Conditions are perfect and the trout should be active, but I’ve caught so few fish that I still know the slim count. Six. That’s four wild browns and two stocked rainbows that found their way here from only God knows where. But stocked bows have no regard for what makes sense — they’re nomads swimming upstream or downstream for a hundred miles, and they end up … right here, assaulting my flies, not because I made a decent presentation, but because I got lucky a couple times (I know the difference and so do you).
The lack of production today is killing me. I’ve looked forward to this trip for weeks: tying flies, scanning maps, reviewing old photos and telling stories to anyone fishy enough to listen. I missed this river.
Yesterday I convinced myself that just being here is enough, but now, halfway through a three-day fishing trip, I’m getting restless, and I need more than scenery and rekindled memories to fill me up. I’m starting to wonder if choosing a new section of such a large river was wise. Maybe the action would be better at the next island down, where I’ve hung a few good trout every time I’ve fished it? I doubt it. I’ve done this long enough to know that when you can’t catch fish where you are, then you probably can’t catch fish where you aren’t either. Relocation is for irresolute quitters and hopeless dreamers. I’m staying put.
I haven’t walked through these waters since my first son was born. I remember having excellent fishing throughout the summer leading to his arrival. Those were my last days of true freedom-of-choice for about twenty years, as I estimate it (and that’s if we’d stopped at one — we didn’t). I fished hard, almost frantic, into the oddly cool and rainy summer, traveling across the state in every direction, exploring new waters that I’d never touched and returning to some old friends that never disappoint. Sometimes, I think those few months were the best I’ve ever fished. I was dialed in for weeks at a time, in an uninterruptible zone, fishing through daylight and playing music at dark … it was wonderful.
I fished this river on an overnight camping trip that summer, and I beat up the trout pretty good on both days. So good that I used the same pair of flies the whole time. Neither pattern is working on this trip, and with action this slow I can’t get anything figured out. Fly fishing is a game of mystery, but if you think, observe and fish hard enough, the answers are there to be found.
Today I’ve caught trout on five different flies and in three different water types. What to make of that? I have no idea.
Shadows form across the river, and the late spring air cools quickly enough to give me shivers. Then I look up.
Thick, dark edges of graceful stratus clouds drift into open blue, and the murmuring riffle strolls into this quiet pool below me. Like a reflection of the water I stand in, the sky is the stream and the clouds are the current.
I’m alone in a wide river and a wider valley, looking up forever and losing any tangible sense of time passing beyond the clouds. I catch myself not thinking, and then I’m thinking again. Maybe just being here really is enough.
I turn and wade eighty yards through passing shadows and knee-deep water, toward the spruce trees, until I see a moss-covered chunk of limestone that looks enough like a good seat that I take five minutes and watch everything happen a little more: the birds and the mayflies, the colored sky mixing with the river, and the streambed creating the current. No one around for miles, and everything here is alive.
These few moments are the first break I’ve taken in two days. I’ve been fishing full-force, and trying too damn hard to make something special happen — it’s a bad habit. Five more minutes, then I breath a little slower and smile a little more. I rise and wade back into the river shadows, remembering the advice of a good friend and fishing partner …
Slow down. Pick a prime spot and make the same cast five times, refining the drift with each repetition. Then take a few steps to the next current seam and pick another spot; deliver five identical casts and refine those drifts. Five precise casts to one spot forces you to think and make each drift better — you focus more. And yet, just five casts to only the best water keeps you moving enough to assure that you constantly present your flies to new fish. Pick good spots. Sometimes they are right next to each other, and other times you walk a bit to find the next one … but don’t miss them, and take five casts every time.
On this wide river it’s easy to get lost in the open space, and I’ve spent most of my two days looking for macro-features that look trouty: logs, boulders, small islands. There simply isn’t enough big structure here to fill that order, so I finally accept reality and look closer until I see it. There’s structure in even the most featureless water.
In the next hour, I catch more fish and find a rhythm. I see the structure by looking for subtle features, and by taking a few steps up through the soft side of a current seam I find the next prime spot, deliver five precise casts (adjusting to improve the drift each time) and then move on. It works so well that I stop changing flies, and I’m back to that familiar pair from seven years ago.
Good fishing continues throughout the evening, and just after sunset, I reel in the wet line and turn to look downstream behind me. It took me six hours to fish a two-hundred-yard stretch of river that, at first glance, looked featureless.
The long walk back follows a dark trail through ferns and spruce. It’s satisfying. I’ll return tomorrow.
Enjoy the day.
T R O U T B I T T E N
More Troutbitten articles on nymphing
The Mono Rig and Why Fly Line Sucks
Tight Line Nymph Rig
Sighters: Seven Separate Tools
Learn the Nymph
Tags and Trailers
The Backing Barrel
The Add-On Line
One Great Nymphing Trick
The Trouble With Tenkara — And Why You Don’t Need It
It’s a Suspender — Not Just an Indicator
Stop the Split Shot Slide
Trail This — Don’t Trail That
For Tight Line Nymphing and the Mono Rig, What’s a Good Fly Rod?
Depth, Angle, Drop: Three Elements of a Nymphing Rig
Over or Under? Your best bet on weight
Modern Nymphing, the Mono Rig, and Euro Nymphing
Resources for Tight Line and Euro Nymphing
Split Shot vs Weighted Flies
Tight Line Nymphing With an Indicator — A Mono Rig Variant
Bill Dance and Jimmy Houston go fly fishing — The Mono Rig for streamers
Get me back to my fly line — Connecting and disconnecting the Mono Rig
The Dorsey Yarn Indicator — Everything you need to know and a little more
Finding bite windows, fishing through them and fishing around them
Troutbitten Flybox: The Bread-n-Butter Nymph
Tight Line Nymphing — Where Should the Sighter Be?
Thanks for this one. Going to run through my head more than once in a few days when I return to a similar spot.
Great lesson. Thanks, Dom.
Works sometimes …