January 30, 2012

Little redemptions

       Staring at the river I began to wonder what we are when we are alone.
                              Jim Harrison, The English Major

                        A man can be himself only so long as he is alone.
Robert Schopenauer

The memories of success are always in equal measures offset by the questions borne of unfinished business.
                                     Steve Moss

     They all start out the same way. Simply a hook in the vise. As I sit and stare at the hook, the bobbin slowly twisting on the few thread wraps that anchor it to that hook, countless combinations of fur, feathers, wire and synthetic materials align and then realign themselves in my head, overlaid on backgrounds of locations as various scenarios run like snippets of a feature length movie behind it all. Slowly, inevitably, a specific event, or incident, will begin to play itself over and over, and then, through the ever-changing amalgam of possibilities there emerges a distinct image. A fly. One that I might, given the ability to learn from the original scene, create and implement perfectly into that clip now playing over and over in my head. A tangible response to a still vivid memory. I seem, over the years, to have not only developed a rather extensive library of these events but also the knack for bringing them to life again and again in order that I may learn from them. But these sequences in and of themselves infer much more; in prescribing to this process, I offer to myself the chance to enjoy a small level of redemption. 

But, even as the transformation from hook to fly takes place, my mind travels ahead. I am well aware of the caveats. There is always so much more to success than the simple task of concept and creation, although I do allow for a short period of appreciation upon perusal of the finished fly. In a perfect world, the completion of this stage alone would negate all of the peripherals I might encounter from this point onward, although even early on in my fishing life I found that to be far from true. I think back, now finding satisfaction in the fact that it didn't. If successes were always so easily come by, where is the necessity to learn and thus hopefully carry forward into subsequent experiences that which was  learned?

A well crafted fly is a delight to behold. A showcase of artistic skill, knowledge and creativity. A confidence builder. Another chance. But not even the masterful level of skill and dexterity necessary to create such a work of beauty will necessarily translate into success on the water. Because after all is said and done, especially after a particularly frustrating series of casts culminating in that familiar feeling of abysmal failure, the reality of the rest of those peripherals involved takes center stage. Or they should, anyway, because, when I think back on so many of those incidents that left me goggle-eyed and talking to myself, more times than not it wasn't the fly that begged for change. It was my method of application.

Every now and then, usually immediately following a mild triumph, I am made aware of how much I tend to take for granted. The first being able to effectively discern in any given situation a simple descending order of a specific set of challenges and the second to skillfully implement the adjustments I have come to deem necessary. True, not all the fish in a given area are there for the same reason, and, more to the point, few of them are going to be turned on by the same stimulus unless there are circumstances that cause them to be. A hatch is the most prominent factor coming to mind. And that's going to show you either a lot of noses or whole heads and sometimes bodies dependent upon what stage of development the prey are in when they become food. Not that they haven't been food until now; I use the surface, or near-surface feeding as a point of reference to help illustrate a point or two. If they're eating nymphs it's  pretty safe to say that most of the activity will be subsurface. I say most. There are, as always, exceptions to that rule. 

I do not pretend to know what goes through the mind of a trout. As long as I have gone in search of them, and as much success as I have managed to enjoy over the time spent, I still can honestly say that all I do know is that they spend a lot of time either eating or in search of food. I know that for each food item, or stage of whatever it is they eat, there are ways to get flies that imitate what they are looking for in front of them. I also know that more often than not, in the final analysis, it will be something other than the fly that causes that trout to either rise and eat it or embarrass you. It won't matter how well tied it is, how far you cast, or how well placed that cast was. It'll be a combination of other things. And, I am relatively sure, that as it is with all animals, there are no two trout in any given area that are attracted by exactly the same thing. However, having said that, the ONE best way to increase the odds, the absolute BEST way to level the playing field is to have the tool box open and ready.

If I was to admit to you how many hours I've wasted putting the same dry fly on the water to drift magically through a minefield of rising fish without it being eaten, you'd be amazed. I know I am, because I suffered for the longest time from the "oh, he'll eat it next time for sure" syndrome. I got so submerged in my own pattern of attack that I couldn't understand that there may have been a solution other than to just stand there and continue to bomb away frantically. Yeah, they may have a brain one umpteenth the size of ours, but unless we actually use ours, well, as they say, size doesn't matter. Gradually, and in the company of a few well-spaced 'accidental' discoveries, I came to understand that there was more to it than what I'd liked to think. I came to realize that it would be beneficial to develop certain techniques that would (hopefully) increase my chances. I was all too ready for a huge pity party, thinking the hill too steep to climb, but since I already knew that I was in it for the long haul, it became easier to spend the time necessary to work to improve my skill level. I might add here that it's also always an added incentive when you see good things begin to happen as a result of the work you've done. It makes the decision to go fishing an easier and easier one to make, and starts a cycle. The more I go, the more I learn. The more I learn, the more I have to work on. The more I work on, the more I get adept with and comfortable using. The more I get adept with and comfortable using, the bigger my tool box gets. The more I dig through that toolbox, the more I use. The more diversified my toolbox gets, the better the odds. An amazing aspect to toolboxes; no matter how stuffed with all the tools you could ever hope to acquire (and then more), they're always easy to haul around. And something else; as my toolbox grows, I carry fewer and fewer flies, which means less time spent staring into space and scratching my head and more time wisely spent utilizing the tools I have honed.

