Dry Flies for Spring Fly Fishing

dry flies for spring fly fishing

Spring is in the air. So are millions of flies. Mayflies. Caddisflies. Craneflies. It’s the time of year when dry fly fishing begins to work.

If you are new to fly fishing and wonder what dry flies to have in your fly box, here are the two basic patterns you need:

Parachute Adams

If the fly fishing authorities limited me to one dry fly pattern for spring, I would not think twice. My hands-down choice is the Parachute Adams. This pattern imitates midges and Mayflies — and especially the sub-species of Mayflies known as Blue-Winged Olives (BWOs). My favorite size is an 18.

However, last week in the Wisconsin Driftless, I saw trout rising to small BWOs. So I put on a size 20 Parachute Adams and promptly caught an 11-inch brown.

In the interest of full disclosure, the size 20 pattern I used was a Parachute Purple Haze. It’s the same fly as a Parachute Adams, only with a purple body. Honestly, I haven’t noticed that one works better than the other. Trout seem to like either one. Perhaps the Purple Haze gives them a slightly different look from the tried-and-true Parachute Adams. But that advantage is disappearing as more fly fishers give in to the “purple haze craze.”

What I like about the Parachute Adams – or its flashy cousin (the Purple Haze) – is the white post or “parachute” that makes it visible. Even a size 20 sticks out as it floats down the run.

The Parachute Adams works well in the West, the Upper Midwest, and (from what my friends tell me) the East as well. Wherever you find midges and BWOs, the pattern will work. Midges appear throughout the winter and into spring, while BWOs show up in March.

Elk Hair Caddis

My other go-to pattern for spring fly fishing is the Elk Hair Caddis. Caddisflies appear in mid-April in both the West and the Upper Midwest. Fly fishers in southwest Montana — on the Madison and Yellowstone Rivers — eagerly await the “Mother’s Day Caddis Hatch.” Of course, by the time Mother’s Day appears on the calendar, the rivers usually look like chocolate milk. However, late-April fishing before the spring runoff can be fantastic as Caddis hatches intensify.

The Elk Hair Caddis is a bushy fly, and the tan elk hair wing makes it quite visible. The only problem is that it doesn’t stand out among dozens of other Caddisflies on the surface of the water. You can solve this problem can be solved by tying (or buying) an Elk Hair Caddis with some red or pink fibers on top of the elk hair wing.

The best sizes range from 14-18. It all depends on the watershed you’re fishing as well as the time of year. The best way to figure out the size is … you guessed it … check with a local fly shop. Also, some rivers will fish better with certain body colors. When I’m on the Yellowstone River south of Livingston, Montana, I like a green or a tan body. When I’m in the Wisconsin or Minnesota Driftless, I prefer a black body. I’ve even used some flies with elk hair that has been dyed black.

Other Patterns

I’m tempted to end the article here because these two flies will work in the spring 80% of the time when bugs are in the air and on the water. However, the later you get into spring, you’ll start to see some other flies that require other patterns.

In the Upper Midwest, Hendricksons appear as early as mid-April. Sulfers, March Browns, and Craneflies show up in May. I remember an evening on a little stream in the Wisconsin Driftless when the trout refused everything but a Cranefly pattern.

In the West, March Browns in a size 12 work well surprisingly early on the big rivers like the Yellowstone. There are Stonefly hatches as well that happen in the spring. Even a Stimulator can be effective at times — even though I tend to think of it as a pattern for summer.

Your best bet, though, will be to have plenty of Parachute Adams and Elk Hair Caddis flies in various sizes and — in the case of the Elk Hair Caddis — various colors.

While nymphs and streamers are always a sure bet in the spring, don’t neglect dry flies. You might miss out on the fun!

Fly Fishing Entomology 101 – Caddisflies


If Mayflies resemble small twin-engine airplanes, Caddisflies resemble B-52 bombers. The long wings of Caddis flies flank their abdomen, meeting at the top like the two slopes of a gable roof. This means Caddis patterns are easy to see on the water.

However, during the thick of a hatch, it’s hard to pick out your fly in the midst of dozens of other bugs on the surface. I’ve even had to scoop away Caddis adults that are crawling on my glasses, my nose, my hat, and my sleeves.

