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Fly Fishing Jazz: “Out of the Mainstream”

by Kirk Deeter
illustrations by Kirk Deeter

Fish QuixoteThe other day someone in a “FlyTalk” comment thread said that I regularly “bastardized” fly fishing.  I guess I do write about heresies like, oh, Tenkara fishing and casting flies at carp.  I’m also the rotten SOB who called strike indicators “training wheels,” said (appreciatively) that Czech nymphing was a drop-shot rig for moving water, and suggested that there are more important things for a trout angler to worry about than how to make an 80-foot overhead cast.  I fish Muddler Minnows dry, Adams flies wet, I probably fish streamers more than I should, and do a lot of other “wrong” things.  But I’ve never been accused of “bastardizing” fly fishing.

Absorbing shots from people hidden by screen names is an occupational hazard for any writer these days.  But to tell you the truth, I feel kinda blue about this one.  It makes me sad when people think innovation and experimentation amount to an assault on fly fishing culture.

After all, the stereotype of fly fishing is that it’s a static, stoic sport bound by rigid methodology, and the typical fly angler is a priggish prude.  Yet the most exciting experiences—and the most interesting people—I have found in fly fishing have proven to be exactly the opposite.  It also seems to me that the more we demonstrate the latter over the former, the brighter the future is for fly fishing.

Indeed there are important traditions that should be understood, respected and preserved.  I don’t think I’ve ever said a pure casting stroke was a bad thing.  Nothing wrong with cane rods and Pale Morning Dun dry flies fished upstream either.

But traditions—in art, in jazz music, and indeed in fly fishing—can also be used as the stepping off points for improvisation.  They should be. After all, minus a new twist, it just becomes “production.”  And nothing, in my mind, could be further from the core reasons why many of us choose to fly fish in the first place.

The guy who complains that experimenting with new techniques and tactics is bastardizing the sport, is like the frustrated junior high school band conductor, yelling for everyone to get on the same sheet of music.

Let me tell you something.  It isn’t going to happen.

And thank goodness for that.

MidCurrent Fly Fishing
Kirk Deeter is the editor of TROUT, the national publication of Trout Unlimited, and a frequent contributor to MidCurrent.
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  • Nate Wood


    Maybe I misunderstood the tradition of flyfishing, but it is precisely the freedom of innovation that attracted me back to flyfishing.  I get to create my own flies, tactics, and I will unabashedly “borrow” techniques, tactics, and materials that I think may work.  Case in point, batting used for making quilts has some fun properties on the vice.  I regularly read your articles here and find them refreshing.  Keep up the great work!


    • Mike Jackson

      My name is Mike Jackson. I am the Outdoor Writer for one of the major, daily, Chicago-Metro newspapers. I have also been a fly fisherman for over 40-hearts. I have been fortunate to have walked slowly over rock-strewn streams in Colorado and Montana; waded the flats of the Bahamas for big bonefish; nailed monster tarpon on a 10 and 12-weight; held my breath while a 50-inch northern pike went toe-to-toe with me; and also held on to my rod while a 30-lb permit spooled me a dozen times. I also use a spinning rod and live bait as well, along with the hardware stuffed in to my tackle box.
      Over the past 20 years or so I have taken upon myself to help “de-snob” fly fishing while also working to bring more people into this great aspect of angling.
      I have been criticized by the so-called “elite” because I am not a purist. I have been put down because my fly patterns cannot be found in any book. They acre ugly creature imitators that usually catch both warm and cold water fish.

      Let those elite snobs mumble their criticisms. In my book I’d rather fish alone than share a stream with those stuffy fools.

      Mike Jackson

  • Zach Lazzari


    I think you are an excellent author and it is unfortunate that some people are determined to bring their negativity to the table. In the end, if they fail to attach a real name to their words, the motives are obviously less than pure. I would however argue that removing an indicator and high sticking does not qualify as innovative. It was innovative at one time, maybe when guys like Charlie Brooks began the practice. Now, it is simply an old and effective technique in a new light. 

    • Gary Soucie

      BTWE, Zach and Kirk, those stuffed-shirt, dyed-in-the-wool, tradition-bound Brits have always high-sticked nymphs, only they call it long-tumble nymphing. And indicators, while effective, definitely are training wheels. Anyway, effectiveness is not what SPORT fishing is all about; we are supposed to be handicapping or intelligent, opposed-thumb selves by using something less effective than a net or dynamite.

      • Gary Soucie

        Oops! That’s BTW.  :^(

  • Kirkdeeter

    True indeed, Zach.  My point is that we need to press harder, not less, to move things along.  KD

  • Gary Soucie

    Take another chorus or two, man, You’re hot! Did Thelonious Monk play wrong notes? Is downstream dry-fly fishing heretical? Should Wes Montgomery have used a pick? Is a foam-bodied floating Woolly Worm a sinful object? Did Lee Wulff’s invention of the fishing vest or championing catch-and-release gore the sacred cow?

    You tell ’em, Kirk. You are definitely on key and in the groove.

  • Kirkdeeter

    Thanks.  I truly needed that.  D

  • merkincrab

    Fly fishing should be what one wants to make of it. Vacuuming fish out of a stream with a nymph and a strike indicator can be a ton of fun. But it’s OK for the dry fly purist to pick and choose his days on the water. For me, it’s all about the take. I prefer the visual, and I really like the streamer attack. Watching a slow-moving indicator and trying to detect the sips of a size 24 midge is not my kind of fun. The Skues vs Halford argument continues in many forms today, and it’s a waste of time. I think the real issues are not about technique, but about conserving the resource.