Welcome to Warmwater Fishing!

Back Into The Fire
By Joe Hyde, Douglas County, KS

People who have a difficult time recuperating from feeling and looking like a complete idiot should stay miles away from fly fishing. But how can they know this in advance? Everything looks so easy on TV, or as presented in training videos and Hollywood movies. Fly casting appears incredibly elegant, it's physical poetry. Nimrods see someone doing it right and think, "Hey, I might like to try that myself."

It would help if the TV shows and videos told the full story, that fly rodding is indeed a beautiful and effective form of catching fish but it also, without warning, can crush a person's ego like a peanut shell on a barroom floor and grind your spirit to dust with nary a single warning bump or bruise preceding the psychic violence.

I learned that much while struggling with my first fly rod, an 8-ft. 5/6-wt. Over the years, I dropped progressively lighter in rod weight yet the lessons in humility continued. A 7 -ft. 3 wt. was the second rod to show me the truth. The 9-ft. 4-wt. I bought next couldn't save me from the typical humiliations; neither could the 9-ft. 3-wt. that I replaced the 4-wt. with. Throwing an 8 -ft. 3-wt. next, my capacity for self-inflicted disaster was undiminished. The 7-ft. 1-wt. I bought after that hasn't shielded me from despair, either.

I see one thing clearly now and have accepted it as fact: no matter which rod my right hand holds there will be times each trip when I look and feel like an absolute, complete fool.

"Times each trip?" What am I saying? There have already been whole TRIPS where I made so many mistakes I looked and felt like a complete idiot all day long. I've come to accept this possibility as a normal state of affairs, and that isn't fatalistic resignation: I don't like accepting it, but I accept it anyway. So much about fly fishing is simply beyond one's physical and intellectual control, totally out of our hands.

Fly fishers learn the more times they go out that there's a certain way you want your fly rod to look in action. We each have an intuitive sense of how we want our rod to feel, too, whether it's during casting or while engaged fighting a fish. These desired looks and feels are individual, personal things.

Because I primarily go out after bluegill (anything else that hits is icing on the cake) I quickly learned that - for me - a 4-wt. rod is too much of a good thing. For the most part, so are 3-wt. rods. For me, that is. The only solution was to go lighter. And so I recently bought a 7-ft. 1-wt. thinking while I handed over my money that this would end the discussion.

It didn't. If anything the 7-ft. 1-wt. heightened my confusion. Its shortness made the rod feel stiff. The weird thing is, it didn't feel stiff at all in the showroom, but it sure did out on the lake. Also, I discovered that during false casting its short length necessitates greater stroke speed. More stroke speed means more effort must be expended, plus more false casts are needed to get the fly delivered. With the extra "air time" come more opportunities for me to botch a casting step; also, the wind is given more time to gust and blow my fly someplace I don't want it to go.

So I began searching anew for a panfish rod that delivers quick and easy short casts while its greater length enables that thrilling limberness of action I see in my mind's eye. With five rods to show for this quest so far, I commenced another tiring round of on-line research. Then I test cast two promising new rods. Last, I solicited advice from FAOL Bulletin Boarders. Finally, I just squeezed my eyes shut and trusted that my many fishing experiences feeling and looking like an idiot would see me through.

The rod I settled on is the Sage 7'10" 3-piece 00-wt., billed as the world's lightest weight fly rod, lighter even than the 0-wt. rod Sage introduced just a few years ago. I test cast the 0-wt. first and it has a wonderful feel, so I was torn between which rod would function and feel best to me once I was actually out there fishing.

What finally tipped the scale in the 00-wt.'s favor was self-knowledge. I've been around the block with myself enough times that I knew if I bought the "heavier" 0-wt. I would forever be nagged by thoughts of how much more fun those bluegills might have been if I'd just had the guts to drop down to that last, lightest possible rod. Buying the world's lightest fly rod was my way of silencing this second-guessing before it had a chance to start.

Still, the very idea of using extreme ultralight fly rods like the 1-wt, 0-wt. or 00-wt. does tend to make sensible people nervous. I'm not immune: I was definitely on edge the more that I focused in on buying either the 0 or the 00-wt. Even Ned, longtime salesman at K & K Fly Fishers in Kansas City, MO, who trusted me enough to let me take both the 0-wt. and 00-wt. rods outside and test throw them, I think he was nervous. (And let me say that I am grateful to K & K for having these rods in stock so that prospective buyers can give both a test feel.)

