January 26th, 2004

The Premiere OnLine Magazine for the Fly Fishing Enthusiast.
This is where our readers tell their stories . . .

One Man Team Event

By Capt. Paul Darby (qrrfish1)

There's a certain comfort to be found in old things, that hat that finally fits just right after a few floats. Old Dogs that seem to understand that just one more cast it is an innocent lie, that all to soon turns true. But this ain't about old things, well not completely anyway. Like good whisky most fly fishing stories are a blend of the old and the new. For most of us our first real challenge with a fly rod comes in our younger days. Between childhood innocents and the arrogance of pre-reality, making a living. Then there's that group of folks who come to the sport of fly fishing later in life. Those who put it off to the back burner well into the years of middle age, and this is just one such story.

There's really no way for a guide to know how any given trip is going to turn out. Sure, we all try and thumb the scale of fate in favor of our charges, but to be honest, I've learned to never discount the value of plain ole dumb luck, when it comes to fishing. With pale moonlight silhouetting the dream craft of the more affluent in the marina stable, smoke rose from the boat launch area as Larry cursed and coaxed life out of the second or possibly third-hand outboard.

"Where there's smoke there's hope in outboard terms" at least that's what it sounded like he said. One thing was certain, the tone of relief was unmistakable in his voice. We were going fishing after all, and hope has a great deal to do with that.

Being a person of some responsibility, Larry informed me of his time limit for the evening and so I opted for one of the more promising destinations for tonight's quest. Shallow water, white sand bottom, a soft light illuminating a good strike zone and with just a bit of luck the guest of honor would be in a cooperative mood.

Having achieved our destination I entreated Larry to deploy the anchor, and while the devise itself was an appropriate size, a length of chain attached was of such proportion that the likes of which would surely have caused the HMS Queen Mary to list peerlessly.

With an amusing flare of pride in ownership, this fly fishing neophyte armed himself with his weapon of choice. Liberated from a hall closet came a complete $39.95 K-Mart Combo to challenge the best the evening had to offer. It wouldn't be a long wait. With the confident touch of someone whose entire fly fishing career consisted of subduing a single bluegill, he began his quest.

Employing a technique not to be found in Lefty's Little Books of Wisdom, Larry brought his full prowess to bear testing the limits of his skill and equipment. To say nothing of pushing me to rediscover moves I had not called upon since my childhood days on the dodge-ball court. Yes, I was in the presents of a true master of "The double dip," were a fly is seemingly presented in two remote locations at the same time one hundred and eighty degrees apart, confusing both prey and patron's alike. He had indeed perfected the art of turning flycasting into a one-man team event.

With the final breaths of wind fading to mark the close of day, shadows began to appear under the glow of the dock lights. The cycle of life pulsing on the flats is not confined to the daylight hours. Faint silhouettes cruising along the bottom, mullet, trout, sheephead and a bit further off, a lone redfish. Just as we were drawn to the lights, so were the rest, prey and predator alike.

The first duty of a guide is to be vigilant, constantly aware of those in their charge and of the environment, monitoring for both hazard and opportunity. Therefore it came as no surprise that Larry was first to spot a large mass of mullet entering the arena from the faint edges of the lights as I was to busy digging in my gear bag for who knows what. In general, mullet are not a cause for concern or even comment as they are considered vegetarians and not very prone to taking a fly without inducement or chum.

Mullet do however serve as unwitting accomplices to other game fish on the flats. Redfish and trout will at times travel in the company of mullet to prey upon dislocated crustaceans or other creatures as they root in the sand and vegetation on or near the bottom. Whether Larry was or was not keenly aware of that fact I cannot say; he is after all a fisherman by any stripe and thus allowed benefit of latitude in claims by others of our ilk.

With the mullet closing to his range, he drew on something from deep inside, obviously being indulged if not guided by the hand of the divine fisherman himself; he laid out a Hail Mary cast. The light refracting thru the mist from the arching line hung like a halo in the air. A quick glance to the front deck told me lighting had struck on a cloudless nite, and the fly had found its mark.

