Adult Nymphing

This story was written by world-famous fly fishing guide, Kip Dean

It was a hot, early evening, in mid-August. I had just pulled into my driveway and was commencing on settling in for the night. I had put my guide affairs such as my cooler and fly boxes, etc. in order and was looking forward to a couple days off. The last few days had found me on the river with some pretty good dry fly anglers. The hatch was on, so to speak, and the dry fly fishing was good. The trout were eager to take our dry flies despite the prolific hatch and the usual competition with the natural insects. I was tired and wanted to get out of the sun after guiding too many days in a row.
The phone rang. This can mean many things. I don’t have caller ID, and the logical next step was to answer it. I thought it might be some friend calling and wanting to visit. I couldn’t have been more surprised. It was the dreaded “Guide Crisis” call. The owner of our shop couldn’t find a guide for the next day and was in a desperate situation. As we spoke, the two guys that booked this trip almost a year before were standing in the shop. Apparently, the guide they booked was sick, had gone to Australia, or died. Anyway, no one else was available. I was it. Now, being the fantastic employee that I am, I couldn’t let my boss down. I was to meet them the next morning at the usual time.

Dawn found me the following day at the shop parking lot. My client’s name wasn’t Dawn. They were two guys from the west coast named Bill and George. One of the guys had an eastern accent. I thought he might have been from New York. I found out later that Bill had two grand kids and had recently moved to California from New Jersey. The other client, George (again, not his real name), was a pretty nice man with four kids, eight grand kids, and his second marriage. I told them that the dry fly fishing was pretty good, so be sure and bring a lighter rod. They looked at me strangely, for reasons I had not yet discerned. I was to learn more on this day about fishing and guiding than I may have ever learned in one day.

We made small talk as I helped them rig their nymph rods. I put the finishing touches on Bill’s 6 weight, laid it alongside of George’s 5 weight, and asked for the dry rods, again the disconcerting look on their faces. Finally, Bill broke the ice and announced that they were Nymph Purists and would have no part in any dry fly fishing. As I stood, stunned by his proclamation, I envisioned a long day, and I could almost taste the cold beer waiting for me at home. I knew it would be tough fishing with nymphs because almost every trout in the river was feeding on the surface. I needed to think and act fast. I casually said that I thought we would be better off tossing dries during the hatch and that at the least we could rig their heavier rods for dries when the time came. Again, I was met with disapproval. “No”, said George, “You don’t understand, we are emphatic about this, we will have no part in this dry fly fishing.” I had no choice but to go with the flow.

We drove the short distance to the river, put the boat in and started fishing. I was just ready to give Bill a helpful tip on his drift when a chubby 17 inch rainbow burst to the surface. I netted his fish and for the next hour, we hooked several more really nice fish, ironically, just as I was getting anxious about their “poor presentation”. I knew it was getting close to the time that the hatch would begin and the good nymph fishing would subside and give way to dry fly fishing. The fish hooking and catching rate began to slow down and normally, I would have begun looking for rising fish and a good place to stop, get out, and cast a dry fly. I felt uneasy.

I looked down the river and spied one of my favorite fishing spots. I had been able to fish this particular spot at least four times in the last ten days. I knew there were lots of fish there and lately the trout were prone to rise eagerly for our flies. I knew that I at least had a chance to show Bill and George some rising fish and maybe I had a chance at talking them into fishing for them. I have a stubborn tendency to not let go of my agendas. Guiding, in much the same way as being guided, is a learning experience. I pulled the boat into the shore and dropped my anchor. I stepped out of the boat and to my horror, looked upstream and saw nothing but fish heads slurping on the surface. I’ll bet every trout in that hole was rising. I started to sweat in the cool mid-morning, pretending not to see the flurry of surface activity. I needed time to think.
As I walked back to the boat, Bill had already stepped out and was getting ready to do something, “What do you think”? I knew that at this critical point, I had two choices. I could pretend that I didn’t see the fish rising, knowing full well that we would not catch a fish in this hole on nymphs. Or, I could take my usual approach to these kinds of situations and be fully honest and call a spade a spade. Sometimes, the truth hurts. “Every fish in this hole is on the surface up there and our best bet is to rig a dry fly”, I said with my most sincerity.

