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Tales of fly-fishing ineptitude

Why the sport is called fishing, not catching

There are many ways I can and should improve as a fly angler – mending line, casting technique and the entomology of aquatic insects that trout prey on are among the more obvious areas for refinement. One aspect of my evolution as an angler that I have really worked at is in reminding myself that the sport is called fishing, not catching, and that I am bound to experience moments of monumental incompetence while fly-fishing for trout. In fact, a couple of recent challenging moments on the water would have provoked a major sense of humor failure on my part had they taken place even five years ago.

the Gibbon River is a very technical water where the fish are easily spooked

One memorable moment that had the potential to provoke a glorious meltdown was during an afternoon fishing at Gibbon Meadows in Yellowstone National Park. We had spent an unproductive morning on the Yellowstone River at Nez Perce Ford and were about to extend that streak on a very technical and challenging stretch of the Gibbon River southwest of Norris Junction. Despite my attempts at a stealthy approach, I was spooking fish with wild abandon. When I did spot a trout preoccupied with feeding regularly on the surface, I was so excited that I forgot to check for obstacles to my back cast and hung up on the only tree within 50 feet of me. The fish continued feeding while I tied on another section of tippet and searched for a replacement fly. I was hot and tired from a fruitless day of fishing and anxiously fumbled with both tippet and fly, so much so that when I was ready to cast, I forgot about my old nemesis – the tree behind me. I am lucky my fly rod did not get snapped over my knee after hanging up another fly in that pesky tree limb.

juncos bordering the Middle Ñirehuao made for challenging casts to spooky browns

A peskier obstacle were the juncos (or tall clumps of reeds) that bordered the spring creeks I fished in Chilean Patagonia. The ones on the high banks of the Middle Ñirehuao River proved to be fly magnets and no amount of time spent creeping up to the cover of these juncos was time well spent if you wind up spooking the fish while foraging the dense vegetation to retrieve your flies, which occurred with mundane regularity. So, after the umpteenth episode of spooking a large brown from the embankment above, I made a fortuitous change in approach. Spotting a soft, grassy section of bank at stream level slightly downstream of where the fish had originally been feeding, I lowered myself down and held out a few minutes while crouched low in hope the fish may return to its feeding spot. I began blind casting a large PMX pattern in measured increments upstream of my position and on the fourth cast, about 25 feet upstream, the fish came back and pounced on the PMX. After that, I was done wrangling with the juncos and my prospects for catching improved by exclusively targeting rises from a low position alongside the stream.

now which fly for the PhD pool?

A few months later, I regained that profound ineptitude during a float trip on the South Holston River in Tennessee. We were guided to a spot that I will call the ‘PhD pool’ because of the degree of difficulty associated with not just hooking up but also landing the monster trout that were holding there. The approach to fishing the pool was very specific – the boat was anchored 20 yards upstream of the fish and off the current. We would take turns casting directly across into the current and allow the wool strike indicator and fly to drift down into the pods of fish. It was an agonizingly slow drift and required intense focus to detect the slightest of bumps or takes. After two drifts, angler #1 would acquiesce to Angler #2 and have the guide reassess the fly selection of #1. It was in the middle of hour three that a strong take had me in action and the fish pulled out line instantly. Just then I learned from the guide that I needed to spool the excess line to control the fish – what? That would have been good guidance to begin with, because I had about two feet of line at my feet from feeding out to the ‘PhD pool’. I lost that fish due to my inability to put the line on the spool, but was ready (or so I thought) when the next strong strike came about 15 minutes later. But I am very tired from the intensely focused fishing and when the fish runs, I wind up reeling the wrong direction (letting out line) and lose that fish as well. I feel like an idiot! I very much deserved to wear the “I suck at fly fishing hat” over dinner in the lodge that evening.

That's why its called fishing and not catching!

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