Thursday, November 27, 2008

The Rewards of Sticking it Out...

15 degrees, 30mph wind......Cold. There's no other way to put it. And if you don't have some stuff to keep you warm you are quickly asking yourself what I asked myself recently...."Am I crazy?" Of course, you can still find yourself asking that if you are clothed well!

Cold was the word on Thursday Nov 26,2008 when I met Carter Davenport and his friend Patrick Williams for a fishing trip at 0'dark thirty here in Greensboro, NC. We rode up to the mtns, and we knew it would be cold. We made a quick stop at a Walmart on the way up to renew Patrick's license and to grab some gloves and hand and toe warmers. And man was that a good idea.

It was bitterly cold. The first hour or hour and a half was fishing on the ice trimmed edge of the stream, casting into 32.8F degree water that had some small chunks of ice floating in it from an obviously cold still night of low temps in the teens. But I encouraged the guys (and myself!) and assured them that better temps and weather and fishing lay ahead of us, even if not for the first hour or two.

And like clockwork it began. The second place we put in we got almost immediate results. Patrick scored a couple of fish, a couple of good ones, 15-16" fish and one that broke him off (his beast of the day, it seemed like a big fish- - -a large rainbow that departed adorned with two of my favorite winter flies). But that's okay, I'll take losing flies to a big fish over losing them to a tree anyday. Carter soon followed. Like a dozen or so fish in the next 45 minutes, one of them being this brute of a rainbow that must have weighed 6lbs or more and was one of the heaviest bodied rainbows we've seen this year. I must say, and I think the guys would agree, after some fish and that trophy all of a sudden it didn't matter much how cold it was.....Bring it on.

We fished a while longer, caught a few more fish, and had a hot lunch- -chili and trimmings, hot chocolate, and coffee streamside, warming ourselves inside before heading upriver to fish several more places.

The rest of the afternoon was phenomenal. Patrick scored a "Grand Slam), a brookie, brown, and rainbow at least 15" long, as well as between 30 and 40 trout on a day that had most anglers at home tying flies or sitting by a fire. Not us, we had business to do.

Carter also caught at least that many fish. Just proved to me once again what I have believed and practiced for years. That is sticking out some less than ideal conditions to have a chance when a big fish decides to eat. That happened today, and along with 60 or more fish that all decided eating was a good idea too.

Its just as I remarked to Patrick, ".....are we fools for being out in this?....." to which he enthusiastically exclaimed, ".....well yes, fools for trout that is." Well said.

Good things and treasures are found in and through some very unusual circumstances. .......
Whether I am crazy or not.......!

Sunday, November 23, 2008

I Must be Crazy.......

High Winds, mid 20's, wind chill of 0F or less, and lots of fact near whiteout conditions. I love fly fishing and will fish in nearly any weather condition except a thunderstorm (even did that in my younger days.....boy was that foolish!!!!) but when it is like it was on Friday November 21, 2008 it is just about at the edge of bearable. At least it was at the edge when the wind was blowing. Hardly bearable winter conditions is what my friend and our Men's Ministry pastor Rick Trautman and I found when we arrived at the river on this particular day. I mean it was so incredible that it snowed probably a 1/4" or more in the back of his SUV before we could get completely geared up and in the water. But I love winter fishing and even sometimes on the coldest of days I doubt my decision to step into the water....and find my mind thinking....."am I crazy?" I mean lets be honest, sometimes discomfort and being cold can become pain if you are not properly dressed or prepared. But then again I remembered a slogan that dons my son's wrestling warm up jacket........."Pain is just the feeling of weakness leaving the body...". Now wrestling and fly fishing are obviously very different but the inside "push" to trudge on when things are tough (enter "near blizzard like weather" ) is much the same......its reaching into the gut for that last little bit of whatever that pushes you to go on.

Funny how catching a fish, or maybe a large fish, can change everything. If I could recount and write down all the moments like that in my life whether it was fishing at the coast, or fishing a pond, or maybe a river....whatever it is....that something like a bluefish blitz, a mayfly hatch, a trophy fish - - - all in the "midnight" hour came at the time I least expected it then it would be one of the most interesting things I have ever written.

Like the time that my friend Dave Powers and I, back when the flyfishing community was just learning about albacore, that he and I fished the sand spit at Cape Lookout and for probably 4 solid hours hooked up on those fish and ended up landing about a half dozen of them from 8 to 14 pounds- - -a considerable thing if you have ever tried doing it from the surf. Not to mention that morning the wind was howling (20-25 knots from the East - a bad direction), the water was pretty churned up, and that we actually passed Lefty Kreh (yes, 'the' Lefty Kreh- - -he actually fishes NC/Cape Lookout regularly) on the dock there that morning at Harker's Island Fishing Center- - - and he even remarked to us " you guys are going to have you work cut out for you today....the wind is terrible and coming from the wrong direction...probably won't amount to much..." But to his surprise and ours it turned out to be bad conditions but the result was the opposite. Or the time that my fishing friend Malcolm Robertson, cousin Tim Cooke, and I were on the South Holston in November, on a quiet day, where we watched Malcolm stalk, stay low, and make literally hundreds of casts with a size 18 pheasant tail with a 9 foot 3 weight Winston Rod and a 6X tippet to finally coax a huge brown, like 28 inches long and probably at least 8-9 pounds to take his fly. The investment....? All Day. The result....? Malcolm not only managed to hook the fish but landed that fish too. And it was funny to watch the bait fishermen on the bank then start to "stay low" where they were sitting, sitting there as though they were now convinced that doing so would mean a trophy fish for them too. Or maybe the time that Malcolm and I were fishing a dusk sulphur hatch that was so incredible that we couldn't stop.....never remembering we had not planned to fish here until dark so we didn't bring a flashlight. We forgot that we had a mile walk through heavy forest back to the car.......I mean it was pitch black and there were numerous times I was down on my hands and knees "feeling" for the path. We got back to the car at almost 11pm and I pulled in my driveway at 2am....Yikes. The result....? An incredible hatch I'll always remember even if it meant getting lost in the dark and feeling the uncertainty we felt for probably 2 hours.

