Part 2:

“The actu­al mechan­ics of short­’­line nymph… relies large­ly on intu­ition and the abil­i­ty to see things that aren’t imme­di­ate­ly evi­dent, or rather, to see things that are evi­dent in their own way.”
—Zen and the Art of Nymph-Fish­ing: John Gier­ach

It is Oct. 12th, 2019.

It is 7am. First light is show­ing on cue, as I turn off the engine. I am parked in the same tired-look­ing pull­out from last week. There’s been just enough rain over the past week to keep the water thin and spooky like before. I have a chance to step into the same water twice. Because its my sec­ond time, I move more effi­cient­ly upstream, know­ing when to walk up the left, right or mid­dle of the stream. I work my way up, cast­ing to the known holes I’ve pre­vi­ous­ly mapped in my head. What took me three hours takes me less than an hour to reach last week’s end­point.

As I wade past the first bridge, a spin-fish­er­man has just parked and is climb­ing down the embank­ment to start fish­ing. I con­tin­ue to wade up the mid­dle of the stream. We don’t say any­thing to each oth­er; I’m sure he’s sur­prised to see some­one in his water this ear­ly. For a brief moment, I wait for the splash of a Rapala being thrown near me. I won­der how I would react. Instead he goes down­stream of me and flings his lure to the oth­er side of the bank. The lure arcs up and then down, spin­ning a per­fect curvi­lin­ear rain­bow of monofil­a­ment as it crash­es into the water on the far bank. He reels it back in. Noth­ing. I watch the spin fish­er­man, for a minute or two more.

I am final­ly on new water. As I move past the bridge and out of the eye­sight of the spin-cast­er down­stream, I see that there is on the oth­er side of the creek, right along the bank, a dark­er patch of water. A small gaze­bo of branch­es shel­ters the water pro­vid­ing per­ma­nent shade and cov­er. I watch for a few min­utes. Noth­ing is ris­ing. No sub­tle sur­face dis­tur­bances to sug­gest activ­i­ty. So l leave my lit­tle nymph on the line and cast down­stream a few times to adjust for length. I’ve got to get under the foliage, land close to the bank, drift the nymph for a few sec­onds to get it down deep, keep the fly line low with­out touch­ing or foul­ing the water, and not get caught up in the thin fin­gers of the branch­es a foot or so above. The set, if there is one, will need to be down­stream and low. No glo­ri­ous­ly sky­ward sets. This is not so much cast­ing as doing the lim­bo.

I make the cast. I watch. I wait. Noth­ing. I adjust to let the drift set­tle a bit clos­er to the bank. Few things these days feel like faith but I know there is a trout there. I make anoth­er cast, and anoth­er. On my third or fourth cast, the nymphs flies clean­ly under the branch­es and slips into the water and sinks quick­ly. I watch the line track just under the branch­es, the slight­est teth­er to hope. Although, I am expect­ing a trout, I am not expect­ing the size of it. Nor­mal­ly, I fish very small streams, where the fish are no more than six to nine inch­es long; this one is well over twelve, maybe fif­teen. It takes a sec­ond for my eyes to believe what they are see­ing and I start to pull the fish in. It is already putting up more fight than any fish I had this year. It feels large and cum­ber­some to bring to net. The land­ing is clum­sy, because I sim­ply am not used to it. It is the first large trout of the year for me.

Tak­ing out the phone, I snap a pic­ture of the hole, the fish, the nymph/rod and mark the spot on my topo map. The Mas­ter Angler (“MA”) would also say to record water/air tem­per­a­ture, weath­er, cloud cov­er­age, wind, myr­i­ad details that make my head spin. The fish is released and swims back across the water. And for a sec­ond, I con­sid­er my job done and I can go home. I have caught my trout. I am tri­umphant. I have spent two days get­ting this fish—it would be a good cap­stone. How­ev­er, I am just at the begin­ning of this new water and it has been rec­om­mend­ed by Ma that I get famil­iar with Lit­tle Pony. I am begin­ning to under­stand why. LP is wide with open sky to allow a good cast, but not too wide that much mend­ing is need­ed. It can be wad­ed from side to side with­out much prob­lem. Even­tu­al­ly, I’ll return with clients here and guide them as I appear to dowse for trout, mys­ti­cal­ly read­ing the impen­e­tra­ble water.

