I try stuff. I synthesize what's of value with some of the other things I have at my disposal.
Nothing can have value without being an object of utility.
Every Thursday. Every Thursday. In fact, I'm going on sixteen straight weeks of Thursdays.
Out of bed at two-thirty, and on the road by no later than three forty-five. I've (almost) got it down to a science. It's all in the preparation, and listen to me; why, I sound like I'm organized!
It's a hundred and two miles from my garage west on the freeway to the exit. Then another twenty-five through the town of Moses Lake then north toward Ephrata (or Soap Lake) to Trout Lodge 'road' which washboards me (sometimes savagely) for a couple more miles to the bottom parking lot (there are three). This journey takes me approximately (on average) a hundred and fifty minutes. I'd say two and half hours, but that makes it seem so much longer.
When I hit the dirt road, I plug in the cassette (remember them?) which is full of old Deep Purple, and by old I'm talking late sixties/early seventies here.
"Nobody knows who's real and who's fakin'
Everyone's shoutin' out loud..."
That's the stuff (some of that 'sweet stuff') I talked about in an earlier post).
It's been a long winter. I say that on this twenty-eighth day in April, which is, according to 'them', the second coolest (and wettest) March/April ever. We've topped the sixty degree mark maybe once, or twice, so far this 'spring', with daytime highs averaging a good ten degrees below normal. Not that I'm complaining; I've still got half a boxful of hand warmers left, and a 'muffler' I found in a Duluth catalogue, so I'm probably good through the end of next month. Last week I had ice in the guides past noon. Lost a couple of nice flies (and fish) because I thought I could put off the removal process for one more cast. You'd think by now I'd have learned, and you'd be right. But next year's a ways off. I'll probably forget the lesson (again) by then. I think I've forgotten more than I ever really knew, but I've always been kinda hard on myself.
It's almost five thirty. I'm the first one here, except for a couple of campers parked near the potty at the middle lot. I could never understand why anyone would actually want to set up camp here. It's not a pretty place. In fact, except for the fishing, there's little to recommend as far as amenities, or scenery for that matter. And, whenever it decides to warm up, you've got not only the dust but all sorts of disagreeable creatures, from fleas and ticks to snakes of the poisonous kind, to deal with.
But I can put up with all that for a few hours once a week. The fishing more than makes up for whatever shortcomings there are. And really, the time span from late February through the spring until the run-off subsides on the rivers to the east and southeast marks the boundaries of my time here. I lust for that time when I can be back in my river (the Spokane) again, but for now, well, this is the place.
A good place here to say something about getting older and fishing alone, or, in my case, having no one to go fishing with. Don't get me wrong; I have more than enjoyed my years of solitude on the different waters I've fished, but slowly, especially over the course of the past year or so, I've found myself wanting to further expand, or should I say reclaim my fishing horizon. I'll pull out my Gazateers, wondering what it'd be like to do some fishing a bit further from my usual haunts, of which there are increasingly fewer. I'd like to explore Montana again, be free to roam the Beaverhead, or the Big Horn, the Gallatin, or the Bitterroot. I'd love spending time again wading the South Fork of the Snake and the Henry's Fork. Or, as I thumb through the Wyoming Gazateer's blue squiggles, the North Platte...
I could go on and on. The list is long. I spend an awful lot of time searching, investigating, plotting just exactly how to get to all these places. I know what I'd use once I was there, and I know it'd work. Problem is simply getting there, which isn't a problem if I had some one to get there with. If I was twenty, or even ten years younger, it'd be a done deal. I'd be on the road the hell with everything (and everybody) else and think nothing about it. But now? Now I feel my age creeping into the picture. What if this, and what if that? And then I can't help but start to wonder if this, then, is the starting point of the slow but inevitable process of the beginning of the end, no matter how protracted it turns out to be, and it makes me sad. It makes me want to go fish. Again, and again. Turn back the hands of time. Isn't it quite the conundrum that it takes a lifetime to attain a satisfactory level of wisdom?
The years pass into futures short, memories made, and then all but forgotten. I need to get past this. I need to remain convinced that I can do it still. So I shall. It's worth it. It's worth everything, to me.
Rocky Ford is one of those places that the 'cool' guys who fish a lot never want to talk about. It's the back alley. It's the underside of the otherwise fairy tale dreamlife that is their fly fishing. They will never go there. If they have, they will never go back, and they will never admit to ever having been there. No high-end fly shop sits on its banks. No expensive drift boats drift past. Indeed, there is no wading even allowed here. The road in is primitive and dusty, which in itself does not make it prohibitive, but upon arrival there are no expensive SUVs parked with haughtily garbed fishermen walking about. There are no facilities whatsoever, other than a cement block of a smelly latrine which rarely has toilet paper. There is no tavern, no eatery, no nothing. What there is, at the top of the 'creek', is a hatchery. This hatchery provides the trout found in this 'creek', that runs seven miles down to an arm of Moses Lake, of which only the top two miles are fishable unless carp, bass, tench, or walleye are your intended targets. And even though these trout often get very large, are quite wily, and can be very hard to tempt, the fact that they are not 'wild' trout is another,probably the second most compelling reason for many of these guys not ever wishing to come here. These fishermen will collectively roll their eyes when someone not 'educated' in the ways of 'true' fly fishermen or fly fishing begins (ignorantly) relating a story about Rocky Ford in front of these 'gentlemen'. I know of what I speak. The years spent at the shop gave me plenty of chances to witness this.
