Lake Fausse Point, Louisiana

January 26th, 2003

Maybe Dynamite?
By Roger Stouff

Fishing, as some of you who do it are well aware and others of you are now turning the page in search of the police reports is not all philosophical pondering and musing about the majesty of nature or the quality of solitude.

Sure, we anglers who view fishing as more than a competitive thing i.e., hook 'em like you're trying to tear their faces off, crank 'em in like a freight train and sling 'em in the boat prefer to pontificate about communing with nature, the art, the science. But there are times when fishing gets so utterly bizarre that such pondering becomes impossible.

Take a recent trip I made to a fishing hole I frequent. It was about an hour before dark, and I knew that was the best time for my fly rod with popping bugs. I walked a good ways to the pond, and was pleased to find that the wind had gone still.

Now, I have two graphite fly rods I fish regularly, and not to trouble you with a lot of meaningless numbers, one is a light rod for fishing bluegill and bass in uncluttered waters, the other a heavier rod for taking fish out of brush or weeds. Since this spot is very weedy, I used the heavier rod to throw a popping bug called a "Spook" by the Accardo Tackle Co. of Baton Rouge.

I wore my mud boots, my Cajun Nikes, because some places I like to stand in the water to avoid tangling my retrieved line in the brush along the bank. Here is the advantage the northern fly fishermen have over us down here: They get to stand in the water and the line just floats. In Louisiana, down south anyway, we have to get our line tangled in all kinds of stuff, because most of us are too cocky or macho to wear a stripping basket on our hip, a kind of bushel to collect retrieved line. We think it looks dorky, so we'd prefer to let our line tumble to the ground and instead of going 40 feet with the next cast, we go 10 feet because the line has snagged on a dandelion, and end up looking dorky anyway.

The brush has grown so high over the summer that, on my very first cast, I snagged a tall weed behind me and nearly jerked the rod out of my hand. So I had to wade out and go unsnag the Spook, finally making a cast that found water. My dad always told me when I was a kid, as he was paddling the boat over to retrieve my tackle from a tree, "You catch a lot more fish in the water, boy." My dad had a gift for understated expressionism.

I placed the fly near a patch of willows which I knew generally held a fish or two. The cast was short, but I popped it a little then tried again. I was aiming for a little alcove under the limbs, but the next cast was so perfect, so absolutely artistic, the kind of cast fly fishermen dream of, that it laid out arrow-straight but softly, the line first, the leader curling forward next, to softly lay itself halfway in the water while the tip found the only outstretched willow limb on the whole pond and wrapped itself around it four times.

No amount of tugging or praying would free it, so I had to break the leader, and lost my Spook. Then I had to walk back to the truck to get a new Spook, tie it on, and walk all the way back to my spot. Ten minutes wasted.

I tried another cast, and waded out again to unsnag from the same tall weed behind me. In the process of doing this, I leaned over too far, tilted my legs too much, and water rushed into my left Cajun Nike. Finally, I laid the fly just where I wanted it: Floating exactly below the limb where my first Spook was now forever lost.

Aggravated, I decided it was time for a smoke, so I tucked the rod under my left arm and stuck a cig in my mouth. While I was lighting it, of course, there was a tremendous splash which startled me so badly I dropped the lighter into the water and the cigarette out of my mouth.

I snatched back the rod while it was still under my arm, and of course, completely missed the fish, though the new Spook sailed through the air right at me.

Here's an amazing thing: It is a feat of skill, timing, balance, holding your mouth right, eating the right kinds of foods, good karma, Zen and meditation in Tibetan monasteries to cast just to the right spot, but a sailing Spook after a lousy hookset will inevitably find the eighth-inch tip of your rod and smack it, resulting in a hopelessly tangled mess.

While attempting to sort out this disaster, I suddenly screamed, "YOWWWWSUH!!!" and leaped completely out of the pond a bit sideways, because my left boot is still full of water onto the bank, jumping and hollering, until I finally retrieved and threw away the lit cigarette that had fallen into my shirt pocket, burning my fingers too, in the process. But that's OK. It reminded me to retrieve my lighter from the pond.

Any sane individual would have packed up, gone home to watch Scare Tactics on television at this point, but not me. After the rod was untangled, I waded back out a bit, forgetting again to empty my left boot, and cast back to the exact same spot. I stood at ready, cork rod grip in right hand, line in left, ready to strike, a predator, an angler whose every muscle was poised to drive the Spook's hook into the jaw of that unsuspecting bass lingering beneath the willows.

Of course, the fish never struck. In fact, not a single fish struck for the next 45 minutes.

It was, actually, just before dark, when the light had faded so that I could not see well, that the little rascals started biting.

Fish are cruel, hateful critters.

Because of this, I know fish are smarter than we give them credit for. I just know that a whole pond full of them got together and said, "Okay, right when the sun goes down, let's mess with the blind boy." John Gierach once said that it's odd how anglers load themselves up with hundreds of dollars of hi-tech tackle and electronics to go try to catch a fish with a brain the size of a BB. There is a certain puzzle about it, I admit.

All I could see was a kind of flash of dull light when they struck. The last two I could not see at all, and was fishing by ear. Fishing by ear is not an easy thing to do, because the splash you hope is a bass taking the fly might be a bass several yards away eating a minnow or a skeeter. Often you set the hook on nothing, and your fly sails to kiss your rod tip.

I did manage to land four fish in the last five minutes which I think were bass, but then, I was judging by feel, and they might have been carp. When I finally wasn't sure where the pond was anymore, and waded the wrong direction thinking I was headed to the bank and got water in my right boot, too, I figured it was time to go home. During the entire walk to the truck, I could hear the hateful critters splashing and frolicking behind me, saying, "Get some new specs, four eyes!" The notion of dynamite briefly entered my mind.

Back at the house, I squished along unloading my tackle into the house, and went back outside to take off my boots and pour out the water and my socks. I took a quick shower and settled in for the rest of the evening in my chair, already thinking about the next trip. ~ Roger

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