You might think that surrounded by soothing waters, my mind is emptied of its worries when I fly fish. But this is not so. When I fish, I am tormented by demons. There are several and, over the course of the years, I have come to know them pretty well. And, even though they are familiar companions at the waterside, I have never given them names or introduced them to anyone else. Today I will. There are five and they may well be strangers to you but, I suspect, you are already acquainted.

Among them there are two pairs. Like couples who have bitterly fallen out in the past each resolutely disagrees with the other. It is almost as if this is a matter of principle. There is simply no common ground. I shall christen the first pair Nymph and Dry.

Nymph has clear instructions it wants me to follow: tie on a nymph and drift it near the river bed. He argues persuasively that there are no signs of fish at the surface and points out that fish predominantly feed close to the bottom. If I don’t believe him he reminds me that analyses of stomach contents of trout overwhelmingly suggest that most of what is taken drifts or scurries on the river floor or close to it. Under his influence I reach for my sinking flies and rummage among the hare’s ears and pheasant tails. And, just as I am about to make a choice, his nemesis appears and yells into my other ear.

“Forget that crap!” Dry has climbed up onto his soap box. “You know what’s going to happen. You are going to snag your hook on the bottom! Okay, so no sign of surface activity – big deal!” Dry is a purist, but he argues convincingly too. A dry fly may well draw a good fish to the top even though no rise appears to be underway. And prospecting new water can be done quickly. Takes are easy to spot. Drag is immediately obvious. And nymphs, he tells me, should often move more slowly than the water surface because of drag created by the river bed and it is hard to make this happen in deeper water without getting closer, maybe too close, to the fly. And those takes can be much more difficult to detect.

While these two are battling it out the other pair of demons shows up. Let’s call them “Fast” and “Slow”.

Again they act antagonistically. Fast tells me to keep moving, explore new water, to see what’s around the next bend. Slow tells me to get a grip. “Be stealthy” he says, “Cover the water slowly so as to spook as few fish as possible, and keep low.”

Now the problem for me is that all these demons are experts and each has proven himself a useful guide in the past. But they agree on nothing. In the end, the day’s fortunes, whether good or bad, are simply the compromise reached after their interminable bickering.

The last demon you have surely met. We all have. Let’s call this one “Stay.” He just wants me to stay at the river. Forever! And why not?  It’s peaceful there. Stay convinces me to break my promise to make this one my last cast, to fish into the dusk, or even into the night. Maybe of all the demons I should fear him most. After all, that extra cast rarely produces and I can never find the car in the dark and, of course, my wife will be pissed off with me again. Unlike the others, who have an opposite to check his capacity to dominate, Stay and I must fight it out between us. And he wins. Always.

Published by Fly Fishing and Fly Tying Monthly, April 2011