Sunday, May 23, 2010

Fly Angler of the fortnight Emily Neiley

For some, a fun fishing trip has some key ingredients—like beautiful weather, lots of hungry fish, and insects rising like steam from a nice, calm stretch of water. Ideally, the trip should be relaxing, quiet, and free from technical difficulties and irritating complications.
For me, trips like these are nice, but I really start having fun when the going gets tough. Wind? I can cast in wind. Rain and snow? I’m not made of sugar! Below zero weather…well, all right, I’ll nip into town until it gets warm enough for a hatch, but once the thermometer rises to double digit degrees Fahrenheit I’ll take my shivery self back down to the water and dare those fish not to bite.
Unfortunately, if I’ve learned one thing since I first picked up a fly rod at the age of nine, it’s that trout will take a dare up in an instant. That’s why I’ve learned to tie flies the same way I fish—the trickier and more technical, the better. Fish may get choosier as the water and weather get worse, but I can always get smaller hooks and hone my skills a little more. Eventually, I know I can come up with something that will fool them, even if I can barely see the fly.
When I sit down to tie flies, especially midges, I don’t concern myself too much with what looks good to the human eye—after all, humans prefer nachos and fried chicken to pinhead-sized insect larvae. I don’t try to exactly imitate what the bugs look like, either; I’d rather save my patience for catching fish than for tying a size 24 replica of a midge that won’t swim naturally.
Instead, I try to tie what I see them eating—which is not necessarily what I find under rocks (in winter, it’s a little too cold to go spelunking for insects anyway). Sometimes, the best course of action is to sit on the riverbank and watch the trout rising. I not only look for what the fish are eating, but what they’re almost eating as well; if a trout rises to an insect on the surface and then turns away, I try to figure out what about the bug made it lose interest. Sometimes it’s a little thing, like the lack of an air bubble or a millimeter’s difference in size. But, no matter how tricky the details get, the fish are always worth it.

Emily Neiley has been engaging fish in battles of wits for most of her life, and still doesn’t win as often as she’d like to. She currently lives and fishes in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado, USA, and is a contributing editor for Blood Knot Magazine.