I’ve begun to question my party affiliation…and, it scares me.
I knew something deep inside me was changing this past Saturday when I was walking past the long, smooth glade that I always walk right past on my way to my favorite nymphing spot on the Farmington River. I heard a voice in my head that I have never heard before say: “I wonder if anything is rising?”
It makes me shudder just thinking about it. Am I becoming one of them?
As I saw a few dimples in the glade, I thought about their platform slogans: “Dry or die,” “When you can see it, it just means more,” and “An Adams in every fly box.”
In a moment of weakness, I put down my 10’ three-weight Syndicate nymph rod and began getting my long-neglected Sage Z-axis ready for action. “Splish” 40 yards in front of me, “splash” 20 yards to my left, “slurp” just 15 feet from me. The trout were showing themselves. My heart began pounding faster.
Though coming to piscatorial politics late in life, I’ve been a dyed-in-the-wool nympher from the first time I laced up my wading boots. And I must say, I have quite a pedigree.
My river mentor started me on a Thingamabobber before I could tie a clinch knot. I was taught the yarn indicator setup by Pat Dorsey himself. I have a personally autographed copy of George Daniel’s Dynamic Nymphing. My favorite piece of jewelry is my wife’s necklace of nickel-coated tungsten beads. Made it myself! I remember exactly where I was the first time I saw someone tightlining. It was love at first sight. I’ve even recruited my fishing buddy, Doover, into the party.
As I waded into position, I remembered that you are supposed to study the cadence of the rising fish. Watch, wait, be patient. Let them show you where they want it and when they want it.
It began to occur to me why I was a card-carrying member of the other party. If I were nymphing right now, I’d have cast 20 times already. I decided all this waiting around can’t be right and began casting at every rise like I was playing a losing game of Whack-a-Mole. Forty-five minutes later, I thanked God that I was a nympher and vowed to forget about this foolish dry fly notion.
At my next stop further upriver, I nymphed up one medium-sized brown and two longer-than-my-net rainbows. Then, I lost three browns whose pictures would have put my smiling face on the next post of the UpCountry Fly Shop website.
When I got to the soft water at the top of the run, a delectable place to nymph fish, to my dismay I began to see more splish, splash, and slurp. I determined that I was not going to be seduced by those Lefty-wing propositions and nymphed right through the run without success.
Now, don’t get me wrong; I don’t hate people in the dry party. Some of my best friends are dry-fly fishermen. But, I guess I just don’t understand them. I see them lined up in a long pool late in the afternoons, just standing there navel-deep for hours, holding their position until a fish decides to rise. I even tried it a few times. I never knew you could shiver in a river in August.
And, it’s one thing to be out in a river when the fish are rising. It’s something else altogether to know what the fish are looking for, to actually have the right fly, and to present it in such a way that they want the fly. For me, that happens about as often as my wife wants to wear the necklace I made her.
As I was finishing in that pool, a flying insect landed on my sleeve. It looked like a small black ant with wings. I’d never seen such an insect but I’ve heard of flying ants. And, this must be one. Cool.
Back at my SUV, as I was preparing to go to another spot, I heard that voice again: “Bill, go back to the top of the run with your dry fly rod and a flying ant pattern. If you throw it, they will come.”
I checked my fly box, and I had several flying ant patterns that I had bought when an arrogant young fly shop know-it-all guaranteed that I’d catch something with them if I were able to get a drag-free drift. Since then the flies had seen many a drag-free-drift, but nary the inside of a trout’s mouth. But, maybe this was the time.
Over the years, I’ve begun to think of dry fly fishing as a way to waste time when I instead could be nymphing. Besides the aforementioned waiting, watching, and shivering, there’s the frustration of not knowing which fly to use, trying to thread the ridiculously small eye of the hook, casting to uninterested trout, then repeating the process five or six times. The rises and refusals are heartless teasers that keep the flicker of hope alive.
Then, if by some stroke of luck, a trout decides to commit suicide and impales himself on my hook, I have to go through a countdown procedure that would make NASA envious before I can fish again.
By the time I disengage the fly from the trout’s mouth, it looks like a wet cat. First, I have to rinse the trout spit off the fly, then false cast it 15 times to dry it off a bit. Then, put it in a fly towel call an Amadou patch to get some more of the dampness off it. Next, I pull out a bottle of Frog’s Fanny desiccant and, with the brush wand, rub the white stuff all over the fly to make it float better. Then, blow the white stuff off and put some water repellent gunk on to make it float longer.
All this time, the trout are splishing and splashing everywhere, but by the time I get the fly properly dressed again, the water is so undisturbed that I look on my shoulder to see if there is a heron sitting on it.
Fish were still rising when I returned to the run, but they avoided my flying ant with more disdain than Belichick avoiding a reporter’s question. Another broken promise by the dry fly gods. But since I was there, I might as well try something else.
I used up several of my best prayers trying to get my tippet to find its way through the hook-eye of a size 24 Griffith Gnat, the irresistible one with the shuck showing. But the trout were having nothing to do with it. I told myself that I’d try one more dry fly.
I try to be open-minded about my party affiliation. I even thought about declaring myself an Independent and join the ranks of those who throw dry-droppers all the time.
Back in May, this blog ran a post about the the powers of The Mole Fly. I tied up a few. I used a different style and size hook, CDC instead of flouro for the wing, and possum dubbing instead of beaver. Otherwise, they were exactly the same.
I threw it where the most active fish was rising. It went right past the spot by five yards, but just as I was about to reload, a tiny dimple appeared in the water where my fly had been and The Mole Fly disappeared.
I awkwardly set the hook, and the trout gave it back to me. I collected myself as I went through the re-launch procedure to get the fly re-dressed. Another cast towards the active trout in the middle of the pool.
HUGE SPLASH, but it must have refused it at the last second. On the next cast, a brown trout that had been hiding came all the way out of the water after The Mole Fly, but alas, it too decided to pass.
Finally a brookie took The Mole Fly and came to the net. I figured that was probably all the active trout in the pool, but I figured wrong. Rise after rise, some felt the hook and some didn’t, but no more came to the net. I estimated that I’d had more refusals in 10 minutes than I had had in the two months before my senior prom.
I heard that voice again: “That was fun wasn’t it?”