Lighter Side

What is life if there is not laughter? Welcome to the lighter side of flyfishing! We welcome your stories here!
February 16th, 2003

The Greatest Fool Theory
By Scott Alexander Burrell, Washington, DC

I find fly fishing exceedingly maddening and thoroughly frustrating in, of course, the most pleasant way. By that I mean back casts caught in trees, flies hooked in the crick of your knee, and tippet material with its own mind annoy but pale in comparison to, say, traffic jams, Saturday chores, or Larry King interviews.

I recently ruminated on these little irritations as I endured what I considered the most exasperating-bugs, bugs everywhere and not a single rise. I could catch fish, I told myself, if I just knew where they were. I was fishing for only the second or third time a broad, flat tailwater in Pennsylvania without out much in the way of bends, banks, or structure to direct me. So I dutifully cast to this spot and that while caddis literally poured off the water. As my ire rose and my concentration waned, I began to consider some of these little frustrations.

  • That little, tiny, miniscule, confounded piece of thread or hackle or elk hair that thwarts the tippet from a smooth penetration of the hook eye. The one that no combination of poking or prodding seems to fix. The one that disappears each time you hold the fly up to the sky to try and get a beat on the little bugger . . . or

  • Snagging your fly, though I am not talking about when you are trying to sling a back handed curve cast to a tight lie underneath the rhododendron. I mean snagging it when you weren't even really fishing like when you're trying to move upstream or get into position. Maybe you just made a little flick to set up a roll cast or. . . ugh.

  • When your fly line gets caught in those little metal doodads that are supposed to link your gravel guards to your boot laces. Mine have never hooked the boot laces, but have consistently hooked my fly line. In a small victory, I took a scissors to them last week.

  • That deep pool with one slender stick right in the middle. Not a log that you'll put up with because it is cover but a mere stick that does nothing except grab your line and spoil the pool. These dastardlies tend to sway mockingly in the current -"Oh, I'll grab yer fly don't ya know it."

  • Fish that rise to your strike indicator.

  • When you concoct a perfectly good fish story but upon meeting up at the fish car your buddy proceeds to out lie you by a mile.

  • This was sort of a running start at a comprehensive list of exasperations that I might one day compile into a General Theory of Angling Annoyances, but that for now solidly confirmed my initial suspicion that fish hugging the bottom during a prolific hatch is just about the most galling thing in angling-I dubbed this a Lead Belly Episode. This little exercise occupied my mind just long enough to begin hearing a slurp here and a splash there. Though the number of bugs in the air had now decreased dramatically, the fish had begun to rise and I happily settled in for what I expected to be some fine action.

    I began to cast my size 16 tan caddis pattern just upstream from the rise forms. I got good drifts and though fish continued to feed none rose to my fly. I added a size 18 CDC emerger on a dropper and then a size 16. I changed the entire rig to green then back to tan. I replaced the CDC emerger with a floating pupa. Then I tried the rig in cinnamon and gray. I extend my leader and went to 7X tippet. I tried for the trout off the tip of the boulder and the one under the overhanging branches. I tried for several right in the main current. I made a final set of ten casts. Then I gave myself ten more. Completing these I reeled in, hung my head, and started for the parking area where my wife was scheduled to pick me up. Recognizing now a slight chink in my earlier pronouncement that a Lead Belly Episode constituted the most frustrating occurrence in the sport, I declared rising fish that refuse each and every solicitation (also know as the Herb Tarlek Phenomenon) as the most aggravating.

    I fervently clung to this proposition for the entire walk back. It wasn't until I reached the parking area and saw several fish rising that I performed another flip flop declaring as the worst a forced exit from the stream (which I later defined as the Streetlight Axiom in an ode to childhood when the illumination of the streetlights marked curfew).

    In one last, vain attempt at satisfaction, I unhooked the caddis from the keeper and slung a half-hearted cast in the general vicinity of the risers. Like a cruel smirk, a trout rose to my fly and I missed it. Given that I had already waffled on three previous proclamations, I easily modified my opinion elevating to the number one spot this latest frustration, dubbed the Tom Veryzer Antecedent (Mr. Veryzer being a whiff prone middle infielder for my hometown Tigers).

    On the drive home, I contemplated these vexations, my various theories and formulae, and my chronic squishiness concluding that getting shut out, whatever the root cause, had to be the paramount disappointment-the Horse Collar Corollary.

    Then (and shame on you if you didn't see this coming) I threw it all out the window for during my latest round of angling I encountered the literal apex of annoyance, the sine qua non of irritation, the piscatorial fingernails on the chalkboard, a distraction so perturbing that it nearly drove me from the stream. Last time fishing, I encountered, honest to bees, a bird whose song mimicked exactly the ring of my cell phone. Of all the sounds one wishes to avoid on stream-one's spouse's voice, one's boss's footsteps, one's children's baying-none could be more irritating and unpleasant than the one I encountered that rueful day.

    While this threw into complete chaos my distillation of the Lead Belly Episode, the Herb Tarlek Phenomenon, the Streetlight Axiom, the Tom Veryzer Antecedent, and the Horse Collar Corollary into any sort of General Theory of Angling Annoyance, it did lead directly to the Bad Day Fishing Postulate. This postulate holds (how did I miss it despite seeing it on so many bumper stickers and gimme hats) that just being on the stream beats the pants off nearly anything else. ~ Scott Alexander Burrell

    2004 Scott Alexander Burrell

    Lighter Side Archive


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