I con­tin­ue wad­ing and fish­ing the thin, rif­fled waters and find noth­ing until I once again hit anoth­er dark patch of water and luck into anoth­er fish. This one is big­ger and fights even more. Because I’ve not had enough expe­ri­ence with big­ger trout, I reach for my net too soon. The fish is too far away. Some slack devel­ops in my line, in my aware­ness, in my aware­ness of my line, because I’m think­ing about how to close with the fish, which is bend­ing my rod heav­i­ly and keep­ing me from angling the rod back­wards. The reach of my net is too short. The fish frees itself from the hook and is gone. I am too excit­ed and stretched the moment a few sec­onds too long and broke it.

I am now at least a quar­ter mile away form the last easy access to and from the road, when I reach anoth­er big dark hold. I latch onto anoth­er large brown trout—they are big enough to iden­ti­fy at twen­ty feet—that once again I can’t land. My hands vis­i­bly shake from adren­a­line and so I breathe and look around. The banks of the creek have grown steep­er, the thorn bush­es denser, the thick­et thick­er. The water is now knee deep and push­ing steadi­ly. A cou­ple of tat­tered strips of white sheets and what looks like a soli­tary, white-burlap bag are tied to a near­by branch. Even out here: Trash. It reminds me of scat­tered beer cans and crushed car­tons which at best indi­cate a place to fish and at worst rep­re­sent every sin­gle thing wrong with the World.

I’m prob­a­bly into the my third hour of hik­ing up this stream and my abil­i­ty to con­cen­trate on every­thing is laps­ing as I teeter/fall into a hole hid­den by the mid­morn­ing glare, scar­ing up a mess of fish that skit­ter away. I am stand­ing waist-deep in the mid­dle of a large deep hole, that momen­tar­i­ly is a star­burst of fleet­ing shad­ows. D’oh. I look around embar­rassed. But now there are more of these mys­te­ri­ous white burlap bags fes­toon­ing the near­by trees and bush­es, like Christ­mas orna­ments. I notice a par­tic­u­lar bright-blue burlap bag tied up very high, like a star and that’s when I see the per­fect hole.

It starts with a flat seam­less run of water that goes for 20–30 yards then nar­rows and deep­ens. The water dark­ens as the creek con­stricts, fan­ning in, and runs full force into a large boul­der sit­ting in the mid­dle of the stream. The water is both slowed and divid­ed even­ly by the large boul­der. The large boul­der has been worn/eroded at its water­line and below; it’s form­ing a nat­ur­al mini-cove. The top of boul­der leans upstream and over­hangs the dark water. The col­or is a deep-sea green that looks almost emer­ald and impreg­nable, like amber.

I freeze. Breathe. Slow down, I tell myself. Breathe. Think about the dis­tance and think about how I want the nymph to land just so and how long it will take to get it deep into the water, and how long I will let it drift and how I will fol­low that drift and how I will set the hook and wait…Is my net ready? It is ready. Don’t get it hung up in my belt or pack again; it is slung lose and lim­ber like a six-shoot­er at high noon. I prac­tice my draw so that I know it will be smooth and quick and then I cast.

Like a sub­ma­rine sur­fac­ing, I see a large, thick, dark shad­ow slide out from under the rock, straight to where my nymph should be. For a moment, I for­get I am fish­ing and just watch the fish rise… I get my sens­es back just in time, because the fish has slight­ly turned its head. I set the hook and the line goes tight and vibrates alive. I’ve hooked ‘em. My rod is flexed hard and down; the fish is run­ning back to its sub­ter­ranean hol­low, but I turn its head to the left, forc­ing it towards the bank, forc­ing it inex­orably to me. Instinc­tive­ly, I know I have one chance to net this fish. I can’t step down­stream, because I am crouched on a anoth­er rock with just a few feet of sta­ble foot­ing behind me. If it were to get past me, it would be gone. I keep the pres­sure steady as I reel him in. It jumps up out the water, buck­ing hard and fast; I low­er and angle my rod tip fur­ther, forc­ing the fish’s head down into the water and towards the bank. The rod is now in full bend. I grab my net and begin to scoop from below.

