John and I always keep count. He’s the only fishing friend who can pull me into such a race. And I’m not sure why.
Like all fishermen do at some point, I used to keep count of my catch. I even roughly calculated my catch rate at the end of the day, like this:
“Let’s see, I fished for five hours, but I took a twenty minute break around lunch. Walk in time was fifteen minutes, so subtract that too. I caught twenty-six trout, but I COULD have caught those couple of trout that came unbuttoned if I was more careful, so let’s add those in and say thirty. Multiply, divide and there’s my catch rate.”
That sounds like fishermen’s math, right?
But I don’t count much anymore. And I don’t like to compete against anything but the river and the trout. I don’t mind losing to the river on occasion, either. Because loss is a wonderful teacher.
But John baits me back into counting every time we fish together. And there’s no fuzzy catch-rate-math involved — just straight up fish counting.
— — — — — —
At the bend pool, I walked out of the river at the small mudslide — right where everybody else does. I flipped the rod tip behind me. Then I compulsively checked the position of the net and water bottle mounted on my belt as I peered through the midday fog. It was a strange day, alternating from light rain and cool breezes to warm air with a thin veil over the water. The sun showed up once, parting the fog and chasing it away into the bordering forest. But now, the sheer linen sheet had crept back to the river. And I had a hard time making out John’s silhouette through the haze.
I walked upstream around the pool, same as I was sure John had. I knew where I’d find him. He was at the top of the flat, right where a wide riffle condenses and breaks up. Leave it to John to fish the easy stuff.
“Hey cherry picker, how many?” I shouted across the river to my friend while I stood on the bank.
He’d seen me coming, and he timed his cast to the perfect spot in the perfect seam, just so he’d be hooked up with a trout as I arrived.
“This one makes seventeen!” he said.
John feigned a tough struggle and played the fish for a while before yelling out, “Oh my! That’s a big one.”
John netted the ten-inch trout and released it. I nodded with approving sarcasm, and we both chuckled as he waded over to join me on the bank.
“Seriously?” I asked. “Seventeen?”
I had caught just half as many in the same time.
“Yeah,” John confirmed. “Scout’s honor.”
John held toward me and dangling single fly from its mono tether — a simple stonefly pattern that we both keep in our confidence box.
“Ah, nice.” I said. “Just one fly, huh?”
“Yeah, it seemed to make all the difference today,” John replied. “The water’s up, but these fish are still feeding in the mixed and swirling currents, so . . .”
“. . . One fly holds the seam better,” I interrupted.
“Yup.” He nodded.
Like most of us, I’m a creature of habit. And I tend to do the same things when presented with the same situations. But my go to rigs became that way for good reason. I’ve tirelessly tested flies and rigs through the years, even when the fish are on, just to see what won’t work. (That’s one of the reasons I stopped counting fish — because catching the most trout is not often my goal.)
So when John held up that fly, I kicked myself a bit for being a little too ingrained in my thinking. I love a two nymph rig. Heaviest fly on bottom and lightest fly on the tag is my go to setup. But while my two nymphs were pulling against one another that afternoon, John’s single nymph solution had his one fly in one current seam way more often.
Two nymphs often land in two different seams. The upper fly might land in a fast lane and the point fly in a slower one. And we may think our dead drift is solid. But on a short drift, neither of those flies ever gets a chance to settle into the seam and do its thing. Instead, it’s being pulled by a partner, encouraged to leave its own seam and cross over into the next one. All of that destroys the dead drift.
Of course, there are a hundred different scenarios and three times the solutions on the river. Two nymphs can certainly work in mixed currents. Style, size, distance between flies, weight and material density all factor in. But often, it’s best to simplify the rig by clipping off the extra fly.
I did just that. I removed my Bead Head Pheasant Tail and swapped out the point fly to a larger stone to make up the weight and still get down. Then I walked to the next level upstream ahead of my friend, and I immediately started catching more trout.
John still doubled me up by the end of the day, but that won’t happen next time.
Fish hard, friends.
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Enjoy the day.
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