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Christmas Candy, Compliments Tim and Andy
By Joe Hyde, Douglas County, KS

There was always the chance it could happen. I know myself well enough by now that at the outset I feared it might happen. Now I wonder if it actually has happened.

Have I become a fly rod tramp?

Between March of 2004 when Rick Zieger's panfishing stories in FAOL motivated me to buy a longer fly rod - a mere 21 months ago, mind you - between then and November of 2005 I've bought three new fly rods. One of those I gave to a buddy as a gift, the other two I still have 'em and use 'em.

I was doing just fine with two rods. They've helped me catch lots of pannies and brought me lots of fun. Which had me thinking that I was done with rod-buying; I felt confident the urge was under control. I was doing fine, that is, until I rose to take a couple of FAOL Bulletin Board "presentations" - threads discussing the use of 1-wt. and 2-wt. fly rods for panfish.

And it wasn't just Jim Hatch and those short, light rods he employs in swamp wars with monster redear sunfish. No, also setting the hook in me were comments posted by Bulletin Board regulars Beedleech, Angler Dave, Eight Thumbs, Billknepp, Royal Wulff, Jeremy, EdD...the list is long. It's tempting to "blame" the above for what transpired over the Christmas holiday, but really, it was my own doing.

My problem, if you want to call it that (and someone should) is that I can't get enough of the fight put up by a good bluegill. And I love the now strong/now weak fight of a crappie. I'm also getting addicted to the bitter struggles of red ear, and the smashing hit and hard runs of green sunfish. Understand: it's exciting enough just being on the water searching for these fish, finding them, feeling the hits, boating them, cleaning and eating them. But for me the heart of it is the battle. So after going into action in March of 2004 with a new 9-ft. 4-wt. rod, then dropping down to a 9-ft. 3-wt., followed in 2005 by a softer action 8-ft. 3-wt, it still felt many times like I was over-gunned for my intended quarry.

I can buy food in grocery stores; I won't starve to death if a few panfish manage to get away per trip. And normally I don't take home more than two dozen fish. So I asked myself, why not go even lighter on my rod and terminal tackle? Give all these fish a better chance to flex their muscle and escape the skillet? If they make me look and feel like an idiot with a 2-wt. rod, well, I've had practice with a 3-wt.

It was sobering, though, that the first 2-wt. fly rod I touched costs $500. Then and there I almost abandoned the hunt. But FAOL's Bulletin Board soon bolstered my spirits with occasional threads in which various people mentioned 2-wt. rods of good quality that are easier on a poor boy's wallet.

Being basically agreeable to losing more fish but not lots of fish, I settled on a 2-wt. rod. Entering Cabela's fly shop in Kansas City, KS in hopes of finding one to examine, I ran into Tim, a salesman there who's helped me many times before. Tim showed me a two piece Cabela's Clear Creek 2-wt. (a rod whose existence I'd learned about thanks to EightThumbs on the Bulletin Board). Wow, did this rod feel great in my hand. After giving it a few test wiggles I put it back in the rack and left the store, allowing memories of the rod's feel to work on my mind. Decisions like this take time.

A couple of days later I returned, mind made up, intent on buying the rod. Tim wasn't on duty now but Andy was. I walked to the rack and picked up the rod in question, moved to a safe spot and began waving it gently with its butt held in against my stomach - the best way to gauge a rod's spine. Again, the rod felt great. Another customer came in. Since I already knew what I was buying I suggested to Andy that he take care of the incoming guy; I was good. I set the 2-wt. back in the rod rack and waited.

When Andy returned, I mentioned how lucky I'd been that the shop had a 2-wt. rod on display two days earlier. I turned just then, and standing there on a rotating floor rack was another rod that looked to be a 7-ft. Clear Creek 2-wt. I picked it up to show Andy that he has more than just one 2-wt. rod to show folks. But reading this second rod's markings, I saw it wasn't a 2-wt. It was a 7-ft. Clear Creek rod, all right, except this was a 1-wt. It was the first 1-wt. fly rod I've ever seen on the hoof. Carrying it to an open area in the shop, I began gingerly test-waving it.

Lord, have mercy...

What's a guy supposed to do when he's already got a date lined up with Miss America and out of nowhere Miss Universe calls him saying she ain't got nothin' goin' on Saturday night, either? Both are super sweet, both have these curves that move exactly how you like curves to move. So I spent the next 15 minutes carefully comparing each rod's flex, imagining as best I could the thrilling, protracted battles I'd be fighting no matter which rod I selected.

The 1-wt. was definitely more flexible, choosing it would constitute a leap of faith in my use of lightweight tackle. That gamble held strong appeal; at the same time, I needed to balance this bit of daring by considering not just the occasional hog bluegill but also the 9-to-12 inch crappies I would certainly encounter come spring of 2006. Thoughts of crappie in particular had me doubting the wisdom of choosing the 1-wt. rod. Maybe the 2-wt., as I'd initially intended, would be best?

Andy was standing beside me, silent but alert, like a red-tailed hawk on a telephone pole crossbar.

Wave-testing first the 1-wt. then the 2-wt., then the 1-wt. again, over and over, favoring first one then the other, my brain was beginning to fog up. I began mumbling to each rod, talking to them, silently at first, then out loud: "You are so fine" I told the 1-wt. while gazing again at its slow, deep, smooth flex, "but eventually I do want to LAND the fish?"

"No you don't," Andy broke in. His refutation burned through my fog like a laser beam, cutting to the heart of the matter.

That's the plain truth, I had to concede: I DON'T want to land the fish. What I want is to better enjoy the thrill of fighting it, I want to extend those tension-packed moments spent bringing in each fish. Andy clarified the whole issue for me in just three words, and he said it right.

And yes, I DO want to land the fish; a big part of me always wants to do that. But an equal part of me doesn't need the victory, not all the time, not in order to have a good time. I'm willing to surrender more advantages to each fish I hook.

Long story short, I left the shop owning the 1-wt. rod. It's now outfitted with a reel, backing, WF-2-F (yes, I overlined, and don't ask why because I'm not sure it was the right thing to do). I'll also be using a 7 -ft. 6X leader; I feel a leader with only 3-lb. test breaking strength is necessary to protect this fragile rod in combat.

What will this spring's fishing be like for us fly fishers? For me, having this new outfit in my canoe will sure make things different. No doubt I'll lose more fish than before, and each time I lose one I'll be angry, I'll be happy, I'll be thrilled, I'll be tortured.

Billy and Betty Bluegill don't know it yet, but for me they just became Mr. and Mrs. Moby Dick. Every time we cross paths, if they should bang me up in the process of getting free I'll survive, too, and it won't be the end of the story. ~ Joe

About Joe:

From Douglas County, Kansas, Joe is a former municipal and federal police officer. In addition to fishing, he hunts upland birds and waterfowl, and for the last 15 years has pursued the sport of solo canoeing. On the nearby Kansas River he has now logged nearly 5,000 river miles while doing some 400 wilderness style canoe camping trips. A musician/singer/songwriter as well, Joe's 'day job' is with the U.S. General Services Adminstration.

Joe at one time was a freelance photojournalist who wrote the Sunday Outdoors column for his city newspaper. Outdoor sports, writing and music have never earned him any money, but remain priceless activities essential to surviving the 'day job.'

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