The last few cru­cial moments are the most tense. It’s the oppo­site of that joy­ful antic­i­pa­tion when you first cast your lure, manip­u­late the drift, and if you are lucky, see the flash indi­cat­ing the take, or in this case, watch spell­bound as the leviathan ris­es from the depths (your mind’s eye infi­nite­ly expand­ing a moment that prob­a­bly lasts but for a sec­ond) as you guessti­mate the size (also infi­nite­ly expand­ed) and then at last, set the hook for the final pay­off. No, land­ing the fish is the oppo­site of antic­i­pa­tion because it’s not the expec­ta­tion of gain but one of loss. If it is not land­ed, it is unfin­ished busi­ness. It does not count.

For any sport or endeav­or, there is a code, a set of ethics. Like any moral ground­ing, there are var­i­ous camps—some on ter­ra fir­ma, some not. There’s the perennial/perineal debate between the Catch&Release crowd and the Catch&Cook crowd, even dur­ing delayed har­vest. With­in fly fish­ing itself are the “Dries or Die” purists, the “Nymphs or Noth­ing” sta­tis­ti­cians, the “Wool­ly Bug­gers or Wont” hedo­nists, the “Eggs and Worms” heretics… I take no sides in this. There is some orga­niz­ing prin­ci­ple at work, but the it’s hard and elu­sive to grasp. But every sin­gle one of us has a cer­tain set of rules in our heads and a fish is not caught until it is land­ed is one of mine.

I land the trout. It has been maybe four, pos­si­ble five hours of wad­ing since I start­ed. I mar­vel at what this trout rep­re­sents. Stalk­ing, read­ing the water, cast­ing, crouch­ing; climb­ing up and down rocks, sliding/falling down into the sand and mud; tra­vers­ing bram­bles, thick­ets, and thorns so large and men­ac­ing that they have tat­toos say­ing, “You Shall Not Pass,” and mean it.
Which is why pho­tos don’t mean any­thing. It’s why you won’t see a pho­to unless you ask, because it will mean absolute­ly noth­ing to you unless you fill in the blanks with your own sto­ry, which is all one can do.

“The actu­al mechan­ics of short­’­line nymph [are] detect­ing the strike of an unseen trout to an unseen fly [which] is one of the hard­est things a fly-fish­er will ever have to learn. It’s a skill that relies large­ly on intu­ition and the abil­i­ty to see things that aren’t imme­di­ate­ly evi­dent, or rather, to see things that are evi­dent in their own way.”
—Zen and the Art of Nymph-Fish­ing: ~~~~John Gier­ach

It is Oct 6th, 2019
It is a lit­tle past eight in the morn­ing when I park in the well-worn, dirt pull­out next to the mouth of Lit­tle Pony creek, which emp­ties into the North Fork of the New Riv­er. I feel like I’ve already wast­ed the day, sun­rise hav­ing been an hour ear­li­er. Already from the car, I see the water is low and clear; it’s skinny…emaciated. Any more parched and its ribs would be show­ing.

From the over­head bank, the riv­er bed is clear­ly vis­i­ble; the water is translucent—it’s the col­or of weak tea. The body of the small stream is open for inspec­tion. So open it’s demor­al­iz­ing, because I can see into and under­neath the scarce water—the rivulets and ridges in the sand and grav­el; the nooks and cran­nies of the stones and rocks; the carved-out crags of the larg­er boul­ders; the rot­ted-out cores of sub­merged branch­es and trunks—that there are no fish here. Fish­ing on thin waters is both reward­ing and not. But let’s just get this out the way, espe­cial­ly for the new angler: No Water, No Fish.

