This Week's View

by Deanna Lee Birkholm

June 21st, 2004

Before Hip Boots

My husband, JC or Castwell, and I kid each other a lot - and we try not to take ourselves too seriously. However, we have a little 'inside' joke or phrase about fishing "Upstream and Dry." It congers up a British looking guy, tweed jacket, shirt and tie, plus fours, hip boots and one of those neat pipes with the big crook in the stem...very proper. He, of course, is fishing a cane rod. Nice visual at least.

We both really do enjoy fishing dry flies - it's terrific fun to see the trout take the fly. And a large part of the game is to deliver the fly in such a way that the trout takes it exactly the same way as it took the previous natural. Just a tip up of the head, open mouth and fly dropping in makes the picture perfect.

You've no doubt heard the 'upstream and dry' story before - it certainly isn't new. But I'll bet a dry fly you don't know the origin.

In 1857 William Stewart published the Practical Angler. His writing explained in detail the what, how, when and where to fish. There were people fishing upstream at the time, although downstream was the more accepted method. He claimed "not more than one in a hundred anglers fishes upstream with the fly..."

The neat part is Stewart's reasoning for fishing upstream.
"The trout doesn't see the angler; there is a much better chance of hooking the fish when the fish rises above the angler; fishing upstream disturbs the water less than fishing down, especially when a fish is hooked, as it is then played through water that has already been fished. Fish hooked by fishing downstream are played through the water the angler has not fished, and consequently, the fish he hopes to catch are spooked by the fight of the one hooked. Last, the angler can much better adapt the action of his fly to imitate the action of the natural insects when the cast is made upstream - that is to say, a drag-free drift is better achieved on the slack line that results from the upstream cast."

Good grief! That was written 147 years ago!

Talk about nothing being "new."

That Stewart quote above is from A Concise History of Fly Fishing by Glenn Law. JC reviewed the book a while back - and it really is fascinating.

Interestingly, the upstream and dry originally was intended as a way to deceive the fish in clear and or low water conditions. The "old" downstream method was still considered the best in muddy or high water!

Another little piece of trivia, wading in English streams wasn't considered "proper" - but not for the reasons you might expect. Boots which we use now, hippers for example, hadn't been invented yet! So wading when it was done, was done in one's clothing. There are even some warnings to not stay in the water so long as to have your legs turn 'moribund.' (It seems blue was acceptable however).

I really enjoy reading the old descriptions - and realizing how far we have come in some respects, while in others, we are going in circles.

For example, long rods - VERY long rods were used hundreds of years ago. Those usually didn't have a reel, or a line you could 'take up' at all, but as time when on, the anglers of long ago were as concerned as they are today about the casting of the rod. How to obtain a longer cast, longer, drag free drift - same game, different time. The two-handed rod was the staple - and we've come the complete circle back to it today.

I understand history doesn't light everyone's fire, but it can be absolutely fascinating. Sometimes actually knowing the connections between fly fishing hundreds of years ago and where we are now can really enhance your enjoyment and understanding of our sport. It's like I've said before - we've all walked in the shoes of every other fly fisher who ever lived.

Or maybe Flats Dude said it better in his column this week: "Just think; when we are fishing, no matter if you are standing in your cold-water stream, or you, in your warm-water river, and me on my saltwater flat; we are all connected physically by the water in which we stand."

It's the connection that counts! ~ DLB

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