Every angler’s ambition can be summarized in two words — “more” and “big.” We want to catch more fish and we want to catch bigger ones.
It is what we think about between outings. In an effort to increase our catch, we wonder if we should buy different lures or adopt new techniques. Should we fish deeper water or a different time of day? Should we fish new lakes or streams?
Big fish are a different matter. Among resident populations, small fish generally outnumber large ones by a significant margin. We wonder how to selectively target the big ones. We ask if our pursuit of big fish means we must sacrifice quantity for quality.
There are many correct answers to all the above questions. It is the charm of angling. It why I have been calling around trying to find an answer to my current problem — catching bigger brown trout during the day.
Big brown trout possess enigmatic personalities. Unlike rainbows, which will strike nearly anything, fishing for big browns can be exceedingly frustrating. They often refuse a carefully presented fly.
In the eastern half of the United States big browns display an affinity for night feeding. Biological studies have found radio-tagged browns emerging from their daytime refuge (under a logjam, for example) to roam up to a mile after dark to feed on such items as crayfish and minnows. (Fellow angler Vic Serikow recalls one brown that had swallowed a baby muskrat.)
Head north to Michigan’s fabled trout streams during the summer and you will find a small army of anglers who wait until dusk to head out on the stream, fishing in darkness to catch big browns that ignore anglers during daylight hours.
Interestingly, this is not true in the West, where trout anglers routinely catch big browns during the day. I have never heard anyone definitively explain this difference. I suspect it has to do with stream conditions (generally swifter currents, colder water, etc., in the West), along with a prey community significantly different than in the East.
My problem, however, cannot be solved by night fishing, which I do not like, in local waters. My favorite pastime on warm summer evenings is casually wading along a trout stream, casting a streamer. My favorite pattern is a black Wooly Bugger, which does a wonderful job enticing strikes from rainbows. Browns, however, tend to ignore it, even in late evening. I wanted a fly that would appeal to big browns in daylight.
I had tried a classic Black Ghost. Nothing. A Muddler Minnow, a sculpin imitation, caught a few browns, but the fish seemed reluctant to take it. I had to hold it nearly stationary in the current while twitching and teasing it beside heavy cover for nearly a minute before a brown would strike.
This year I looked again for something new. One highly skilled angling friend suggested an unusual hellgrammite pattern, a larval imitation of the dobson fly. Another suggested a Pine Cone, a fly consisting of green-dyed pin squirrel fur. Then I recalled a comment by Lynn Burry, the long-time president of the Northeastern Indiana Trout Association.
Five or six years ago Burry had sent an email to friends telling of a glorious day on the water, catching trout after trout in the three-to-five pound class. He caught them on a new pattern known as the Moto Minnow. I stored this information in my brain. (It is not unusual to have a great day with a new fly pattern, only to have it fail during subsequent outings.)
So I called Burry a while back to ask if he was still extolling its virtues. He was effusive in his praise! Not only had it become his go-to fly for all sorts of species, “I was fishing one day at Zappia (on the St. Joseph River) and had a coho do a one-eighty to take it.” That is the kind of endorsement that is music to any angler.
He had even modified the pattern, making it easier to tie by substituting pheasant rump feathers for partridge, along with a couple of other small modifications. He calls his pattern “Lynn’s Super Moto Minnow.”
He sent me a sample — and it is intriguing. It gives me new hope, and as soon as the mercury falls and water temperatures cool, and rains raise the levels of our local trout streams, I will head out for the stream, armed with Lynn’s Super Moto Minnow.
I will fish with renewed confidence, and I expect to hook the big, enigmatic browns that heretofore have eluded me.
James H. Phillips can be reached at