I just got outside of town, heading south on Highway 78, when the thought popped into my head: you only have one rod with you today.
Normally I have a couple of rods in the car. Not so much because I need each of them, but because I throw them in the back for such-and-such a fishing trip and never bother to remove them. A few days earlier I cleared out all my fishing gear in order to have room to haul some stuff home from Menards, and repacked this morning with the 5-weight I intended to fish with and a few odds-and-ends.
You only have one rod with you today. I never worry about carrying a back-up rod, but for a moment I considered turning around and grabbing one.
Hm. Foreshadowing. Great.
I received directions for this stretch of stream from Kyle. Walk downstream through two stiles, and begin fishing at the pool with the LUNKERS. Last time I tried to fish here there were already a pair of cars parked at the bridge. Today I started alone, cutting once across a shallow riffle before following the streambank back into the valley.
About a month ago a buddy came into the shop, having just fished this stream about a mile north of here. He said a mountain lion crossed up ahead of him, and was gone in moments. Part of me wants to believe he was right; there’s something that makes a wild place seem right when alpha predators are still about. Then again, this is the same friend known for slight exaggerations in his fish tales—the mark of a genuine angler—and for his sometimes sincere but always obfuscating comments that leave you scratching your head. Part of me believes he saw an obese barn cat.
I still kept an eye out behind me. Just in case. That’s from where they ambush you. Obese barn cats, that is.
So I limbo’d through the second stile, didn’t see the pool Kyle mentioned, but found one that looked good enough: a tight turn in the stream that churned the water into a strong riffle, with a few large boulders for good measure. Some fish should be hiding in there. I pulled out my streamer box—today was going to be all about streamers—and plucked out a conehead leech-thing, black, size 8. I make a few casts into the upper right corner of the riffle, stripped the fly back, and then finally felt a gentle but sure tug on the line in the opposite direction.
Rod tip goes up and the line goes downstream, moving past me under its own power, the rod tip bent fiercely, but unresponsive to my attempts to bring it back under my control. The fish leaps once. Had I brought it to the net, it may have been the largest of the day. I see through the moving water that blurred silver mass of a head shake, and the fish is gone.
I throw the fly to the lower left corner of the pool, and immediately the line goes tight again. A few moments into the fight I realize this fish isn’t fighting right. That usually means only one thing, confirmed as I net it: foul hooked in the back. A quick release and a few more casts into the same spot, and another instant tug. This time the fly found the right end of the fish, and a decent little brown is brought to hand.
That, in a nutshell, was the how the day proceeded. A few nice fish scattered among poor hook sets and missed opportunities. In baseball they call it the “yips”, or “Steve Blass disease”, and in fishing it manifests itself as the disconnect between action—the bump on a fly—and reaction—the set of the rod—that seems to be an issue of late. For every fish in the net I miss at least one more.
Then again, what the Hell. It’s fishing. If you’re going to be subpar, might as well be something solitary that you can lie about later.
By the time I worked my way back upstream within sight of my car, I see I’m not alone. There’s another car parked opposite me on the bridge, and a few holes above me another angler working downstream. I wait it out at the hole I’m currently fishing and let the other angler make the first move. They see me at they approach, wave, ask if I’m working upstream. I am. They ask if I mind them working downstream. I don’t, but I’ve been downstream quite a-ways, I say. That doesn’t seem to bother them as much as it would me.
The angler waves again and is gone. I move up to the only pool between us that neither of us touched. This will be the last spot of this stretch of stream I’ll bother fishing. It looks fishy, a plunging pool that appears deep from the backside. What i don’t see is a log submerged a foot or so below the surface. The first half dozen strips of the streamer don’t detect it either, but eventually—thunk—the fly lodges itself solidly into the wood.
Now, I teach fly fishing classes every Saturday in the spring, and one of the things I harp on with new anglers is that, if you get your fly stuck somewhere—rock, weeds, trees, your buddies left ear—you point the rod tip at the stuck fly and pull back. Maybe you get the fly back; more often you’ll break off. But at least you won’t break the rod, which you might if you try to un-stick a fly as if you’re fighting a fish.
Now, that being said, sometimes we do things we tell others not to do, because we think we’ve acquired enough skill and knowledge to just make is look like we’re doing something stupid. The downside to the “point-and-pull” method is you’re likely losing your fly. The other primary option, fly retrieval, likely blows up the pool you’re fishing. So sometimes I turn to a third solution, what I’ll call the “lean-and-lift”, where you lean forward as much as you can with the rod to try and position the rod tip as near to the fly as possible, and then lightly twitch the rod to try and produce enough leverage to dislodge the fly. It works, sometimes, especially when caught or rocks.
By the time I did the lean-and-lift on the fly, I knew what it was stuck to, but thought I was in a good position to kick it free. I lifted the rod and immediately heard that sickly crack of breaking graphite.
I picked up up the last twelve inches of my fly rod where it bobbed in the water and stuffed it in the front pocket of my waders. Options? I have no back-up rod, as explained above. I could call it and head home, losing half a day of fishing in the process. On the other hand, the rod has a 25-year warranty. And the rod is already broken. Breaking it further won’t change the fact that it needs to be repaired.
So, let’s go fishing with my new 7’6″ 5-weight.
I packed it up and drove downstream, and put in a few holes behind the bridge. Casting the customized rod consisted of a series of double hauls to generate the needed line speed to get the streamer to go forward. Everything else, however, remained the same: strip, strip, strip, thump, set, fish. The rod action could charitably be called “extra fast”, but it managed to pull in a number of nice fish regardless.
Another two hours and handfuls of trout later, and my day was done. For a broke ass fly rod, the 5-weight did alright. My arm was a little sore from the excessive double hauling, and my casts won’t win any awards, but it still landed fish. In fact, I think it was the second half of the day, post-breakage, that made the whole trip the worthwhile. A couple of nice fish can make up for a lot of everything else.