December 22, 2011
It wasn't until late in life that I discovered how easy it is to say "I don't know." W. Somerset Maugham
"You're up", I said. "I'm done for awhile. In fact, I'll trade with you. Come on down here and give it a try". He took me up on my offer, and soon enough was in place, stripping line from his reel as he false-casted.
I stood by, waiting for my hands to regain a semblance of normality. The reality of fishing this time of year can be just this; a few casts, maybe up to seven, and then go for the muffler, or, fewer casts because a fish has been hooked, the ensuing battle, hopefully netting it, removing the hook and releasing it, all before your hands go so terribly away (that you can't get them back) before burying them in the marvelously regenerative warmth of the muffler. Then, once they've regained some feeling, quickly chip the ice out of the reachable guides then stick the rest of the rod in the water to open the upper guides again and go for the muffler. These sequences will be repeated ad nauseum throughout the day, which is really a small price to pay when I think about it, which I do.
As I regain feeling in the tips of my thumbs and forefingers, Aaron picks up and casts again. As I watch, I'm suddenly aware of how much stuff I've come to take for granted, stuff that has become second nature, when I am fishing. And it all comes down to 'being in touch'. Being 'in touch' with the little things, like the tiny adjustments made during each cast, feeling the rod reacting to your movements, correcting little imperfections in each forward or back cast, things like that. I have fished with great casters as well as those who seem to, despite their accumulative years holding a fly rod, have no clue as to what they're supposed to feel or do should something start to go south on them. It reminds me of Einstein's quote regarding insanity; doing the same thing over and over again but expecting different results. That has to be frustrating, but, who am I say.
And I am aware, as I watch my son cast, that despite his infrequent fishing opportunities he has gotten 'in touch', developing into a more than proficient fly caster. His casts are quieter, I can see that he is feeling the rod, the line, understanding mechanically what goes into a successful delivery, and able to translate that into adjustments. The arc of his rod is shorter, his line is hanging in the air fully extended now as he starts forward with just enough energy to feel his rod pulling the line into a tight-looped arrow, stopping higher and gently dropping the tip while his line is uncurling at full extension, the fly just pulling the leader taut as it drops to the water's surface. I glow on the inside, happy for him because I know what a truly sweet sensation that is. Once experienced, the drive to recreate that exact feeling over and over again adds more pull to the already powerful magnetism. For me, it is the center, the bulls eye. It is one of The Reasons, and I quietly thank my son for unknowingly reminding me.
The ability to cast a fly further can often be an advantage. And while it remains true that what you do with that fly no matter how far you cast will always be what makes or breaks your chances for success, there are times, lots of them, where the ability to successfully manipulate both can increase the odds even more. The ability to execute a long, well placed cast, coupled with effective line and fly management be it a dry or subsurface, can be the key to the fish of the day, or whole trip for that matter. But, knowing that and then doing it are two different animals, and I believe that for the more serious fishermen among us, it's what separates 'the men from the boys', no slight meant toward the female gender. Moving from being a 'flock shooting' spray caster to a marksman able to isolate specific locales or fish not only exhibits an advanced ability and knowledge level, but it opens the door for more exhilarative successes.
That's precisely what was going through my head when I decided to make a suggestion. "Aaron", I said, pointing, "put a cast across and just upstream from the rocks, into that corner there". In days gone by I wouldn't have brought it up knowing that he didn't have the tools to attempt it. I'd hooked several big fish out of that slot on earlier forays and now, seeing him in command of his cast, well, it was a no brainer.Besides all of that, I just had an idea that it would be a perfect time...
His first attempt fell a little short, probably due to the ice that had been building up in his guides, maybe a little to do with now having a specific location to shoot at. He fished it out anyway as would a patient, confident fisherman. The second cast was longer, perfect, landing his leech about six feet upstream from the rocks, where the current would pull his slowly sinking leech out of the subtle eddy and into the trough that edged the rocks as it moved downstream. I watched, waiting, wondering, as he began his retrieve.
When fishing with a leech pattern here, especially in the colder months where the water temperature will be a good five to seven degrees cooler than what is normal, the takes will sometimes be surprisingly subtle. Not what one would expect from fish known for their ability to explode on flies of this nature. And so it was when Aaron felt weight and lifted his rod, and in a split second the knowledge that he'd hooked a fish changed from "fish on" into, "Oh man! Big fish!", but I knew that already because I could see how much water she moved every time she put her tail into it, and now she was taking line, having it all basically her way. It's one thing to make that cast, yet another to move that fly, but when those two work and you get a result, then the game changes again, and that means a whole new set of anxieties to deal with.
A proficiency at making well-directed casts and coaxing the right type of movement from your fly will no doubt occasion the need to develop another tool. If you get better at hooking fish, then you're either going to get better at playing them or tying up whatever it is they took and are wearing as a souvenir. It's a numbers game. More fish hooked means more time spent learning about what happens next. For the fisherman, it is the beauty of the fight. The sport of it all. To a trout, it is The Fear. It is the urgent need to escape. It is all there is. The escape. There is no book for us on this subject. There are no patterns to discern, no stock moves to look for. Every battle with a hooked fish is unique.
The best way to begin to understand this is, of course, to hook more fish. Gain an overall understanding of how to react when they do what it is they do, and they will often do it better than we expect, no matter how much experience we have. In short, for this reason alone you can never catch too many fish, although I must admit that some of us, and I include myself in this group, place not as much emphasis on landing a fish as we do on the take. A well-made cast, an effective fly management, and The Take. Those are my favorites.
I can, however, certainly understand the need to land the fish. It's the ultimate validation. To hold the object of your desire, your labors, in your own two numb hands. To maybe get a picture or two; standing there, big grin on your face, irrefutable proof of your accomplishment right there in your swollen, frozen hands for everybody to see. I can totally understand it. I guess the main reason I'm not more inclined in that direction is that I most often fish alone. It's hard to hold a big fish and a camera at the same time, and it's probably also why many folks just roll their eyes if I have a big fish story to share. Fine, Steve, but where's the proof? That's okay, I understand their reluctance to believe. I've heard that some fishermen, especially fly fishermen, have a tendency to uh, exaggerate a little.
There's another, more important reason to land a fish, though. It trumps all the others, and I was overjoyed to have that very reason to snap a photo of Aaron and the biggest trout he's landed so far in his time being a fly fisherman.
When a father teaches his son, I believe there is a twofold mission undertaken. The first is the obvious one. We want them to enjoy that which we enjoy, which will promote future engagements together doing what it is we have both come to enjoy. But here's where our mission becomes a bit subversive, and more than a little heroic.
It is our way of determining our fate. Of increasing the odds of a successful life. Through all the years of frustrations and disappointments, of missed opportunities and broken dreams, here is our chance at a little redemption. The chance to make a connection, albeit probably only in our own minds, with something that will bind us together for eternity.
I plead guilty to both counts your honor, and in lieu of begging the courts forgiveness I ask only that you put yourself in my place.
No pictures, please.