One thing you quickly discover while carrying your flyrod with your vest on to the edge of a river or lake in these parts is that “you ain’t gonna catch nothin’ with that stuff here.” Or even better, “there ain’t any trout in this water.” Some Busch Light swillin’ dude sitting on an upside down five gallon pail with a Dale Jr. T-shirt on and his Camo baseball cap will quickly and repeatedly let you know that you took a wrong turn at Nebraska and ended up in South Dakota, which you have apparently mistaken for Colorado or Montana. Most are friendly enough when you tell then that you are going to give it a shot and some are interested in watching or even asking questions. This, of course, assumes that you are not out-fishing them. Worse yet, out-fishing them and then releasing everything you catch. I should be clear. I see nothing inherently wrong with spin fishing or using live bait, or with keeping your catch. I do, however, have a problem with pretentiousness or with the assumption that because something is different it is wrong. This is what I deal with nearly every time I fish.
You see, fishing here is a combination of sport and food collection. The fish to catch here is the Walleye because it tastes good. Nobody deliberately fishes for Largemouth Bass because they say that in these waters the bass eat crawdads and are therefore oily and fishy tasting. The Walleye, on the other hand, is very good because they eat mostly baitfish. Northern Pike are considered junk fish and no one deliberately fishes them either, because the flesh is bony and hard to eat. All this adds up to two things; all fishing is down in deep water with live bait for walleyes and if you catch anything over 14 inches you throw it in your bucket to take home to eat. I have talked to old boys that have been fishing for years that will freely tell you that a walleye doesn’t fight like most fish here, and in fact gives up easily and lets you haul it in, yet that is what they would choose. Given these facts, a man with a flyrod is unfathomable to people and a man releasing a 19 inch walleye is sacrilege.
I have learned to be extra friendly and even self-effacing and to, when it seems to help ensure my personal safety, even act surprised that I am catching anything. You see, after a 12 pack of Busch Light the frustration gets serious and I have even had a beer can or two thrown at me.
I recently had one of the more satisfying experiences I have ever had with regard to the hostility I sometimes find on the water. A pair of very serious meat eaters showed up at the same stretch of water I was fishing about an hour before sundown. They were wearing hundreds of dollars worth of Dryfit outdoor clothing and each had a giant tackle box, two spin rods, a bucket and a head lamp on their foreheads. I was about to be shown a very serious display of night fishing.
I had already staked out a spot on the water that allowed me to fish some fast moving water and a deep pool that runs perpendicular to the main current. From here I commanded the deeper water where the cruisers are and the seam where the current runs along the slow water and the fish like to hang out and let the food come to them. While it is a good spot, it is far from the only good spot in the area. There is plenty of room for all.
There was much whispering and gawking by our two serious fishermen when they first showed up. It was clear that they had an opinion about what I was doing, although they kept it to themselves. Both men clipped large plugs to their swivels and began casting across the current and reeling back in. They too had staked a fine spot to fish from; one that gave us all plenty of room. This was an odd situation from the beginning. There were no pleasantries or fishing civilities exchanged. No “Any luck, today?” or “You nailin’ ‘em?” There was an odd sense of hostility from the beginning. It was as though I was doing something I wasn’t supposed to, but nobody was going to say out-loud what it was.
Shortly after my uninvited fishing partners showed up I decided to switch to a large Clouser Minnow fly. The sun was setting and I thought there was a pretty good chance to get into some fish coming up to hunt. I threw my first cast into the current and began a speedy retrieve and hooked into a rather nice largemouth bass. After netting him and releasing him, one of the men downstream yelled, “Just a bass?” to the guffaws of his partner. Bear in mind they had yet to catch a fish. I released the bass and cast back into the current, a few times. At this point I noticed that one of my cohorts had turned and was now casting directly upstream, right to where I had hooked my largemouth. This effectively made it impossible for me to fish the current. Oh well, I could still fish the seam. I threw a cast just on the current side of the seam and let it swing into the still water and immediately had a hit. I hooked and netted a nice 18 inch long walleye which I promptly released. There was still no sound from down the bank but the hostility hung in the air like an oncoming thunderstorm. Before I was ready to cast again, the other fisherman was throwing his Rapala into the seam right in front of me. Now I was completely hemmed in. I literally had nowhere I could cast.
As I mentioned, that there is plenty of room for fishing on this specific spot. So I ambled off my perch, giving up the current and the seam and moved into the still and deeper water of the pool. As I was leaving both men rushed to move into where they could more effectively fish the water that I had chosen originally. This had reached ridiculous proportions.
I waded up to my thighs and gave a long cast straight out into the deepest part of the pool and quickly retrieved my fly with jerks and twitches, trying to make it look like a wounded minnow. It was on the first cast that I got a hard hit. The sun was set and it was about 20 minutes from total darkness and I had a serious fish on the line. I am fishing 3 pound test line so I have to be very careful when I play a fish in and this one was gonna take some time. I made sure to indicate that I had a fish so the geniuses up the bank knew that while they were well on their way to getting skunked, I was happily fighting my third nice fish of the evening.
I will spare you the details, but it was 30 minutes later and pitch black before I landed her and she wouldn’t fit in my net. I had been ordered to “break it off, it is just a f***ing carp!” and “just get it in already.” It was not a carp; it was a 24 inch long, 6 pound walleye. After I had her safely on shore I took off the fly and broke down my pole and began for the car. At this point I thought a friendly smile, a helpful tip and 6 pounds of fish would be the best jab I could give. So, when I got near the other two fishermen I said, “I was using the flyfishing equivalent to a red and yellow Rapala.” And was greated with “Get the F*** out of here.” Then they actually both turned for their tackle boxes. Gee, I wonder what they were looking for? Maybe the best revenge IS a life well lived.