Posts Tagged ‘Drift’

I have yet to find something that swims that I don’t enjoy fly fishing for.  However I do have two favorites.  Bass fishing, and Trout fishing.

Bass fishing is like the X-games of flyfishing.  You heave some big hairy looking bass bug, something that resembles a frog, or a mouse, or maybe even a duckling.  It is a gaudy looking thing – made of strange man made materials in colors not found in nature (or even in 56 crayon Crayola boxes).  A splash when it lands is just fine and may even be preferred.  Then you let your fly sit a while and see if anything happens.  If it doesn’t you start twitchin’ and yankin’ it; causing a stir and alerting anything in the pond that something is happening over here.  Suddenly a hole is torn in the surface of the water and your fly just isn’t there anymore.  You set the hook forcefully and then horse the fish out into open water so he can’t wrap you up in the damn lilly pad stalks that he lurks in.  When you finally get him played in, you stick  your thumb in his mouth and lift him right out of the water, get your snap shot and then drop him back in.

Trout fishing is a little different.  It starts by a quiet hike along a crystal clear cold water stream.  Water so clear and icy that the smooth parts look more like an antique window, with its varying widths and distortions, than running water.  You have already spent 30 minutes scanning the water and finding what bugs are floating in it that the fish may be feeding on.  You are staying low and keeping your shadow off the water.  Suddenly you notice, in a likely spot, tiny ripples where a fish is rising to eat tiny bugs off the surface.  The fly you have chosen is made from all natural materials – muskrat fur, tiny feathers – and is so precise and perfectly hand tied that you feel like you are casting art.  You can see the glass of scotch that sat on the desk in the fireplace lit room while the artist rendered this tiny replica of a real bug.  The fly is tiny, no bigger than a pinky fingernail.  It has to be,  that is the size of the bugs.  You gracefully arch your line into the air, careful not to let it spook the fish, and lay the fly on the water like a sleeping baby in the cradle.  There can be no disturbance of the water.  If there is, she will be gone.  You mend your line so the fly floats as though it is unattached.  Even though your leader and tippet line are thinner than a human hair, they can still affect the fly drift enough to scare her off, without diligent attention being paid.  Perfectly free to drift like its emulated brethren.  By the 7th perfect drift over the fish, without her so much as looking, you get nervous.  You know if the fly is one shade of olive off, or if the body is slightly too chunky, or the fly is slightly too big, she will refuse it.  But you can’t change now, it may be on the next drift that she takes.  You put yet another perfect drift across her and this time she stirs, gliding – smooth as a ghost – to the surface and allowing the fly to come gently to her mouth,  within centimeters.  When she takes the fly it is with a sip so gentle it would break your heart.  You bring her in thoughtfully and gently.  No horsing her, yet not allowing her to play herself to exhaustion.  When you get her to you, you cradle her gently in your hand, never taking her out of the water and as quickly as possible slip the hook from her mouth.  You don’t release her until you are sure she is fully revived.

So I have been thinking about relationships…


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If you ever see me on an airplane, I doubt you would know it.  Being stuck in a dildo shaped steel tube with 15 too many people shoved into it and 3 arm rests for the 6 arms present in your row always causes me to screw my hat down over my eyes and turn my thoughts inward.  If I look around or pay too much attention to the snoring guy across the aisle, or the sweat from the fat lady’s arm next to me that is dripping on our shared armrest, I begin the think about the situation I am in: eventually reaching the conclusion, “you can’t breathe and you are never fucking getting out of here!”  It takes some effort to not……..hell I don’t know what, but doing about anything in that state of mind seems like poor judgment.

On a recent flight from Atlanta to Minneapolis, for the third leg of my 4 stage journey home, it occurred to me just how antithetical this situation was to the one I had just left.  I had just finished a fly-fishing trip to Hilton Head Island, SC – my first ever saltwater fly-fishing experience.  Fishing those mud flats for redfish on the (aptly named) Broad River just outside of Beaufort, SC was a lesson in largess and openness.

We awoke early and headed for the boat landing, arriving at just after dawn on a gorgeous South Caroline morning in early March.  I really didn’t know what to expect, short of the fact that we would be in some kind of boats and casting 8 or 9 weight rods (presumably Orvis) to redfish.  I was in a group of three; my dad, brother and myself.  We had enlisted the services of an outfitter and guiding service out of Beaufort called Bay Street Outfitters.  This is a top notch, Orvis-endorsed, outfitter and the head guide, Tuck Scott,  (one of the two that would be with us) was known in the area as a real good guide.  He brought another guide, Owen Plair, who knew where the fish were and how to find them.  These guys are great guides and great sports and they worked their tails off to get us on good fishing.

