How to cheat at fly fishing.
It has been said that cheaters never prosper. Or, cheaters never win. Well, Tom Brady’s footballs would beg to differ, and so would I. A long time ago, I spent a summer doing lawn and garden maintenance for a seasoned old-timer named Gib. Mr. Gib was a carpenter by trade, and an expert one at that. However, hunting, fishing, and trapping were his passions. Deep into his mid-’80s, Gib’s pride and joy was a substantial collection of impressive skullcap elk antlers that had never been scored, and the outlines of monster trout that had been traced on plain pine planks, after the fish were filleted and smoked. Gib used a Dremel router to carve an imprint of the fish carcass on the plank. These trout plaques and antler mounts adorned every wall in his garage.
I recall one particular rainy day when I was tasked with helping Gib clean this garage. I helped sweep, and then hammered and sharpened used nails back into a usable form. Gib was a child of the Great Depression and if he would have had his way, amongst those antlers and fish silhouettes would reside a collection of Nazi skulls from what he called, “his time overseas,” but I digress.
After I had straightened and sharpened the last nail, and placed it in the proper Mason jar, Gib flipped up the lid of an old metal Coleman cooler and dug out two bottles of Budweiser. He popped the caps off the beer bottles with two quick twists of his gnarled hand, using his simple iron wedding band as an opener. He took a deep pull off of one of the bottles and extended the other to me. Hesitantly, I took it. He clinked his beer on mine and nodded, as if to say, “I’m the boss today son, you’ve earned it. Now bottom’s up.” Gib plopped down into a threadbare recliner in a cozy corner of the garage and motioned to the carvings on the walls.
“So, I hear you fancy yourself an angler?”
“Somewhat, sir,” I said, stifling a beer burp.
“You see those?” he asked, pointing out the trout carvings on the wall with his beer bottle. “I put all those monsters on the table with a fly rod and a dead sculpin. Some folks would say I cheated, but I’m what you’d call a generalist kid—I fish to catch fish. Lures, bait, flies, it don’t matter a lick to me. In order to get away from the job site and a houseful of quarreling kids, I had to bring home something to eat, you know; I had to make it count... A man needs quiet, boy, time to think. Sometimes you might need to compromise in order to get what you need.”
“So, you cheat at fishing?”
“Nah, kid, I only cheat at fly fishing. Nobody cares about fishing in general, and honestly the fish don’t care either.”
Fast-forward 28 years. I have never forgotten those words. The fish don’t care. So, if you fancy yourself an angler, but just can’t seem to “match-the-hatch,” the following is an introduction to the “dark-side” of angling with the long rod.
Bait is perhaps the dirtiest of secrets when it comes to flyfishing. Believe it or not, it is possible to use bait on a fly rod. While some tweaks and adaptations may need to be made in the casting arena, the options for live, dead, or artificial bait on a flyrod are as diverse as they are with conventional fishing gear. Grasshoppers, crickets, nightcrawlers, and leeches are all great options for live bait. Minnows, sculpins, and other small baitfish can be used as dead material. Some research may be required as to rigging methods, hooks, knots, etc. Also, read and understand current regulations. In some areas it may be illegal to use bait, including artificial baits like Gulp or PowerBait. These artificial baits can be highly effective on a fly rod. They are simple to set up on a drop-shot rig. While many folks may scoff at the idea, it is a great way to get kids engaged in fly fishing. They will likely get bites and get a chance to feel how the rod behaves with a fish on the line.
Let’s face it: a fly is simply a lure that is made up fur, feathers, and glue. A fly is an artificial representation of something that fish eat or find annoying enough to attack. A spinner or spoon is exactly the same thing—some even come dressed with hackle, just like a fly. Many lure manufactures make “ultralight” versions of their most popular patterns and models. These light spinners and spoons can be casted just like heavy streamers, and fished much the same way. Heavier, fast-action fly rods are best for chucking lures: 6, 7, and even 8 weights are great. Rig lures in the same fashion as a heavy streamer pattern, and swing or swiftly strip through likely holding water. One may have to adjust retrieval rates for depth and speed of the water.
Many people consider fly fishing to be sacred, and strong feelings exist toward this form of angling.
This is perhaps one of my favorite methods for cheating at fly fishing. While this trick is very similar to the lure usage previously mentioned, it is different in the fact that it allows an angler to use a favorite streamer while adding a bit of sparkle and flash. Several walleye-tackle manufacturers sell spinner blades and clevis loops for making crawler harnesses. These blades are fantastic for setting up a streamer spin-rig. Numerous styles and colors of blades are available. I recommend the smaller metallic ones, paired with the most basic type of clevis. Rigging is simple: thread the clevis and blade up the leader. About three to four inches above the tippet end, tie a blood knot and pinch a BB shot above the knot. The knot keeps the shot from sliding down the leader and it allows the blade to spin as it would on a lure. Add your favorite streamer to the tippet end and fish this rig on the swing, or quickly strip it.
Fishing with a pegged bead above a nymph is the biggest un-kept secret in fly fishing. If fish are feeding on the eggs of other fish, adding a bead to your nymph rig is a fantastic way to cheat. I learned this technique in Alaska and have since added it to my early- and late-season repertoire. Bead fishing is highly effective, so much so that it is illegal in some areas. As always, check and understand the current regulations. A quick web search for “trout beads” will offer up innumerable options. To rig, thread the bead onto the leader, then tie on your favorite nymph. Beads can be free-floated, or “pegged,” using a toothpick to secure the bead to the leader to keep it from sliding. Fish this rig as you would a standard nymph rig.
There you have it, four surefire ways to cheat at fly fishing. When cheating, don’t brag about your angling success or share these techniques with just anyone. Many people consider fly fishing to be sacred, and strong feelings exist toward this form of angling. Be polite, but always remember: the fish don’t care.
Kurt Dehmer owns Durty Kurty’s Guide Service in Bozeman.