Category Archives: Fishing

Allowing for Serendipity

I’m a firm believer that experience and knowledge play key roles in our fishing success.  They give us a leg up on, say, the rank beginner, whose experience and knowledge by definition are limited, shallow.  But I also believe there are times when experience and knowledge can work against us, when they conspire to hamstring success instead of promulgate it.  

If we pay attention when we’re fishing, the accumulation of experience over time equips us with an understanding of fish behavior, insect activity patterns, seasonal rhythms, and the influences of weather. It becomes possible to predict—often with uncanny accuracy—where and when to find the best fishing.  As these predictions come to pass time and again, the lines of thinking that begat them can become reinforced, rigid.  A certain narrowing of thought takes place.  Tunnel vision of the mind, if you will.  I’ve watched friends succumb to the effects of this phenomena many times.  They end up going fishing only under sets of conditions known to be optimal.  Lacking those optimal conditions, they fail to even leave the house.  Whither then the chance for serendipity?  (I mean, as far as I can tell, not going fishing pretty much guarantees not catching anything.)  

Now and then I fall into this trap myself.  Here’s an instance where I dodged it—barely.  It was a mid-June day, and after arriving home from working the morning shift at Blue Ribbon, my clock read 1:00 p.m.  The afternoon was already hot, sunny—exactly the kind of afternoon that, when it comes to fishing, my experience tells me to dismiss outright.  But the season was still young and I was feeling antsy, so into the car went my gear.  Fighting the demons of better judgement, I drove to the Madison north of town.  I figured my afternoon would likely amount to nothing more than a nice walk along the river but, hey, at least I’d be fishing.  And for two long hours under a sun-shot sky, that’s exactly what I got—a nice walk.  Upriver.  Quite a long way.

Then while rounding an undistinguished bend in the river, I spied what appeared to be the remnants of a riseform.  I stared the spot down.  Five minutes passed; no fish showed.  I had nothing to lose by making a few casts, so I worked my way into position and offered up a Pale Morning Dun.  As my second cast curled downstream, a rather large trout summarily inhaled my Sparkle Dun.  A spirited fight ensued, culminating in the netting of a beautiful female brown trout.

For the remainder of the afternoon I never saw another fish, never caught another fish.  Indeed, my intuition had been essentially correct—this was not an afternoon for hatches, there would be no rising fish. But by disregarding what my experience and knowledge were telling me, I remained open to the possibility of serendipity.  A serendipity manifested in shades of copper, yellow and red—none of which I’ll soon forget.  

Indeed, that lone trout was a powerful, telling reminder that sometimes experience and knowledge can take you only so far.

If We Are To Believe Homer, Fish Are Not For Heroes

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Here I Am, Here I Stay

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What Is Man But His Passion?

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One Fly or Two?

A couple years back, on the last winter day the Madison River was open to fishing, I ran into an old friend fresh off fishing a midge emergence at Three Dollar Bridge.  Like any fisherman would, I asked about his success. He admitted to struggling, managing to catch only a couple trout despite an abundance of midges and rising fish.  As this was out of character for him, I pressed for more details.  He retrieved his flies from his car, showing me those he had used and asking what I thought.  All his patterns were viable imitations; any of them should have sufficed.  I inquired about his presentation.  He said he didn’t consider it a problem, but did note that he had been fishing two flies, both dry, separated by about eighteen inches of tippet.  Might this have been an issue, he wondered?  I sure thought so.

Two reasons sprung to mind: inaccurate casting and drag.  When I watch most anglers fish two flies, I’m struck by the failure of accuracy to rate as a paramount concern.  It’s as if these fishermen figure that by adding a second fly to their leader—doubling their chances for success, so goes the theory—a reasonably close cast somehow becomes close enough.  But no matter how many flies we tie to our leader, we’re never absolved of the responsibility for accurate casting.  Least of all on rivers like the Madison, where intimate pockets and feeding lies demand accurate fly placement.  (The pocket-water of the Madison flows in stark contrast to, say, the flats of the Missouri or Bighorn, where pods of trout feeding shoulder-to-shoulder can often be cast at with little regard for accuracy, since even imprecise casts will cover at least a few fish.)

I asked my friend which of his two flies—dropper or stretcher—he had aimed at the rising trout.  I received nothing so much as a blank look, until suddenly he realized the implications of my question.  Turns out he wasn’t casting with any intention at all of making certain that one of his flies drifted precisely over a fish.  Rather, he was merely hoping that one or both would be close enough to elicit a rise.  But by casting in this manner it was very likely that neither of his flies properly covered the risers.

As for drag, I think with two flies it’s more difficult to avoid.  Two flies give the currents more to act on, and they generally do.  (My friend acknowledged that many of his casts ended up dragging.)  Sometimes this can be alleviated by spreading the flies farther apart, but doing that frequently leads back to problems with accuracy.  And even when we do adequately control which fly we want the trout to see, what happens to the other?  Is it landing randomly, in contrary currents, further compromising the float of its partner?

Not having been there to watch, I can’t say definitively what was behind my friend’s lack of success.  But the use of two flies sounded awfully suspicious.   So before automatically adding another fly to your leader, consider your reasons for doing so.  If it’s only because you think it doubles your chances of success, proceed with caution.  Multiple flies often hurt more than they help.

Note:  Beyond the idea of hoping to catch more fish, there are other reasons for fishing two flies.  Many anglers find that they can keep better tabs on a small dry fly with the addition of a more visible partner.  And getting nymphs down deep—especially in small sizes—is often more easily accomplished by using multiple flies.


A Fait Accompli

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The Blue Sky Space

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Two-Handed Rods for Fall Fishing

Thirty-some years ago, Mike Maxwell, the Canadian steelhead guide and fly-casting instructor, demonstrated the use of two-handed (Spey) rods while visiting the Yellowstone area for a Federation of Flyfishermen conclave.  A few local anglers watching his demonstration were immediately struck by the utility of such rods for fishing the “swinging fly” during the fall run of fish out of Hebgen and Quake Lakes.  For those of us interested in pursuing this kind of fishing, there weren’t many options at that time when it came to choosing a rod.  Orvis was the only American company building two-handed models; they made them principally for Atlantic salmon fishing.  Our choice for the Madison ended up being their 15’ 11-weight model—a beast of a rod by today’s standards, though one which was certainly fishable.

Fast forward and almost every rod company now offers two-handed models, most in a wide range of lengths and line weights.  It’s become ever more common to see these rods in use by anglers plying the waters of the Madison in the fall, and why not?  They offer unparalleled advantages over single-handed rods—less tiring to use, easier to cast long distances when necessary, no need for stripping in line before making another cast, no need for false casting or for maintaining backcast space behind you, superb control of the fly swing, and an ability to fight fish more efficiently.  Not only that, but they’re just a heck of a lot of fun to fish with, too.

If you’re a fisherman that enjoys swinging flies for fall-run fish (or if you’re a steelhead or salmon angler) you owe it to yourself to try a two-handed rod, if you haven’t already done so.  Once you discover the pleasures and efficiency of fishing with two hands, I doubt you’ll ever revert to a single-handed rod.  I sure haven’t, and I don’t know anyone else that has either!


Choice Requires Judgment

Yield Who Will To Autumn

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