The floodgates of controversy are upon me. By daring to post Part 1 of my two-part blog post on The Least Discussed, Most Controversial Skillset on Any Trout Stream, I have, as predicted, been under harsh scrutiny and criticism from fly shops, guides, and the fly fishing community in general for addressing this widely known but little talked about fly fishing subject. Only a few have come to my defense. But I persist! I cannot fail to expose this genre to my readers and all who will listen. The reason is simple. I know, infallibly, that the tactics, techniques, and procedures discussed in these blog posts, if executed correctly, could result in the high water mark of any fly fishing career. The featured image of this blog post shows me dutifully demonstrating what is possible for all aspiring fly fishermen and women willing to take their game to the next level. Because while the featured image shows a beautiful stretch of the Bighole River, what it does not reveal is the author completely underwater after flawlessly executing a more common technique for falling in the river.
In Part 1, I discussed the reasons why I felt it my duty to present the information on the topic of the least discussed, most controversial skill set on any river and introduced the more advanced techniques to display what is possible in the sport.
As promised, in Part 2, I will provide the building block, less advanced tactics that can lead to a journey through fly fishing pursued in excellence. I will also address the magic that occurs when various techniques at all levels are combined, and briefly touch on what the future holds for those of us unabashedly falling in the river.
The Banana Peel.
True to its name, the Banana Peel is one of the simplest and most widely utilized methods for falling in the river. It is most often used on streams with smooth stones and algae covered rocks. This green substance can be described as rock snot, and only a small amount is required to ensure The Banana Peel lands you in the water. The combination of poor footwear and rock snot makes The Banana Peel simple to perform.
Because of its violent nature, once undergone it can lead to submersion in as little as 6 inches of water as the result is often landing flat on your back, crying tears of laughter and/or pain.
I frequently executed the Banana Peel in my early days of fly fishing in Colorado, when my neoprene foot waders were jammed into old running shoes versus more slip resistant wading boots due to lack of funding.
Simply stated, The Snag is tripping on something while wading that results in plunging into the river. Once begun, The Snag may end anywhere from spastically splashing about the river in hopes to regain one’s footing, to landing on and crushing one’s knees, to complete and total face plants. It is most often used in concert with other techniques and has actually been known to spoil the completion of some of the more advanced methods such as The Out Too Far or The Boulder Slide introduced in Part 1 of this series by expediting the fall into the river before one has the opportunity to complete the more complex maneuvers.
The Running Wade.
The running wade is the classic beginner strategy for falling in the river. It stems from the blatant disregard of the difference between walking and wading in a river and attempting to stroll through God’s mountain streams with the ease of a walk in the park (Kazanski). The results of this ignorance usually end in landing in the river in one of three ways.
1. Injury driven crumpling into a ball.
2. Succumbing to the current.
3. Succumbing to another method for falling in the river, such as The Banana Peel, or The Snag.
Perhaps one of my finest falls into the river was a Running Wade on the Provo River in Utah. While moving upstream to net a fish for my father, I began The Running Wade and subsequently smashed my shin into a sharp edged boulder that then forced a slow and steady lurch into the water as I wrapped my hands around my injured limb. My father observed the performance and proudly shook his head from side to side with stoic reverence. Obviously, my Running Wade had overshadowed the sixteen inch rainbow he pulled in on a size 14 caddis.
In a subject matter wrought with controversy in the fly fishing community, this technique takes that debate to the next level as it is considered by many experienced guides as not a fall at all, but rather a mere an act of foolishness. The slowest fall next to the Out Too Far, I lean on the side of the argument that proclaims that The Reach is not only a method of falling in the river, but also quite advanced if executed correctly.
It always begins with excitement. A fish is on! Or rather you have snagged the bottom. As soon as it is determined that you have hooked up with a rock or branch or some manner of debris rather than a trout, the march out to the stuck line begins and The Reach is within grasp.
Success in The Reach relies not on whether the fly is recovered, but on how far you are willing to go to recover it. The most advanced athletes in the sport of fly fishing have been known to wade out up to their chest performing The Reach.
A little-known technique is to turn your head sideways while executing, thus exposing one’s ear and clogging it with river water while the opposite shoulder anchors the arm searching for the fly and pulls you further down.