I first start­ed fly fish­ing in late sum­mer, dur­ing an espe­cial­ly bad drought a few years ago. I hadn’t real­ized the impor­tance of water then—that it could be thin, be skin­ny. I equat­ed water, any water, to fish. And so I would fish waters so low that the creeks looked more like bad­ly-main­tained log­ging roads than riv­er beds.

But it’s more than just water a fish will need; fish need Structure—-the rocks, the cutouts, drowned logs and any­thing pro­vid­ing refuge, cov­er, a safe home from things even worse than an angler: bears, hawks, herons, eagles, snakes, and oth­er fish. And it’s only when the water is bare that a stream is undressed; its spine on dis­play, that the struc­ture, which can only be guessed at, is revealed.

And it’s here, fish­less, you will under­stand why your favorite hole is your favorite hole, because now you see that the cur­rent has erod­ed a dark cav­i­ty into the low­er half of the boul­der, a trout liar. And under­stand why oth­er spots that look like they should, but don’t hold fish .The bot­tom has been worn glass-smooth and fea­ture­less like a sand dune, and is just as life­less; there’s no shel­ter from a heron fly­ing over­head, ready to skew­er them in a flash.

And it’s also dur­ing these dry spells of both fish and water, that you learn that fish­ing is not catch­ing. In these slow moments, you will intu­it that they are not the same thing. If a new angler does­n’t soon accept this fact, they will not be fish­ing, or catch­ing, for long. If you are smart, you might get out your phone, snap a pic­ture of the revealed design, grab gps-coords (I don’t) and come back lat­er, when there has been a few, good rains and the water is deep­er, thick­er to catch fish from a fea­ture­less patch of water, past over by less per­cip­i­ent anglers. This is your secret spot, hid­den in plain view, Atlantis-like in its obscu­ri­ty and reward.

I con­tin­ue my slow wade up, method­i­cal­ly cast­ing to any thing that looks fishy but isn’t. At a large slow bend in the riv­er, I see that both sides of the banks are stamped flat by count­less anglers; this is a good spot to fish. Why? The low water lays bare the main chan­nel in the mid­dle of stream which flat­tens and smoothes out. Fish nor­mal­ly aren’t going to hold here because of the lack of struc­ture, but right in the mid­dle, I see three old truck-tires. Because they’re just past the bridge over­head, the tires could be mis­tak­en for trash, hurled over the guardrails. But they aren’t lay­ing flat on their sides, they are up on their treads, cant­ed over and buried a quar­ter of the way down, past their side­walls. The three tires loose­ly form an isosce­les tri­an­gle point­ing upstream, in hushed con­ver­sa­tion with one anoth­er.

Putting this togeth­er, I real­ize they have been delib­er­ate­ly placed and part­ly buried. Had it been nor­mal water con­di­tions, they would be under­wa­ter, unseen. Sunken into the grav­el bed, the three, old truck-tires pro­vide a small yet safe habi­tat for trout. The tires are the hid­den rea­son why the banks are stamped flat. They appear to be so expert­ly placed, it makes you won­der if some fish­eries-biol­o­gist savant went about plant­i­ng tires like a J. Apple­seed of trout holes. And if there is, do they keep a map? And can I have it?