Ned, I knew, was only looking out for what he perceived are my best interests when he asked, "While you're catching all those bluegills, what'll you do if you tie into a really big bass?"

"Try to break him off, I guess," I shrugged, "Big bass are a nuisance fish to me."

Ned's face showed a quick, polite smile - the kind you'd give a man wearing hospital greens and a wrist bracelet if he wandered up and sat down next to you on a park bench.

It's now Purchase Day + 1 (Saturday, April 1st). And terribly sorry, Toto, but we're still in Kansas. Where I really wanted to be was over in beautiful Missouri giving this new "double ought" its baptism of fire at a city lake where an intelligence source two days earlier had reported 15-inch crappie moving into the mid-shallows. But then Murphy's Law struck: on Friday the Weather Service put high wind in the forecast for the whole weekend. For safety reasons those crappie were now out of the question: that lake is bordered by open terrain that gives small craft like my canoe no protection from high wind regardless of the direction. Sure, I could drive over there and be another "bank wart" casting a bobber and minnow. Better to postpone that Missouri trip until better weather, and break in the Sage by fishing familiar water at my regular lake. Snuggle my canoe back into the more protected spots and see what I can do.

After assembling and rigging the 00-wt., as eager as I was to try a marabou minnow for crappie I was more interested in verifying the rod's cast-ability. Tossing a 1-inch fluff of weightless yarn there on K & K's practice lawn was one thing; this lake in front of me now was the Real McCoy. The day I bought the rod, K & K spooled my reel with Sage 00-wt. line (specifically designed to match the rod). So in keeping with the combo's unique paired design, I felt my best casts would initially be accomplished if I went light on my choice of fly. But not too light: a Rick Zieger-tied #12 Pheasant Tail Nymph was therefore connected to the 7 -ft. 6X tapered leader. We would be fishing shallow today, shallow and slow.

Despite the high wind forecast (which by mid-day proved accurate) Saturday morning began with almost no wind, always a welcome thing. The daytime high was predicted to be 69 degrees. Thanks, but at 6:30 a.m. it was 35 degrees lakeside and after launching my fingers were getting cold fast.

They didn't stay cold.

On my third cast, which landed at the edge of a cluster of brush stalk stickups, the PTN was jolted by an 8-inch boss bluegill. I should have been paying strict attention to the new rod's feel and look, but I was just too happy to see such a nice 'gill coming to hand so I could put him on ice.

A few throws later I dropped the nymph quietly in the center of a C-shaped weedline pocket. Swimming it back out, my line gave a sharp twitch then began steadily moving away as the attacker confidently swam off. I lifted my rod and, uh oh, Mr. Big Somebody is knocking at the front door and he is NOT smiling.

Thanks to FAOL Bulletin Board poster DeathB4Disco, on Friday I'd read a series of articles by freelance fly fishing writer Bill Byrd regarding the tactical use of ultralight fly rods. His excellent articles convinced me that my longtime standard technique for fighting big fish - holding the rod tip high - is actually the least efficient way to tire the fish. So now with this stubborn whatever hooked, I took Mr. Byrd's advice and held the 00-wt. rod much lower, almost but not quite pointing directly it at the fish, so that the fish was fighting the rod's stronger butt section third instead of the weaker tip section third. I hadn't yet set my reel's drag to protect the tippet (as recommended) and this fish was not on the reel yet anyway, so it was only my tactile judgment pressing the line between my left thumb and index finger that controlled the payout of line during the first hard surge.

To my amazement, a very fine largemouth bass quickly rose to the top and surrendered without a jump. When I say "quickly," I mean this fish took the nymph, was whipped and led to the canoe, jaw thumbed and lifted on board, gently laid on my hull markers to establish its 16-inch length, then carefully returned to the water, the entire business taking no more than a minute's time. With this rod such quick victories will not happen every time, not with fish this size; I know that, but there was no denying it happened this time. I glanced quizzically at the rod, billed by its manufacturer as the lightest fly rod in the world, and wondered, "What have we got here?"

