Friday, May 3, 2013

In Praise of Fly Shop Owners

Fly shop owners see it all, and have to deal with all kinds. Henry Winkler is dead wrong, a lot of idiots fly fish, and shop owners can tell you all about them.

Even somewhat decent folks (I'll include myself in this group) are problematic for the fly shop guy. Most of us show up once or twice a year more interested in advice than we are in spending money. While we're thankful for the advice offered, we also know that thanks don't pay the bills. This week my schedule allowed me to visit Bob Shuey's shop, Neshannock Creek Outfitters in Volant. The Neshannock is a nice little stream that winds through Amish Country in western Pennsylvania. Pine trees line its banks in many spots and it is home to blue heron, geese, raccoon and deer. In short, it's a great place to wrap up a day full of meetings. The creek fishes well in the early spring and after the fall stocking. It's a hatchery stream for the most part, and while the bug activity seems to increase every year, most of the spring fishing is done underneath. Rare does the work calendar and the hatch calendar match up.

Usually a Walt's Worm and Green Weenie will do the trick on the hatchery fish, but I asked Bob for some advice on flies and he gladly offered it, while pointing out that the anglers who know what they're doing were catching fish on whatever they preferred and the rest struggled. He suggested small nymphs, size 16 or 18, to imitate tan or green caddis and black stoneflies.

I asked about wet flies and a knowing smile crossed Bob's face. The first flies ever cast were wet flies and they remain very effective. But they aren't popular as they should be. They've been replaced in anglers' fly boxes by flashier nymphs and dressed up dries. I'm slowly learning to appreciate wet flies (it's a byproduct of swinging big flies, as the techniques are similar). Bob endorsed the idea, and suggested dropping a tan or green caddis wet behind a nymph and then letting it swing at the end of the drift. He was being generous with the advice, so I returned the favor and bought a landing glove to replace the one I'd lost this spring and a dozen flies I didn't need, including several wets that looked an awful lot like the ones that were already in my fly box.

After hiking downstream for a mile or so, I left the trail and followed the foot path to my favorite hole on the Neshannock. The hole was empty -- a great relief after months of unsuccessfully trying to avoid anglers on steelhead alley. I tied on a green caddis nymph and a tan caddis wet fly behind it. Twenty casts in I picked up the first fish, a small brown, on the swing. I added weight as I moved upstream to the deeper part of the hole and promptly hooked fish after fish. All but one on the wet. The fish took the wet deep in the run and promptly would rocket up out of the depths and into the air. They weren't big, but they were spirited.

After an hour or so the activity tapered off and I headed upstream to another run that another angler was nearly done fishing. After he gave up, I dropped back to the tail and started working my way upstream. Light from the setting sun angled through the trees creating glare on the water. Spotting the small putty strike indicator I like to use while fishing small nymphs was tough. But the fishing wasn't. The fish, all rainbows, were eager to eat the wet fly. A dozen fish or so later -- including a few close to 18 inches -- I left the river and hiked back upstream for the drive home.

Thanks Bob.

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