Eye of the Guide


Tom Travis - XXX, 2016


"I have no special talents. I am only passionately curious."
Albert Einstein, this quote has often guided my adventures in fly fishing
Tom Travis, Fishing Journal 1985

Rainbow Trout feeding in "The Zone"

Anglers often speak of fishing the surface film during various emergences of insects and at times and under certain under certain circumstances they are successful. However, there are times where anglers are frustrated when trout are feeding in this zone.

This frustration comes from a lack of understanding of the "The Zone", as it is more than just the surface film itself. For me the zone begins about six inches beneath the surface and includes the bottom of the surface film, in the surface film and on the surface film.

Down through the ages the emergences of any insect plagued the anglers of the times but the confusion was caused by a lack of understanding of the emergence cycles of insects and the fact that wet flies were often fished in the upper third of the water column and were in fact successful during various situations.

In 1600 John Taverner published Certaine Eperiments Concerning Fish Fruite, in this volume he describes his observations of emerging insects, however it would still be a couple of centuries before this fact became generally known and accepted by the fly fishing world. Charles Cotton was aware the insects lived beneath the surface and hatched upon the water but he didn't spend a lot of dialogue on the subject.

The next angling author who contributed so to the slow growing knowledge base of how insects emerged was Richard and Charles Bowlker of the 18th century.

The Art of Angling was first published in 1747 by Richard Bowlker and the second edition was credited to both Richard and his son Charles Bowlker, who was acknowledged as one of the finest fly anglers of the 18th century. By the third edition Charles Bowlker was credited as the sole author and the missive went through sixteen editions. Here is an on-line address if you wish to read Bowlker's Art of Angling, the 1779 Edition on your own.

Some of the patterns that were created by Bowlker have survived the test of time and are still around in some original or modified form. Bowlker also fished upstream as conditions allowed and at one time all of his patterns were considered wet flies; however after studying the text and the materials used I realized that he could have fished his patterns on the surface of the water and beneath the surface.

The next landmark publication on the insects on which the trout feed was published in 1836 by Alfred Ronalds and was entitled The Fly-Fisher's Entomology. As an historical note between 1836 and 1913 there were eleven editions printed and during the next one hundred years this book has been reprinted several times and still can be found. However I have included an on-line address if you wish to read this classic 1836 edition on your own.

Alfred Ronalds work was the first which was based on science and would impact fly fishing far into the future. Besides describing the hatching process Ronalds also expounds on his theories of the trout's vision and developed a workable theory which explained the trout's window of vision. This theory would later be expanded on by others such as Preston Jennings, Vince Marinaro, John Goddard and Brian Clarke to name a few.

Again in reading the text you will discover that Ronalds fished his on surface of the water and close to the film and of course beneath the surface of the water in the upper third of the water column.

As a point of interest John Younger described some rough nymph in 1840 and in 1855 William Blacker published Blacker's Art of Fly Making and in this volume is an emerger pattern which shows that some anglers were moving in a forward direction. As a point of interest Blacker's work was first published in 1842 which was only forty eight pages long and the emerger pattern isn't found until the 1855 edition which was expanded to two hundred and fifty two pages. Copies of this volume can still be found on the fly fishing book market.

In 1857 William C. Stewart published The Practical Angler in which he talked about casting his Soft Hackled Spiders upstream to trout that were visibly rising and a study of his text reveals that he fishing his flies on the top of the surface film, in the surface film and beneath the surface of the water. Even though Stewart didn't actually use the term surface film if you read the text you will see that the intent was implied. If you wish read the text yourself I have provided an on-line link for the 1867 edition.

Throughout fly fishing history many different angling authors wrote of fishing their imitation both on the surface as a floating fly or barely damp on the surface and of course beneath the surface of the water and much of their works dealt with fishing the upper third of water column. However the next angling author to fully explain the relationship between hatching insects and the surface film was G.E.M. Skues and this began with his 1910 publication of Minor Tactics of the Chalk Stream and his further worked published in 1921 The Way of a Trout with A Fly in these volumes Skues wrote nymphs which were mature being taken by trout just below the surface and how a damp Hare's Ear Wet Fly was a descent emerger of sorts.

Between the publication of Skues two books J. C. Mottram published Fly-Fishing Some New Arts and Mysteries in 1915 where discussed the emergence of insect and the importance of fishing in the upper third on the water column to include fishing the surface film.

Interestingly F.M Halford was somewhat aware of emerging nymph and it shows in several of his books, however Halford seems to expend a great deal of time talking about this only to say that it was immaterial as it did not relate to dry fly fishing.

Col. E. W. Hardy would contribute his classic volume in 1932 entitled The Fly Fisher and the Trout's point of View in which he would discuss the factor of light and how it affects the visions of the trout.

Many of the American authors would also dabble with emergers as did James Leisenring, Pete Hidy, A. J. McClane, Ray Ovington, Vincent Marinaro, Ernest Schwiebert, Carl Richard and Doug Swisher and many others but I thought I might move forward to the newer publications which have dealt with fishing the film.

Therefore I recommend the following volumes if you wish to read the most modern view on fishing "The Film Zone" and they are; Learning From the Water by Rene' Harrop published in 2010, Fishing the Film by Gary A. Borger, published in 2010, The Upstream Wet Fly by Terry Lawton, published in 2011 and Fly Fishing Outside the Box---Emerging Heresies, by Peter Hayes, published in 2013.

All of these books contain a wealth of information on fishing in the upper third of the water column including facts pertaining to fishing in, on and under the film.

Fishing in the Film Zone will offer the angler many challenges to overcome and these challenges of casting or presentation angles, drag, observation and the construction of proper and effective pattern designed will be discussed in depth as we go through the remaining four parts of fishing the Film Zone.

In Part Two we will be discussing Mayflies in the Film Zone.
Enjoy & Good Fishin'


Sysadmin Note
Part two can be found here


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