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.
Joyce Carol Oates
- 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.
- Silence is nearly always golden.
- Honesty, to a point, is the best policy.
Developing strategies whereby integrity is preserved without divulging specific information.
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.
- 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.