you, taking care to leave some undisturbed water within easy reach, so you’ll be able to cast to a fish that suddenly shows herself.

Take breaks to study the water. Careful observation will teach you to recognize the subtle indications of a big trout’s movements, but it’s hard to study the water with sufficient concentration if you are moving and casting. So stop frequently and look at the water very carefully. Learning to see the “lifeless” tip of a trout’s tail above the surface, or the snake-like movement of its dorsal fin amid a school of mullet, will make the difference between catching big trout and never seeing them. If you’re lucky enough to have a friend or guide alongside you, who already knows how to spot a tailing trout, it will greatly accelerate your learning process.

I was 32 before I saw my first tailing trout. They had been there all along, but I had never seen them. As Thomas Kuhn said in his seminal work,
The Structure of Scientific Revolution, our paradigms determine how we perceive the world, and when paradigms change, then the world changes with them.

One memorable morning twenty years ago, my brother Chip took me to Woody’s Hole and brought his boat off plane in the middle of the deepest part, which was about 18 inches deep. He’d seen tailing trout, and he’d brought me here to point them out. We stood on the front of the boat and peered out over the flat. Suddenly Chip said, “There’s one! See it?” He pointed to a spot about 40 yards away.

I saw nothing but a leaf. “I only see some trash,” I replied.

“No, that’s not trash, it’s a tail. Now watch!” He insisted.

A moment later, the “black leaf” disappeared, and then resurfaced a foot away. I was stunned. It was alive! Having seen this happen for the first time, I began to study the water with a “paradigm” that admitted tailing trout into the acceptable range of visible phenomena.

Once you spot a trout tailing or cruising, you need to be ready to cast to it immediately with a minimum of false casting. The trout will soon be on her way, and you’ll soon lose sight of her. To remain poised for action, Kathy and I use a stripping basket called the “Strip’n Aid” whenever we fish the flats. It’s a casting “basket” that amounts to only a black plastic platform with large upright teeth on it. Everyone I know who has used one for any length of time, including Fred, swears by its effectiveness. Equipped with this simple innovation, or a standard stripping basket for that matter, you can stand poised to make an 70-foot cast, or to flip your fly a few feet in front of you. By keeping your fly line coiled on the Strip’n Aid, and then using a very stealthy approach, you can take time to study the water, and yet remain ready for a quick presentation.

Flies and Tactics for Trophy Trout

Presentation is just about everything when it comes to catching trophy speckled trout. I encourage fly fishers to refrain from blaming the fly for a “rejection” until they subtract out all other factors. Indeed, we would do well to remember another statement by Ed Hewitt, in which he said, “Your fly is all right; the trouble is on the other end of the rod.”

Of course, it’s always true that the right fly can improve our chances. But what makes it “right”? You will find that the LLM fly fishers who regularly fish for trophy trout swear by flies that are highly idiosyncratic and wildly diverse in color and appearance. In trying to make sense of all of this, I have finally concluded that the trout don’t much care what a fly looks like, but they do care about how it behaves. Having said that, let’s look at some factors that might make a fly “right” for big trout.

Large trout readily take both topwater and subsurface flies of various descriptions, but in the early morning, most fly fishers opt for topwater flies. Some fly fishers prefer large, tightly stacked deer hair flies, while I prefer smaller poppers comprised of a mixture of a closed-cell foam and deer hair -- a design that I call the VIP, for “vastly improved popper.”

During the spring spawning season from June until August, big topwater flies will often provoke a territorial response even if the trout are not very hungry. Earlier and later in the season, however, when hunger and opportunism overshadow the territorial aggression of the spawning urge, smaller and quieter flies seem to work better.

Use topwater flies early. I like to leave the dock well before sunrise, because the best time for catching big trout “easily” is while the sun is low. Whether the trout are actively feeding or not, they do seem to hit topwater flies more readily near sunrise than later in the day.
While the light is still too low to see much, I make short casts in all directions, and greatly vary the speed of my retrieve. Unlike redfish that
prefer a moving target, speckled trout behave more like largemouth bass, and will hit your fly after it’s been stationery for some time. So it’s good to let it sit for several seconds in between strips, and then just give the fly a twitch. These are the moments when the big ones often strike.
Learn where to put the fly. As for positioning the fly, I try to cast a topwater fly about a foot in front of the trout’s head. Big trout are reflex strikers whenever something is “in their face,” even though they may not be hungry. While they may spook from the intrusion, they will just as likely attack the topwater without hesitation, especially if the fly enters the sight window without making a loud noise. If you cast farther away from the fish -- in an attempt to keep from spooking her -- she’ll probably just follow the fly without ever striking it. If this happens, you can often draw a strike by casting again, but this time, putting the fly a foot away from her.

