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Old 01-29-2015, 06:11 PM
rhodohunter rhodohunter is offline
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Default Old School Nymph Fishing?

Hello everyone!
I have enjoyed reading through the forum and decided to jump into the fray! I grew up gear fishing but my grandfather was a OLD SCHOOL (think 30's and 40's) fly fisherman. Sadly he died when I was younger and I did not get to learn from him. I have vivid memories of him "high sticking" his way up small streams while I threw rocks and played with crawfish. I have recently become enamored with the historical nymph fishing techniques used in the Southern Appalachians. There is very little documented on this and for all practical purpose that style of fishing seems to have vanished. Your very own Jim Casda has some in his excellent guide book and there are little snippets elsewhere but not much. Does anyone have any detailed information on flies, techniques etc. used back in the day? To me, it seems a lot like "modern" tight line nymphing with wet flies and soft hackles. Any and all information and advice would be most appreciated! Especially from some of you folks that may have seen it firsthand (hint, hint, Mr. Casada and Mr. Kirků.)
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Old 01-29-2015, 06:41 PM
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David Knapp David Knapp is online now
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The old school methods are still alive and well. Walter Babb is a good example of someone who has been doing it for a long time and knows the history and tradition behind fly fishing in the area better than anyone probably. Long cane poles were often used with heavily weighted old patterns such as the Yallerhammer and Crow fly so it wasn't strictly "fly fishing" as we know it. Most of our modern techniques used in southern Appalachia still have a very healthy dose of the traditional high stick methods however.

When "Czech" nymphing sprang on the fly fishing scene fairly recently, a lot of people, myself included, were surprised to hear about the "new" technique that we have used for so long in this area. Yes, there are differences between Czech nymphing and the techniques used in the Smokies and surrounding areas, but there are also a LOT of overlap and similarities.

In my opinion, traditional high stick nymphing techniques are superior to dry fly presentations on a lot of area waters simply because you catch so many fish that keeping a dry fly floating becomes quite the hassle.

I think at least a portion of the reason behind the lack of documentation is that it is somewhat difficult to communicate even verbally. When I was in my teens and wanted to learn to high stick nymphs, I booked a half day with Walter Babb. When I told him my goal for the day was to learn to high stick nymphs, he said, "I don't normally fish with clients, but the only way I know how to teach you is to just show you." He was right and it made a world of difference in my fishing once I saw the technique for just a couple of minutes.
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Old 01-29-2015, 08:07 PM
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Rog 1 Rog 1 is offline
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I have been fishing the Park for over 50 years....began by watching and fishing with my grandfather who fished the mountains before they were part of the present day park. He would tell me that when he first began fishing the mountains no one fished "dry" flies...mostly wet flies. He always fished with a 9 foot rod and would high stick every little pocket of water in a pool. Even when he began using dry flies they would generally sink fairly soon and he would stick them on the surface when necessary. While my grandfather always used a fly rod I can remember walking up the LR trail many a summer day following the locals carrying nothing but cane poles with only a length of mono and a split shot. These fishermen would fish from behind trees on the bank, over and round boulders in the river and reach across to the far water....and they generally had more fish leaving for home than those of us with the newest equipment. One of my best catching days was a rainy morning free floating a Leadwing Coachman through runs above the forks of the river above Fishcamp Prong....went to this fly because the rain was sinking everything on the surface....used this fly with no weight and just sticked it through the middle of the runs....newer is not always better.
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Old 01-30-2015, 09:56 AM
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Grannyknot Grannyknot is online now
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The old ways are alive and well. Even some of the younger generation fishes with nymphs using the high stick technique. If you are looking for info on some of the old patterns & how to tie them, Don Howell wrote a pretty good book.

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Old 01-30-2015, 02:34 PM
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Here is a page from Walter Babb's article in the march 2004 issue of American Angler. Sorry, the font is so small, i'll try to blow it up some.

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Old 01-31-2015, 09:52 PM
rhodohunter rhodohunter is offline
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Lots of great info there! I understand it is a lot by feel and by observing others but can any of you offer any have any helpful pointers on techniques?

Last edited by rhodohunter; 01-31-2015 at 11:35 PM..
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Old 02-02-2015, 02:57 PM
Don Kirk Don Kirk is offline
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Default early stuff

Quite the can of worms you are opening there...

My Cosby mentors did a thing best described as "mono nymphing." They put 60 or so feet of 4-pound monofilament line on a fly reel (usually an automatic rewind reel) and fished weighted nymphs in tandem. I know this goes back at least to the late 1940s when suitable mono lines first became available. Most of the guys that did this were also well-versed at using 10-14' cane poles--nothing fancy.

Prior to that most of the wet and what few nymph patterns used in this region were cast in conjunction with a spinner (usually a Hilderbrant or willow leaf Colorado). Tackle was quite different then. What we would generally classify as ultra-light spinner baits were called fly rod baits then. Prior to spinning reel, there was only baitcasting reels/rods. Casting more than 10 feet required a pretty good chunk of metal or wood. The really light stuff was easier to present using a roll cast with a fly rod. Of course there were exceptions to this, but precious few.

As best I can tell there were few nymph patterns of local origins prior to 1940. In those days not many fly fishermen differentiated between wets and nymphs. Again, there were exceptions to this, but not as many as you might think.
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Old 02-03-2015, 05:58 PM
rhodohunter rhodohunter is offline
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That is some really interesting info Mr. Kirk! Thank you for your response!
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Old 02-19-2015, 11:58 PM
Grampus Grampus is offline
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Default Old School Nymphing

For me, it was like learning a first language. If it's all you're taught, it's all you know and seems natural. My mentors, who fished from the 1950 and 1960's, only fished this way, and only taught me this way. We never used dries, and in the Smokies as I was learning, never saw a need to since what we used kept our creels full. Even after all these years, it seems I walk out from each trip nymphing in the Smokies having learning something new, ever so miniscule. It's true that it is difficult to explain. While fishing, I'm often asked why I do something, but it's just a "feel" or unexplained action which I assume I've pulled from decades of experience or some tidbit of information passed onto me by the previous generation. I've taken some who learned the basics quickly, and some never have. I've had some that seemed hopeless then one day it all clicks. A friend comes to mind when it all came together. I simply sat on the bank, eventually joined by a Park ranger, we were both immersed into each trout he pulled in. It was a truly beautiful moment that I don't think he realized what was happening until afterwards when I explained to him that he'd "figured it out".

As someone stated earlier, the best way is to go with someone and simply watch, and Walter is a great choice.

Jim Parks
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