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
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
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