November 15, 2012

The fly.

The fly, we reason, is what makes things happen, and so using a different one should make things happen differently.
                   Ted Leeson, Patterns of Behavior, Inventing Montana

Always look at what you have left. Never look at what you have lost. 
Robert Schuller

        It's almost noon on a humid, chilly Friday. The weather this morning had been patient with me until about a half hour ago, but that has run its course. Rain falls from the dense grayness of the early November sky, contrasted against the forest green of the trees across the river, while I work methodically, carefully down. The rain's not such a big deal if I'm further down the river. But now, I work against time, having chosen the Cemetery Run. It's enticing to me, with its curious blend of seams and fierce riffle. The problem is, I'm just downstream from the mouth of Latah (Hangman, if you're a native) Creek, which, when the rains come, is notorious for quickly going off-color and shortly after that spewing it's effluvial flush into the river, effectively buttoning fish lips and putting them down, way down, often for days. 
     The lure of this stretch of water lies in the frequent 'pushes'. The fierce flow of the main riffle periodically sends pulses of hydraulic upwellings downstream and across into the softer water on the inside (my side) of the slight bend that entails the hundred and few odd yards of this particular stretch. I find them interesting because I've hooked a lot of fish when first I got lucky and then after putting some thought into it began to time my casts so that my swinging fly would be caught up in the front edge of the advancing push. On several occasions I've had solid strikes when it's near the end of its swing and gets swept up in the vertically rolling current. My thinking, upon observation after experiencing a few violent takes is that a couple of things may be at work here. The first theory is that the vertically oriented twisting of the current alters the path of my fly line or leader, causing a sudden change in the path of my fly, which is almost always a soft hackle or a two fly rig. The second explanantion is easier to understand in that I treat the edges of the 'push' as I would a classic seam, which is really what they are, except that they're temporary. When the push spends itself, the seam simply goes away. After seriously working these anomalies over the past few weeks both here and at different locations on the river, I'll try, when I see a 'push' coming, to put my fly at the front or slightly ahead of it. The trout seem to know that 'push' will carry food and are waiting at the deep edge of the softer water on cue to snap at anything that gets collected and resembles a meal. The takes are usually quite solid, meaning that either there may have been some effort put into chasing down the target rather than having it come by at a more or less constant speed. Or, it's a take that is similar to the 'snatch and grab' technique employed in the seam off of a faster flow. This is all merely conjecture on my part and should not be taken seriously, unless, of course, you've maybe experienced a similar phenomenon. Having said that, a lot of fly fishermen are often hesitant to subscribe to anything other than their own time-tested, although maybe not as consistently successful routines, although they'd be quick to enroll should they step out of their box and discover otherwise.
      I watch the latest surge slowly spend itself in the soft water directly downstream and start my retrieve slowly with one long, slow pull. The belly in my fly line, which now more closely resembles a lazy 's' as the push disintegrates unevenly, instantly begins, at great speed, to straighten, then quickly transfers itself in the form of a solid pull to my rod. "I'll be damned! Wonder which one he ate", I query no one in particular (I admit to talking to myself more and more as I age), tighten on him, raise my rod and am amazed for a second or two at the fact that he ate when at that point I'm amazed that it's a larger rainbow than I thought who quickly realizes he's hooked and with a single effective seizure-like shake breaks me off. I stand silently, hands down for a few moments amazed at what just transpired, then strip back line to see what kind of damage the fish did to my two fly rig. Upon inspection I discover that he'd escaped with my bottom fly; in this case a #18 classic TDR soft hackle.

   Depending on the circumstances, losing a fly to a fish can be no big deal or, if it's the result of something I did poorly or not at all, it is cause for immediate and severe self recrimination. But, even though I may have in all likelihood screwed up, the fish still ate my fly and that's something to feel good about. Of course, if it was the fish of the day and I've nothing to show for it but empty tippet, you can bet I'll be muttering.

      There are events in our lives that are 'light bulb' moments. I've had so many of these in my life as a fisherman/tier that it gets hard to keep track of them all. Then add to that the fact that I fish the Spokane and you've got THE light bulb moment times ten. That one all by itself still ranks right up there in the top half of the top ten. It opened my eyes. But, and more importantly, I feel that because I chose the Spokane, I finally began to fully comprehend what it takes to be a competent and self-sustaining fly tier. Understanding that began very quickly to translate itself into making me a better fisherman. Not only because I got more proficient at the vise; that in turn affected my need to improve my skills with the rod. Even perfect flies won't catch fish if they're not worked properly, or in the correct situations.
       The absolute thrill of hooking fish on flies I've conceptualized, created, and perfected are without exception  the most satisfying moments of my life. Nothing, save for the birth of my sons will even come close. And, as mentioned in previous posts, it adds a healthy dose of adrenalin to every take.

        There are a lot of ways to learn to tie flies, some good,  some not so good, and then there was my way. Almost from the outset I was, for all intents and purposes, on my own. I had zero credible input. Other than my fishing, my father, my mind's eye and the elementary primer included in the kit were all I had as standards of measure.  But, I knew the one big thing going in; it was not going to happen overnight. It was a foregone conclusion that time was the bank. To be a fly tier was to understand that perseverance over time was a sound investment.
       My dad wasn't a tier, but he'd seen a lot of flies. His was the gospel of Dan Bailey in the form of first a fly catalogue that would arrive every December, and then, periodically through the next few months, boxes of flies ordered through the mail. I will always remember his 'ruck sack', the army-olive ruck sack that served as his repository. It was stuffed with so many boxes of Dan Bailey flies that I had to wonder why he had so many! Hundreds of them! Most all of them were dries save for a couple of small boxes of woolly worms way down at the bottom, which told me that they were not in use very often. That bag went with him everywhere every time he went fishing! Dad embodied the characteristics of those fly fishers who are bought and sold by eye candy. In his mind, a beautiful fly equated to success on the water, and the more he had, why the better the chances were. I really don't know how many he ever really used. His boxes were tediously sorted, kept updated and absolutely chock full, terribly revealing about the man that owned them. I'd spend hours going through each box, closely examining each fly, asking questions like, where do you use this one?, or, when do you use this one, etc? And I don't ever remember him tiring of my constant, somewhat repetitious inquiries. Talking fishing and flies, even if it was with a son who had yet to really understand the depth and magnitude of his involvement, was always worth the time. 

