Friday, November 28, 2014

My Spey Awakening-Intermittent reinforcement.

My Spey awakening took place slowly over time.  At first I thought it was a ridiculous, unnecessary method of fishing.  Too traditional for my liking.  Launching a fly and swinging it on a tight line high in the water column did not sound like a sound method to catch a steelhead especially in the fast, deep often cold waters that I plied my nymphing technique.  It seemed like a waste of time as my conditioning to bottom bouncing and nymphing was deeply ingrained.  Just about everyone who started fishing the Great Lake tributaries in the 80's or 90's learned to bounce the bottom with split shot and running line.  At first I employed this method but then when I started nymphing with an indicator, I worked the river meticulously, focusing on the deep seams on the inside bends and catching my fair share of fish.

As time went on I got tired of loosing all kinds of flies, leaders and split shot as one typically donates a lot to the river bottom fishing in this method.  I remember at the time thinking that someone could mine the river bottom for lead given how much gear was lost on the ledges and rocks. 

My first move towards swinging took place when I got a switch rod.  The one benefit I could not deny was that a two handed rod allowed one to reach water that one could not easily do with a single hand rod given the limited backcast room.  I happily used my switch rod to nymph waters that would have been out of range previously plus the longer rod aided the mending of the line, a bonus.

Little by little myself and my friends started swinging flies.  I don't actually recall how it happened but it did.  Whenever one of us caught a fish on the swing it was worthy of  a little celebration as it was an outlier for us, an achievement.  Looking back I think it was more of an accident than anything else, but it happened just enough to keep us interested.  Many days we would nymph in the morning and then swing flies in the afternoon.  If I recall correctly we ended up catching almost as many fish swinging and enjoying the hell of out of it.  Part of what happened for me was that once you get good at nymphing and know some good seams the challenge and learning curve in that type of fishing diminishes. 

                                                                                                    Photo by Dave Severson

Swinging flies provided a whole new learning experience and one that pulled me in deep.  During this transformation I had to relearn my approach to the water.  I found that good swinging water wasn't always good nymphing water.  Conversely good nymphing water typically didn't make good swinging water.  This concept alone took me a while to truly understand. As I finally made the leap to swinging flies full time in my pursuits of steelhead I became to really appreciate the challenge of enticing a fish to take my fly.  The process was active on my part.  I needed to be able to read the water well, to picture what the surface currents divined about the river bottom.  Then I had to pick the correct tip, properly position myself above the designated spot, make the correct cast and mend, if needed, to get the fly to move properly through that water at the right speed and depth.  It required a much more active involvement on my part.  Each section of water required one to properly read the water and formulate a plan of attack.  The challenge was full of nuance and one that changed with every visit.  After a few years the most important part of the process came down to the feel of the swing.  When every thing was right, my fly had just the right speed as it moved through the water and when this happened regularly so did the number of hookups that I got.  The process made me feel more fully engaged in the process of fishing and in full hunt mode on the river as my flies plied each bucket and run.  I had undergone a full transformation and was no longer interested in nymphing for steelhead.  If I couldn't get them on the swing I didn't want to get them any other way. 


In psychology there is the concept of intermittent reinforcement. When I heard about it, it made me think of spey fishing.  Intermittent reinforcement is when rewards (in this case steelhead) are handed out or enforced inconsistently and occasionally (when you get a hit often after hours of fishing). This usually encourages the person to keep pushing (fishing) until they get what they want (another take) without changing their own behavior (still swinging flies).  I believe this is the reason for the moniker "the tug is the drug" that is well known in spey fishing circles. 

As I have been only spey fishing for steelhead for at least 7 years now I find myself enjoying my fishing time more than ever, the challenge remains ever present as with each season the river changes subtly in ways that I was never aware of as a nympher.  Each season I relearn the river anew. Each trip presents different water flows and water temps that force me to be conscious of my position in the river, my casts, mends, which tip I have on, what type of fly I am using and the all important feel of the swing.


I have to say that I am constantly amazed that this method works as well as it does.  I love the challenge.   The river rarely gives anyone anything.  One has to go out there and earn it.  With spey fishing the never ending layers of learning that this method provides will allow me many years of enjoyment that I eagerly look forward to.

Friday, November 21, 2014

The First Snow, A Side Trip

I'm interrupting the tribe series to post about a recent weekend of swinging flies. A group of friends made our annual excursion northward to the shores of the Great Lakes to chase steelhead.  The company was excellent and it turned out to be a much needed break from my recent busy stressful work life.  We fished hard each day, ate well, got plenty of outside time and slept early each night. Fish were caught, time slowed down and life became simpler at least for one weekend. My batteries were recharged and I get to relive my time via the pictures that I took.  They don't sum up the entire weekend or even accurately represent what took place, but they are another form of fishing; fishing for images.  Every time I'm on the water I fishing for fish and images, for me it makes it a rich time. 

Monday, November 17, 2014

The Spey Tribe-My Introduction

I have to say that I entered this tribe kicking and screaming the entire way.

The first time I'd ever seen a Spey rod in action was on the Deschutes River in in the late 80's. For those of you who don't know the Deschutes, it is a huge river especially by eastern standards.

                                           The big water of the Deschutes

I went steelhead fishing for the first time in my life with two brothers, one of whom I'd met at a Kaufman's Streamborn fly shop outside of Seattle.  His brother had guided in Alaska with the same group of guys that I guided with a year or two prior to my time up north.  We hit it off pretty well and they invited me to fish with them for three days in October.  One of the brothers fished a spey rod.  I'd heard of spey rods, but I have to admit that at the time I thought it was ridiculous to use such a rod when I could double haul an 8 wt. all day long for three days and not have my arm fall off.  Let's just say that youth brings with it lots of flexibility physically, but not necessarily intellectual flexibility, at least in my case.

