March 8, 2010

Assume nothing

You must stick to your conviction, but be ready to abandon your assumptions.
Denis Waitley

I am constantly waging war with my assumptions. I stand philosophically at the chalkboard of my fishing experience devising theory after theory, knowing full well that it is indeed a slippery rock I stand upon when I seek formulaic solution, while in the back of my mind whispers this voice, urging me to understand that it doesn't matter; I'll never know the half of it. That is precisely the beauty of it all, it tells me patiently, even though I persist in my efforts to weave some sort of order into all of this.
There is a section of the river I where I like to fish most often in the late summer. While the golden sun expands as it slips behind the hill, I tenuously stand in the deep currents to witness the hatch of not only several different, very small mayflies, but also caddis, and midges. Up stream there are a series of swift, shallow riffles which serve to oxygenate the water and provide to this wider, slower run where I stand the veritable smorgasbord of food items. Trout align themselves along the deeper trough running down the west side, where the rocks provide cover and breaks in the current. The east side is a long, slow eddy, where the midges have risen from the muddy bottom. But it is down the west side where I will see the first of many noses poke through the bubble line into the surface film. This activity will take place over a period of two to three weeks at nearly the same time each afternoon barring any sudden weather, temperature or flow changes. But probably the most spectacular part of this ephemeral, daily occurrence is the energy you begin to perceive, building slowly, but palpably, as more and more tiny specks appear on the surface and are carried itinerantly downstream. And as they are funneled into the bubble line, rings begin to appear on the surface, starting near the lower end of the slower run, gradually working their way upstream to the tailout of the lowest riffle.
It is not an easy run to fish, for several reasons. The hardest part is simply getting to it, unless one has taken the time to search out the shallowest routes. It can only be reached by wading from the other side, a distance of about forty yards, each step measured and cautiously taken. The bottom is covered with large, algae-slimed rocks, no two of the same size laying next to each other. And, I have also come to understand that subsequent to each high run-off spring, I will need to find my way all over again. All one need do is witness the sheer strength of the volume of water moving past at any point on the river in late spring to understand why this is mandatory procedure.
I will never forget my first experience here. To be honest, I spent several hours on different occasions attempting to get to this stretch, becoming more and more frustrated by the depth of the river until finally one day stumbling upon one route, and then another. But by then it was very nearly totally dark. I marked them, and was back the next day to confirm my suspicions.
Getting there, or, getting so much closer, was quite an accomplishment. But then that became small potatoes when compared to fishing it, because once there, I was presented with a laundry list of obstacles and mysteries.
First off, I found that I could approach no closer than fifty to sixty feet at any point where there was a shallow route. And, to make matters even more interesting, many of the prime areas for feeders were in current breaks due to their close proximity to rocky outcrops or fallen timber. That translates into accuracy, and that's to be expected. But what I didn't take into account was the depth of the water I was going to be casting from until I realized I'd been holding my arms up over my head for the last several yards just to get there. It was almost to the top of my waders. I cinched up my shoulder straps, giving me another couple of inches to work with.
In deeper water, casting for accuracy as well as distance took a little time to master. It's amazing how much we take for granted when we're less than waist deep. I never noticed how much my whole body was getting into the cast, and as a product of that, how much I disturbed the water. Not good when casting to skittish trout, even if I was some distance away. Put these fish down, and word gets out all up and down any given section. They'll likely stay that way for hours, and if it's already just about dark, well, you better plan on coming again tomorrow or swimming back if you stay beyond your ability to see in the dark.
Figuring out which of the three mayflies being preferred from moment to moment was the next mystery to ponder.Three differently colored mayflies, mixed with a couple of psychotic caddis all hatching at the same time.
It is not enough to simply put any fly in front of a trout that's been around for very long. In this case, even if it's one the three right models, it's still basically a crapshoot unless you have some way to quantify your reasoning. And the best way I know of so far is to actually land one and pump his esophagus. That's where luck can lend a hand. That's why I tie some 'generics', subimago patterns with real blahso coloration. That's also why I make a concerted effort to be standing there ready to fish before I see rings. That time when the feeding is just beginning to get serious seems to me to be the best time to fool one or two, although now I leave myself open to all sorts of conjecture as to whether or not all or even most of the feeders are eating that which I see in one or two samples. It could be that I fooled the only two who deviate from the rest, or it could be that I am indeed correct but in few minutes it'll be something else, or maybe it's a free-for-all and anything is good. The latter assumption might easily be the best, but it is also the shortest-lived, because very soon the feeders will be so dialed in on whatever it is they are seeking, that only that particular fly, in that particular stage floating in that particular way will be the one that is sought... for a few minutes, anyway.
So, I remain vigilant. Ready to exercise my cranium again, in order to bring some order to this madness.
I must be mad.

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