      I look back on those first years of tying knowing that it probably would have been beneficial to have actually had some real, one-on-one instruction though in reality it would be years before I received any viable input, not having the confidence in even my embryonic abilities to feel comfortable asking for guidance. It was fun, a bit satisfying and at the same time frustrating, knowing what I wanted to see but not having the ability level to bring it to fruition. But, looking back now, I guess I don't have any regrets. It's a work in progress, but I've become adept at visualizing what I want to create and along the way have invented and perfected many of my own methods while developing into a pretty decent tier without any real mentoring, and that ends up feeling very satisfying. 
      The years progressed as I became more and more interested in the Spokane River. My flies and methods for fishing them were continually evolving. I was, for a lot of years not aware of that many people who fished the Spokane as much or as often as I did. Actually, it never even occurred to me to find out. I was tying flies and fishing, completely, blissfully immersed in my own little world at the vise and on the water. Of course, some days were better than others, that will always be a reality. But, somewhere along the line it began  to dawn on me, probably after a few successive days of utter frustration, that maybe the bad days were, in the long run, probably more important than I'd ever thought. So instead of basically going through the motions for a few hours or until the frustration got too unmanageable whereupon I'd throw in the towel, I decided to stay engaged, and I began see that bad days, especially a string of them, while being a great leveling device, were also plateaus from which I could more impartially examine and evaluate my schemes, whether it might mean fly, fishing method, time of day, and so on.  Fly fishermen are sometimes quick to let the ego get over-inflated with a little success and just as quick to doubt their whole program during the slack times. I was/am no different in that regard. The thing that separated me from most others was the fact that I had only myself to fall back on when I'd ring up zeroes, and no one to boast to when I kicked ass. Fishing alone makes it easier to get shut out and not have it be such a big deal, although it can be just as frustrating when it's been a fish-filled day. I wasn't very far into my years of fishing when I discovered this. Who's going to believe you? Luckily I didn't have anyone to tell, either way, so it was easier to develop a 'convenient amnesia' through the shut outs, a quiet pride through the successes and continue on, always aware of the constant probability in balance between the good days and the bad. 

        My testing ground for my flies, being the same water that I've fished for all these years now, continues to thrill, frustrate, and confuse me. But, like a faithful companion, it scolds as often as it cradles me, admonishing me in subtle ways to always keep my head clear. It is my staunchest supporter or severest critic, most always willing to forgive as long as I respect what it preaches; keep sight of what is essential and jettison that which is merely superfluous. When I forget, disavow or allow too much of my ego to show, the river sternly takes me to task. 

      In an early post I described the first flies I tied.  Pheasant tail nymphs and wooly buggers were the most commonplace, gradually giving way to attempts at dry flies. At this point I was beginning to frequent sporting goods stores and then actual specialty shops where I could examine the flies that were for sale. I began to buy a few flies, mostly very simple patterns, so I could take them home and attempt to tie them. This practice proved to be worthwhile. With one of these copies, a yellow-bodied #16 soft hackle I tasted my first success on the Spokane. It was a watershed experience. I was seriously, totally hooked for life at the instant of that take. Standing knee deep in a swirling back eddy wearing my father's leaky neoprene waders under a pair of plain hiking boots, I knew then that this was just the beginning of a lifelong adventure.

        I tie flies for and fish the Spokane River. Now almost exclusively. All of my energies relating to the tying bench reflect this obsession with the fish there. Not to say that the flies I create wouldn't work elsewhere. The simple truth of it is that they do. I've had tremendous success with my classic soft hackle as well as with various dries, especially those relating to the caddis family, at venues like the Henry's Fork, the Beaverhead and the Missouri, in B.C. on the Elk and also up on the higher reaches of the North Fork of the Couer d'Alene and the St. Joe, to mention just a few. I have the utmost confidence in being able to 'match the hatch', no matter what mayfly or terrestrial may be predominant at the time. And I'm not afraid to get down and dirty with streamer patterns like my newest wool-headed sculpin. 
         But the fly that keeps me enchanted year after year after year is the soft hackle. That fly, and the methods by which it can be fished have, year in and year out, provided me with more hours of joy and satisfaction than all the others put together. Of course, in saying that I could mention the opposite side of that coin which brings into focus all the hours of frustrating consternation when they let me down. But that wouldn't be correct, because they rarely do. It is I that lets me down. I'll attempt to explain.

      In the past oh, let's say ten years, I've developed a variety, a significant number, of soft hackles just for the Spokane. I say 'just', because it's in reality been quite awhile since I've fished anywhere else, other than my winter fishing on a slow-moving spring creek west of town which bears little or no resemblance to the Spokane for which I've also developed several productive patterns which include, of all things, a soft hackle. But save for a blue-winged olive pattern that I'll use elsewhere, those flies are pretty location specific, the nature of spring creeks being what it is.

      I've got three distinctly different types of soft hackle in my box, and six if you count the swimming caddis patterns. The three 'real' softee patterns are all similarly colored and constructed, the difference being in the amount of weight I'll use. Most of the time I'll use a few wraps of lead (substitute) on the shank, and to be more specific, I'll use more or fewer wraps depending on the water speed and how deep I want the fly to be when it starts its arcing swing back across. I've come to understand the importance of working different depths. 
     This year I got pretty taken with the challenges presented in swinging flies through faster water. Takes in the fiercest flows are nothing short of electrifying, and I found that by using a tungsten bead along with a few wraps of lead I increase the odds that my soft hackle is going to arouse some interest as it swings through. It's always amazing to me when I hook up in fiercely flowing chutes. I wonder how a fish could not only be in there but also have the wherewithal to attack possible prey. But, in saying that I admit to looking at those fast chutes through very human eyes. I can't possibly see the bottom with its holding lies and compressions that undoubtedly provide good cover while being an excellent platform from which to obtain food. But what I have begun to understand are the surface characteristics I should look for which will give me the best chance for success. There are fish, more often than not of decent size, in those places so it's a matter of understanding where, and how best to get the fly through it. The beauty of fishing this way lies in the fact that the fish will usually attack without reservation. They know they've only got one shot before it's past them, thus the solid, often crushing takes. And, more often than not you'll see the take. Even with a tungsten bead and wraps of lead, that fly is coming across, depending on the speed of the flow, at or very near the surface. It's quite a visual to experience. Adrenalin management is paramount, otherwise you'll be tying on another fly. 

      The two flies pictured above are my current favorites for my two fly setup. The top fly is the caddis. It's a derivation of a standard Troth-style dry, and came to be because of the success of tugging on the line and pulling the dry one under at the end of a drift. All I did was omit the hackle on the body, add a copper rib, and  either some partridge or dyed brown hen neck, sparingly, after I tied in the wing. I've got similarly flies with several different colored wings depending on what I see actually on the water at the time, but the olive-winged version seems to be the most consistent. 
      The soft hackle (trailer) is small, lightly weighted, and is often eaten when fished by itself right before BWOs are seen on the surface. It's basically just another caddis imitation, but I also think it imitates an emerging olive nymph being swept in the current. It's hard to be sure, especially because I see such a good number of caddis on the water pretty constantly during the cooler mornings and also in the late afternoon to past sunset.