                                           The first Spey rod I ever saw in action.

In order to reach all the productive water they had this small rubber dingy.  The three of us crammed into it crossing this huge river.  When I looked down I could see 20 or so feet deep into the river.  If we had tipped over, all of us would have drowned.  This mode of transportation freaked me out a few times. 
I got this shot because I wasn't crossing the river with them this time.  I fished on the unproductive side instead and didn't have a coronary crossing the river.
We didn't always have a ton of backcast room but we fired long casts all day with our single handers.  We sure worked hard for our casts. 

We fished hard for three days with nary a bite.  I had a lot to learn about swinging flies for anadromous fish.  After this outing my confidence in this method was just a tad weak.  After guiding in Alaska all summer one was supposed to catch fish lots of fish, not three days of casting practice. Oh well it was time to go to New Zealand and I didn't think about swinging flies for two more years. 

My next opportunity to swing flies was in Nova Scotia.  My buddy Steve and I headed north at the end of September for a week of fishing. We brought tents, rods, tying gear and clothes.  Mind you only single hand rods, as that was all that we had.  We ended up fishing the Margaree River, which is beautiful, easily waded little river.  There was no need for two handed rods.  In this neck of the woods the only acceptable manner with which to fish is to swing flies.   If someone is in the run you want to fish, just wait in line at the head and jump in when it's open.  Everyone works their way down a step at a time.  Just leave enough space between you and the person below so your line doesn't get near them and life is good.  It is a great way to fish and one can feel very relaxed about access as everyone gets a turn. 

There is a salmon museum on the banks of the river.  When we went there, I saw a fly that reminded me of a pattern we used in Alaska for silvers.  That pattern was like crack to the silvers.  The Alaskan flies were weighted which was a big no no in Nova Scotia so we tied up some unweighted versions and hit the river.  Low and behold we started catching fish on the swing.  We didn't really know what we were doing so we tried everything, casting slightly upriver, casting down river, mending, not mending.  Beginners mind can be a beautiful thing.  One of the things that I learned on this trip was to believe that a fish is going to hit my fly.  Having a positive attitude is more than half the battle when swinging flies for migratory fish, at least that what I came to believe.  We had a blast and the salmon were not shy about letting you know they wanted the flies as they hammered them.  One fish broke me off on the take and I was using 15 lb. maxima!  
One can see the fly stuck firmly in the nose with the hook point coming out above the fly and the thick brown maxima.  

This one was hooked perfectly in the corner of the mouth.

                                                      My best Salmon at 36 inches.

                                    Those males with the big kypes are stunning fish.

                                                    Putting the wood to one.

After two falls of fishing up there opportunities to swing flies didn't happen anymore.  My buddy Steve moved to Montana, I entered graduate school and life took me in a different direction. For a number of years fishing took a back seat and the fishing I did do was all local in western Massachusetts.  Up next my Spey awakening. 

Monday, November 10, 2014

Fly Fishing Tribes

Each so called genre of fly fishing is represented by its own so called "tribe."  Each group has their own distinctive look, gear, lingo and ways about them.  When it comes to fly fishing I originally belonged to the adipose fin tribe.  If it didn't have an adipose fin I was pretty much not interested in catching it.  Since that time I would like to say that I have matured as a fisherman and now greatly appreciate what different species have to offer.  Variety is the spice of life is my new mantra.  As a result I find myself as a member of many fly fishing tribes. 

This post will highlight some of my time when I was a full blown trout weenie.  My dress has changed from non-breathable waders to the much more comfortable breathables.  I still have my original Columbia vest in storage, but I now use something completely different.  I had a pair of Thomas &Thomas wading boots made by Weinbrenner, which were by far the best wading boots I've ever owned. They lasted through 4 seasons of guiding in AK which is  amazing.  I still have them and need to take them to a cobbler for some ripped seams and break them out for summer fishing.  They are light weight and felted but most importantly I can feel the bottom with them and hence they make me a better wader.I used 2 piece rods as 4 piece rods were not on the scene yet.  We had those old huge polarized glasses that weighed a ton and fit on one's nose like a square on a circle.  Back then I even had hair!

During this time I traveled far and wide to chase fish with adipose fins.  My travels took me to Oregon, Montana, Alaska, British Columbia, Argentina, New Zealand and Nova Scotia among others.  All of these pics are scanned from slides so the quality isn't so great.

                                                                 A good Ak bow
                                                                Argentine brown
                                                     My friend Bob working down a run
     Sunset at the Boca of the Chimehuin, famous for it's huge spawning browns.  I wasn't there in     prime time but it was beautiful.
                                                    Another Argentine Brown
                                                                   An King in AK
                                The famous Leopard bows of AK.  Followed by some piggies

                                                        A New Zealand piggie
                            Love the old glasses that we all wore.  This fish fell for a dry.
                                                               Typical NZ brown
                                                Some better fish from down under

                               The king of fish from Nova Scotia

                                My first steelhead, I worked really hard for this BC steel. 

Over the next year I will be highlighting my own fly fishing "tribal" affinities in a number of posts as the seasons change including an updated trout section.  As such consider this the introduction to my tribes. Up next Spey fisherman aka speynerds.