“Nothing new under the sun” is often a common human sentiment after a few decades on the planet.
While it applies to most of humankind’s endeavors, I tend to have a little better clarity using a more finite lens.
When you spend a lifetime around the outdoor recreation industry, it’s pretty evident just how apropos the statement really is.
Whether the skiing, rock climbing, mountain biking or fly fishing worlds we’re talking about, the truth of the experience can be enhanced by new technology, but the fundamental reasons for doing it stay constant.
For example, skis have never been easier to turn, boots fit better, bindings are safer and helmets are the norm.
Yet, the sport is still turn to the right, turn to the left, repeat. And the rewards are exercise, wellbeing and adrenaline.
Same as it ever was.
Well, except that the new gear (and modern orthopedic surgery) is allowing me to ski like a lunatic far longer than thought possible.
Fly fishing sees the same flights of rediscovery, aided by new materials and innovations.
Now, some of this can be traced to economics. It is deemed essential to market “New and Improved” anything to keep a business flourishing. What’s of interest is seeing the repackaging used to hype the latest and greatest “new” techniques and gear, when it is anything but new.
A recent trend (since 1981) in fly fishing has been staging competitive events to create national teams, which compete in various countries, culminating in a World Championship.
The events are staged over several days, with a point system for sizes and numbers of fish caught and released determining the winner.
While I can confess to believing that making this a competitive sport misses the point entirely, it is also easy to see the benefit of all competition- innovation.
Now, since the real object of competing is to WIN, this would lead one to use the most effective form of catching salmonids, like trout.
As mentioned before, up to 90% of a trout’s diet are immature aquatic insects imitated with sinking flies generally called “Nymphs”. Obviously, missing opportunities to hook fish would be a liability.
This has led to a whole new list of terms to vaguely describe the techniques and gear used by the various proponents.
Since the competitive thing was largely started in Europe, these names often have an association with the country claiming to have invented it. Czech-nymphing, Polish-nymphing, French-style or Spanish technique are all used to describe, in nationalistic terms, the subtle differences in the recognized tactics of what is now called “Euro-nymphing” by the angling tribe.
A good synonym for “Euro-nymphing” is tight-line nymphing, which has a long history.
It is the single most effective technique for fishing moving rivers and streams in our state.
It is ideal for winter and tailwater angling. It can be practiced with any fly rod setup, not just the new “Euro” specific rods.
A significant percentage of our tribe, when presented with the evidence of the effectiveness of these tactics and the arrival of new gear to better practice it, uttered a collective “Ooooooooooo” and the drive to learn the method was on. And remains on.
Christmas lists were amended, new gear accumulated, seminars attended and successes duly chronicled on social media for all to admire.
Tongue out of cheek for a moment, it was an easy thing for me to invest in and I find the new gear to be very effective and fun.
Once a level of skill has been developed, it vacuums up trout like few other techniques.
Little wonder that it is the style of choice in the competitions.
It is now part of what we offer our guests, with many of our guides very adept at the practice and instruction.
It offers much to enjoy and the only issue I have with it, is the word new. And this returns me to the original topic.
In the mid-1970s, it was my good fortune to be in the Aspen-Roaring Fork valley and working for a couple of gentlemen, Chuck Fothergill (owner of the Outdoor Sportsman) and his manager, George Odier.
They had mastered a technique ideally suited to the steep gradient, deep runs and preferred feeding zones of the Roaring Fork’s fish.
The first of the new Scott 9’ graphite rods were in their hands, giving them longer reach and better line control.
By using stiff leaders and supple tippet sections they were able to add as much weight as needed to get their unweighted fly (yes, we only used one back then) to the appropriate depth and lead the rig through the strike zone, as close to the real current speed as possible.
This no-slack, tight-line approach allowed them to feel – rather than see – the strike and it was deadly efficient.
One morning on the Fryingpan, I sat and watched the two of them catch and release over 60 fish in a 150-yard stretch.
They relied completely on the tight-line, or outrigger technique as it was dubbed by Lefty Kreh.
Leap ahead to the 2020s, and what has changed is the gear.
Nine-foot, 5-weight rods have been replaced by 10-11 inch, 3wt rods.
Indicators (or bobbers/floats) are exchanged for a sighter or brightly colored portion of leader.
We fish with multiple flies now(again), but the heavy fly serves as weight and goes at the end of the leader system and the smaller flies are on tags or droppers above them.
The strike is still more often detected by feel than sight when going Euro. And it can be a hell of a lot of fun.
And that’s because the fundamentals of a careful approach, a good first cast, good line control equals a good drift, and nymphs are 90% of the fishes diet never seems to go out of style.
Happy New Year to all, bundle up and get out there!
Andrews is head guide for ArkAnglers fly fishing guide service and an internationally recognized artist.