Wednesday 16th April, 2008
From the pages of the book of the same name, by G.M. La Branche...
"When the boulders in a stretch are irregularly scattered, the course of the current being deflected by them so that the water twists and turns to escape the obstacles in its path, each one may harbor a good fish. Not one of them should escape the attention of the angler. Even those which appear to be in shallow water are worth of consideration and sometimes yield large fish. The eddies behind them may be fished as much as he pleases, but he should not forget that on the up-stream side the greater number of fish will be found. He should avoid haste, and also the conclusion that because a fish is not risen in one spot there is none occupying it. If by carelessness, he drives out a fish, his chance of taking one higher up in the same stretch is jeopardized."
This eloquent passage, penned in the early years of the last century, is as pertinent today as it was when few had ever considered approaching such water with the dry fly. A revolutionary approach in La Branche's day, the dry fly and fast water has become a way of life for a subset of anglers. This is especially so in the Rockies, where there is no shortage of water that fits the above description. From tiny creeks to huge, brawling rivers, if there is one type of water that defines the Rockies, it is pocket water.
A dozen years ago I was living out of my truck along the Madison River. Every day was a new adventure. I devoted hours of each day to learning and practicing the tricks of fishing the dry fly in brawling pocket water. I'd been exposed tot he approach by my angling mentors at a young age, but never felt all that comfortable with the techniques. I'd never heard of La Branche then, and only came to know his words recently, but once read it was as if I knew him all along. By the end of the second summer on the Madison I was getting pretty good at the game. I had learned some key lessons about the river that La Branche had discovered long ago. Big fish, especially big browns, will hold in surprisingly shallow water if undisturbed, even in the midday sun. And, the up-stream sides of the boulders are where the magic happens. Knowing where the fish are is part of it. Learning the drifts is the other part, and that only came with time.
Back then, there were a lot fewer anglers on the river. It seemed to me that a higher percentage of them back then fished dries and understood how to fish them in fast and broken pocket water. Now when I go back to my home waters in the Rockies, all I see is guys lobbing indicators and beadheads. The rare angler that I see fishing dries well in fast water is inevitably a throwback to that older era.
I wonder why this is? I'm sure that it is partly because the casual or beginning angler will find success more quickly with the beadheads. It's certainly not because nymphing is easier to master than the dry fly approach. Are there other reasons? Is it just a matter of everyone blindly following the leader? Someone should start a thread on this.
I know a relative few anglers who regularly take large trout on dries (regardless of insect activity), and watching them fish is a pleasure. They seem to become a part of the river, fishing more like a heron with unwavering focus, when compared to the upright posture and awkward wading of many of the indicator guys. I like the style, and that is typically how I choose to fish. When I fish nymphs I often lose the indicators and fish the same approach as I do with dries, looking for a flash in the subsurface or a twitch of the line to indicate a strike.
This might not be the best approach all the time, but it's a fine way to approach fast water, and one of my favorites. Until/unless more of today's anglers catch on, I think I'll just keep on believing that it's my little secret. Hopefully George would be proud.
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