I've come to realize, by the usual criteria,
I'll never be an über fly fisherman. I don't
catch great quantities of fish, or fish of great
size. I don't spend the vast majority of my time
fishing, and I don't fit what Thomas McGuane calls
the new paradigms; the bum, the addict, the maniac.
There are a number of reasons for my shortcomings
as a rip lip fly fisher, some physical some mental.
For instance, I don't have great eyesight. This
was made abundantly clear when I was fishing with
a quintessential bass bum who is a number of years
older than I. He could and did spot the swirl of
a striper's tail at 400 yards, while I can barely
see bass slashing through bait at that distance and
have often paddled the kayak for a quarter mile
chasing what I thought to be a school of feeding
bass only to find lobster buoys bobbing in the
I also suffer from synaptic gaps, an extended
period of time between a fish taking the fly
and my brain processing that information and
sending impulses to my arm to set the hook. I'm
not referring here to nanoseconds, but to three
or more Mississsippis. Fortunately, I fish for
gluttonous striped bass that usually hook
themselves, but this handicap is particularly
glaring when trout fishing, where the fish takes
the fly in its mouth, swishes it around, and spits
it out like a wine taster before I can raise the
rod. I've read that Ken Kesey and crew experimented
with hallucinogenic drugs in an attempt to eliminate
that fraction of a second between reality and perception,
and while I don't advocate the use of mind-altering
substances, except Jose Cuervo, such a break through
would help my hook setting.
But then again ingesting hallucinogens would
likely exacerbate another problem I have - lack
of focus. At any given moment when fishing the
fish are the farthest thing from my mind. I
instead think, "hey, I never noticed that the sand
on this beach seems purple in the false dawn," or,
"those cormorants drying their wings look like the
gloomy carvings on gothic cathedrals."
Sometimes I'll paddle the circumference of Plum
Island Sound without throwing a cast, or fish areas
I know to be unproductive for the scenery. Mostly
I am too busy trying to grasp the miracle of the
birth of a new day to bother with feeding fish.
This is no way to improve the average number or
size of your catch.
And I'm embarrassed to say I'm not a very good
student of the sport. I read extensively, but
not many how too or informative books, and, if
truth be told, I read more books about hunting,
though not a hunter, than fishing (the most recent
being Stephen Bodio's Eagle Dreams,
a wonderful book about Mongolian nomads who hunt
with eagles). I don't subscribe to any fishing
magazines, thinking that they, incredibly, miss
the point (exception: The Drake), and confirming
this observation, I see that one popular fly fishing
magazine has added a feature, Look Who Fly Fishes,
which shares with us, in People Magazine fashion,
the fact that some celebrity waves a fly rod around.
I have no need for celebrity fly fishers, concurring
with Herbert Hoover's observation that "all men are
equal before trout." Or bass, or tarpon, or snook,
for that matter.
Probably most telling of my journeyman status is
that I don't fish as often as I used to. Sometimes
two extra hours of sleep is more appealing than
rising at 4:30 am to be on the water at dawn, and,
while I still rise early and fish more often than
I sleep-in, those numbers are approaching equilibrium.
Even worse, I'll be on the water and the thought of
a hot cup of coffee, a radiant wood stove, and a good
book compels me to pack it in much earlier than I'd
But before you start looking for my equipment on
eBay, understand that, paradoxically, I enjoy my
time on the water now more than ever. My heart
still pounds and my hands still tremble when I
luck on to a feeding school of stripers, and I
always chuckle at my ineptitude when, in the frenzy,
I frantically try to cast a line wrapped around a
kayak paddle or conk myself on the head with a
Clouser minnow. "The child is father to the man,"
observed Wordsworth, and I'm thrilled to still be
that gawky ten year old who felt as if he was
Hemingway battling a marlin when a six-inch perch
would grab the worm on the end of his line at some
nameless two-buck pond in southern Indiana.
"Use the ceremony of our sport and passion to
arouse greater reverberations within ourselves,"
suggests Tom McGuane, and, as one gets older,
this occurs naturally while fishing to all but
the least contemplative of the fly fishing brethren
(the bum, the addict, the maniac). My fishing is
no longer an obsession, an addiction, or a mania;
it's much more than that.
It's love, not lust. ~ 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.