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Is it the Fly?

Posted on November 16 2010

The fly in question.  Photo: Beau Purvis
The fly in question. Photo: Beau Purvis

Thanks to Beau Purvis for today’s post on confidence, fly selection and more, all told through the lens of steelhead fishing on the Dean.

Beau’s a super photographer – we’ve covered his stuff our our site before.  Today, though, flies and confidence!

Thanks, Beau.

Is It The Fly?

The other day I was reading my good buddy Dec Hogan’s post on this site titled “When Everything Comes Together“.  You should read it as well.   The quotes ‘confidence in your line and fly is the most important thing’ …’the trick is to have the experience on which to base that confidence’ … ‘My fly does work!’ … came together for me and kindled the idea for me to write this post.

When I arrived at the camp on the lower Dean on my favorite week in late August I hurriedly unpacked, grabbed a bit of food, signed my license, wadered up, strung up and topped it all off with a wonderful orange intruder type creation I grabbed from a handful of duplicates I had tied for this trip. I had high expectations for them!

We have the afternoon and early evening to fish – let’s go!

When we arrived at the boat the conversation centered on who wanted to go where.  We were all repeats and all had our favorites.   I could not help but noticed Cutbank appeared to be open as I peeked between trees and limbs from a crouch and stretched up on my tip toes.  Yep, looked open.  I informed Dave and Bob that I would just walk down to the top and start there.  They all know I really love Cutbank.  I touch the majority of my fish there.  Some don’t cherish it.  Maybe it is because the bank and its boulders on the water line can snatch your D loop.  They can especially if you are doing doubles.  But, with the usual prevailing afternoon upriver wind from the Dean Channel,  it is perfect for my cackhanded snap T off my upriver shoulder.  That is, by far, my signature, go-to cast.  The rocks rarely mess with my D loop.  The main reason is that because of the curve in the shore line there is more distance on your upriver side.  I jumped at the chance to start my week in my favorite run and quickly rushed to it as the Dick Blewett designed and constructed jet boat began to disperse the rest of my group.

After just a few casts and stepdowns, I began to be aware that the river level and color was visually the best I had seen.  A few more swings and I noticed that the bottom cobble and its management of that wonderful color made me think its holding capacity was tremendous.  My brain was going into ‘LaLa Land’ with delirious delight during each cast…and building! “I have never seen it this perfect” permeated my brain and well as my entire body.  I was super pumped! In the groove! Being the fly! Yada Yada.

Well! At pickup time I was the last.  I joined a very giddy, smiley, laughing, loud group.  No down faces.  I think the worst rod may have been 4 hooked – for a fraction of a day!  Brad didn’t know any better and skated up a few. He was used to fishing up river and didn’t know it did not work much down below the canyon.  What? Who, me? Not a touch! Totally smoked by everyone.  No place to hide.

Was it the fly? Couldn’t be the ‘line’ that Dec included with the ‘fly’. Hell no! Brad stuck ’em on the surface! The other guys had the usual …popsicles, Quigleys…was it the fly? Is that not the first conclusion we jump on?  Then, was it me? I fished the run as I always do.

The next morning we all arrived at the boat.  Cutbank was open again.  I still had my questionable orange ‘sort of intruder’ on my rig. I had to know if it was the villain.  Only one way to do that! I have to have the guts to keep my rig exactly as it was yesterday and do nothing different.  That’s the way I think, and I am willing to be blanked again in the name of research. That’s what I did. I walked down and repeated what I did ‘exactly’ yesterday.

I had about 10 casts left in my version of fishing Cutbank when Bob Clay cruised up in the boat.  I had hooked 8 steel for the morning on my “wonderful [again] orange” fly.  He talked me into joining the group for lunch break.  But, only on the condition that he drop me back in exactly where he plucked me out.  Some years right in the beginning of the rapids break from Cutbank to Tony’s there are a few tiny pockets right in the beginning of the hard flow that are soft.  I have, at times, hooked a few fish in these.  I told Bob “there are 3 more fish in this tail, Bob!  Have to be.  He did drop me off there.  I did hook 3 more fabulous fish there.  I should have said 5, since every wish was being granted this day!

Back to the beginning of this missive.  Remember the Dec quote…”The trick is to have the experience on which to have that confidence”.  I wavered a bit.  A giddy bunch that smoked me on day one can shake anyone.  Even though I have tons of experience! But I did take the “I have to know” route.  I did go with trusting my experience.  Why not?  It was an orange fly.  The Dean fish usually love them on bright sunny days.  It had gobs of swimming action. It was a no brainer!

The big bad black.  Photo: Beau Purvis
The big bad black fly. Photo: Beau Purvis

A couple of days later.  Lots of fish hooked.  Confidence high in the sky!  We had a boat full of tired, lucky, happy fishermen heading for the lodge.  Done for the day.  I looked over at the bottom third of Cutbank.  It was seductively covered in shade.  I signaled Dave to drop me off.  I’d walk to the lodge.  It had to have some eager fish.  I could not resist its pull.  The first thing I did was to switch my fly. WHY? My “confidence” was overflowing now!  And, my “experience” whispered to me… “Dark shade…put on the big bad black fly”.  I walked back to the lodge enjoying the satisfaction of three more fish from Cutbank! On the black!

My group of six hooked 220 some steelhead that week!  Obviously I probably would have done just as well by switching out the orange on the 2nd day and standing on my head the whole time.  Stupid good!  But, I would not know.  And I would still doubt that fly. I know!

It wasn’t the fly.

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