I fish flies and a fly rod because it gives me the best chance to meet the fish on their own terms. Trout eat big meaty five-inch streamers as baitfish. But they also eat size #24 Trico spinners and everything in between. They take food from the streambed and from the surface of the water. And no other tackle allows me meet trout in all these places, with all manners and sizes of patterns, with as much efficiency as a fly rod.
So then, being well-rounded is a unique advantage available to fly fishers. And the best anglers I know are adept at every method of delivery. They carry dries, wets, streamers and nymphs, and they fish them all with confidence.
With all that said, most of the die-hard anglers I run into are nymph-first fishermen. Or at least their nymphing game is strong, and they don’t hesitate to break it out. That’s because nymphing catches a lot of fish — more than dries and streamers combined, over the long haul.
Nymphing is sustainable. Here’s why . . .
We’re in an extended high water period in Central Pennsylvania. Honestly, I love it. When the creek are full the trout are happy, and so am I. I’ve heard the lament of so many anglers across the region about unfishable conditions and poor results. But that’s not the reality I’m in. And if the water clarity is decent — if the trout can see the flies — I’ll take high water over low water every time. Success in such conditions just takes some discipline to fish what you can, and leave the rest.
Sure, blown out water is a bust, and there’s really not much you can do about that. But I’m not talking about muddy water and flood conditions. So far this fall season, we’ve averaged flows that are two or three times the norm for this time of year. But consider that our fall water is usually pretty low, and you might suddenly become thankful for the opportunity to fish a creek with some decent water coming through.
No matter the river or the flows, good fishing happens by staying within your effective reach. Fish within your means. If you are only comfortable in water that’s knee-deep, then find water below your knees and fish only what you can reach from there. Try hard not to fall into the grass-is-greener-on-the-other side trap.
I’ve had old timers tell me that leader and tippet technology is the biggest advancement in fly fishing over the last half-century. Within my own twenty-five years of fly fishing, I’ve seen fly shop wall space grow to include tippet spools of nylon and fluorocarbon in all X sizes (sometimes in half sizes too), with most manufacturers offering multiple options for stiffness and breaking strength in each diameter.
It’s all gotten a little complicated, I suppose, and my friends at TCO tell me that fielding confused questions about tippet is a daily chore. So let’s answer three important questions about tippet. What type? (Nylon vs Fluorocarbon.) What size? (How thick of a diameter is best?) And how long should your tippet section be?
Note: this article is not intended to be a comprehensive write-up for all things tippet. Google search will supply you with that. Instead, I’ll give you a real world, stream-level account of what works for me and the Troutbitten guys.
. . .The patch of forest beyond was more open than I remembered, and I walked easily through tall spruce and dying ferns, chasing the last remaining shade-line sideways until it disappeared. Silence soaked in with the shade. With the fading light, I felt the cool earth of the forest reach up and take over what the fleeting sun had left behind.
These changes of light and season happen both suddenly and gradually, depending on your own perspective and movement in time. Sit still for a while and watch the daylight fade into blackness, and it takes hours. But walk among the trees at dusk, across a soft bed of spruce needles, after a long day on the river, and time speeds up. The pace of the trees, the perspective of the forest takes hold within you, and a good long look into the future looks a lot like the past, with the days and nights rolling into each other, turning in concentric circles, day to night, season to season, through a window of time both small and wide all at once — and all of it happening both here and somewhere else concurrently, though you can’t be sure . . .
Fly casting has a lot of moving parts. Two sets each of arms, wrists, hands and fingers all work together to flex the rod and propel the line and flies to the target. There’s a lot going on. It can feel overwhelming -- like sitting behind a full drum kit for the first time and realizing that all four limbs have a responsibility to do independent things.
So it takes a while to get all those parts working together in concert. But anglers and musicians alike need only understand the basics and then put in the playing time. Given enough practice, good things follow.
I’ve noticed the most overlooked aspect of those moving parts is the trigger finger. I meet anglers with all manner of bad (inefficient) habits that hold them back. But the trigger finger issues are easily solved, because there’s not much variation with its job.
In fly casting, all movement of the line should come through the trigger finger . . . with limited exception.
I know, I know. You don’t like to fish with indicators, right? You think an indy removes the angler from contact with the nymphs. You believe a fly fishing indicator actually gets in the way of strike detection more than it helps the situation. Granted, there are big problems with the way most fly fishermen use indicators. And I know a lot of anglers who refuse to attach them to a leader.
But I also know many more good anglers who see the value of indicators, who reach for an indy (or a dry-dropper rig) when a tight line nymphing presentation fails, who recognize that an indicator is an amazing and useful tool that extends our effective nymphing range, balances out a drift and helps keep the flies in one current seam.
I think a lot of anglers miss the finer points of the indy game. Good indicator nymphing (or dry-dropper fishing) is not just a chuck it and chance it affair. Instead, careful attention to the indy itself, reading the water vs the position and behavior of the indicator, is a necessary skill if the tactic is to be productive.
During our lunch, I asked George when and why he chooses to float the sighter.
We then talked about a mistaken perception about floating the sighter. An angler may think he’s able to suspend a heavier fly with a greased sighter, just because it doesn't sink under the surface. But the sighter may simply not be in touch with the flies. It’s an easy mistake to make.
Sunup to sundown.
There’s nothing as simple and yet so full of variation as a full day on the water. The diversity of situations challenges the will of a fisherman: Exhaustion from the forces of water -- its speed, its numbing cold, the pressure of its depth. Weariness from the weather -- the endless wind, the heavy rain, and the consuming heat of the sun. We soak in all the stages and moments that one single day brings, and we are alive through each one.