Patience is key to catching big – really, really big – trout

Just a reminder, says fishing guide Matt McCannel while standing near the Uncompahgre River below Ridgway Reservoir.

Fishing guide Matt McCannel of RIGS Fly Shop shares a quick glimpse into one of the fly boxes he uses on the Pa-Co-Chu-Puk reach of the Uncompahgre River. Small flies are typical of the year-round cold water found in tailwater fisheries.


Matt’s Tips for Winter Fly-fishing

■ Use small flies — If you’re not sure what’s “small,” ask.

■ Adjust your strike indicator — strike indicators prevent part of the leader from sinking while suspending the rest of leader, tippet, split shot and flies below.

■ Adjust the weights and the depth of your presentation.

“That goes for anywhere,” he said. “And remember, this is a technical place to fish.”

On his website, Terry Gunn of Lees Ferry Anglers wrote, “The difference between a good nymph fisherman and a great nymph fisherman is usually about one split shot.”

Above all, he says, don’t stand where you should be fishing.

“This drives me crazy,” he said passionately. “Guys walk into the water and make a 10-foot cast. You can do that standing on the bank and not spook the fish.”

Too many anglers don’t have the patience to catch a really big fish, claims fishing guide Matt McCannel of RIGS Adventure Company and fly shop in Ridgway.

“I think too many people go fishing just to go fishing,” McCannel offered while walking along the Uncompahgre River below Ridgway Dam. “That’s fine as far as it goes, and you may accidentally hook a big fish, but you probably won’t.”

Which, he is quick to add, is just what happened to him.

“I caught my first big fish accidentally,” he admits with a soft laugh. “It ate a size 24 Barr’s emerger and was 28 inches long.”

“I still don’t know how I caught it. I can only say I was lucky.”

Patience is better than luck, McCannel said, and nodded downstream where a Great Blue heron stood motionless on the rocks.

“Sometimes I’ll spend two to three hours without fishing, just watching,” he said. “Most people give themselves an hour to catch a fish and then quit.”

He said he spent four months watching and planning for the 15.2-pound brown he caught recently from the Uncompahgre River.

All that begs the question: Do most anglers ever see a really big fish?

Spend your fishing life catching 14-inch trout and when you finally hook a 19-20 incher the world seems to change.

“There’s big difference between a 15- or 16-inch fish and one that goes 18 or 19 inches,” McCannel said.

Catch something that stretches your tape close to the 30-inch mark and, well, let’s just say no one at the local watering hole is going to believe you.

“2014 was my best year yet,” McCannel said. “My clients caught six fish over 27 inches long. It’s not for everyone, but those willing to do the work can see some magnificent trout.”

There are the usual caveats associated with tailwaters everywhere.

McCannel uses small — frequently very small — flies, maybe a size 22 but more often something in the 24-26 or even 28 range.

That doesn’t leave much of a hook gap to snag a fish’s lip, which increases that trout’s chances of escaping.

“I tell people in my shop that I’m selling them the right fly, but after half an hour of not catching anything, they give up and change flies,” he said. “I ask them, ‘Did you adjust the weights? Change your leader? Adjust the depth of your strike indicator?’ “

“These fish are sitting there and don’t want to move more than a half-inch, they just want to open their mouths. You could put your fly 3 inches above their head and the trout may not move to take it. There may be more factors other than simply the choice of fly.”

To see a photo of McCannel’s big brown trout, go to the RIGS Facebook page at


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