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Salt Lake City, Utah

Secrets of Fly Fishing

BLOG - Streamside Journal

Read the Blog - fly fishing, tenkara, gear, trip reports


Secrets of Fly Fishing

An Dinh

I'm a newbie, beginner, novice, greener than a greenback cutthroat when it comes to fly fishing.  One of the first things I noticed in fly fishing is that it's full of secrets and more than a few people pawning them.  Just pick up any fly fishing magazine or peruse your local fly shop's bookshelves. Secret fly fishing spots, Secrets flies, guide's super secret - secret tactics.  Clearly the experts have loose tongues for a price. 

I devote myself intensely into a project when I commit to it.  And fly fishing has been my obsession for the last few years.  The idea is to put in enough time so that I can be comfortable on the stream, which basically means not be a complete idiot on the water.  So I read as many articles as I could, every blog post.  EVERY blog post (at least on Midcurrent Gink and Gasoline and the Orvis site).  And when I discovered Tenkara, I ingested everything that I could access (Teton Tenkara, Tenkara Talk were the most helpful). 

After reading hundreds of fishing articles and listening to every podcast that I could download I noticed two big things - everyone says the same thing eventually and everyone seems to contradict themselves eventually.  Sometimes this feels like purposeful obfuscation, but I think they think that this is just how fishing is.  "It's always always best to fish this one technique... except when it's not."  

Check out two of Louis Cahill's articles on catching big fish.  In Trout Streamers  he writes  -

"Tie them big.

I like my streamers four to six inches long. When I fish streamers I’m targeting big fish and they’ll have no problem eating a big fly." 

Notice the big bold heading "TIE THEM BIG".  So I immediately tied a ton of super expensive big ass flies - that I still haven't caught anything on.  Lots of chases and nips but no takes.  Then just one month later Louis posted Flies that Catch Big Trout - "Without exception they were small, natural and traditional."

What the f#ck!  I trusted you!  But these guys are writers for blogs and magazines so they don't get to see my failures or look into my sad eyes as I process disappointment and confusion.

Sooner than later someone new to the sport like me comes face to face with a more experienced fly fisherman when a suspicious and uneasy feeling sets in that this person is flat out lying to them.  The forensic clues are the diverted gaze and fidgeting.  But, some folks are so practiced at ball faced fiction that they can look me right in the eye and tell me there are no fish in this pool even if we are both surrounded by risers and they release yet another fat brown trout back into the current.

I much prefer the bad liars - because there's an art to second guessing them that has lead me to some great honey holes.  I once had a reliable shop rat just casually mention a stream - basically that it exists and that maybe I should fish it sometime.  You know, no big deal, have you heard of stream blah blah?  But, when I mentioned the same stream to a different shop rat, I was vehemently told not to waste my time there, and that the flows were no good anyhow.  I immediately packed my truck and fished the crap out of that stream!  There were big cutthroat, everywhere - in a short section below some ranches.  But,  in the fishiest looking and prettiest spots that run along the canyon there are only little fish.  Still pretty and plentiful, but much smaller.  So I guess it's possible that the naysayers only ever fished the middling stretch, but I doubt it.   They had that guilty look as I left the shop.  I played along giving the impression that I was headed to some well known tailwater  that they approved of and I think they believed me.  I don't have the best poker face, though.

My favorite way to get on a secret stretch of water is to fish it with a person who  personally holds it as sacrosanct.  A pocket listing for prime pocket water.  Because they cherish the spot and fish it often, they are able to ply the water elegantly earning them the right to consider it their private slice of heaven.

A good friend, Jac, showed me his favorite spot on the Middle Provo.  The Provo can be awfully crowded some days.  When we got to his secret section.  I recognized it immediately as a place where I and most other anglers I see get regularly skunked.  Just about everyone tries their hand at this section, but most people move on after nary a bite (since then I have seen a few people hook into fish, but none quite as casually as Jac).  In fact, just last week a young fella was nymphing methodically through every seam and riffle in Jac's spot and after about 45 minutes with no bites just picked up all of his gear, including two fully strung rods with different rigs and moved downstream.  Moments later,  Jac with his German short-haired pointer, Tess, bounding after him took residence in his usual spot and pulled a fish out on his first cast!  One and done.  I'm always impressed when a fisherman draws strikes from water that was supposedly fished out or spooked by someone ahead of them. 

It's a little embarrassing when Jac does it to me, which he did when I caught up to him.  He had me fish a pool just upstream that I don't ever fish because it never gives up any fish to me.  Of course, I was fishless.  Then Jac gave it a go and immediately caught a fine brown, explaining that my rig was just a little to far this way and that way and maybe just a little too heavy.  I think Jac enjoys these teaching sessions a little too much.  But you have to hand it to Jac having his pocket listing hiding in plain sight.  The water is just a stone's throw from the trail, but his secret is in how he fishes it.   Mind you, Jac has been fishing many decades and so he's had some time to dial in his technique.

It was here that Jac helped me set up my nymph rig and catch my first 20 inch trout.  Up until then I really didn't believe the shop stories that the Provo had many hogs since I mostly saw 10-16 inchers in most people's nets.  I was even able to take what I learned and haul a 20 incher on my tenkara rod thus inaugurating the T and T club.  Or maybe 20/Ten club.

Out of respect for Jac, I don't take other fisherman to this section.  I prefer to let Jac meet us at the parking lot and let Jac lead the way.  He's a generous guy.

Not to be outdone, my fishing buddy, Lance has his 24+ place that he likes to drop hints about.  I even had a strong hunch about where this place might be, and with some sleuthing I know I discovered the general area.  But I withheld actually slogging through the area on my own until Lance could join me.  This meant waiting impatiently for more than a year.  But a secret is a secret. 

Once again, this is a popular stream for many small stream aficionados but 24+ seemed outrageous.  Lance could have been pulling my leg.  Only he and Kelly have the god awful pictures to prove it, the kind of pictures that make me drool and stay awake at night.  Especially, because in one of the pictures I saw a landmark that I know I fished below multiple times.  That's how the sleuthing came about, I looked through my own fishing photos and  journal entries, but my notes on the area were that there weren't too many fish in this section.  So I always fished the lower sections of this stream and did great on big dries.  A year later the image of my fishing buddies holding huge fish etched in my memory and couldn't be erased.  After seeing them holding fish as long as my leg, I just didn't feel as proud of my 16 and 18 inch browns that confidently ate my charlie boy foam hopper on top.  Damn them!

In this case, Lance's secret was both location and timing.  He was willing to fish farther than I went on my own and knew when the large fish would be hunting.  Because sometimes, they just aren't there.  Remember, I fished the very same section where he photographed himself with a real monster brown.  In fact, I think when the biggest fish are out, many of the fish I've caught head for the hills, because my regular haunts on that same river turn off completely.

I should also add technique to Lance's secrets because my regular streamer and nymphing technique  yielded good-size 18 inchers but only Lance's stealthy creep up the stream commando style and short line technique ever got the 24+ers to come out and play.

This is an image I thought I'd only see in magazines...

This is an image I thought I'd only see in magazines...

Blessed are the secrets fly fisherman keep, especially when they spills the beans every now and then.

There has to be some transparency for the next generation of fly fishers, but the tradition of secrecy is also a karmic signal that all fish and the secrets that get you into fish should be treated as precious.