To Egg, or Not to Egg - That is the Question
As we enter the Fall Season in the Big Sky Country- the annually reoccurring debate of fly fishing with egg patterns will no doubt rear its ugly head right around the Thanksgiving season. Before further examining this touchy subject, it is important to first clarify that this commentary pertains to Montana and mainly the Big Horn River during the month of December. So all you Alaska folks, Egg and “bead” angler’s out there who fish the massive spawn of Salmon species, PLEASE save your feedback because as you have told everybody a million freaking times, “We fish egg’s (beads) because it’s all their eating”. Folks that fish the Big Horn River during this time with egg patterns are locally referred to as “Hero” fisherman. Why call them “Hero” fisherman? Because anybody can be a “Hero” on the Big Horn River fishing an egg set up in the month of December. Take it from a shop owner who works 6 out of 7 days a week, trust me when I say it is not easy to keep a straight face when that egg fisherman proudly proclaims, “we just murdered them this weekend on the ‘Horn. I caught 72, and my buddy caught over a hundred”. When I reply, “What did you catch them on?, the “Hero” proudly replies, “ham and egg’s”, which is slang for a San Juan Worm and Egg pattern, two fly set up fished in about 18”-24” of water. I have to admit, even though I hear that dozens and dozens of times a season, I have to hold my tongue and be respectful and not damper the “Hero’s” enthusiasm.
My quandary over fishing for Trout with eggs in Montana started almost two decades ago. When I first discovered the mighty Big Horn River, it was in the Fall during the Brown Trout spawn. After being referred by a local fly shop guy about how to fish the spawn, I proceeded to head up to “3 mile” and well, become a “Hero”. For the next month, I proceeded to not only catch the most fish I ever had, but also catch some of my largest. I am talking about “fired” up Brown’s dark and rich in color, as well as kyped jaw’s like I had never seen before. So proud I was of my newly acquired “Hero” status that I rolled into work one day acting like I was Lee Wulff reincarnated or something. When I approached a co-worker, and at the time a young Big Horn River Guide (now Outfitter) named Jeremy and showed Jeremy my pictures of all these darkened, beautiful Trout I had caught, Jeremy simply looked at me and stated, “you aren’t doing dick”! After regaining my crushed composure, Jeremy further added, “all you’re doing is disrupting fish while they are spawning, and thus making it harder for them (trout) to do that”. Wow! All I can say is that my once hard, you know what, went softer than me finding out that my wife is secretly a transvestite (thank you for letting me write that honey). In other words, I went from “Hero” to “Chump” just like that. Jeremy’s comment’s mattered to me because I have respect for Jeremy as an angler. Those of us that are part of a fly fishing community, all want respect as anglers. It doesn’t mean anybody has to be or wants to be the best at fly fishing, but rather just be recognized as an avid angler that continues to strive to always get better at the sport we all love. Needless to say, I haven’t fished an egg since that day. Not because of how Jeremy said it, but what he meant by what he said.
As an industry retailer, I do sell Egg pattern’s in my shop. Though somewhat hypocritical Yes, there is no way I am going to exclude that bug buying demographic from our sport. Most avid egg fly anglers are either oblivious to the stereotypes within the sport regarding egg pattern fishing for Trout, or they relish their “Hero” status without excuse, care or further ethical thought.
The Big Horn River is rich with stories of angler’s who are fishing obvious “reds” on the upper 3 mile stretch of this Blue Ribbon fishery during the Fall, while getting “bitch calls” and “yelps” of disapproval from drifting fisherman who make it known that they don’t like the targeting of trout during spawn time. You could say that lines have been drawn in the sand between different guiding entities on the same river over pro’s that run egg pattern’s or “beads” with their clients and the guides that don’t. Any angler that has ever fished an egg pattern during a spawn knows how well they work. The never ending conversation on this subject has nothing to do with how effective egg patterns work as flies, but rather whether it is ethical, not legal, but ethical to target fish while they are focusing and concentrating on the very act that insures their biological existence? It is the Foul Hooked Whitey’s position that it is NOT ethical to target spawning fish by purpose on Montana Rivers, and that as stewards of the sport as well as the river environment we love to spend time in, we should be in fact teaching rookies coming into the sport the potential consequences of targeting spawning Trout on the Big Horn and other statewide rivers and streams.
I will close with a recent story told to me this season by a fellow angler “Dave” who is both a good friend and exceptional fly fisherman from here in the Billings area. Dave and another mutual friend I will refer to as “Lumpy” were fishing East Newton Lake just north of beautiful Cody, Wyoming. Anyone that has ever fished Newton knows that both Splake and Rainbow Trout hang in and around the boat ramp area and are beyond easy to target should a “Hero” choose to do so. While Dave and “Lumpy” were out throwing your typical Rocky Mountain Lake assortment of Callibaetis or Damsel patterns, they couldn’t help but notice that a couple of “Hero’s” were targeting this area and the trout that mindlessly circle the boat ramp area looking to spawn. It was also obvious that these “Hero’s” were both fishing egg patterns as well as foul hooking (no pun intended) the Trout that swam over their fly set up. While Dave and “Lumpy” were rowing in for the day, “Lumpy” looked at the “Hero’s” and stated, “not very sporty”, one of the “Hero’s” replied, “you fish your way, and I’ll fish mine”. Point taken, but definitely not respected.
I think it is safe to summarize this issue by making the comparison that if you walk into a whorehouse with a thousand bucks, you are going to get plenty I assume. Just don’t leave the place thinking your George Fucking Clooney!!!
-The Foul Hooked Whitey
- Foul Hooked Whitey