Unicoi Outfitters

Fly Fishing Professionals

Helen, Georgia


by C.K. Nyms

In the past few weeks, I have had multiple opportunities to go a-stream with a variety of friends and acquaintances who are in various stages of learning to flyfish. Some genuinely new to the sport (been fishing for a year or two) and others with decades of experience, though it's sometimes hard to tell from watching them. Now, I don't claim to be an expert angler by any means but folks do seem to search me out for advice and instruction so one could conclude that I must know more than those doing the asking; or at least it appears I do. And while appearances are important to people, they are not so important to trout. If you're fishing for trout and have any expectations of doing any catching, you've got to do it their way or you're just shootin' craps. Matter of fact, your odds may be better at craps. It's a wonder some anglers ever roll a winning number. I'm not complaining, understand; it's just that we all have so little of our valuable time to spend on a trout stream that I often wonder why more anglers don't try to be at least a little bit better at it. A good friend of mine is fond of saying, "A trout has a brain the size of a pea. If it was the size of a butter bean, some folks would never catch one." Friends, this is the gospel.

Well, this whole situation has been weighing heavy on my mind lately. I realize the novice flyfisherman has a lot to learn and, hopefully, will stay at it long enough to pick up some good habits along the way. The great flyfishing diety, Orvis, will tell you that 80% of the people who go through their schools never pick up a fly rod again. That's real disheartening! It's probably because you can't learn a whole lot in a two and half day class, most of which is spent somewhere other than on the water. But what's even more discouraging is to see the "experienced" angler struggling once they do get on the water. If you're still reading this, please bear with me while I list a few observations I've made.

First, if you're going to invest the time, energy, and money (which now includes floating a loan for gas just to get to your favorite creek), why won't you ask somebody to help you be better at it? The Bible says pride goeth before the fall and, Lord knows, there's plenty of falling in trout fishing. Don't be ashamed to ask someone to show you how to be better. And if they volunteer, to help, stay at 'em til you get the answers you need. Make them be specific. Why did you choose that fly? What leader are you using? How long is it? Is it 5X or 6X? How long is your dropper section of tippet? Why did you cast right there? How long do I fish here before giving up and moving on? You need to be just like a little kid who's annoying the heck out of his parents asking questions. If you don't have any friends who will volunteer to go through this with you, then break down and pay somebody. If they're a taking ya money, they got to listen to ya.

In the past couple of weeks, I've watched some pretty good casters doing some awful fishing. And I've seen some pretty lousy casters, doing some pretty good fishing once they got the fly on the water. So, secondly, you need to decide up front whether you like casting or you like fishing. And either one is okay but they ain't necessarily mutual. I can tell you this, you ain't catching much unless your fly gets on the water now and then. If you're there to fish, try keeping your false casts to a minimum; like zero. You try learning to fish without even making a backcast and you'll catch more fish, simply because your fly is on the water longer than the guy who makes a half dozen false casts before he sets it down. You pick out a spot to cast to upstream from your position, let it drift past you and use a waterhaul to load your rod and flip your fly back upstream. Since we're likening this whole experience to shooting craps, you just upped your odds of being the guy at your table who rolls a winning number because you, in effect, just got to roll more times than the guy next to you who's doing all that false casting. You don't have to cast far in this part of the world to catch a trout. You just have to make sure the cast you make is to an area that may hold fish.

Thirdly (if that's a word), learn how to fish with different techniques. I've seen some anglers who spend a lot of time fishing but they only have one technique; swinging a woolly bugger through a run and stripping it back at the end of the drift. There's no doubt this can be an extremely effective way to fish, but it doesn't apply in all situations and, to me, is no fun at all when I know I can catch fish on a dry or wet fly on or near the surface. It certainly eliminates the high demand for a drag free drift but don't let that be your reason for not trying to broaden your skills. You'll have so much more fun when you fish with the confidence of knowing you can drift a dry fly or a nymph without drag, or that you have learned how to detect a strike without having to feel it on a tight line. Learn what causes drag (varying currents) and how to manage your line either with mends or by "high sticking" your fly through the fishy places. And learn how to set the hook. Those aren't gar we're fishing for with mouths made of bone and armor-like scales. These are trout with soft, fleshy mouths. You set the hook like you're bass fishing with a Hopkins spoon in 30 feet of water and you'll rip the lips right off a trout. The hook set is most often just a slight, quick lift of the rod. Your rod hand may not move more than 6 inches, it's just got to be quick.

