Wednesday, April 21, 2010
Nymphing the Shelton Laurel
I don’t know how they do it. How do trout even see these tiny, tiny flies, bouncing through turbulent water along with sand, vegetation, rock debris, and all sorts of other distractions? And not only do they see them, but, in the chaos, are able to snatch them neatly for dinner. It’s a wonder to me and seems akin to my being able to snatch individual gnats out of the air while in a tornado.
I’ve been lamenting the inconsistency in my trout catching results all season and I know that the major hurdle has been my failure to embrace nymphing – the technique of fishing with tiny flies that imitate the larvae of stream dwelling insects. So John’s invitation to revisit his Trout Shack, a short roll cast away from some perfect pocket water on the Shelton Laurel Creek, seemed like a great opportunity to address that shortcoming. No woolly buggers allowed. It was nymphs or nothing for a couple of days.
The trip from Pittsboro to Madison County, hard on the Tennessee border, onetime rugged safe haven for Confederate and Union deserters alike, was late and long but I knew I was closing in on my destination when I began turning onto dirt roads named Stonefly Road, Blue Quill Lane, and Caddis Court. Despite the late hour, I arrived to my favorite beer and a warm shack, a perfect step-off point for a fine fishing experience. Thanks to John’s fine hospitality, sleep came quick and easy, despite my leaky air mattress.
Our plan was to fish all day Friday and a couple of hours Saturday morning, so, wasting no time, we were on the stream shortly after the sun started peeking over the ridge. True to my commitment, I rigged my 4wt CPS with a Prince John tandem – a nine-foot, tapered 6X leader with a #14 prince nymph twenty inches over a smaller copper john, some split shot between them to get them to the bottom of the stream quickly, and a small football strike indicator to help me have a clue as to what is going on as the flies tumble freely down the stream. I’d done some homework in preparation for this endeavor – the internet is a wonderful thing - but it’s different when you actually tie the knots.
I learned quickly that this arrangement becomes a tangled disaster with very little effort. Wind knots can’t compare to the bird’s nests this rig can make. Great care in line management would be required or I was going to be spending my entire day unbraiding monofilament messes, not fishing. But the risk would prove to be worth the reward.
We started about a half-mile up stream and our way worked back, figuring to break for lunch as we returned to the cabin, and along the outer edge of a small oxbow, in a small eddy protected by poplar roots, I took my first trout on a nymph. It was a fine twelve-inch brookie and was followed, on the very next drift, by a similar sized rainbow from the same seam.
And that pattern repeated throughout the morning on the Laurel Shelton and that afternoon, further south, on the Big Laurel - brook trout and rainbows, in approximately a two to one ratio. It was interesting that the brookies typically took the prince nymph while the rainbows appeared to prefer the copper john. Pattern preference? Position preference? I don’t know, and probably never will.
I wonder what a brown trout likes.
Fishing with a nymph does not evoke the romantic A River Runs Through It picture of fly fishing. No pretty false casts with lots of beautifully flowing line in the air. Nymphing is, to a degree, fishing with a damned expensive cane pole. Tom Sawyer would understand it. It’s up close, high sticking, keeping line out of the water to limit fly drag, and it makes your arm tired. It isn’t pretty, but it certainly catches fish when nothing else will.
Now, I do admit that as the light began to fail Friday evening, I tried a white woolly, just to make sure the fish could see my offers, and I did catch a couple of brookies with it. I also caught my first smallmouth of the year on a black and white zonker, which he destroyed. So I did deviate a little from the all-nymph plan, but not for long.
I catch thirty-plus beautiful trout in a couple of days and the only fish picture I have is of this little smallmouth. Go figure.
Saturday, we fished below the cabin for a couple of hours, before I needed to depart for commitments back home. After casting separate stretches, I caught up to John and he pointed to a perfect small eddy, along a swift run, and suggested there might be fish in it. He had tossed a number of streamers through it and thought that he might have had a strike, but had caught no fish. He wanted to see if my nymphs might work. Fifteen minutes and eight fish later, we concluded that they did.
The effectiveness of the nymph was forever driven home for me as, on the way back to the shack, I stepped back up to that same hole and made one last cast. The resulting fourteen-inch stick of pink-striped dynamite was the most dynamic fish of the weekend, providing jump upon jump, and, upon being netted, yielded not only my copper john, but someone else’s as well, apparently broken off in some earlier tussle. No wonder the fish fought so hard - such an effort had freed him before. But despite that experience, he could not resist another copper john.
And I won't resist fishing these little flies again, either.
My thanks to John for his tremendous hospitality. Good fishing and good company. The Ayinger was the topper, though.