Category Archives: Stories

Dragon Fly

The One that Got Away

What would fishing be without “the one that got away?” Much better! I hear you – but there’s something good about losing a nice fish, too. Actually, there are a few good things about losing the big one, right?

For starters, we know he’s still in there. Somewhere in that big bend or deep cove, that fish still swims – or at least one or two like him. We know we had him on the line, and now he’s a little smarter than before maybe, but he’s still out there. If we fish long and hard enough, we may run into him again.

Secondly, the next time we see him, he might be even larger. Not everything in fly fishing is about bigger, faster, stronger – but you can’t deny that most of us would rather catch big fish than little ones, right? If you do run into that lunker from your past again, maybe he’s put on a couple of inches or a few pounds. That’s something to look forward to, isn’t it?

Hang on a minute! Is this just going to be a list of reasons we should be happy about losing a nice fish?

Why no. This is going to be a story about losing a nice fish and why, ever since the day I lost him, I try to look on the bright side of things when it comes to “the one that got away.

I was 16 years old and sitting in a borrowed boat with my very pretty new girlfriend. We were having a wonderful day fishing and I’d already landed several small bass and a few bluegills. She was getting the hang of it, but was enjoying the sun and water more than the fishing.

I cast a #6 black wooly bugger alongside a floating dock that had some brush sticking up just off to one side. Something struck! I struck back! The fish headed for open water and I got all cocky and said “I’ve got a big one this time, baby!” The fish zigged and I zagged, he went deep and I held on. He pulled my drag – I palmed the spool. (This was before the days of affordable, quality drags in freshwater fly reels)

Then, Mr. Bigmouth jumped into the air. All roughly 9 pounds of him! Airborne. Thrashing. Shaking. Mouth as big as a basketball. I yelled out “Nooooooooo!” but it was too late.

The wooly bugger landed two feet in front of the boat with a pitiful ker-splat and it was at that moment that I heard crying. I’d let the big one get away. There was despair, anger and an immediate depression over the loss. It was the biggest bass that either of us had ever had on the fly. There was some whimpering and some kind of guttural sobbing sound. This wasn’t just the one that got away, it was a monster that got away. The whimpering continued and… I suddenly realized that it was ME! You can only begin to imagine the ridicule I faced back at school. Crying over a bass. The very idea. How stupid.

So, if you can…don’t let the one that got away worry you too much. There will be others – or maybe even that same fish, if you put in the effort to try and find him again. Try to remember that fishing isn’t always about the catching and that there’s no crying in fly fishing or bass fishing …there’s just no crying in fishing at all, OK?

At least, not when you’re bigmouth girlfriend is in the boat.

A Day To Remember

I felt it in the air the night before.  Like fish under the spell of the moon, I could feel it: tomorrow would be a great day,  one of those days when it all comes together…the steady temps of the week before, the moon, the warming late winter water and a powerful longing of fish and fisherman to hit the shallows: fish, looking for early hatches of nymphs, grass shrimp and baitfish, all drawn to algal blooms and warmth; fisherman, in hopes of hitting that convergence of perfect conditions and the desire of fish to feed ravenously.

In vivid color I could visualize perfectly stained water, the telltale sign of a resurgence of life on a lake awakened by the warmth of the late winter sun.

It was a fitful night of sleep with no need for an alarm; it was set in my soul.  Two hours before dawn I stood over a pot of fresh brewing coffee.  The aromatic wisps of steam conjured a light fog lifting in gentle swirls on the lake, back-lit by a rising sun.

A half hour drive to the lake gave plenty of time to paint mental pictures…slam-dunked strike indicators, heavily bowed rod and huge fish swirling, spinning below, trying to free themselves from my line.

At the launch, it was still dark, the water black, and no light revealing its true color or condition.  Still, I imagined it to be perfect.  I unstrapped the boat and, as always, made certain the motor would start.  I gave her a couple of swigs of gas with the primer and hit the starter…she immediately came to life. She was as anxious as I to hit the lake. I backed the boat in the water just deep enough to set it free.  It glided back into the black night, now in its favored element…she came tight against her leash.

Having to wait at least thirty minutes before safe light, I poured a cup of hot coffee from my thermos, sat on the rod box, lit up a cigar and removed my fly rod from its restraints.  As anxious as I was to fish, those few peaceful moments of pure silence were divine…the christening of a beautiful day to come.

