Tag Archives: streams

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Fly Fishing 101: Thoughts On Etiquette

Editors Note: This wonderful Insight comes from Ryan and the guide staff from Driftless On The Fly located in North East Iowa. The Driftless region provides excellent opportunities for anglers of all skill levels to enjoy a variety of coldwater and warmwater fly fishing situations. Without further adieu, please enjoy – JC


There is a great deal to learn when starting out, so while learning the basics of casting, fly selection, and hooking is important to the fishing process, we also try to impart some of social aspects of fishing as well.P1020265

Fishing etiquette may sound silly to some, but to any fly fishermen out there who have had their long-awaited trip interrupted by someone who lacks this sense of courtesy, they know full well the importance of this knowledge. It seems like anyone who has fished long enough generally has a story about this.

So what does fishing etiquette entail?P1020248

  • Give others space. If you approach another fisherman on the stream, try to respect the fact that they want their solitude.  Often a knowing short greeting or simple nod and smile will suffice. If they want to converse, they will.
  • Do not fish directly up stream or down stream of them. Continue to walk upstream or down and find another place. You can always come back. Fishing directly above or below could spook the fish they are working on, and honestly- they were there first. We recently took our Fly Fishing Club on their trip. While working with a young man on a particularly nice run, another fisherman approached on the opposite side and began to fish our run.  The man apparently had no idea that this was wrong,  and in fact started talking to us while throwing his line over the top of ours. I instructed my student to reel in, and we had a great conversation later about what not to do. A teachable moment on the stream.
  • Pack out all trash. This includes line and strike indicators.  Leave only footprints. In Iowa, we are lucky enough to fish private land  where they permit public fishing.  Don’t do do anything that jeopardizes that.
  • Pay it forward by offering to help someone that looks like they may need it, and I am speaking more in a physical sense- climbing a slippery bank, safely crossing a fence, making a stream crossing. Fly fisherman are generally a generous community and will come to the aid of others, but don’t assume that someone wants your help, especially when it comes to technique.

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It really comes down to common sense and the golden rule while out on the stream. Respect one another and the land that you are privileged to fish and everyone wins.

The Mend

The Mend

The MendThe mend.  A correction of the fly line as it is impacted by different currents in the stream.  I am not the greatest at this, yet it is vital to obtaining the perfect drift…and the reason for my blog name.  Underneath the surface of any given trout stream is a flurry of activity.  Trout and other aquatic creatures move and dance with a current that is constant yet ever changing.

The need for the mend in your drift is to keep the fly line from presenting the fly in a way that does not look natural.  For success in most cases, the drift is the single most important and often overlooked portion of a cast.  Get it right and success is at hand, botch it and your fly either skitters across the surface like a water skier or jumps over every fish in the stream.

Each stream in any particular area has multiple hydrological issues that the fly line is moved, bellied, bowed, or in some cases, sank completely.  It is the Zen of the angler to detect these things and move in accordance to what the water dictates.  This is a part of our craft that never changes.  We are always in hot pursuit of the perfect drift.

Life is much like this.  As our life moves downstream, we are often impacted by currents that are not under our control.  Frustration comes easily when we do not read the current of our days leading to an unsuccessful attempt or missing the mark.  Often we dream of victory that seems to be right under the surface, but we go dancing unnaturally across the surface leaving these amazing life events behind.

I am often very opinionated, most likely a habitual offender of faithless living, and assuredly a man who allows his pride to block obvious blessing.  All of these occur because I have lost the drift.  I have not allowed myself to relax, see the flow, and make adjustments as needed.  But thankfully I now recognize the correlation and have reached the point where the light bulb is flickering.

John Buchan is quoted as saying, “The charm of fishing is that it is the pursuit of what is elusive but attainable, a perpetual series of occasions for hope.”  Much like the rest of our lives isn’t it?  The big hurdle comes when we are faced with actually making life application out of our sport.

You may not agree…and I am fine with that, but I firmly believe that every area of our lives is intertwined to the point that one part will teach us something about another.  That there actually are life lessons that can be learned in everything from a person we work with, watching a football game, or standing in a river waving a stick.  It is all about how we choose to perceive small snippets of our lives.

So, in light of what I know to be my own shortcomings, and the desire to reach that unattainable thing we call perfection, I will try to learn from the river; that babbling cacophony of change and potential.  I will seek to apply elsewhere that which I have gleaned from time spent watching a floating line being moved by a current that was moving before I was born, and which will be moving long after I have gone.  Maybe, just maybe, I will have learned enough to get a few other things right.  I can’t ask for much more than that.

The Senex

The Senex – Part 1

It’s funny how certain sounds and smells can remind you of a place.  There is one song, for example, that brings to my mind late nights on North Carolina’s Outer Banks, driving too fast with no lights on and all the windows rolled down, the stars shining like millions of eyes looking down at me.  I can’t walk past a Middle Eastern cafe without thinking of the roast lamb I ate at a street stand in Cairo while I watched a friend play soccer in the street with a dozen children half his size.  And I can’t smell honeysuckle without remembering a morning I spent on my favorite mountain stream.

I have never been an early riser, and there are few things which will pull me out of bed before the sun, but the thought of rising trout is one.  On this particular morning, sometime in early spring in western North Carolina, I was out the door just as the first light of the morning was peering over the eastern horizon.  There was a chill to the air in the cover of the early morning fog, but it was the sort of morning one knew would soon make way for a prematurely hot afternoon.  I broke the stillness of the quiet morning with the slamming of the rear doors of my slightly rusted, forest green 1962 Land Rover.  The air conditioning doesn’t work and the engine sometimes overheats on the hottest of summer afternoons, but I’ve never loved a truck like this one.  I opened the driver side door and allowed Tucker, my young Brittany Spaniel, to hop across into the passenger seat.  He was young, but he had realized that obedience to my commands would be paid off in my affection.

