Friday, May 27, 2016

On Canoes, Common Sense, and the Thinking of Murderous Thoughts

Earlier today, a meme came across my Facebook feed, which featured a woman's ample cleavage and read, "Sometimes understanding what a woman wants is very difficult. It's like trying to figure out what color, the letter seven, smells like." Usually, these things give me a little chuckle then I scroll on by and promptly forget them. This time, however, I had to stop for more than a moment as I was struck by both the extraordinary cleavage and the relevance of the words in light of something that happened on last weekend's float trip. No, I did not eat any psychedelic mushrooms or drink peyote tea before setting off downriver.

The meme touches on our understanding, or rather our lack of understanding, of those people who are not like us. Insofar as women go, I've been with my wife for some twenty three years, and I still haven't a clue. This may be a deliberate effort on her part, but I'll never know - she's smarter than I am. Insofar as fly fishing goes, we bug chuckers share our rivers with any number of other folks who aren't the least bit interested in fishing. Their lack of interest in things piscatorial is something of an enigma, but they are no less invested in the river for our lack of understanding.

More often than not, the various parties who make use of the river exist in harmony. Every once in a while though ... things just don't go so well.

In the video, that's me standing thigh deep in the run. I knew the flotilla was behind me somewhere so I moved as far out into the seam as I dared, making sure there was plenty of water behind me so the canoeists could proceed unimpeded. There was some 15 to 20 feet of water to my front and 75 or 80 to my rear.

I suppose it could be that I am just such a beautiful man these folks had to get as close to me as possible. Maybe it was the gravitational pull of my corpulent mid section. More likely I think, is the possibility that no one ever educated these folks on river etiquette, and this is where I erred.

Rather than stand there mute, fuming, and thinking murderous thoughts, I should have spoke up and gently rebuked them. Chances are good they just didn't know any better. I don't think any of the clerks or salesmen at Dick's Sporting Goods or L.L. Bean hand out pamphlets on river etiquette to customers who purchase a canoe or kayak.

Speaking up may create a little bit of tension, but only so much as is reflected in our tone. Rebuke them, but do so with the understanding that in a world whose people are increasingly removed from Mother Nature, this kind of thing is bound to happen. Understand that common sense is uncommon. Remember that we don't go to school because we know everything; we go to school because we don't. Be a wholesome person, and explain to the armada passing to your front that there is a better way of doing things.

Had I done that, the bug chucker fishing one mile downstream from us might have been saved just a little aggravation as McHale's Navy passed him by.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Anybody Can Hendrickson

Our first notable hatch of the season - the hendrickson hatch - seems to have ended more quickly than it began. Just a week or so ago, there were enough duns on the water to make henny stew if one was so inclined. This week, nothing.

For many bug chuckers - and I count myself as one of them - the hendrickson hatch reminds us of why we took up fly fishing. Hendrickson season is all about the dry fly and watching outsized fish come to the surface. Oftentimes, the hatch provides us with opportunities to catch our best fish of the year as the early season trout we encounter are both winter-hungry and winter-dumb. Fishing is easy; life is good.

And then the hatch ends, the world settles into its summer pace, and we're reminded that we're not river gods. We're mortal, and many of us are mediocre fishermen.

Truth be told, anyone can hendrickson. As the water warms and buds form on the trees, trout come out of their cold water lethargy and are almost always more eager than wary. They'll whack garish, articulated streamers. They'll swallow every pink worm and purple caddis in your box. They'll come up top to gulp hennies, ignore your flubbed casts, and eat your rusty spinner as it is dragged, cork screwing and rooster tailing across the pool. All that nonsense ends as the hatch wanes, and march browns and sulphurs take the stage.

It's hardly a coincidence that social media witnesses a marked decline in hero shots and keep 'em wet photos as May turns to June. Rivers drop and clear, trout aren't quite so famished or eager as they were only a month before, and the fishing is markedly more difficult. The only way to be successful is to change tactics, and bug chuckers can be awfully resistant to change.

In a way, I'm kind of glad to see the hennies come and go. I'm in the mood for a challenge, the kind that leaves me scratching my head, perhaps even leaves me without another amateurishly composed keep-em-wet photo. Hennies don't leave you scratching your head; they don't leave you without photos. Hendricksons leave you thinking you've got it all figured out,    

Sunday, May 1, 2016

On Finding Noses and Growing Older

Ben and I recently spent a day floating the river in hopes of finding a snout or two looking skyward. We weren't disappointed, but we were a little rusty. Of a half dozen opportunities, we converted on two. Such is fishing, and as you almost certainly know - the fish we miss are the ones that keep us coming back.

The two fish we brought to hand were not, however, the most notable part of the trip. Somewhere along those first few river miles, in between the boat launch and the first trout willing to take a swipe at my hendrickson, I had a thought - not a wholly unusual experience in and of itself, but strange given its context.

I wanted to hook a trout. I wanted the thrill of out-sized noses, tight to the bank or in a foamy seam, to materialize from the ether and swallow our poorly tied bugs. I wanted long casts and tight lines. I wanted some affirmation that after a combined four decades of near continual practice, Ben and I were competent bug chuckers, able to get the job done.

With as much in mind, we loaded the cars with one cooler, two boats, four oars, five rods, twelve beers, somewhere in the vicinity of 1500 flies (we fished five or six all day), and at least 6000 calories worth of roast beef and egg salad sandwiches. We actually took the time to wash thermal underwear and patch our leaking waders. We drove one hour to the take-out and another 15 minutes to the launch. We left business unattended and cashed in collateral with our wives. All that, and somewhere after we launched but before that first fish, I was struck by the notion that it wasn't the fish we were really after.

Read any book that touches on fly fishing, at least any older book that touches on fly fishing (which means no Kindle editions are likely available), and you're sure to see a similar thread woven into the fabric of the text. Fly fishing is so much more than hooking, playing, and landing a trout. As corny and hackneyed as it may sound, fly fishing is about the experience of a day spent riverside.

I remember once attending a lecture and slide show - on nymphing techniques, I think - given by Joe Humphreys. I was eager to hear what so talented and recognized an angler might have to say, but truth be told, so many years have passed between then and now that I remember nothing the noted bug chucker had to say about fishing a nymph. There is, however, one nugget that for whatever reason left an indelible impression. Humphreys implored his audience to "look up."

At the time, I either had no idea what Humphreys was talking about or I dismissed it as so much romantic nonsense, but nearly twenty years after the fact I am struck by his words. "Look up," he said. Look away from the water, and look to the trees. Look to the sky, to the birds, to the sunset or the sunrise. Look to the world around you, all those things that have become cliche in the sport's literature, and above all else - look to your friends and fishing partners. Take it in. Take it all in.

We were floating a beautiful piece of water on a genuinely beautiful spring day. If only for a moment, we were free of the stress and worry life often heaps on us in abundance. We were concerned, or rather unconcerned, with something that in the grand scheme is nothing but a trifle: finding a rising trout and coaxing it into taking one of our flies.

I don't know why, maybe it's a consequence of having caught my share of fish or the result of growing older and realizing I've more years behind me than are likely ahead, but somewhere after the boat launch and well before I hooked that first trout, I looked up from the water and realized my being there was enough. Sharing a river with my friend was enough. Sharing hope was enough.