At safe light I fired up the outboard; never cold natured, always eager to do her thing, she never lets me down.  There is something joyful and satisfying about the smell of an outboard’s smoke regurgitated through the underwater exhaust; an essence of fishing and fun.

My grandfather, in preparation for a fishing trip, would send me into his dirt-floored garage to dig red worms from an old washtub full of peat.  He kept the tub on a wooden bench, where, close by, hung an old and faded Wizard outboard.  The perfectly blended smell of peat, red worms, 2 cycle oil and gas is a memory burned deep within me, a smell I will never forget, in which one breathes fishing and life’s unforgettable days.

Slowly I made my way toward the boat road and headed to the westernmost side of the lake. As I envisioned, there were dancing swirls and wisps of fog rising from the water: the lake had indeed warmed.

The night before I decided this was the best area, heated earliest by the late winter sun.  The primary creek feeding the lake enters this westernmost cove.  The upper reaches are choked shut, impassable with young cypress and heavy aquatic vegetation that stretch a great distance, a perfect nursery for grass shrimp, crawfish and untold varieties of aquatic insects, nymphs and small bait fish.

I hoped a heavy rain, some days before, had flushed a lot of bait into a shallow flat just to the east.  The main feeder creek runs through the middle of this flat.  The edges are lined with aquatic vegetation:  gator grass, hyacinth and a spattering of coontail…a perfect combination.  With an average depth of three and a half feet and six in the channel…it is perfect for fly fishing.

If it were a little later in the year and the water a bit warmer, I would start with a popping bug. Today I fish a bugger some two feet under a strike indicator.

As I approached the western edge, I killed the motor as the remaining three hundred yards or so require a trolling motor in the shallow water with numerous stumps.  Slowly, I wound my way up the creek toward the flat, dodging stumps and cypress knees. The last two turns are marked by several large, stately, moss-draped cypress.  The trees mark the point where I pick up my rod and free the fly from its keeper.  Making the final turn, I pull four or five strips of line from the reel…the clicking of the pawl quickens my pulse, sharpens my senses.

An osprey passes overhead in what I hope is an attempt to beat me to “the spot.”  Surely he must know something: he is a professional…my intuition might just be correct.

As I round the final turn I see the flat before me…stained perfectly.  So heavy is the plankton, it is visible; clear enough for a fish to see a fly; yet stained enough to provide cover: perfect conditions…just as I imagined.

Entering the flat, I head to a small circular pocket of water some seventy-five feet or so across.  A small cypress stands guard near the mouth of a narrow channel which winds through gator grass.  It begs for a cast. A quick loading of the rod, sends a perfect cast toward the base of the tree.  A Pop’s Brown Bugger and its little pink companion, a half inch Thing-a-ma-bobber,  politely land a foot from the tree.

I hesitate to move the rig for a moment when suddenly…the pink is gone, only a telltale ripple left behind.  In disbelief, I almost hesitate too long.  I give the line a brisk strip and raise my rod, which promptly bends double, the line shoots straight to the right.

Like a kid at Christmas ripping wrapping from a gift, I strip line trying to catch up to him and catch up with time.  My mind is whirring: “Let me at least see him.”  A minute or so later I see the flashing silver and black side of what I know is a large, heavy crappie…“Damn, the fish are here, or is he just one of those loners?” You know…the ones that make you wonder, “Now, why the hell was he in here and no others?”  I bring him alongside, kneel and lip him into the boat…a beauty of a fish.

My second cast lands nearly in line with the first, but a bit longer.  Promptly the indicator begins to move slowly to the left.  I anxiously watch as it moves a half foot or so before bringing the rod up and against the fish.  He pulls hard and fights more violently.  He is pulsing and throbbing…the recognizable fight of a large bluegill.  The line zips and sings back and forth as I try to keep pace with the rod.  A short fight later, a fine heavy bluegill comes to hand.

 In Louisiana we refer to large bluegill males as bull bream…really huge males as bull-a-gators.  This fish was approaching bull-a-gator in size.

I worked the area over for a while, landing dozens of fine crappie and large bream.  By now, I know, “They’re here in numbers, they are big and they are hungry as hell!”   I am giddy!

Giving this area a rest, I anxiously move further up the flat.  The southern edge has a nicely shaped bottom…going from a foot or so deep, right next to the vegetation, to several feet deep and dropping again to six feet or so in the creek.  The fish have several distinct areas to stage and feed.  Before the day is up, I will have success in all.