       As always, even though these particular flies have found a home in my box, they're still a work in progress. Everything I fish the Spokane with is in a constant state of change. It would be terrible to wake up one morning and not wonder what I might do differently, or better. For me, that's the name of the game. 

October 10, 2012

Strange Days (Sunset)

To expect too much is to have a sentimental view of life and this is a softness that ends in bitterness. 
Flannary  O'Connor

Time changes everything except something within us which is always surprised by change.
                Thomas Hardy

          I squint, following the path of my bellying fly line as it is pulled through the reflecting golden shimmer of an early October sunset on the lazy flow of my early fall river, but I don't really see it; amazing how pursuit of the object of my obsession can blind me to the passage of time. Early October. Already. I let that replay over and over, letting my fly to waft back and forth in the soft current.
      Time. Passed, as I stand nearly on the other side of it here in my river, incrementally in seconds, minutes, hours, and finally, days. Some remarkable days. Here on the end line I would've thought that it'd be hard not to notice them moving past so steadily. Hard not to mark certain days as eventful, others as, well, days that offered little more than a late night at the vise trying to solve another riddle. And then quite suddenly I'm standing here watching a fiery sunset at an hour of a fall afternoon where I quite recently took comfort in the fact that I still had several more hours left with which to capture that which I think I'm really pursuing. Standing in my river, reminded yet again that nothing is certain beyond the fact that I'm still head down busy caching more memories. I can see both ends of this playing out clearly now, and I'm drawn toward a summary thought; how many can I store before they overflow and begin to spill out into the cosmos to be lost forever. And then I wonder if I can somehow, when it's time, gather them up and take them all with me. And then I smile, because I know full well that I can't, and, that in the scheme of things it really doesn't matter. None of it. None of it matters except now, spending this time, this precious, incrementally designated way of marking passage doing what has provided me with the truest sense of satisfaction I have ever known. And if I do that? Well, if I do that, then it's just not that important how fast these increments pass, how many I have left, how much I forget or how many I lose because I will have spent these precious incremental jewels exactly as they were meant to be spent. There will be no need to remember at all, because it will have been my life. And as I begin my retrieve, I find that thought so strangely comforting that it brings tears to my eyes.
        I strip a few few more feet of line, lift the rod and roll out another cast. My latest hybrid concept ends its ride on the far side of the fast riffle, turning over at full extension, disappearing and immediately pulling at the end of its tether as it begins its arc back across the brisk chute some seventy feet out. I manage the hydraulics, mending up or downstream when necessary, and easily lose myself in the mindlessness of the process. Halfway through the completion of its arc my eye catches the silvery flash a short distance below where I'm guessing my fly line ends and simultaneously there's a sharp pull on my rod. I leave the rod tip down and pull with my line hand to tighten on him. No time to raise the rod. I've learned to strike back with the line rather than risk a more tenuous hookup by taking the time to lift my rod. There is a brief thrashing on the surface followed by a quick run and then the sight of a leaping rainbow executing a series of perfect nose-first exits and re-entries as he now tries to free himself from whatever won't let him go about his business. I don't know why, after all these years that I am still so excited by the take, but I always am. Delighted. Exonerated, almost, but that feeling lasts only long enough to know that I won't stay delighted or exonerated if I don't react correctly and this fish frees himself. I'd rather he escapes from my hand. Still, after all these years there is that certain indescribable something in each and every take that never grows old, never ceases to be the strongest magnet, never fails to keep me on the water longer. No two takes are ever the same, and yet each and every one produces a similar elevated state comparable to nothing else I have experienced in my life.

       On the river there are, within the undrawn parameters of the geography of my favorite, most frequented fishing locales, several Osprey nests. The nests, constructed high in the oldest, tallest pines or on telephone poles overlooking the river's valley are silent now, empty, having been home base for another generation of youngsters who now navigate the skies and dive for prey as proficiently as their elders. All except for one. A lone Osprey perches on the branch next to her nest. It could be mom, lingering a bit to see if one of her brood might return, or maybe it's a youngster, hesitant to strike out into the world, hanging close to home just a little longer. Then it leaps into flight and I see it is indeed a young male. I know I've been spotted when I hear the call of danger his parents taught him when he and his sister were just learning to fly. He wheels and flies downstream. I will miss them. They were, and remain, my most constant, even though terribly more efficient, fishing companions. Ospreys are masters of the art of perseverance, stealth, and patience. In my eyes they have no equal. 