A big trout will often hit the same fly that she studied with indifference only moments before -- if she doesn’t have time to think about it.
As for subsurface flies, I often cast several feet ahead of an approaching trout, and twitch the fly as it enters her her sight window. Trout have excellent vision, and they’ll usually see the fly from as far as 10 feet away, and take it if they’re feeding.

It almost never works to cast a topwater -- or subsurface fly, for that matter -- beyond a big trout and hope that she will hit the fly as it crosses her path. These predators are used to having to work for their meals, and don’t take well to the sight of a tiny baitfish hastening to its death. Try to present the fly on your side of the fish, so that as you begin to strip, the fly will appear to flee from the trout. If you misjudge the distance and cast beyond the fish’s path, leave the fly where it is until you can reposition it. She’ll swim under the line and you’ll get another chance.

Use topwaters over “potholes.” Trout tend to lie up in open, grass-free areas called “potholes.” The equivalent of a “prime lie” in a trout stream, potholes tend to be a bit deeper and lighter than the surrounding area, thus allowing the trout to hug the bottom and attack anything that passes overhead. While you can easily spot a pothole with polarized sunglasses from some distance away, it is often hard to see a trout lying up in one, even if you’re only a few feet away. So it’s a good practice to imagine that each pothole harbors a big trout, and then to put your topwater fly smack over the middle of it. Subsurface patterns work well over potholes, too, and are usually superior as the day progresses.

Use subsurface patterns that undulate. I am a big proponent for legging and tailing material that moves while the fly is at rest. Some situations call for letting your fly sink passively and just sit on the bottom, and it’s important for the fly to continue to look alive. Skipper Ray relies on a piece of rabbit strip behind a red and white Seaducer to impart this lifelike movement. For myself, I use Dupont Lumaflex, sold under various names, on my Mother’s Day Fly. This material works so well to convey lifelike movement that I am sometimes rewarded by trout and reds picking it up off the bottom when it’s just sitting there. Bud Rowland -- who has probably caught more big trout on a fly rod than any person alive, and who just broke the IGFA 4-pound tippet world record -- uses a similar rubbery material on his subsurface “Numero Uno” fly, and swears by its effectiveness in provoking strikes even when the trout are not hungry. Indeed, he caught his new world record -- a 10 lb, 3-ounce trout -- on the tiny, undulating “Numero Uno.”

Not only will a fly that moves at rest work better in general, but it can make make the difference between success and failure in the most difficult of scenarios: when a trout is “asleep.” A trophy speck often go into an unresponsive state between active feeding periods. Her tail may be even be slightly out of the water during these naps, but no matter how many times you rake your fly across her back, she won’t strike it. In fact, you can usually touch a sleeping trout with your rod tip before she will respond.

By giving their flies perpetual movement, both Skipper and Bud make it possible to catch big trout even when the fish are in this unresponsive state. Skipper says that he lets his rabbit strip Seaducer sink to where it rests just inches from the sleeping trout’s head. He leaves it there until he sees the trout move. At that moment, he twitches the fly and often draws a strike. Bud, on the other hand, will cast his “Numero Uno” fly and strip it slowly past the sleeping trout again and again, until the trout wakes up. This, too, often draws strikes in a situation where most fly fishers simply throw up their hands and move on.

Employ an errative retrieve. Most of my fly fishing friends agree that you have to entice a big trout to hit by deviating as much as possible from the predictable. While a redfish seems to prefer a steady, slow retrieve, a big trout will often show apparent disinterest in a fly that moves along in a regular, predictable fashion. Fred Arbona has studied this phenomenon with his customary thoroughness, and has concluded -- rightly, I believe -- that a big trout has to be “teased” or “psyched” into taking the fly by alternating his retrieve between fast and slow strips and twitches.