It’s no wonder that Gary LaFontaine called the Spotted Sedge Caddis the single most important trout-stream insect. I’ve caught fish on Caddis patterns from Wisconsin to Montana. Here is a brief profile of this important species:


  • “No matter what the subspecies, fly fishers simply refer to them as “Caddis.”
  • “Caddisflies belong to the order ‘Trichoptera.’ Occasionally, books on flies and fly patterns simply refer to ‘Spotted Sedge’ — the most notable subspecies of Caddisflies for fly fishers.”

The Basics

  • Most Caddisflies have a one-year life cycle. Once they emerge, the adults can live for as long as a month—as opposed to a couple of days for most Mayflies.
  • Caddisflies, unlike Mayflies and Stoneflies, have complete metamorphosis, going from egg (1-3 weeks) to larva (9-10 months) to pupa (2-5 weeks) to adult (1-3 weeks).
  • Entomologists divide Caddisflies into five groups based on the way their larvae behave. The five groups are: free living (no case or shelter), saddle-case (dome-shaped case with an opening at each end), net-spinning (a case with a web next to its entrance to catch food), tube case (portable case that enables the larvae to move around when threatened), and purse-case (a case of silk and fine sand).
  • Spotted Sedge Caddisflies are net-spinners.
  • According to Dave Hughes, trout probably eat more Caddis larvae than any of the other stages. Trout are likely to feed more selectively on pupae than on larvae or adult Caddisflies.
  • Caddisflies hatch about any time of the day. To be sure, the 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. window is usually a given. But I’ve fished in Caddis hatches between 8 a.m. and 9 a.m. and as late as dusk—both in the Upper Midwest and in the Intermountain West.

Effective Patterns for Caddisflies

  • Most fly fishers will concentrate on patterns that imitate the larva and the adult stages. But since Caddisflies (like Mayflies) can get “stuck” in their pupal shuck, the right pupa pattern can be effective.
  • It’s best to check your local fly shop for the best larva pattern to use since there is such a wide variety of Caddis larvae. Some of the more popular patterns include the Tan Caddis Larva and the Olive Caddis Larva (both with beadheads). I’ve also used a Beadhead Red Fox Squirrel Nymph successfully in the Yellowstone River in Montana.
  • Popular pupae patterns include the Deep Sparkle Pupa (either brown or yellow), the Krystal Flash Pupa, and the Beadhead Caddis Pupa. Fly shops will typically have a particular pattern that works well in the local waters.
  • The most famous of all the adult patterns is the Elk Hair Caddis. This fly has tan elk hair, although we’ve used patterns with the elk hair dyed black in the Driftless region of Wisconsin and Minnesota. The body of an Elk Hair Caddis will typically be tan or green or (in some instances) black.
  • The X-Caddis pattern, developed by Craig Matthews and John Juracek, is a great option for imitating adults which are caught in their pupal shuck.
  • often tie a bit of red or pink antron body wool on the top of my Elk Hair Caddis pattern (see the above photo) so that they are visible to me when surrounded by a dozen other Caddisflies in the current.
  • Sizes 12-18 are standard for all stages, although I’ve done the best over the years with sizes 14-16.

Other Entomology 101 Articles & Sources



    Sources: Dave Hughes, Craig Matthews, Jim Schollmeyer, Bob Granger

Best Fly Fishing Gear Developments in the Last Decade

fly fishing gear developments

Fly fishing gear has come a long way since I first started fly fishing in the late 1970s. Fiberglass rods have given way to graphite rods. Lightweight breathable fabric waders have replaced the body-hugging neoprene kind. Everything else from wading boots to reels reflect better technology. Fly fishing gear developments have made the sport a bit easier — if not more expensive.

Here are four noteworthy developments I’ve appreciated in the last decade or so. Some are arguably more significant than others. But each one makes the sport a bit easier for fly fishers — and even the fish we land.

4-piece fly rods

For years, two-piece fly rods were the standard. The first decent fly rod I purchased — an Orvis Silver Label — came in two pieces. The length wasn’t an issue except for backpacking trips to high mountain lakes.

