Commercial fishermen have the reputation of
being a superstitious lot. It goes back for
centuries, and is understandable when you consider
that, before the advent of sophisticated navigational
and fish finding electronics, catching fish was in
good part luck, and even if you weren't the
superstitious type it wouldn't hurt to hedge
Some of the more common superstitions were: never
end a boat name in a vowel; never paint a boat blue;
don't leave port on a Friday; and never have a
minister on your boat.
Though I don't adhere to any of these rituals (well,
except the minister one), I do have rites in which
I partake to try and appease the striper gods. My
superstitions are homegrown with no basis in tradition:
never wash a fishing hat; be on the water before the
sun rises; and always fish hungry to sharpen the
predatory instinct. I'm not sure how these rituals
developed, but for some reason I cling to them.
I wondered about those who have earned the reputation
of bringing the sport of fly-fishing to a higher level.
Do they have superstitions or rituals that, at least
in their own minds, give them the edge? I decided
to find out.
J. Kenney Abrames is leading a quiet renaissance in
North Eastern salt-water fly-fishing, where a small
but growing group of striped bass anglers opt for
the longer, softer rods and floating lines of days
gone by and the controlled drift, wet fly swing, and
greased line methods more familiar to traditional
salmon angling. As the high priest of this neo-salmon
fishing, I suspected that Ken would also have some
interesting idiosyncrasies, like only using an antique
wooden salmon reel or fishing old silk lines.
I was wrong. Ken informed me that he didn't have any
rituals, but strove for a proper frame of mind in which
to see the big picture when fishing and not take things
out of context. Ken's is a valuable perspective, but
hardly the scoop I was hoping for.
I moved on to Ray Bondorew, author of Stripers and
Streamers and creator of the "Ray's Fly" which,
with the clouser and deceiver, must rate as one of the
most productive striped bass flies of all time. Ray,
along with Ken, adheres to the Rhode Island school of
fly tying, a philosophy that deems less is more, and
that the fleeting image of a bait fish is more enticing
to stripers than a big, bulky precise imitation.
Unfortunately, like Ken, Ray doesn't partake in any
ritualistic voodoo before wetting a line. My interesting
story about superstitions was heading south like the
striped bass in late October.
Eminent fly tier and author A.K. Best shared his
fly-fishing rituals with me. There wasn't much to
share. "Ritual might be always suiting up before
gearing up. Always spend some time looking before
entering the water or casting," he said. "Not very
interesting, I guess," and while I appreciate his
response I have to agree with his assessment.
Perhaps the most legendary striped bass fisherman
of all time, Russell Chatham, was kind enough to
reply to my query. Chatham is old school, and I
was sure he only fished with Dame Juliana's Jury
of Twelve, or held his rod and reel up over his
head while facing the rising sun like that scene
in The Lion King.
"I guess I have no superstitions or rituals. Sorry,"
Chatham apologized. I was getting skunked.
My last chance was fisherman, hunter, and writer,
William Tapply. His stories make the reader long
for the days of yore, when sporting gentlemen
gathered after the hunt in the dining rooms of
old hotels, their dogs at their feet, a bottle
of bourbon passed from hand to hand. Surely
Tapply would have an interesting eccentricity,
like only fishing bamboo, or wearing an old, lucky
hat given to him by Sparse Gray Hackle, or, well,
"I have one inflexible ritual," Tapply told me,
and I thought at last, a glimpse into the secret
world of the master sportsman! "Whenever I
arrive at a fishing destination, whether it's a
stream or a pond or the ocean, (yes, yes, go on)
the first thing I do is walk down to the edge of
the water. (Here it comes. He anoints his forehead.
Or something). I check the level and clearness
of the water and look for insects and signs of fish
(oh, oh, he's losing me) - but mainly I stand
there for five minutes or so just soaking in that
delicious feeling of Being There Again. (A wonderful
sentiment. But, Damn!)
"Absence is presence," assert the post-modernists,
and that might be the case here. Some of the most
well respected fly fishermen alive don't partake
in any rituals, and maybe the ritual is no
ritual--just quality stream craft. And who am I
to argue? While it might not make for an
interesting story, it makes a hell of a lot more
sense than waking before dawn, putting on a dirty
hat, and skipping breakfast... ~ Dave
Dave Micus lives in Ipswich, Massachusetts. He is an
avid striped bass fly fisherman, writer and instructor.
He writes a fly fishing column for the Port City Planet
newspaper of Newburyport, MA (home of Plum Island and Joppa Flats)
and teaches a fly fishing course at Boston University.