We split into two groups, with my brother going with Tuck and Dad and I going with Owen.  Immediately I was struck with the immense size of things and the openness of it all.  We were fishing an area at the mouth of the Broad River where it drains into the Atlantic.  To say it drains is to present it wrong.  It is more like the ocean breathes in the river; sucking water out at low tide and exhaling it back up river as the tide comes in.  This breathing of the ocean seems to drive everything.  The entire water scape changes, laying naked vast fields of oysters and mud when the tide is low and then hiding the fields and creating deep channels and drop-offs when the tide is in.  Fishing in a place where you could not move your boat and yet be in an entirely different place in 4 hours is not a concept I can entirely wrap my head around.

The scenery was spectacular and everywhere you looked there was water.  In this low country nothing is either ocean, river or dry land.  Everything is all three, simply vacillating among them – leaning towards being mostly one and then moving to being mostly another.  Everything is one good storm surge from being ocean floor and one low tide from being shoreline, with an impossible amount of area being both a couple of times a day.  I guess it is like anything… not really exactly anything.  More of a combination of all things, just in differing proportions.

Moreover, the landscape itself contains no obvious demarcations to give you a sense of being contained.  I mean, there are trees and hills, but nothing like the edge of a forest as it opens into a meadow, or a line of trees scarring the prairie as it slices along the banks of a river.  As you followed the horizon only the changing colors would tell you if what you were looking at was vegetation or ocean.  A colorblind person may try to walk to France from here.  This all made for an eerie sense of being exposed.  Like the feeling you get when you lay on your back in your bed with you arms at your side.  It can be exhilarating and halting all at the same time.

When we arrived at the boat ramp, Tuck and Owen were waiting for us with their boats and ready to go.  I had never been on a flats boat and I still can’t believe these things draft 8 inches.  It is trippy to look down into the water over the side of a boat and see that you could step off and barely go in over your boots – like looking out of an airplane and seeing that you could just step off if you wanted too.  It just ain’t right!

Tuck and Owen proved to be spectacular guides.  Tuck kept my brother on fish all morning (until the tide made it impossible) and in the process taught him a thing or two.  Owen was the kind of guide you want badly in a situation like this.  He grew up fishing the area and was some kind of savant, owning his first boat at 8 years old.  He knew this water as well as it can be known.  Additionally, he was a great guy and fun to be around, which was a real plus given the long periods of poling that needed to be done.  He worked hard to keep us on fish and succeeded sporadically, in the way that makes for a great day of fishing to a good redfish fly-fisher and getting skunked to a poor one.  For the record, I am officially a poor one.

Of the three of us, we hooked up three times, and all three times it was my brother that did it.  Once into a nice redfish that got him into one of those grip and grin hero pictures, once into his hat and once into his cheek.  That last one caused a little bleeding, but hell who am I to talk, I didn’t set a hook all day, and if you had told me, “you get to hookup on a redfish, but you have to hook your cheek first,”  I just might have done it.

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At some point, in the progression of human society, we stopped being a part of nature.  We quit being a participant and began to become an influencer.  We were no longer forced to play by the rules that nature dictates because we learned that we could change the rules.  We could step out of our roles as players buffeted by the great forces of weather, migrations and natural selection.  The size of our concentrated populations was no longer decided by the amount of food made naturally available.  We began to take the bounties of the earth and mold them to serve our purposes.  Whether it was sowing seeds in order to change the amount of food offered in a certain location, or reshaping a stone to allow us to harvest more wild game; the rules were now under our control.  We became miniature gods.

Some thousands of years later, we find ourselves where we are today; questioning the global implications of rewriting nature’s rules.  What we fail to examine is the personal implications of having lost the ability to participate in nature without influencing it.  We have become so removed for being in the game, that we no longer know how to play.  Most of us will go our entire lives without spending one moment being a participant.  Even when we attempt to enjoy nature we are outside of it.  We have extracted ourselves so completely from being participants that we no longer fit back into the game.  When we camp, it is with propane stoves and in camping spots with paved parking areas.  When we hike, it is on man-made paths with hand-rails and steps on the inclines.  We no more participate in nature than we participate in a football game we are watching from the stands.

I have spent my entire life in the outdoors. From constantly exploring when I was a child, to hunting as soon as I was of age, to camping every weekend as I was growing up.  I love being outdoors and I love all that nature has to offer, but I had never participated in nature until I began to flyfish.  All of the other activities in nature that I do are games of human design, set up so that I will be the victor.  Pheasant hunting with dogs and 12 gauges; Fishing with Ratl’n Rapalas and fish finders.

