Whip Finish


Ralph Long - Jul 29, 2013

The indicator slipped slightly below the surface as my mind went through a moment of SPP, or "Stationary Piscatorial Panic". SPP is a common malady suffered by nymph/indicator fishermen. Even for the most seasoned of fly fishermen, when we are focused on that little strike indicator our senses seem to revert back to those of a high-strung 12 year old running on Little Debbie cakes and Coke. I've discussed it with many of my buddies and I am convinced the Fishing Gods are actually playing a cruel joke on us. I think it's punishment for renaming a "bobber" a "strike indicator" so that our fly fishing sensitivities will not be so disrupted as to require secret sessions of hanging out in well-known fly shops in order to make ourselves feel better again. It's their way of saying, "If you're going to fish with a bobber, deep down you cannot hide." Let's face it, "Trapped air technology?" Simply renaming how a standard plastic red-and-white bobber works, does NOT change the fact that it still remains a bobber. Nevertheless, like many of my fly fishing brethren there I was, double-clutching as my "indicator" slipped once again below the surface. Strike or bottom bounce? This time I won and with a lift of the rod a fine specimen for what this Pennsylvania limestone stream had to offer began its dance of protest at the intrusion of my hook. It came to hand after a nice little fight and staring back at me from the jaw of a fat little 12 inch brown trout was a #14 bead-headed caddis pupae. It had been an easy guess having watched a haze of little tan caddis coming off the water, while seeing no rises above the constant flashing of bottom-feeding trout.

It was the sixth or seventh trout on that fly and it was taking a beating. So deciding to swap it out for a fresh fly, and I sat staring at my patterns. I was most certainly going with another of the same pattern, but what caught my eye was the fact that virtually all of my patterns wore the helmet of a bead. When had that theme taken root? I seemed to recall not too long ago that the reverse was the norm in my fly boxes? I always seemed to do much better with an impressionistic weighted non-bead-head fly pattern in the past. Having often joked among friends that I had never caught a single trout on the venerable bead-headed Pheasant Tail, or the Copper John, two of the most commonly fished bead-head patterns. And though neither of those two patterns were still in my box for that very same reason, in their place was row after row of very similar bead-head patterns. But again, what was it that caused the change? Was it that I had finally learned how to properly fish them? It seemed to me that I still fished in pretty much the exact same manner. Was it the addition of the thing-a-ma-jiggy that I still refuse to call a bobber currently looped onto my leader that did it? I doubt it, since before they were in my vest they were duplicated by yarn and foam indicators. So, no real change there either. But what "had" changed? The only thing that had really changed over recent years was the lack of using additional split-shot on my tippet these days. Thinking about it as I stood tying my new and un-chewed nymph on, it seemed that the only real change was going from brass beads to tungsten beads in my fly tying. I had found that the additional weight was generally all I needed when fishing bead-head nymphs now. But could that one thing have changed my style of fishing so dramatically?

I have to acknowledge in self-examination that I am very reluctant to change, and confidence in a fly is something that my lack of patience seldom lends support to. As a result, early experiences tend to stick with me for a while in the realm of fly selection. But that would only explain the lack of a few revered fly patterns from staking claims within my boxes. It did little to answer for the row-upon-row of bead-head flies that currently filled them. All of which these days were, in fact, tied with tungsten beads. Was it as simple as a tad-bit more weight on the fly, allowing me, within my nymphing skills, to skip the addition of split-shot on the leader? A change which may have led me to success and confidence in a particular bead-head pattern, and over time causing a wholesale migration back to my tying bench and the materials that I both buy and tie with? The only other culprit for the change could be the increased use of the item we refer to as the "strike indicator". But to accept that as the reason for change would further complicate the entire universe relative to fly fishing and our separation from the lowly bobber and its associated accoutrements.

These are the things that go through our minds….or at least my mind when on the water. My grip on sanity however is maintained only by convincing myself that the rest of the fly fishing community thinks as I do. Please allow me to enjoy my moment. Most times these thoughts occur during the doldrums of prospecting on auto-pilot in hopes of strikes, but they can and often do take place during moments of perceived clarity even while playing and releasing fish. That being said, I have obviously made the transition to bead-heads. What I do with that new-found bit of piscatorial wisdom is yet to be seen.

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