I quietly approach an indention in the edge, bounded by two trees approximately six feet out and twenty or so feet apart, forming a beautiful pocket.  A long cast deep to the back is promptly rewarded…the indicator is slowly going under.  With a brisk strip set and raising the rod…all hell breaks loose.  A heavy fish is having its way with my rod. All I can do is give him some rod, feather the line…lots of line and hold on for the ride, first this way, then that.

After several minutes, I still have no control of him.  My mind is trying to unravel clues as to what he is.  There is no thumping to indicate a bream struggling on its side or the heavy, yet compliant, pull of a large crappie.  If it were a bass, he would have gone airborne by now or headed for deeper water.

My mind is once again begging, “I just want to see …just let me see what he is.”  After what seems like five minutes, but more likely two, I get a fleeting glimpse of a huge, beautifully colored chinquapin, known to some as shell crackers, lake runners or red eared sunfish.  In Louisiana, these fish get huge.  This fish is freaky big.  Catching a glimpse of me, he takes off as if he has seen the meanest creature in the world.  He takes line at will. By now, I really don’t mind if he tears loose or brakes off…I have seen him, he has given me a thrill…he has slaked my Jones.

Several times I bring him along side, only to have him keep going out the other.  Finally, I reach and lift one of the biggest chinqs I have ever seen.  I have caught big ones before…but none as thick and tall.  This fish is like reeling in a mad hub cap.

I sit there for a few moments to soak in what has happened and what is surely to come.  Picking up the sleeping cigar, I puff it back to life.  Ah…a hot cup of coffee and a few delightful draws from a good cigar are ample celebration.

Sitting there soaking up the moment, I hear a wren in a nearby bush roll out a short, beautiful song.  The last note sounds a little funny, just a tad off key…she then makes a scolding chatter, as if griping about hitting a bad note.  I can’t help but chuckle.  In this one small spot there is so much to see, so much to hear and so damn many fish to catch.

The osprey, now circling at the far western edge of the flat, suddenly folds his wings, and drops like a stone…making his first catch of the day.  He rises fifty feet or so back into the air, pauses in mid-flight, and gives a violent shudder, shaking off water droplets that cling to his chest.  I offer him up a cloud of aromatic smoke, raise the small shiny chrome cup in a salute and give him a smile.  It is a great day for us both, …a day to remember.

Hypertension Hole

Maybe it’s just me, but I have this problem with a certain fishin’ hole that has it in for me.

It’s just a little run, no different from a thousand other little runs I’ve fished. One low-hanging tree limb complicates the cast a little, but not too much – and the fish that live there are almost always eating.

Easy, right? You’d think so! However, year after year this spot that I’ve named “Hypertension Hole” denies me a fish. I’ve been fishing, and “not catching” Hypertension Hole for almost 7 years now and it’s always the same…

 Six years ago, I first fished the little creek. I rounded a corner in the stream and there it was – the prettiest little trout house you’d ever hope to see. It had a deep enough run on the left bank, a nice big rock to hide under, and an overhanging tree that would keep less skilled anglers from casting to it effectively. It was perfect. It was beautiful. It was just waiting for a schmuck like me to get lucky and make a good cast. Or so I thought…

After catching nothing but 6 inch trout all morning, my heart rate got a little faster when I saw a good trout rise two, three, four times in row. Who knew what he might be eating? This was the South and trout normally just wait in a buffet line and gobble up whatever buggy-looking thing floats by them. I’d go with what I had tied on, a #14 Elk Hair Caddis.

I wiped the sweat out of my eyes, returned my polarized glasses to my nose, and stripped out twenty feet of fly line. The trout rose again and this time, he’d chased whatever it was he was eating five feet below him. This was an aggressive trout – the kind of trout that hits before you’re ready. The kind of trout that makes you set the hook too soon and curse loudly without looking around first to see   if anyone might be nearby. I false-cast twice and promptly put my fly into the overhanging branch.

I let the fly sit there, the line hanging over the Hole. I’d probably blown it. But then – the trout rose again, right under the line! Was this guy suicidal? Wiggling the line, the fly miraculously popped free and landed on the water, but too much in the shallow water to get the trout’s attention. If he’d hit then, with all that loose line rumpled up on the water, I’d have needed 10 foot long arms to set the hook.