Then, about the time I moved away from Montana, airline flights started charging for extra carry-ons. Thankfully, the four-piece rod became a thing about that time. Rod makers redesigned tapers and ferrules so that a four-piece rod performed as well as its two-piece counterpart.

Sure, some of the best casters can tell a difference between the way a two-piece and a four-piece rod handles. But most of us would be hard-pressed to figure out which is which if we did some casting with each one while blindfolded.

I am a big fan of the four-piece fly rod because its rod tube fits inside my suitcase. It also straps onto the side of my backpack frame without reaching into outer space.

Rubber nets

If you haven’t noticed, newer landing nets come with rubber netting. There are no strings attached.

This is a huge development for fish health for at least two reasons.

The first is obvious: Rubber nets flex, so they are less jarring to the fish than string nets. It resembles the difference between falling back onto your mattress (and the resulting bounce) and falling back onto your box springs (ouch!). Second, I suspect that rubber nets remove less mucus from a fish’s body than string nets do. That mucus is a vital protector of a fish’s skin.

Besides, I’ve noticed that the hook on my flies — especially the one the trout didn’t take on a two-fly rig — doesn’t get tangled in rubber webbing like it did in my stringed nets.

Foot Tractor Soles

Another great development was Patagonia’s Foot Tractor boot soles. There’s nothing like felt soles for traction on slippery rocks. But felt has fallen out of flavor (and is illegal in some watersheds) because of concerns about how it might trap microorganisms and transport them to the next river you fish.

However, before you rush out to buy a new pair of wading boots, you need to be aware of another new development. Patagonia’s Foot Tractors have retailed for the past few years at about $279. That price is hefty enough, but I could justify it for the sake of safety. Now Patagonia has collaborated with Danner Boots to produce a beautiful pair of leather wading boots with the patented Foot Tractor soles. But these boots retail at $549. Gulp!

Unfortunately, the “old” model is being phased out. You might want to buy the “old” model on closeout — if you can find them. I did that recently so I’ll have an affordable pair when my current pair of Foot Tractors wears out.

Zip-front Waders

I like this new development!

Admittedly, I haven’t purchased a pair of zip-front waders yet. But I’m going to consider them when my current waders wear out. Waders with a waterproof zipper make it easier to get in and out of them, as well as to answer the call of nature.

There is one downside. Yes, you guessed it—zip-front waters cost more than the traditional kind. However, I recently saw a pair of Cabela’s zippered waders for $149.

Honestly, fly fishers do not need every new gadget or model that shows up on the floor of a fly shop or the pages of an online store. But there are a few gear developments that make fly fishing a more satisfying experience — for both fly fishers and fish.

How Closely Should You Match the Hatch?

match the hatch

Whether you tie or buy your flies, it’s tempting to think that if you’re not catching fish, one reason may be that your fly does not match exactly what’s transpiring in the water column. However, the Law of Diminishing Returns seems to apply to how closely you need to match the actual insects. Here are six mostly true statements about matching the hatch:

1. Trout are not like us.

While there are days when I think my teenager may have a single digit IQ, it’s more likely true of trout. No doubt that big brown is wily, but its feeding pattern seems to be driven largely by an evolutionary algorithm that takes into account calories divided by energy. The numerator always needs to be greater than the denominator.

Ergo, the calories need to be worth the effort.

While we may worry that we don’t have the perfect fly for any given situation, the trout may be ignoring what we’re casting for a different reason other than it is not the exact bug that is rolling along the bottom, emerging or hatching on the surface.

2. Some flies work everywhere.

A wide variety of nymphs are highly effective anywhere where trout are found. That’s no surprise, I’m sure.

Just to name two old standby nymphs: the Pheasant Tail Nymph and the Gold Ribbed Hare’s Ear. These are just gold, pretty much in any cold-water fishery across the world.

And then there’s the trusty, old-and-tired Parachute Adams, your grandfather’s dun pattern. In various body colors, this fly can represent nearly all the mayflies, caddis, and midges that are emerging at the film, where the adult pulls itself free from the pupal skin.

The Parachute Adams is not sexy, but it works. Somehow, the trout find it strike-worthy even though it isn’t a perfect match to the BWOs that are popping.

