I’m not certain when I first took a fly-rod to hand for trout fishing, but I know it was at least a couple of years before I was old enough to drive.
One of my grandfathers had passed along an old bamboo pole fixed with reel and line that had sat for years in an often damp corner of the basement of my parents’ home. One day, at the urging of a nearby neighbor who had a driver’s license, to grab that rod and “come along” to fly-fish for trout on a nearby stream, I awkwardly handled the most uncomplicated form of rod and reel.
At some point in the early use of that rod and reel I was lucky enough to deceive a trout to rise to a fly and hook itself. I remember the thrill I felt at the accomplishment of fooling a fish, plus being able to witness the take and experience the fish’s power and fight, amplified by such lightweight tackle.
But by the time I reached my 20s, I had abandoned that old bamboo stick, and sentenced it once again to a forgotten cellar corner. Then, by my 30s I had purchased my own fly-rod and reel, and on occasions would take it streamside for trout, without much success I might add.
It took until my mid-40s that I would finally become “avid” about fly-fishing for trout, a point forward until now that sees my pursuit of this salmonidae family member almost wholly fulfilled by fly-rod.
A couple of days prior to the recent opening of spring gobbler season I headed to camp in Tioga County to pass the time until the season’s start by fly-fishing the Big Pine Creek.
When I first arrived at the large stream it was relatively high, cold and crystal clear, all factors relating to a late-spring snow runoff. That afternoon was filled with sunshine and some small fluffy white clouds bouncing along on occasional gusts of wind. I carefully waded mid-stream at a favorite spot and began fishing. A Hare’s Ear with green flash, a split shot a foot above the nymph and a bouncing cross-stream offering produced some fine hookups, the thrust and pull in faster water of fighting trout a laudable reward.
But during that timeframe of fishing a nymph I could see some caddis emerge and fly upstream whenever the wind slackened. I also saw an occasional splash of a rising fish — “spotty rises” the best portrayal. Still, it was enough of a motive for me to tie on a big March brown and float it atop the riffles surrounding me.
Battling a whipping wind, my third cast saw the fly settle on the water no more than 20 feet from where I stood. It drifted perhaps 10 feet with the fly-line quickly catching the leader and tippet, but as I was about to recast I saw the unmistakable rise and take of a trout.
He was hooked. I glanced at my rod’s bend, watched two impressive leaps from the water and finally brought the fish alongside my waders, where I released a nice, fat rainbow.
The remaining time at that spot, and on a couple of other afternoons throughout that first week of turkey season, saw a March brown fool a bunch of trout, even with only a smudging of visible top water activity.
I’ve met and spoke with too many experienced fly fishermen who have told me that the best way to catch the most and biggest trout with a fly rod is underwater, using nymphs, streamers and wet flies. Experience has taught me this to be absolutely true, yet I often shy from this method, choosing a dry fly instead.
This preference of mine for a fly on top was explained during another instance when I met an older fisherman along the Big Pine, and he opined that the basic reason fishermen chose to fish dry-flies was because they just plain relished the sight of a fish taking a fly, and not because it produced more catches.
I confess that defines my person as a fly fisherman, for I do love to watch a rise and feel a hookup with my offering of imitations. But I think it goes beyond only those sensations.
As it was the afternoon mentioned above, I am often alone on the big trout streams that flow through Pennsylvania, especially the ones I visit on weekdays. And to cast and watch a floating fly while unaccompanied, and witness a trout come to what it believes to be a source of food, it somehow strangely fastens me deeper to the natural world and allows for my escape, for a brief time, from the struggles and worries of my life away from fishing.
I know it a bit silly to try and make floating a fly somehow perfect and apart from the everyday world, but much more often than not, it damn well seems that way to me.