When they zig, you zag.
I teach fly fishing and I always find it a little difficult to swallow when I explain the wonderful world of fly fishing only to go out with beginner students and rig up a thinga-ma-bobber, split shot, and a glo-bug. I want students to catch fish and have success more than anything but I want them to learn about fly fishing not bobber fishing with a fly rod. Many times where or when my early season clinics are held, the chance to catch a fish on a dry fly is remote. Now understand that dry fly fishing is what novices associate fly fishing to and rightfully so. This weekend I held an early season beginners clinic and gave myself a rule to adhere to; teach fly casting principles and not concern myself with helping them catching hatchery raised trout. Unfortunately, the cold temperatures combined with strong winds made it even more difficult. But we actually succeeded and I saw many light bulbs turn on as we worked on casting. Lo and behold loops began to form and students went from waving a stick around to stopping the rod tip high and making the line follow; this warms my heart. These are the casting skills required regardless of fishing tactic.
Opening day in southwestern Pennsylvania is upon us. This means all regular regulation trout waters will open to anglers. This also means that on opening day, April 12, there will be hoards of anglers, attempting to catch the prized hatchery raised trout. When I was a kid, I remember how difficult it was to find a fishing spot and catch these fish. I learned that the early bird caught the prime fishing spot and the fish. In fact for me and my buddies, camping out the night before became part of the event. Lots of great memories.
So where does this leave the beginning “Fly Fisherman”?
A couple of choices:
1. Learn and use sub-surface techniques. Sadly, on opening day for hatchery raised trout, you will still find the greatest success with a “Candy” fly on the end of your rig; not a realistic bug-like fly. Candy, such as a pink egg or green weenie. This is a great way learn how to fish with a fly rod and have early success. I encourage everyone to start this way just don’t confuse it with fly fishing and more importantly DON”T STOP THERE.
2. Seek out dry fly opportunities or more natural wild trout fly fishing opportunities. This may require travelling to streams that have early season hatches, more bio mass in the form of aquatic insects, or streams that somehow provide dry fly opportunities otherwise; like small clear water streams. Why wild trout fishing? Many reasons, too many for the scope of this article but one that does relate – great genuine fly fishing. Why fly fishing instead of raw bait, again within the scope of this article, it’s more sporting and often the only solution when fishing to wild trout. I can’t imagine trying to put a quarter 5mm long live midge on a hook.
So you go ahead when they zig, you zag – enter Class A water.
The Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission designates Class A streams as:
“Streams that support a population of wild (natural reproduction) trout of sufficient size and abundance to support a long-term and rewarding sport fishery. The Commission does not stock these streams.”
“Important Note to Anglers –
Many waters in Pennsylvania are on private property, the listing or mapping of waters by the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission does not guarantee public
access. Always obtain permission to fish on private property.
Management: Natural reproduction, wild populations with no stocking.
Other Definitions: T-Alk is a water chemistry measure of total alkalinity in milligrams per liter at the time of the survey.”
I know that some anglers will be upset to see that I have exposed Class A waters to more people, even though this is already publicized by the PFBC. I believe that most folks whom go the extra effort to learn about fly fishing and fishing class A water are already sport fishing conservationist or will become converts. I encourage restoring streams that with our help will sustain naturally reproducing trout. I also believe in protecting streams that have naturally reproducing trout. What better way to getting more people to appreciate this precious resource and to protect, conserve, and restore more streams than by seeing and touching the good ones.
Please don’t think that I am some kind of dry fly only aficionado that snubs my nose at anything other method than casting upstream to rising trout. No quite the contrary. I fish sub-surface more than anything else. But subsurface techniques especially using small nymph patterns over wild trout is much more difficult than dry fly fishing. I am suggesting, to the beginner, using dry flies over wild trout as a starting point for fishing. The next logical step in learning about “traditional” fly fishing is to hang a nymph and split-shot weight off the dry fly. One method is to attach a length of tippet onto the bend of the dry fly hook and tie-on a nymph or some other subsurface fly. Length of tippet? Good question. It varies based on the water depth, rate of flow, and how much weight your dry fly can bear to hold up the nymph/split-shot. Yes it becomes a suspender (a.k.a. bobber) but with a hook. That’s my simple answer to an often more technical nymphing challenge.
I’ll leave you with this. Get out and begin fly fishing as often as you can. Like many steep learning curve activities, they are attained with a great amount of dedication. It is easy if you are a kid with summers off and plenty of time. Golf is a good analogy. Yes if you want to become a scratch player and are middle-aged and beginner, then you will need to dedicate lots of time which you may very well not have. But if you just want to get out there and have some fun, then take a few lessons, get a general understanding and go out with reasonable expectations. Funny thing is ask any seasoned angler, golfer, etc., and they’ll tell you it’s not only about the fish, or the score. No actually it’s about much more. It just takes a progression of hard-core experiences to arrive at that realization.
Fish on my friends – fish on.