Blanketing opinions that I'll probably regret soon.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

The Hoity Toity Aspect of Fly Fishing

I first learned to fish at age three from my grandfather's lap. God, that sounds cliché but it's entirely true. He taught me to fish the simple way: with a minimum of pomp and circumstance and the bare essentials in equipment --- just enough to hook 'em, land 'em and eat 'em.

My grandfather rarely switched spots while fishing --- something that's foreign to most fishermen who do more moving than actual fishing, on an impatient quest to find the largest beast in the pond. As a kid, if I'd suggest we move to another spot where the fish might be biting better, he'd respond with, "Son, same water over there as right here." And there we'd sit all day whether they were biting or not.

Our method was always bottom fishing or with a bobber using worms or minnows as bait (no artificial lures) --- the type of angling that takes hours of patience because you just sit, watch and wait. If we wouldn't catch anything all damn day, there'd be no complaining or disappointment. As they say, it's called "fishing" not "catching."

But modern fly fishing, with its circus of over-priced high tech gear, Ralph-Lauren-esque clothing (something called "Orvis"), and $800-dollar rods, reels and poles, detracts from something that was ingrained in me about fishing since I was a child.

But last week I got vindication for what my grand dad had taught me in the decades before he died back in 1997.

Two of the best fishermen I know --- my father-in-law and brother-in-law (both named Bob, "the Bobs") --- are avid fly fishermen. They know a hundred times what I do about the craft and I love learning my way around a fly rod with them. I'm getting better with each outing with the Bobs.

But their associated gear is astounding: hundreds of $3 to $5 hand-tied flies; fake frogs and even mice; puffy expensive vests with endless pockets and jangly things hanging everywhere; stained wood-handled nets with special mesh that doesn't harm the fish when scooped out of the water; chest-high rubber boots; special oil that makes the fly stay afloat; hats with elongated brims to keep the sun off your neck; and endless colors of special line. I joked that the only thing needed would be lasers to help find fish but realized it's nearly true; Bob Senior found a laser pointer in a magazine that measures water temperature and was considering buying it!

I also haven't gotten used to the catch-and-release part of fly fishing, which seems to be the rule with most fly fishermen. When I fish, I eat what I catch 85% of the time. Isn't that the freakin' point?

Last week the Bobs had left at 7AM for a fishing hole down the road while I was sleeping. When I woke up, I grabbed a beat-up 1960s rod out of the shed with a mangled cork handle and an old-style spincast reel (right) that wouldn't let the line out more than 30 feet. A Snoopy rod would've been a higher quality piece of gear. My worms had died in the sun the previous day so I grabbed a single lure and headed out.

When I arrived at the hole, the Bobs were whipping their rods back and forth over the deep part of a spillway off a rural road here in northern Michigan. Fish of all sizes were visibly swimming lazily in the greenish-clear water.

"Catch anything?", I called, but received disappointed shakes of the head from both Bobs. They'd been casting over this water hole full of fish for an hour without a single decent catch.

So I started casting. I'd throw my line out until the half-broken reel forced the lure to lurch mid-air and fall to the water. Then I'd drag the lure across our spot, but the fish didn't seem interested. About 10 casts in, I got an idea to try an old method.

I asked the Bobs if they had a simple fishhook --- one without an artificial fly attached to it. Despite all their gear, neither of them had this simplest piece of equipment. So I proceeded to disassemble my lure and remove the treble hook. Once the bare hook was off, I waded out and went hunting for crawdads under the trees that had fallen into the creek about 30 yards away.

Catching crawdads takes a bit of skill and is not for the squeamish. They live under logs and rocks in creeks --- the same place where snakes reside. When you lift a fallen log, the mud clouds the water. Then, after the muddy water has cleared, the tiny lobsters appear. And those things are quick! The best technique is to slowly move your hand underwater toward them and snatch them up when your fingers are inches away. If you begin your grabbing thrust any further away, the crawdad will sense the push of water and scoot away and back under a log. Also, the little crustaceans pinch the shit out of your hand once you've got 'em.

I hooked the live crawdad through the underside of its tail and tossed his ass into the fishin' hole. The small fish weren't interested because the bait was too big for their mouths, but the big Bass lurking nearby took an immediate interest and attacked my bait. Two of the biggest fish were actually fighting over it! I was too anxious and jerked the hook, and the crawdad fell off.

After stirring around in the muddy undersides of a few more fallen logs, I snatched another flipping, pinching crawdad and hooked him on for another go-'round. It was like I was throwing popcorn to my hungry beagles. The fish were just ravenous, snapping at my crawdad. I was soon pulling in big fish after big fish while the Bobs watched in awe, all their expensive gear, actionless.

Don't get me wrong, I love to go fly fishing and the Bobs are two of my favorite people to fish with. They love the sport every bit as much as I do and are damn good at it. Hell, in some places, I KNOW they'd out-catch me every time. But this is my one time where hunting and gathering outperformed the most sophisticated technology.
OK, I need to go and buy my fishing license ASAP.
There is no doubt that fly anglers will be outfished by live bait anglers nearly every time. No doubt at all.

There are those of us, though, that would rather throw a fly all day than to fish with live bait? Not sure, but for me its the enjoyment of the challenge rather than just the gathering of food. Ice fishing? All bets are off. Shove the rusty trebel hook just under the spine of the live shiner and let it flop around at the end of a line to get eaten.

Either way - if you're enjoying fishing, then thats what matters.
Again, I love to fly fish and it does take more skill than most other fishing, but sometimes I like to get back down to the basics and catch big fish fast the old way.

Also, the Bobs catch plenty of fish at other times via fly rod. I'm not knocking that.
I realized it may have sounded like I was offended. I'm definitely not.

I've been called much worse things than a fly angler, thats for sure! Like "Look at that crazy guy down there standing next to the ice waving the big long stick!" heard out of the mouth of a young child last February when I was fishing for smallmouth in the local river.

Seriously, as long as you're fishing and enjoy it, do it whatever way makes you happy. I didn't think you were knocking Fly fishing at all - just that you were saying what some fly anglers just don't get - its not always the right tool for the job or the be all to end all to fishing.
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