Not long after this bass, I lost the PTN to a snag then quickly lost another nymph. Here, I must sadly report, is one area where an ultralight fly rod works against you. Normally I will paddle over and try stubbornly to rescue a snagged fly. But remembering how many piggy bank nickels and dimes it had taken to buy this rod, the act of plunging its spaghetti-thin tip underwater to blindly feel for the snagged nymph...in the Olympics a dive so risky carries a Pucker Factor of 9.97. I got away with it a number of times Saturday, but that's enough of that nonsense for me. It stressed me out bad enough just buying this rod; after coming to my senses I feel no overwhelming need to again risk snapping its tip.

Maybe for cost reasons I'm closer to taking up fly tying than I thought.

With the wind still low but starting to pick up, I now went even lighter by knotting on a #14 Hare's Ear. No flashback version, just the basic HEN in a dark tan color. It cast very nicely, evidence to me that the 00 rod/line combo does its best work when teamed with tiny lightweight flies (#14 and smaller). Unfortunately, I didn't get to enjoy casting that #14 HEN very long. The first shot it took came from a stout fish that broke me off almost the same instant as the take. I went with another #14 nymph, this one light tan in color. A few casts back into that same zone and the second nymph got creamed. I lifted the rod and was into a very strong fish. I never saw it cleanly, but its longer body reflection and brute power shouted largemouth bass minimum 3 lbs. Definitely a bigger, heavier bass than the 16-incher I'd caught 15 minutes earlier. I used Mr. Byrd's low rod control again and was making good progress until the fish fled sideways and wrapped me around a submerged brush stalk. You don't hear a 3-lb. test tippet snap when it happens underwater.

This exhausted my supply of #14 HENs, much to my chagrin. I did have a modest number of #12 Pheasant Tail Nymphs, though - half of them store-bought, half Rick Z's. I no longer feared this rod exploding under pressure, so I relocated into the brushy area out at mid-arm and began probing its labyrinth of standing and submerged stalks. This is where I got into crappie, and they were good ones.

Here again, I wasn't paying much attention to the 00's action under stress; more it was being vaguely aware that my casts were getting out there okay despite the wind that was picking up. What mattered were those crappies. Wow! This is more like it! And 'gills, too; good ones. I left the lake with 13 crappies, each between 10 and 12-inches, and 8 bluegills between 6 and 8-inches.

So I don't know: I'd have to say that this 00-wt. rod is a much better fish-fighting tool than most people suppose. Better than I supposed, that's for sure. I was surprised and relieved because I'd come to the lake today dreading an encounter with a big bass. What I feared most had happened, not once but twice, and the rod didn't shatter. Thank you, DeathB4Disco.

Once a thing becomes your property you can feel stupid, even guilt-ridden, for acquiring it particularly if it's an expensive item. This rod and matching line together comprise the highest dollar purchase of fly tackle I've ever made, the highest I probably will ever make - the equivalent of a month's rent plus utilities. It's easy to interrogate yourself afterward, "What the hell was that about?"

Well, it's about bluegill, a fish I value as highly as most fly fishers value wild stream trout. And it's about possessing a rational mind. Because by having a rational mind, I'm somewhat adept at rationalizing my more questionable decisions. Check this out:

Prior to buying the rod, money worries were preying on my mind in a huge way. Then from out of nowhere came the recollection of a 4-day weekend date I had once, it was some time ago. Four day stay in a nice motel, gasoline expenses and four days of meals, and entertainment. When I totaled it up afterward, that one weekend date cost me very close to what this 00-wt. Sage with matching line cost.

If I could have that long weekend back, would I indulge in such an expensive date with that same woman? You bet I would, because she's a good person. So this is nothing against her whatsoever, but where that one long weekend date gives me pleasant memories from time to time I simply can't afford to keep doing it. Whereas this new fly rod purchase is a one-time event that will help deliver memory after wonderful memory from weekend to future weekend, good trips and bad trips, for as long as I own it and use it.

I'm just a fly rodding lightweight who loves catching gamefish lightweights. This occasionally makes me feel like, and look like, a complete idiot. But that's something I'm learning to live with. ~ 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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