Tuesday, June 22, 2010

The benefits of being observant

Yesterday morning, Jonny and I decided to do some carp fishing. Conditions were far from ideal. High and turbid water made it nearly impossible to see the carp, and seeing the carp is essential for success. Or so I thought.

I had stationed myself near a patch of shallow water, in the hopes of getting a
shot at the odd carp that might cruise by. Jonny was some distance downstream.

Presently, I heard some splashing and saw Jonny land a small carp. I was impressed, given the conditions, but not terribly surprised. He is, after all, the best.

But after seeing him land a second, and then a third carp, I began to get discouraged. I had yet to make a cast, and here he had already caught three. We were too far away for me to call to him to ask what fly he was using, so I just stopped to watch him.

Oddly enough, as I watched him for about five minutes, he never once looked at the water, but instead was looking up at the sky. Other than a mental note that this was perhaps peculiar, I didn't give it a second thought, particularly when I saw him start to pull some line off the reel. Soon, he was making false casts, and moments later laid down a cast, stripped twice, and was fast to yet another carp. How the hell is he doing this!?

So, I watched some more. What else was I to do? I sure as hell couldn't see any fish worth casting to.

And again, here goes Jonny staring at the sky. A few minutes later, he looks at the water, begins false casting, then looks up again. Then at the water. A few more false casts. Then up to the sky. Then he quickly fires off a cast, strips twice, and hooks his fifth carp of the morning.

At this point, I started down towards him, but when he saw me coming, he held up his hand, motioning for me to stop. And again, all the while staring up at the sky. I finally looked up, trying to figure out what he was looking at, but could see nothing but blue sky, a few clouds, a dragonfly or two, an osprey, and a songbird or two. But something made Jonny snap to attention yet again, and soon he was making false casts, just as before.

Then I realized what was happening. I didn't believe it, but had to watch, just to prove to myself that my hunch was wrong.

Jonny was watching the osprey, which by now had gone from a relaxed soaring to an attentive fluttering. Jonny would glance at the osprey, then at the water, then back to the osprey. He was, as far as I could tell, trying to figure out where the osprey was going to dive. Indeed, this was it. Once the osprey folded its wings and began to dive, Jonny increased the speed of his false casts, and an instant before the osprey would have hit the water, he placed his fly in exactly that spot...and hooked another carp.

After he landed the carp, he looked up and asked "Having any luck?"

"OK Jonny - what the hell are you doing?", I asked him. "Don't tell me that you're using those ospreys to tell you where the carp are?"

"Well, of course I am," he replied. "How else am I going to find them? The water is entirely too deep and discolored for me to see the fish on my own."

"OK. Talk. Tell me how you're doing this.", I demanded.

And so, he explained it to me. He said, in fact, that any observant fly fisherman not only knows that ospreys eat fish (yes, I knew this), but also knows to use them to one's advantage (no, I'd never thought of this).

As Jonny explained it, he knew that we would not be sight fishing to carp this day, given the conditions. But the ospreys, because of their superior eyesight but also their higher (much higher) vantage point, can see fish we cannot. Now, explained Jonny, an osprey cannot and will not catch the larger carp that we prefer, but small carp are better than no carp. Apparently, he watches and osprey and when he sees one that seems to have eyed a fish, he watches the bird carefully, trying to judge where the bird is going to dive. The fluttering high above the water will get one in the general ballpark, but with carp you must put the fly right in front of the fish, so as Jonny explains it, you must wait until the osprey is well into its dive before you can make a cast. It's not at all unlike the way you would know that an errant soccer ball is going to hit an unsuspecting by-stander on the head, he explained.

"Huh?", I replied.

"Imagine", explained Jonny, "that you're at a football (soccer, for us Yanks) match and a wild kick sends the ball into the stands. And further, suppose that for some reason, a spectator has not been paying attention, and so has not noticed that the ball is sailing his way. Well, if the ball is on the proper trajectory, you, as an observer, will know well before this unfortunate chap does that he is about to be hit upon the head by a football. You know this because whether or not you realize it, you calculate the eventual end of the ball's trajectory, that is this poor man's head, based upon the current speed and trajectory of the ball."

And so, it seems, Jonny watches the osprey dive and makes his cast in order to put the fly in front of the unsuspecting carp (unsuspecting of the osprey high above, that is) and, if all goes well, the carp will take that fly.

"And how well does this work?", I asked him.

"Well, as you plainly saw, it can work well. But of course, sometimes the carp does not take. And sometimes, though not rarely, my cast is off. And sometimes the osprey spooks the fish before it takes the fly. But thankfully, the ospreys seem never to take a fish that I've hooked. They always seem to abort their dives if I've hooked the fish. They, too, are observant, you know."

Andrew Stoner

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