       It's been a strange year on my river. Starting with the higher than normal flows that lingered well into July. Then it was the heat coupled with cloudless skies that seemed to run on uninterrupted for weeks at a time. The eventual combination of low flows and high air temperatures then produced, among other things, a record vinyl hatch that annoyingly persisted until just a few weeks ago. 
      But something else was taking place on the river this year, and in numbers that I have never seen before. I think it definitely had an effect on the fishing. Fishermen. Many fishermen. In boats and wading. I saw drift boats from every fly shop in town. Constantly. It was not uncommon for me to wave at the guides of several boats each time I was down fishing, and for all the years I have fished here, that has never been an issue. Save for a few, I know all of the these gentlemen well. 
      Early in July, when the Fly Fishing Federation's conclave was taking place here in Spokane, I was complimented by a shop owner for my contribution to an article written by Rich Landers, our local outdoor writer for our local daily The Spokesman-Review to coincide with that event. In it, several local shop owners (and I) were queried on different subjects having to do with the many fly fishing opportunities available in the area. I was honored to be included in this somewhat luminary group of local experts, it being common knowledge among them, I guess, that because of my years of experience on the Spokane I would be a good fit in this group. 
     To cut to the chase, at one point in the article I stated that what with the lingering higher flows (and remember this interview was conducted back in late June), a fly caster working from a boat would be at a definite advantage over a wader until the flows came down. Many productive areas would simply be out of the average wader/caster's range until then. As this particular shop owner pointed out to me, the article was widely read, including by many of the attendees to the conclave, and, when they had the time to fish, well, since the river runs right through town making it the closest venue around and 'the expert' had it that the best way was from a boat, well, that's exactly what they did, with, I'm sure, some extra sugar-coating from the various shops. I think next time, if there is one, I'll keep that particular observation to myself. There just aren't enough trout in this river to go around.
       It's also pretty widely known among the few of us who wade the Spokane that it's a solid number one on the 'top one hundred' list of toughest rivers to wade. And that's not even talking about general access to the water, which in itself can be an adventure. I will save that topic and elaborate more on it in a future post. But despite the obvious challenges presented to anyone who decides to wade here, I was more than surprised, when the flow eventually dropped enough to level the playing field, to see more wading fishermen this year than I've ever seen before. It was not an uncommon occurrence to arrive at one of my favorite runs only to discover a fisherman already working his way down through. And, on more than a few occasions, even when I thought I had a run all to myself, after making just a few casts I had the unmistakably distinct feeling that this run had been fished just prior to my arrival.  I ended up doing a lot of extra hiking this year, giving myself a 'pep' talk as I did. I know it's everybody's river. I know that there are others who have discovered that this river is a favorable alternative for a day instead of jumping in the car and driving for a few hours to another venue. The present state of the local economy dictates that. But the truth is that from my years of solitary fishing I must confess to having become rather territorial. I also know, from my guiding experiences when I worked at the shop years ago, that even though there are more rods on the river, more specifically on 'my' water, that doesn't necessarily always equate to more fish being hooked. What does happen, though, is that the fish in any given area that is  fished will simply 'go away', often for several days, and I think that's partly a condition of too few fish per rod, or per mile, or however you wish to delineate it. As much as I tout the attributes of the fish on this river, there are simply not enough of them to support an increase in fishermen. Fishing from a drift boat puts the fisherman in a position of one or maybe two shots at a fish before he's downstream and on to the next target whether that target may be a locale, a rise, or simply a nymph under an indicator drifted through one of the many deeper slots. But the wader has time on his side and is only moving after satisfying him/her self that every possible method has been tried. He/she may cover a section of water with a variety of flies utilizing a lot of different techniques before stepping down to repeat the process all over again. For the fisherman who knows what he's doing, that can provide success where the drifter merely shook his head as he moved downstream in search of the next opportunity.
     This year, because of that increased fishing traffic, I've fished a lot of water that in years passed I would normally have walked right by. The decision to do that proved, in many instances rewarding. Evidently some of the trout have also taken up at least temporary residence in these areas seeking sanctuary from the increased activity in their usual lies. I was treated to some interesting hours of fishing and a few surprises during my time spent searching through and fishing these sections. It also aided in increasing the number of go-to flies in my box.
    But two-legged fishermen are not the only reason that I have seen fewer fish. There are other, more 'serious' fish hunters to be aware of. In the feathered realm, I speak of the growing populations of Osprey, Great Blue herons, and in the early fall as they make their way to the Kokanee harvest on Coeur d'Alene lake, Bald eagles. On the furrier side, there are minks and a surprising number of otters. I was a bit taken back one early morning in August when it occurred to me that one of my favorite runs, a deep, fast trough with a classic tailout, had been adopted by a family of otters. Their den was at the top end of the fast slot. In previous years, I'd enjoyed the challenge of wading down this section as I swung heavy soft hackles through the various pockets of hydraulics, and it was a real surprise that particular morning to all of a sudden come face to face with a large otter with a face full of rainbow trout. I'm sure he was laughing at me. None of these fishers, furred or feathered, prescribe to the catch and release policy as far as I know.
     Neither do the poachers and those intransigents who choose to fish without licenses. They fill buckets and stringers without conscience. Our beleaguered Fish and Game department, already strapped for resources (by selfish, thoughtless budget-cutting) with which to combat this plague does what it can, but they are woefully understaffed and the law-breakers know it. Every fly fisherman I know who has spent time on the Spokane has at one time or another witnessed this illegal activity. Many of us (including me) risk soaking our cell phones in order that we might report such activity if/when we see it, but it continues, pretty much unabated, and the propagation and proliferation of the native population of Redband Trout is now very definitely at risk. I get so frustrated! So angry!
     And being on the subject of illegal fishing and keeping of fish is a perfect segue into another point of frustration. Our city 'fathers' have recently embarked on a campaign, or better yet, 'purge' if you will. They have decided that there is too much cheap alcohol for sale in certain parts of the city that have been determined to be 'high crime' areas. It is a concerted effort to drive the 'unhealthy' element out of what has been determined to be these 'high crime' parts of town. Their thinking is that by limiting sales of cheap, high alcohol content beverages, they will effectively reduce crime in these areas. Well, they were partially successful. They did decrease crime in a few isolated neighborhoods, but that's because the perpetrators simply picked up and went elsewhere. The crime rate in other areas then went way up. That's what happens when you move a resource. It causes the consumer, who, by the way has little to carry, to simply pick up and move. And that's exactly what they did. Great strategy. Many of them moved closer to the river, which already has a good reputation among this element for being a viable refuge from the law. Out of sight, then out of mind. That's a great way to solve a problem, city 'fathers'. Send them to the river. Nobody will see 'em down there. 
             I now step down off of my soap box.

      As of the first week in September, right on schedule, the drawdown of Couer d'Alene Lake began. The river's rising now, and that will continue, little by little, until the Lake has reached it's winter level near the end of November which is at the same time good and getting bad. At this point it's still not enough to cause any major headaches as far as the wading is concerned; I'm hoping that I've got a few more weeks before I have to dust off the long (switch) rod again. On the plus side, with the shorter days and lower temperatures comes cooler water. Many of the fish have re-established shallower lies to take advantage of the early fall appearance of pseudos and blue-winged olives, not to mention the sporadic caddis, October caddis and the ever-present chironomids. For the past two days I have been on the water at the right time, and, for about an hour and a half right during the warmest part of the day have enjoyed casting my #18 BWO upwing parachute to favorably impressed rising fish. From experience I know that this 'window' will begin to close soon, so it is paramount to exploit as much fishable water as I can over the next few days. However, I have, along the way, rediscovered the value of my #16 classic TDR soft hackle. In the hour or so prior to the appearance of the BWOs, and thus the rising fish, I have had consistent success swinging my little soft hackle through the slow water sections where the olives will soon appear. It's all in the timing. Chalk up another one for serendipity.
     And so it flows past. The river. Time. Summer into autumn. Warm into cool. My fly line bellies from the continual push, the ever present surge of things to get where they are going. 
     Me? I don't know if I'll ever get there. And yet, maybe I've already arrived. It doesn't matter. 

August 14, 2012

Dog days

         Standing midstream in a middle-aged season, waist deep and spectacularly clueless, you shuffle randomly through your alternatives over and over, like a disillusioned spiritual seeker trying to pick a new religion from the yellow pages.
            Ted Leeson, Inventing Montana

     One more cast. Then, very deliberately, I'll settle in to another thorough search through my boxes, looking again for a fly that's until now somehow been overlooked, or, one I finally convince myself to try even though it's been in there, patiently taking up space, forever. Just the fact that I'm mentally scheduling another box-check long before I cast is a pretty good indicator that all is not well.

      This has been a tough post to put together, or, to be more to the point, not the one that I planned to write. I had such lofty hopes for the summer's fishing on my river;  the higher than 'normal' run-off lasting so much longer than 'normal', testing my ability to stay cool during those days and days of watching the maddeningly slight incline on the graph begin to approach what I was waiting for.  But, as the days of this exceedingly strange summer have unfolded, each one ending in an eerily similar fashion; I silently beg each sunset to please slow down before admitting again that even if I do stay on into the darkness it probably isn't going to happen, and then finally allowing the reality of it all to convince me to trudge back.  So, with this as a sobering backdrop, I decided that what the heck, honesty, in all it's sometimes grim trappings, may well be the best policy. I'll write it as it is. As it is so far, anyway. 

