Dave Micus, Plum Island Sound

November 5th, 2006

The Five Stages of Fishlessness
By Dave Micus

It is fall in western Montana, which means every spare moment must be spent fishing. Unfortunately, the new job is taking up much of my time, so spare moments are few and far between and really only to be had on weekends. When I was in Massachusetts I lived on a fertile estuary system and I fished twice a day, before and after work. If I had a bad outing I usually had to only wait 12 hours or less to try my luck again. Now I had to wait six days, which is a long time to smell of skunk.

Highway sign

I often fish a spot on the Bitterroot and I've done well. I learned of this place from a friend who described it as "a little bit outside of town." But distance is relative in Montana. A "little bit" turned out to be 41 miles in western parlance. Still, it's a pleasant drive through the mountains and past my favorite fly shop in Lolo. I've never been in it, but, still, it's my favorite.

Fly Shop

When I arrive, I rig up and walk down river where a narrow, shallow riffle dumps into a deep pool. The water is choppy and forgiving to a sloppy trout fisher like me, and though it is right off of a major highway, I am always the only one here.

Bitterroot River

DENIAL

I tie on a bead head prince and cast into the current, letting it swing from the faster water to the seam where fast water meets slow. On the third cast I have a big hit and the line goes slack. I reel in to find that the fish has snapped the tippet, 6X, so I cut it back 18 inches and add 24 inches of 4X. Having hooked a fish so quickly, I know this will be a good day.

I tie on another prince, but as I do I'm distracted and sloppy. I tie a bad knot and I know it, but I fish it anyway, like when you place a drink on the end of a table while thinking, "this is probably going to spill if I put it here" but you do and it does. On the second cast I see a fish dart from the fast water to engulf the fly. It's on for a moment and then it's gone and when I reel in I see the tell-tail pig-tail that is indisputable proof of a poorly tied knot. It's not the first bad knot I've ever tied, nor will it be that last. I take another prince from the wallet and tie it more carefully to the leader.

With mistakes made and rectified, I know I'll catch fish.

ANGER

I move down three steps, cast a few times, and hook a nice brown trout. I know it's a brown because I see it jump-one, two, three times before it throws the hook. I reel in and check the fly. The hook is sharp, the knot is good. What's going on? I resume casting and hook another fair sized trout that causes a big splash on the surface before it, too, throws the hook. Why can't I hook a fish? I cuss out loud even though I'm by myself.

I'm zero for four.

BARGAINING

I cast again and hook a rainbow that thinks he is a SAM missile, rocketing out of the water three feet into the air. I play him on the reel, backing toward shore, pleading with the fish gods to let me land this one. I'll pick up the trash I saw streamside on the way in! Just let me land this fish!

The fish gods don't negotiate, and on his fourth jump the rainbow throws the hook despite my offer.

DEPRESSION

It isn't long before I hook another fish, but, like the others, he throws the hook after a brief commotion on the surface, and I can feel the emotions draining away, replaced by that dull empty feeling that nothing can go right. I change flies in case the point is dull, sticking with the bead head prince (the fish are taking it!), but at this point I'm just mechanically going through the motions. My thoughts are not of angling, but of going home and crawling under the covers.

I lose two more.

ACCEPTANCE

Mountains Finally, I get a solid strike and the fish stays hooked for more than a few seconds. As crazy as it sounds, I'm also a little disappointed. At this point I'm actually cheering for the fish. My disappointment is short-lived-the small rainbow throws the hook right at my feet, and even though a former fishing partner claimed that touching the leader with a fish on counted as a catch, I hold myself to a higher standard. My streak is still alive, and I'm zero for nine.

It has been overcast all day, the air begins to chill, and when the cloud cover shrouding the mountains lifts a bit I can see that they are glazed in snow. One more cast turns into a dozen more casts, as it always does, and on the last I hook a fair sized brown that splashes on the surface, leaves the water, and throws the hook. I can't help but laugh aloud.

Final score: Fish 10, Fisherman 0. ~ Dave

About Dave:

Until recently Dave Micus lived in Ipswich, Massachusetts. He just moved to Missoula, Montana. He is an avid striped bass fly fisherman, writer and instructor. He wrote a fly fishing column for the Port City Planet newspaper of Newburyport, MA (home of Plum Island and Joppa Flats) and taught a fly fishing course at Boston University.


Previous Dave Micus Columns

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