Nymphing sounds naughty. Perhaps because it is. Teasing a rainbow trout out from under a boulder with flashy fake bait can be at once titillating, nerve-racking, frustrating, and exhilarating when the mission is indeed a success. The drive to feed is a universal pillar among survival instincts. A satisfying rush on par with few other basic human functions. Besides, what’s more sexy than a big, goofy human in monstrous green overalls?
The husband and I hadn’t been on a date for over three months so when a business friend introduced him to fly fishing on a recent trip out west, he came home and suggested we get a babysitter and a private lesson.
This is where our geography comes in handy. We live five miles from the famed blue ribbon Gunpowder River in northern Baltimore County, Maryland. Anglers from near and afar boast her bounties of brook, brown, and rainbow trout.
To get started, we booked a lesson for Friday, March 27th, the day before trout season opened, then secured my fishing license with trout stamp online. The morning of, we met Rob Lepczyk, a certified Orvis guide at Great Feathers Fly Shop. The four hour lesson for two came in at just under $300 and included instruction, technique critique, waders, and all other necessary gear. We followed Rob to the site and after a quick glance at the GPS, realized we were stationed pretty darn close to our own backyard.
We parked by a wader washing station, a near promise of munificent waters. But first things first: Rob showed me proper form, tucking the dominant elbow into the waist, using the forearm as a lever of sorts, pumping the fly rod with kinetic energy to be dispatched upon casting. The rod is ideally restricted to “ten and two” position as the line forms the sequential overhead arc in front of and behind the angler before the rod is pointed at the intended spot and finally released.
After 10 decent practice casts in a clearing, Rob determined that I was sufficiently prepared to begin and into the damp wilderness we went.
The “path” was a hilly forested expanse dotted with girthy, felled trees railroading our passage, their exposed, nutrient-rich interiors akin to coffee grinds. Next was less-navigable outcroppings blanketed in Kelly green moss and pale-hued fungi, increasingly more dense as we made our way down to the river. A quarter mile in, the crunch of leaves, twigs, and remnant ice underfoot gave way to spongy vegetation. We trekked alongside what seemed a shallow creek only to turn a corner revealing a top-50 fly fishing destination… The feverish rush of tail waters on the fabled Gunpowder River.
It was overcast, breezy, rainy and about 45 degrees out — perfect fishing conditions according to Rob as the fish won’t be “lethargic from heat or too much sun… They like it cold.”
He said, grinning: “Despite the rain, the water is pretty clear, so the fish can concentrate on eating, not just staying alive.” Rob explained how the fish filtered out murky sediment which is inherently hard on their gills. The Prettyboy Dam stationed upstream helps regulate the flow of the Gunpowder River unlike other Chesapeake Bay tributaries where rain run-off can create unfavorable fishing conditions.
Practicing casting technique with Rob Lepczyk, a certified Orvis fly fishing instructor.
Even after a casting lesson, a quick study in knots, flies, and suiting up, we still had three hours left to let loose on unsuspecting Oncorhynchus mykiss. I planted my grippy steel shank boots on a boulder the size of Rhode Island, tallying a few arcs before sinking my neon pink foam “redworm” into tender water straddled by rapids and shoreline. This is where oversight came in handy… I wouldn’t have known where to land my fly had Rob not been very specific about where to place it. Namely, the deeper, cooler, slower moving pools that exhibit model rest areas for congregating trout.
Here’s where my prior fishing experience severely boogered up my attempt at setting the hook. It’s exceedingly hard to unlearn something, especially when that one something is so deeply inherent. You see, fishing is in my blood. My father’s family has been in Southern Maryland for three hundred years, all fishing blues and rock, requiring a quick jerk to set the hook and a brawny pair of guns to reel the catch in. Not so much the case in fly fishing. I needed to stop bullying the line and ease up as I lost three fish by getting antsy after a nibble. The most difficult part of fly fishing is keeping cool, and cool is not something I’m particularly good at.
So who got on the board first? The husband. He caught a lovely little rainbow trout then released it. Meanwhile, I got a whole lot more of the big goose egg. I would have been irritated had I not been so happy for him. It’s a joke in our family that he’s a terrible fisherman.
But Friday’s small victory may just redeem him with my father and uncles after all…
Fly fishing is a sport where patience prevails. It is one of the few sports accessible to nearly everyone, regardless of age or sex. As a matter of fact, a notable authority on the sport is an elderly woman half my size, Joan Wulff, who cast at 161 feet in her heyday. She still teaches technique at the school bearing her name.
Tenkara “Soto” rod… Notice no reel.
After two hours of wholly unsuccessful loose line management, Rob offered me a try with his Tenkara rod. The rod was telescopic, increasing in lengths up to thirteen feet. No reel necessary. It was light, effortless. Casting was thoroughly natural, intuitive. Better control of the fly and easier handling quickly sold me on the simplistic Tenkara. I could switch hands, work tighter spots along tree lines, and easily tease the trout with a submerged “nymph” or a “dry” fly on surface water. Attempting to mimic natural movement of live insects yielding in the current seemed more probable with the lighter, more agile rod.
As with nearly every sport, gear can be expensive. Initially I ordered a pair of Simms Vapor wading boots and an Orvis women’s stocking foot waders, an investment of nearly $500, just to send them back, instead settling on a pair of boot foot men’s Hodgeman waders that I got on clearance for under $50. As for rods, there are pre-owned deals to be had on eBay, or consider the Orvis Encounter series rod and reel package that has excellent reviews and is well priced at $159. All you will need are some tackle and nippers. Even more affordable is the Tenkara rod, the ultra light system that breaks down to the size of a mailing tube, easily and safely transported to any locale across the globe. Rob reported he was going after shad using his Tenkara rod. I’m anxious to hear how that went.
It’s only been a few days and I’m itching to get my waders back in the river.
I snapped up the last Tenkara “Sato” rod at Great Feathers and got a small tackle box of line, stoneflies, midges, San Juan worms, and “Green Weenies.”
The boss and I settled on a standing date, one Friday morning a month, to fish together deep in that ravine just five miles from our home. We’ve got fishing “go bags” at the ready complete with waders, gear, snacks and water bottles. Now all we need for some good nymphing, is each other.
A view upstream on the Gunpowder River. Me with the Tenkara rod (freezing my can off!)