We are lucky because Dartmoor's rivers teem with small trout, which at times can be free rising and liberate childish delight in all of us. And there are occasional bigger trout in surprising places. Last season a colleague returned a 14" trout within yards of a normally busting tourist honey trap, and there is always the possibility of hooking a sea trout.
Time is short in instruction sessions. We constantly feel under pressure
to teach purely mechanical skills - controlling wrist break or tying knots
that won't slip. Just as important is the need for stealth when approaching
and entering the water. Often the best thing to do is simply stand still
and do nothing. But fifteen minutes of just standing and staring would
be hard to justify in a short session.
Gierach devotes an entire chapter to this important topic which begins:
"I think stealth , and its various manifestations rates it own chapter. It's an underrated skill in fly fishing that's often listed after casting, entomology, wading, and even fly tying in order of importance, but I could introduce you to several fly fishers around here who can't cast worth a damn, don't know a mayfly from a barn owl, and wade like buffaloes, but who still catch lots of trout because they know how to sneak up on them."
Pure Gierach - seemingly effortless prose but used with deadly precision.
He has useful things to say about many topics including: etiquette, casting a dry fly downstream rather than the conventional upstream approach, the use of streamers - a very underused technique, and the perennial problem of choosing a rod for small stream fishing
"I once worked in a fly shop and the hardest thing I had to do there was help customers pick out fly rods - customers who didn't know exactly what they wanted, that is. What most chose to do was take every rod in the store out into the parking lot for a test drive and then buy the one they could cast the furthest with. I spent a lot of time, saying things like, "Well, that's very nice, but most of the casts you'll be making around here will be more like from here to that pickup truck, less than thirty feet - sometimes considerably less."How true, how very, very true. An awful lot of rods seem designed to cast into the next county. And to emphasize how 'fast' they are, they sport names that you normally see on the back of sports cars.
If I absolutely had to go fishing with only two flies, they'd be an Adams and a Hare's Ear Soft Hackle, but lets not kid ourselves. Nobody goes fishing with just two flies unless he's secretly using worms or trying to win a bet."
I confess to almost becoming stuck at this 'minimalist' stage of development. If you find yourself in a similar predicament, take a look at Ed Engle's "Fishing Small Flies". This may help us progress to Stage 3 - Matching the Hatch.
Engle stresses simplicity in his choice of tackle. For example, he goes into great detail on leader design. But his open-mindedness shines through when he admits that he "still goes back and forth" about the merits of knotless over hand tied leaders. He gives the following down to earth advice:"The key is to experiment with different leader designs until you find one that works for normal conditions where you fish."
The problem of 'drag' figures prominently throughout the book. For example:"Drag is especially challenging for small-fly fishermen because its effects can be more difficult to detect when fishing a fly that may not be even visible on the water's surface. The best course of action is to assume that drag exists on anything but the shortest of casts and act accordingly. Consider your position before the cast, use casts that put slack in the leader, and if necessary, mend the fly line once it's on the water to counteract drag."
Descriptions of the whole range of techniques that avoid drag and achieve dead-drift presentation when fishing dry flies and nymphs are at the heart of Engle's book.