Trout Camouflage

Trout Camouflage
"Whitefish Eddie" started wearing outlandish clothing to prove a point: If you approach trout correctly and make the right casts with long leaders, the trout don’t see you at all—and they don’t care what you’re wearing. Photos: Jim Dean

You can spot Eddie Dunn a long way on the river, certainly far enough to avoid him, which is the typical reaction for most fly fishers who don't know him (and some who do). That's just fine with Eddie because the Railroad Ranch portion of the Henry's Fork (Harriman State Park) and the mile or so of river just upstream through Last Chance, Idaho can get very crowded at times, especially during the famed Green Drake hatch.

But "Whitefish Eddie," as he is known in these parts, typically wades and casts to those big rainbows within a wide circle of splendid isolation. That's because his choice of angling apparel is so intentionally outrageous that it invariably provokes "What the holy mother-of-hell . . . ?" reactions and distancing maneuvers everywhere he fishes. Who, after all, wants to fish alongside someone wearing a bright yellow SpongeBob SquarePants t-shirt, a pink ball cap and waders covered so liberally with multi-colored fluorescent dribbles that they would give Jackson Pollock a severe case of hives?

The reaction is no less predictable when Eddie shows up in his other angling attirea neon green or blaze orange shirt or a gold lamé vest covered in spangles over a hot pink cocktail top.

Or perhaps you will find him clad from cap to boot entirely in reflective chrome so brilliant that he sparkles like a supernova (he even wears a chrome-dyed wig and, of course, his rod and reel are also chromed). If the weather is a bit chilly, his fleece jacket of many colorsmany, many gaudy colorsis more than enough to part the waters around him.

Even when he is ashore and perhaps slightly less flamboyantly accoutered, his 6-foot, 3-inch frame and choice of clothing seldom go unnoticed. He is also usually wearing a hot pink cap emblazoned with his mantra, "Whitefish Unlimited" and "Freshwater Bonefish Forever!" While, in truth, he most often fishes for trout, he is quick to tell you that his respect for whitefish is no jokehe frequently fishes for buglemouths and sometimes guides those who want to catch them.

"Whitefish are widely underappreciated," he says. "Fly fishermen see them as little more than training tools for trout, but big whitefish are selective feeders and strong fighters in their own right, and targeting them has improved my tactics and helped me develop better fly patterns for both species. A big, pig whitefish is tough to catch, and far less common than a whopper trout. I first began fishing for them in the Boise River in the middle of downtown in 1978. Fishermen considered them trash fish, but I defended them and, in the early 1980s, I began giving out Whitefish Unlimited caps as awards to anglers who admitted they liked to catch them.

"One of my goals is to catch a whitefish on a dry fly that exceeds the Idaho state record (22 and a half inches), but it won't be an official record because I'll release it just as I do all whitefish and trout."

Is this just another extension of the fishing fashionista persona? With Whitefish Eddie, you can never be entirely sure, but I have fished with this colorful character long enough to know that he is neither a complete nutcase nor some weirdo desperately seeking attention (okay, maybe a little of both). But more important, he is a skilled and innovative fly fishermanone of the best on the riverand there is more than a little method to his apparent madness.

Eddie Dunn is an innovative and skilled fly fisher who can often be found tying flies in his van at Harriman Ranch State Park.

I first met Eddie at a mid-June Ranch opener pig-picking hosted by the original small TroutHunter fly shop in Last Chance a few years before 2003 when it relocated across Rt. 20 alongside the river, expanding to add a bar, restaurant, and hotel. Eddie was wearing a shiny pink jacket and that gold vest, and I understandably thought he was strange, if not certifiably crazy. But it was quickly apparent that he was well liked beyond mere tolerance, and I also found him to be an intelligent conversationalist with a sly sense of humor (though no pun is ever too silly). One lingering suspicion was laid to rest when I met the charming lady friend and fishing companion he was hanging out with at the time—she had appeared in a Playboy story concerning University of Alabama coedsand I enviously watched them ride off together on Eddie's old Honda Goldwing.

Last June, Eddie and I along with several other fishing buddies were sitting on the banks of the Henry's Fork contributing to the evaporation rate of the contents of a large cooler while waiting for the evening fishing. I had long since learned that Eddie had spent 30 years as a marketing, advertising, and business consultant in Boise, but since his retirement, he has spent most summers camping across Idaho and Montana and fishing such prime waters as Silver Creek and The Yellowstone. The Henry's Fork, however, is where he has spent most of his time since his first visit in 1980.

Parked behind us was Eddie's maroon van. His tying vise was clamped conveniently to the steering wheel, and the inside looked not surprisingly like a Hollywood costume warehouse. Classic rock issued from his van, but other options are infamously legion (disco or opera are not unknown). How did all this start, I wanted to know?

"When I began fishing the Henry's Fork regularly, I decided to test some myth-busting theories I had," he said. "I had never bought into the notion that fishermen have to dress in drab clothing to keep from scaring trout, so I bought some hot pink and green soccer shirts from thrift stores.