Use a popper-dropper combo. Over the past five years, I have been developing what I consider to be the ideal popper and the ideal subsurface fly for trout, but I have only recently combined them into a two-fly system that is amazingly effective.

Last winter, Kathy and I went out to fish for a couple of hours just before sunset. We took a spin out into the glassy east flats of the lower Laguna Madre. Mullet were boiling everywhere, and so we suspected that game fish were among them. As we planed over eight inches of water, redfish and trout suddenly scattered in all directions. I abruptly stopped the boat, and Kathy and I were in the water in minutes.

As we moved slowly away from the boat, it became clear that the ubiquitous sheepshead were the only game fish showing themselves in the dead calm conditions. So we resorted to casting blindly, hoping to connect with the big reds and trout that we knew were there. However, we spooked fish with almost every cast, and could not seem to get them to see our flies in the diminishing daylight.

After fishing fruitlessly for half an hour, I recalled that I’d tied some VIP poppers with a trailing Mother’s Day Fly. So I tied on the combo and began blind casting as delicately as possible. Within a few minutes, a big trout bulged under the popper and came out of the water, hooked momentarily on the shrimp pattern. Kathy, who was nearby, heard the commotion, and wasted no time in asking, “Hey, do you have another one of those?” Fortunately for me, I did.

Within minutes she’d hooked a nice red on the rear fly. As I was cheering her success, a 24-inch trout noisily struck my popper. Anyone down here knows that you will miss about 80 percent of the trout that hit a topwater fly, so I wasn’t surprised when the fish wasn’t there when I went to set the hook. But suddenly, the fish lunged forward and ate the back fly as a consolation! Minutes later, I released the beautiful fish and took two reds over 24 inches on the dropper fly before the setting sun brought an end to our excitement.

Combining two flies in a tandem rig that casts without fouling is a daunting task, but the popper-dropper combination comprises a two-course meal that may easily double your hook-ups.

“Let’s go to Grand Bahama,” Fred suggested. I knew that he meant the east side of the lower Laguna Madre where the light colored, sandy bottom and crystal-clear water reminds people of the Caribbean. He’d caught two big trout there earlier in the week, so I was game to give it a try.

Setting the GPS for a destination southeast from Kingfisher Inn, we traveled across miles and miles of grassy flats, passed into the “transition” where the grass is broken up by patches of sand, and eventually entered the vegetation-free expanse that local fly fishers simply call the “white sand” -- a vast, crystal clear flat that runs the entire length of the lower Laguna. We came to a spot that looked like every other place that I could see, but Fred insisted that “this was the spot.”

With Fred’s English Setter, Frankie, on the bow with us, we drifted along until we saw what we hoped to see -- pink and gray shadows at the edge of our visible range. The redfish and trout were spooking almost before we could see them. So we anchored the boat, gave Frankie orders to remain aboard, and stepped into the 10-inch water.

Within minutes, I saw my first big trout -- a 27-28 inch fish -- moving slowly from left to right. I cast a dark red Mother’s Day fly to her, and the fly landed too close to her. Startled, she turned and moved slowly away. Knowing that she would be out of range in seconds, I picked up way too much line and heaved it in her general direction. Joan and Mel would have cringed. As good luck would have it, however, the leader and fly somehow popped free of the airborne mass, and landed three feet to her left. Rather than repositioning the fly, I somehow knew that she saw it. Sure enough, after pausing for a split second, she did a U-turn, came around behind the moving fly and took it violently, with gills flaring.

Unfortunately, my leader parted at the butt end as I went to set the hook. Later, I complained to Fred that the knot had been, after all, a perfection loop tied in 40-pound mono. Fred, who had landed a 25” trout after losing a few trout himself, said, “It ain’t the arrow, and it ain’t the bow, it’s the Injun.” What are friends for but to remind you that there’s always room for improvement?

Three hours later, Fred and I were heading back home. I’d presented to a dozen big trout and landed what was probably the smallest one. Lefty’s lesson to Fred came back to console me. I had hooked a couple of really big fish.

But still, it would have been nice to touch one.

Sight casting to trophy speckled trout is about as challenging as it gets. It appeals to those who have caught the most and the biggest fish, but now want to catch the most difficult ones. After spending many years pursuing this wary predator with a fly rod, all I can honestly say is ... that they’re not quite as difficult as they used to be.