Thursday, May 31, 2012

Get Your Mungo Jerry On

Memorial Day marks the "unofficial" start of summer, but the recent weather pattern should be all the validation you need. Indeed, it's shorts and t-shirts and leave the waders at home time. It's fishing before and after work time. It's drink 'em fast before they get warm time. It's poison ivy and mosquitoes and get that God-Damned-mother-effin'-horsefly off me time. It's keep that six-weight rigged and a change of clothes in the truck, just in case time. It's lush green leaves and full forest floors time. It's brush-bustin' and snake jumpin' and tresspassin' 'cause they can't see you through the leaves time. It's leave the bobbers and suckerspawn and split shot at home and bring the biggest nastiest God-awful ruckus-makin' popper you've got time. It's put that popper under the tree and around the snag and on the far bank time. No, not just close, on the bank, time. It's hold your breath and strip time. Strip again... it's toilet flushin' time.

It's summer time, and the livin's easy.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

"What a long, strange trip it's been..."


Nearly 7 months ago, in what to that point had been just a friendly game of "Go Fish," I was dealt the Cancer Card seemingly out of the blue. At first I stumbled around in a haze of confusion, wondering what my move would be. When it became clear that nobody was going to take that card off my hand, I decided to borrow a line from Jerry Garcia and the Do-Dah Man, who "once told me you've got to play your hand... sometimes your cards ain't worth a dime if you don't lay 'em down."

So playing the hand I was dealt with a little help from my partners at the table, I faced it head-on and took a business-as-usual approach. Fishing when I could, never missing a day of work, and conceding rest when I needed it. The formula worked (we hope), and tomorrow will mark one full month since I rang the bell commemorating my last chemo treatment.

Finishing treatment seemed as good a reason as any to take a fishing trip, so the boys and I packed up and headed for the hills. Maybe it was just me, but this year the greens seemed greener, the brookies bigger and brighter, the food and drink a little more savory. On the Savage, a notoriously difficult river to wade, a fog crept over us like clockwork each day, bringing with it a quietness and opportunity for reflection. The smoky haze forced us to sharpen our focus and take it one step at a time, hoping that when it lifted there would be rising fish waiting for us.

The trip wasn't quite long enough - they never are - so as we hit the road for home Alex and I were already hashing out fishing plans for the rest of the week. Again, maybe it's just me and my rose colored glasses, but the bass seem bigger, more plentiful... and happier this year.

The carp on the other hand are just as ugly, slimy and downright tough to catch as they've always been.

For not being thought of as a fly fishing destination, I am constantly amazed at the quality and variety of fishing available to anglers in our region. One of my favorite parts of my job is sharing those opportunities with new anglers, and this summer we've been at it again with our fly fishing 101 and 201 classes. While there are plenty of windknots and tailing loops to sort out, there are moments that make it all worth it. Watching this little guy holding the oversized rod with both hands, laying out a perfect cast and then panting with excitement as he reeled in his first ever trout on a fly, was definitely one of them.

So the long, strange trip continues and gets more and more interesting as we go. To make sure of that, just as I was finishing up treatment my fiance decided it was a good time to buy a house. To be fair, I was warned of what this could mean, and in just over a month we've already experienced many of the "joys" of home ownership. This has cut into my fishing and blogging time a little bit, but is certainly nothing to complain about. There's a lot to look forward to as spring turns to summer in this part of the world. The carp may not be getting any prettier, but they should start eating a little better soon!

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Trout bummin'

Since my senior year of high school, the annual spring trip to Appalachia has become a highlight of my year.  Although the fishing in May along up and down the eastern United States is usually at its peak, the time spent with close friends and fishing partners is the real treat of the trip.  Our target destination has always been the infamous Penn's Creek of central Pennsylvania, but weather being what it can be this time of year, at times we've had to change plans and relocate elsewhere.  Last year our fallback option was the Delaware, and this year, it was the Savage in western Maryland.  When destinations like those are a "plan b," you're a pretty damn spoiled trout fisherman.

Early May thunderstorms forced us to bail on Penn's again; instead our group converged on the Savage with plans to rendezvous at a wonderful little cabin situated within casting distance of one of the best pools on the entire river. 

The Savage isn't what you'd expect for an eastern trout stream.  A steep gradient, and a uncountable number of large boulders make the creek difficult to wade.  Although the fish aren't as selective as fish on other famous eastern tailwaters, an inhospitable working environment for fisherman can certainly make it feel that way.

By late Sunday night, the crowd had arrived and shenanigans had started.  Although I've seen a lot of jerryrigged gear on fishing trips, this was the first time I'd ever seen a beer can used as a line winder. If this was any indicator of what was to come, we were certainly going to be in for a good trip.

Our group split up over the next few days and tried our luck all over the Savage, the North Branch of the Potomac, and many of the little brook trout streams that carve their way through almost every valley of the area.  Although an unexpected release doubled the flow that morning on our target tailwater, and thunderstorms surprised us with unexpected heavy rain, after some persistence we found what we were after.

The fishing weather wasn't perfect, and conditions were far from ideal - but that's fishing, and it's just the way fishing trips go sometimes.  I don't think there's very much "true adversity" to overcome in fly fishing, but as more and more gets stacked against you, the greater the reward is if you figure it out and fight through it.  The reward isn't always the same, though, and it seems like each day every one of us is after something different.  As much as fly fishermen get tired of hearing other fly fishermen talk about how "it's not just about the fish," it's funny how maybe days it really isn't.  At the same time, when it isn't the fish that I'm really after, pinning down the reasons why I fish is like trying to catch smoke.  They're always changing, and never the same.

Over those few days the fishing was clearly at its best from late morning through the middle of the afternoon.  As dinner time approached, the fish that had risen for the past few hours happily to blue quills and midges, seemed to disappear into nothing.  When you're standing knee deep making cast after cast, and drift after drift, that would have been eaten a couple hours ago going untouched it's pretty easy to find yourself at a loss for what to do next.  The fishing had been good for hours, but once it was over, dozens of rising trout and a couple miles of river seemed to have gone by entirely too fast.  By the time the sun was going down and we'd returned to my Jeep I was already wondering if I'd appreciated the day as much as I should have.  Maybe now, a week or so later, as I stare at the computer screen and try to put words down to accurately describe the trip, am I fully able to appreciate what it was like.  On the other hand, maybe the memories started yellowing around the edges the moment I stepped out of the water and started up the trail into the wood, and that moment of true appreciation is long past.

I guess the simple truth is that there are moments in fly fishing that are impossible to relive or to duplicate. Despite the countless hours and immeasurable effort spent trying, as they say, lightning never strikes the same place twice.  I think this is a good thing.  This lesson probably has a different meaning for everyone, but for me it's relatively simple.  On a river there are lots of little moments, each one is unique, and good or bad, isn't likely to happen again.  So instead of bailing on a drift early and looking back upstream to see where I'm going to cast next I'm going to do my best to make one more mend, and fish that drift out out to the bitter end.  Who knows - even as my fly starts to drag there might be a fish dumb enough to take a shot, and if I look away I'll never see that magic happen.