LEARNING AS WE GO
The art of fly-fishing a lifetime of work
On a gentle, spring morning a decade or so ago, Denny Breer pushed his fishing dory into the dam-controlled flows of Utah’s Green River and settled into the rower’s seat.
We were headed down the “A” section of the Green, that eight-mile reach of bright water below Flaming Gorge Dam that ends at Little Hole and understandably each year attracts the majority of the Green’s thousands of fly anglers.
This is because of the section’s proximity to a paved road, good put-ins and take-outs, plenitude of wadeable waters and, not the least, the famed “14,000 trout per mile” boast, which seems to hold up, at least when floating above said trout.
Breer, the much-loved and equally long-time lead guide/owner for Trout Creek Flies guide service in nearby Dutch John, Utah, passed away about 8 years ago but he left his mark on several generations of fly anglers.
On this April day, when the river was full of anglers attracted by the Green’s famed Blue-winged Olive mayfly hatch, Breer had a plan well before he launched. The previous evening, he was lamenting how little it seems the new generation of fly anglers truly knows about fly fishing because its members are in too much of a hurry to catch fish.
“They come in the shop and they complain about not catching anything because ‘the fish aren’t biting,’ and I remind them what Lefty Kreh once told me,” he said with scowl, which quickly was followed by his wide grin. “Lefty looked at one guy and said, “The fish are biting; you’re just not catching.”
Meaning that fish must eat and they’ll eat what attracts them.
Which brings us to the particular matter at hand, here in the nascent stages of the 2017 fishing season: What don’t all fly anglers catch fish every time they go out?
“I catch fish,” I’m sure you’re thinking, and I smirk. I know but a small handful of anglers who actually do catch fish (nearly) every time they out.
Talented, hard-working, smart (smart compared to other anglers, not to trout with a brain the size of a pea), and adaptable, these men and women have counseled the overwhelmed and the underwhelming into catching fish when it’s cold, or it’s hot, it’s sunny or windy, snowing, raining, you name it.
Even under the worst of conditions they count on squeezing a trout or two before going home.
But why can’t everyone?
Start with the obvious: Norman MacLean, in his marvelous novelette “A River Runs Through It,” details how his father, a Presbyterian minister, ingrained in the author and his younger brother the finer points of fly fishing.
Among them was the foundation, namely that “Fly fishing is an art that is performed on a four-count rhythm between ten and two o’clock.”
But perhaps the most cogent, both to the story and to our matter at hand, was the reminder that no one “who did not know how to fish would be allowed to disgrace a fish by catching him.”
And that is what Breer and Kreh were referring to with their comments.
So what is it too many fly anglers are doing wrong?
For that answer, I approached guides and long-time anglers, people who spend numerous days on the water each year, not just fishing but also watching, for ideas as to why some people go home skunked.
It turns out that 99 percent of the time, the blame, just like the credit, falls on the angler.
So adjacent are some suggestions, in no particular except the whims of the author.
The day I was with Breer, we would float until finding a section of river where anglers were lined out across the water. Then, silently, he would drift his boat between the bank and an unsuspecting angler standing 50 feet out and hip-deep in the river.
And he would catch trout, purposely making them jump, the symphony of splashing trout a counterpoint to the angler’s growing frustration.
“You’re standing where you should be fishing,” Breer would roar and row off to find another victim.
“They walk past and through the best fishing, because everyone knows the best fishing is on the other side,” he would laugh with a shake of his head. “And, of course, that water is ruined for the next guy.”
Shaking his head but grinning at the pleasure of spending time on his beloved Green, Denny Breer would float off, seeking the next lesson.