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 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


Howard Levett said...

Very nice post and Happy New Year to you.

JEG said...

Thanks Howard - hope you have a great New Year as well, and keep up the great work on Windknots. It's a fantastic blog!

Sanders said...

Enjoyed this post a ton. Can't look back over the shoulder for too long, but when you do, it's best to appreciate the memories you made. And by the looks of it you made some good ones in 2011.