Getting your flies down is a requirement if you want to catch trout while nymphing. It’s just the way it is. I cringe when I think of all the hours I’ve spent with flies in the water and very little chance of catching trout because I didn't understand this concept. This article is an attempt to spare you some of those wasted hours, and perhaps introduce some new techniques.
My journey to home waters has left me staring cold, difficult winter fly fishing in the face and it makes perfect sense. It seems the things in my life that have brought the greatest joy, reveal themselves on the backside of the greatest struggles. Our move to Utah was not easy. Now that we have finally unpacked, cleaned, re-modeled and settled into our new home, I have the opportunity to fish trout streams more often and attempt to answer the question: what makes winter fly fishing special?
We were teenagers when we found the fly rods in the lodge at the bottom of the hill next to the Stillwater River. The lodge sat across from the small trapper’s cabin. Both remnants of generations gone, when the ranch we worked as children, brought men on horseback, hunting elk into the Beartooth Mountains. The lodge held the treasures of that time. Looking through the drab green packs and canvas tents and dusty boxes we found a tin fly box that brought life to the rods. In it were the large, fluffy, feathered flies that became all we had, so they were all we fished.
We oversimplify the pursuit of trout when we think changing flies will result in more fish caught. Surely fly fishing can be a simple endeavor if we let it be. Carry a fly rod and some flies to the river. Wade through its currents and cast flies to where the trout swim below. Wade and cast. Wade and cast. If the fish do not reward you, the overutilized solution is often to change flies and continue on.
Getting to know the river is important for finding your own spots that you know will produce fish. Even if it is a short stop at the stream, every little bit of time on the water counts. If you are fortunate enough to live close to a trout stream, but short on time, stopping to wet a line even for fifteen to thirty minutes can add up and help build experience.
When picky trout make extended drifts a requirement for hooking up, I look for every advantage I can to give the fish a good, long look at my fly. Almost more than anything else I have found that if I can present the fly in a natural way, my odds of hooking up increase. Working for longer drifts means lengthening that natural presentation as well. The basic pattern of presentation is familiar. Cast. Mend as required. Maybe feed some line at the end of the drift. All require skill gained through experience and possibly instruction. But there is another rudimentary tactic that can give us a little extra if we need it. A simple method that any fly fisher, regardless of skill level or experience, can use to extend their drift. Move.
“Hey! Keep it tactical Shady.” And a smile. I miss it dearly. Talking tactics is one of life’s great joys. I learned this from years in a fighter squadron but looking back I understand why talking tactics was so special. I realize that while the endeavors and communities are different, the men and women who move through them seek similar goals. Progress. Knowledge. The betterment of the whole. And, yes, a touch of competitive spirit that pulls us forward and requires our best. Engaging these “tacticians” in the fly fishing community and sharing those experiences has become one of the great joys of my journey with Wadeoutthere. Talking tactics with dedicated fly fishing men and women who passionately share their knowledge and listen for those ideas they know will move them forward. People like Domenick from Troutbitten.
A wince. Perhaps a groan. And then another cast. “Ahhh. That was a fish.” We have all missed a trout we were not expecting. Unprepared. Distracted. Complacent. But there are two times it happens that should not surprise us. Two parts of the drift that are sometimes forgotten. Forgotten by us, but not the trout.