Cheating?

The dry fly purist… I’m not exactly sure what about this ideology bothers me so much but when I hear that term visions of cane wielding, tweed clad, jack-boot wader wearing, 1 percenters (the rich kind, not the outlaw motorcycle gang kind), goose stepping around the local trout stream trying to come up with a “final solution” for us impure nymph users and streamer swingers comes to my mind.

Yeah, kind of harsh I know. I guess I may be getting hung-up on the word purist.

Yet, deep down, I feel as if a fish caught on a dry fly somehow “counts” more. And not just trout; a redfish, a bass or even a bluegill caught on top seems to be a better fish in some way. That’s how I almost left the house for my last trip afield with just a box of dries.

Of course I didn’t do that.

It was a two-hour trip to the stream and I’d never been there before so I figured that I should bring nymphs and a handful of streamers, just in case. On the way there I did decide that they would only be used under the direst of circumstances though.

I didn’t do that either.

I tried. I really did. I found rising trout, quietly positioned myself downstream and did my best to make good drifts over them. I probably fished 3/4 miles of stream doing this. I even caught a few fish this way; all brookies in the ten to twelve inch range, which for southern Appalachia isn’t bad, but as the day went on I had more and more refusal rises and more fish just completely ignore my fly.

Lighter tippets and smaller flies didn’t help and there wasn’t anything like a hatch going on so I broke down and tied a small drab nymph to the bend of my hook. That got the attention of the fish. I know this because I watched them swim out of the way when the nymph got close. So I tried a flashier nymph. Then a prince nymph. Then a copper john which was not only ignored but was too heavy for the stimulator I was using. So I cut off the stimmy and decided to do a little high-sticking (czech nymphing).

I fished a fishless 1/4 mile more of stream when I came to a pool under a trail bridge with probably a dozen fish visible in it.

Now, this stream I was fishing is one of the closest “delayed harvest” streams to Charlotte, NC. If you’re unfamiliar with “delayed harvest” streams, they’re basically bodies of water that get too hot in the summer to support trout populations so they get heavily stocked in the fall and are managed as catch and release until the end of spring/beginning of summer.

Well, these trout in this pool were easily accessible, living in a pressured stream and I could see flies hanging from some of their mouths. Needless to say they wanted nothing to do with my flies. That is until, in one of those “aw fuck-it” moments, I tied on a black conehead woolly bugger and just sort of tossed it out there to see what would happen.

Out of nowhere, this rainbow, easily the biggest fish in the pool, comes shooting out of the shadow of the bridge and hits my bugger. I yank it out of it of its mouth trying to set the hook. As the fly paused while I tried to think of an appropriate string of profanities to describe missing the biggest fish of the day, the rainbow struck again. Again I failed to stick it. There was no having to think of a proper curse this time. I got to maybe the third or fourth “u” in “FUUU…!!!!!” when this suicidal trout decided that I was unable to set the hook and decided to do it himself.

Suicide rainbow

Right there and then I decided to fish streamers on my way back to the car, and so what started out as an alright day became one of the, if not the, best day of trout fishing of my life.

Every pool, every run, every piece of pocket water I came to, I caught fish.

I discovered one of the few things in life that I find as thrilling as watching a fish take a fly on top; watching the largest trout in a pool materialize from nowhere to pounce on my streamer. I was lucky enough to witness this multiple times on this particular day, two of those times were the biggest brook trout I’ve caught so far.

I also learned that anyone who has ever used the term graceful to describe fly fishing has never watched an overweight guy stumble over rocks while fishing a weighted size 6 streamer on a 4wt rod.