    To be quite frank, I went so far as to postpone any writing for several more than a few days, supported by the promise of each new day that this malaise, this rather unnerving period that has so bewilderingly gripped me, would gently lift and pass. That I'd somehow get back on track, that I'd once again be on top of my game, laughing off my troubles to once again crow at great length about the virtues of my flies and fishing and the wonderfully engaging trout in this river I call my home water. Still, however, the days pass, into the necessary number of weeks in order to call it a month, plus now a few more days...

      And, as yet, much continues not to happen. My schedule is unchanged, sometimes fishing twice a day, and it's getting on into the fifth week, this doldrum; this conundrum. 
     The flows have only recently dropped enough to allow me to wade my familiar haunts with as much confidence as is warranted for a man with 62 year-old legs and increasingly suspect equilibrium. My casts remain strong and true. My flies are time-tested here and have been, at least up to this stage, consistently trustworthy. Certainly that would be any fisherman's recipe for success. It always worked well in the past, and going into this year I had no reason to think differently. Why would I?

       But something is stuck. I'm getting no traction. I'm not sure why that is. I'm not sure if it's me or the river, the fish or my flies. The weather could be partly to blame. Maybe it's degrees of all of the above. The worst part of this mystery is that I'm running dangerously low on reasonable conclusions. Any reasonable conclusions, reasonable or not. This extended drought, this mid-season blank has got me questioning everything I've ever done here to catch fish. My confidence has been ambushed, snared, hanging upside down wild-eyed with fear and almost out of reach. Almost.

     In the majors it's called a slump. Time to head back down to Triple A for a confidence boost against the pitching. On the basketball court I'd be what's known as 'cold', shooting nothing but bricks, which means some extended bench time or being the tag end of a multi-player trade that eventually lands me in Yemen playing for a sheik with ulterior motives. But, even then at least there would be options. The only options I seem to have left now amount to barely reasonable explanations, and that's a pretty empty bag to be holding. I'd prefer answers over explanations, or better yet a tight line, but so far neither of those have been forthcoming. The joy of looking down on my favorite runs at the beginning of each fishing day has been coated with a thickening patina of anxiety.  

     I just finished reading what I can say with conviction is probably one of the best, most insightful, thoughtful, perceptive books ever written on the subject of fishing with flies, Inventing Montana, by Ted Leeson. And one of the chapters in his book deals precisely with that which I am experiencing right now, which, as I read, was at the same time humorous and scary. (I remember thinking, oh, now that will never happen to me). It deals with what Thomas McGuane, in his book The Longest Silence calls just that; 'The Longest Silence'.  Simply put, it is that particularly inordinately long period of time spent fishing without, for one reason or another, hooking or landing a fish. I highly recommend both of these books, but I think that Mr. Leeson's book, especially the chapter entitled "Sirius Matters", deals with the matter of 'dry spells' in a fashion that will call each of us out and force us to really think. I say that because I am forced to concede that I never thought that 'it could happen to me'. It was always for some one else to suffer through. I never thought I would be singled out for such a time. Indeed, I never gave it even a moment's thought. 

      Until now. It seems to be my turn.

      Confession. I'm compelled to admit to losing a little sleep over it. This continuing saga of several days of unbridled, uninterrupted failure tend to grind on me a little bit, and I seem to have rather easily fallen into a pattern of crawling out of bed after hours of staring into the darkness to sit at my vise late into the wee hours of the morning working with permutations and variations (feeding the silliness) that roll ceaselessly through my agonized brain, trying to convince myself that one of these new ones will be the key that unlocks that door. One of these flies will be the deal breaker. Then I climb back into bed, hopefully satisfied that I have found the answer. Until the next night.

But, so far I haven't found it, and I swear every night as I turn off the light the hell with it, tonight I'll just stay in bed and let it ride...
... and an hour later I slide out of bed and into the chair and switch on my tying light, again.

      Mindset is everything, especially now. I am amazed, or possibly embarrassed, at how much self-value I've hung on the ability to hook fish. I've never been a fan of being 'just happy to be here' as regards the ability to simply enjoy the fact that I'm standing in a river doing what I was put here to do, because I've somehow convinced myself that I was put there, in that damned river, to catch fish. Some would offer that that's what I get for hanging my hat on such a fickle enterprise. The thought that I might go hitless for a period of time never entered into my consciousness, and were someone to advance that particular futurism my way, well I'd be hard put to even consider it. There will always be those days where a strike or a fish is harder to come by, but usually, with patience and perseverance, at the end of each day I could look forward to the hike back to the car feeling somewhat satisfied with my effort, and therefore the results. 
     The conscious thought now is almost diametrically different, and that's territory where I've long forgotten how be comfortable. And that 'discomfort', if you will, is beginning to manifest itself in my ability to reason with even a modicum of competence. 

     'They' say patience is golden; patience is a virtue.  'They' are, for the most part, quite right, but, that it's also, I've discovered, much easier to be patient when success, no matter how subjectively infrequent, is still usually somewhat close at hand. In the time line of our daily fishing history, despite the occasional panic attacks we are usually never too far from a hookup and not too far removed from the last. The matter of the distance between them is simply not a factor that attracts concern. Patience keeps us dialed in, on target, as we move from dot to dot on our timeline, because the next dot hasn't ever been that far off. It's a bit humbling when you are finally faced with the reality that the next dot, though you know there is one, could very well be a million miles over the horizon of your spinning ball and no matter how fast you spin it, that dot is not coming into view. So you do everything faster, making that ball really spin, hoping against hope for that grace-saving bump on the line. But, all that is revealed, aside from the same quiet emptiness is the rippling effect, the chagrin of muffed opportunities when they do arise, because by now you're so completely off your game that you've totally lost touch with what made you love this place, these fish, and your methods for attracting them. Church starts to sound like it might be for you. Or therapy. Or alcohol...
       I'm prone to wondering if maybe it's some sort of payback for all the success enjoyed over the years I've spent here; some karmic dispensation or reconfiguration for reasons I am not as yet able to discern. I tend to think along these lines when I have no other explanation for the current dearth of landed, or even hooked fish. Not suddenly, I have become aware that it's insinuated itself slowly, inexorably into the broader avenues of my overall consciousness, like the chill from a pin-hole sized leak in my waders that I discover on the coldest day of the year in the coldest water I've ever waded and I'm miles from the warmth of my car heater.