Two more false casts. Easy now….that’s it! Right under the limb… the caddis imitation landed with like a feather. POW! He blasted it! I slammed home the hook! Fly line and leader and tippet and fly went whizzing right by my head and the big trout rolled on the surface and slapped his tail in defiance. I remember it like it was yesterday. Twenty more casts wouldn’t bring him back up and in fact, probably pushed him further under that rock or a quarter-mile upstream.

Each year I visit that stream at least once, and each year I sneak up on Hypertension Hole. And so far, each and every year, whatever trout is living there leaves me with a slack line and a smushed fly. But high blood pressure or not, I’d miss it if it wasn’t there. I’d miss the game if I ever won it.

Despite the frustration of Hypertension Hole, I always end up hoping that there is never a trout living there that is somehow more stupid that I am. Maybe you have a spot like that? If not, I hope someday you find one just like it. Just don’t forget to take your meds if you do.

This submerged field was ALIVE with carp.

Carp Invading the Back Forty

When the spring is wet and prairie rivers are high, I’ll stop my car where they spill over their banks. If I’m lucky, I’ll spot some carp. Flooded fields and ditches are usually the best.

Carp can be tough to catch but the ones cruising these places seem particularly ravenous. It’s all sight fishing – either from the bank or wading. For cruising fish, I like a large, buggy nymph – dragon fly imitations work great. For tailing fish, I go with a size 8 or 10 Woolly Bugger with brass eyes. An 8 weight rod and a 9 foot bonefish leader deliver the fly and land the fish. Although a 10 pound carp will often successfully dispute the latter.

Even with reasonable water clarity, casts to tailers – with their snouts in the bottom – have to be very precise. And seeing or feeling a take can be almost impossible. I have to admit, my luck with tailers ranges from rotten to so-so.

Cruising fish, however, are much more accommodating. Lead them by a few feet, let the fly sink to their level, and then give it a few short, slow strips. Magic!

Below are a few pics taken while wading a flooded field and nearby ditch…

Stuck in tree

On Friendship and Fishing

It’s been said that each day spent fishing is not deducted from a man’s life. I don’t know who first uttered those words, but I’d like to thank him. I might even buy him a beer, because that fellow, whoever he was, at least makes us all feel a little better about leaving the wife and kids at home for a day of cold feet and tired arms. I’m not sure how many days I spent alone on the water, my brain laser-focused on the goal of catching the next fish, before I realized that I was alone. Being alone wasn’t a problem though, because that just meant that no one else would have a shot at the fish in front of me. I didn’t have to trade pools back and forth and I didn’t have to share those short-cuts through the trails to the best water. I was a man on a mission, and that mission was always, ALWAYS to catch more fish, bigger fish,…the most fish.

Later though, as I got older and my personal case of fly fishing fever mellowed a bit, I started to notice the other things around me. Birds, animal tracks, and insect life for example…and rocks. Did you know that most rivers are absolutely packed FULL of rocks!? Well, it’s true! Big rocks, little rocks, medium-sized rocks, brown rocks, gray rocks, white rocks – even rocks with trees growing out of them! You just have to look around a bit and remind yourself that everything in fishing isn’t chasing the fish. And so I did, but I realized much more than rocks and birds and otter tracks and such…

You see, when you finally make the seemingly odd discovery that fishing is not just the pursuit of fish, you’ll no doubt find “fishing friends” along the way. Sharing the water with someone you like is always a pleasure, although it’s something that may push the actual act of fishing toward the proverbial back-burner. After leaving behind our salad days, time with friends on the water (or at camp) becomes at least as much of a reason to go fishing as the thought of hooking into your biggest rainbow ever. Let’s face it, most of the time the fishing we do on any given weekend isn’t usually World Class Angling anyway – so it often helps if there’s another reason we go – and it sure doesn’t hurt!

Which brings us to three sun burned, smiling, middle-aged fellows who are scratching their heads, looking sideways at each other, standing in a creek which holds only the smallest trickle of water. A creek that just a couple of years before was full of both water and fish. Between the three of them they caught maybe four fish while fishing all day. Wild, native brookies, none of them were over 12 inches in length. Somehow though, that hardly mattered later, sitting around a roaring fire on a cool spring night when the tall tales began. The size and quantity of the fish that day were forgotten a little more as the meager camp food began to taste like a five-star meal. The moon rose over blooming dogwood trees and towering tulip poplars, and laughter filled the camp. Those three have learned that although fishing is at the core of their adventures, it’s not always about the fishing. Sometimes, it’s just about the friends.

