Recently I was fishing on the White River during a marvelous caddis hatch. Bugs were all over the water and there were splashy caddis rises visible as Rainbow and Brown trout rose consistently for nearly the whole day. Fishing with a foam caddis dry fly was just great! During the course of the day I saw several other fishermen using a dry fly – presumably a caddis pattern – but I also saw (and heard) several folks using an indicator with a scud. They were not catching fish and I heard one of them say “Let’s go to Norfork” as they headed off for the parking lot.
This experience got me thinking about my own “history” as a fly fisherman and the fact that I am sure that I have missed opportunities like this wonderful dry fly day. I can think of two reasons why I might have gone back to the parking lot, in days gone by …
First, I “came of age” as a fly fisherman during a resurgence of the popularity of nymph fishing. The biologists told us that most of the trout’s diet was taken under the water. As I soon learned, fishing a nymph under an indicator was a good way to catch fish! The indicator solved the two major “problems” of nymph fishing: getting a natural drift and detecting the strike. I recall some wonderful Rainbows caught and released on the Green with a scud drifted under an indicator … as well as many fine days on Taneycomo. For many years I was quite happy catching a decent number of fish using this technique. Why introduce change? So, during my early trout fishing career inertia might well have pointed me towards the parking lot on that marvelous caddis day, as well.
Second, I had an “attitude” about dry fly fishing: the dry fly was for “purists”, like the Englishman (not my English author friend Keith) I met on the Green who was dressed in tweeds and sitting on a river side boulder. When I asked him about the fishing he sniffed, “Well, it’s hardly world class if there are no rising fish, is it?” Good heavens, if fishing a dry fly “properly” required waiting for a rising fish before making a cast then why would I consider the dry fly an important part of my fishing? I do enjoy the scenery, but if I can view it from under the arc of a bent rod so much the better!
Fortunately, I was able to enjoy my foam caddis day despite these two early prejudices. Again, I can think of two reasons why that opportunity was available to me. First, despite my inertia and my attitude, I did carry some dry fly patterns in my box … and I was learning to be observant when on the stream. So, there was an afternoon on the South Platte when the blue winged olives were hatching, I had the right pattern, and several nice Rainbow trout were brought to hand. Later, I happened to be on the Cache La Poudre when there was a blizzard hatch of pale evening dun. Earlier in the afternoon I had begun to think that there were few fish in the river … but when that hatch got underway there were rise forms everywhere! What followed was an enchanted hour casting a cripple PMD pattern and taking a fish on nearly every cast. Later still, I used a caddis pattern on the North Platte after observing the bugs in the air … and learned that a decent sized Brown trout can straighten out a light wire dry fly hook if you are using a heavy tippet and are a bit heavy handed. So, nature was sending a message … the dry fly can produce marvelous and exciting fishing …
Second, I had fishing friends who fished with different techniques than were in my own repertoire and I was willing to learn. From my friend Mark I learned that I could fish the nymph without the indicator. From my friend Keith (the author of this blog) I learned that lots of fish can be caught higher in the water column using the soft hackle or a dry fly.
Now, back to that foam caddis day: there is nothing more exciting than a splashy caddis rise to your dry, setting the hook, and landing a feisty White River Brown. Why limit yourself to one technique when the limitation may rob you of the opportunity to enjoy that experience? Don’t sit on a rock and wait for the river to provide fishing that meets your “requirements”, fish with an open mind and a fly box that is capable of addressing the contingencies!
Will St. Clair, Springfield, Missouri