3. Suggestion is more important than imitation.

In fly fishing, the “close enough” principle seems to be at work.

I’ve been surprised how even a Colorado fly like the H & L Variant, a high riding attractor pattern, fools trout on the Driftless streams in the Midwest. It can be used to imitate Green Drakes on the Frying Pan in Colorado as well as the Crane Fly (also known as “leather jackets,” “daddy-long-legs,” and “skeeter eaters”) in the Driftless.

Perfection is not the end game; catching fish is.

4. Color and size trump the perfect match to the hatch.

This morsel of fly fishing advice is as old as the river you’re fishing, but it holds true and is worth repeating:

If you’re not catching fish, try a smaller fly. Or change color. That’s especially true with dry flies, but it also is true of nymphs and emergers.

On one fly fishing trip, I couldn’t figure out how to catch browns on a stream in the Driftless region during a caddis hatch in early May. It’s not like I’d never catch a riser, but I’d land one or two when I thought I should have caught ten or more. I finally grabbed an adult caddis one morning and analyzed its coloring. It was largely black. Then I looked at what I was casting – a tan-bodied caddis pattern.


I picked up some black-bodied caddis later in the afternoon, and the next morning I was golden. Or at least more golden than I was the day earlier. I also dropped a size #18 Olive Serendipity about eight inches from my dry fly. The emerger seemed to work when the browns refused the adult caddis pattern.

5. Less is more, and more is more.

The knowledge that fish tend to prefer suggestion over imitation can help you simplify the number of patterns that you carry. Less is more as it relates to carrying all the possible flies for each hatch.

And more is more as it relates to color and size.

6. Some trout are more picky than others.

That’s certainly true on spring creeks, with even flows and temperatures, clear waters, and seemingly an unlimited food supply. You always need to refine your tackle and techniques when fishing on spring creeks.

Also, if your stream gets slammed during certain parts of the year, with fly fishers at every bend, fish seem to appreciate more precision or a different look.

Fly Fishing Entomology 101 – The Pale Morning Dun

Pale Morning Dun

We were getting ready to step out of the Owyhee River in eastern Oregon and head to our SUV when my son exclaimed, “Dad, there’s one of those pale flies!” He was right. I turned and watched a couple Pale Morning Duns flying near the opposite bank.

It was a late morning in July, and so we tied on a couple of “pale fly” patterns and caught a handful of 16-18 inch browns. Veteran fly fisher Dave Hughes says that Pale Morning Duns are the second most important mayflies for fly fishing — not far behind Blue-Winged Olives.

Here is a quick profile of this species.


  • “Pale Morning Dun” is commonly abbreviated as “PMD.”
  • There are two species of PMDs—inermis (the most numerous species) and infrequens. It is impossible to tell the two apart, but it really doesn’t matter to fly fishers.

The Basics

  • Like Blue Winged Olives, PMDs inhabit all kinds of rivers and streams in the western United States. You will find the heaviest populations in spring creeks and tailwaters.
  • PMD hatches are most prolific in June and July, although they appear in May and continue into August.
  • The best time of day for PMD hatches is late morning to early afternoon. While hatches can begin as early as 9 a.m., PMDs are more likely to emerge around 11 a.m. and continue into the afternoon—until 3 p.m. or so.

Nymph Stage

  • PMDs nymphs belong to the crawler group of mayflies.
  • PMDs in the nymph stage are poor swimmers. They are slow and rather feeble, drifting along the bottom for quite a distance before they reach the surface.
  • PMD nymphs have blocky bodies with a modest taper, and their color ranges from reddish brown to dark brown with a bit of an olive tint.

Adult Stage

  • As their name suggests, Pale Morning Duns have a pale-yellow colored body with yellow-gray (female) or pale gray (male) wings. They also have small hindwings.
  • PMD Duns tend to have trouble getting off the water. So they drift for long distances while their wings dry. Frequently, they get stuck in their shucks as cripples. They often flutter in an attempt to lift off, but then end up back on the surface of the river.
  • Once PMDs emerge and molt into the spinner stage, they mate. Both the spent males and females end up on the water’s surface.

