Tuesday, January 08, 2008

The Disappearing Art of Flyfishing

Those who know me, acknowledge that I have a preference to fishing with dry flies. That was not always the case. Similar to most that have progressed through the sport I’ve managed a cycle of fishing with a fly. Initially I tried to just catch a fish. Then I worked on catching my fair share. During those early days I didn’t put much thought into the methods I employed, yet options by today’s comparison were few. Like everyone who initially enters this sport, there’s a natural yet personal progression; one of the beautiful aspects of fly fishing.

I was blessed having been mentored by some of our sports more ethical predators; Emmett Heath, Reid Bonson, Reme Harrop, Mike Lawson at a time far removed from the sport taking center stage. To this day these talented fly fishers and others continue to mold how I approach my days on the water.

Today my fly boxes contain a cornucopia of dries, emergers and soft hackles. Now and then lost among those patterns you’ll find a nymph or two, but not always. These random stragglers for the most part are left over from the numerous classes I teach.

I did hook a rather large rainbow on a nymph this year, which in some regards is a milestone; one that there was one in my box and two that I tied it on. It was the largest trout I was tethered to all year. I recall reading at one time on the disparity of nymphs compared to dries. The former being the most preferred. Those authors may have been from the early writings of Skues or possibly the more recent publishing of Charlie Brooks. For some reason pragmatic premise never stuck with me. To a fault I’ve never done things the easy way.

On those occasions when I fish the sunk fly my approach resembles that of dries and emergers; visually without the aid of strike indicator or dropper fly. When you’re close enough to see the fly being taken there’s no need for such visual distractions; the stalk being another challenging game in and of itself. Conditions on that fateful day when I took the rainbow permitted me to fish this way. After several searing runs and a spectacular jump the hook pulled free. Ascending the basalt ledges from where I first spotted this fish I again found it resting. As much as I would have liked putting this beautiful rainbow to hand, in the end I was accepting of the outcome feeling in some regards that I’d been disrespectful of this beautiful trout.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t have a problem with those who fish the sunk fly. In fact “Snake”, my fishing companion, has a penchant for fishing nymphs. He’s a tight liner and I marvel in his skill at fishing the sunk fly. Although our techniques may vary on a given river we both have issues with the apparatuses used today to fish subsurface flies and the gluttonous results that incur from the use of such gadgets. Just because one uses a fly on the end of their line doesn’t mean their methods equate to fly fishing.

Like much in life I’m slow to the take. I use to believe that everyone should fish dries, just like I once believed that every trout stream should be catch and release. Both of these ill conceived wisdoms have since fallen from my grace. If the masses fished dries than much of the water and those trout that occupy such nooks and crannies would be frequently occupied. With anglers preferences towards techniques and methods that employ the sunken fly there’s a rather significant amount of open water available to explore.

It may seem like I’m being intolerant of those who fish nymphs, which is not the case. One of the great aspects of fly fishing compared to other sports is the option to pursue it in a myriad of directions. Such freedom permits one to enjoy the sport for ones own personal gratification. My disgruntlements are not with the participants or the way they have chosen to fish, but with many of those who make their livelihood from the sport and what we’ve allowed the sport to become. What once was promoted and taught as a beautifully challenging game now has become lost in an obscure practice that at times rarely resemble fishing with a fly.

I look back at my early mentors with great appreciation. They were teachers, philosophizers, hunters, conservationist and students of the sport. Today, these exemplary qualities are a rarity in many of the sports professionals and would be experts. In many regards I feel we’ve cheated the masses in an effort to get new entrants into the sport and in doing so have blurred the edges of what our sport is.


Travis said...


As always your insight and take on things is appreciated and shared. The things you and your shop stand for are highly appreciated.

And it's about time you cracked open the journal! ;-)


Chris said...


You are right that flyfishing is not about what you fish but how you fish. I enjoy seeing trout come to the top too, but I also enjoy fishing the deep. Frank Sawyer is my hero and I enjoy fishing the waters where trout do 90% of their feeding. You don't see the trout, but you can feel where they are. Almost a Zen thing.
But, all in all, it is about the purity of the sport as you say. The old guys that you mention have reached the limit of what they can provide us. It is time for the new generation of flyfishers to move this sport onward, learning from the past and making the future better. The trouble is- I'm not sure that I will understand it.
I am content to explore new fishing oppotunities here in my new home and enjoy them for what they are.
Steve- if you want to fish for gaupote in a small lake in an extinct volcano, give me a call.
Congrats on retailer of the year!
Chris Brodin

Steve Schmidt said...

Thanks Chris. Your the first person I've heard make note of the South American gaupote. I fished for these in Costa Rica. Although the fish were small, it was exciting. The thing I remember most is how loud all the insects, birds and animal were. Quite different from our waters.

I'm afraid that the majority of those who are making a name for themselves these days think if just about catching fish and being able to catch a lot of them. My dog could catch fish with some of the contraptions that are being promoted these days as part of flyfishing.

Hope all is well. Thanks as always for such beautiful nets.

Steve said...

As someone who has been fly fishing for many years, I was moved by your blog. I beleive that to truly understand and "feel" the sensation of fly fishing, one must be in tune with and have the up most respect for nature.
There is no better feeling in the world than becoming one with the river and convincing a trout to slurp your dry.
I love your shop, and you and your staff are first class.

Thank you,