“Learning from the Water” by Rene Harrop

Rene Harrop

January can be a challenge for many fly fishers across the northern latitudes.

Bitterly cold air, numbing water temperatures, shorter hours of daylight, and languid fish holding in deep pools mean few to no days on the water. With the exception of winter steelheaders, fly fishing for most in January is just not fun.

So many find ways to cope with time away from the water.

A relatively few, with time and means, fly to warmer climes and water to chase bonefish, permit, and tarpon. Others take a break from fishing and park themselves in front of big-screen televisions watching the NFL playoffs. The dedicated fly fishers spend hours at the tying bench, building and designing the flies they’ll use in the coming season.

In addition to some of the above, I use this time to read books related to fly-fishing. (I’ve only started fly tying and will need to work on that next).

In past years I’ve spent time primarily reading books on fly casting – after reflecting on weak aspects of my casting from the past year. A careful reading of Kreh, Wulff, and others gave me insights to practice casting to get ready for the days of February and March for the early hatches on the Yakima and the chum fry entering Puget Sound.

This year I decided to expand my focus to improving my skills as a fly fisher not solely as a fly caster. And that led me to Learning from the Water by Rene Harrop.

Anyone who’s ever heard of the Henry’s Fork (of the Snake River) undoubtedly has heard of Rene Harrop – a highly respected fly fisherman, fly tier, artist, conservationist and writer. He’s spent a lifetime (over 50 years) focused on this region’s fishery – a fishery of legend and difficult fishing challenges: fish that have experienced goodly fishing pressure and that shun all but expert presentation.

His book has many practical recommendations but it’s more than just that. It’s a philosophy of how to be part of the fisheries we fish, and how that connection opens our minds and souls to a respect for all forms of life.

That connection comes from observation and experience, and requires study, practice, and determination. Harrop readily acknowledges a relatively few will approach fly fishing with this determination and dedication, but for those few the rewards and joy are immeasurable.

The first five chapters have the most applicability to all fly fishers. From the introductory words to the deception needed in approaching a fish, to the fly boxes needed, to casting and the take – there are deep lessons here for those willing to pay attention.

He advocates the skills of the hunter in going after the large trout. Deception is key. A fly must be presented at the right time and in the right size or wary trout will pass on it. To this end, he carries up to 18 fly boxes in his vest during the peak season. (He does note that very few share that dedication to having that many flies available).

And not every fishery requires that many flies. Puget Sound saltwater can be fished most of the year with variations of Clouser Minnows and a few other seasonal flies. The Yakima and other local rivers can be fished with a small number of nymphs and streamers. We do not have the fishing pressure of a Henry’s Fork here.

But the same philosophy applies. Are we observing the water we fish? Do we understand the life cycles of the fish and what they feed on? If we do then we are pursuing the same path he advocates – even if we are able to get by with one small fly box in our vest or pack.

Chapters on casting and leader length follow. Presentation is a critical skill, if perhaps a bit less so on Puget Sound. Not many of us even on the Yakima would choose 14-foot leaders. But again it’s the principles that are key. Do we focus solely on the long cast, i.e., “cast to the backing”? Or do we think about the structure and how best to present our fly, even in the common blind casting we do?

One interesting thing he mentioned was that on Henry’s Fork he carries at least a 150 yards of backing for the big trout– and that’s with a 4-weight line he typically uses. Big fish and light tippet (6X) mean the fish have to run. Think about that next time you’re using 0x or 1X tippet on Puget Sound.

Chapters follow on the entire range of flies he uses during all the seasons of the year. And there is a chapter on the river guides, and how the profession of guiding has changed over the years. There is an element of wistfulness in his writing as he talks about the pioneers of guiding and the changes in places like West Yellowstone, Montana.

It’s a beautiful book, both in its writing and in its photographs. I recommend it for anyone looking for a path into the deeper aspects of fly fishing.

One thing. Rene is a Scott pro. I read a comment that someone saw Rene and his wife Bonnie last June near the Harriman State Park (Railroad Ranch) on the Henry’s Fork. He said they were both carrying Radian 5’s and Hatch Finatic 4 reels. As he noted, they can fish whatever rods they want.