1,500 words Getting Lost
The thing that I love most about fly-fishing is the process of becoming immersed in the act, loosing myself in the mechanics of it, forgetting everything but solving the immediate problem of why I’m not catching fish. I often tell myself, mostly when I’m not catching fish, that it isn’t the catching of fish that is important—but it is; it’s the only indication, that out of all the things that could be done wrong, you are doing them right. You don’t have to be a fly-fisherman to leave your troubles behind when fishing, but sitting in a shack watching a hole in the ice, or sitting on a bucket staring at a bobber, waiting for a fish to find your stink bait, leaves a guy with too much time to think, too much time to let the dark thoughts creep in, thoughts of failed relationships, missed opportunities, and fiscal cliffs, causing you to reach for a bottle—and a gun.
The escape that fly-fishing offers is in the focus required to be successful. For me this starts in the planning stages of a trip, in choosing where I want to fish and which rod I want to use. I may have a rod that I’ve neglected for a while, or one that is a particular favorite that I need to commune with. There may be a piece of water that has been nagging at me, whispering to me, begging me to return. I start thinking about what that water looked like the last time I was there and what it looks like now.
Depending on the time of year, I can make a good guess at the stream conditions. In the spring, the water can change from day to day, but in the summer, after the spring runoff, the choices of where to go and what to use can be made with more certainty. However, when you get to the stream, you may find all of your prior headwork undone by water color, level, and rate of flow. In the spring, the water can be put off color by the runoff washing sediment down from the sides of the mountains. In the summer, a stream can be clouded by a passing thunderstorm. These showers can be quite localized, affecting one side-canyon while leaving others untouched, causing just a small section of a creek to change color. If there has been a recent burn of a side canyon, or network of canyons, the effect on a stream can be extreme and even dangerous. It’s surprising how little rain it takes to send a ten-foot wall of water rushing down a small canyon.
If the water is only slightly cloudy, I’ll fish it, but if I can’t see the bottom and debris is floating down, I find somewhere else to fish. I have a rule: If I can’t see the bottom I don’t wade. If the water is murky due to the spring runoff, you could step in a hole and go in over your head and get swept down river with the rest of the trash. Sometimes the creek may be clear but running at a high level, and this can make for some good fishing, but crossing the stream and getting into prime casting position can be tricky.
When the water is running higher than normal, a familiar stretch of water can look totally alien to you, and what was a nice riffle with well-defined feeding lanes now has no distinguishing features, and what was a back eddy is now part of the main current. But reading water is reading water; the back eddies and riffles are still there, they’ve just moved; the fish are still there, they’ve just relocated, moving to places where they expend less of their energy to stay in position.
The night before any trip into the mountains I check the weather report, looking at wind speed and direction. Once I have an idea of the wind conditions, I make my final choice of destination and what rod I think will work best. Knowing what kind of wind I am likely to face gets me thinking about leader length and weight.
Besides the wind, whether or not the day is sunny or overcast can determine length of the leader and tippet weight. On bright sunny days the Trout are more likely to see you coming before you are within casting distance. With the object of keeping the heavier fly-line as far away from the target area as possible, a longer cast may be necessary, requiring a longer leader. A combination of bright sunlight and clear water may make lighter tippet material desirable. If planning the trip, checking wind charts, choosing rods, leaders, and tippets hasn’t gotten your mind focused, deciding what fly to use will probably do the trick.
The idea that you are trying to fool fish with artificial representations of natural aquatic insects will cause even the most casual fly fisherman to become a half-assed entomologist. Learning what insects are likely to be present on a given stream, at a particular time of the year, and at what stage of development, can seem beyond the understanding of the poor fisherman; however, you quickly learn to reduce the long Latin names to the one and two word names of the artificial patterns that represent them. The different stages of most riparian insects can be reduced to two, the nymph, or underwater stage, and the hatched out adult fly. The kinds of flies, for fishing purposes, can be reduced to four; the Stone, Caddis, Mayfly, and terrestrial: Terrestrials being insects that live out most of their lives on dry land such as crickets, ants, and grasshoppers.
To represent these flies, thanks to generations of nefarious fly tiers, we have hundreds of commercially tied flies to choose from. Indeed, you can sink into depravity and tie your own flies, concocting your own evil recipes, naming them after your ex-wife—Dirty Alice. I have known old-timers who fished all of their lives using one fly, the Double Renegade, and they catch a lot of fish, so it really doesn’t need to be that complicated.
When choosing a fly, I go through the ritual of shaking the willow bushes to see what flies are resting in them. I strain the creek with my aquarium net and try to match what I collect with something from my fly-box—then tie on an Adams. I sometimes tie a dropper nymph to the hook-bend of my dry-fly; it’s a good way to figure out what the Trout are up to.
Although I have plenty of commercially tied flies in my box, it’s more fun to use the ones I tied. Tying flies is an excellent way to occupy your mind during those long winter months when you are cooped up in the house, when you, the dog, and the old hides equally stink. As spring approaches and my fly-boxes have been replenished, I begin playing around with the traditional patterns and coming up with my own versions. Most commercial flies are tied in Taiwan now, but I still run into locally tied flies in out of the way little fly-shops, and when I do, I pick up a dozen or so to help the guy out. I also tie my own leaders and enjoy experimenting with different formulas for those.
Casting is another aspect of the sport that has its devotees. Some people enjoy going to casting competitions and hardly ever actually fish. I am not a great caster. I only have a few casts that I have mastered well enough to get by with. Once I learned how to adjust the plane of the cast to avoid obstacles behind me my life became much easier, as long as I remember to look behind me first. I use the traditional forward cast and the roll cast mostly, but the reach cast and single haul cast are handy tools as well.
I try to get on the left side of a creek and move up slowly, casting tight to the left bank with a forward cast, then working the fly across with a series of roll casts until I get the fly next to the right bank. I found that a roll cast delivered at a forty-five degree angle toward the right bank will have enough built-in mend to give the fly a long drift without having to mend the line, and for me at least, it works better than a reach cast.
Every aspect of the sport presents the angler with opportunities for becoming totally engrossed; from making your own rod and tying your own flies and leaders, to learning all the casts and how to read the water. You can find books written by experts on every facet. You can take it as far as you wish. You can take it too far. You can take it just far enough to get lost in the process.