"Remember these principles and ideas can
be applied to any fly in your box."
And so ended last weeks column. You will
remember it was about a universal fly, one
that could be used for all occasions. A fully
wound palmered fly, clipped in various ways
to turn it into any thing you needed. Still a
good fly to have in your box, in fact a few
will possibly save your day sometime.
The idea is not new with me now, but it once
was. It came about in a somewhat unusual way
though and I thought you might like to read
about it here. The day was one of those wonderful
bright blue days in 'Big Sky' country. That's
Montana for you city-slickers and flat-landers.
After an overnight, straight through drive from
just outside os Seattle, we made town and turned
towards Yellowstone park. Four miles out of town
we arrived at the stream and prepared for the
afternoon and evening hatches and hopefully, spinner
falls. My wife and I and a couple from here in
Washington had gone back to fish the fabled
spring creeks west of 'Trout Town, USA,' Livingston,
Montana. We had lived there about 17 years and
it sure was good to see the streams again. In
times long gone she and I had even guided on
these very waters for the great Dan Bailey. Those
were good times and we were honored to guide for
The four of us unlimbered our rods, waders and
lunches and 'claimed' a spot on a north bank of
the creek where we had an unobstructed view of
the water, even while sitting on a picnic blanket.
An hours casting in the early part of the
afternoon loosened us up but yielded little
else. The sun too high, nothing going on in the
stream and mostly it was casting practice.
Late afternoon brought a bit of fish activity.
A rise here and there, mostly nymphing types
actually, dorsal fin, sometimes a bit of the
tail of if was a larger fish. A bird or two
showed in the air, high, we knew it would be
a while before anything up there hit the water,
but it was probable something would. We had
searched the rocks and stream and knew what
insects would be joining us. From where we sat,
stood, waded, fished occasionally we could see
a fish cruising between the weed channels. One
would move out a way, take something just under
the surface, then drift back under and out of
Seeming to materialize before our eyes a very
large rainbow just simply appeared. One minute
it wasn't there, and the next, there it was.
Funny how they can do it, but, do it they can,
and often do. We estimated it to be perhaps 24
or so, fine fish for these waters where the
average might be 14 to 16. I made up my mind to
make a play for him. But only when the time was
right and the time definitely was not right, at
least not right now. He was just looking around,
here and there, moving very slowly, seeming to
have no intent or purpose of direction. Kind of
like he was 'casing the joint.'
Late afternoon merged into evening and with it
the hatchings and fallings began. With them,
the normally expected rises and takes. I was
geared with a light three weight rod, light WF
line and long, fine, leader, but, 6X tippet as
I remember. I still do not do well with the 7X
stuff, heavy handed I guess. Anyway, I had not
seen the fish make himself visible yet. In fact
I felt maybe I was foolish for trying to go after
him at all as I was not really sure he had not
moved on upstream. I doubted it, but still was
The smaller fish were rising and Jim and my wife
were obliging them. We were all wading the shallow
stream, about up to our knees as it was not over
three feet deep at its darkest holes. Another
person was fishing upstream of me and after what
seemed a long 'dry' period started doing as well
and Jim and my wife, in fact, a bit better I think.
He was good, darn good. When he cast, it was like
someone drawing a line with a pencil. Thoughtful,
direct, on target, deadly and successful usually.
That is after he found the right fly. It was not
a hard evening. Not one of those things where each
fish seems to have keyed in on his own personal
selection of flies to the exclusion of all others.
Nope, only a couple of bugs about and that was the
only choice they had. We had determined that as I
mentioned earlier in the afternoon and so, instead
of switching flies on refusals, stayed with the
ones we had on and tried to figure out what about
our presentation was wrong.
The stream was moving at a constant speed and
with it the trouts dinners. Often a fish will
start to pattern, that is he will rise every
so often, like every ten seconds or whatever
his pattern may be for a while. This will of
course change as time moves along, but it does
happen often. My fish had started to poke his
nose out. It was a very easy cast for distance
and not too tricky a drift but I did not cast.
I did not want to have one of the smaller fish
take my fly and screw up the whole area. If you
have not done this game yet, let me tell you, it
is not easy and I don't care how long you have
fly fished. Casting to a big fish is un-nerving
enough, not casting to one is even more so. Or,
well, it is for me at least.
Long story short. He patterned. I cast. I put
him back. I had the right fly. I was prepared.
I knew in advance what might happen and had them
with me. But, the guy upstream did not. He was
not from Montana, in fact he was from Pennsylvania.
But, like I said, he could fly fish. We compared
notes as dark set in and we converged back at the
parking lot. I tell you this, he had a thousand
flies if he had one. Really, I have never in my
life seen so many flies on any one person. Out of
all of them, none was the right one. Impossible,
So, how did he start catching fish earlier in
the evening upstream from me? He cut down a fly.
Hear me. HE CUT DOWN A FLY. Which was the main
point of my column last week. HE CUT DOWN A FLY!
He is actually a famous fly fishing writer, but
I won't give you his name.
With all the emphasis we put on our flies,
one of the things we do not often think of
is hacking away at one we have to make it
useful at the moment. Oh no, we don't want
ruin our fancy whatchamacallit fly, no, we
save that for something later on. Yup, I am
guilty too. Been there, done that, got the
hat too. Anyway, try to keep that in mind,
don't be afraid to remodel your flies to more
closely resemble what is going on at the moment.
It might just save the day. ~ JC