Friday, June 02, 2006

Strike Indicators and Flyfishing

The Strike Indicator these days has taken on new meaning. They do serve their purpose, but as I've watched their development over the years I wonder if we are taking this helpful fly fishing as an easy way out to introducing flyfishing and catching fish.

The other day I was out and watched this guy working a run with this rather large cylindrical object attached to his line. From where I stood, at first, it looked like one of those little red bobbers that I use to use when I was a kid. Later I'll come to find out that what this gentleman was using was a simple party balloon, blown up and secured to the butt sections of his fly line. It was obviously effective, watching him hook a fish or two, but in such instances when strike indicators are so obtrusive, why bother to use a fly rod?

As explained to me back in my younger days, since I'm not a spring chicken anymore, the difference between fly fishing and conventional fishing, when it comes to fly casting, is the weight of the line. When fly fishing, it's the mass off the fly line when combined with the action of a fly rod that propels the fly/lure through the air. In conventional fishing, it's the lure or weight when attached to the line that propels the line through the air. To me, this seems about right, and as I've gone about my fly fishing endeavors have tried to adhere to these basic principles.

In my book casting is what separates fly fishing from all other types of fishing. Although I have fished with a fly rod since I was 9, it wasn't until my 20's that I saw someone do it really well. His name was Jerry Siem and it was in the parking lot of The North Fork Anglers on the banks of the Henry's Fork. That name sound familiar. I was in the Will Godfrey's now defunct shop tying flies in between gusts of the Ranch's infamous wind, when my fishing partner somehow arranged a bet over a little casting competition. At the time we didn't know who Jerry was. Jerry bet my partner that he could cast further with just his hand than my buddy could cast with his fancy graphite fly rod. We all ignorantly thought- piece of cake.

So out into the parking lot we went. Jerry being the gamester puts the pressure on my fishing partner and has him go first. He winds up and several false casts later lays down a respectable 50-60' cast. Jerry sets up, pulls most of the fly line off his reel, and with just a few false casts lets his cast go. Now his cast was about the same in distance before he let it go, but before it landed almost the entire fly line had slipped through his fingers. Money was exchanged, before like a scolded puppy my friend heads back into the shop.

It was only later that we found out who this guy was. Jerry is now head rod designer for Sage Rod Company and one of the smoothest and most accomplished casters you will ever meet. Having spent a lot of time on the Henry's Fork, I got to meet and learn from some our generations great flyfishers and casters: Jerry Siem, Jim Vincent, Reid Bonson, Terry Ring, Mike Lawson, and Rene' Harrop to name a few. These guys were superb fisherman and their casting skills had a great deal to do with their success.

So where am I going with all this. I think that fly casting among most flyfisher is becoming a lost art and that the strike indicator has had a lot to do with this fact. All of us, in the industry are a fault here, guides, shops, and manufacturers. In these time of immediate gratifications we’ve looked to quick fixes. Rather than take the extra time to teach new and experienced flyfishers the wide variety of nuances this sport has to offer we focus on meeting, often times, unrealistic expectations and defer to using techniques and aids that can limit one learning.

As a result I feel that the strike indicator has led to a decline in the popularity of dry fly fishing. These days it's very common to find a frustrated angler trying to fish a hatch with a dry fly, when it's so much easier to use a nymph and strike indicator rig. Now if you like to fish dries this isn't all bad, since often times between the two schools of fishing, nymphs and dries, anglers take up different water.

Don't get me wrong. I think that the use of the strike indicator in certain situations is critical to ones success, especially if you are just learning, but we tend as an industry to defer to this tool to easily. There are other techniques that can be of equal success that are rarely taught, especially to new anglers. One of these is fishing soft hackles. These flies and the simple techniques that they require to fish them effectively are rarely taught. Another is streamers. Both of these very effective techniques aren't taught to most fly fishers until they have been at it for a while. I'm constantly amazed by the number of customers in our shop who have not tried either technique.

For the past twenty years of working in this industry I have seen a steady decline in anglers casting skills, a skill that defines the sport. Where once casting was paramount to ones success, and it still is to some degree, it isn't as critical as it use to be. As a result, flyfishers as a whole are not as well rounded nor versed in the wide variety of flyfishing techniques as they use to be nor do I see the industry professionals teaching these techniques as they once did. Like much in life we seem defer to quick fixes that are at our disposal versus investing in something that will benefit us for the long haul.

Fly fishing offers a wide variety of techniques. That’s what makes it such a great sport and pastime. I encourage you to challenge your self and learn them all or as many as you can within reason. Time vested to increase your skills will only improve your success, understanding and enjoyment when fishing with a fly.

1 comment:

snake said...

I can’t let this go by without so type of comment. I was 5 when I caught my first fish (trout). Started fly fishing at 13. When I started nymph fly fishing was not common. Later when I got “serious”, I was introduced to nymph fishing (71 year old). Back in those days you goal was to master the “stack mend” which would enable you to obtain a relative drag free drift. I say relative because this goal, of a drag free drift, was determined by the line management/mending skills of the fly fisherman. The better your skills the better the drift.

The ultimate goal of using a strike indicator back then was to stop using it. As your skill increased you could do away with the indicator and finally tight line nymph fish and the ultimate of drag free drifting.

I addition to the other skills Steve has mentioned that have been lost, rarely do you see a tight line fly fisherman. I now after more than 20 yrs of fly fishing am working on my casting skills.
Thanks Steve