Here we are, at the end of fifty tips. Just two weeks shy of a year ago today, I started this series with a plan. Determined to publish every Sunday, I wrote these tips to be a little different, trying for something unique, and with a new take on some stuff many of us may not have considered for a while.
. . . What brings us back is the trout. Fishing without catching only goes so far. It only lasts so long. We dream not just of the woods and the water, but the trout too. And catching those fish brings in another art, another appreciation for the challenge and a new way to be creative. It also fulfills our human need to learn something. And without a trout on the end of your line once in a while, you’re just hiking through the water with a ten-foot stick . . .
Fish pictures are the grand compromise of catch and release. An Instagram feed with a full gallery of trout is replacing the stringer of dead fish for bragging rights. And that’s a good thing. They look better alive anyway.
Would a trout be better off if we didn’t take its picture? Sure it would. Moreover, wouldn’t a trout be better off if we didn’t set a hook in its mouth and drag it through the water? Yup. So I think we have to be a little careful how self-righteous we get. Point is, we all draw the line somewhere, and I firmly believe that a quick picture, taken responsibly (I’ll get to that), won’t hurt a trout.
Most of the fishermen I know who’ve spent a great deal of time with their boots in the water have caught on to catch and release. The bare facts stare you in the face pretty quickly if you start keeping your limit on every trip. You soon realize that a good fisherman can thin out a stretch of water in short order, and a group of good fishermen can probably take down an entire watershed.
So we take pictures instead . . .
The allure of night fishing arises from a mystery. We pursue unknowable things into the darkness and sort through the unpredictable behaviors of trout to catch them after the sun goes down. There are no experts in the night game, and that itself is what secures the puzzle — a simple lack of information. There is no treasure map after dark.
In large part, we fish because of what might happen. While night fishing, we begin to realize that anything can happen.
The best night anglers harbor a deep humility that black water and shadowed trout have forced upon them. Night fishing is full of failure, and any effort to spin it otherwise is foolish and transparent.
Most often, it takes an angler who cares more about the journey, about discovery and learning, than tangible results. Because night fishing beats down even the most ambitious among us. The empty net grinds on you. The bleak loneliness takes a toll. It’s the anticipation — the anxiety. You’re left exhausted by forever pushing a natural fear of the dark to the back of your mind. The late hours and early mornings make you feel thin — because the rest of life doesn’t wait for you to catch up with it. Night fishing trips are the only times I drink coffee after 9:00 pm.
Truth is, there are so few dedicated night anglers out there that good first-hand information is scarce. Second-hand information and hearsay, however, is rampant. Mousing, big black streamers, new moon and low water: these are the oft-repeated expressions and tactics that are supposed to work. But do they? . . . . .
Ever feel like your dominant hand has all the fun? It holds an ice cream cone, throws a football and sets the hook on your biggest trout. Your off hand is so neglected that at times you might forget what it’s used for. Fishing with a spinning rod keeps your other hand busy — constantly doing the reel work. But we aren’t reeling in line much while fly fishing, right? And at the close distances we often fish for trout, it’s easy to forget to keep the line hand involved.
So this is another one of those “Duh” tips. It’s the kind of thing that seems obvious. And yet, by considering all of the tasks for the line hand, we become better anglers. It’s always the little things that make a difference in life. It’s the basics, refined to perfection (or something close to it) that make us better — that bring more fish to hand.
Did you know that breathable waders only breath when they’re underwater? Fun fact, right? The permeable membranes can only pass water vapor while submersed. Not such a big deal when you aren’t producing much water vapor (evaporating sweat), but it’s a messy, clammy situation when the mercury climbs and the water drops. Amiright?
As modern life becomes more automated, more air conditioned and less labor intensive, it seems that our general tolerance for being uncomfortable has suffered. So baking yourself crispy in a plastic suit with suspenders is pretty much out. Fair enough, but there’s no need to hang up the fly rod for the summer either.
What to do, then? Wet wade
There’s a canyon stretch on my home stream with a gated, gravel access road used by dog walkers, runners, hikers, bird watchers and crazed fishermen. It’s a wonderful three-mile walk up into the canyon or down from the other side. In some sections the path bumps up against the towering limestone walls, and you can feel crisp cool air pushing aside the heavy heated blanket of summer.
There are huge chunks of those same rocks that have broken off through time. They remind you how many centuries this place was here before you were, and how long it will remain after we’ve all turned to dust. The eternal boulders were separated from the crest of the cliff through the earthly power of spreading hemlock roots that infiltrated every available crack, until eventually an enormous boulder fell to the forest floor and rolled into the river, providing a landmark and a constant reminder of how small your space in time really is.
So it’s a good walk up in there. And lots of anglers make the trek. But here’s the funny thing: people stop and fish the same places, day after day, year after year. All of us do it.
I’m not a big fan of summer.
It’s the heat. Thing is, you can’t really get away from it. If you want to be outside in all seasons (and I do) you have to somehow make friends with or tolerate the weather. Against the cold of winter, you can add layers to fend off most discomfort, but in the summer heat, once the shirt is off and the flip flops are on, your done — that’s as cool as you're gonna get. So there’s no option but to mow the grass, play baseball and have the family picnic in a thick, wet blanket of summer heat. People still tell me that I’ll get used to it. I doubt it.
The same people also tell me how much they love summers. I don’t believe them. I think they like the idea of it, and they like the parties, the parades, the fireworks, the longer daylight hours and the lax work schedules. But the actual season? The weather? Nah. Bitching about the heat (like I’m doing here) seems like another common summer recreation from the list, and I see a clear majority looking for the next air conditioner, cold lake or swimming pool.
I’ve watched a lot of anglers fish nymphs. Most of them pick up at least a few trout, and some guys are like a vacuum cleaner. But I like to watch how differently everyone approaches the game. It’s curious to see so much variation, because essentially we’re all striving for the same thing — we want a drift that looks a lot like what the natural bugs are doing down there. (And yeah, usually that’s a dead drift.) But while the refinements and nuances between anglers are plenty, I think we can fairly group all approaches for dead drifting nymphs into two camps: tight line or indicator nymphing styles. The next question: Which one is better?
Of course, the merits of each method have been and will be argued for decades. But it really comes down to this: Which one puts more trout in the net?