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Catching fish on your own terms

I do not know about you but for me, there is an importance to catching fish how I like to catch fish. Let's face it, if all we cared about was catching trout, we would be out there with worms because is there really a more effective way to catch trout? I will make no bones about it, if I can be catching trout on dry flies, that is how I'll be fishing. Now, I am not saying this is a "better" or "the best" way to catch trout but it is how I prefer to catch trout. Bass aren't much different - if I can take them on poppers, wiggle bugs, or other topwaters - that is how I'm going to catch them. Your mileage, very well, may differ. You may actually enjoy Euronymphing.


Fly fishing really excels and provides maybe the greatest advantage to the fly angler when what fish are eating is small and light and when fishes are in shallow water. The light weight flies provide a stealthy approach unmatched by "gear" and the ability to fish near cover, current seams, or "fishy" spots and quickly recast are distinct advantages of fly fishing. Casting light flies with "heavy" lines rather than heavy lures with a light line makes a world of difference, particularly when fish are up shallow or otherwise easily spooked. It is why bonefishing is so popular with a fly rod. Anglers are able to cast a very lightweight and slowing sinking fly without much disturbance. When it comes to fishing stealthily or fishing very small lures (flies are lures, after all), I do not think a fly rod can be beat.

A willow-lined Driftless stream
Moving, skinny water - a place where fly fishing excels.

We maybe do not think of bedding bluegill as the most selective or easily spooked fish, generally for good reason. A day many years ago on Buffalo Lake had them in really shallow water - 6 inches to a foot of water. My foam spider fished on a 5 wt. fly rod caught them at least 3:1 over foam spiders on a casting bubble or worms under a bobber. It was fun to watch! I'd watch somebody throw a casting bubble towards them and they'd scatter and take a minute or so to move back into their positions and eventually hit the foam spider. On the fly rod, rarely had the rings dissipated before they hit the foam spider. It was about as easy as fly fishing can be but boy was it fun to out fish every with "gear".

Chubby Chernobyl with a dropper
A royal chubby Chernobyl or some other such foam creation - with a little nymph dropper.

I don't know that the bluegill story is much more than an interesting anecdote. I think there are times where fly fishing is the most effective way to catch fish. I don't know how often that is the case but my gut tells me, probably not that often. Certainly when trout are keyed in on emerging / hatching insects, fly fishing is the most effective way to catch them. Fly fishing might be more effective when fishes are in skinny water - trout in pool tailouts, fishes on saltwater flats, grassy flats on warmwater streams, etc. But on the whole, if I had to catch fish, currently I'd only select fly gear because I've been doing it for 30 years and now I feel more comfortable with a fly rod in hand then a spinning rod or baitcaster. Particularly a baitcaster...


I see some parallels between fly fishing and archery hunting. There are certainly more efficient and effective ways to kill a deer, an elk, or whatever else. People hunt with bows and arrows because there is an inherent challenge to it. There is a sense of accomplishment. Sure, they could hunt with a crossbow - and many choose that path. Others choose to hunt with longbows or recurves. Though I'd say that I'm hard pressed to think of cases where bows are more effective than a rifle. Bow hunters are doing it the way they want to do it. (somewhere there is a good joke about those that still bow hunt with training wheels...)

October Driftless stream
A wonderful October day on the last weekend of the season.

On Saturday of the last weekend of the season, I fished with a former student that I had run into on the stream the previous weekend. He was quite new to trout fishing, really first fishing for trout in recent weeks since the opportunities are pretty great in the Driftless. So, he fished worms while I fished dry flies on a 5wt. I was doing it the way I wanted to do it, as was he. I am sure I got out fished about 2:1 but we were both enjoying ourselves. He mentioned a few times he needed to learn to fish a fly rod better as the surface strikes looked like a whole lot more fun than waiting for a worm to get bit.


Maybe he was just appeasing me while out fishing me but there is a certain "romance" for lack of a better word to watching fish rise to dry flies. Perhaps the idea, "we all have to start somewhere" entered my mind. But so what if that is where people start and end? My choices don't have to be your choices and your choices can be different from mine and we all do what we want - so long as it is legal. While I would love it if more people gave more to the resource than the take from it, I know that's not really how things work.

An improved Driftless Area stream
A newly improved stream. This reach had great water quality and flow but little to hide a trout.

Catching fish on my own terms is important to me. I like the challenge of the fly rod. My lack of patience and general inability to sit still pretty much rules out bow hunting but serves me well trout fishing. In fly fishing, you are always doing something, that appeals to me. Moving into position, casting, observing what is happening around you. It suits me well. At some point, it seems that you move from wanting to catch the most fish or even the biggest fish and move to catching them on your own terms. I suppose not everyone moves through this progression. I'm re-reading Nick Lyons' most excellent book, "Spring Creek" and came across his progression from a "deadly worm fisherman" to a spring creek angler, working toward being able to catch the tough fish in the difficult places. This short paragraph struck me,

"I'm not quite sure why one switches from spinning to fly fishing -- it's like going from something that works to something that, for a long time, doesn't work. If it ain't broke, why fix it?" (Nick Lyons)

Why does one switch? Why does one - like Nick's friend and host, Herb - fish only dry flies and seeks out the most challenging fishes in the most challenging places? For the challenge, I would suppose. At some point, what's another fish? Do you really need another 20 or 30 or more fish day?

Driftless Spring Creek
A place where I've had a few 20+ fish days

When it comes to catching fish on my own terms, it is not just fly fishing but dry fly fishing. Not because I am some sort of snob (well, maybe a little...) but it is how I like to do it. The visual nature is exciting and appealing. The idea that 90% of the trout are feeding underwater maybe helps increase the challenge. On Driftless Area streams, I don't know that fishing dry flies is really all that large of a handicap much of the time. And I certainly am a bit of a pragmatist and don't shy away from nymphs, wet flies, and streamers. At times, I break them out to do something different.


I am most certainly not Nick's buddy, Herb quite yet. I can honestly say I'm not sure that it is something I really want to strive for. I have a lot more to learn before I'm ready to say, "dry fly or die". I want to be better with wet flies and fishing downstream. It is not something I do a lot of but it can be great fun and in the hands of folks that are skilled at it, quite effective. I don't do enough of it but lately some of my favorite fishing has been fishing larger streamers, particularly buoyant flies on sinking leaders.

Fishing a bamboo fly rod
Ben fishing his bamboo rod on a Driftless Area stream.

Do what makes you happy. After all, it is a pastime, a hobby and it is meant to be enjoyable.

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