Search Month: July 2019

Forget the Bottom — Glide Nymphs Through the Strike Zone

Put the nymphs on the bottom. I heard it from everyone I talked with and everything I read, so that’s what I did. I added weight to get the nymphs down — to touch the river bottom with my flies. And on most days, the experience was something between frustrating and maddening. It was a long series of snags, hangups and breakoffs, mixed in with the occasional burst of fish catching — when I somehow got the drift just right.

Twenty years ago, this is how I learned to nymph. I thought snagging up a bunch was just part of the nymphing game. I dealt with it because I caught trout. And I learned to tie knots and put up with lost flies. But, I would argue, this is one of the main reasons many anglers don’t enjoy nymphing. We want to fish. We don’t want to re-rig tippet sections and tie on new flies all day.

One foggy fall morning on my favorite limestoner changed all that. In a couple hours of fast pocket water action, I stumbled upon one of the most important lessons in nymphing: The nymphs do not need to be on the bottom. In fact, gliding through the strike zone and staying off the bottom results in far more trout to the net . . .

Hatch Matcher

It was the summer before college. Before the real world started, they said — although college life never proved to be anything like the rest of the world.

I was working for a printing company, spending three hot months in a delivery truck, shuttling press orders to the docks and doorsteps of Western Pennsylvania corporations.

As I drove repetitive miles across the Keystone state, I was most attentive in the valleys. From my tall perch behind the worn-out steering wheel, I peered over each bridge crossing, wondering and dreaming about trout. I knew of Western Pennsylvania’s struggles to harbor wild trout. I knew about its troubled past with acid mine drainage, but I’d seen marked improvement in water quality over my young life. And I’d explored enough to expect surprises — trout can be anywhere . . .

Missing the Mornings

Dawn to daylight. From the dim, sparkling haze of first light, to the breaking solar rays across tree tops. These are the magic hours.

A clean slate. A fresh-faced river. New light and raw beginnings for forgetful fish. Recently out of the darkness, the trout’s guard is down. He trusts more. He worries less.

The new day is a blank canvas — an unwritten chapter of events and plans. Not your plans, but the river’s plans. Because such decisions are not for any of us to choose.

Walk deep into the backcountry one day, cut through the darkness before pre-dawn, and experience this. Arrive before first light to a place untouched for some time. Feel the newness, the virginity of first light among the surrounding hills . . .

Dry Fly Fishing — The George Harvey Leader Design

Dry flies were my first love.

I don’t believe I ever bought an extruded, knotless leader back then. I tied my own leaders from the beginning, with blood knots and nippers under the bright bulb of my tying desk. Only later did I learn how critical the Harvey leader design was to my early success.

Because, for dry fly fishing, nothing is more important than the leader . . .

Hatch Matcher

Hatch Matcher

It was the summer before college. Before the real world started, they said — although college life never proved to be anything like the rest of the world.

I was working for a printing company, spending three hot months in a delivery truck, shuttling press orders to the docks and doorsteps of Western Pennsylvania corporations.

As I drove repetitive miles across the Keystone state, I was most attentive in the valleys. From my tall perch behind the worn-out steering wheel, I peered over each bridge crossing, wondering and dreaming about trout. I knew of Western Pennsylvania’s struggles to harbor wild trout. I knew about its troubled past with acid mine drainage, but I’d seen marked improvement in water quality over my young life. And I’d explored enough to expect surprises — trout can be anywhere . . .

Missing the Mornings

Missing the Mornings

Dawn to daylight. From the dim, sparkling haze of first light, to the breaking solar rays across tree tops. These are the magic hours.

A clean slate. A fresh-faced river. New light and raw beginnings for forgetful fish. Recently out of the darkness, the trout’s guard is down. He trusts more. He worries less.

The new day is a blank canvas — an unwritten chapter of events and plans. Not your plans, but the river’s plans. Because such decisions are not for any of us to choose.

Walk deep into the backcountry one day, cut through the darkness before pre-dawn, and experience this. Arrive before first light to a place untouched for some time. Feel the newness, the virginity of first light among the surrounding hills . . .

Dry Fly Fishing — The George Harvey Leader Design

Dry Fly Fishing — The George Harvey Leader Design

Dry flies were my first love.

I don’t believe I ever bought an extruded, knotless leader back then. I tied my own leaders from the beginning, with blood knots and nippers under the bright bulb of my tying desk. Only later did I learn how critical the Harvey leader design was to my early success.

Because, for dry fly fishing, nothing is more important than the leader . . .