 

South Florida Nightlife on the Fly

Late last week, I had to take a last minute business trip to Fort Lauderdale, Florida.  With meetings scheduled both day and night, I would be lucky to leave the hotel during the entire three day stay.  There was one opportunity for fun, on the last night of my stay.  Given the last minute nature of the trip, I didn’t have the opportunity to even think about staying another day and possibly booking a day of fishing, let alone finding a captain available in early May.  I know that Tarpon are primarily night feeders and I began to wonder if anyone ever attempts to fish for them at night.  A Google search revealed that not only do people attempt, there are captains who provide such a service.  I found a guide who was willing to work in a night trip despite having day trips booked on either side.  His name is Captain Shawn Fairbanks (www.saltH20.com).

Embraced by the Atlantic Ocean, New River, and a myriad of scenic inland waterways, Fort Lauderdale is known as the “Venice of America”.  It is the inland waterways that provide the greatest opportunity to fly fish at night.  With over 300 miles of navigable waterways, it pays to hire a guide who knows their way around, especially at night. Captain Fairbanks fits the bill since he has been fishing these very waters for more than 20 years.  Many of the homes located with waterfront have underwater dock lights which make the monumental task of parking some of the largest yachts I have ever seen, just a bit easier in the dark. The lights, while aesthetically pleasing, act as magnets for baitfish.  Schools of glass minnows and other baitfish congregate around these lights like moths to a bug zapper.  From this simple underwater oasis, an entire food chain aligns itself.  Jack Crevalle, Lookdown fish, Snook, and Tarpon may all be present within a reasonable proximity to these lights.  Now you might be thinking, isn’t that cheating? Akin to shooting fish in a barrel?   Nope, these fish are easily spooked.  This is true sight fishing and you had better make your cast count or you will be left counting glass minnows in a landscape otherwise devoid of the desired predators.  Having said that, it isn’t making 60 yard casts with a ten weight on the flats in the wind, but if you have cast dry flies to rising trout, you understand the need for accuracy.  More than once, I flopped a fly right into the light and watched in horror as every fish scattered as if I had cast a grenade.  The idea is to spot the Snook or tarpon sitting at the edge of the light occasionally darting in and out in pursuit of their prey.  You are targeting a specific fish and casting the fly such that you can bring the fly past his nose on the retrieve.  I managed to land a couple of Jack Crevalle, and a Lookdown fish before truly focusing on the Snook.  My dreams are filled with Tarpon but the Snook were presenting themselves far more often.  I had Snook completely ignore my fly, even swim away from it, but more often than not, they would follow it; inspecting it very closely right up to the tip of the rod. We changed flies a lot! I varied the retrieve from long slow strips, to very short energetic strips.  Apparently we found more followers than leaders on this night.  At one point, Shawn had just cut the fly off to try another pattern when a LARGE shadow intently moved through the periphery of the light.  TARPON!  He was interested in what was going on, but didn’t stick around long enough for me to make any kind of presentation.  I tried a few hopeful casts in the direction he was headed, but to no avail.  That will be the fish that haunts my dreams for the next few months.

