Growing up, Andrew Engel had to travel for hours to feed his passion for hooking trout. If his tale of woe sounds like the makings of a Merle Haggard lament, it’s probably because we was raised “in the desolate wasteland known as Bakersfield, California.” At least that’s how his website, TheFlyDudes.com, describes it.
Fortunately, Engel’s father was an avid fly fisherman who took his young reeler as far as necessary to put him on the trout. Engel did a lot of fishing on Lake Crowley, near Mammoth, California.
“It’s a trophy still-water trout fishery, with plenty of big fish,” he says.
It was there that he Engel honed his fly skills and developed a passion for chasing trout — especially big, lake-run browns.
Engel eventually decided to move a little closer to the brown trout that haunted his dreams and ended up in Logan, Utah, where trout chasing and fly fishing permeate the culture. He gave Utah State a shot but found his interests lay elsewhere, along the area’s world-class trout rivers.
He began guiding for Round Rocks Flyshop and with each trip he guided, he came to realize that every fishing experience has a story arc. And the idea of telling these stories was fascinating to Engel.
He and his buddy, Kyle, had started a shoutout Instagram account dedicated to fishing. The account had a decent following, but Engel and Kyle now had more interest in showcasing their own content and telling fishing stories than shouting out other reelers’ trophies.
A couple years ago, that account morphed into The Fly Dudes and today it has more than 31,000 followers. In addition to the Instagram and web pages, The Fly Dudes also has a YouTube channel that showcases Engel’s vlog-style fishing stories.
Although Engel and The Fly Dudes are now sought-after content creators and storytellers, there’s a common thread that permeates most of the media: fly fishing for big browns.
“I go after big brown trout. It’s what I do,” Engel says matter-of-factly. “Other people can catch five or ten trout in the time it takes me to hook one. I may cast hundreds of, maybe even a thousand, times to get a fish.”
Then why not just fish and skip all the hassle with the cameras and editing and posting and promoting?
Because he loves to find the stories in each trip he goes on. He goes fishing with another reeler and “comes up with the story on the fly.” (Pun intended? He says no, but I don’t quite believe him).
“I want people to see how much fun we’re having and enjoy the sport the way I do.”
Well, we’d all have a lot more fun doing it if we could catch fish the size of the browns he’s holding up on his Instagram page. I asked Engel if he has any tips for us mortals.
He says a good place to start is to target lake-run browns in the fall when they start heading upriver. They’re extremely aggressive in this pre-spawn phase.
Engel starts by using a baitfish presentation with streamers, using a spey rod to swing it at a 45° toward the target spot. The trout are burning a lot of energy as they head upstream, so they’re attacking bigger targets to fuel their run.
As they get closer to the spawn, an egg pattern becomes effective. Aggressive males instinctively attack eggs to protect the gene pool, and females grab eggs in an effort to move them to safety on the river bottom.
On either side of the spawn, Engel says that the big browns get so aggressive, he’ll sometimes just loft out a big bait like a wooly bugger and see what happens. Maybe even a mouse pattern.
What? A mouse pattern?
“I’m not the most traditional fly fisherman. People get so serious about technique and whatever… I want people to see the lighter side of fly fishing.”
And with Engel, the proof is in his pictures.