Looking at the clock my brain started running through math problems. What did I have enough time to do between my time commitments? Factoring in drive time and where I was located, my options were limited, but I was close enough to the Gunpowder River to fish for 45 minutes before I had to pick up my kids from practice. Running errands or trying to make a few phone calls didn’t seem as fun at the time. With twelve minutes to drive, three minutes to rig my rod, another three minutes to get on my waders, and sixteen minutes to walk to one of my favorite spots to fish this time of year, I could have a short fishing window. Adding up the setup and breakdown with the walk and drive there and back would leave me 45 minutes to fish.
I knew exactly where I wanted to go and park. The lot had some cars, but wasn’t too crowded. Several of the cars have bike racks or appeared to be cars of hikers rather than anglers. For some reason, anglers have an affinity to adorn their vehicles with at least one sticker that announces the driver as fly angler, myself included. I have a Fly Fish Mend Sticker, a Trout Unlimited sticker, and a sticker of Tightlining, Maryland, supporting Mike Slepesky. Just as proud parents have college, stick figure families, and sports/activities stickers, anglers stick to a script of identification through car window adhesives.
The sparsely occupied lot provided a shot of enthusiasm and hope that my desired spot on the river was not being worked over by another angler. I accelerated through my process. Six minutes and I’m geared up and walking upstream to fish. Based on the time of day and the weather, I decide to fish nymphs along a deeper pool and work upstream into a deep and strongly flowing riffle. My hike up the river takes 17 minutes and I was huffing. I made a mental note to add more time to my hiking estimates in the future and also to try to get into better shape.
I picked a spot with easy access, variable water conditions and good depth if the flows were remaining low. Working with an indicator rig methodologically through the pool, I modify the length of the tippet, the weight and profile of the flies and different drifting lanes. One fallfish is all I can fool. Twenty minutes in and I make my way to the riffle. On my second drift, the sighter hesitates. I’m thinking I hit bottom and set the hook without confidence. I immediately feel a pull and a rush upstream. Fish on! A quick run to the left and it propels itself from the water. With a jump it throws the hook from its mouth and the flies go speeding past me into the shrubs behind me.
I was able to quickly untangle the line and retrieve my flies, but the line was damaged. Making the most of my time on the water was aided by spending time practicing my knots. Within a couple minutes I was able to completely tie on a new tippet and tag with two new nymphs. In the next few casts I hooked and lost another fish and then hooked and landed a nice brown. The weather was beautiful and my time on the water was rejuvenating, even as I felt I was on a timer.
Driving to pick up my son I realized that I had begun to develop skills, knowledge and a mindset to optimize short fishing sessions. That felt satisfying. To pass along and acknowledge some of the things that helped me, I developed the following list of tips for efficiently fly fishing in short sessions.
Plan the Logistics
To maximize time on the water, you have to be able to get there. Know safe, legal, and easily accessible parking spots near where you want to fish and have a back up plan. Safely making your way in and out of the stream is critical every time you fish, but getting injured, breaking a rod, getting a flat tire, or another stressor can quickly ruin any enjoyment from fishing.
Setup and Breakdown Gear
Putting together a fly rod and feeding the line through the guides used to take me 10 to 15 minutes. There were times I would set up the rod the night before and leave it in my truck just to avoid rigging time near the river. That is a helpful strategy to quickly get to the water, but limits your options of what approach you want to use when you see the stream conditions. A trick I have learned (from the Huge Fly Fisherman) to help me include putting together the bottom two sections and the top two sections first and then putting those two sections together. Working from the bottom up to the top, slows me down when handling the three sections and trying to connect the top section.
For feeding the line through the guides I pull all of the leader from the reel and grab the knot at the intersection of the leader and fly line. I hold the knot and push it through each guide, until I reach the top. Then I grab the leader and pull it through all the guides quickly. Holding the leader, I can quickly tie on new flies. I often wait until I get to the water to feed the line through the guides.
I have a heavy plastic tray and a small welcome rug in my truck that my wading boots and waders sit on. To aid efficiency, I pull them out of the truck in one motion and set them on the ground facing the direction I will step into the waders and boots. The plastic tray and mat prevent me from tearing the waders on stones or branches that often are near parking areas near streams. Leaving the boots untied and loose and facing out saves a good bit of time. As you slide on the waders with stocking feet, you don’t want to take many (or any) steps in the soft material. So as soon as my feet hit the end of the stocking foot, I place them directly in the correct wading boot and use my weight to push into the boot. Very quickly I can tie laces or use a BOA system to tighten my boots and head out.
Practice your Knots
Practice! I followed the advice from Troutbitten and practiced a few knots and tied my own leaders while watching sports or shows on television. I typically only use the clinch knot and the double surgeon’s knot when rigging on the stream. If I break a leader and need to use a nail knot, I use this handy nail knot tool. It saves so much time! But practice your knots. I had time where I left the water because I got frustrated by retying the flies on the tippet. After practicing on and off the water, I am much faster and the practice helps with muscle memory and hand eye coordination for moments when it’s hard to see.
Pick Good Water
A short trip is not the time to explore new water, at least if you want to catch a fish. It takes time for me to read the water and get in a rhythm on a new stream. Knowing where to wade, getting in and out of the water, streamside trails, and holding lies really helps you to have the best opportunity to catch fish in short sessions. Some may call it cherry picking, and they’re probably right. But fishing an area you are comfortable with helps imprint every detail of the reach and learn patterns of fish feeding behavior while limiting other variables. I’ve found repeating sections in short sessions has really helped me dissect specific features within a reach.
These tips and tricks have helped me, maybe try them out the next time you have a short window to fish.