Fly Fishing’s “Perfect Conditions”

I’m not what you’d consider a full blood “dry fly purist”’, probably closer to a mix of  ⅞ dry flier and ⅛ Czech Nympher. Given this genetic makeup, when I’m asked “how about this weather?” If it’s cloudy and dreary out, I’ll sometimes reply with “perfect olive weather, right?”, or if it’s hot and muggy, “tricos should be out early this morning!” As you can imagine, this causes the “is that guy on something?” response from most people. So when I use the term “perfect conditions”, it’s referring more to hatch probabilities than to something you would find in a meteorology book.

A few weeks ago I was faced with a “dilemma”. Arguably not a life altering choice, but important nonetheless. I had RSVPed to a work seminar that was a 2 hour drive from my house. This was by no means a mandatory event. While it would include some content I might find interesting, it wasn’t going to provide anything that would be beneficial for me or the families that I work with.

I now realize that it was probably more of an excuse to get out of the office for a day, and tune into the “windshield channel”, which anymore seems to be the only channel worth watching.

Two days prior to the seminar, it occurred to me that because my entire day had been blocked of to attend it, I had no client meetings set, and no family commitments made. Thoughts of, “is the two hour drive to the event the only route that gets the windshield channel”? crossed my mind. Maybe you can see where this is going.

Walking through our front door on Tuesday evening with those thoughts on my mind, I confirmed with my wife that, yes, since I was already committed to a full day out of town, there was nothing at home that she needed my help with. With a “reading my mind” grin, she said “why do you ask?” I stammered something like “well you know if I’m going to drive two hours, I’d rather end up looking at a trout stream than a PowerPoint presentation, but... I’m only going fishing if the “conditions are perfect”.” (With it being late April, this meant cloudy skies, low to mid 60’s temperatures, and slightly higher than normal stream flows), prime PMD weather to say the least.

Wednesday night, After she had watched me obsessively check and comment on the upcoming weather for the past 24 hours, she asked if I’d made up my mind. I replied with something about waiting until the morning to check stream flows to make sure it was going to be “perfect conditions”. Hearing my response and having just witnessed me organize my fly gear, she looked at me and asked with honesty in her voice, “what would constitute non perfect conditions?”

I found myself waking up before my alarm went off on Thursday morning with that familiar “Christmas morning” feeling in my stomach. True to my word, half way through packing my gear into my truck, I checked the stream flows. This being more of a formality than a true research attempt, it really didn’t matter what the results were.

I got to the stream and spent a couple of hours fishing and waiting for the am spinner fall that this stream sometimes has with less than minimal results. After a snack, I hit a section of water that “conditions were perfect” for producing an olive hatch. Wading the stream and blind fishing a size 18 klinkhammer, I saw no risers and nothing indicating the olives were on the move. So I found one of those perfect streamside sitting logs, you know the ones that are rubbed smooth by years of fisherman’s butts, and sat down to take a pause.

Before long I started to smell cigar smoke, and instinctively knew that there was another angler approaching from upstream. Sure enough, 10 minutes later I found my silence and solitude “paused” by a very confident man, who, while between puffs of his cigar, was not shy about sharing his success with me. Not knowing what else to say, I asked a straightforward common question. “What are they eating?” He paused, took a big puff of his cigar, looked me straight in the eye as if he were about to tell me where he buried his gold, and in a whisper said “olive wooly booger” (yes, he pronounced it booger) and with that, he continued his walk downstream.

Now I don’t mean to be rude, but this type of response is one that always baffles me. I’m not a fish biologist, but I would bet my tying vise that not a single trout in that stream has a diet that includes “wooly boogers”. Had I asked him what are they biting on, I could understand his answer, but I was dry fly fishing and wanted to know what type of insect they were eating so I could attempt to imitate the naturals. I wasn’t mad about it, and maybe I’m too nerdy about my bugs, but for him to be that confident in his fly fishing abilities and not know what he was trying to imitate made me feel like he was missing out on part of the fun.

After having my fill of “advice” for the day, I jumped in the truck and headed to a secluded stream where I rarely run into other anglers and I almost always see some type of hatch. Sure enough, after hiking the trail that ends at the stream’s edge, I could see splashy rises 30ft in front of me. They weren’t constant rises, so I knew it wasn’t the olive hatch the “conditions were perfect” for, but they were rises nonetheless.

I have this weird desire to catch at least one fish on a dry fly each time I go out. It's not some macho attempt and proving my abilities, it’s almost as if I’m checking to make sure it can still be done and that the trout haven’t decided to exclusively feed underwater. Maybe it’s from years of drowning worms as a kid, but I just think it’s so amazing that I can see the fish when it takes. So after determining it was caddis they were taking, I tied on my go to caddis pattern and focused on landing that first one of the day.

I’ve never been much of a fish counter, so after making sure the trout’s genetics hadn’t changed, I decided to try out a few new caddis patterns I’d recently tied to see how they looked on the water. They seemed to ride and float well, and I even caught a few more fish on them.

After a few hours of fishing, and almost without realizing it, I found myself at one of my favorite runs. Looking up towards the bluffs that surround that stretch of the stream, I realized that the olive hatch that “conditions were perfect for” wasn’t going to happen that day. My mind went back to my wife’s question: “what would constitute non perfect conditions?” I didn’t have an answer for her then, and I haven’t found one since.

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