The next thing is learning where the fish are most likely to be holding. Nowadays they call it "reading the water". And with a little bit of practice, you can learn to figure out where a trout may be just by looking at the surface currents. Now I know Jimmy Harris has that real interesting underwater video he travels around showing folks and that's all fine and good but, unless you stick your head under the water, you can't tell exactly what's happening under there so you've got to learn some things about what you can see on the surface to help you figure out why a trout may or may not be in there. There are some books available that address this subject but you really need to get on the water before you learn anything about it. And I would suggest you don't take the book on the water with you cause the other anglers may think you're kind of funny acting when they see you standing in the middle of the creek with your book open to the page that has a picture that looks like what you're seeing there. Start with this idea: a trout's got to have clean, cold water, food and protection from the other critters that want to eat him. If you're in a creek that doesn't have clean, cold water, then don't worry about the other two ingredients cause they don't matter. If you're lucky enough to find a good stream, then start looking for places where the current will funnel food to the fish. You'll get better at it as time goes by but in the beginning just look for places where the current is channeling debris or those bubbles lines created from organic matter in the stream When you find that, then ask yourself if the trout will feel safe holding in that area waiting on his dinner. What makes them feel safe? Well, being invisible to their predators is pretty much ingrained into that little pea-sized brain. How do they become invisible? Color in the water certainly helps. Right after a rain that has clouded the water they may hold in a place where they would never set foot if the water was crystal clear. So your approach to fishing changes if the water conditions change. They can also find security in depth. The deeper the water, the more difficult it is for an osprey or an eagle to see them. Us, too; it's more difficult for us to seem them in deep water and we're one of their predators. At least they think we are. If there's no deep or off-color water around, they'll look for rough water areas with a lot of chop on the surface. That chop keeps us from seeing them underneath. It also keeps them from seeing us up above which means we can get closer to them and make shorter casts. See how this works? Logs and rocks can also provide cover as long as they're in a place in the stream that has enough current to bring the food to the table.

Fly fishing can get as technical as you want it, or it can be simple and fun for everybody. Myself, I like simple. I like fly boxes with nothing in them but a variety of sizes of pheasant tails and hares ears. I like small streams and little wild fish that aren't so sophisticated that I have to have a PhD in entomology to pick out my fly. Shoot, I don't even like to hear scientific names for bugs; makes me nervous that you'll think less of me cause I don't know what you're talking about. Give me a big grey fly and I'll drop a little brown one off the back of it and let's go fishing! There was a time early on in my flyfishing life when I thought I had to know all that stuff. I was real uptight on the creek one day when a good friend comes up on me and notices by my language that I ain't having much fun. He says to me, "Dang, C.K., it's just fishin'." That was an epiphany moment in my life and I've tried to remember that every time I go onstream.

I hope I haven't offended any of you. I didn't set out to, I promise. It's just that I see some of you out there flailing away in places that don't hold any fish, or I'll see folks coming along behind you catching fish in the place you just spent 45 minutes fishing. I just want you to have a better time when you're out there. Now and then lots of us will tell you that it's just great to be out there whether we're catching anything or not and, to some degree that's the truth. But I can just about guarantee you that if you like just being there, you'll like it even better if you're catchin' fish. Find you somebody who's willing to help you become a better flyfisherman. They're out there. You just got to ask cause we ain't always bold enough to walk up to you and tell you how bad you need help. I want to see you folks have as much fun as I do when you step in the creek. Thank ya'll for listening to me. I hope I see you on the river one day soon.

Contact Unicoi Outfitters:

P.O. Box 419
7280 S. Main Street
Helen, Georgia 30545
(706) 878-3083
or by email.

Unicoi Outfitters is a permittee of the Chattahoochee-Oconee, Sumter, and Nantahala National Forests. See contact page for more information.