Lee Elton of Inchelium is a lightweight in the sport of fly fishing.
Yet the retired West Side cop stands out in the crowd at Lake Rufus Woods, but not just because he’s landed several 15-plus-pound rainbows in the last few weeks.
The method is his madness.
Elton chooses to battle brutish fish with fly rods that rival noodles cooked a minute short of al dente.
On July 23, the part-time gunsmith landed a particularly noteworthy Rufus rainbow weighing about 25 pounds and measuring 32 inches long and 24 inches in girth.
“He was down to five wraps on his backing and had to chase that fish,” said Randy Hart, noting that Elton has a little two-seater plastic boat with an electric motor. “After 25 minutes, when he finally landed it, the live-well was too small.”
The tool: a 0000-weight fly rod.
“Fishermen just stare when they see it,” Elton said. “It’s the lightest AFTMA-recognized fly rod in existence.”
Most fly fishers gear up for Rufus with 6- or 7-weight rods. Conventional wisdom says a rod needs some backbone to hold up to the Sumo-wrestler-size trout that beef up on feed escaping the commercial net pen trout operations.
Get your head around this: a four-aught rod is lighter than a 1-weight and four times lighter than a zero-weight.
“Basically, it’s for the challenge,” Elton said, who builds his own rods from Sage TXL series blanks. “It’s just a more enjoyable way to fish.”
Hart of Kettle Falls, one of Elton’s fishing partners, is a convert who’s joined Elton to fish with 1- and 2-weight rods for Omak Lake cutthroats and other lunker fish.
But four-AUGHT rods?
“This guy’s a little off the wall,” Hart confided. “He goes up to a 9-foot, 2-weight rod, and that’s for salmon fishing in Alaska.”
“Everybody I’ve taken out has agreed the light rods are more fun, once they’ve become acquainted with them and get past the differences in casting technique,” Elton said.
For starters, you don’t cast these puppies into the wind.
“You cast downwind or quartering,” he said.
Ultra-sharp hooks are required for setting the hook with an ultralight rod that must be gently lifted when the fish strikes, and no more.
When a big fish runs, Elton simply drops the rod tip and lets it go.
Almost exclusively he uses streamer patterns up to size 6. “They’re basically variations of Woolly Buggers weighted with copper wire.”
His 4-aught rods are balanced with diminutive large-arbor reels as little as 2.6 inches in diameter.
He builds his own leaders with 4- to 6-pound Spider line monofilament line.
The nano challenge costs him occasionally.
“Last Sunday I hooked three fish and landed one 8-pounder,” he said. “The largest that broke off was about 20 pounds by the looks of him.”
The toughest part of fishing an ultralight rod is scrounging for fly lines to match, he said.
“Aquanova used to make them, but they’ve stopped,” he said. “That made it doubly painful to lose a rod last year.”
While he hasn’t broken one of the flea-flickers in recent years, he made the mistake of leaving his fly in the water over the edge of his boat as he reached for a fly box.
A big Rufus rainbow grabbed the fly and streaked toward the middle of the reservoir.
“The rod didn’t hit the water for 30 feet,” he said. “The worst part was that the fish jumped and I saw how big it was. That really hurt. It was huge.”
He uses full-sinking or sink-tip lines that go down at a rate of up to 4 inches a second – much slower than the heavy deep-sinking lines many anglers use.
“The big rainbows seem to come to the fly a little better with a slow-sink line that I twitch as it goes down followed by 4- to 6-inch pulls on the retrieve,” he said.
He avoids the net pen areas in favor of drifting along weed lines.
“Some of my best fishing has been in 90 feet of water where I let the fly sink 14-16 feet deep before jig or I start the retrieve.”
Elton is having his 25-pounder mounted for posterity, but he missed a shot at global fame.
“The creel counters at the lake weighed my fish, but their scale only went to 20 pounds and it maxed that out,” Elton said. “So I finally had it measured at 25 pounds, but that wasn’t on an official scale.”
Considering he was using 4-pound tippet, his fish likely would have qualified for a fly-fishing line-class world record, easily beating the 22-pounder from Colorado that currently tops the International Game Fish Association listing for that class.
“Oh well,” he said. “I have a friend, a diver who helps maintain the net pens.
He said he’s been 6 feet from rainbows down there the might go 40 pounds. So I still have a chance.”
Contact Rich Landers at (509) 459-5508 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.