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Part One hundred seventy-six

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New Blood

Jason Tinling

By Jason Tinling, Lancaster, PA

My mother-in-law is a serious fisherwoman. Any time she can get on the water, she takes it, and does pretty well. She's a life-long spin fisher, but has recently shown an interest in flyfishing. It's been a passing interest, so I was surprised when I got the call on Sunday.

"Jase, I think I'm going to go flyfish the river."

"Oh? Ok."

"I can't remember what line you said to get."

My mother-in-law has a South Bend "Black Beauty" 5/6 flyrod that she got as a Christmas gift many years ago.

"Well, it's going to depend on what weight of rod you have. You've got a 5/6, right?"

"I think so . . ."

"Well, I'd get a 6 weight line, floating, weight forward. It'll be labeled as a WF6F. WF equals weight forward, 6 is the weight, and the last F is for floating."

"Ok, let me write this down somewhere."

"Would you like me to come with you?"

"That'd be even better."

So, I found myself headed out to pick up a new flyline, some backing and some bugs. My wife and daughter came along as well, making a family affair of the afternoon. We picked up an inexpensive line, some 40 pound for backing, and a few poppers. Instead of hitting the river, I took her out to my favorite bluegill pond, where there's some good open area to learn in, without too much danger to self and others, save for the occasional trimming of the grass with a low back cast.

We rigged up in the small parking area. I managed to amaze myself by remembering how to tie a nail knot, and doing it fairly successfully, only pulling the knot clear of the line once. I handed her a barbless Foam/Flash wasp and showed her how to tie an Improved Clinch.

We headed down to the water, and I made a few false casts to show the general idea of rod position, speed, etc. Now, I'm certainly no expert, or even decent, but I can get enough line on the water to catch a fish or two. She hadn't seen me cast since a year or so ago, soon after I had taken up the fly rod.

"Wow Jase, you cast a lot better than I remember!"

"I've had a little practice," I smiled.

She took her first tentative casts, with a plethora of spin fishing casts habits showing themselves.

"You need to let the line cast the fly, not try to use the fly to cast the line."

"Faster isn't better."

"Keep your back cast up!"

All the usual things. She's very much a do-it-yourselfer, so with a few more points and suggestions, I left her to her own devices. I lent a word or two of advice as it was asked, but after an hour or so of flogging the water, she began to slow down, and was laying out 15-20 feet of line with decent regularity.

I had started out fishing a wasp as well, but quickly switched over to a Marabou Miss, as the sun was still high in the 5 o'clock sky. I managed a few fish off the tight edges of the lily pads, or deep in the water column, much to the joy of my daughter. Fish fascinates her, whether they're swimming in a tank, playing at the end of Daddy's line, or sitting, in cracker form, on her plate. She pets the fish gently, feeling the dorsal fin, tail, and sides. She gets a bluegill "kiss" on the forehead and giggles joyously.

It's time for the little one to eat dinner, so she and Mommy head home to get some dinner. As the audience drives off up the road, the "serious fishing" begins. We move up the shore towards the deep end of the pond, where the duckweed has piled up under the influence of gentle winds. I begin to pull some smaller bluegill from under the foliage, holding tight to the bank. I can sense the frustration growing in my mother-in-law, and frustration and fishlessness are big killers to the learning process when it comes to fishing. I head up the shore, a second Marabou Miss in my hand.

"I'll get one, don't worry."

"Well, give this fly a try. It's pretty good."

"Aren't you catching yours on this fly I've got on?"

"Nope, I changed mine about an hour ago. Everything 've got came on a similar fly to this."

"And you didn't tell me?"

"I wanted to make sure you were comfortable casting, before I gave you a fly with some weight to it." I wink at her as I say it. "Just cast this out like the other fly, you'll need to change your cast a bit. Let the fly sink down and then twitch it back. Keep an eye on where the line goes through the weeds."

I hadn't got back to my spot when I heard a "Got one!" from behind me. Good.

We worked around the shoreline, catching 'gills of various sizes. Something was rolling under the foam by the outflow of the pond. I dropped the fly through the greenery, and let it settle to the bottom. Twitch…twitch. Smack, and a quick drop. Lift the fly to cast and just as it breaks out of the surface film, the dark water boils and the line goes tight. The line shoots through my fingers as the fish rushes up the shoreline. I put some pressure on and it swings out towards deeper water, cutting and diving. Every time the fish gets near the surface, weed growth rolls away as he heads back down into the depths. I hold the butt of the rod up near my chest, and each run is accompanied by the metallic music of the reel seat playing against the hemostats hanging from my vest. Finally, a bug bull 'gill, speckled green with duckweed, comes to hand. Well, to thumb, as he's too fat to wrap my hand around easily. The fly backs out easily and he slides into the water.

We work up the far bank, where fish have been splashing through a thinner film of weeds, under the overhanging trees. A few of the trees are spaced far enough apart that a short roll cast can flip the fly out, and an eye is glued to the vanishing mono leader, waiting for the sudden twitch, stop, or redirection that says fish.

The 'gills are smaller in here, but thick in numbers. We lose count of the fish to hand as the sun dips behind the banked hill on the far side of the pond. This is the time when the lily pads and the "cove" tend to get active. I make a quick circuit around the pond, losing my fly to an unknown dweller, hidden away beneath the matted green leaves.

Tie on the wasp again, and flip it out over the deeper water. A few short tugs and the water boils, back where the fly should be. Tension, and a metallic hen bluegill strains against the rod. Copper and silver flashes boil behind the fly as I repeat the scene, time and again. We fish into the dark, until I have to pull out a flashlight and still strain my eyes to guide the 4# tippet through the crowded eye of a #12 Royal Trude. A few fish fall victim to the Trude, and we head back up to the car.

"I can't wait to try this on the river! This is such a blast! I think I'm getting the hang of it."

Another angler pulled into this world of feathers and fur, brightly colored lines, and the song of a screaming reel. I may have created a monster, her last words before we leave are, "Man, I'd love to catch a salmon on one of these!" ~ Jason

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