A Fish out of Fresh Water

A Fish out of Fresh Water

I’d been to LBI at least a dozen times but never cast a line into the salt. Sure, I found the prospect of hauling fish from the surf intriguing, but I suppose I’d always stopped at the reality checkpoint — I live five hours from the ocean, so how often can I really fish water with tides? And while most people enjoy dabbling in things once in awhile, that approach is really not my bag. A short run with something leaves too many questions wandering around and bumping against each other in my brain. And without returning for a follow up experience, the questions remain frustratingly unanswered. I’m a researcher at heart, and I want those answers.

But my two boys are old enough now to be researchers themselves. And once they knew we were traveling to LBI, New Jersey for vacation, they looked into where to fish, what to fish and how to catch the biggest fish in the sea.

We were casting bobbers into a pond with spinning tackle when Aiden first brought it up back in June.

“Hey Dad, when we’re at the beach, we have to buy squid and bunker. We need bigger hooks too, because these ones are too small.”

I perked up and turned toward the small raspy voice of my seven year old son . . .

The Water Column — And the All-Important Strike Zone

The Water Column — And the All-Important Strike Zone

Seeing into the river is a learned skill. It takes a lot of time on the water to judge the three dimensional flow of a river. Reading the surface is easy. Even without bubbles on the top, most anglers quickly learn to gauge the speed of the top current in relation to their fly or indicator. But what lies beneath can be unpredictable and deceiving. Eventually, with the help of polarized lenses and some serious thought, experienced anglers become proficient (enough) in reading the currents below.

But where does it begin?

Understanding a little about the water column and the correlating habits of trout goes a long way toward better fishing. So let’s do it . . .

Fly Fishers — How to Wet Wade (the Gear and the System)

Fly Fishers — How to Wet Wade (the Gear and the System)

Did you know that breathable waders only effectively 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. But you have to do it right. Here’s how . . .

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All the Things

All the Things

There’s the fly box with a broken hinge. Half of the pin on the backside is missing, and I don’t know how that happened. I do know I’ll be standing in fast water someday; I’ll unfold the box, and the open leaf will fall off. I won’t even have a chance for a proper goodbye to the drowned flies and wasted hours — no, the days — of ordinary time spent focused on one square inch of space (that’s what fly tying is). So I’ll fix the hinge today. I could transfer all the flies to a new box, but that would probably take more time.

All the things. It’s what make us fishermen and not just guys who wet a line once in awhile. There’s a little bit of pleasure in these common chores and routines. It’s something we accept and then grow to love . . .

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The first time out, a fly needs a good showing

The first time out, a fly needs a good showing

“What’s this doing in here?”

I plucked the oddball fly from its slot on the backside of a swinging leaf in my nymph box, from a place reserved for trial runs and some rarely used once-or-twice-a-year kind of stuff.

Holding the flashback fly between my thumb and first two fingers, I shook my head.

“No, you didn’t quite make it into the lineup, did you bud?”

You should know, the solitude of my favorite trout river provides me the freedom to talk to myself. And it’s become a habit — not often enough to consider me too strange, I wouldn’t think, and certainly not loud enough for streamside starlings to hear me over the breaking currents. I only comment aloud on the remarkable things, and I do so somewhere above a whisper.

But I like to speak the questions. Because these thoughts seem to command more answers when they resonate aloud.

That last question needed no reply. It was obvious. And I’ve known it for a while now. The first time out, a new fly has to make a good showing. . . .

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This is the End

This is the End

The fisher awoke before dawn. He put his boots on.

He took the rod from a gallery of graphite and cork and walked down the forest hall.

He moved through thick, hazy darkness — miles toward the island, with no sound but the crunch, crunch, and rustle. Footfalls on sandy dirt, roots and rotting leaves. The log. The water. The red halos around orange spots as big as nickels, randomly speckled and enhanced by the minor refraction of cool water sliding and dripping across the broad sides of wild magnificence, the size of which as rare as any to be called legendary . . .

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Catching Big Fish Does Not Make You a Stud . . . Necessarily

Catching Big Fish Does Not Make You a Stud . . . Necessarily

Go ahead. Look back through the Troutbitten archives and you’ll find a bunch of photos featuring big, beautiful trout. Chasing the biggest wild browns is part of our culture. It’s a challenge, and it’s a motivator — something that pulls us back to the rivers time and again.

I have friends who are big fish hunters to their core. Nothing else satisfies them. For me, I guess chasing big trout is a phase that I roll in and out of as the years pass. And although I don’t choose to target big trout on every trip, I always enjoy catching them. Who wouldn’t?

Hooking the big ones is part of the allure of fishing itself, no matter the species or the tactics used. What fisherman doesn’t get excited about the biggest fish of the day? It’s fun. And it’s inherent in our human nature to see bigger as better. But is it? Better what? Better fish? Better fisherman? . . .

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