Where am I going with all of this.....? A simple point. If you have a good day on the water, catch lots of fish......, a huge fish.... sometimes it will cost you something. Sometimes it will cost you alot. Sometimes there might be some discomfort and pain involved. But sometimes its like life too- - - that stuff is not all bad and it has something good in the end for you. And sometimes the very thing that you find difficult and even frustrating is the very thing that is pushing you to go on and do better. "Suffering" has its benefits.

So from just coming off the heels of fishing in bitter cold, below freezing temps, blowing snow, wind chills at zero or below, ice in the guides, the rod tip frozen so much the line won't move.....that sounds like a pleasant day doesn't it? would I do it again? Absolutely. When are we going?

Ok, that confirms it. I must be crazy..........

Well Done.......!

Sometimes everything goes perfectly and the big fish that you have on ends up in the net despite giving one heck of a good account of itself......and that's exactly what happened on Friday November 14, 2008 when I met Scott and Diane Bertrand of Greensboro for the second of two days of fishing in the mtns.

Scott and Diane were up for the week taking some vacation time and we had already fished earlier in the week and done pretty well. We had fished under challenging conditions on Tuesday Nov 11, 2008 and still caught a good many fish, but today offered hope of something much better, a stream with greatly improved water levels and that still had a touch of color to it. And the hope rang true, as it was a great day. It was great being that it was on the heels of a trip the day before where we had a 50 fish day and landed 3 fish over 20 inches. Today was to be a close to near repeat of that.

Diane really worked for this fish. And I must say that as a guide that is perhaps the most satisfying part of it for me. I mean, don't get me wrong I love it when big fish lose all caution and just take the fly without hesitation. We all love times like that. But Diane worked for this one. We could see the fish. It successfully evaded our efforts for over an hour, but we kept at it. We endured some tangles and many fly changes. But Diane stayed at it. She made good casts.....concentrated on good drifts, nice mends, all of it. Then the moment happened.......just before we were ready to leave Diane made one more cast. It was the one.

The fish let the fly pass its position, and I watched as Diane carefully took in line to control the slack, made a careful mend, then for reasons that none of us know the fish turned and swam slowly downstream and inhaled the fly in which I said without hesitation "he's got it......" to which Diane responded with a perfectly timed hookset, and the battle was on. The fish made a hard run across the pool, made a wallowing splash that would make a wallowing pig in a pen proud, then made another hard dash up a few feet, then it jumped. We gawked at the size of the fish as it made an effort for freedom in the air. The fish then sped upstream and when it reached a shallow ledge it leaped again for freedom, this time at least four feet out of the water, and landed with a big splash but still hooked up. The battle then became a bulldog battle on the bottom. I watched as Diane responded to every "coaching tip" I would give....she kept the rod up, gave line when necessary, took up line too, and did a masterful job at this cat and mouse game of give and take......I mean as well as I have ever witnessed. And she did it on light tippet, another feat that isn't easy no matter how long you've been fly fishing. I told her I was amazed and wished I had video taped that fighting of a fish to use as an example to my fly fishing school students as to how you effectively fight a big fish on light leader material. Needless to say I was impressed!

We photographed the fish then released it to fight again another day. And Diane went on to catch another couple of fish like that, one of which we got to net and another in which the fly just pulled out as I was preparing to net the fish. It was a great day..........indeed....lots of fish and some big fish and an impressive display of fish fighting skills by Diane. Simply put, she did a fantastic job. And this was one of those "get the net......!" for sure.

Get the Net....................!!!!!!!

Normally "demands" aren't good- - - and if our wives, kids, or someone else demands us to do something often we don't react well to it......(sorry honey and everyone else). But let me tell you, if you are a fly fishing guide those are sweet words.......words any client is free to say firmly and loudly....because the reason they are saying it is a really big fish is about to come to hand. "Get the net..." as a phrase is real music to my ears. Of course, the other things going through my mind are how the fish is being played, line managed, the fish's next move anticipated, etc., as well as the tippet size, and absolute firm belief in the ability of the knots I just tied to hold just long enough for us to get the large fish in the net.

The day was Thursday November 13, 2008. I had met Dan Camia and Larry Tomar, both regular guide trip clients and friends for a trout trip. The forecast was for heavy rains the two days prior to the trip.....and after a fall season plagued by low and clear water conditions, I for one was excited at the outlook. Some would have seen the forecast and written the day off. But the stream we were fishing I knew well, and have fished it in the swollen waters of early spring after a snowmelt to the low water of fall when it bares its bones in October. I knew if the water was high and had a bit of color we could do well... and well we did.

Larry landed three rambuncious rainbows, 23", 22", and 21" and all on a size 20 flies.....I know big fish don't hit small flies.....or so they say. I watched in amazement as for once a group of large fish would lose all fear and throw caution to the wind.......which is often what they do when the conditions are like we had. They still eat, they go into a hunt and kill mode, and I have always felt like deep down that is when the largest fish in ANY stream will go on the prowl and decide to eat a 20 plus inch brown that eats those 8 inch fish we often catch.....and believe me that does happen......

Larry will receive three Trophy Fish Award Citation Certificates from the NC Wildlife Resources Commission for his fish as part of the Angler Recognition Program. I will bask in the emotion and excitement of seeing three nice fish come to net like that. And I will wait for the next phrase of "music to my ears....." and that is "Get the net..................." . Please say that as often as you like........its always welcome