"The first time I wore that stuff, fishermen avoided me. 'This is way cool,' I thought, 'now I won't have buttholes walking in on me.' That was an unexpected bonus, and I loved it. I also caught as many big rainbows as ever, proving to my satisfaction that it didn't matter how I was dressed.

"I began wearing that chrome outfit in 2002, and that's when I really began to get noticed. Also, I seemed to be invisible to trout, and I decided that since chrome reflects ambient light, it might be the nearly perfect camouflage for those who, unlike me, still think that's important."

The lesson to be learned from Eddie is that on bigger rivers where you approach from behind, and make longer, accurately presentations, the trout don't see you at all so it doesn't matter what you're wearing. A long leader and a good cast is the best possible " trout camouflage."

Yes, trout can see color, but if you get too close it's likely your movement and silhouette that will scare them. Whitefish Eddie catches more than his fair share of big trout on the notoriously difficult Henry's Fork, and he wears clothes that would make M.C. Hammer blush.

"Back when I wore those first colorful outfits, it was originally to test a theory," he said. "But maybe it got a little out of hand because I'll admit I like the attention, and I'm so recognizable now that some fishermen have asked for autographs. It seems I have a reputation to uphold.

"Even so," he added, "I believe the most important things out here are to fish, have fun with good friends, and not take any of it too seriously. I figure I'm a visible reminder not to get so wrapped up in arcane angling bullpoop that we lose that perspective."

The oxymoronic problem for Whitefish Eddie these days is that he can no longer depend on outrageous clothing to maintain his cherished isolation. Now, he sometimes attracts a crowd.

Infamy, alas, comes at a price.

Hardy Ultralite SDS $450-$495

Green means go on the color-coded drag system of Hardy's new Ultralite SDS reel. When you want to slow the fish down, you can visually adjust the drag into the amber color zone, and when you want that running tarpon to stop and turn, you crank it into the red zone. The Ultralite SDS has a one-turn drag knob that goes from zero to 13 pounds of drag — on the 12-weight version. (The six woven carbon-fiber pads in the drag system create a maximum of 8 pounds of drag in the smallest SDS.) While quick and easy stopping power is what you need with fish that streak away from you, many big, hard-mouth fish are lost when they run straight toward you and create slack. The 5.3"-diameter SDS solves this problem by picking up 14 inches of line with one crank of the handle. hardynorthamerica.com
Check out Fly Fisherman\'s review and insider video on this product! Hardy Ultralite SDS

Sage 3200 $200-$240

Our tester took Sage's affordable new trout reel across the country's trout belt — from Montana, east to the limestone spring creeks of Cumberland County, and up into New England. 'œIt's trout fishing, not rocket science,' he said. 'œAll you need is a reliable reel that looks good on your favorite rod, and more importantly feels good. The 3200 series has a dependable, smooth drag system that protects light tippets and keeps small hooks in place. The thing I like best is the oversize, numbered drag knob that lets me quickly and easily set my drag exactly where I want it every time.' The reels have a sealed carbon fiber drag system with a stainless steel one-way clutch bearing so the drag engages instantly. They are available in three sizes for 3/4-, 5/6-, and 7/8-weight lines, and either black/platinum or platinum colors. sageflyfish.com

Sage Evoke $575-$595

Yes Spey anglers, you can have your cake and eat it too. The new Evoke from Sage is a completely enclosed 3/4-cage design, which means your thin running line can't slip out from between the frame and the spool, causing hassles on the water. For traditionalists, the open portion on the bottom gives you access to the spool rim so you can palm it for instant drag adjustments. Our tester used the distinctive reel for fresh-run Chinook salmon and said 'œThe palming feature is nice, but with a drag system like that, you don't really need it. I just enjoy the clean lines of this reel, and the functionality of the old-school closed cage.' The sealed carbon fiber drag system has a large, easy-to-grab, one-revolution knob with detents from 1 to 39. There are two reel sizes for 8- and 10-weight lines, and three colors: stealth/platinum, bronze/platinum, and stealth/blaze. sageflyfish.com

Tibor Signature Series $685

Ted Juracsik set the saltwater world on its head when he reinvented the Tibor brand with his Signature Series. The reels are lighter than the original Tibor series and have a sealed, waterproof drag system that's easy to change from right- to left-hand retrieve. The esthetics and stopping power of the Signature Series quickly made it a staple for everything for bonefish and redfish, up to billfish and tarpon with the giant 11-12 size. In 2014 this saltwater stalwart is coming down in size to a 31/4"x23⁄8" trout-size reel that holds 200 yards of 20-pound-test gel-spun backing and a 6-weight line. The 5-6 Signature reel has a lighter foot to balance with smaller trout rods, and there's also a speciality color scheme for the lightweight of the family that allows you to choose a distinctive lime, aqua, crimson, or black drag system to match with the standard frame and spool colors that Tibor has offered for years. tiborreel.com
For other award winners see our 2014 Gear Guide Awards

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