Outdoor Writers Association of America
This Week's View

by Deanna Lee Birkholm

November 20th, 2000

There's going fishing, fishing and . .

If one is standing thigh-deep in salt water, casting a fly rod (with fly attached) knowing full well there aren't any fish, is it fishing? Casting practice? Exercise? Madness?

Now this isn't the same as prospecting new trout water where there might be some trout. This is having observed the water, the stream where the fish must go to spawn, and knowing there aren't any fish! But I'm standing there, casting. I know where the fish will come - when and if they do. That's where I'm casting.

Before you figure I'm a total nut case, I should tell you I'm not alone. Ten or so other fly fishers are also casting. Not catching, just casting. I have to assume since none of the usual clues tell them there are fish, the others are doing the same thing I am. I'm just not sure what that is.

A person comes, another leaves. Another group shows up. A few more fly fishers, a few spin fishers.

Eventually I decide I've exercised my fly line enough, removed the coils and any previous memory. Reel it in, hook the fly in a guide and wade back to shore. Of course that's just an excuse, there weren't any coils or memory.

My husband, Castwell is back on shore too. We chat with folks taking a break, a group of four has stashed a cooler and they decide on lunch.

Yesterday at about the same time, there were fish. One of our acquaintances, Charlie, commented as we met him on the path coming out, said he had been there since break of dawn. No fish. Charlie had been there a few evenings ago when we all had fish.

We all stand there on shore, (eventually I decided sitting was better) and talked. Introductions, handshakes, and real conversation. Some about rods, lines, reels - some about the strange habits of Chum Salmon and their biological clocks - which we all know are running. In this group of anglers, most were fly fishers, but not all. Everyone of us, stood (or in my case, sat) looking out at the water, watching for pods of fish. We commented among ourselves about one bright fish which repeatedly jumped and slammed into the water. No one really seems to know why they do that, one rumor is it's a hen fish trying to loosen her eggs. I suspect it's a hen too, but vying for attention. Sort of like saying "Hey guys, I'm over here!" I'm not at all sure of when in the spawning process the choice of mate is made, but that fish was sure doing her best to attract one.

One of the fellows had a new rod, and asked JC to check it out, I also got to cast it. Actually I expected the rod to be fine, it was a Redington RedFly 8/9 weight - but he had put a level line on it. Surprisingly it cast very nicely. I also wanted to try out a new test line JC had, so I cast that too. We often end up exchanging rods with folks, trying out theirs, letting them try ours. It seems to add to the general information bank.

As the tide started to drop, the general tone of the shore standing, non-anglers lifted a notch. The outgoing tide might allow the water from the creek to be stronger, (scent wise) and the fish more able to find their natal stream. The conversation continued unbroken, but everyone's eyes were watching for fish.

We had arrived at ten AM, and were met by one of our Chat Room folks, ffb and his dad. "Dad" doesn't fish. But my hat's off to him, he got ffb there, accompanied us to the shore, and was encouraging his boy. Charlie didn't have any of his kids in tow today, but last time I saw him fishing, he had one of his daughters sitting on his shoulders. There were a couple of other dads with kids along too. It's great to see, and even if it doesn't 'take' now it's a great thing to do. For those kids, the seed has been planted.

There were several others folks, non-anglers, just coming to see the fish. And to be honest, there were a few fish just below the bridge. It isn't legal to fish for them in that creek above the high tide line, although we did see some dork walking along the stream splashing his fly into the water. I assume he knew better, and thought it was ok to harass the fish. A couple of people yelled "it is illegal to fish in the stream!" but he totally ignored them. Must have been one of the spawn of fungus heads mentioned by 'Ol Red' in last weeks LighterSide. Yes, he was a fly fisher. Darn, I hate to see that!

After about two hours, I waded back out. The tide had dropped quite a bit, (we get a 12 foot tide here) and I was concerned my fly line might have gotten some of it's memory back. Ya right. I had seen a small pod of fish, it wasn't a figment of my imagination. Might as well had been 'tho, I didn't touch one, and they didn't come in the stream.

By one-thirty we both decided to head for home. Fortunately home isn't that far away. We can make the trip and be on the water in 45 minutes or less.

We delayed our departure long enough to stand at the bridge and watch the salmon. The fish were bright, meaning they were fresh from the sea - they darken considerably the closer they get to spawning. There isn't as much water in the creek as we've seen other years, and the fish have figured that out too. A couple of spawning redds were being fanned out by hen fish. They coil their body in a 'U' shape and use both their fins and tails to remove gravel making a bushel-basket-sized depression. The male is in close attendance. The gravel size there is a bit large, certainly not optimum, but their instincts are certainly older and more reliable than mine. It will be interesting to see what the return is in three years.

I had a lovely time. The ducks quacked on cue, the sun came out for a while and warmed me a bit. The wind came up and provided enough chop on the water to act as cover for the fish. Everything preformed appropriately, there just weren't any fish. Actually it was 'too' nice. Overcast and rain would have been better for the fish.

So does that make it fishing? Yes, I know it isn't about catching - but is it fishing if you know there aren't any fish? An excuse? Or is this some type of incurable angling madness? ~ LadyFisher

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