Legend holds that while fly fishing is widely regarded as having begun sometime around 1200 A.D. in England, ancient Roman scripts reveal legionnaires first observed British inhabitants tilting sideways in rivers in the island’s northern regions around 55 B.C. Many believe they were performing The Reach and that this is the true first history of fly fishing.
The Drop Off.
Not to be confused with the more advanced Out Too Far, discussed in Part 1, The Drop Off differs in that the submersion is unexpected and abrupt. A good Drop Off is recognized by observing wide eyes, dilated pupils, and elbows bent at ninety degree angles parallel to the river while simultaneously inhaling deeply and rotating the entire body in the opposite direction of travel that led to the Drop Off maneuver. It is commonly undergone in the vicinity of ledges or entering the river from shore or boat.
The Statue of Liberty (aka The Brad Pitt).
The Statue of Liberty or simply The Statue, is the culmination of years of effort and experience. The Statue is the way all great fly fishing men and women hope to fall in the river. Forced to slip and slide and fight to keep a monster trout hooked up while battling the currents and fast water that a wise giant will move to, the fisherman must follow, and subsequently submerge. The only remaining sign of human life is the erect arm and fly rod protruding straight up from the water in an attempt to “keep the rod tip up”, thus resembling the Statue of Liberty.
Usually, the execution is progressive while the fisherman slowly realizes the size of the fish and the gravity of the situation. As the fight escalates, he or she slips into the frothy currents rather than lose their trophy.
The technique’s slang derivative stems from the scene in A River Runs Through It, where Brad Pitt’s character Paul follows a fish through the rapids of the Big Blackfoot River (actually filmed on the Gallatin) and emerges downstream with a single arm holding his rod. He presents the fish of his short remaining life to his father and brother. Hero of the tragic story.
Hollywood’s glamorization of The Statue created a disturbing trend in the late 1990’s and early 2000’s as overzealous fisherman exaggerated the size and fight in their fish through falsely applying this honored technique on some of our nation’s greatest trout streams.
I once witnessed such an escapade on the Bighorn River when an individual, dressed head to boot in Orvis apparel, wearing full waders on a ninety-eight degree Montana day, set the hook from the bank and without so much as a rod bend, jumped ass first into the river. He made his leap from an easily traversed cutbank leaving his guide a somber silhouette. When our eyes met, all I received was a head shake and face palm as he walked down stream to fish out his fisherman.
The methods of falling in the river are wide and varied. Much of the true expertise lies in the grey area between what is obviously a Banana Peel and what could be considered a combination of The Running Wade, with a Banana Peel and a transition back into a Running Wade that culminates in either a Snag or a Drop Off. Common practice is two to three, sometimes four techniques strewn together. There is an endless array of combinations, some more involved than others, that keep people excited and make this unique aspect of fly fishing fresh and unique.
The future is bright for those of us brave enough to move forward into the world of falling in the river while fly fishing. So much has been learned but so much is still unknown.
Every season, it seems new techniques and new methods for soaking yourself in cold mountain water are being discovered.
Much of the stigma and controversary surrounding the subject is beginning to fade as we learn more about this exciting aspect of fly fishing.
Places like the Yakima River in Washington state are having real breakthroughs studying the effects of water flows and CFS on the ability to execute some of the highest end falls. Dr. Stephen K. Olymann, a neuroscientist and biologist from MIT, who is also an avid fly fisherman, has spent the last ten years researching these effects and those of climate change on the various methods for falling in the river. While his work has resulted in no “concrete science”, he has been able to show that combinations of river falls up to ten and sometimes twelve is a real possibility. He has also caught some nice trout out there.
In conclusion, as a pursuer of the hard road over the easy, I long ago decided to chase this skillset to mastery.
And while there is still room for improvement, I find I am constantly re-inventing myself in the field and discovering new ways to completely drench myself in a trout stream while also repeating the same old tried and true methods.
Don’t wait to acknowledge that falling in the river is a skill set that must be robustly embraced rather than avoided. Too many, by accident or on purpose, open these doors late in their fly fishing journey. The sooner you recognize and begin pursuing the techniques I have discussed in this two part article, the sooner you will begin to realize it is more than just falling in the river. It is art. Wadeoutthere.