I leaned over to roll down the creaking passenger window so Tucker could poke his floppy-eared head out of the window to bark at anything we might pass.  Although we had an hour drive, followed by an hour hike, before we would get the first cast of the day in, I felt that familiar feeling of excitement and anticipation tightening my chest as soon as I turned off of the gravel driveway on onto the smooth, newly-paved road upon which our house sat, hidden back from the road behind a stand of old growth timber.  Soon, we had made our way to the interstate and headed west, racing the sunrise.  Having had enough of the morning chill, and probably frustrated at having been so unceremoniously risen at such an early hour, Tucker had curled up on the seat with his head resting on my leg.  I leaned over to roll up the window and settled in for the easy drive ahead.

The Land Rover is a fantastic truck on abandoned logging trails and forest service roads, but she feels out of place and a bit frustrated when pushed to her maximum speed, which isn’t fast enough to avoid the condescending states of the tourists and new money folks in their shiny black sedans.  They treat the roads as their racetracks in a vain attempt to prove that their over engineered, track-tested luxury cars are worth the inflated prices they paid for them.  They rarely are.

Some time later, I saw the sign for Bryson City and exited the interstate, thankful to be back at speeds more reasonable for my machine.  I wound through town, stopping briefly at a favorite coffee shop to top off my thermos and remark briefly upon the weather, before making my way toward the Road to Nowhere.  Originally intended to circle Fontana Lake, the road dead-ends before entering some of the most pristine wilderness left in the Eastern United States.  As much as most people want to see the road completed, there is a small, eco-terrorist voice deep within me that screams every time I come to the place.  I tell myself that if I ever see a bulldozer up here, I’ll fill the gas tank with sand.  Maybe I’ll do worse, placing a small bomb underneath the machine to put it out of commission permanently.  I don’t know if I’d be capable, but I suppose we all like to think ourselves revolutionaries when something dear to us is under threat.

The road ends abruptly not long after passing over Noland Creek, one of the half dozen or so streams that flow down from the upper slopes of Clingman’s Dome before emptying into Fontana Lake below.  Even with such easy access for a determined trout-seeker, Noland Creek provides a fantastic window into the world of small stream fishing, where any fish over 10″ can be considered a trophy.  Those of us who frequent these waters find satisfaction in the solitude, enjoying the brightly colored brookies that look like they’ve been painted in the most brilliantly natural hues.

After parking my truck under the branches of a young oak at the edge of the poorly maintained dirt road, I stepped out into the sunlit morning, followed by Tucker.  According to the local regulations, dogs aren’t welcome these parts.  Tucker isn’t like other dogs, though, so I let him walk without a leash, knowing that the smallest snap of my fingers will bring him quickly to my side.  I unloaded my gear, pulling on a pair of waders and double-knotting my wading boots.  All the water worth fishing requires a degree of effort which I’ve found most weekend fisherman unwilling to exert.  I usually end up replacing my boots each season after putting well over one-hundred trail miles on then in addition to wading.

I carry a large pack when fishing, keeping all of my supplies directly related to the task at hand in front and all of the equally important, yet less frequently used, gear in the back, such as rain slicker, thermos, water, first aid kit, and food for Tucker and me.  For this type of backcountry fishing, I fish a Scott fiberglass rod, a 7′ 3 wt. with a beautifully balanced feel and the delicacy needed to land active fish on light tippet.  I paired it with a little green Galvan reel and a dark green fly line, giving myself some small illusion of stealth and camouflage.

Before starting the hike, I tied on a small Yellow Stimulator, one of my favorite flies for these small, backcountry streams.  With Tucker at my side, chasing the shadow of a bee flying above him, we set out on what might one day become, God help us, a road to somewhere.  An easy thirty minute hike led us to the point where we would drop off of the main trail and do a bit of bushwhacking as we made our way upstream.  I suppose I should mention, at this point, that I am intentionally leaving the name of this particular stream from my tale, choosing instead to grant it some degree of anonymity, although quick investigative work would surely reveal a few likely candidates.

On this stream, I like to head to head upstream for half of a mile or so in order to achieve the feeling of true solitude. I’ve always been uncomfortable in crowds and utterly disgusted by close proximity to fisherman who didn’t arrive with me.  Upon reaching my favorite starting point, I stopped dead.  I saw an old timer lining up a gorgeous amber-colored bamboo rod with silk line.  My frustration at finding another angler in my favorite spot began to subside as I observed the gentleman make his way carefully into the shallow stream.  Not wanting to be seen, I found a fallen tree on which to sit and observe.  A snap of my fingers brought Tucker to my side.  He looked up at me, slightly confused, before making himself comfortable on a bed of bright green ferns.

The old man’s movements were deliberate and carefully considered.  He moved with the ease of youth, albeit slightly tempered by the weight of age.  Settling in the quick current, he paused, standing motionless for a full minute before moving again.  Maybe he was acclimatizing to his surroundings; maybe he was letting the trout become accustomed to his presence.  Either way, he had become, in just a moment, a fixture in the stream as seemingly permanent as a fallen tree or water-rounded boulder.  His face was emotionless, calm but for a flaming intensity in his gray eyes.  He didn’t act as though he owned the stream; rather, he had become part of it.

Continued here: The Senex – Part 2