My first flyfishing experience was a (very well) guided flyfishing trip in Breckenridge, Colorado. I had not so much as picked up a flyrod in my life and the amount of information that was thrown at me on this first weekend was astounding. Our guides presented us with a half day class on entomology, knot tying, casting, the names of various stream structures (such as riffles, undercuts, etc.) and a primer on what types of locations fish were likely to me found. It was really an astounding to me how much there was to know. These two men did a fine job of explaining the why’s and wherefore’s of everything they were teaching us and I left that half day class feeling well armed to undertake this proposition. I mean hell, I had been fishing as long as I could remember, how hard could it be?
Well, it was like anything. A class on it, or reading a book, will leave you over-confident and under-prepared for actually undertaking the tasks being described. The casting was atrocious, I was totally befuddled by the fly box, or more precisely what fly to choose from it, and locating fishy looking spots was a helluva lot easier on a whiteboard propped up in the back of a pickup than on the stream. Still, I knew what I was SUPPOSED to be doing and it was just a matter of learning the nuances that would allow me to become more proficient at those tasks.
The one thing that I could absolutely not get a grip on was spotting the fish. I mean, I can see a rise as good as the next guy. A foot long fish eating a bug off of the surface is hard to miss. But these guides could see fish that were underwater and that were STAYING underwater. I have very good eyesight and I am really good at spotting game, but I couldn’t see this fish for the life of me. I tried squinting, squatting, and cleaning my sunglasses. Of course I had come with the required polarized lenses, but there must have been magic in the glasses these guys were wearing. By the halfway point of the second day the answer had become clear. These men were obviously super-human. They had been endowed, on the planet of their origin, with the ability to see through water as though it isn’t there. I mean we aren’t talking about peering to the bottom of a glass of drinking water after all. This is moving water, with a choppy surface distorting everything. And the chop is moving so the distortions are changing. On top of that the sun in is shining and reflecting off of the water. This was like trying to do an Eye Chart that is stuck on a pole while riding the Teacup ride at the fair. A Herculean feat.
I found it truly disheartening that there was no way I would ever be able to spot fish like these people could. Fishing for fish you can see is a big part of the enjoyment of flyfishing to me. I love that fact that flyfishing is somewhere in between sitting on a bucket watching a bobber and stalking a deer. Unfortunately, I was apparently deer blind.
As our final hours approached I found myself walking past my uncle, who was on the trip with us, as I leapfrogged to a new spot. I stopped to chat and he mentioned his frustration with not being able to spot the fish. We were standing together, looking at the top of a stream that others could see the bottom of and bitching to each other about our failings when one of our two guides approached. I told him our troubles and he smiled. Then then pointed far upstream of where we were casting and said,”Look up there. Every once is a while there will be a small window of smooth water traveling down the stream. Find one and follow it with your eyes. It will give you a survey of what is beneath the surface.” He then walked on ahead to help my brother get a fly out of his hair.
Uncle and I stood there, looking for the magic window of smooth water. Soon one appeared and sure as hell. If you followed it with your eyes, and you worked to see through the water and not see the water, you could get a traveling view of the world beneath the chop. A small moving square of knowledge and insight. A fleeting pane of clarity.