Effective Patterns

  • The classic PMD nymph pattern is a Hare’s Ear in an olive-brown color. A Beadhead Fox Squirrel nymph works too.
  • For an emerger pattern, a PMD Floating Nymph/Emerger is best.
  • For the dun stage, Craig Matthew’s Pale Morning Sparkle Dun is my favorite. A burnt wing pattern (like the one pictured above) usually works well, too.
  • For the spinner stage, try a PMD Parachute Spinner or Pale Morning Quill Spinner.
  • PMD nymphs need to be in the size 16-18 range. PMD Dun and Spinner patterns should range between size 16 and 20.
  • One thing to keep in mind about PMD patterns: they all seem to look different in color, wing type, etc. – depending on the tyer.

Other Entomology 101 Articles & Sources


    Sources: Dave Hughes, Craig Matthews, Jim Schollmeyer

Why Fly Fishers Wear Waders When They Don’t Seem Necessary

fly fishers wear waders

Why do fly fishers wear waders when fishing a small creek on an 80-degree day?

I admit to doing an eye-roll when I’ve seen fly fishers do this. But as one of our podcast listeners recently reminded me, there are at least two good reasons for it. I added a couple more that came to mind. So here are four reasons you might want to wear chest waders even when they don’t seem necessary.

1. Ticks

Ticks spread Lyme Disease.

The US Center for Disease Control (CDC) estimates that 300,000 people a year get Lyme Disease. Most cases occur in the Northeast and upper Midwest. In fact, 14 states account for over 96% of cases reported to the CDC.

It makes sense that chest waders can provide an effective shield. Of course, long pants and long-sleeved shirts can help, too. But it’s possible that chest waders offer a bit more protection from a tick crawling up underneath your pants leg or untucked shirt and burrowing into your flesh.

2. Poison Ivy

I remember getting nasty rashes when I was a boy after tromping through the brush on my grandparents’ farm in Pennsylvania. The culprit was poison ivy.

Once again, a pair of long nylon pants and a long-sleeved might be sufficient. But waders might just be the ticket. If you know you’ve walked through poison ivy, be careful about grabbing the legs of your waders when you remove them!

3. Snakebites

I have a few friends who always wear waders when in rattlesnake or copperhead country. Sure, a venomous snake’s fangs could puncture your waders and sink into your calf. But it’s also possible the fangs could get caught in your baggy waders.

Honestly, I don’t know how effective this works — and I hope I never have to find out. But if you have had firsthand experience with waders preventing a snakebite, I’d love to hear from you.

4. Warmth

On a cold winter or spring day, chest waders are the ticket for staying warm. They provide an extra layer of insulation, and they are waterproof.

Do you think of any other reasons to wear chest waders when the temperature is so warm or the water is so shallow to make them unnecessary?

I don’t always wear chest waders when I’m fly fishing. But when I do, it’s for a good reason.

Does a Landing Net Make Sense for Small Trout?

landing net

A sign in the dentist’s office caught my attention: “You don’t need to floss all your teeth. Just the ones you want to keep.” I think something similar can be said about using a net to land trout: “You don’t need to net all the trout you catch. Just the ones you want to protect.”

Landing Nets Versus Barbless Hooks

I’m a big advocate for using a net for 12-20 inch trout. Some of the veteran fly fishers and guides I’ve talked to claim that using a net is more important for trout safety than using a barbless hook—especially since barbed hooks today have much less severe barbs than those of yesteryear.

A Confession

However, I have to confess that I’ve never bothered to take a net when I’m catching small trout of the little streams I fish in Colorado, Wisconsin, and Minnesota. By small, I’m referring to 8 to 11 inch trout.

Okay, perhaps I should say 6 to 11 inch trout!

In fact, I’ve even smirked inwardly at some anglers I’ve seen with nets clipped to the back of their vests on some of these small streams. Who needs a net to land an 8-inch brookie?! Or maybe the smirk was for wearing chest waders on an 80-degree day along a stream whose deepest run is three feet.

An Excuse to Buy More Gear

I repent, though.

I just ordered a Brodin Phantom Firehole Net. My old Brodin, which was made not far from where I used to live in Belgrade, Montana, has string netting. I wanted one with rubber netting since it’s much easier on trout. I have a Fishpond Nomad which works great for bigger trout. But that would be overkill for smaller trout.

