My style is all to myself.
John Lee Hooker
About a mile and a half up the road from the lot where I usually park my car is the cemetery. The ashes of my father, grandfather, and uncle are all interred here, close to the eastern edge which, as fortune would have it, borders the river. In fact, the inscripted stones marking the final resting places of whatever was left of their ashes after the many wide-ranging dispersals are no more than a hundred yards from the trail I take down to the river. I stop and say hello every time I fish here, about once, sometimes twice a month. I've always thought it somewhat of a blessing to be able to have the two, my dad's burial site and one of my favorite fishing spots, in such close proximity. Dad was always up for a good fishing story, one of the few who seemed to know that I wasn't blowing smoke, as is the inclination for many fishermen when relating a fishing experience. He'd always want to see what I was fishing with, and tell me that 'one of these days I gotta go the river with you so I can see what it is you do'. He never did, although I am of a mind now that he's pretty close by most of the time.
Sunday was a transition day for the weather. The warm, sunny days of the past week are suddenly behind me as I stop on the trail above the river observing in the cool morning stillness of a lightly falling rain.
Two hundred yards of the best looking water on the whole damned river. That's what I thought the first time I ever saw this run, that being probably fifteen or so years back, and the first thing through my head every time since. A series of large boulders lying in haphazard fashion construct labyrinths of current as the flow slows from a quick, oxygenating descent upstream. No two casts, no matter how true my aim on successive ones, will produce drifts or swings that are even remotely similar. That fact makes this an extremely challenging, and fun, stretch to fish. It also possesses, for that very reason, what I like to call a 'redemptive' quality, in that, because of it's nature, it can be refished using a different method, or not, in case of a frustrating first pass down through it. I speak from experience.
On this Sunday, in knee deep water I work my way carefully through another submerged maze of slippery rocks to a subtle promontory, or shelf. From here I can effectively reach out some sixty to seventy feet with a decent roll cast. I can't possibly stress enough now important it is to have in your arsenal the ability to cast proficiently in this fashion. There is no space behind for a standard cast. None. A roll cast is the only way here, as it is on so many of the other runs and slots I fish. I will sometimes go for days without a single standard cast. That's the way it is here. And that suits me just fine, because it eliminates many fish from being hassled by any fly fisherman other than those who are as proficient as I have become, or those fishermen who are floating the river. And yet, it is then that the method to my particular madness gains in credibility.
As I patiently work the flows that bend around the promontory I occupy, a group of fishermen in pontoon boats, spread out so as to allow each of them freedom of movement and area, come into view upstream. They are well to the other side of the river. I divide my attention as best I can, keeping busy managing my casts and an eye on my arcing swings, as well as the fishermen.
I'm about to wave back to the gentleman in the lead boat when I see a flash and swirl some fifty feet downstream from me. That's right where I know my soft hackle is. I lift my rod, pin the line, and feel weight. About that time a rainbow leaps into the air.
"Is that yours?", the gentleman in the lead boat asks, as I work to get this fish on the reel.
"Sure is", I reply. "You guys doing any good?"
He shakes his head negatively. "Not yet. Couple of bumps. That's it."
"Nymphs under an indicator?" I ask, being polite, but I know that's what they're doing.
"Yeah. Two beadheads. Big and smaller underneath. What're you using?", he asks.
"Soft Hackle. Just swinging it."
He nods, watches me for a moment or two, then grabs the oars and gets back into his drift down the other bank. I release the sixteen-inch trout and check the soft hackle for damage. Looks good.
This gentlemen would be the only one of this flotilla to have anything to say to me, although I know his fellow floaters were also watching. I figured that had a lot to do with how busy they were as they went past. Casting, mending, picking up and recasting into better positions for drifts.
I can't help but notice that they're all fishing the same way. I see, on the water, moving downstream at the same speed as the pontoon boats, orange strike indicators. Interesting. They're all using them. They're all fishing the same damned way! Every one of them! I can't help but smile when I wonder if they're all using the same flies! Every once in a while a line is picked up and recast, but their descent down the river is constant, unchecked. The orange indicators float high and stay very visible until soon they are out of sight around the corner below me. Six hundred yards of river gone just like that! Oh well!
It's a little like steelhead fishing, what I do, except that if I want to stay where I am and swing it three or four times in the same general area, then I go ahead and do it before I move downstream. Or maybe I decide to go with a bead head to get down a little deeper? Well, I go ahead and do that. Whatever I decide to use, I am convinced that the swing is the way. The swing saves the day, time and time again. And that's how I fish my river more than ninety per cent of the time. Yes, there are opportunities for dry flies. That's always a bonus to me when I can target fish who are rising. But, even then, dependent upon what bugs I see on the surface, I'm not above swinging a lightly weighted soft hackle past them first. I love the visual when I see the swirl.
My style? I think back through the years, to those times I still vividly remember, when I rarely used a roll cast. I didn't really have one. What sticks out in my mind is the frustration I felt. Not only in not being able to reach areas I knew held fish, but realizing that even if I did, I wasn't really going to have a decent shot at them. Now? Now I have two weapons, not just one. I have the roll cast, a product of years of on-the water practice. And, I have the soft hackle. Also a product of the years. In my mind it will always be my go-to fly. It will almost always be the fly I first double terl onto my tippet.