As we moved throughout the city at high tide, it became apparent why Captain Fairbanks had removed the poling platform from the Maverick.  We went under some bridges that were so low that we both had to duck; and I mean crouch and duck.  It was emerging from one of these low bridges that we spotted a tarpon hiding behind a dock pylon at the edge of the light.  Shawn expertly positioned the boat such that I had the best shot at making the right cast.  I began false casting, paying out line with each cast until I had about fifty feet of line in the air.  Just as I made the decision to place the fly, I created a wonderful tailing loop, which caused the fly to firmly embed in my left pant leg.  Yes, grace under pressure.  Fortunately, all of the line piled up on the deck of the boat and in the water behind me, thus not spooking the fish.  I patiently gathered myself, unwinding line from my ankles, from around the rod, and from around the trolling motor mounted on the bow; never once taking my eyes off the fish nervously munching away.  The second attempt, although much more tentative, delivered the fly into the darkness beyond the light.  As I began to strip, the fish instantly saw the fly and decided that he wanted it, and wanted it bad.  The strike happened so fast that I swear I set the hook on pure instinct rather than by any measure of cognitive intent.  The instant the line went tight, the fish went literally ballistic.  It went straight out of the water much like a missile being launched from a submerged nuclear submarine.  When it landed back in the water, it streaked to the boat so fast that I had to strip line as if my very life depended upon it.  He swam right past me at the bow of the boat as if it were underwater lightning.  Indeed that is the best way to describe hooking into a tarpon; it is as if you stuck the tip of a nine-and-a-half foot graphite fly rod into a light socket. Miraculously, I managed to avoid stepping on the line that I had just so feverishly stripped in, because the fish took that back through the guides of the fly rod in a nanosecond.  When I finally got him to the reel, he launched out of the water a second time.  I had heard that you are supposed to bow to the tarpon when they breach but that critical tidbit was buried too deep in my brain and any chance I had of retrieving it was overwhelmed by the massive adrenaline dump surging through my body. So I acted on instinct to keep the line taught.  He landed with the fly still firmly lodged in his jaw as Shawn gently instructed me to take the slack off while the fish performs aerial acrobatics.  As the fish rounded the stern of the boat, obviously intent on fouling me on the prop, I was running down the gunwale in hot pursuit attempting to foil his plans.  Another show of aerial ability, this time accompanied by the appropriate postural tribute on my part; bow to the Silver King!  A second later I was on another trip along the gunwale toward the bow making it to the casting deck just in time for another aquatic air show.  The fish and I were circling the boat counter clockwise so fast that I wondered if even the tarpon in Florida are fans of NASCAR.  Just as I made it to the stern again, he managed a tremendous black flip behind the outboard and the line went suddenly slack. The electric rod had been unplugged. The leader had finally succumbed to the sandpaper-like lips of the beast. Perhaps my inexperience the second time he launched had cost me after all.  The fish always teach the most effective lessons, and this session, albeit short, will leave me pondering for some time.  All hail the mighty tarpon!   Well after the stroke of midnight, without spotting another poon, I walked up the dock toward my rental car, grinning from ear to ear.  Captain Fairbanks was headed home to prepare for another client headed to the Everglades a mere five hours later. I was headed back to a hotel to grab a bit of shut eye before the flight that would carry me 2,500 miles away from this beautiful place, and the tarpon that I will never forget.

Brown Trout

Catching the Spring Creeks Off Guard

Should a Woolly Bugger kind-of-guy celebrate March Madness in Paradise Valley at a BWO hatch?

I used to look forward to a week of skiing in Montana at the end of every March.  And somewhere along the line, probably as I passed through Livingston –  with the sun shining and the Yellowstone River underneath the Interstate – I got to wondering about the fishing.

As it turns out, it’s pretty darn good.  The crowds are gone, the rivers are in good shape –  ‘cause it’s pre-runoff  – and the temperature is likely to be 50 or 60 degrees.

So a few weeks ago, on our way to ski, my girlfriend and I stopped by the Yellowstone Angler in Livingston.  They pointed us toward Armstrong’s Spring Creek and stuffed our fly box with egg imitations, BWO’s, and midges.

A day on Armstrong’s during the height of the summer PMD hatch means booking a year in advance and paying a $100 rod fee.  We got there on a gorgeous Sunday morning and paid the off-season rate of $40.  And had the river all to ourselves.  All the snow was on the ski hill and would have to wait…

I have to admit.  I was a little apprehensive.  Spring creeks and their technical, flat water are a bit of a mecca for small fly gurus.  But I’m no small fly guru.  To me, finesse is replacing the big split shot under my indicator with a small split shot.

Nevertheless, for every flat water glide, there was a deeper, rumpled run.  A 20 mile per hour wind was keeping the BWO hatch at bay.  We tied on indicators, beadhead zebra midges underneath eggs, and a split shot.  I must have been in finesse mode; it was a small indicator and a tiny split shot.

There were six or seven browns and rainbows in those deeper, rumpled runs that definitely wanted to play.  The browns smacked the eggs and the rainbows sucked in the midges.  The browns bent the rods double and went deep.  A couple ‘bows did cartwheels.   The biggest fish was a solid 16 inches.  Not a spectacular day’s fishing, but extremely satisfying.  Especially when fishing back home would be not much more than gazing at an eight inch hole in the ice.

