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Posts Tagged ‘panfish’

I was the only car on the four lane interstate that morning.  Not surprising considering it was 5 am on a Sunday, but it still felt novel.  The vastness of a 4 lane interstate when there are no other cars around is both freeing and a little freaky.  The wide open pavement means you can drive with abandon.  At the same time it almost feels like standing on a roof top.  There no constraints to stop you… also, there are no constraints to save you.  It is not that it isn’t what I thought it would be like, the empty road.  It is that I couldn’t pre-create the feelings that it being like that would evoke.  About a week earlier I had received permission to fish a pond that I was very excited about, and I was finally on my way to give it a shot.  I had been told that the panfish and bass fishing in this pond would be something between falling in love and losing your virginity.  I had an idea that slight exaggeration was occurring, but none-the-less, I had the excitement of a man on his way to…. well…. get some.

It was a gorgeous morning.  Not a thought of a cloud in the sky and so still that exhaled cigarette smoke would just hang in front of you like the world had gone into slow motion.  The sun was just causing the collision between earth and sky to become visible in the east.  When she was up and in full fury that day, the sun would warm my little spot on the earth into the high 80’s, but not yet.  No, it was still a pleasantly cool 60.  It was a damn shame the 99% of the population would not being experiencing this little gift of time.

On a morning like this, the valleys of rolling hills in the area can sometimes be full of a dense fog.  I am not sure if it is a product of temperature differences, or moisture differences, or if it is natures way of ensuring that the requisite number of deer experience death via Chevy in order to keep the population in check.  But that is how it is, and it is cool to see and nerve-wracking to drive through.  This morning happened to be one of those mornings.  With no wind and the sun still not up to burn off the fog, some of the low spots were so full of this mystery vapor that for maybe 200 yards of driving the outside world had been erased.

I eased off of the pavement and onto the winding gravel that would descend into the area of the small pond.  This was not one of those hardpacked, straight as a string, gravel roads that one can comfortably traverse at 60 mph.  Rather this was a seldom used meandering little stretch of crushed rock and brown/orange dirt.  The lack of traffic and large looping curves made this a 30 mph job unless you thought you were a dirt track racer and are comfortable in a fishtail.  This is the kind of road that is there to remind us that slowing down and seeing can be worth alot more than the 6 minutes you save by hauling ass.  Despite my – Junior on his way to prom – excitement I was taking her as she comes.  The road looped and lobbed and slowly flowed down toward the pond.

I was just entering the curve that would whirl me directly toward the pond when the wall of white loomed up in front of me – ready to swallow my entire jeep.  The lack of impact as I entered the dense fog was almost surprising.  I am not used to seeing something so apparently solid and yet being able to move through it as though it doesn’t exist.  This was a serious fog.  I couldn’t see more that 5 feet beyond the windshield.  The only thing keeping me on the road was the change in sound as my tire left the gravel and began to tread on grass.  At that point I would know to correct my steering to keep me on the road.  So I pinballed my way down the road at about 5 miles a hour, eyes open as wide as they would go – not that that helped because I was driving by sound. I may as well have been blindfolded.

Eventually I parked in a small turn off.  I would later discover, once the entirety of my surroundings was unveiled, that miraculously I had found the right turnoff and parked as though I was an old hand at this.  I threw on my vest, strung up without tying on a fly, and started on foot in the general direction of the water.  You can always tell which way the water is because it is downhill from wherever you are.  The putt breaks towards the water.

Walking in the fog was stranger than driving in it.  Each step revealed an incrementally changing world. A slow progression as one plant was replaced by another and one tree grew slightly larger as it slowly entered the tiny bubble of reality that I was able to comprehend.  It was like watching time lapse photography of evolution. Behind me the fog swirled and eddied and slammed shut.  I was not cutting a path through the fog any more than a scuba diver cuts a path through the ocean.  All I was doing was fleetingly bringing into my tiny sphere of sensory perception pieces of a larger and hidden outside world.  Simply to have them erased from my immediate consciousness by my next step forward.

Eventually the water edge came upon me, as though I wasn’t moving forward, rather the rotation of the earth had brought it to me like a conveyor belt.  I sat on a rock and decided to get my wits about me.

The tiny piece of water I could see was smooth, making the pond look like it was made out of a mix of corn starch and water, rather than just water.  Like if you ran fast enough you could get all the way to the other side, but if you stopped for a second you would be slowly swallowed.  The sounds were incredible.  I don’t know if it was the lack of vision, or the moisture in the air, but all sounds seemed amplified and non-directional.  The birds were everywhere and unseeable.  From the Non-Newtonian pond came the splash of jumpers, the pop of Bluegills eating surface bugs and the BLLOOOOP of Largemouth Bass opening a hole in the surface of the water for the small frog to fall into.

The reason that reality no longer existed was immediately clear; silvery white cobwebs of steam lifted from the entire surface of the pond like cotton candy pulled for a cotton candy machine.  I sat in wonder and watched as the soul of this pond left it’s body and ascended.  After 20 minutes I decided it was time to fish.  I tied on a nice little yellow popper, stripped out some line, and pulled it into a backcast – bending my rod backward – and then rocking into a false cast – bending my rod forward – rocking back into a backcast and then into a false cast.  Holding 30 feet of line in the air.  On the 3rd false cast I shot my line forward streaming it through the line guides on my rod and into the unknown soul of the pond.

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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.

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