After 3 hours or so of wad­ing, I reach the first bridge and start the climb up for the walk back. I have cov­ered less than a quar­ter of a mile. Fly fish­ing both con­tracts and expands time and space. Ask any angler who can’t fig­ure out how five hours have passed in a flash and that the end­less, wind­ing creek is but a short half-mile walk along the busy road­side, back to the car. I look upstream and see that it con­tin­ues, a per­fect width for wad­ing and that I will return.

~~~~~End of Part I.

Gear update

August 13th, 2019

 

 I acci­den­tal­ly found out about The Cur­tis Creek Man­i­festo from Huge Fly Fish­er­man and one of his char­ac­ter­is­ti­cal­ly snarky but sweet com­ments on red­dit.

I googled the term and dis­cov­ered Sheri­dan Ander­son the author. There’s piti­ful­ly lit­tle writ­ten about the author, who grows more impres­sive as I con­tin­ue grok the mag­ni­tude of what he accom­plished.

Like all true works of art, it will take you a while to unpack just how much is packed into this slim vol­ume.  At first glance, it looks like some­thing out of a 1960’s time cap­sule (pub­lished in 1968) but as you spend time with the book, and reread it, you will see that it holds more infor­ma­tion per page than any fish­ing book ever writ­ten, despite the fact that more than half the page is usu­al­ly cov­ered in car­toon draw­ings. I’ve re-read it sev­er­al times now and this author achieved exact­ly what he set out to achieve.

Mr.Anderson states his inten­tions right from the out­set:

The major dif­fi­cul­ty with most How-to Fish­ing books is that of try­ing to fig­ure out what the author is talk­ing about–The begin­ner is assault­ed with page after page of text which he must trans­late into visu­al images before he can even begin to under­stand it. Also, most primers fail because they are so high­ly over­writ­ten that the novice becomes hope­less buried under an avalanche of infor­ma­tion, much of which is only vague­ly inci­den­tal to a firm grasp of the basics, and thus serv­ing only to con­fuse the issues…In actu­al­i­ty, most anglers learned how to fish in spite of the text­books, rather than because of them.

 

And then he both shows and tells the hows and more impor­tant­ly, The Whys to the strate­gies and tac­tics of fly fish­ing that feel as fresh and as applic­a­ble to mod­ern day euronyph­ing as they were to Joe Humprey’s Trout Tac­tics, back in the day; anoth­er book I high­ly rec­om­mend but I urge you to first read The Man­i­festo first  and then you will get so much more out of Humprey’s book when you get to it.

 

So you may ask­ing your­self, why are you rec­om­mend­ing a book pub­lished in 1968 that has more to do with the Haight-Ash­bury in SF then some Appalachi­an moun­tain stream? Why aren’t you rec­om­mend­ing George Daniel’s Dynam­ic Nymph­ing or Devin Olsen’s Tac­ti­cal Fly Fish­ing? Because while both are great books and are as up to date as any­thing in the com­pet­i­tive fly fish­ing world, they are not for begin­ners, because they make way too many assump­tions on what the begin­ner angler already knows how to do.

Hav­ing read both books, I can tell you that The Man­i­festo repeats what is impor­tant in clear and bold text, and with ele­gant, amus­ing car­toons that stick in your head and form a bet­ter men­tal map (at least for me) on what to actu­al­ly do when you are fly fish­ing;

For exam­ple:

The Curtis Creek Manisfesto showing the imporant technique of stalking when fly fishing
Stalk­ing

I implore you to grab a copy if you are at all inter­est­ed in learn­ing how to fly fish, or buy one for some­one you know that is inter­est­ed, and you will give them the best, most humor­ous start in the art of fly fish­ing pos­si­ble.

 


 

 

The Belt, The Net, The Stick

Gear Update July 17, 2019

Please see Recommend Gear for the complete list

 

The Belt

Again inspired from Trout­bit­ten who made made me think about the wad­ing belt.

First of all, wear one. Espe­cial­ly if you wear waders, because in a pinch, they hold enough air in you waders to keep you a float for a few moments to allow you to cor­rect pos­si­bly dis­as­trous  mis­takes. Two: this beld is wide and thick and pro­vides good lum­bar sup­port which is essen­tial to sup­port all the core-use your body is going through hold­ing you steady in mov­ing water and cast­ing. Three: It serves as the basis for vital gear, that should go here and not your pack. Pri­marly, I am refer­ring to your land­ing net. More below.


ZipTies

This is a quick and dirty method to tie things togeth­er until you are hap­py with it and then use some­thing more attrac­tive like nylon but it works—it’s quick.


