I like to begin my articles with a story, but the tales of woe I’ve gathered over the years of untangling knots in my leader are too many and too varied to attempt narrowing them down into a single memorable incident. I’ve come to accept that the endless tangles and twists in my leaders are the price of admission for this sport we love. There’s a sort of affection for these frustrating tangles we all must experience if we are to enjoy fly fishing that almost makes them special. Almost…
“I’d say just time on the water. You have to put in the time, if you want to get better.” “I think it was when I started spending a lot more time on the water that I really began to improve.” “Time on the water is the most important thing. You have to put in the time” Time on the water. We’ve all heard it at this point. So many anglers attribute this single factor as the most important step towards improvement on their fly fishing journey. I’ve come to believe that making significant strides in our fly fishing abilities is not that far out of reach if we do what we can to make the most of our time on the water.
How much time on the water are we wasting being snagged? It may happen less frequently as our casting, accuracy, and most importantly, our situational awareness improves, but if we are fishing fearlessly to the parts of the river that trout love to inhabit, we are bound to encounter sticks, rocks, grasses and branches. The answer is not to fish more cautiously. We need to cast to the tight spots and ensure our nymphs are getting deep enough if we want our flies to have a chance of catching fish. Improving our casting accuracy and building awareness on the river can help limit how often we get snagged, but it cannot eliminate it. Learning how to unsnag our flies as efficiently as possible is required if we are to continue to progress as fly fishers.
I knew I would catch a fish there when I saw the hole appear around the bend of tall grass. It was only a question of how many or how big. It was early morning. I had caught a few smaller fish and had decided it was turning into a good day’s fishing. One of the trout I had caught had run under the cutbank and wrapped around some roots. And I had already achieved a not too uncommon wind knot in my tippet. I told myself I could fish this frayed and knotted tippet a bit longer. Had I known, I might have replaced my worn tippet. But of course, I should have known.
Sheets of light sliced through cracks in the steep rock walls and cut through clouds of insects above the river. Thousands of dull blue-grey wings sparkled in and out of the rays shifting through the shadows. Sometimes a breeze carried warmth from where the sun still hit the grass outside canyon to where I waded in the cool evening air.
Just when I think I have something figured out, the river shows me how much I still have to learn.
Getting skunked. It happens. But it’s not about catching fish, right? It’s about wading through a beautiful trout stream. The stillness of being alone with your own thoughts in nature. The rhythms of casting and mending line. Spending time with the people you care about. Are these not the special reasons we go fly fishing? Sure they are… but I still want to catch fish.
It was August on the Bighorn River when I learned that trout are lazy.