Fly-fishing Voices

Looks and Nudges 

Fly fishing guide and columnist, Don Oliver, ties on a dry fly in anticipation of the morning ahead, fishing for trout along Lime Creek — one of his favorite haunts.
Photo Credit: Jeremy Wade Shockley | The Southern Ute Drum

The high country is snowed in, the Reservation and the San Juan River are closed, the lakes are icing over; the Animas is our fallback. And, frankly, it is a good fallback. From the Purple Cliffs upstream to the hatchery there are lots of trout to be found. Even though the water is shallow in many places, there are lots of riffles with water deep enough for fish to hide. Also, the water flowing on either side of big rocks provides great pools for trout to look for food. I have to say, finding trout in the Animas is like hunting Easter eggs. If you look close enough, you’ll find them. However, catching them is an entirely different matter. 

I talked with a couple of people I know, that are really good fly fishers, and they both said use a size #22-fly attached to a size 7X-tippet, and you’ll catch fish. That’s great for people with young eyes and enough dexterity to be an orthopedic surgeon. For those of us with old eyes, and hands as rough as the skin of a shark, those sizes won’t work. To make those sizes work, us old guys would have to hire a 16-year-old seamstress to tie our flies on, and yell “strike” (older fly fishers can be hard of hearing) whenever a fish attacked our fly. However, the chances of those youngsters’ parents letting them hang out with an old person whose vocabulary consists of sentences constructed of four-letter words, and likes to smoke cigars, are remote.  

Having that youngster stand beside me just doesn’t sound like much fun. So, I’ve invented a new game for us old folks that like to fly fish. It’s called Looks and Nudges. To begin the game you have to tie your own fly to your leader. An exception to this rule will be made if you’re legally blind, or on medication for arthritis of the hands. The leader cannot be any finer than a 5X and your fly has to be your favorite dry, size-18 or larger. Once those criteria are meet it is time to move onto the water. It is permissible to have a fly fishing assistant stand beside you to help with balance. 

Once in the river, may the best fly fisher win. The scoring for this game rewards points for not hooking or landing a fish. Every time you see a trout look at your fly you get one point. Every time a trout nudges your fly you get two points. If, during the looking and nudging, you hook a trout, you lose two points. Furthermore, if you land the fish you lose five points. Using this point system your hands will stay dry and warm, and the trout will not be stressed out. This seems like a win-win contest. Imagine getting back to the truck, at the end of the day, and the winner is someone that has gone to the ultimate level of fly fishing. No net was needed, no grip and grin photos taken. Just the pure enjoyment of fooling trout to look at, or nudge your fly. Plus, using a fly you can see, is another added bonus. It’s like golf on the honor system. The most convincing storyteller wins. 

So, as you wade up and down the Animas, pay close attention to the ripples with a little depth, or the pools formed as the river flows around big rocks. 

As this year of columns ends, I want to first thank each of you for reading them, and in some cases actually having something nice to say about them. Next, I will once again leave you with my annual politically incorrect statement. I wish everyone Felize Navidad, Happy Hanukkah, a good Eid al-Adha and, of course, Merry Christmas. If none these fits your beliefs, then may whatever touches your heart with hope be with you for all of 2021. 

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