At least that’s my excuse to make a new purchase.

The Brodin Phantom Firehole Net is only 23 inches long with a hoop that is 7 inches by 15 inches. That makes the handle 8 inches long. This will work nicely for small trout, and it would work in a pinch for a larger one.

An Obvious and Not-So-Obvious Benefit

One of the benefits of using a net for little trout is obvious. It prevents excessive handling of the trout. It also keeps them from flopping on boulder-lined banks. Even (or especially) smaller fish are not indestructible.

But there is another not-so-obvious benefit:

It’s the habit and skill this will form. If I commit to using a net every time I fly fish, then it will become a habit. Furthermore, there is a skill (maybe even an art) to landing trout. The more practice I get, the better I get—assuming that I’m using the right techniques (lifting up the net rather than stabbing at the fish, lifting my rod when I’m about the land the fish, etc.).

The next time you see me toting a net on a small stream, please don’t smirk. Or if you do, make sure it’s not because I’m using a net for small trout. You can shake your head or roll your eyes because I’ve justified yet another fly fishing gear purchase.

Fly Fishing Entomology 101 – Blue-Winged Olive

Veteran fly fisher Dave Hughes claims that Blue-Winged Olives are the most important mayflies for fly fishing. I believe he is right. Trout seem to feed on them with the same intensity that kids (and adults!) eat popcorn. Here is a quick profile of this species:


  • “Blue-Winged Olive” is commonly abbreviated as “BWO.”
  • BWOs are also known as “Little Olives.”
  • The Latin name for BWOs is Baetis. Technically, the BWO is a sub-species of Baetis, but many fly fishers use “BWO” and Baetis as synonyms.

The Basics

  • These flies are ubiquitous. You will find them in slow, medium, and fast currents. They live in freestone rivers, spring creeks, and tailwaters.
  • Although BWO hatches happen every month, they are most prolific in April-May and again in September-October.
  • The best time of day for BWO hatches is late morning to early afternoon — the warmest part of the day. Cloudy, rainy conditions intensify and lengthen these hatches.

Nymph Stage

  • While BWOs in the nymph stage are excellent swimmers, they tend to drift with little or no movement.
  • BWO nymphs have slender, tapered bodies which some fly fishers describe as “torpedo-shaped.” Their color ranges from olive to dark brown.
  • BWO nymphs have two long antennae and three tails—with the center tail considerably shorter than the outer two.

Adult Stage

  • The most prominent feature of a BWO dun (newly hatched adult) is its large wings in comparison with the rest of its body. The wing color varies from a pale gray to a dark gray with a bluish tint — hence the name “Blue Winged Olive.”
  • BWO duns ride the surface of the current for up to twenty feet until their wings dry and they can fly. Also, some BWOs get stuck in an “emerger” phase while they are trying to scape their nymphal shuck.
  • A fully mature BWO adult is called a “spinner.” Within twelve hours of emerging to the surface and flying to streamside bushes or brush, the sexually mature BWOs mate in swarms near the edge of a river or stream. So trout typically feed on BWO spinners in slower water near the river’s edge.

Effective Patterns

  • The classic BWO nymph pattern is a Pheasant Tail (or some variation of it).
  • One of the best emerger patterns is Craig Matthews’ Little Olive Sparkle Dun.
  • For the dun stage, a Parachute Adams will often work as well as a Parachute BWO. If the trout are not hitting one of these standard patterns, then switch to a Red Quill Spinner or a Blue Quill Spinner.
  • Hook sizes for BWOs will range between 16 and 24. However, a size 18 or 20 usually does the trick.

Sources: Bob Granger, Dave Hughes, Craig Matthews, Jim Schollmeyer

Nick Lyons on Life and Fly Fishing

life and fly fishing

Nick Lyons’ book, Spring Creek, is a masterpiece.

Here are some of his more reflective quotes. Each one makes me pause and ponder a bit more deeply about life and fly fishing. And about how the two intersect.

