Fly Fishing Jazz: Standard Jazz and Standard Fishing

Sometimes I wonder whether the strike indicator and high-stick nymphing are the best things to happen to fly fishing for trout, or the worst things to happen to fly fishing for trout.

On the up-side, that little trick of dangling nymphs with split shot below a yarn bobber has done much to entice people into fly fishing—and some of them actually become advocates for the resources that make the sport possible.  Nothing fuels interest better than success.  When you’re successful, you’re happy.  At least you think so.

On the other hand, I am completely convinced that there are populations of fish, particularly on some western rivers, that have been beaten into submission by having nymph rigs raked across their faces, day after day.  We use words like “spooky,” and “technical” to rationalize what in reality results from things like “over-pressured” and “foul-hooked.”

I used to think that the “dry fly only” anglers, and those who would only swing flies for steelhead, were snobs.  But the older I get, and the more I fish, the more my perspective changes.  There is indeed something to be said for embracing natural, primal elegance, and endeavoring in the realm of nuance and mystery.

I remember taking part in a debate in a “jazz appreciation” class in college (it was my senior year, and I had earned a “blow-off” elective, though in truth, that class turned out to be more informative and influential than many of the other courses I took.  To wit, I am using that as reference here, though I haven’t applied a lick of calculus in decades.)

The premise of the debate was whether electronic influence had “bastardized” jazz music.  For context, this discussion happened a decade or so after the synthesizer had helped carry “soft jazz” (like Chuck Mangione’s “Feels So Good”) and jazz fusion (like Spyro Gyra’s song “Morning Dance”) into the mainstream music charts.  Was that good for jazz?  Maybe.  Maybe not.

My contention was that the music, from the composition standpoint, was still jazz, but the live performance was indeed compromised.  Having actually seen Dizzy Gillespie, and Sonny Rollins, and Oscar Peterson, and Miles Davis perform live… unplugged… I just couldn’t accept how anything electronic could match that.  Emotion cannot be synthesized, and emotion is the root of jazz.

As it is the root of fly fishing.

You see, a fly rod is an acoustic instrument.  And it must be played in that context for full effect.

I’ve been critical of the bobber in the past.  And one of my columns on that topic drew the ire of some guide who contended that I was incapable of understanding the sheer beauty and complexity of indicator fishing.

I could only laugh that off.  If you think indicator fishing is jazz, you probably think riding a teeter-totter should be an Olympic sport.  Sure, I suppose, some can do that better than others.  But fly fishing is so much more interesting when you get your butt off the teeter board.

Where there is the potential for real failure… when you are projecting what you truly feel… when the crutches and barriers are removed… the performance is undeniably more honest, more soulful, and more memorable.

And that’s pure jazz.  And pure fly fishing.