Monday, February 27, 2012

The Homecoming

My life as a fly fisherman began at the tender age of two.  Not yet had I begun to master the art of swinging delicate flies to hungry trout; but it’s safe to say I was on my way.  In the prime of my impressionable life, I accompanied my father to the boulder-strewn gorges in the Blue Ridge foothills, and it was there that my fly fishing education began.  I learned of the serenity and balance that surround trout streams and the nearby woods.  The essence of the art that is fly fishing, I learned, cannot be measured in fish caught, but in memories created and thoughts provoked.  The fly rod is but an earthly tool that gives tangible life to that essence and philosophy; and the trout, a heavenly touch that can only be comprehended through grace.
Mother Nature had ignited a spark that lay on the back burner, flaring up with opportunity.  In the summer of my ninth year, my enlightened father shared with me his knowledge of the fine art of fly tying.  That mass of feathers and furs fueled my fire into a raging flame.  I can distinctly remember the chills I sustained as I eagerly watched him spin a length of grizzly hackle onto the body of a CK Nymph—just as his mentor had shown him.
From that point on, fly tying was my security blanket when absent from the river; and I tied viciously.  Every imitation was embellished as an offering to the universe, in trusted return for a story and a trout.
My efforts paid off one day as the summer heat waned on into autumn.  After a day of tying an improvised Sulfur variation of the Elk Hair Caddis, my father and I loaded up the truck and made the long drive to the Conway River. 
An hour and a half later I was reacquainting myself with the scenery of the mountain.  We walked an old fire road, paved over with cobblestone from a recent flood, little more than a mile downstream—our eyes focused intently, sizing up the pools we would soon fish.  Just a quarter mile into our light-hearted hike along the river, the darting shadow of an ancient Brown brought both our feet and speech to a halt—it was going to be a good day.
My first chance at a fish came in what I considered to be a classic pool.  With fifteen feet of line, I placed a sharp cast to slack water separating two small waterfalls at the head of the pool.  My self-fashioned Sulfur landed sloppily; nevertheless, my fly was in place.  I followed the crème colored fly for a few long seconds with anticipation.  My first reaction was a second slow, but my quarry was forgiving, and I managed to hold on for several brief seconds before breaking the fragile tippet.
I motioned to my father at the tail of the next pool that I needed the fly box.  With a flick of his wrist, he air mailed the small, translucent box to me, which proceeded to hit the rocks and crack open, scattering size 14 dry flies across the rocky bar—initiating a humorous blame game we play to this day.
We fished on in tapering anticipation until we reached the last pool.  My father trudged up the steep, weathered hillside to the truck, leaving the last pool for me.  It was a long pool—shallow too—but the hillside dabbled young roots in the water on the steeper bank; and I knew this was my best bet for a fish in the fading mountain light.  Stripping off a few feet of fly line, my arm swayed, and a twenty foot cast unrolled, falling on plane to rest on what I hoped was a hungry trout’s dinner plate.  The fly was sipped down smoothly, and a short battle ensued.  Hoisting the brilliantly colored, native Brook Trout from the cool water, I hollered to my father, and we admired the five-inch fish for as long as we deemed safe.
As I gazed into the glorious oranges and greens of that young fish, I recognized it as a cornerstone in my life.  That night, I learned fly fishing is about homecomings and renewing old memories; it’s about a first native fish—a trout on a self-tied fly.  To this day, those five inches of fish serve as my foundation as an angler, and mean more to me than any fish ever will.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Blustering Bass

    The first spell of warm weather to emerge in the transitional months of February and March often times present some unique bass fishing opportunities for the angler in the mid South.  Unseasonable warm weather, coupled with March's renowned lion-like temperament, might make the fall hunter, not quite turned spring fisherman, leave his hat on the rack; but to the disciplined fisherman, these conditions combine to form a very predictable and advantageous pattern.
    My brother, Connor, and I headed out into the fury of late February, wind in our faces, and the eerie whistle of monofilament to commentate our outing to a local friend's pond.  Connnor with a pearl Rippleshad, and I with a perch Rattletrap, hit the wood off of a secondary point in search of an early fish.  No such fish presented itself, and we quickly moved on to more likely spots.
    After a few hampered casts from the more promising main points, we gave up all hope for the predicted 6 mile/hour gusts, and escaped to the trails in the pines from the 19 mile/hour winds.  Following several pine needle laden trails with an eye for shed antlers our luck, here too, lay with the fish.  We did, however, manage to locate a rabbit and have some hide-and-seek fun with the furry creature.
    With an hour left to our windswept expedition, we padded carelessly back to the banks of the pond.  While rounding a corner at one of the skinny coves at the north end of the pond, a glimpse of an airborne baitfish put stride back into my step.  Words began spewing from my mouth in an effort to explain what was happening in the small cove to my brother.  With strong winds sweeping the water's surface in the direction of the cove, phytoplankton and, in turn, hungry baitfish would be corralled into the small-water setting; the grass bed that connected the cove with another of the same nature, would surely hold some slow-moving bass in ambush.  The desperate baitfish we observed in the cove, was surely trying to escape the hungry mouth of a larger, predator fish--the pattern was falling into place.
    Retrieving our rods from a dirt pile farther down the bank, I quickly switched to a Rippleshad, and a brisk pace connected me immediately with a fish back in the cove--a solid but small Largemouth.  Connor landed another solid pounder a few casts later than I.  I snapped some pictures.
    By the time I had put the camera down in my tackle backpack, my brother was tied into yet another wintry green fish.  I snapped more pictures and got back to casting.  If I said I made a few more casts I would be lying.  Connor hooked into a strong football fish within seconds of his second fish, and I happily lipped it, handed it over, and grabbed the Nikon once again.
     A few more casts on my brother's part produced a very nice, healthy football fish, that we guestimated to go about 4-4.
    Several more casts to the grassbed gave no results, so I suggested we circle the cove, and make casts from a different angle.  My first cast was hit hard, and the scene was stolen by a jealous Crappie that may have gone 12 inches--a living, breathing testament to the health and diversity of this backyard fishery.  The next fish came to me, if not by coincidence, out of pity--another solid pound of pale winter Largemouth.  My brother proceeded to haul in two more green fish, including an average sized Pickerel.
    When the second fish was being unhooked, I was on the phone with my means of transportation, who reminded us it was time to go home.  Overall, an otherwise deadened day was turned into a day of fun, excitement, and exploration.  It is always worth the time to be able to provide the kind of action we experienced with someone who may not otherwise have been able to do so.