Fly Fishing Truth: It Depends

The moment of truth: a bent rod and the fly in the air: Steve Dally image


If all fishermen are loose with the truth, then fly fishers must be the spin doctors: professional grade moulders of reality. Where empty-handed baitfishers head home, smelling of beer and worms and laden with excuses, we adorn ourselves with small-batch, bourbon-scented theories.

Truth in fly fishing is more malleable than any flat-bill, as ephemeral as the foam on a craft IPA. Truth in fly fishing depends where you stand and we are wading the River Post Modern.

If trout were as sharp-eyed, canny and  sophisticated as we make them out to be surely they may notice the hunk of steel emerging, like an alien probe, from the nether regions of our imitations.

Our spotted idols, selective in their tastes, wouldn’t fall for Velveeta, Jolly Green Giant or Squirmitos, instead preferring the dry fly upstream.

Trout, according to the ruminations of fly fishing writers, live in a world of black and white, where rules are followed and nevermind the grey. Trout eat bugs when and how they are supposed to and of course for reasons known absolutely to the scribe.

I once read that asking an economist for business advice was like seeing help from a sex therapist who didn’t know any women. I can’t help but wonder which fly fishing writers have met many fish.

In truth writers are a cursed lot, by choice or circumstance, in adopting a career which demands building a concrete article from cotton candy. Magazine editors and book publishers have never signed a check for an article containing the words “It Depends” or “Maybe”.

Black and white sells. Like presidential candidates the mantra is to ignore the real question and deliver the answer of the day, firmly and with absolute conviction: say it often enough and strongly enough and some will believe you.

As a fly fisher, knowing the right question is challenge enough, let alone sifting answers from the forests sacrificed in the name of spin.

In my first season of fly fishing, now a couple of decades ago, I beat to a foam a less than secret little freestone which tumbled out of a temperate rainforest valley onto a grassy floodplain. It was full of ebullient jewel-like trout of little wisdom, and the occassional bully hiding under a cut bank till the tourists had gone home.

I could see fish, plenty of fish, usually the aft end heading away from this strange creature wrapped in flyline, flailing arms and muttering curses. No matter which bank I was standing on,  there was little doubt I was on the wrong side of a fine line.

My question was why wasn’t I catching more fish, when greater wisdom would have asked what minor miracle was allowing my rudimentary skills to catch any at all.

So I turned to the growing pile of knowledge I was accumulating monthly, with all the weary cynicism and disbelief of a lab pup on a slab of bacon. “Long leaders are the answer to tricky trout” proclaimed the cover.

“Well if 9′ was good, then twice that length ought to be twice as good, surely?”

I armed myself with the conviction of a true believer:

  • Not withstanding the fact I had recently twice failed to get from my parked vehicle, across the bridge, and through the field to my favored stretch of river without having to totally rebuild a leader.
  • Notwithstanding the fact that 9′ of tippet could not be cast by Lefty himself;
  • Not withstanding the fact that an 1ˋ8′ leader out of a 9′ rod would reach from dry land to dry land across this little stream.

No I had faith, I had the answer.

When I landed at the stream another vehicle was already there, and I could see a figure following my normal beat. Little Harm I thought, I hadn’t explored as much downstream.

My previous outings in mind, I carefully looped the leader in my left hand in preparation for the walk, and climbed the stile over the barbed wire fence, into the field. For those unfamiliar a stile is a, normally rudimentary wooden ladder, to allow fence crossings.

On the way down I felt the dramatic tug, as I had unawares caught half of the loops on the framework of the stile, and now my left fist was enmeshed in a monofilament mitten.

Attempting the stoicism of Seneca, and with similar success, I wandered along the narrow trail through the tall grass, absorbed by the Gordian nature of the problem in my left hand. I kicked a stick: black, unmoving it lay across my instep, indistinct in my peripheral vision as I worked at the snarl.

Loops and twists, they are the foundation of every upended and far-shortened leader, though it would take me years and 10,000 miles to appreciate their personalities. No snarl gets beaten without singular concentration and application.

I breathed a sigh of relief some indeterminate time later now where did that stick go?

Vanishing sticks or Tiger Snakes love the places that fly fishers do, warm sunny banks and cool clear water, fertile and beautiful. Tigers like frogs and birds, lizards and fish.   By most measures Tiger Snakes are ranked in the top 5 deadliest anywhere and they really don’t like being trod on.

This one left me a fang scar across my boot  as a reminder, a drop of venom sparkling like deadly dew, and a conviction that one should take everything you read with a grain of salt.


It Depends.

Steve Dally


Editor’s Note: Steve Dally has been writing for varying amount of cash for 30 years, over half of it about fly fishing. We take his utterances with a grain of salt and tongue in cheek too.





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