Eye of the Guide


Tom Travis - Mar 11, 2013

Fly fishing is a sport that is filled with tradition, in some places the traditions of opening day is the building of excitement and hours of preparing flies and tackles for that magical moment. In some places there is the tradition of the final day of the season where at the end of the day the angler must clean and store the tackle and begin to prepare for the opening day of next season while reliving the adventures of the season now consigned to the past.

The Catskills has a wonderful tradition as the birth place of American dry fly fishing and a tradition of the slim and elegant dry may flies which have been made world renowned by a host of equally famous fly tiers and anglers.

Fly fishing is a wonderful sport where the fly fisher can pursue the sport to any limit or complexity that is personally desired and be perfectly happy at the limit or desire of the individual fly fisher. Each fly fisher is free to make the choice of how far to take the quest for knowledge and the desire to challenge and master the situations encountered in the world of fly fishing.

For me, I love the rich literature of tradition yet I am also curious about the day and the situation encountered and often this curiosity take me far beyond the traditions of the sport and because of my love of fly fishing history and the challenge of learning and overcoming the challenges encounter I often find myself far beyond the traditions in certain areas that I fish and write about.

By now you may be wondering what all this rambling has to do with the Hatch/Food Form Chart listed in this volume.** My point is simply this; those who pretend to be expert and offer their advise to others should do so in the most complete manner possible. Presenting all the information on what is found in the various waters discussed as to what the trout or other game fish may feed upon.

If the fly fisher receiving this information choose only to fish dry may fly imitations, then that is the right decision for the individual angler. But for those experts who are providing the information to leave out or ignore any important piece of information is thoroughly unprofessional.

My son, Captain Ryan Travis has been posted to duty at West Point Military Academy in New York. This posting was indeed an exciting prospect for Ryan as he would now have a chance to fish the famous waters of the Catskill region. Ryan graduated from West Point in 2005 and has since served two combat tours in Afghanistan. When going to school at West Point he had little time to fly fish these famous waters and confined his fly fishing to some of the ponds found on the grounds of West Point.

Now Ryan is no novice fly fisher, he grew up fly fishing the waters of the Yellowstone, Bighorn, Madison and Missouri Rivers and took graduate studies on the waters of Armstrong's and DePuy's Spring Creek in Paradise Valley Montana.

Growing up in a fly shop and with a teaching fly fishing guide for a father he learned about the insects that the trout feed on and learned the importance of observation, the use of small insect net and the use of the stomach pump. Being an avid and serious angler he soon visited the local fly shops and became familiar with the local waters of the Catskills enjoying days on the Beaverkill, Esopus and the East and West Delaware.

This past season he had decided to spend a day on the West Branch of the Delaware  River therefore had gone on-line to check the latest fishing reports from the various area fly shops and to see what was predicted to be hatching. On the day of his trip he visited two fly shop on the way to river.

The following report is taken from the notes that Ryan sent me after his visit to the West Delaware River.

"With the press of time of having a 6 month old son, I was unable to reach the river before 9:30 A.M. However the anglers I encountered told me that I had not really missed anything.

As the day continued I had seen all of the insects that had been mentioned in the reports and by the fly shops hatching in limited numbers and at that point I was pretty pleased with their attention to detail. Throughout the course of the day I had been able to pick up a trout here and there, but during the afternoon I encounter a pod of rising trout that several anglers had been working.

I watched the action of the other anglers for about 20 minutes and as two of the anglers waded back to shore, I asked if I could give them a shot, and they replied "Sure we have had no luck." I moved into position below the feeding pod so I had good angles for both casting and presentation. I could see the hatching insects, and by watching the rise forms I felt that the trout were feeding just beneath the surface however after using three different patterns I had yet to move a trout. One of the previous anglers watching from shore commented that they seemed to be too picky and maybe had seen too many flies. As I stood there watching I thought now "What would Dad do in a situation of this type?"

Of course the answer came almost like he was standing watching and quietly saying "Get below the feeding fish and get a little insect net in the water and find out what they are really eating." I moved slowly and placed a small insect net in the water, and after a minute of two I check the net I chuckled to myself, switched patterns and after two casts had my first trout. I quickly pumped the stomach and the contents confirmed what I had seen in the insect net, I released the trout and soon was hooked into another.

Over the next forty five minutes or so I hooked several more trout and didn't even realize that I had attracted the attention of several anglers who had watched me take several of these picky trout. As the action ceased and I moved to shore the other anglers move into to quiz me on the pattern that I was using.

I told them I was using a Black Midge Pupa size 18 and showed them the stomach sample that I had collected. They were nice guys and told me they often fished the river but had never thought of the trout feeding on midge when there were so many larger insects around. Another angler pointed out that midges hadn't been mentioned in any of the fishing reports.

After I returned home for the day, I complied my notes and I checked the information that I had collected on the hatches on the West Branch of the Delaware River. I even checked out a new book I had purchased which had come highly recommend and in this volume I found nothing on midges and was frankly astounded! I did find some information on midges on some of the hatch charts I collected from various fly shops but they mostly showed the midges as a winter and spring pattern and seldom was the information very complete or compelling. I reported the information to my Dad."

After I received Ryan's report I checked my own records and research material and I had a couple of days to contemplate his report before we had a chance to talk. I explained that the midges seldom figure into the "Traditions of storied waters like the West Branch of the Delaware River" and I reminded him that on each visit to any river the information you gather from the hatch charts and fishing reports are valuable but the most important weapon that the angler has is the ability observe what is happening on the river and during any situation that the angler may encounter. This is a test that every angler must pass to move forward as an angler who is willing to learn and to learn. It is best to meet these situations with an open mind and not be bound by the traditions and practices of the area you are fishing.

Once again we find ourselves facing Traditions; if an author wishes to portray the abilities of a perceived expert on Mayflies, Caddisflies and so on then that fact should be clearly stated. To be perceived as an expert on all the food forms on the river, well I fear that many should spend more time on the water collecting and observing what the fish really eat. I make no claim that I am an expert, however I try to be complete and I fully realize that the information that I have accumulated has barely scratched the surface of the information that is available.

As you can see we all have much to learn and to go forward in humility and with an open mind is the best approach to expanding our knowledge base as anglers.

Enjoy & Good Fishin'

**This is an excerpt from a larger writing project the author is currently writing.

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