Ramblings of a Catskill Flyfisher

Fly fishing blind

By TONY BONAVIST
Posted 1/29/20

Sound like a strange title? Perhaps, yet it is the very method that fly fishers should adopt if they wish to maximize angling opportunities when fishing small flies, dun colored flies, or when …

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Ramblings of a Catskill Flyfisher

Fly fishing blind

Posted

Sound like a strange title? Perhaps, yet it is the very method that fly fishers should adopt if they wish to maximize angling opportunities when fishing small flies, dun colored flies, or when fishing at dusk—any fishing scenario where artificial flies are extremely hard to see on the water. When anglers can’t see their flies, it is not uncommon for them to lament, “I couldn’t see my fly so I quit fishing.” To me that is sad, because there are ways to catch trout even when anglers cannot see their fly. Sometimes anglers will ask me, “How did you do fishing this year?” Mostly I’ll reply “pretty well,” especially when fishing at dusk when it’s almost dark. That of course presents the follow-up question, “How do you see your fly?” My answer is, “I don’t.”

As I evolved as a fly fisherman, I had the same dilemma as everyone else when fishing very small and dun colored flies, which are difficult to see during the day and almost impossible under poor lighting conditions. Like most fishermen, I was frustrated and perplexed when I could not see my fly as it floated along, lost somewhere out on the water. Rather than give up, I resolved to find a solution. 

Those of you that read this column on a regular basis will recall the piece I wrote about fly casting, “How’s My Casting?” In that article, I emphasized the importance of accurate casting; it is the first and most important step in learning to fly fish blind. If you can place your fly, regardless of size, color, or light conditions, close to a rising trout, there is a chance the trout will take that fly, whether the angler can see the fly or not. 

But how does an angler learn to fly cast accurately when it is almost dark, or when the end of the fly line is not readily visible for reference? First, make sure to use a light colored line—it helps. Second, anglers may practice casting at known distances with their eyes closed. That may sound odd, but it is the only way, other than trial and error, that I believe works. I learned by trial and error, and because Joan Wulff re-structured my fly casting when I worked at the Wulff School. Now I have the ability to place my flies accurately under all fishing conditions. 

Here’s another important factor, especially when fishing under conditions when flies are difficult to see: always use the same length leader. That way an angler will know that his or her fly is, say, nine feet away from the tip of the fly line, which should be visible. Really long leaders are not necessary during low light conditions. 

In my last article, I explained the merits of using the “Across and Down Stream Drift” method of fly fishing. In my view, when your flies are not easily visible, there is no better way to fish than this method. As noted, it all but eliminates the need to “mend” and provides more control over the fly line. More importantly, fishing across and down allows the angler to maintain a straight line between the rod tip and fly. So it is much easier to follow the float, as compared to casting up and across. Just follow the tip of the fly line, and you will know how many feet away the fly is. So even though you may not be able to see your fly, you will know pretty much where it is.

From experience, I know learning to fish this way is not easy. Nevertheless, anglers willing to work on this method of fishing, will be handsomely rewarded!

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