Thursday, November 20, 2008

Meditation on the swung fly


The other day I observed a group of four fly fishermen walking around the water in search of fish spawning in riffles. They wandered all over the river and only found a very few half-dead salmon to flip their glo-bugs to. Then, they went home. I thought of all the opportunities they were missing by adherence to the standard gravel-raping techniques embedded in the psyche of our Midwest salmon and steelhead fishermen. The common thinking is that one fishes for salmon in the fall and steelhead in the spring; the time being when each species is actively spawning and available for sight-fishing. Steelhead are aggressive fish, and one does not have to hit them on the head in order to catch them.
In trout fishing one fishes the rise with a dryfly, or repeatedly nymphs a slot. In steelhead fishing we are able to cover a lot more water by swinging flies at various depths.
I refer to this as 'fish to the fly', rather than 'fly to the fish'.
Think of it this way. A fish has no hands to examine things, only a mouth. Thus, the take of a curious or annoyed steelhead to a fly swinging into their vision is quite different and more certain then a fish eating an egg bouncing the bottom. Glo-bug enthusiasts are missing this. Do this experiment with a dog; let the dog take a ball from your hand and he or she usually takes it gently and then chews on it; then throw the ball at the dog and watch what happens; the dog attacks the ball.
Also sight-fishing is so limiting. Only in the right circumstances can one observe steelhead spawning, and if at all possessing a set of ethics as to the sporting chase, we should leave them alone.
Sight-fishing has the added drawback of negating any progress in reading water. That is why those four guys the other day went home. There were fish in the river (even if I didn't hook any), but simply because they didn't see any, they abandoned the effort.
There is also something to be said for the expectation, hope, and tension that is experienced when sending your fly on its way into the unknown in hope of a bright connection.
The takes on a swung fly are not always spectacular. One may feel a pluck, lick, stop, bump, or etc. But, once in awhile the take can be murderous. I have been fortunate enough to have experienced these sort of takes, and the screaming runs that follow. Fish run better in pools and runs then they do in a foot of water over gravel.
One thing is for certain; a fish that takes a swung fly wants the fly. There can never be the doubt that creeps in to any thinking anglers head when he or she hooks a fish on the beds. "Did it eat my fly, or did the fly just lodge in its mouth after the 487th drift past it?"
In my experience, swung flies in fast water produce the most violent and decisive takes. The fish has literally one or two seconds at the most to make up its mind to eat or crush the thing that is fluttering so seductively and annoyingly past it.
I know I am just talking into the wind here. Those of you who follow my strange thinking are like-minded, while I expect those that don't care, well... don't care.
Art for art's sake?

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