      I've even attempted to equate my current maledictive state as a calling out of sorts. A challenge. And indeed it seems that it is just that. The problem I have with the idea of a challenge is, as I see it, that any possible solution that I may successfully engineer could seemingly fall in the direction of a change in method. I've been swinging flies, specifically, of course, soft hackled flies, for almost as long as I've fished this river. Outside of a handful of fish brought to the net with nymphs, dries, or monstrous streamers, soft hackles have long been my meat and potatoes. The name of the game here for me has always been the caddis in all of its different stages of development, and soft hackles perform a majority of those tasks more than admirably. Add to that the seductively mostly mindless method of swinging flies and, well, you've just pegged the main reason I love to fish that way here. I've long thought that of all the ways we've fished with flies for trout over the years, this way is the most suitable, enjoyable, and yes sometimes it is mindless, but it  works, on several levels, including being the picture I keep in my mind's eye of me fishing my home water. It just works.

       A scene from a couple of years ago comes back to me. My son and I were fishing a favorite run of mine. I had elected to jump ahead several hundred yards so that I could swing my soft hackles through while he worked down more slowly, alternating nymphs with dries. I remember hooking one nice fish early on, and then drawing blanks the rest of the way. I sat down at the bottom of that run on a nice flat rock in the sun to watch Aaron fish his way down. An old man watching his son. I remember this now because I was struck by how patiently, unhurriedly he worked his way down, waist deep, wading quietly and carefully as he worked a simple Troth-styled imitation I'd given him earlier. There were no fish rising, and yet, as he stood above the last rocky spill of that run, his fly floating drag-free through a series of convoluted hydraulics, a very nice rainbow rose and his caddis disappeared. It was a wonderful fifteen minute display of all the good things we try to embody in our own fishing. He calmly raised his rod, the line went taut, and I almost cried. Perfect.
    I remember that morning vividly now, and I am reminded of lessons I have learned, but have allowed to grow dim. And, as that memory replays itself over and over, I am made aware of the One Big Lesson, again.

      There will be fish. There is an end, just as there are beginnings. Guess I'll go see if I can tie something up... 

June 25, 2012


Early in life I had to choose between honest arrogance and hypocritical humility. I chose the former and have seen no reason to change.
                               Frank Lloyd Wright

                              The worst cynicism: a belief in luck.
                                    Joyce Carol Oates    

      (A few) FISHING RULES I (try) to LIVE BY (with) - 

        Rule #1
          - Always display humility. 
                Humility, or, more importantly, the ability to simulate it, provides an effective cover in many situations. It is advantageous to master and nurture this facet of your fishing personality early on. 
     Rule #2  
         - Silence is nearly always golden.
                Closely aligned with Rule #1, although for the most part involving clearly visible actions/experiences which speak for themselves.

     Rule #3
         - Honesty, to a point, is the best policy.
                Developing strategies whereby integrity is preserved without divulging specific information.

     Rule #4    

         - Observe, Integrate, Respond                
                  Mastery of rules 1-3 will enable a more concise,  effective, yet relaxed response to any given situation, although it is paramount to keep rule #1 uppermost in your thought process.

     Rule #5 
         - Always, it is what it is.
                 Viable application of rules 1-4 cannot be effective unless the relativity of the current situation is carefully assessed. And for any given situation there is no guideline other than your ability to (quickly) discern when these rules shall be put into play. Also historically known as 'common sense', but suddenly I'm speaking to only a few.

               *       *      *      *       *      *      *     *

      My son, before he and his wife flew to Eastern Europe (business/pleasure) for a couple of weeks, gave me a wonderful gift.  Well, two, actually. Neither, at first glance, had anything whatsoever to do with the art of tying flies for or casting said flies to trout.  At least until late one night a few days back when a very sweet chord was struck within and I laughed out loud. It wasn't a 'that's funny' type of laugh, it was more of the kind where it I'd realized that the light bulb's been on for awhile now, that there it was, this beautiful, sweet connectivity staring right at me, following me around living in my veins coursing through me with every heartbeat, and yet it just finally, for one still-to-be-discovered reason or another, made sense. In fact, I couldn't think of anything that could have made such absolutely perfect sense. I used to love to refer to microcosms, probably more to point out through seemingly unrelated aspects the continuum of rhythms and routines in others. Turns out I'm no different, being also pretty susceptible to that. Turns out I'm 'cut from the same cloth'. But more about that after I connect a few more dots.   
    Turns out Aaron and Jan were in a bit of a pickle, up against the wall time wise. Budapest beckoned but they were  missing an important spoke in their wheel. So, after hearing that there was suddenly a gaping hole in the fabric of their plans I rather impulsively stepped forward, volunteering to drive over to the 'west side' and assume the role of dog sitter for a few days. I had an honorable, and ulterior motive. 
     Some years ago, I should have a better handle on exactly how many but I don't anymore, when son Aaron was a student at Western Washington University up in Bellingham, I was a frequent visitor. Every few weeks I'd drive over with my pontoon boat lashed to the top of my little Honda and we'd find a few hours to go fishing. There was a small lake west of town that held gobs of cutthroats and a few browns. We'd figured out how to hook lots of fish with our discovery of the 'Squalicum turn', a maneuver executed while trolling flies that affected a sudden change in direction, elevation and speed to a fly being dragged at constant speed. It was brutally effective day after day. Even in the sometimes merciless rain that would cascade down on us. 
       But the real prize was Pass Lake, which lies at the tip of Fidalgo Island about an hour's drive south and west from Bellingham. It's a well-managed 'fly fishing only' lake, and there's some real fishing history here, as well as some dandy though often rather finicky rainbows and browns swimming in its waters. Aaron and I made some lasting memories there, some very good, one in particular quite memorable, but not for the fishing.
     Now that I've seemingly (in my own mind at least) connected a few of those dots, my mission, as I set out, was two-fold. Not only would I be helping out my son and daughter-in-law, I'd also be revisiting Pass Lake after however many years. 

     Overall it was an enjoyable 8 days. My job as dog sitter  was an easy one. Cappie's an older mixed breed, mostly, I would guess, Australian shepherd. She's very intelligent, a wonderful companion, good listener, and makes me wish I had as loyal a companion. Never obtrusive, yet willing to mix it up with me whenever I felt like playing with her. We should all be so lucky as to have such a viable companion.