  It's amazing, this journey. I've learned so much, including the fact that I will never know enough. There will never come a time when I am satisfied with what I have come to understand. There will always be more to learn, situations to ponder, flies to conceive, skills to perfect, fish to catch. But, and most importantly, I've come to see that there will always be one more chance for a little redemption.

January 10, 2012

(on) What I know

We dance round in a ring and suppose, but the secret sits in the middle and knows.
            Robert Frost

You've got to be very careful if you don't know where you are going, because you might not get there.
                                        Yogi Berra

      The problem was with where the rings were regularly, maddeningly originating. Lying on the far side and just downstream of the leading edge of the rounded granite slab that provided a food-funneling current break. It was not hard to suppose there was a bit of impudence in this trout's casual foraging. I wondered...

 I stood there a good ten minutes, waiting for the nose not to appear again so that I might continue my trek upstream. There was no one around to witness either my prolonged observation or the feeding trout, therefore nobody to shake their head in disappointment should I shy away from this challenge, so moving on would've been that much easier if only that damned nose wouldn't keep popping up in exactly the same spot. So I stood there, and then I stood there a little longer, hypnotized, letting the rhythm of that feeding trout punch bigger and bigger holes in my argument for continuing my walk. But, the longer I stood there, a plan by which I might, with a little skill and of course some dumb luck, place my #18 parachute 'hybrid' in a tenable position began to formulate itself. 

    Having two rods available is advantageous when one of them happens to be rigged for this very occasion, which served to finally tip the scales in favor of the decision to give it a try. It would've been a lot easier to rationalize moving on if some lengthy preparation, considering the fact that it was a very cold day, was necessary. Somewhere in this chain of thinking I'd already realized that moving on despite having a rod ready would've added a weighty 'what if' to the rest of this day. Better to address the situation and be done with it. Give it my best shot and then move on.

    Fishing with dries during the winter months here can range anywhere from pretty frustrating to downright silly. Only occasionally will even a perfect imitation that is deftly managed draw more than passing interest, and if it does, there is the distinct possibility of your fly becoming some obscenely large trout's temporary nose ring. You never know, unless it's visible, what's causing the disturbance that drew you into thinking dry, but the odds are better than even that it's big enough to infuse a tippet-snapping dose of adrenalin into your reaction the instant you see the take. I speak from experience.

     As my tying craft progressed, I came to appreciate being able to sit back and enjoy the fact that there, sitting in my vise was a pretty damned good-looking classic dry fly, tied with the materials of the original recipe. But then, being a Gemini meant that I also got a kick out of innovating, creating something brand new (for me). I am a stickler for certain things no matter what I tie; less thread is better, proportion is paramount, and detail is relative, meaning that depending on the pattern I will employ only that which I am relatively sure are triggers, and the fewer the better. I am reminded of a shiny yellow '66 Chevelle I saw several years ago one night at a stop light. The light turned green and as the Chevelle began to move a synchronised bank of hideously blue lights illuminated the underside of the car as first the front, then the rear began rising a good three feet above the tires, which by the way had red lights in the gaudily chromed wheels. And while possibly in this case there is no such thing as too many triggers (attractors?), my experiences with overloaded flies have taught me well. I've said it before and it bears repeating; there is no substitute for a well-managed presentation. Especially in the winter, especially when there exists the possibility of hooking a trophy, if only momentarily.

   hybrid - a thing made by combining two different elements; a mixture

     It was for the specific reason of devising a small dry fly with this situation in mind that drew me to the vise one afternoon several weeks ago. I'd been visualizing a combination of two different flies, both of them classics, and there, in the vise, when the feathers settled and the head cement dried perched my concept. A little bit Adams, and a little bit baetis. And a parachute to boot. Its appearance satisfied me, so I tied a couple more, dosed them all with Watershed, and put them aside. No use getting too carried away yet, at least not until I had a chance to employ them.

     I had to laugh out loud. What a way to try out my latest innovation. The scenario in my head did not look like this. I was supposed to be delicately placing the fly just upstream of  a large, regularly appearing nose not more than twenty feet downstream. Instead, as I ripped more and more line off of the reel, I'd be casting on a diagonal a good sixty feet upstream right out into the middle of the creek. And then, if I put it where I wanted to, I had maybe a couple of seconds of drag-free time. The last thing I wanted to see was a wake, either from my fly dragging at the wrong time or the larger one created by a rapidly exiting fish. I decided that the fact that there really were no spectators was actually a good thing. As my son likes to say, Nobody will observe.

      As I lengthened my false casts, I thanked the gods for backcast room and the lack of any noticeable breeze. A tiny dry fly at the end of a twelve-foot leader in a long cast is no match for even the slightest breeze. Only a wizard would be able to compute and allow for even the lightest air movement at this distance. There's always luck, but that's the reason I don't gamble anymore. The rod felt good in my hands, and my comfort level transmitted itself into tight loops and arrow-like direction. I was aiming a bit downstream as I fed line into my casts, sizing up the distance. 

