Featured image by Ryan Kelly. Follow him on Instagram @GreenRiverFlyFisher.
Summer is winding to a close here in the Rockies. As I sit and write this from the second story of a nondescript building along Utah’s Wasatch Front, I can see the orange, red, pink, and gold oak leaves carpeting the mountains that have defined my home since my earliest memories. The mornings are colder, the days shorter, and most notably, the last of the great dry fly hatches are starting. I’m hearing of October caddis out in Eastern Utah, blue-winged olives on the Lower Provo, and scattered pale morning duns on most any given river. Hopper season is finally here, though I feel it’ll be short-lived.
Fall is easily my favorite season in which to fish. There’s not much better than mornings so cold the air seems to sear its way down your throat as you hike through willows and cheatgrass encrusted in frost. The summer heat is debilitating, but the fall chill is invigorating. If anything, it reminds a watchful observer that life exists only tenuously, especially in the Rockies where the warm seasons are so short.
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However, what’s on my mind more than the arrival of fall is that this fall promises to be decidedly different – from a fly fishing perspective – than any other.
Normally at this point in September I’m tying up the last of my October caddis and blue-winged olive patterns, and turning my vise time to nymphs. Once the first freeze arrives, I’ll tie midges, but after that my fly fishing has historically been dominated with egg patterns and tiny nymphs. Last fall, I pulled a 15-inch rainbow out of the Lower Provo River on 8.5x tippet with a size 26 midge larva.
But this fall won’t be defined by big fish caught on small nymphs, if only because I don’t know how often I’ll fish them.
You see, earlier this year (around May, I believe) I was fortunate enough to buy a few incredible fly rods. Two are vintage Winstons – an IM6 3wt and a Fisher-rolled pre-IM6 4wt – and one’s the sought-after Tom Morgan Favorite. The rods beg to fished with dries, and I’ve obliged their demands.
Now, my good friend Ryan (whose writing here at Trout Life is a breath of fresh air from my pontificating) is largely to blame for the obsession with both dry flies and Winston fly rods. However, after fishing with him in mid-June, I realized how much work my dry fly game needed. Ryan thoroughly out fished me, so like any angler worth their favorite rod, I decided that wouldn’t be the case the next time we fish together.
So I quit tying nymphs and filled my boxes with dries.
At this point I suppose I should note that I didn’t make the choice to fish dries only out of some faulty thought that dry flies are a superior fishing method to nymphs. In fact, I even broke my resolve this summer and learned to Euro nymph. However, aside from those outings, I focused on my dry fly fishing because I saw it as a skill that needed improving.
As you can imagine, the summer got off to a rocky start. I’m so used to leaning on the dry-dropper crutch that forcing myself to depend on just one dry fly ended up a far bigger learning curve than I anticipated. I had a lot more one or two fish days, and more skunks than an absolutely average angler such as myself is used to.
However, in the past few weeks I’ve seen the dividends of my dedication begin to pay off. Well, it’s either that or I’ve actually become a slightly better dry fly angler. Although, I suppose it’s important to consider that maybe the fish are simply more stupid and/or hungry. Both explanations are entirely plausible though I believe the truth, as always, lies in the middle.
Regardless, the fact of the matter is this: After a summer spent fishing dry flies, I’ve become so accustomed to that style of fishing I’m not sure I want to go back to nymphs.
There’s a general consensus among anglers that watching trout eat dries – and being on the other end of that experience with a rod and reel in hand – is nothing short of pure magic. That’s why we’ll tie on size 24 midges when it breaks 30 degrees in January and the slightest midge hatch starts. Fishing dries isn’t some holier-than-thou art form; it’s just plain fun.
Nymphs are a blast as well. Some of my best days of fishing owe a large debt to egg patterns and strike indicators, though I suspect Euro nymphing will replace bobbers this year. But there’s something cerebral about dry fly fishing that’s more aesthetically pleasing than simply watching a bobber dive under the water, or a hi-vis leader stopping in place.
And, I’m not sure my dry fly skills, scant and rudimentary as they are, can take another fall and winter with only sparse use. If I want any of my newfound skill with dries to stay sharp, I can’t put down the dry fly rods for nymphing ones.
I’m not sure how long my resolve will hold out, but I’m fairly confident my dry fly summer will give way to a dry fly winter.
Spencer is a fly fishing writer and novelist from Utah. His latest novel, Learning to Fly, is on sale now at Amazon. Connect with him on Twitter @Spencer_Durrant or on Facebook @spencerdurrantauthor.