“Son, did you not hear us? We will not fish dries!” George adamantly exclaimed from the boat. “What about emergers, thrown at these fish with a small strike indicator?” “Did your big brother knock the sense out of you when you were little”? Bill retorted with his best New Jersey accent. George tried to better explain the two men’s attitude, “WE ARE NYMPH PURISTS, A FISH TAKEN ON A NYMPH IS THE ONLY WAY WE WILL FISH, AND IT IS EITHER A NYMPH OR NOTHING AT ALL!” I was beginning to see their perspective and I could also taste the second cold beer I would have this evening.

Now in the world of guiding and in the grand scheme of things, different perspectives by different people on different things is pretty common. It is the guide’s duty to make the day run smoothly and keep his customers happy. Guides as a general rule are some of the most resourceful and adaptable people out there. We have all heard stories how different guides, “laid down the law”, so to speak and flat out told their customers what the Rules were. Most of the time, however, this is not the case. As in retail and business, the customer comes first. Happiness, and harmony are key. I had some tricks up my sleeve.
“Why don’t you guys try and nymph this and you might possibly catch some fish that aren’t up there gorging themselves on these adult mayflies”. “If they can be caught, me and Bill will nail them, besides the bigger ones usually don’t feed on the surface anyway”, George triumphantly exclaimed. I knew better. I knew these fish and I could see the large ones actively dinning on the top. After what seemed like an eternity to me and hundreds of casts later, I could tell by these two fellows body language, a sense of discouragement. Rule number one in guiding is to never flat out say, “I told you, so”. Most of the time, these kind of things have to be shown to the client and learned the hard way.

I said, “Alright, let’s try one more thing, but, I still think your best chance is with a dry fly.” I told these old boys to follow me and we will try and scare the fish out of their feeding frenzy, and we might have a second chance at them on the bottom. They agreed. The trout didn’t. It became so ridiculous, that one even rose right behind us, seemingly giving us “the fin”. It was now my turn to make the next move, and that is what we did.

A sense of quietness permeated the atmosphere as we crawled into my boat with our tails between our legs. Clouds began to accumulate as we drifted downstream, the day was turning into a dry fly lover’s dream. My next two stops, albeit quicker, were similar to the first. We had not caught a fish since before the hatch. It was now time for me to become bold and make my desperate and final last attempt at salvaging the day. These were nice guys, they had family, and they just wanted a good time. I don’t think I could have lifted either of them to throw them out of my boat, anyway. The truth and a change of perspective was in order. We needed to catch some fish!

On the fourth stop, the trout were really feeding strongly. As we slid into shore, I sat quietly between my two new friends, collecting my thoughts. “What are we doing?” Bill again with his Longshoreman demeanor. I could feel my face begin to flush, “I’m gonna flat out be real blunt with you guys. We won’t catch anything on a nymph fished on the bottom. We need to think differently. What if we thought of the dry fly as an adult nymph? It won’t be our fault if the fish eat it before it has a chance to sink. We could walk up there, throw our “adult nymphs” at these fish and have a great afternoon.” The look on Bill and George’s faces was somewhere between thinking that either I was crazy or a genius. I had already figured, I had nothing to lose.

These two hardened nymph anglers looked at each other and finally with a smile, George said, “We’ll try this, but only because we just want to catch a few more fish.” I quickly dismantled their nymph rods, by taking the weight, two flies, and the indicator off. I tied on some lighter tippet and one of my favorite “adult nymphs”. The first cast found George attached to a hefty 16 inch brown. It wasn’t long before Bill followed suit with a real nice 18 inch rainbow. I could see slight grins on their faces. We caught a few more fish this way in this spot and as we left to go down river, the earie quietness that had filled my boat earlier had vanished. It is amazing what just a few fish will do for the overall attitude of the day.

Our next several stops found us “adult nymphing” and I thought I might have even heard Bill giggle, and George facetiously cursing a brown for not letting his “nymph” sink before he ate it. We ended up having a great day, catching lots of fish on “nymphs”. As we pulled into the parking lot, shook hands, and said our goodbyes, I think we all learned a lot. I realized that these guys were really good at the kind of traditional nymphing they had done in the past. I saw that with the first few fish we caught in the morning. A change of perspective on the how-to of fishing was all that was necessary. I think the life lesson was that somehow we get so caught up in the details of how we get things done, we lose track of the fact that sometimes, things have a way of working out, and in the process a good time can come along and surprise you when you least expect it.