Traditional and classic fly-fishing involves floating a dry fly over pools, eddies or the flat water at the edge of Vs and waiting and watching for the fish to rise and strike. As pleasing and magical as this experience is, there is another form of fly-fishing. I refer to it as fly-fishing the shadows. Typically done in colder weather, it involves dropping a fly on sinking line in the deep dark water against the bank – the bigger fish dominate the bank – allowing it to sink, and beginning a slow retrieve.
Missing is the hand – eye magical experience of dry fly fishing, but the allure is dropping the nymph in front of a larger fish and enticing a strike. There is something about casting a fly and allowing it to sink into unknown water beneath the surface. You cannot see, but you cannot be seen. And the savage strike is always unexpected. Yes…this is the allure.
On deep rivers you can cast upstream and allow the current to catch the nymph and begin carrying it downstream. It is a great peril and great promise type of fishing as you watch the drift of the nymph. More than once I have struck after watching the drift of the fly cease and watched my rod explode into action and listened to my reel begin screaming. And more than once I have struck only to feel the dead weight of a snag and lost another nymph. Yes, the great peril and promise of dropping a fly into unknown water – the shadows – and beginning to fish.
This type of fly-fishing will never take the place of traditional fly-fishing. Nor is it a substitute. It is something that is done in late fall after many fly-fishing folks have laid their rods and reels up for the winter. It is not for everybody, the air is cold, the water is cold and the fishing can be slow. But, it is the allure of the unknown and the willingness to fly-fish the shadows.
Engrained in my mind is one early November morning fishing the deep water beneath a large rockslide. My hands were freezing; I was bored and convinced there were no fish to be caught that morning. I placed my rod into the rod-holder fastened to the edge of the canoe and retrieved my fly box from my vest and began poking nymphs with my numb fingers. Suddenly a high-pitched scream pierced my revelry. I looked up to see my six-weight Loomis completely doubled over. The fly box hit the bottom of the canoe, I reached for the rod and just like that it was gone. That fish is probably still out there and I still kick myself for putting my rod down.
Fly-fishing the shadows – dropping a fly beneath the surface into unknown waters and beginning to fish – where you cannot see, but cannot be seen – the place of great peril and great promise – it is not for everybody, but can be a lot of fun!