Top Trout Guides Share Their Tips, Tricks, and Insight

When you guide in a tourist ­destination like Joe Dilschneider, you learn quickly that presentation and a calm approach mean more than anything when it comes to catching big trout on crowded waters.

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Listen Up!

Featured Guide: Joe Dilschneider, Montana Trout Stalkers
Contact: Montanatrout.com
Number of Years Guiding: 23
Home Water: Madison River, Montana
Biggest Personal Trout: 28-inch brown
Biggest Client Fish: 261⁄2-inch brown

On Pressured Water: "There is no question that the Madison is a busy river, although I personally don't find it too difficult to avoid crowded situations much of the time," says Dilschneider. "That doesn't change the fact that a whole bunch of people fished over the same water you're on the day before, and the day before that, and before that, and so on. Over time I have learned that worrying about it will just psych you out. Remember that 10 percent of the fishermen catch 90 percent of the fish, so just focus on fishing well. The other things to remember are that trout have short memories and they are stuck in the river and they have to eat. Not everyone is going to hit every spot, and they're certainly not all going to hit them all just right."

On the Hardest Trout to Catch: "One of the most difficult fish to catch is the one taking small dries in very slow, clear water. If it's in a backwater or eddy, it's even harder. A stealthy approach is very important, and this situation will often require a long cast with a long, fine leader. Sometimes the best shot will be upstream, but other times the best shot is stacking line with a downstream drift. That presentation takes some getting used to."

On Fishing for Big Trout: "Actually, I don't think there is a difference between targeting big and small trout. You just want to always be on your toes and ready for a big fish. This mainly means making sure your rigging, hooks, and knots are solid. Don't get lazy or complacent. You have to be prepared to react and move quickly if you hook something supersized."

On Day-Saver Flies: "Hands down, mine is the Prince nymph. I can tell you that it is one of the very best Western trout flies ever devised. And nowa­days, there are dozens of mutations of the Prince that I love, too. Under the toughest conditions, on the slowest days, the Prince has come through time and time again."

On Room for improvement: "There are so many misunderstandings and misconceptions out there about flyfishing for trout. But there will always be core skills every angler needs to have. The one thing a lot of anglers could improve on is reading water. You really have to learn how to identify fishy lies and then how to approach carefully and present the right way based on that exact spot you're targeting and the conditions. Of course, with so many flies and presentations, this becomes very dynamic and can take years to really hone."

We polled 90 of the country's best guides to get the straight dope about flies they can't live without, taboo tactics, the secrets behind hooking trophies on a regular basis, and more.

1. Over the course of a season, which fly style will hook the most big trout?

Nymph: 51.9%

Streamer: 33.3%

Dry fly: 14.8%

“The majority of active feeding, especially with bigger fish, is underwater. The three biggest wild fish I’ve netted were all on nymphs.” —John Perizzolo, The Blue Quill Angler

2. Which company makes the best fly rod for the money?

Top answer: Sage

Runner-up: Orvis

3. How do you feel about “bobber fishing”?

“I guided with a buddy who refused to use indicators for a long time. My clients typically smiled more than his at the end of the day.” —Brian Wise, Fly Fishing the Ozarks

4. Are you a fan of textured fly lines for increased casting distance?

I could take or leave them: 55.6%

Yes: 33.3%

No: 11.1 %

5. What accounts for the most lost fish among clients?

Top answer: Overpressuring the fish during the fight

“Even experienced anglers are never really ready for a big fish’s first run. Most folks lose big fish at this point due to breakage. It’s important to get the reel away from your body and let it free-spool until the fish stops.” —Tim Linehan, Linehan Outfitting Co.

6. If you could carry only one fly, what would it be?

Top answer: Woolly Bugger

Runner-up: Pheasant Tail

“A Bugger will produce dead-drifted, swung, or stripped. If I had to fish for food and was stranded with one fly, this would be the one.” —Clint Packo, Freestone Outfitters

7. How often do you use fluorocarbon when fishing subsurface?

On a case-by-case basis: 51.9%

Always: 48.1%

“Fluoro is harder for the fish to see and sinks better. I can’t think of one reason to use mono subsurface.”—Kevin Morlock, Indigo Guide Service

8. If a dry fly gets refused, what’s your next move?

Change the pattern and cast again immediately: 59.3%

Give the fish time to rest before casting anything again: 40.7%

9. I think tenkara fishing is:

“A fly rod with a fixed amount of line? Sounds like a great idea if you live in a nursing home with a stocked kiddie pool.” —Chris Lynch, Green Mountain Troutfitters

“Tenkara is only good for really small trout in really small waters. And I mean small.” —Rick Nyles, Sky Blue Outfitters

10. What is the best trout fishing state?

Top answer: Montana

Runner-up: Colorado

11. What is the most common mistake of a rookie fly angler?

Top answer: Not spending enough time observing a piece of water before casting

“Not enough anglers remember to remain stealthy, stalk like a predator, and not give away their position before getting a chance to present their flies. I see a ton of fish not caught simply because an angler’s approach is clumsy.” —Nick Raftas, Sky Blue Outfitters

12. Do you think clear rubberized “ghost” nets are less stressful to trout?

“I replaced my black rubber net with a ghost net a few seasons ago. First thing I noticed was that the net spooked fewer fish next to the boat.” —Joe Demalderis, Cross Current Guide Service

13. You get the best wading traction from:

Felt: 50%

Any sole with studs: 31.8%

Vibram: 18.2%

14. You’d be most excited if a trophy brown:

Sipped a dry fly: 59.3%

Crushed a streamer: 25.9%

Smacked a mouse fly: 14.8%

15. Spey outfits are getting smaller and are becoming more suited to general trout fishing. How do you feel about the method?

To each their own: 74.1%

They’re an advantage: 25.9%

BEST & WORST

Worst Reaction to Losing a Fish

“A priest I guided dropped his rod and yelled the F-word.” —George Daniel, Livin on the Fly

“Breaking their rod in half after slamming it on the gunwale.” —Kevin Hawk, Kevin Hawk’s Lake Guntersville Guide Service

“Drop to their knees, hold their head down, and say it was all my fault.” —Joe Gibson, Kymoka Charters

Guide and trout Photograph by Brian Grossenbacher. Illustrations by Mikey Burton. Woolly Bugger photograph by Umpqua