I was looking at an old keepsake fly that resides on my bookshelf and it reminded me of a great day on Yellow Creek, in Bedford Pennsylvania. This was years before the water below the public access became off limits to only the rich who pay to play for hatchery pigs. Usually big dumb rainbows.
During those days, for most of my nymph fishing, I used moldable strike putty indicators. I would shape them into rectangles because I thought the sharp angles made it harder for the indicator/bobber to get pulled beneath the surface. Of course now I see just how naive my thinking was because in order to provide ultra sensitive strike detection, you actually want the least amount of resistant to pull the indicator down – duh.
The morning started slowly with zero trout but by high noon I could see lots of potential. Tell tale flashes below the surface and the occasional small gray mayfly whispered good things to come. When I reached the last big pool near the upstream boundary I witnessed my first rising trout. Quickly tying on a CDC #16 Blue Quill emerger I made my first cast to a riser near the tailout. Nothing, not even a refusal. I made several more casts before looking closer at how the trout was rising. It was not a sip, but more of a porpoise. I switched to a small pheasant tail nymph. As I was greasing it, I remembered how much care I took tying this pattern in the gray January afternoons while looking out my bleak frost covered window. At the vise, I made extra care to use the correct number of tails, three, and tried my best to maintain accurate proportions. The thorax is where I deviated. The large over-sized thorax seemed funny but I remembered how my entomological studies pointed me in that direction. When a nymph prepares to escape from its outlived exoskeleton it darkens and expands in the thorax area. So like many of my own patterns this was a semi-educated guess and at best experimental.
In the upper pool my pattern switch paid-off; by the fourth trout I had reached the top of the pool and moved back to the tail for another round. I began to feel the air chilling and knew my time was limited. Fortunately I landed one last riser before the party ended. Feeling satisfied I hiked downstream towards the parking lot occasionally catching glimpses at the long shadows made by the sun and trees lying across the roiling water.
As I rounded the corner, shards of late afternoon sunlight danced on the trail. I thought how much terrain played a role in fishing. This time of year, the hills shaded portions of the stream all day, making it impossible for the suns penetrating warmth to ignite the cycle of life. Just as that thought passed, I rounded the corner and ironically right there in front of me was the whole symphony in action. Rising trout, clouds of blue quills all immersed in a glorious beam of sunlight. As I unhooked my fly from the rod, I could see it was in bad shape. The legs were gone and most of the body was worn off but the plump thorax remained.
Trout after trout devoured my fly. It got to the point where I was making ridiculous drifts just for fun. Across the pool over two strong currents and into the eddy so the mid-current portion of the fly line drifted down stream while the indicator and fly floated upstream for a brief but fun drag-free presentation.
I always say that you remember the fish that get away more than the ones caught. As my last good drift floated midway through I snagged the bottom. Then it moved. One headshake, not the typical rat-ta-tat-tat. No this was like a boom-boom-kaboom made by something very large. Then nothing so I pulled the rod into a deeper bend but nothing. Damn it! Must have spit the hook and left me snagged to the bottom. Just then a hyper-speed locomotive ripped my line downstream into the riffles below. Plink, gone, game over.
On the way home I thought about the day, the fish, and the fly. I had spent so much time tying those beauties but in the end it was the simple silhouette of the thorax that really counted. Yes the trout where feeding recklessly but I believe the plump thorax played a major role.
Through the years I have had similar situations. As much as I like experimenting because it keeps it interesting rest assured when the party gets started you will likely find me using a simple plump thorax pattern.