I took offense to this rather pious attitude, and it helped to congeal some thoughts I have about them. It galled me to no end. Early on in my tenure there at the shop I remember (rather naively) trying at different junctures to talk some of the guys I'd gotten to know into accompanying me to Rocky Ford. I got polite refusals, and embarrassed glances. Confused, I eventually gave up. But, when it came to hopping in their SUVs and driving for five or six hours (at least) to well-known rivers in Montana, Idaho, or BC, well, I was more than welcome and by the way would I mind tying up a couple dozen of my BWO emergers for them? The interesting (to me) part of all this is that eventually I was successful in convincing some of them to go with me, and what I discovered was that maybe the biggest reason they didn't go there was the fact that the fishing could be very difficult. Technical, even. Precise casts, and perfect drifts. Convincing imitations. Knowledge. Experience. Patience.
Through my years spent fishing, I have discovered that there definitely is a group of fly fishermen who, when it comes right down to it, are extremely defensive about what they know, where they go, and who they go with, and I believe this is because they know less than they care to say. Their high-end rods and equipment, their expensive trips, are all facades behind which exists a pretty fragile ego. And rather than possibly expose themselves as being like all the rest of us, they choose the pack mentality and associate themselves only with like thinkers. Kind of sounds like life, doesn't it? Rather than being curious and asking questions for fear of being found out, they hide behind a thick wallet and smug aloofness which other fishermen often mistake for wisdom. It is this fear of being found out that keeps many from truly enjoying that which makes certain aspects of fishing with a fly so wonderful. They spend their whole lives imitating and stealing. Makes me wonder about their private lives.
It was easy to disassociate myself from this type, and to go it alone.
Couple of weeks ago I took my bug balm, some small jars and my screen out to 'The Ford'. I had decided that I would try to obtain some samples of the various food sources of the habitants of the 'creek'. And what I dredged up from the muddy bottom was an eye opener. Nothing like seeing so many of the trout's actual food sources up close and personal. I hate admitting this, but for a very long time I'd gone on other people's word and my own hunches when it came to size, color, and type, so the first time I dug through the contents of that screen, I was basically shocked. There were organisms in there that I knew trout ate, but I'd never thought they could be found here. And, the ones that I knew were there? Well, let's just say that a good majority of my ideas, or preconceptions, about color, and even size were in reality not very good guesses. It was a big piece of humble pie to swallow, but I gulped it down and spent a lot of hours at the vise trying to make up for lost time.
In the meantime, I discovered that a pattern I fish on the Spokane River quite successfully works very well at The Ford. It just took some modification of technique. That discovery (one of those accidental things) was very satisfying. That pattern is my TDR soft hackle, and it's tied the same way I've tied it for many years.
In any fishing fishing report you may uncover concerning what flies to use here, it's safe to say that the soft hackle probably won't be on anybody's list, and I've yet to discover any data that would refute my investigations. And, although I've used it sporadically over the years, I can point to very few (if any) occasions where it was one of my 'go tos'. My decision to use it in the past was usually almost a sign of frustration with every other fly and method up to that point. Like throwing in the towel. Raising the white flag. A fly that I could stand back and cast as far as I could. After hours of frustration it felt good to just let out the shaft and pop some long ones.
But, every once in a while, I'd hook fish; either close to the end of the very slow swing or as I began the retrieve, the latter being performed in much the same fashion as done on my river. The takes were, as I've said, aggressive, some to the level of breaking me off with such gusto that I had a macrame project on my hands for awhile. But success with the softie was fleeting, inconsistent. I began to change fishing locations more frequently, hooking a fish or two in each new location before moving again. I came to think that with this method I was hooking either the more aggressive or the dumber fish in each area I moved to. Didn't matter. Despite the inconsistencies, it was enough to keep me occupied until it was time to go.
Most of life is routine - dull and grubby, but routine is the momentum that keeps a man going. If you wait for inspiration you'll be standing on the corner after the parade is a mile down the street.
I'd fallen, quite consciously, into a routine through the years I'd fished 'the Ford'. There was an itinerary of sorts; a certain starting point and then the usual subsequent stops until I'd exhausted those and then, well, then it was time to get creative. Time spent at each location was totally dependent upon the successes or failures at each, which left, on average, a solid three hours or so of actual creative fishing. It was time, after satisfying my pre-conceived notions, to get down to the business of 'figuring it out'. This year I broke out a new routine. I decided that I'd not fished the far side of this 'creek' enough, and it was true; I'd really become fixated by the north side.
