The Good, The Bad, and The Dry Fly

While to the outsider it may appear that one fisherman is indistinct from the next, within the fly fishing community there are cliques and cadres, cells and societies. The lines that separate them may seem somewhat blurred and trivial to the uninitiated, yet they are there nonetheless. I am talking of the differences, ideological and physiological, between dry fly, nymph and streamer fishermen, as discussed in detail in a previous article.

Last week I had the opportunity to observe up close a clash of the Titans, as Jim, the dry fly aficionado and all round good guy, came to town with his fishing buddy Phil, nymph fisherman extraordinaire, and representative practician of the dark side of fly fishing. Now the trash talking between these two has been going on for years, and goes something like this. The scene is the office, Monday morning:

Phil: How many fish did you catch this weekend on your dry fly Jim?

Jim: Peasant, when will you ever learn? Fishing isn’t about numbers. It’s about asthetics, that fleeting moment of beauty as the fish leaves its watery realm, crossing the divide that separates mankind from his piscatorial brethren and snaffles a size 10 pmx.

Phil: Not many, huh?

Personally, I’ll throw whatever I need to in order to catch a fish, except for maybe an egg pattern. OK, I’ve thrown a few of those before too. But if I had a preference, it would be a dry fly. Watching the fish leave it’s watery lair, rising to the surface to take the fly adds to the experience, and makes for some memorable takes and misses. Many a time in New Zealand my heart has been in my mouth watching a big brown rise slowly to the surface, push it’s snout out of the water and nudge the fly gently with its nose, open it’s mouth around it and then refusing to take, sliding silently and effortlessly back to the depths. It’s difficult to get that kind of adrenaline rush when the action is taking place unseen below the surface.

But what to do if the fish aren’t taking dries? Some dry fly fishermen will continue to fish with a dry only, not deigning to go sub surface. In this they are paying homage to the origins of fly fishing, when before our knowledge of entomology grew, coupled with a lack of polarized sunglasses, the the only time trout were observed was when they ate off the surface. Nowadays, we know that close to eighty percent of a fishes’ diet consists of eating nymphs below the surface. Consequently, most of us will now add a nymph to our dry fly rig and fish with a dry and dropper. “Ah hah,” says the nympher, “you’re nymphing now.” “Yeah right, ” says the dry fly guy, “It’s only nymphing if you have an indicator and weight.” “No way man, you’re nymphing.” And so the argument begins, which I take as a good sign because if this is all we fisherman have to occupy our minds with, then life must be pretty damn good.

And I take my hat off to Phil. Coming all the way down here from Sodom and Gemorrah, thrown before a hostile crowd of dry fly types, he steadfastly refused to fish a nymph, even though way more fish would have been caught. When in Rome, do some Roman, as the saying goes. And of course, he would no doubt put on a real clinic for Jim and I were we to go to one of his favorite haunts and show us the dark arts – definitely welcome on my boat anytime.

As the days cool and shorten, the window of opportunity to fish will naturally diminish, and the fish will take more and more of their sustenance from below the surface. That said, all is not lost for we dry fly folks can still expect some great days of casting to rising fish throughout October. This should happen both on cooler, cloudy days when the blue wings will hopefully be hatching, and warmer days when the caddis and hoppers will still be active.


2 Replies to “The Good, The Bad, and The Dry Fly”

  1. Hayden,

    You should have been a comedian. Very funny. I enjoyed fishing with you. Thank you for a great time. I understand why Jim loves fishing with you.

    Sincerely from the “Dark side”,

    Phil Iwane

  2. Cheers Phil. That was the most fun I have had in a long time. And yes, there was a bit of selective editing going on. Campassi missed as many fish as you did.

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