Tuesday, January 17, 2012

A Numbers Game...

The look of puzzlement on Jae's face matched the confusion dancing circles in my own mind.  "Tough fishing today," he deadpanned.    

Tell me about it.  I've only sent five separate flies drifting down this stretch over a thousand times for the past hour.  I was having a silent conversation with myself, trying to figure out what could have been happening.  The shallow riffle ran down a small, gradual shelf into one of the few slicks that had any water to speak of.  Overhanging vegetation and a few bunches of undergrowth formed some structure that looked eminently fishable.  Most of the river - at least this stretch of it - has settled into the familiar winter routine:  Trickles of shallow, unfishable water interspersed with a few deep, but stagnant pools.  We thought we'd finally hit pay dirt on this particular stretch.  It actually looked like a river is supposed to look through the eyes of an angler.  We'd tried everything under the sun, short of floating dries on the surface, which seemed like a silly idea.  We hadn't seen a fish surface all afternoon, so we figured our chances of enticing one to even look upward were slim.  Tiny midges dead drifting naturally with the current did nothing but dead drift naturally with the current.  Nymphing bead heads became frustrating, and we'd each hooked enough sticks to build a small raft.

"Well, I'm going to hunt for some more water upstream.  I'll catch up with you in awhile."

"Sounds good, Jae."  I did my best to feign a smile.  Well, I'm just going to stand here like an idiot and beat some more hell out of this water for awhile.  I haven't felt enough pain yet.

I watched Jae turn on his heels and begin to trudge the path in search of greener pastures, or at least deeper water.  Taking a deep breath, I gave myself a moment's rest.  My ankles were getting sore from navigating the rocky, slippery terrain lining the Poudre's floor.  I took a small pinch of Copenhagen - my only remaining vice, or so I tell myself - and decided to change flies...again.  I was running out of alternatives, but a couple of possibilities sat waiting in the waterproof Otterbox hanging around my neck.   

Stupid 6X.  I don't exactly have the hands of a surgeon, and I must have looked comical trying to feed the tiny tippet through the tiny eye on the tiny hook.  Finally, an eternity later, I managed a respectable knot and unfurled the line from my new 3-weight toward the far bank, sending the miniscule fly hurtling recklessly in the vicinity of where I wanted to start the drift.

Not even close!  The fly landed beautifully in an overhanging branch.  I'd elegantly casted right into the trees.   

Seriously, John!?  I bowed my head and counted to ten.  You all know the trick, right?  Count to ten and the urge to swear like a sailor will go away.  I lowered the rod tip and pulled gently, straight back, turning my head to avoid a flying hook in the face.  Pop!  Line free, fly gone.  Stupid 6X.  I thought back to one of Doc's economics lessonsClearly, I'd gone beyond the point of diminishing returns, where an increase in labor and man-hours actually causes production to drop.  Or something like that.  All I know is that I was running heavy on labor and ever shorter on productivity.

Still, it's such a beautiful run of water.  One more fly.  I'd run through every bug I thought I'd need for a short afternoon outing, but there was an old Prince Nymph I'd clearly used before that seemed to be the right size and still had it's goose biots intact.  I replaced what remained of the severed tippet and resolved to give it one last college try with the Prince.

The cast felt good.  The drift seemed good.  The indicator floated evenly with the current.  Holy cow, John, it stopped!  Set the hook!  A quick raise of the rod tip, and I finally, mercifully felt something bouncing around on the business end of the line.  I'll be damned.

Five minutes later, I was admiring one of the most beautiful sights a fisherman's sore eyes could ever hope to see.  Like a salesman who finally closes a deal, I'd landed a treasure of a trout simply by playing the numbers game.  Probably not how the masters would do it, but good enough for me.


I'd exhausted my supply of flies, as well as my casting arm, and I decided to leave well enough alone.  I approached Jae feeling way too proud of myself.  "What do you think?"

"Tough fishing."  His friendly smile spoke volumes.  "Good day, though."

Yeah.  Good day.

Back at the vise....
The Flywriter            


Sunday, January 1, 2012

Reflections from the Home Waters, 2011

I'll ask you to forgive me in advance if this post gets a little too sentimental for the average angler.  Then again, it's been my experience that fly fishermen are sentimental folks.  In my extensive reading of the various great fly fishing blogs that dot the landscape of the information superhighway, I've encountered folks with diverse fascinations.  Whatever the particular obsession - small flies, small streams, foam hoppers, fiberglass rods, vintage reels, tenkara rods, dry flies, a special river, a special fishing partner, or "fishertainment" (keep up the good fight, Owl) - fly fishing takes us beyond the realm of simply slinging bugs into a river.  If you're like me, fly fishing provides a steady stream of memories that multiplies with every trip to the water.  If that sounds cornball, so be it - I'm a sentimental guy.