Flyfishing is different.  My job is to influence nothing.  I need to make no waves; cast no shadow.  I must make my casting motion invisible to the fish.  I must hold 40 feet of line in the air, letting it touch nothing, back and forth and then lay it gently on the water without making a ripple.  I need to cast a tiny fly tied to a piece of plastic string across currents of varying speeds and then work that line so that the fly floats as though it isn’t tied to anything.  A dead drift.  It is maximum effort focused on minimum influence.  Strive to vanish.  Struggle to disappear.  Endeavor not to be.  Only as I approach apparition status, do I begin to participate in nature.

There is a peace that comes with such an intense focus on being as translucent as possible; something serene in the act of total focus on becoming nothing.  Flyfishing is teaching me something, I am just not sure I know what it is.

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One of the multitude of things that flyfishing has given me is far better attentiveness to my diet.  I now make sure that I put things in my body that will generally agree with it.  This is not from some need to fuel myself right in order to undertake the rigors of the fishing.  Nor is it due to some crap about getting in tune with the environment and therefore only wanting eggs from cage-free chickens.  Flyfishing has not made me a tree hugging granola eater.  Instead, I have learned a valuable lesson concerning our olfactory sense.

It all starts with a simple question from the man behind the counter at the local burrito chain.  “Would you like black beans on your steak burrito?”  Of course I would. 

It was lunchtime on a cool Saturday in late fall. A low-pressure system was just settling in, chasing out the last vestiges of our Indian summer.  The change in pressure was bringing in some wind and on and off sprinkles; making the outlook promising for some fishing.  I met my fishing partner for lunch at a chain burrito restaurant, so we could wolf down a burrito the size of our heads and then get out to the water for 6 or 7 good hours of fishing.  I was hoping that the wind would cause some chop on the water and the walleyes would be up and feeding.  We snagged a couple of burritos, forced them down our gullets and hit the road.  The drive to the river we were fishing is about 30 minutes, tack on 15 minutes for getting all geared up and you have plenty of time for the burrito to do what burritos do. 

The water we were working is interestingly laid out.  There is a fairly swift river, cascading about 20 feet down some rocks; gets to about 4 foot deep and then into a shallow riffle as it speeds away.  Jutting out from the river at a right angle between the rocks and the riffle is a large pond.  It covers about three quarters of an acre and gets something like 6 feet deep.  This is where we would be looking for the walleyes, in the deeper water.  Deep water means deep wading.  Deep wading means chest-waders instead of hip-waders.

For the uninitiated, chest waders are like waterproof snow-pants.  They fit very loosely and cover you from the bottom of you feet all the way up to your armpits.  Of course being waterproof, there is no way for air to escape either except to slowly seep out the top right under your neck. 

Standing at the trunk of my car, I pull on my waders and notice an unpleasant rumbling in my stomach.  Just as I got the shoulder straps buckled into place, another rumble.  Vest on, rumble.  Pole put together, rumble rumble.  I actually farted the first time as we walked to the water.  It would not be the last. 

Walking and windy conditions can help you not have to pay the price to farting in your waders, but once you get down by the water, where the wind is blocked and you are standing in one place…….God help you.  I approached the pond quietly and noticed a horrific odor.  Must be a dead fish on the shore somewhere?  The smell just kept coming and coming, like it was being slowly blown on my face.  For a second I thought maybe it was myself I was smelling. No way.  That was clear back while we were walking.  Certainly it hadn’t followed me all the way to the water.  I took a step into the water and the smell suddenly got stronger,  like a puff of noxious fumes.  Maybe the water stunk.  Another step and another puff.  God this was getting unbearable.  Finally I had waded about as deep as I wanted to go, to my waist, and I stopped and the odor subsided, eventually leaving altogether. 

I cast a few times, tied on a different fly and cast a few more.  The rumbling was getting bad now and I succumbed to the urge to relax once more.  After about a 10 count the odor started again.  Oh my, it was me that I smelt.  The waders were holding my poisonous gases to my body and slowly funneling them out right under my chin!  It was terrible.  At one point I actually decided against lighting a cigarette for fear I would die in a terribly well contained flame ball!  I also realized that as I waded the water pressure would collapse my waders to my leg, making my baggy fart holders squeeze puffs of hell’s own fury into my face.  Like some sort of fart bellows invented for the Inquisition.  Worse, the rumblings were getting more frequent and ominous.  I was no longer confident that it was safe to relax and there wasn’t a bathroom for 2 miles.  We had only been on the water for about an hour, but I had no choice. 

My fishing buddy didn’t seem too disturbed as we sat having coffee at the coffee shop in town (yeah, cause another diuretic like coffee was what I need.).  I mean, sure the conditions had been right and the fish were probably biting.  Sure we were burning a rare opportunity for a full day on the water due to a need to stay within a stone’s throw of a bathroom. But hey, burritos had been his idea.

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