      I made the drive north to Pass Lake twice during my stay. Being from the 'east side', I was continually amazed at how much more behind the wheel time is involved with getting anywhere, including a fishing destination, over there. And it's not just drive time. It's the kind of time spent. Negotiating the traffic... always the traffic. Knowing how to get from one thru-way to the next all the while almost claustrophobically immersed in it. I mean, there I was, used  to sliding in behind the wheel for a leisurely drive looking ahead to my fishing day, but very quickly realizing that I'd better pay close attention to the cars inches in front of, smack-dab behind and right next to me, at sixty-plus miles per hour! I don't care what anybody says, it's downright fatiguing if you're not used to the high-anxiety and consternation of occupying the same highway with the multitude of vehicles present at not just any but every minute of every day. You just never know when that 'bell' is going to ring in somebody's head and they're going to do something really stupid and ruin your day, not to mention your vehicle and possibly your life. Science will one day discover that the DNA of those who are the product of generations of high-volume traffic drivers has been permanently altered. Future generations will be good candidates for either high-stress jobs or the nuthouse and will be summarily unable to handle living anywhere but where they have been raised unless it is in a similar environment. 
        After arriving at the lake and depositing my parking permit with ten bucks in the box, I sat for awhile, decompressing, sipping at my travel mug full of Snow Lake Dark and staring out at the lake. I had to, my hands were pretty shaky. But, since I was on the clock as far as time allowed here, it was a quick decompression before I bent to assemble my ancient pontoon boat and rig up. I hadn't had my boat in the water for, well, there's that time elapsed question again. Let's just say it'd been awhile. But it all still fit together nicely, thanks to a dry run on the back patio at home before I left. Nothing like getting somewhere and realizing you can't remember what went where or how and wasting way too much time figuring it out all over again. The only glitch occurred when my two-way pump blew it's lid off right in my face as I put air in the pontoons. But, electrician's tape and a firm grip overcame that setback and I was back in the game.
       I hadn't been on the water more than twenty minutes when I hooked my first fish. After backing into the water and pushing off, I'd grabbed the oars and rowed down the shoreline about forty yards into a corner bay adjacent to the launch  and dropped anchor where I'd be able to cover most of it with moderately long casts. I had tied a couple of big, ugly streamer-like patterns especially for this area. The water is relatively deep and strewn with sunken logs right off the heavily-wooded shoreline. In the past I'd always thought that this would be a good, secure holding area for some of the otherwise pretty nocturnal brown trout that inhabit this lake, but never really took the time to test that theory. My son had. He'd fished here a couple of years ago with some success, and his account of that day had definitely fueled my quest to do some investigating of my own should I ever have the chance. I was eager to see if I could duplicate what he'd experienced. His recounting of dark shapes rising from the depths to attack his fly as he retrieved it from the depths was made all the more vivid by the excited tone of his voice. 

       Even with a ten-foot rod, casting a type three sinking line from a pontoon boat for an appreciable distance is no easy proposition. Add to that a three-inch long rabbit strip  streamer with dumbbell eyes and it becomes apparent as you false cast how efficient your technique must be. I pondered that as I began the retrieve of my second cast after letting it settle for a few seconds. I stopped pondering that and pondered what to do next when I thought I'd snagged one of those logs that provide cover to fish and obstacle to caster. It had stopped me dead in the middle of a retrieve. I lifted my rod, wondering how I was going to get it loose, when the log pulled back. Really hard. And started taking line with spasmodic twists and turns. And then the log turned into a streaking rainbow that flew several feet out of the water some twenty-odd feet from where my line entered the surface. 
     The ruler on my stripping screen measures out twenty inches. The rainbow I mistook for a log hung over the edges of each side, so I'll give it a conservative guess and say she was close to twenty two. I didn't get a long look because she quickly decided that laying there on my stripping screen was not to her advantage. I cleaned the splash off my glasses, checked my fly and, finding it to be still fairly intact, tossed it into the lake and worked up another cast a little deeper into the corner. There were a couple of smaller logs in there laying on top of each other at a depth where I couldn't see any deeper into the water. I figured I'd let this cast sink for a five count, and get bolder from there if I didn't hang up. It was, I have to say, a great cast. In fact, I had to quickly strip back a few feet because it shot clear into the crux on the shore side of the logs. I didn't want to get hung up on a real log if I could help it. On my last urgent strip, a large dark shape broke from the green water behind my fly. Stunned, I stopped stripping. The shape U-turned and disappeared back into the dark green water in the very bottom of the corner. Wow. That got the adrenalin pumping and the hands shaking as I resumed my retrieve, seeking to duplicate the original urgency. Out came the dark shape again, appearing almost vertical in its ascent and then it twisted savagely at the same time I felt the rod want to rip out of my hands. 
      After a few seconds, I knew it was a brown. No midair contortions for this fish. It was down and dirty, deep, and deeper. The logs were home and if it could just get back down into that conflagration, there was safety. And although I had fitted my leader with eight and a half pound flouroflex tippet and had other plans I had not, for a very long time, felt the magnitude of strength and cunning this fish was exhibiting. It was either lose the fish to the logs or break it off trying to avoid them. There seemed to be an extraordinary will on this fish's part to drag me, boat, anchor and all right into that logjam with it. So, out of desperation, I pinned it. The only way out was to break me off or swim back past me to open water. 
    He tried both. Several times. My right wrist had given up long before I was finally able to slide him into the net and hoist him up onto the screen. I didn't even try to measure him. I'll give him a solid twenty four inches, but it was his girth that amazed me. I couldn't even come close to getting my hand around him when I put him back into the water. Big old beaked brown. I made very sure that he was ready to go before I let him wriggle free, and then simply sat, amazed, for several minutes after he'd dispppeared back into the depths.

       Then the wind came up, a finicky one at that. Blowing from one direction, then the other, making it difficult to keep my boat aimed at that corner. I decided to alter my tactics and be on the move, and switched spools, going with a type two sinker that would allow me to cast and retrieve in shallower water a derivation of a very popular stillwater pattern that made its debut right here. It seemed the obvious choice, given the time of year, although I've heard that it's a favored pattern all year long for those who know where and how to fish it. 
                 The venerable Six-Pack.


     This version, one of a few different types I tied as I looked forward to this trip utilizes a somewhat shiny body. It's olive dubbing yarn, made by Gudebrod. The red bead is a late addition, thanks to a tip I received from Swede, owner of Swede's Fly Shop here in Spokane. He fished a similar pattern here years ago when he lived in Woodinville, Wa., and could get to Pass Lake frequently. Had himself some twenty fish days there, he added. Now, I'm not sure whether or not that's gospel, but it seemed worth my while to have options, and the red bead might just be the trigger. To be sure, I tied some that were beadless, but, as it turns out, I didn't have to go any further than this one. 
        My next plan was to drag and cast this bug adjacent to a shallow point parallel to the shore where the weed-choked shelf extended out from the shoreline a good forty or fifty feet. It seemed a natural breeding/emerging ground for damsels and other water-borne prey, and sure enough, my first cast and retrieve proved successful. A solid rainbow about seventeen inches whacked my fly as I twitched it back along the deep-side edge of the weeds, as did three more in the next couple of hours. Not a bad result for my return to Pass Lake. I then looked at my watch and instantly thought of a dog with a full bladder waiting patiently for my return.

