The other night was a rare opportunity in the realm of fly-fishing. We were coming off of 3 days of stormy and windy weather and we got one of those bluebird evenings that come in the spring and make you pretty sure everything is right with the world. There was virtually no wind, the sky was a color blue that would make a topaz self conscious, and it was in the mid 60’s. This would be one of about 6 evenings like this all year here on the plains. Naturally I was quite disappointed. I had my rain coat already in the truck and I was ready for an entire evening of drippy droppy fishing. The kind that gets you the water to yourself and the air full of hatching bugs. Instead I was going to have this heavenly evening, which would ensure that the bug maternity ward would stand empty and that would fill my little spot with men on buckets flinging skewered worms to fish that weren’t interested. So I did the only sensible thing that a person can do when they are disappointed… I went fishing. (See how I did that? You like that?).
I left work late (no sense in hurrying on a day like this) and headed straight for the water. The spot I was going to fish is about 5 miles on gravel off of the main road and is a nice 30 minute drive from work. Just far enough to feel the tension leave and the thoughts of tasks unfinished settle into the spot in your brain they go to hibernate until the fishing is over. Just long enough to get into the present and begin to actually see the things around me and enjoy the sights and sounds. To see the world as it is rather than to see through it. The drive is perfect for me. As I turned onto that little gravel road I was just settling into the more attentive state of mind and I noticed a particularly large quantity of bug guts accumulating on my windshield. Now I may be the only person in South Dakota that gets excited about seeing his windshield caked in the unearthly concrete that is a bug’s inner juices. Hell the stuff could be used to plug the leaking oil well in the gulf, but when I get those guts as I follow this little road along the river I know that there is a fair chance that the bugs are coming from the water… and that means a hatch.
The road approaches this spot by a slow accession up an almost imperceptible incline, followed by a crest and view of the entire river valley and a screaming ride down what we called as kids a “roller-coaster hill” to the bottom where the parking area is. You know the hill, the kind that as kids you would put your hands up in the car like you were on a roller-coaster and drive your parents mad by screaming weeeeee all the way to the bottom or until your breathe gave out, which ever came first. To this day I get a kick out of these hills and this one serves 2 purposes. It is just damn fun, for one, and it gives me a view of all of the water that I will potentially be fish that evening. I was shocked to see that I would be all alone.
When I parked and caught by breathe from screaming weeee for the last quarter mile; I hopped out and strung up. The bugs were everywhere. Apparently there were a couple of hatches going on simultaneously. One of large golden mayflies and one of smaller caddis. They were so thick that I was worried I would inhale them if I were to breathe carelessly. It was shaping up to be an unbelievable evening. A cross-over hatch of 2 different species of bugs without the required sopping wet hat and cold fingers. I was thrilled.
I approached the stream at a plunge pool and looked down to see that things were even better than I had thought. The surface of the water was covered in bugs and beneath the surface were thousands of minnows looking like tiny underwater bomber squadrons; all moving in formation. This was unbelievable. There were flies everywhere, for the panfish, mooneye, carp and bass, and there were minnows by the millions for the walleye, pike, gar and well… everything else, the weather was unbelievably gorgeous AND I had the water to myself. This was reaching once in a lifetime/lightening striking/win the lottery proportions. I was so excited I nearly wet my pants.
I started the way I always do, by sitting on the bank, lighting a cigarette, and watching the water to see where the fish are. I saw positively nothing. Not one fish grab a bug, not a splash or push or flip or flop or flash. Nothing. Ok fine, so nothing was eating the bugs… surely something was eating the minnows. I work every inch of that stream at all depths with a few different patterns and I didn’t get so much as one hit. Nothing. I fished until sundown and then drove home. I wouldn’t say I was satisfied, but I wasn’t distraught either. I had the comfort of knowing that I had picked the right place, the weather change had brought the bugs and I had fished well if not successfully. Every part of the evening that I could control I did as well as I can at this point in my flyfishing education. If the fish were not there, or were dead, or asleep or possessed or had all gone vegetarian as part of the liberal movement… well I couldn’t control that and there is not a damn thing I could do to change it. If you get too worked up about the effects of things beyond your command as a fly-fisherman, you are liable to go bonkers. You have to understand that sometimes even the perfect situation can go sour for a reason you can’t affect or even detect. It just is.