No Place to Hide

My wife thinks its kind of disturbing I get so excited about dry flies. Truth is, I agree with her on two counts. I do get excited, and it is mildly disturbing. If anglers in general are defined by their underlying optimism, then the dry fly angler is the one who clings doggedly to the belief there is a fish at the end of each and every drift, despite evidence to the contrary. Once in a while, sufficient in regularity to maintain the optimism, he or she is proved correct. Fish are masters of disguise. To cast to where you know a fish resides, even though it cannot be seen, and to have your certainty confirmed as it materializes from its world into yours is about as good as it gets.

There’s a little too much guess work with nymphing below the surface for my liking, a little too much “fire a shotgun into the cloud and see if you hit a goose” about it for me. A devoted nymph fisherman will quote all sorts of facts and figures to you about how much of a fish’s diet consists of subsurface feeding, and how much wider a fish’s field of vision is underwater as opposed to above. They’ll tell you all about the importance of bouncing your flies along the bottom of the river where the big ones live. And maybe they’re right, but I bet they all turn the light out before sex also.

Having lured the fish to the surface, a dry fly angler’s triumphs or tragedies reside in the public domain. When a fish rises to your fly and just as it is about to take it down you jerk it away in a fit of schoolboy nerves, it is hard to blame your ineptness on a rock or stick or some other unseen underwater obstruction as a nymph fisherman can. Best you can do is to reclothe yourself in what shreds of dignity you can muster and press on to the next success or humiliation. I once missed nine fish in the space of thirteen casts. In front of a client. I handed her back her rod.

“See, I told you it was difficult,” was all I had left.

Despite glaring evidence to the contrary, in the form of rising fish tugging, chewing, inhaling and ingesting their flies, some fishermen still try to put the blame anywhere but themselves. The guide is an obvious target. I generally point out that short of leaving them in the parking lot and fishing in their stead, once the fly is in the fish’s mouth there’s not a lot more a mortal can do. Others get more creative. Among the excuses I’ve heard, “The fish on the Arkansas take a dry fly differently than most other rivers. They seem to gum the fly, rather than take it with their teeth,” and “They seem to be just slapping it with their heads rather that biting it, like they just want to stun it,” are personal favorites.

So yes, I do get excited when fishing dries. I get excited when I get it right. I get excited when I get it wrong. I get just as excited when others get it right or wrong. I’m not sure that this is healthy in a fifty-two year old. Still, it could be worse. I could be one of those types that dream of articulated streamers. Now that’s disturbing.

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