Next year, we may just forget about the skiing altogether…

(We actually spent the next day wading the big, broad Yellowstone River.  There were risers in the slack water by the bank as we pulled up.  I was eager to work on my small fly skills but a 30 mile per hour wind came up and ended the hatch.  So back to an indicator rig with zebra midges and small pheasant tails.  A few eager rainbows and cutthroats soon found our flies.  Unfortunately, after a couple hours, the wind started to feel like a gale and it was time to quit.  Or at least think about going skiing.)

Humbled by the King!

The Silver King. In my extremely humble opinion this fish is the epitome of saltwater fly-fishing. Of course I am talking about the Tarpon. These unique mysterious fish are simply breathtaking. I recently had an opportunity to travel to the Florida Keys to fish for Tarpon and these are my thoughts about the experience.

Now I consider my self a pretty confident and competent fly fisherman let me rephrase that, I consider myself a pretty confident and competent trout fisherman.  However I learned quickly that saltwater fly-fishing is a totally different ballgame. Instead of throwing size 20 Midges on a 4wt I found myself using a rod unlike anything I have ever really utilized before. Comparatively 12wt fly rods are a gargantuan and the flies utilized are much the same way.

In preparation for this trip I did quite a bit of practicing to try and familiarize myself with the larger saltwater gear. I felt as I had done a fair job for preparing for this experience but alas I was gravely mistaken. Casting on top of a milk crate in a grassy field with little to no wind was beneficial but once I found myself on the front of that skiff with the boat rocking and the wind blowing directly into my face I knew I was in for a humbling trip.

The highlight of the trip was definitely the sight of a Tarpon 30ft away engulfing my scantly looking crab imitation. However I strip set the hook too early and found myself staring at the backside of a fish going the other way. Honestly that sight freaked me out and I nearly jumped off the front of the boat and that is probably why I screwed up my best shot. I was disappointed yes, but that 40 second experience has to be one of the greatest I have ever had with a fly rod in my hand. I was left standing on the front of that boat in awe of what actions has just transpired before me. The consolation was that I had an opportunity to see some eye-opening places and get a nice tan. So in all reality I am okay with that.

Overall this experience is exactly what I expected going in. Anything that you do for the first time in life is probably not going to turn out pretty and most likely is going to leave you wanting a different outcome. I know thing is for certain. I will be back to tangle with the Silver King. This experience has opened up the metaphorical Pandora’s box of fly-fishing and the best way I try to explain my thought is these fish and the waters in which they reside are new frontier and new way of challenging me as a fly angler. My hat is off to those who have put the time and practice in to become masters of this whole different venue of fly angling. Finally, next time I will be better prepared and will have practiced a lot more.  Because we all know that old motto, practice makes perfect. In this case perfection is embodied in the form of the majestic Tarpon on the end of the line.

Bamboo Fly Rods

Barlows and Bamboo

In my right pocket on most days, I am carrying a knife.  It isn’t a particularly lethal blade even though its carbon steel can be honed enough to shave the hairs from your arm clean as a babies bottom.  The craftsmanship is what you would expect from a mass produced circa 1975 hardware store pocket knife, a brown plastic handle that is slightly off center on one side, the name stamped crooked.  Imperfections abound on this treasure and I would venture to say that if you were to find it along the side of the road you would submit it to a junk drawer if you bothered to pick it up at all.  But this knife holds a great deal of significance to me.

This knife was the first thing I ever purchased with money that I had earned.  I was ten years old and was going door to door asking for people to vote for a man that was running for school superintendent in my home county.  For my half days work I think I was paid ten dollars, and part of that cash payday was used at Smith Hardware to buy myself a Barlow Pocket Knife.  My Grandfather carried a Barlow and so I assumed that it must be the best knife to have on hand.  It was many years before I realized the truth.

I still carry this blade because it means something to me.  It holds significance in that it represents a milestone, a rite of passage, and at the same time it gives me a direct link to the childhood that has long since disappeared into thin and sometimes clouded memory.  Now, I also see the potential future of this knife as I am preparing myself to hand it over someday to my son.  In some respects, he will not carry it with the same significance as I.  The memories he will have surrounding this blade will be of me and not how it came into my possession or what it represents.  Then, many years from now it may go to my Grandson; the memory will be diluted further and perhaps he will place it in some easily forgotten drawer or box, but that is for him to decide.

In much the same way and same circumstances is the esteem in which we regard our Fly Fishing Gear.  Each rod or reel has some sort of memory, some sort of story.  An old worn out hat may reek of sweat and be faded and frayed, but held within the very fabric of the brim may be epic tales of angling adventure that have engrained themselves for a lifetime. Or perhaps it was handed down from the person who introduced you to the sport.  The day that it passed from their hand to yours was a rite of passage that may be told to others, but never really shared with others.

