With the move of our clocks back an hour this coming weekend, the fishing season officially ends for me. I'll go out one last time tomorrow after work to hit Great Seneca Creek, but that will be it. When I throw my gear back in the truck, it will be markedly different than previous years.
This was the year I switched to fly fishing after being a spin guy for almost 50 years.
It was last year this time when I was fishing with my brother (currently in back in Iraq as I write this - keep him in your prayers) and saw him catching fish on his first outing with a fly rod while I was totally frustrated by leaves in the water at Town Creek that I resolved I had to learn fly fishing. If an Infantry officer like Dave could master this, then it should be a snap for me as a former Field Artilleryman. Grunts are, after all, the lowest common denominator :-) (sorry - internal family joke)
I looked forward to Christmas like a kid as I knew the Basswife would launch this voyage with a "starter kit". Got it and immediately started practicing based on the guidance from various books and a few Lefty Kreh tapes. I had a few false starts on the local rivers as we waited for the weather to warm up, but I discovered that fly fishing was fun. It was not just pick a gold or silver flash on the Panther Martin, you had to think a bit - streamer, dry, wet, or nymph. All that was OK, but it was not until I was forced to spend Easter Weekend in California that I made the final mental switch - it happened on the Trinity River. The guys at the Fly Shop in Redding sent me over there - pointed at a general location which proved to be the right place at the right time. Thousands of steelhead had just been sent on their way to the sea from the hatchery upstream and had been out on their own long enough to figure out that nobody was going to throw fish pellets at them. I had a great day of catching nice 12" steelhead on dry flies and ended the day with an 18" monster on a small black gnat. There was no turning back and, in fact, the need to fish and improve my skills became an overwhelming urge that could have become distracting to work if I did not exercise discipline.
So, I'm hooked good.
Here's a quick summary of the lessons I learned this year:
- While the starter kit can start you, you really need better gear than will come bundled in a $20 package
- You can get a complete, decent outfit for $100 - $150
- You need to control your urge to buy every fly you see or hear about. I am convinced that most flies are designed to be more attractive to the fly fisherman than to a fish
- You can get by on a few wooly bugger type patterns, some attractors and terrestrials and round it off with some copper johns, pheasant tails and prince nymphs - no need to spend a fortune on flies.
- If you do number 4, you can fit everything in one fly box
- You need a vest with many pockets because you will ignore the advice in item 4 and get far to much stuff... which you will feel compelled to carry just in case your buddy starts getting hits on a pattern that you will need to pull out of your box. You will need space for all the other "doodads" anyway.
- Always carry at least two of any pattern because you will probably lose at least one of them on a spastic cast (common among us new fly guys) but also so you can share what is working with your buddy.
- Practice. Find a place in your yard to work on your cast. Understand how to recognize a "tailing loop" because that's what you are doing... all the time... as you learn. Understand how to fix it from a tape or book.
- Get a DVD on fly fishing - the Lefty DVDs are pretty good - and he will give you a lesson that you can review as often as you need to
- Go out with a guide or a very patient friend to translate the "book learning" to being effective on a stream
- Admit that you are an idiot when it comes to fly fishing. Confess this immediately to anyone you discuss fishing with so they can help you - particularity the guys in the fly shops. I have never run into a fly shop staffer who pushed things on me that I did not need. They stay pretty focused on what you need. After all, you will be back once you become obsessed and buy more stuff than you need anyway.
- Put your dang fly box back in your pocket and ZIP it immediately after you remove the fly. Otherwise, you will forget it on the side of the stream - leaving "Easter eggs" all over the country for other fishermen to discover. Anyone ever find the boxes I left on the South Fork of the Piney or Big Hunting Creek?
- I got a necklace, felt goofy wearing it, and found places for the stuff I was hanging from it elsewhere on the vest.
- You can survive with only 2 fly rods - a 4wt for small water and a 6wt for big water
- Fly fishing from a canoe is tough when you can't cast well and are worried about hooking the Basswife.
- Poppers are critical for smallies. Fill a second fly box with them.
- Bluegills are a new fly guys' best friend. They hit anything that floats and give you plenty of practice - boosting your confidence that you can actually master this sport.
- Learn how to do the knots with a forceps. Understand the tangle calculus - if it will take longer to untangle than just cutting and retying, just cut the problem out.
- You don't really need to haul a net around with you. It just gets tangled on the sticker bushes. By the time you land a trout on a fly rig, he's pretty tired out and you can hand land him just fine.
- Did I mention you need to practice? Practice.
It was a great season! I was able to get out and fish about twice a week and have a huge backlog of locations I need to write about. I'll crank those out over the upcoming cold months. It will be torture to relive those great days on the stream while I watch snow drift down. I know that many of you don't pack it in and will be out on the streams in freezing weather. Not me. Besides, this is the time of the year when the I have to do all the home improvement projects the Basswife has been patiently sitting on all summer.
So... fly fishing.... ? Yep. I'm hooked and will not switch back.