The north side offers more area unencumbered by the ubiquitous stands of cattails which had made the south side not as attractive to me. I had room to cast and also less mud to stand in. A fly line really takes it in the shorts here. It collects mud, gets heavy, sinks, and transfers that gooey stuff to your reel.
But, the south side, as I discovered when I began accessing it more often gets less pressure in many areas, especially near the top of the 'creek'. It's a bit of a walk, has only a few scattered openings in the dense forest of cattails, and, most importantly, its deeper water halfway across seems to hold bigger fish that I think have not seen as many flies. This particular observation may or may not be factual, but so far every time I hook up here, which has been often, I am pleasantly amazed.
It was here that I made my serendipitous discovery.
Time is a factor here at the top of the 'creek'. If I get here before the sun has hit the water, I go to my black articulated leech. It's a great pre-dawn pattern. If I ever stay here long enough to fish into the evening, it would be my first choice. On a dark, rainy, windy day here several weeks ago I fished only the AL for most of the day and landed more than a dozen nice fish.
But today the sun beats me to the water. The wind has yet to rise, and the chill in the air precludes any hatch activity on the surface other than a few midges. I reach for my soft hackle, intent on at least having something in the water until the warming rays of the sun kicks the process of the hatch into high gear. I strip a lot of line off the reel and stand on it while pulling, stretching the kinks out. The 'creek' here moves past very slowly, and is at its widest. My casts will drop the soft hackle more than halfway across. After letting it sink as it drifts downstream for a few seconds, I begin my retrieve, strip strip... strip.... strip strip... strip... I am midway through my fourth or fifth series when there is a sharp tug in the opposite direction. I raise my rod, feeling the spasmodic pull of a desperate trout. He races frantically away, nose up, halfway out of the water into frenzied contortions on the surface, and then dives for the safety of the depths, each turn punctuated by violent head shaking. My rod soaks up the shock, bending, recoiling, bending radically with each determined effort.
I hook one more large, bright fish. Then, two casts turn into four, and then eight, and I ponder my next move. There is another opening a hundred or so feet downstream. As I study the water off of that opening, I resume my retrieve, a bit half-heartedly, just fast enough to keep the fly moving. There is a tremendous pull and a split second later a trout shoots skyward. Again and again he breaks the surface, dashing first downstream, then across. He goes ballistic once more, swimming in the air as he tumbles, and my soft hackle is shaken free.
As I ready the next cast, the change in rhythm and speed of my retrieve are not lost on me. I wonder... and am rewarded as I duplicate the last retrieve. Another solid take. Another nice fish.
By the time I had fished my way back down to the narrow rock-filled chute (about a half-mile), I had landed seven more, all enticed by the soft hackle and my slower, less erratic retrieve. In that time I went through three flies, chewed and mangled, barely recognizable after being eaten so many times.
And so it was a good day. A remarkable day, actually. I have been back at the same positions to fish the soft hackle that very same way, and it has been nearly that good each time. All because I was able to locate and then duplicate the mechanism that drew in the first fish.
So, yeah, it took me awhile to figure out what I'd done, and I'm still not sure why it works so well, or what food item the trout think it resembles, but by simply changing the style of retrieve, I've added a lethal weapon to my complement. The takes are aggressive, and it's been working for several weeks now. Excellent!
By early afternoon, the wind had really picked up. It was one of those spring days where one minute the gusts are out of the north, and the next, out of the east, and so on. I moved downstream to an area where I was somewhat sheltered from the various wind directions by a thicket of cattails. It was here where I discovered why I hadn't touched a fish for nearly an hour. In reaching for my fly box to check my scud supply, I saw on my vest and waders several dozen midges clinging to me. There were at least four different varieties, and I never would have known they were out had it not been for the windbreak this slot offered. The light bulb came on. I lengthened my leader, adding a two-foot section of tippet, then opened the section in my box that contained my smallest chironomid patterns, sizes twenty-four to twenty-six. I grabbed a brown one with silver ribbing topped by a silver bead, tied it on and attached a small indicator, puling it up about eighteen inches above my tiny chironomid. The cast was difficult, waiting for lulls in between gusts to quickly put the fly out into the water. The results were almost instantaneous. My indicator floated with the slow current for only seconds before suddenly disappearing, and I quickly, but gently, raised my rod. Another small victory. I finished up the day right there, ducking the wind while hooking several big, feisty trout. It was a very nice walk back through the mud and the wind at the end of the day.
That's all small stuff. But it's huge. Makes my world continue to spin on an even keel. I love figuring things out, and am fascinated by the sometimes inadvertence of discovery.
It's the small stuff that can slip by. It's the same small stuff that can make or break a day.
That's some sweet stuff.