  Every single one of us who has ever been in a similar casting situation has been faced with what I call the Inevitable Release. Delivery time. Sure, your false casts have been perfect. Every one. So perfect, in fact, that you hold on, making one or two more just because it feels so good. But that's not why you're here. Now it's time to get the fly on it's way. Everything else is just preparation, and even though it all went well you're still not there yet. You visualize that tightest loop extending out and across the distance, your leader inches above the fly line as the fly, carried by the remaining, ever dissipating energy turns over at full extension of your line and settles perfectly. A sound visual process also helps calm the nerves, at least up until the IR (inevitable release), but here's where a successful delivery separates the wheat from the chaff, so to speak. 

We've all done it. We've all fallen prey to the anticipation, let our impatience shine through at precisely the wrong time. It doesn't matter how technically sound all those false casts were if it falls apart at Delivery Time. It doesn't matter how many times we've told ourselves to stay the course, don't get in a hurry, don't change what got you this far. But all too often, something somewhere at the end of the prepping process goes haywire and what got us so close to finally realizing success goes flying out the window because of a systemic failure. This failure, as I relate it to myself, lies not in our process, but in our heads. And, for me, the failure lay in my overall lack of confidence in my system. Not that my system was lacking anything, or was it?  I came, over time, to realize that indeed it was. It was without a key component; my belief in myself. 

                             The Choke
                           (state of mind)

Seems intrinsic, almost an intangible, and maybe it is. But then again maybe it's bigger than that. Maybe it's a bit of a window, allowing us to see more about our lives and our infirmities than we'd probably care to admit. A certain hiccup that we have unconsciously cultivated for many years suddenly taking shape again and again. But there is always another chance to learn to deliver when the time comes, when the time is right. The chance to begin to dismantle, to bury The Choke. You're standing there facing up to a challenge that only you decided to take on, and it's probably not the first time. You stand there taking it on again because way down deep there's this voice asking for one more shot, for another chance. Sure, a lot could go wrong, and that's part of the reason for all those failures in the past, but, as difficult as it is, that shouldn't be your mindset no matter how many of those you've endured. You're still there, hatching a plan, willing to give it a shot again. Each new opportunity provides another chance to begin the task of re-programming yourself. Maybe the fish will eat my fly, maybe he won't, but I will do everything I can to make sure that my fly is right where it needs to be doing what it should do. Then and only then is it out of my hands. I will have accomplished that which I set out to do. And that will feel very satisfying, although, after saying all of that, I'd really much rather he'd eat it.

 The current seemed to me to be compelled toward my side  beginning about eight feet upstream of the rock. I found that to be to my advantage because I doubted I'd have much slack in my leader to play with once the fly had settled, and it had to be just that as it moved into the trout's window. Anything landing above and to the far side of the rock would be siphoned back over the trout's lie and basically be coming right back at me, which was of some worth. I guessed that I'd also have to successfully gauge just enough distance above the rock to allow for as much drag-free time as possible without destroying the drift before it arrived. In this regard, I felt fortunate that the flow above the rock was very consistent. No threads of faster or slower water as far as I could discern. All of these peripherals paraded round and round through my head. And then I stopped thinking. Enough input. Deliver it... NOW.

   I've always been enchanted by the cast, so practice, for me at least, was never time misspent. Quite the contrary, it was time out of time; the feel of the rod in my hands, the sensation of the pull of the line on that rod, everything concerning the perfection of every nuance influencing my cast. And, as far back as I can remember in my fly casting life, the cast defining the tightest loop was always the pinnacle of sheer beauty. Early on I was captured by its elegance and thusly spent years in search of the techniques by which I might acquire the ability to reproduce it time after time. The quest for mastery taught me much about all of the peripherals involved; the rod, the line, the method, and most of all, the mindset. 

     And it was with this mindset that I delivered my fly, dropping my rod as I watched the tight, arrow-like loop reaching out across the creek's even flows to turn over and land my fly almost exactly where I'd hoped. True to form it immediately began its drift downstream toward me, and then it was in the trout's window, in his line of sight. And then it was drifting past, spilling into the riffle that ran along the rock's leading edge. 

    I stood, rod low, slowly retrieving line, running the sequence through my head. I wondered if I'd spooked him, or if the fly I'd conceived, tied, then placed so adeptly was not to his liking. I wondered if I'd miscalculated his lie. But I didn't hesitate to pick up and start the whole process again. Another opportunity awaited.
   Again I measured my distance, aiming for the same landing zone, noting with satisfaction as the fly settled that I was in close proximity to the first cast. That was about as far as my thought process got, because by then the fly was in the window and then I saw the nose emerge to intersect it and now the fly was in the trout's mouth. I lifted the rod and felt the weight a split second before he broke clean of the surface into the cool morning sunlight and tumbled, body contorting this way and that, with a splash back into the water.

      Nobody, nobody but me, observed. But I smiled the smile of success. Until the next time.