Fly Fishing has taught me to respect fish. In two days of fishing I managed to hook six rainbow trout. Yet during that same time I managed to hook myself no less than 9 times and each time it was a delicate, time consuming operation to remove the hook from my clothing or skin. On the other hand, I hooked several trout that seemed to have no trouble at all slipping off the hook. Fish are more resourceful than you think.
Our guide told us as much. John Perizzolo, a quick-to-smile, goateed expert angler, pointed out that most trout like to lie face up against the current and wait for larval bugs and other insects to come sweeping downstream, and then dart out and swallow them. All we had to do was mimic those bugs and we would be catching fish. It seems, however, that the trout in these heavily-fished waters near Deckers, Colorado in the mountains outside of Denver had grown a bit jaded. They had seen more than their fair share of expertly tied flies and only yawned and turned away when a pair of greenhorns like my buddy and myself came galumphing through their waters.
For that reason John Perizzolo tied the flies for us, his thick fingers moving nimbly around the monofilament leader, primping and snipping the colored fibers that would make a treacherous hook look just like an emerging may fly to an unsuspecting trout. Mind you, this dressing of the fly occurred only after his expert eye had carefully selected the right fly from a box that contained rank upon rank of flies, each one mimicking a different insect at a different stage of development. It seems trout can be quite discerning when it comes to dining.
John knew what the fish would favor at this time of day, at this time of year and in these weather conditions, and tied the flies accordingly. Then he applied a piece of putty to the line to add weight and knotted a piece of macramé yarn to act as a bobber – except that fly fishermen don’t call them bobbers. Fly fishing is considered a more cerebral and spiritual form of fishing than mere lake fishing and the terminology is upgraded to reflect that. My bobber was now a strike indicator. My lures were flies. And standing there fishing was now called “presentation.”
Presentation is what you show the fish, the way your fly drifts through the water, mimicking the larval bug. As I say, the fish are not dumb. If they see anything that looks – well, fishy; they will not be tricked. If the fly is moving too fast, John will increase the drag on the line by moving the weight on the lead. If the fly is too deep or too high in the flow, he’ll adjust the length of the lead or change the weight of the line. If the Mighty May is not producing strikes, he’ll change it over to a Sparkle Pupa or any of a thousand different flies that can produce a different result. All of these tiny little adjustments and recalibrations are done on the fly (so to speak) while you’re standing thigh deep in a rushing mountain stream. It is this nimble tactical expertise, and the rich array of options, that makes the experienced fly fisherman the Formula One driver of the fishing world.
Yet even with an expert tying your flies it’s ultimately up to you to set the hook, and with the peculiar good fortune bestowed upon the ignorant, I managed to catch five 14 inch rainbows on a particularly active stretch of water all in about 15 minutes. My buddy, who had fly fished before, was stymied and kept casting baleful looks in my direction until John took pity on him and suggested we move to a different location. Much to my buddy’s chagrin this involved hiking up and over a steep ridge and into a neighboring canyon where he had to sit down and catch his breath before he could begin pestering the trout again.
In this new location my good luck vanished and I stood there watching that mocking piece of yarn drift by again and again while my buddy earned some much needed pay back by hooking the biggest fish of the day, a sparkling 18 incher that seemed to roll its eyes in weary exasperation when it realized what kind of rube had bagged it. The rest of the day saw a half dozen fruitless strikes, a good deal of fishy indifference and a lot of getting hung up on flotsam, rocks and bushes. At one point I gamely fought a piece of tree limb until John helped me reel it in and offered to introduce me to a taxidermist who could mount it to good effect.
All in all, we had a grand time with our excellent guide angling in the waters of the South Platte River. The fly fishing we were doing is called Colorado high sticking or nymph fishing, which involves dropping the fly below the water line and letting it drift with the current. This is different than the better known dry fly fishing, which involves laying the fly on top of the water and coaxing the fish to lunge at it. Nymph fishing is a little easier and more forgiving to the inexperienced angler, and my buddy and I needed all the help we could get.
The fly fishing season runs from Mid-May to Mid-October in the Colorado high country. After that you risk getting a load of buckshot in your rear, because hunting season kicks in. Early season fishing is blessedly free of mosquitoes and other flying insects, but prepare yourself for the sun. The thin air and reflecting water amplifies the burn risk.
Even if you’re a competent fisherman, hire a guide. John came to us through the good graces of the folks at Blue Quill Angler, a full service outfitter based in Evergreen, Colorado. Experts like John Perizzolo not only know how and what to tie, they are locals who know the country and have been fishing its rivers for decades. Such expertise produces results, even when the anglers don’t know a Hare’s Ear from a Black Tailed Swallow. And especially when the fish are so darned smart.