How many fish make a good day

“I’m always astounded when I read of someone catching forty, fifty, sixty trout in an afternoon, ten of them over such-and-such size. Why? Why continue? A few good fish make a day. More make an orgy. A flurry of fish-catching satisfies me completely. I don’t want to catch every fish in the river. I don’t want to “beat” my companion. I don’t want to break records.”

The newness of familiar water

“I never went to Spring Creek without seeing something new.”

Why life should be like a riverbank

“At times I have wished life as simple as this riverbank — the world a logical structure of bend, current, riffle, and pool, the drama already unfolding on the glassy surface, and me, here on the bank, armed with some simple lovely balanced tools and some knowledge, prepared to become part of it for a few moments.”

What he wants his writing to achieve

“I’d like the stew to be rich enough to catch some of the stillness, complexity, joy, fierce intensity, frustration, practicality, hilarity, fascination, satisfaction that I find in fly fishing.

“I’d like it to be fun, because fly fishing is fun—not ever so serious and self-conscious that I take it to be either a religion or a way of life, or a source of salvation. I like it passionately but I try to remember what Cezanne once said after a happy day of fishing: he’d had lots of fun, but it “doesn’t lead far.”

Why trout fishing is not enough

“I would like to be here for weeks, even months, but I could not live all my life in trout country. I have other fish to fry and, difficult as that other world might be, I’d rather be in the thick of it, blasted by its terrors, than sit outside and snipe. If all the year were holidays, to sport would be as tedious as to work—and I have rarely found work tedious.”

How trout fishing benefits your life

“Tough fishing stretches you, provides you with skills and confidence for a thousand lesser moments–and it eggs you on to take great chances. It’s not just courage that’s required, of course, but some knowledge of the kinds of major tactics that can be necessary on a trout stream, and then a perfection of the skills needed to enact them.”

The Wit and Wisdom of Nick Lyons

wisdom of Nick Lyons

One of the finest fly fishing books in the last three decades is Spring Creek by Nick Lyons.

It offers an account of 31 days Lyons spent on a spring creek in Montana. He originally published it in 1992. The writing is vivid and crisp, and it is full of wit and wisdom. Here are a few gems from the book that will make you smile and reminisce about your own fly fishing experiences. Enjoy!

First, though, a public service announcement: you may not be able to stop laughing after you read the final gem in the collection below!

How fly fishing resembles a tennis court

“Fly fishing is both a restriction (like putting up a net and outlining a court, so two tennis players don’t just smash a ball at each other, wantonly) and an opener of new worlds.”

The difference between spinning and fly fishing

“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.”

But Lyons has a tongue-in-cheek answer

“One cannot get enough equipment: seven rods are not enough; three thousand flies do not quite serve all possible contingencies. One cannot study entomology hard enough, read enough magazines and books. Marketers of such stuff call this an “information-intensive” period; I think the novice is just gut-hooked and loony.

“There’s so much to learn: plop casts and reach casts, subtler stream reading, twenty-seven different knots, wading techniques, insect cycles, ninety-three new fly patterns “you can’t do without,” new hot spots, new techniques … of which there are as many as rocks in a stream. By comparison, spinning is one-dimensional: it bypasses virtually all that makes fly fishing a joy and a consummate challenge, and it leaps solely to the catching of trout, which it does very well, but with a limited number of necessary options.”

The calming effect of the river

“I had come to the river full of tension and Saint Vitas’s dance, but by the end of the first week, the rush, the fret, the wolf, the tooth of the world began to slip away, over the bench past the far range of snow-capped mountain ranges, into left field.

“My eyes and ears began to catch more and more: the muskrat, the sparrow, the bald eagle, the white-tailed deer, the great wealth of wild things in this valley, which the two of us fished alone. But mostly I watched the water and listened to the water.”

A float tuber’s worst nightmare

“A friend, fishing from a float tube, was once blown across an arm of Hebgen Lake by heavy wind; he ended in a tangle of brush on the opposite shore and was contemplating the long walk back, around the arm, in flippers or bare feet, when he saw a helicopter descending in the nearby field.

“He began to call to them but then noticed that they were depositing something from a scrotumlike net beneath the plane. It was only a rogue grizzly — and my friend was persuaded to hide in the brush for an hour or so, until the wind died down, and then head back across the lake.”

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