“There is, indeed, the excuse for the novice, that, going back to the authorities of the past after much experiment, will find that they know in substance all, or practically all, that, apart from the advance of mechanical conveniences and entomological science, is known in the present day.”

G.E.M. Skues, Minor Tactics of the Chalk Stream, 1910

The Tactical Nymphing project started with a study of fly fishing literature through history. We began in the 1400’s with Dame Juliana Berners. Then came Walton and Cotton and Stuart. We witnessed Hamilton and Skues exchange a few insults, moved on through Thaddeus Norris, Brautigan, Bergman, Leisenring and Hidy, and more. By the time we arrived at modern day books of particular note (Hughes’s Wet Flies, Randall’s Nymph Masters, and Daniel’s Nymph Fishing to name just a few), we had formulated a strong conviction: nothing new has been said in fly fishing for centuries. 

The most fundamental, utilitarian knowledge that allows highly effective anglers to trick fish today is the same knowledge shared by effective anglers generations ago, and generations before that. Knowledge gained may be new to you or me, the individual angler, but is unlikely new to history. Technology advances, and new materials are incorporated into rods, lines, flies, etc. But the water we fish, the fish we target, and the know-how we need to trick them is essentially unchanged. The core of fly fishing remains constant, and that constant core unifies all fly anglers. Comforting, right? 

Perform a side-by-side comparison of the thought process behind any two successful fly fishing methods. It quickly becomes obvious they have a hell of a lot more in common than different. Specifically, the most successful fly fishing methods appear to share similar, fish-catching elements that drive their strategies. Only, pinning down exactly what those elements are isn’t so easy. The superficial differences (the technology, the gear, our egos, etc.) create too much noise. That’s a problem. 

Systems Engineering, or Process Improvement, provides a series of tools for solving problems just like this one. Tools like LEAN, Six Sigma, PDSA, A3, Pareto, etc. These are some of the same tools that made Toyota famous in auto manufacturing. These tools have been adopted across all sorts of industries, from investment banking to healthcare to aviation. They are now widely applied anytime efficient, effective solutions to a problem are sought. 

To solve the problem of identifying common fish-catching elements, we applied Systems Engineering to a diverse handful of the most effective fly fishing methods through history. The result was a list five elements long:

  3. DENSE

Five fundamental fish catching elements shared by the most effective fly fishing methods, and employed by the most successful fly fishing anglers.

“This leads to one of the most gratifying aspects of our sport: fly fishing usually rewards the angler who solves the most problems – there’s a payoff.”

Jason Randall, Nymph Masters, 2017
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