The Magnet

A key sys­tem in your land­ing net sys­tem. This mag­net allows for a quick release to allow you to land that trout and if you place it well, you can auto­mat­i­cal­ly lock it back into place with­out much effort.

The one of the mag­net should be attacked to your belt. I’ve seen com­pet­i­tive anglers do this; I think it is far eas­i­er and faster to get a hold of you net and just as easy to reat­tach when you are done.  I’m right hand­ed so I land with my left hand, so the mag­net is con­nect­ed to the left side of my belt, and not the pack. I used to hold my net on my pack but I found try­ing to reach way back, took time, was awk­ward and made me lose my focus on keep­ing the hook­set nice and tight. So now once I’m ready, I reach down to my side and eas­i­ly unat­tach the net and I’m ready to land that fish.

I attach the oth­er mag­net on the net so it bal­ances nice­ly  when hang­ing freely (PICTURE TO COME)

The Landing Net

I’ve had var­i­ous nets includ­ing very nice Fish­ponds. Unless you are guid­ing or your kids like to net the trout while you catch them, I think the Fra­bill fits the bill. They key thing is that your net should be rub­ber. You’ll find that once caught, trout tend to unhook them­selves and that if the net’s not rub­ber, you’ll  spend a lot of time, try­ing to unhook your hook from you net. I’ll repeat again: I think you should wear your net at your side where it’s eas­i­ly acces­si­ble, so you can fish focused.


The Gear Retractor

Per­fect for attach­ing to your wad­ing stick. It’s not too strong that keep­ing it extend­ed will tire you but it’s strong enough to pull your wad­ing stick back to you side, when you drop the pole. Again, I’m right hand­ed and atach this gear retrac­tor to my right side of my wad­ing belt.  They also make a mini which I’m think­ing of get­ting to replace my zingers because:

  1. I’ve now had a cou­ple of zinger fail­ures even by “good” brands
  2. I can not afford an Abel Zinger


The Wading stick

Prob­a­bly the best one  is a nice­ly worn stick that you have found and kept with you through hikes but these col­lapsable hik­ing poles have been great and do the trick. When you don’t need them, they fold up and ride safe­ly out of the way on your hip. Note: They are not easy to attach to you retrac­tor and require that you remove the tiny com­pass in the han­dle, and remove the straps and punch a hole to feed your zip­tie or nylon cord through, which then attach­es to the gear retrac­tors. I car­ry two of these poles. One is zip­tied per­ma­nent­ly to my belt, while the oth­er one is clipped on and eas­i­ly removed if I have to lend it to some­one else or just be removed when not need­ed. But it’s good place to store my poles so i know where they always are.


Temperature and fish –

Recommended Equipment

If you’ve read any trout-fish­ing books, you’ve noticed that they always seem to begin with tem­per­a­ture. If you are like me, you’ve skipped them to get to the more ‘improtant’ stuff. 

How­ev­er there is a rea­son they put water tem­per­a­ture at the begin­ning fo the book—It’s because it’s one of the most, if not the most impor­tant thing to know when you are try­ing to fish: If the water is too warm for trout and you don’t know this sin­gu­lar fact, then you will waste your time slap­ping the trout-emp­ty waters, instead of mov­ing on and cov­er­ing more prom­s­ing waters. Just know if the water temp is more then 65º, then its time to move on.

I’ve tried sev­er­al ther­mome­ters and this one seens to fist the bill. Com­pact, stur­dy and has a mag­net to boot for find­ing way­ward tiny flies. 


Good, Inexpensive, Flurocarbon Tippet that works

 

So its no secret that this page is inspired by troutbitten.com. The com­bi­na­tion of fly fish­ing and phi­los­o­phy just strikes the right chords with me. To that end, the is site is not only philo­soph­i­cal, but prac­ti­cal.

One of the most use­ful and mon­ey-sav­ing recomme­da­tions was using Seaguar Flu­o­ro­car­bon instead of buy­ing mon­do expen­sive tip­pet. 

At its thinnest, its close to being 4.5x tip­pet which i’ve used mul­ti­ple times and it works quite well. Its not 6x or 7x (although I wish they made thin­ner diam­etes) but for the waters around here, it seems to work quite well. At about 20$ for 130 meters it’s hands down beats any guide-tip­pet i’ve come across for price and workss quite well for even tiny flies.

Try Seaguar Fluorocarbon , I think youll quite like it.

Ps as an aisde, I store it on my tippet spool and use one of my wife’s scrunchies to hold the tippet in place.