As I look back on 2011, I realize why I didn't make any fly fishing resolutions at this time last year.  Privately, I had some pretty lofty ambitions, most of which remain unrealized.  Like most fishermen, I lament the fact that I fished far less than originally planned, and certainly far, far less than I wanted.  I never did get around to learning much about fishing streamers, nor did I experiment at all with tying any.  I missed every single trico hatch on the North Platte.  Constant crowds on the Big Thompson kept me fleeing back to the Poudre, a fact that I'm sure doesn't bother anglers from Loveland or Estes Park.  Regrettably, work and some personal obligations kept me from diving headfirst into the Rocky Mountain Frenzy, which sounded like too much fun to have missed.   

Far and away, my biggest regret is another summer come and gone without a trip to my childhood paradise, the White River valley at the foot of the Flattops wilderness  It's where I learned my craft.  It's where I hooked my grandfather in the ear on a back cast, just hours before a skunk strolled through his legs without so much as thinking about unleashing it's natural brand of chemical warfare upon any of us.  It's where Doc planted a fly fishing seed in my heart, many years before I ever set foot in the Poudre.  It's where, at the ripe old age of 13, I hooked, played, and lost what I still believe to be the biggest trout I've ever tied into.  And it's where Doc learned that a good cowboy hat is good for a lot of things, but netting a monster trout for your son is not one of them.

New Year's Eve isn't about regrets, however.  2011 had plenty of highlights:

1)  The Year of the Hopper.  I fell in love with the Hopper!  They came to my garden in droves yet again, but it was a record year for my tomato plants nonetheless.  And I learned how to tie decent imitations that proved to be tempting to some big trout on the Poudre.  It happened by accident.  As I was wavering between a pheasant tail nymph and a run-of-the-mill caddis, Doc started slaying some mighty fat rainbows with a big caddis imitation with rubber legs.  On a hunch, we tied on a giant hopper imitation I'd tied on a whim that just happened to resemble the vast multitudes of grasshoppers lining the banks of the lower Poudre.  The results were better than we could have hoped for on that particular day.  The fish were sitting in a fast, shallow riffle, the strikes were aggressive, and the big rainbows sprinted, thrashed, and went aerial.  The afternoon was a natural high that fly fishermen crave, a high that adds fuel to the fire.

2)  The Tazmanian Devil?  I learned that fishing can occasionally be scary.  Horror movie scary.  Biblical/Armageddon scary.  When I happened upon this guy as I waded out of the river at the end of a long day, my heart got more of a jolt than it needed.  I often hear people say that fishing isn't always about catching fish, and I think I understand what they mean.  On this occasion, I could just as easily have done without the extra "experience."  I enjoy seeing wildlife during my days on the water as much as the next guy or gal.  I just prefer to see it from a comfortable distance, and sans dangling entrails.  I guess even badgers have it rough sometimes.

3)  Battle Poudre '11.  It was a nail biter, but on balance I'm going to have to swallow my pride and declare Doc the overall winner.  I'm basing this conclusion on an afternoon in April when Doc tied into two monsters.  I don't suppose anybody wants to hear about the pig that I stuck that took the bug and proceeded to sprint for the nearest underwater bush, wrap my line around it, and snap the tippet?  I didn't think so. The battle goes to Doc.  This friendly competition, dating back to 2009, really exists solely on the pages of The Flywriter.  We don't keep score, and nobody cares who the victor is.  Still, I have to offer a picture of yours truly with a nice brown just to be fair and balanced...to myself!

Jae's Pretty Brown
The Flywriter's Rainbow
4)  Jae and the Giant PeachMy friend Jae served as my informal guide up the canyon and got me on a stretch of the Poudre that I should have known about but had never fished.  It's always more fun to fish with another fanatic, and Jae fills the bill on that one.  Calm, focused, and serene, Jae is my kind of fishing partner.  An added bonus to fishing with Jae arrived at lunchtime when he tossed me a peach the size of Montana.  I swear, I'm still shampooing the nectar out of my beard.  It might just have been the best thing I've ever eaten.

5.  The RS2.  I had a fun year at the vise too.  In addition to my newly found love for all things foam - on top of the hoppers, I discovered a foam-back humpy pattern that I much prefer to the elk-hair version - I managed to put together an RS2 that I'm not absolutely horrified by.  It took awhile to bring the split-tail up to a respectable level, but thanks to the Hopper Juan's tutorial, I'm much improved.  I'm also happy to report that they're catching trout on the Poudre. 

As much as I didn't accomplish as an angler, I look back at 2011 through the lenses of gratitude.  Grateful that I have a loving, personal God who walks every step with me.  Grateful to have a family that could have justifiably written me off when I wasn't anywhere near my best, but simply refused to.  Grateful to have a job when others don't.  Grateful to have nephews who still look at the world with wonder, optimism, and joy.  And yes, grateful to have a hobby - nay, an obsession - that I share with so many others out there.

I'll finish in a way that I know all fly fishermen will appreciate.  An unexpected afternoon away from work coupled with some mild temperatures afforded me one last opportunity to create a final 2011 memory.  By the skin of my teeth, I managed to net one last trout in 2011, approximately 36 hours before the ball dropped in Times Square.  I can't think of a better way to close out the year.

That's the year in review from Flywriter HQ.  May God bless and keep you in 2012.

Happy New Year...
The Flywriter