Monday, July 2, 2012

Forgive Me Father

Fly fishing sucks you in to the point where you avoid, often without sentiment, the other methods of catching fish. You might not even feel schnide to the others: to whit, I recently got snarky with a guy who called the cops on kids chucking worms in a put-and-take TMA. I mean, think about that.

Fly fishing has consumed you and you understand it for all the right reasons, but there's been something niggling you since your so-called friends introduced you to salt water. It's the one aspect of fly fishing that's been slow burning all this time and is as inevitable as the need to go fishing at all: that we know, in all likelihood, that we won't ever catch a really big fish, or even one of over 40" if we like to fish for striped bass.

I like to fish for stripers. Since I got the boat I've had my gaze averted by the ocean. May I compare thee to a trout stream? Aside from its other-worldly allure - those gentle waves removing sand beneath your boots in a way that resonates beyond the average - the sea is an attractively risky place. Safety equipment is required, and I've already made a simple Death Prevention Rule to never paddle in open ocean alone. Saturday the swell was big enough to make me think of Dramamine as I chased the dark blotches of bunker-colored ocean. And I do so because, just two weeks ago, a fish of 75lb was captured off the Connecticut coast - a truly magnificent animal with white scales the size of nickels, its head as big as mine. And that's a pretty big measure. Until the genetic chicken farmers start growing fish (and Heaven forfend), you're as likely to catch a 20 or 30 or 75lb trout as you are a 20lb bass if you restrict yourself to the fly rod.

Restrict Yourself to The Fly Rod. There is the truth we all know. It's a feather and a hook. We romance that it isn't meant to work, because when it does it's better than most other things we'll do in a lifetime of trying. I love catching 6" brook trout as I love catching schoolies on the fly - perhaps even a brace that run to the mid thirties of inches over a long season, if we're lucky. It's the exact same satisfaction from fishing the right fly to trout on the Upper Housie. But they said I should fish for stripers in the same way they sold me steelhead. The steel are big and fight like confined bluefish, but they are uniform in size, give or take. Stripers grow very big and we cannot catch them on a fly, and many of us accept this truth and keep casting our flies. But isn't it inevitable that a fly-fisher will deviate in the presence of bigger fish to be caught?

Forgive me readers, for it is bitter/sweet that I have been trying to catch a bigger fish. The method is as far from fly fishing as I think possible [if you're easily offended you should stop reading right here.] Like those guys in Scotland who hunt ferox trout with wired dead-baits, hunting is what you do for big stripers. You use what they eat, with no imitation, which means either a live eel (pierce a large hook through its eye, cast out, twitch back) or live-lined menhaden or part thereof.

Ball of Confusion: Match the hatch and attend Confession, cast a worthless fly, or don't go fishing? 
The gathering of menhaden as bait is everything that I'm meant to dislike. Basically, cast into their mass and impale one. Let it swim around as an injured and attractively easy meal for the predators below.

A size 22 BWO just wasn't the ticket.
The reasons why I disagree with my actions are too many to list, but perhaps most of all I find my consideration of one fine and essential species as a great deal less worthy than the prize it might bring to be challenging. Don't get me wrong, I think little about animals I deem less worthy - I'm not a vegetarian - but neither do I perform the ritual pictured above in most cases (on a recent trip to the tackle shop I actually had to ask if the snagging of bunker was legal, and I'm still perplexed that it is). At 15" long, the bunker in the picture is the size of a Farmington brown I'd photograph aside the creel and Rosebay Willowherb and call it a special day. You see this whole thing is somewhat difficult to understand, and as is right, I take some kind of comfort from my ethical discomfort.

But in the end, or at least today, I'm enjoying casting the bait rod again, just as I did in the first place. Carrying the long and short rods on the boat makes me feel like a better fly fisherman; my goal, and there is only one to my mind, to innovate to the best of my ken in order to outsmart a fine fish. I've simply been doing what needs to be done to go fishing instead of packing the gear away. I've taken the feather off the hook, and used it to affix a bait made entirely of natural materials. I've completed the illusion of life for the sake of the prize.

Ultimately, I'll be fucked if any of this has made me feel any better, as was my intent.  And I still haven't caught a big striped bass.



  1. Last month I broke my ankle while fluff-chucking gar on a local river. My friends have desperately tried to get me out since then but the thought of sitting all day on the river bank with a can of worms by my side or tossing heavy metal is about as appealing as dental surgery. It's not a matter of ethics or snobbery, but if I can't fish the way I love... I won't be going out.

  2. A wonderful piece of writing. I don't know what the point is of our sport or of angling in general. I've clearly not done it long enough to discern and will require more practice. Whatever it is it's pursued by one manner or another at any point in time driven by something that is inexplicable. I've chucked gear, slung dead animals, and even tried shooting the critters (more than once). No regrets. And most of that was damn good fun.

  3. John. Thanks for reading my pigswill. You know how I feel. If you can't fish the way you love, why bother? Well, that's true. But if I ask myself this question, I see that I've loved fishing many, many ways for something like 25 years now. Most of these I've been fishing a fly, but my first ever salmon, on the Spey, took a large Toby spinner. When I wrenched it onto the bank I was so desperate to have it - and thus necessarily to kill it - that I punched it to death (I was 18, by the way). I'm not saying I'd do so now, but there's something about needing to have a fish that just might posses some, even most, anglers to do something else. I think I still understand that. Hell, if I'm really pressed I'll drink a cherry-wheat beer. Shudder.

    Z - you're a scholar. Cheers.

  4. Oh, I like this kind of dirty talk. There are things (rare things, but needful) that the fly rod just can't provide.

  5. Good stuff EJ. We will do it again. I like casting the treble but I can't help but reflect on the Striper I picked up in the yak while casting a 12 inch fly into a school of Bunker.

  6. The truth is out: Kierran is a Sith Lord :-)

    I agree Todd, and Charlie K picked up an 18lber recently on fly. With so much bait around I guess it's good to have both rods on board. I need to get out there again asap.

  7. Many people don't just start fly fishing, they convert to it, and feel it has a kind of superior intrinsic value, be it aesthetically or morally. I certainly feel that way, as I suspect most of your readers do. And I'm still working on why it is so, and why so many of us feel that going back to the bait is a kind of sin/regression.
    Cool post, and a very nice intro for your more elaborate verboten conceptions. (Free) food for thought. Thanks!

    1. Dear Gone. Snagging bunker is one thing, but an exclamation after thanks is a regression too far.

      Morally I'm opposed to catching bugger all.


    2. Quite a fine moral opposition, methinks.
      I should oppose more it seems, for I am much too a bugger all practitioner to my liking.

  8. I adore "just being there" (not to be confused with the Go-pro experience of feeling like you're just strapped to the head of an epileptic monkey). And of course I demand that my sport is unpredictable - that's the whole flipping point. But every so often (actually quite often) I go through phases of feeling a deep requirement to actually catch some fish. It's as if I haven't evolved since those early days of fish-lust.

    I'm not sure any of this is particularly healthy.


  9. I understand, being myself quite prone to such fits.
    And to agree further, there are not that many occasion to feel crappier than when you went to such extremes as to drown worms to catch anything (a fish, my kingdom for a fish) and still go home skunked. Boy, do I hate when it happens.

  10. Indeed. And delightful to read a Frenchman quoting an English King.

    Nice blog you have, not incidentally.