“That’s just spinning with a fly rod!” I laughed at DJ’s jibe as I roly-polyed the Magoo as fast as I could. We were on Lake Purrumbete and the fishing had been a little slow – or in DJ’s simple summation, “Crap!” Something different was called for, and although the roly-poly isn’t my first choice of retrieve, I decided it was time to give it a go. Three casts later, I was ripping the fly back when a 3 pound rainbow hit like a bullet. By letting the line slip just in time, I barely prevented a break-off, and soon the silvery fish was leaping all over the place.

Predictably, at the sight of a nice fish in the net, my friend quickly overcame any moral doubts (he’s the sort of angler who will happily apply as much tungsten as needed to get deep on the Tongariro) and DJ was soon demanding a crash course in the art of the roly-poly. We each went on to land a couple more nice rainbows using that retrieve, and I don’t recall any further comments about ‘spinning’…

It’s always been the case that, as technology and plain inventiveness give flyfishers more and more choices about how they fish, some anglers question the validity of the new techniques or gear. I have a mental picture of a Macedonian angler standing on a bridge many centuries ago, watching as another flyfisher on the river below casts with a new-fangled silk line instead of tried-and-true horse hair, and whispering to his mate, “It’s not really flyfishing though, is it?”

What drives this judgement of various techniques, equipment or even fishing preferences? I sometimes think it may be a desire to discredit a skill or equipment we don’t have yet! When Czech nymphing and its derivatives first arrived on the scene, I found myself looking for faults. Having finally got to a point where I felt pretty good about my own indicator nymphing technique, part of me wanted to believe that Czech nymphing had flaws – particularly for our Australian trout streams. After all, I rationalised, you had to stand too close to the fish, the gear was too specialised to easily change to regular dry fly fishing if needed, it only worked on the small fish, and so on.

Clear water, sighted trout and dry fly - as good as it gets?

Clear water, sighted trout and dry fly – as good as it gets?

The reality of course is Czech nymphing is very effective – as I gradually came to accept. It’s not the answer in every situation, and it may not be every angler’s preferred way to fish. But the technique (and variations thereof) is undeniably skilful and catches plenty of fish. Any criticism is utterly subjective.

Which brings us to the second reason that people have been known to frown on a particular flyfishing technique: they personally don’t like it as much. This is where anglers really begin to confuse preference with skill – a slippery slope! Sight fishing is lovely, looks cool when done well, and I happen to be quite good at it. (I said ‘quite’.) But if I’m honest, what I find most impressive is someone who can fish up a couple of nice trout, on a lake, in winter, in miserable weather without a sign of a fish otherwise.

Part of me would like to disparage this as ‘blind flogging’ – the implication being that if the angler has the endurance to robotically present a fly often enough, eventually a trout will eat. But I can’t get away with that explanation, because I’ve spent a lot of time with friends who are very proficient at this. Their skill level is, to my eyes, incredible. With little or no positive reinforcement, these anglers are constantly making decisions about fly change, fly combinations, tippet, retrieve speeds, depth and location. They are totally focussed on everything; trip-wired for the slightest tap, resistance or line movement that may be a fish.

I’m sufficiently mediocre at this to be able to admire people who do it well. Presenting a dry fly to a rising trout on a summer spring creek may be just about as pretty and desirable as flyfishing gets, but for truly elite ability, those lake searchers are hard to beat.

This season, I’ll probably fish with indicators a lot, but look for the ‘wink’ of a fish eating when I can. I’ll try to extend my concentration span when searching, while inevitably keeping one eye out for a fish. I suspect I’ll use dry flies more than I should from a strictly fish-catching point of view, but I’ll do it gladly anyway because it is hard to beat the experience of a surface take. It’s likely I won’t use sinking lines as often as I should and I’m not exactly sure why that is. I’ll often fish one fly, though I’ll gladly use two if I think the advantage merits it. I’ll use three flies hardly at all and occasionally wonder about that too.

At some point, I will catch the most memorable fish of the season and I have honestly no idea whether that will be a fish I saw, or one I didn’t. Or whether it will be on wet fly or dry; a fly left stationary, or retrieved – maybe even with a roly-poly! It is likely that fish will be a trout, but there’s no guarantee of that either. It’s all flyfishing, and I can’t wait.

Philip Weigall