Movies tend to romanticize the fly fishing experience. The natural beauty, the sound of the rushing river, and the rhythmic motion of the cast – all conspire to create an image of tranquility. The entire experience appears to be one speed: slow motion. But when you’re at the river’s edge, it’s not slow motion.
The reality, though, is that there are at least three speeds to fly fishing: go, slow, and stop. In the spirit of the stoplight, green means go, yellow means slow, and red means stop! In this post, I identify nine fly fishing moments that require one or more of these three speeds.
1. Before you step into the river to flyfish – RED
As you approach the river, stop a few yards before the river’s edge. Observe. Even if you’re wading into the river at a public access area, don’t simply traipse into the water and move upstream (or downstream). Wait a few minutes. Do you see any fish rising? Is the stream or river lower? Higher? Do you see any insects in the air or on the water?
Start your fly fishing with a modicum of observation.
2. After you fish for 15 minutes – GREEN
Beginner fly fishers tend to find a decent run and cast in the same spot for hours. Unless you are working a steelhead run in a larger river, most likely you need to move to the next run more quickly than you are.
After ten to fifteen minutes, move to the next run. Truly. Don’t keep flailing the pool or run. Just move on. If there is another fly fisher in the run in front of you, go around him or her – perhaps to a stretch of river that is several runs ahead of him or her. There are exceptions to every rule, but in general, green means go when you are fly fishing in smaller streams and rivers.
3. Approaching your next run – YELLOW
This is a corollary to #1 and #2. Most stretches of rivers do not have unlimited runs – ergo, places where the trout lie. Treat each run like the treasure that it is. Don’t just step into the river and begin slinging.
Slow down to look for rising trout. Check to see if you are casting a shadow over the run you’re trying to fish. Don’t waste the opportunity that is in front of you. Be methodical as you fish. Act as if every run is the last run of the day.
4. Tying knots – YELLOW
It’s tempting to cave in to your excitement (or anxiety) to get back to fly fishing after you have snapped off your fly. Don’t. Slow down and tie a good knot. Make sure you haven’t weakened the monofilament when you tightened the knot.
5. Reeling in fish – GREEN and YELLOW
This requires two speeds. The time you hook the fish to the time you release it is crucial to its survival. Never should you “play” the fish. It’s green all the way. The goal is always to release the fish as fast as you can.
However, if you hook a large fish, you will suddenly realize the impossibility of simply cranking in the fish. You’ll need to slow down to work your drag, pull the fish from side to side to wear it out, and move downstream to a shallow part of the river to net it.
If you want to catch a large brown trout on your three-pound tippet, you’ll need to slow down.
6. Wading – YELLOW
Nothing good comes from trying to move through the river quickly, even in slower moving streams. Speed increases your risk of falling. Slow down to enjoy the experience and to preserve your life.
7. After you see lightning or hear thunder – RED and GREEN
This is patently obvious, but you’ll want to stop (“red”) fly fishing and run (“green”) to find a low spot (not under a tree!). Make sure you leave your fly rod in a safe place but a good many yards away from you. Or your Winston rod may become a lightning rod!
8. When you encounter a bison or moose or grizzly – RED
It’s never a good idea to saunter up to any wild animal or even to run away from a startling encounter. Stop. Maybe even curl up into the fetal position if the wild encounter is a grizzly bear. Hopefully, you have a canister of bear spray around your waist. Some say it works on even on other wild animals.
9. After a great day on the river – GREEN
Green means go to the nearest supper club or rib and chop house. Go with a cold beverage, and go with the largest rib-eye on the menu.