      I figured on coming back two days later with a new plan after I had a brief but illuminating conversation with a local.
       It was getting on past two as I broke down and stowed my gear. A gentlemen parked next to me wearing a Green Bay Packers wool cap was just rigging up. He'd unloaded a twelve-foot aluminum boat and had a toothless grin that he flashed easily as I first broke the ice with him so that I could then more comfortably query him about his flies and maybe even strategies. I like to think that my humble demeanor put him at ease whereby he was so forthcoming, but then again maybe he was simply one those few who really knows the score as far as technique, location, time of day, that sort of thing, and knows that talk of flies and techniques etc. are only a part of it. Our conversation continued amicably until he eventually walked over to me, held out his open hand, and showed me his prize fly.
       Now, maybe it's the jaded, cynical part of me that kind of stands back and wonders a bit when someone is so willing to open up his 'toolbox' for me. I immediately begin to suspect that I'm being taken for a ride. But then just as quickly I shuddered a little, ashamed of my apparent inability to accept another's offering as bona fide and sincere, because the longer I listened to 'Jimmy', I began to sense, even through my practiced lense of mistrust, that indeed this guy was being straight with me. He handed me one of his flies, a rather crude looking tungsten beadhead silver mylar chironomid, about a size 12, tied on a scud hook with a badly mangled red wire rib, flashed another toothless grin and said, "Chromie. Here. Have one. It's a little beat up, but it'll still work."
   "Thanks. I'm going to try to get back out here in the next couple of days. Would you mind if I tied some of these up?"
       Toothless grin again. "Why, that's awful nice of you to ask, but you don't have to. Yeah. Go ahead. Just make sure you're here and fishing by nine or so. They go after 'em like crazy 'til about noon, then they're on to something else until three or so in the afternoon. It's been the same way every day for about a week now. I noted that statement, realizing I was privy to some actual priceless local knowledge. 

        "Oh, and head over there," he pointed. "Across the lake. That's where I'll be." Toothless grin and extended hand which I took and we smiled and I thought I better tie a dozen or so, in a couple of sizes as I bid him well and jumped in the Sub Urban to get back and walk the patiently waiting dog with a full bladder.

        So there I was two days later at a little past nine, anchored across the lake where I'd been directed to go, wondering why it seems to forever be that I remember certain parts of conversation while the other just as important parts of it are lost to me. In this case I'm referring to depth and distance from shore. I seemed to recall something about fifty or sixty feet and was reasonably sure that meant the distance from shore. But I recalled that Jimmy had said he'd been fishing the 'chromies' deep, and having been used to fishing chironomids in water up to seven feet deep at Coffeepot Lake years before, I wasn't sure just how deep he'd meant. Not that with a little effort I couldn't sooner or later figure it out, but I still kicked myself for not paying better attention. 
       I started by first lengthening my leader a good eight feet. That gave me some latitude. I then tied on two of those 'chromies' about a foot apart, sticking with my conviction that two is always better than one, and attached an indicator about four feet above the top fly. It was test time.

      About an hour later, I'd just moved my indicator (again) another foot or so higher, putting my flies close to seven feet  below it. The first inkling of doubt had begun to creep into my head, and I wondered if I shouldn't get out my weight with the measuring twine attached to it and see just how deep it was here. Maybe by 'deep' he meant deep. I went ahead and cast anyway, wondering if I should abandon this altogether and return to the shallow point. 
         There was a soft breeze coming at my back and it helped hold my position perfectly. I cast at a slight angle to the shore, knowing that the indicator would be moving very slowly with the breeze. The chironomids plopped down followed by the indicator, and I settled in to my patience. 
       Along about this time I had the sudden feeling feeling that I wasn't alone. I turned to see a guy wearing a toothless grin and a Green Bay Packers cap in an aluminum boat about a  hundred feet out rowing like crazy right towards me. He waved, I returned the favor, then turned back to check my strike indicator.
         It was gone. Replaced by a strong jolt of my rod and seconds later a flying fish. Hm... seven feet. Jimmy's for real.
         As I battled what turned out to be a nice brown, I was peppered with questions from Jimmy. How many so far? When did I get here? How deep? Chromies? Did you start here? By the time I landed the fish, he was holding on to the rail of my boat, waiting for answers. 
        I smiled. And then dug in my vest pocket and handed him a film canister with 4 'chromies' in it. 
       "Here", I said. "This is for your time and trouble. Thanks for the great information."
        Jimmy grinned."No problem. I see you're using two. I kinda left that part out. Been doing well?"
       I laughed. "Actually, I just finally now got the depth right, or at least that's how deep that one was. About seven feet."
      "No shit?" He looked stricken for  second, then laughed again."Seven feet means I could shorten it up about five or six. I've been down around twelve. Been doing all right though." I could only nod my head, reflecting again on my original fear of being led astray. A simple guy with a simple, terribly effective method.

        So I stuck with seven, Jimmy moved off about fifty feet down the shore and went down his usual eleven or twelve, and we both caught fish for awhile. But as the morning wore on, my indicator began to float freely for longer and longer periods of time, while his would barely land only to be very shortly sucked under, again and again. I pulled my indicator up another foot or so, hooked a bright rainbow, and then looked at my watch. It's amazing, simply amazing, I thought as I reeled up, how time gets away from me. Four hours. Just like that. What a great dog. Even with a full bladder she'll be happy to see me.

     There have been, in my lifetime of fishing and tying, only a few times when I've 'followed' the rules. I suppose that early on I was, because of my inexperience, more prone to adhering to the knowledge I gleaned from books and other fishermen or tyers with more time spent at it than I. Like most, I was a sponge, soaking up as much detail as I could from as many sources as I could uncover while at the same time quite unconsciously developing my own tools. I don't know exactly when it is that we become aware of the fact that there's a lot about the art that has captivated us that we have begun to bend to help us as individuals down our own path. I certainly think, though, that as is true with all the seemingly unrelated facets of our lives, how and what we think and do is all related to the type of individuals we have become. That's why it's so cool. When it comes right down to it, there is no right, or wrong way. There's only your way. And as your way evolves slowly over the years, you become more intertwined with all of the input you've consciously or unconsciously soaked up through those years. We all filter through the reams of information and advice. What we take from all that will be as varied and different as there are fishermen.
     That's why the other night as I played my new keyboard, it suddenly made perfect sense. I play the same way I tie. Or fish. I play totally by feel. By how it feels. I know what works, and I know that with a little effort I can add stuff to it and it will keep working. I love the creative side. I don't want to sit down and play what some one else has already written down.  I want to create something I haven't heard. And, as with tying my own flies, when they work it is that much sweeter.
         That's the sweetest music. When it's mine. On the water, at the vise, or at the keyboard. That's the sweetest music I will ever hear.