Some of us have been blessed with the luxury of high dollar gear.  Hundreds upon hundreds of dollars laid down for the very best, while others may have old, clunky equipment bought at yard sales or at a big box retail store.  To argue the comparisons in craftsmanship would be pointless and to debate the merits of them would be a waste of breath.  Within each high dollar rod with a historic company pedigree can be found a story, yet within a rod that might be valued equally as a tomato stick or such is at least an equal story.

From this train of thought we can perhaps conclude that the fishing isn’t about the equipment and its limitless accessories.  It isn’t about brand names or price tags.  Fly fishing is about memories and experiences.  Fly  fishing is about the moment, that one shining nugget that is as burned in your mind as a trip to the hardware store just to slap down your money for a knife.  There is a life in our equipment that is dormant until we put it to use, and in the using is familiarity, memory, history.  You just can’t buy those type things.

The smaller knife blade on my Barlow has a permanent glob of model car glue along the bottom of the edge side.  I can look at that and remember, I had a Richard Petty model car that I was building and had used the blade to remove some excess glue that had seeped through the point where the Petty blue rear fender and trunk lid met.  There again, that means absolutely nothing to anyone else but me.  Same situation occurs with imperfections in our equipment.  I may look at the deep gash in the cork handle of your fly rod and not give it another thought, yet you may look at the same gash and remember how you were on a trip with some friends.  You may see a clear mental picture of how you slid down a grassy embankment and caught the handle on a piece of barbed wire…and think of the fish you caught that day.

I have a very old bamboo rod.  If the hunches are correct, it was build sometime in the mid 1930’s which makes it as old as or older than my Dad.  This rod has survived, and perhaps at times thrived through some of the greatest moments in human history, and also through personal worries and concerns.  I sometimes wonder if any of the previous rod owners are still alive, where they were, where they fished.  When I obtained the rod, it was found in the trunk of an abandoned 1950’s era Ford sedan that had spent several years rusting away behind this elderly couple’s barn.  Trust me, when I fish this rod- the weight of its history (or potential history) is very present in my mind.

The relationship we have with our gear, no matter the price or the name is internal, and it should never be expected that anyone else should ever understand its significance.  All that really matters is that we have something in the present which harkens us back to a time of which we will never return, and to a future that rests in the dimpled surface of a river where fish are rising and new memories await.




One Beautiful Day

There’s something special about Spring. It’s so special in fact, that I frequently capitalize the word out of sheer joy. Dogwood trees in bloom, bass falling in love, and carpenter bees trying to duke it out for who knows what.

On a small dirt path that was once a road for jeeps and the like, I carry a fly rod, a small pack and a bottle of water. A few Canadian geese, who obviously missed the signs that spring was back, honk in the distance. As I turn the corner and the little pond comes into view, a Great Blue Heron takes flight. As he skims the surface, barely gaining altitude for a dozen yards or so, several bass are startled from the shallow grass flat.

“Hey now…just what I was hoping for…”

As I approach the edge of the shallow flat, two more “rolls” of water leave the bank to my left and I fire a quick cast in that direction. A small 4 inch worm on an equally small #4 hook sails across the sky, cartwheeling it’s way towards it’s own imminent doom. It’s almost as if the worm is in slow motion with the 6 pound test line trailing along behind it in ever widening coils.

The little black and purple worm lands with a splat and suddenly there’s a small, suspicious bulge in the water near it. I hold my breath and give it a twitch. Then another. Then a third. Nothing happens so instead of another twitch, I wiggle the rod slightly. Suddenly there is a bigger bulge and a whirlpool erupts where the line enters the water. The eager large-mouth rather miraculously hooks itself and high-tails it for a nearby stump. The line “tings” as it strains against the rod. I raise it high and begin a battle which, to the fish, is a life and death struggle.

Just one minute later I’m looking at the hungry bass eye to eye, face to face, man to fish. He put up a short but inspired fight, but ultimately I hold his fate between my fist and thumb. I removed the hook, admire him for just a few seconds and then slip him back beneath the glassy surface. He promptly thanks me with a flip of his tail, spraying water on my legs and, for whatever reason – making me smile in the process.

No doubt about it. It was one beautiful day.