Featured Photo: Northern Lights in Tennessee

Featured Photo: Northern Lights in Tennessee

Sunday, November 04, 2007

The Danger of Fishing Nymphs

This weekend on the Hiwassee, I had a profound and potentially life-changing experience while fishing. First, I discovered firsthand the danger of fishing subsurface. Then, as if to reinforce the lesson learned, I stumbled across some risers that were delicately sipping something microscopic on the surface. Of course, that in itself is not unusual but the fact that I decided to tie on a small dry and then had success with it was very unusual.

I'm sure you're wondering at this point what in the world I'm talking about. Understanding that I love fishing subsurface flies, you are probably doubting my sanity. It would all make sense though if you were able to see my tooth. That's right, I chipped off the entire top of my tooth.

For as long as I've been fishing nymphs, I pinch on my weight by using the good old set of chompers in my mouth. There was always the vague unease created by knowing that something bad could result, but I always shrugged it off and gnawed on yet another split shot. Yesterday, the routine was rudely interrupted (and just after I had caught a nice 13 inch brown no less) by a frightening crunching noise coming from somewhere under my nose and above my chin. I didn't feel any pain though and began to think that my teeth were so powerful that they had shredded the small split shot. When I examined the weight and saw that it was in perfect condition, the light came on and I was horrified to feel rough edges on a formerly perfect tooth. Subdued, I managed to pinch on the weight with my pliers and continued fishing. I finally moved upriver above the powerhouse to look for the risers that I was sure would be there.

Sure enough, there were several fish working the pools immediately above the powerhouse and I soon had a rainbow and a smallmouth to hand, still using subsurface flies. Knowing things could be much better, I decided to try a small zelon midge that I had tied several weeks ago. I diligently took out the 6x and tied on a generous piece and finally attached the small midge. Moving upstream in stealth mode, I spotted a rise on the other side of the stream just behind a rock. Two casts later, I dropped the small dry just upstream of the fish and had the satisfaction of watching the fish inhale the fly. Suddenly, everything seemed right. This was how fly fishing was meant to be. Nervously I pondered how this might affect my future fishing as I envisioned myself fishing dries upstream and to rising fish only. Then I realized, it wasn't the time for that kind of thought, I needed to just savor the moment. There would be plenty of time later for constructing my own philosophy as it pertained to fly fishing and its methods.

Now, as I look back on that short time fishing, I am forced to wonder if perhaps I'm on the brink of a new phase in my fly fishing. I know deep down that I'll never completely give up on fishing subsurface. If it brings more enjoyment, I might focus on fishing dries more for awhile. One thing is certain and that is that I will not be chewing on any split shot for a long time to come. I'll probably be visiting the dentist to remedy the problems that have already occurred...


  1. Anonymous8:26 AM

    Ouch! I hope you haven't been chewing on lead split shot too much. Use the non-toxic stuff. Of course that might explain the sudden change of philosophy (signs of lead poisoning, you know). As for philosophy, my own development as a fly fisher must cross yours at some point (I'm not sure which of us is struggling upstream while the other drifts peacefully with the current, metaphorically speaking). I've always tossed dries too much, to the detriment of my nymphing technique. I'm trying to force myself to master subsurface techniques, although you wouldn't know if from my last trip a week ago. I tossed dries the entire time. I just love convincing fish to rise, even when I know I could likely catch more and larger fish subsurface. Take care and good luck on your continued journey,


  2. Hawgdaddy, part of what I love about fly fishing is that there is always a new challenge to overcome...a new technique to master, a particularly difficult fish to catch, etc. Right now I've set myself the goal of becoming more proficient fishing midges and also fishing dries in the winter. I think part of it for me is that when I "master" (never really master but makes my point) a certain technique and start catching lots of fish, I have to find a new challenge...

  3. Anonymous11:21 AM

    Being relatively early in my fly-fishing career, most of my experience has been up top with dries; frankly, in fishing the small streams, it's more a matter of convenience than anything else - if you're all rigged up for dry fly fishing, and you're getting action on top, it's hard to go to a nymph. However, we're in the time of year that you're pretty much forced to fish subsurface; it looks like I might be able to squeeze in another Thanksgiving trip to the mountains this year, just like last year...I couldn't get anything on dries then, and I suspect the same situation will unfold this year. I don't mind fishing subsurface, but it doesn't quite have the pizzazz of eager trout smashing flies up top.

    As for the teeth...I've used my choppers as line cutters all my life, and most of that fishing life has been with casting and spinning reels, and monofilament considerably heavier than 5x tippet...I even was able to knaw my way through some Spiderwire once.

  4. Ijsouth, glad you'll be able to make another trip this year. Don't give up on the dries yet. There are certain pools on LR where you can find fish rising in all but the coldest weather. I don't know about the smaller streams you usually fish though...

  5. Anonymous11:11 PM

    I'm going to be staying in Maggie Valley, and I'm trying to narrow down where I'm going to fish. I'll probably hit Cataloochee, and I wouldn't mind trying Deep Creek as well. The problem is eliminating places - you want to try them all, and there just isn't enough time. I know I'll have to stick with the larger streams this time of year, which is the only downer - I just love those small streams up high...but no complaints - just glad to get one more trip in before next spring.

  6. Anonymous10:53 AM

    I decided that next year I'm not fishing any dries at all. Any tips from a former nympher?

  7. Alex, most of all, trust your instincts. Don't make the mistake of not setting the hook just because you can't consciously come up with a good reason to. If your gut feeling tells you to set the hook, then by all means do it...