Category Archives: Freshwater

Counting

I used to count fish. Most probably do when they start fishing as a way to catalogue it, or for whatever reason. I stopped mostly after reading Longest Silence–if you did you probably know the exact passage about “trout number seven”–and also because it is a nonsensical way to record a fishing experience.

Looking back on my fishing journals, I recorded a day in the year 2000 where I caught 30 just-stocked brook trout on a river where I paid for a beat. Should that carry more weight than the trip that year down the Rio Hatiguanico in Cuba?  The one with the ornithologist  who served me rum and helped me hook  my first tarpon on fly? By numbers it does.

So I started counting days. In 2008 I recorded over 100 excursions with a fly rod and I knew with the birth of my first child that year that the pace would not last unless I moved to Florida and/or won the lottery. In 2013, I recorded 52. Once a week seems more than reasonable for someone in a northern locale with a full-time job and family, and who is not a guide.

Still, counting days is not a perfect math, either. The year in my head doesn’t add up to the numbers on the page–a notion my wife would find insane¹. Maybe it’s because I turned down as many invitations to fish as times I actually spent fishing–I am probably the king of the “Yeah sounds awesome oh wait I can’t” response. Maybe it’s because of the skunk days I withstood trying to force carp to like me. But likely it’s because much of my fishing time came in clusters or consisted of stolen moments².

Either way, in 2013 I got to be on the water in some of my favorite places in the world in both Florida and New York with some of my favorite people and also got to watch my two daughters catch panfish on little pink Ugly Sticks by the dozen. So, yeah, 2013 was good. And as the great Neil Young sings, “numbers add up to nothing.”

Happy New Year.

1. (And most likely is.)

2. (In the Wordsworthian “Spots of Time” vein.)

BOOKS: 50 Best Tailwaters to Fly Fish

Some of the places I’ve been fishing vicariously, like the White River via Steve Dally’s Ozark Fly Fisher JournalOthers, like Henry’s Fork and the Deschutes and the Fryingpan, have been rolling around in my head since my fly-fishing infancy. Still others, like the Farmington and the Neversink, are almost in my backyard. And then there are the few, like the Bow River and Lake Taneycomo, where I’ve actually fished.

So after going through all 50 carefully selected and thoroughly vetted destinations compiled by Terry and Wendy Gunn, I don’t think of 50 Best Tailwaters to Flyfish so much as a book as it is a call to action. What have I been waiting for and, now that I’ve been thumped in the chest by this book, how can I apply what’s been given? Because the collaborators in this book, like the aforementioned Dally or the legendary Joe Demalderis of the Delaware,  have given us a lot.

Overall, 50 Best Tailwaters to Flyfish is an incredible reference for fly anglers, and also a reminder that fly fishing can take you just about anywhere you want to go, if you let it.

50-best-tailwaters-cvr-final

Humility and the Common Carp

About that trout set. It’s not a thing that’s done in saltwater or warmwater or 99 percent of the fishing I’m wont to do. My muscle memory has been ingrained with setting the hook on the strip, and this hasn’t been helping me in pursuing the diminutive but wary common carp that reside nearby.

The thing about sight fishing for carp, I’ve come to find, is that it quickly exposes all of the things I am doing wrong. I couldn’t get a carp to look at my flies for ages until two years ago I had a breakthrough. I caught a few more and thought I’d unlocked some sort of secret code but I hadn’t. I think, maybe, I was just getting lucky.

carp junior

The wrongs: I’d throw a fly in front of tailing, mudding or foraging pond carp and start slow stripping it, like a bonefish retrieve. They did not like this. I’d think casting within a foot of its mouth was close enough. It wasn’t. I’d think they couldn’t see or hear me standing on the banks. They could. I’d somehow hook one and not know why then go four or five trips in a row without getting a serious look.

My continuing relationship with the common carp is like living in a piscine version of a David Allan Coe song.

But there’s something about them that brings me back. As I told a friend recently, “I suck at it but I really love it.”

Of late, a few wise words have helped me suck at it a little less. The great John Montana of Carp on the Fly offered up this advice: Cast a little beyond the fish’s mouth and drag the fly back so it drops right in its feeding circle. Then don’t move it. Since I started doing this I have had at least one carp attempt to eat my fly on every subsequent trip. Revelation.

This led to confounding problem number two: a catastrophic run of missed hooksets. There is nothing like watching a fish eat your fly but not hooking it, or thinking a fish ate your fly but not knowing or not feeling it or maybe it did but did it, jesus, what he hell?

Backing

Then John advised the trout set. And the need to be decisive.

It’s still several degrees removed from easy for me, but I’m going to buy Kirk Deeter’s book. Because if a mere six-pound fish is capable of exposing the backing on my 6wt, it’s a thing that’s worth all the suffering.

Fight Like Meat

There is no known reason for a trout to be in this pond. It is a warm water pond of municipal park vintage with no appreciable depth, a small battery of largemouth and one billion bluegill.

The bluegill hit flies when the sun is out and are at the ready when a lunchtime bend is needed. The bass have seen too many lures to let their guard down often, but when they do the results ripple through the entire containment.

In October a truck shows up full of trout and people line the banks and fill buckets. They are typically cleaned out within days, their long term prospects on par with the tank lobsters at the diner.

Honestly, from my vantage point I thought it was a bass. I had on a bluegill popper but cast it over and watched the fish turn and slash.

I waited for the jump but the fish rolled on its side like an omega dog and let me pull it to the bank.

Somehow it survived the winter I guess but I still don’t like its prospects.

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Near Misses

I don’t forget them, ever. I have a catalogue of almosts running through my subconscious, flickering like the 8mm nature films from 8th grade science class.

Damn you snook for following my fly out of the mangroves, eating it and jumping off it before I even had a say in things.

Damn you tarpon for peeling away at the last second.

Damn you striper for refusing to wait until I worked the line kink clear of the guides.

Damn you bluegill for smacking that popper you can’t even fit. Don’t think your size makes you immune because you falsely raised my expectations.

Own it Tiny, you’re on the list.

'Gill Raid