Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Confessions of a Dry Fly Snob

OK, I admit it. There is nothing I would rather do more than wade into a stream and cast a dry fly to rising trout. I don't think fishing gets any better than that. In fact for years, that was the only way I would fish. Nymphing was something those "other" fishermen did. My fly box was filled with an assortment of dry flies. The smaller the better. I rarely tied on anything larger than size 18, and size 20 or 22 flies were commonplace.

How things have changed. As I look at my fly box today it is filled with streamers, poppers, and nymphs. Sure, the dry flies still outnumber these, but not by much. I rarely tie a dry fly these days, spending plenty of time trying out new streamer patterns.

What has changed?

I attribute the change to two things.

1. A move from Colorado to Kentucky

We moved from Colorado to Kentucky in 2005. Out west you fly fish for trout. That is about it. Now that we are further East the trout fishing is not as plentiful. Don't get me wrong, there is trout fishing here. The Cumberland river is nearby, and it is a fairly short drive to Tennessee and the Great Smokey Mountain area. But in most areas the water is simply too warm to support trout.

There is, however, more water in Kentucky than I have ever been around. Warmwater. This means there is actually more opportunities to go fishing than I had in Colorado, providing I am willing to fish for other species. In 2007 I finally swallowed my pride and went out to the local lake to see what I could catch. The first time a Bass takes your fly and tries to run for the cover, you are hooked! These fish can fight, and on a fly rod they are incredible! Largemouth Bass, Smallmouth Bass, Bluegill, Crappie, and more. They are all fun in their own ways.

It is still more enjoyable for me to catch them on top, using a popper floating on the surface (the Bass fly fisherman's equivalent of a dry fly). But most the time they are not taking surface flies and streamers are used.

Being in Kentucky has also opened my eyes to the joy of Saltwater fly fishing. We are only a days drive to the coast, where I have already fished for Tarpon, Bonefish, Permit, and Redfish. These species are an addiction unto themselves. But once again, most fishing is sub-surface.

2. Fly Fishing the South Fork of the Snake River

In 2006 My father and I hired Larry Larson, a guide out of Swan Valley, Idaho. We were fishing the South Fork of the Snake River. This is a section of the river that I have fished many times. I know there is an abundance of large trout in this section, but it is tough to get them to take the fly.

Larry's first passion was not catching fish. He was a fly tier first. His goal was to fins new materials and techniques to match the hatch. This made him an excellent guide, as he was focused on matching the conditions.

Larry fished this stretch of water daily. He knew where the fish sat. On several occasions he would tell us there was a large Brown behind that tree if we can put a fly in that specific location. Sure enough, a cast there would result in the fish.

How did this change my opinion of nymphing? The large trout we were targeting would not take any fly thrown at them. It had to be the right fly with good presentation. As we fished through holes Larry would set us up with different flies. Sometimes we were using a nymph and a strike indicator. Sometimes a nymph with a dry fly as an indicator. Sometimes just a dry fly. If we floated through without a hit he would change the setup. Either the size, color, or stage of the fly (or all three) would be modified. He would then row back upstream and we would float through the hole again. Sometimes we did this three or four times before we caught fish. The idea was that with the right setup, we would catch large fish.

This process of truly matching the environment intrigued me. For wild trout it is more than simply tying on a nymph and tossing it out there. It is more than matching a surface hatch with a dry fly. It is matching the conditions as they are at the moment, whether it by dry fly or nymph.

Given the choice I will still take a day of wading the river with a dry fly on the line over about any other type of fishing. But I have learned that to limit myself to this type of fishing limits my experiences. By expanding my fishing to include other flies, and other species, I have learned more about the fish, the sport, and my enjoyment and enthusiasm has increased.

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