June 27th, 2005

That Guy Upstream
By James Castwell


"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 him.

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 sight.

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 not sure.

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, but true.

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

Till next week, remember . . .

Keepest Thynne Baakast Upeth

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