The rod bowed deep under the load, like a willow branch lifting an anvil. A rooster tail rose up, and startled mullet parted as something large and menacing took center stage and a test of wills had begun. You could almost hear the knots in the leader tightening as Larry stood his ground, straining against the shadow in the dark. "Your mine now sucker," he growled. A line that sent a chill down my spine by its well-practiced tone, and left no doubt. The taxman was here to collect. Mustering a facade of professional calmness, I suggested that he temper the death grip on the string restraining his quarry. His plastic pride turned into a screaming blur as yard after yard disappeared into the night.

Turning my concern to the task of raising the anchor and its generous chain, I took a misstep toward the transom, committing a prate fall onto the rear deck. A throbbing over my left eye was likely the reason I didn't notice the essence of life dripping down my left hand, from two cuts. With the rear deck nearly covered with rusty chain, I plundered for the landing net, which was hidden in the darkest corner.

Relocating it for fast access, the action on the front deck required immediate attention. From the tone of experlatives streaming off the front deck. I was struck that the very bowels of the nether world had opened up, placing us in imitate danger of becoming guests to the dark soul barbecue master. It was with scant relief I realized the cause for Larry's sudden reciting colorful terms of disappointment was nothing more than a slack line. A situation not unfamiliar to any stalker of the flats. Because when a fish turns on itself and charges an anglers' position, the line may relax. Not so the anxiety of the pursuer. Retrieving seventy-five yards plus on a reel better suited for duty as a sewing machine bobbin, is enough to test any angler. This however wasn't a seasoned flyfishing hand matching wits with just another fish. This was his first in saltwater and was proving to be a worthy adversary. The feverish winding of the reel stopped even tho the line came taught. It was now moving in a sweeping path back toward the dock. He managed to turn its head away from the barnacle laden piling, Larry was by no means controlling the fight, completing its full circle advance around the boat, backing found the trolling motor forgotten and protruding beneath the hull.

What earlier had been an aid for hot pursuit had become an obstruction. Scrambling for the draw string on the bracket I found myself contorted and straining to maintain balance while attempting to lift the motor, the whole while trying to explain to Larry that "Put your tip down" was actually fishing guide code language for PUT YOUR ROD TIP DOWN as in reverse the angle on your dangle, probe the depths, draw circles in the sand, I don't care which one you chose but do it now. With one foot hooked around the pedestal seat post and the trolling motor raised half way up I carefully groped in the dark for the fouled backing. With the line free again a voice came from the dock, "You fellas going to land that fish or just chase him around all night?" Yup we had at some point gained a cheering section, an elderly gentleman had come down the dock and was amusing himself by what must have appeared like a staged episode of the keystone cops go fishing. "Boys I ain't getting any younger over here." Came a voice from the dock "and sure would like to see what ya got" "So would I," Larry fired back over his shoulder.

Grudgingly inch by inch he begin to turn the tide of battle in his favor. New sensations and old skills combined to close the gap between Larry and the fish. More than a few trophy fish have been liberated in the final moments of being brought to hand or net. It became obvious to me that Larry was going to need some schooling in basic fish anatomy as he tried to back his catch into the net.

The resulting lapse of judgment and unfortunate positioning of the handle in my right hand, which was desperately over extended, was met with full distain, punctuated by a tail slap to the net that nearly sprained my wrist. The resulting pain that shot up my arm, caused some rather loosely chosen language to spring forth. And I admonished Larry to make a greater effort of arranging the beasts various parts in such a way as to encourage the pointy end toward the mesh mitt. Weight in the net is quite possibly the second most satisfying moment of a fly fishermen's experience. I'll leave to other more poetic minds to wax and wrangle with what occupies first place. But this was Larry's first.

His first saltwater fish on a fly, his first redfish on a fly. Outside the commonality fly fishing has to all other types of angling everything about it was a first. Ya, he'd come late to fly fishing but on this night and in this moment he was shining like a freshly minted penny. ~ Capt. Paul Darby


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