Well, it's been a while since I have posted anything and after a few not so subtle (also know as "hounding") hints from one of the other contributors of this blog (ahem...Chance) I decided I should probably write about something or face being kicked off the island!!!
So much has happened as far as fishing goes these past few months. A trip out west to God's country produced a couple of days worth of fantastic top water bass fishing. The kind of fishing that only happens every once in a great while, and was shared with a couple of people who I hold very dear to me. Then there was the usual chasing of bass and bluegill in the local neighborhood puddles, as well as my new venture into the mystery that is fly tying (which a whole other post in itself!!) But, as far as chasing trout goes, much of my time has been spent on the local water (actually the ONLY water within an hour drive that holds trout)....the Lower Illinois River below Tenkiller lake.
The more I fish this little stretch of stream, the more I am intrigued by its mystique and beauty. Early in the season, it is a typical put and take trout fishery with the trout eager to take anything you present them with. But, as the season has progressed, so has the attitude of the trout in the stream. Sure, the fish are still stockers, but the constant pounding by weekend warriors such as myself has made them a little more wary. Long gone are the hatches of the "big bugs" with the remaining hatches getting smaller and smaller in both size and number. All of these things, combined with the up and downs of electrical generation and the resulting variance in water temperatures that come with it, has definitely made the fishing a tad bit more interesting.
The most recent trip to the LIR found me standing stream side at 6:45 a.m. watching fish take bugs just under the surface. Emergers!! (or so my caffeine wired brain deduced). It was true, the trout were taking emergers just under the surface, but what? A quick scan of the water and banks surrounding it showed no signs of fluttering insects. Then, after squinting and stooping to the waters surface, I saw them. The one bug that can make a fly fisherman mumble unmentionable words under his breath, while images of 7X tippet, and microscopic flies flash through his mind. The one bug that will make you contemplate whether to just throw your rod in the water and call it a day, or continue to fish into madness.......you guessed it, I am talking MIDGES!! There were hundreds of them riding the current in all their creme colored glory as they emerged and dried their wings. "Great, just great" I thought as I began sorting through the fly box for something that even remotely resembled one of the tiny creatures in its various stages of life. I had the typical zebra midges in all the standard colors, but nothing that even suggested an emerging midge or an adult riding the surface.
Then, after digging through a half dozen fly boxes I saw it. It was a tan bodied sparkle dun (tied on a 3x long size 20 curved shank hook) that I had whipped up a few days before for shits and giggles. I carefully let out line as I began to build my loop, then watched as all my hard work piled into a ball of leader and tippet on the water with a splash. And, as if to mock me, the sparkle dun settled as neatly and quietly as a feather on top of the whole mess. So, after untangling and re-rigging everything it was time for attempt number two. The second cast, although I wouldn't call it graceful, was successful but failed to entice a trout into biting. "Too much drag" I thought as I picked up and adjusted my approach. Finally, on about the fourth or so cast, a trout decided that he liked what he saw and so the game began. A multitude of other dry flies, nymphs, and even foam hoppers were tried throughout the day. But, the little sparkle dun consistently produced the most fish the rest of the trip, with every fish caught being earned.
That night was spent at the tying bench after a quick trip to get some smaller hooks. CDC midge emergers and dries in size 18 should do the trick (or so I thought in my mind). With no real pattern to build on (and being too lazy to drag out the computer to look one up) I winged it and tried my best to imitate the little bugs I had seen that morning from memory. I thought they looked pretty damn good when I had finished them, but the fish would be the ultimate judges the next day.
The next morning I found myself in the same riffle, same time, same situation.....eerie. The fish were rising just under the surface taking emerging midges, just as the day before. The moment of truth had come. I laid the little CDC emerger just ahead of a porpoising trout and held my breath. "Wait a second, where did the damn thing go?" I thought to myself as I lost track of the tiny fly and the panic set in! A fish had risen in the area I thought my fly was in....I think, but I didn't set the hook quick enough. Had he taken the fly and spit it, or had he risen on something else and missed my fly entirely? Was the drift good enough...etc....and so began the never ending thought process of the fly fisherman.
After pulling myself together, and sharpening my concentration, I began the second cast. I squinted as hard as I could and watched the tiny fly float to the surface of the water in the dim light. It was off to a good start, heading towards the same fish from the previous drift (drag fee even!!!). The seconds passed like hours, the fly was nearing the feeding fish, my eyes were burning from squinting so hard, and........slurp. SET THE HOOK, SET THE FREAKING HOOK!!!, my mind screamed as I slowly lifted the rod tip and connected with the telltale weight of a wiggly trout at the other end. Success.
I have caught many fish on flies I have tied in the short period I have been doing so, and every time it is a great feeling. But that single fish on that morning represented something so much more for me as a developing fly fisherman. For the first time, I took an observation I had made on the water home with me with a specific goal in mind. I wanted to try and match what the fish were after, instead of settling for something already in my box and trying to make it work like I usually do (which isn't a bad skill to have by any means, but beside the point). So, with that one fish everything I had pondered and planned came full circle....life was good.
Many people who are unfamiliar with our "condition" may not understand why anyone would go to such lengths to match wits with a dumb fish. To this day, I still haven't found a good answer. There is a certain allure to fly fishing and everything that goes with it that is hard to explain. For me, the never ending room for constant improvement is one of the things that keeps me coming back (not to mention that it is also a LOT of fun).
I guess you could say that some people prefer yoga or meditation, but me.....I prefer catching fish on the fly.