Dedicated to the relentless pursuit of fish on the fly. Welcome to the obsession, I hope you enjoy the pics and ramblings. If you like what you see (or really don't), feel free to drop me an email at And when you're done, get your waders on and get out there, cause the only way to catch 'em is with your bug in the water.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

The Creek

I've been working on this one for a while, and it turned out a bit longer than originally intended. Ok, a lot longer. I hope you enjoy. Also, the translation from MSWord to here sort of screws up the indentation and I'm not about to go back through and fix it all. Deal with it.

A young boy walked down to the creek one day, a shiny new fly rod and a film can full of flies in his hand. He’d been given the rod as a present for his birthday and with a head full of wonder and excitement headed down to the water. Visions of unknown fish danced through his mind of the monsters that lurked in the deep. The creek’s slow currents winding along carried his imagination with them, conjuring up ideas of the boy as the greatest fisherman that ever stalked those banks.
All afternoon he fished, or tried to, as the mysterious water refused to give up its bounty. His line snarled, his flies were all lost and those fish of his dreams faded away into endless frustration. Giving up, he tossed the rod and now empty can into the bushes as he plodded down the bank.
“You planning on leaving those there?” The stern voice coming from the bushes startled him. He hadn’t seen anyone else and now felt the hot rush of embarrassment surge through him. Not only had he made a miserable display of fishing prowess but now he was probably going to get in trouble for tossing his junk on the bank. From behind a bush appeared a man in a faded jacket and funny looking pants. The boy quickly sized him up. He was older than the boy’s father had been and although his first instinct was to make a dash into the bushes, his words made the boy stop. “Cause you’re not going to catch anything that way.”
“There’s nothing in here anyway” the boy replied.
“Sure there is,” replied the man. “You’ve just got to listen to what they’re telling you.”
Now the boy was sure the man was teasing him and didn’t like it one bit. Seeing the disbelief in his face, the man said, “Wait just a minute and I’ll show you.” He disappeared behind the bushes and reappeared a moment later with an old bamboo rod in his hand. “If you listen to the water, she’ll tell you all you need to know.” Stepping into the creek, the old man pulled several handfuls of line off of his reel. He then drew the rod up and back, then forward, now back again. The boy watched as the man’s line grew longer and longer in the air and then settled down on the water without the slightest splash. His fly touched down behind a slight ripple on the surface and disappeared before the boy knew what had happened. The line suddenly came tight and in a few moments the man held a fish in his hands. The boy marveled at its colors, red and green and silver, a spotted marvel the likes of which he’d never seen.

The boy watched as the man knelt in the water and let the fish slip through his hands. With a flash, it was gone. “Why’d you let him go” asked the boy. The man smiled a little at him as he stood up.
“So he’ll be there to catch another day.” The boy was a bit confused by all this. In his mind, there was no point in letting the fish go. Why not bring it home? Seeing the confusion on the boy’s face, the man simply said “There’s more to it than just dinner. And speaking of dinner, it’s getting to be about that time, shouldn’t you be getting home?” The boy, suddenly realizing that he was probably facing a scolding for not being home on time, quickly gathered up his rod and film can. “Hey wait a second,” the man said, “if you want, come on back down tomorrow and we’ll see about getting you a fish.”
Not really sure what to say, the boy just nodded and scampered off into the bushes.
After watching him go, the man sat down on the bank. He hadn’t been on the water in a long time. It was a strange feeling, being here. He closed his eyes and felt the breeze on his face, listening to the quiet bubbling of the creek as it flowed over its cobbled bottom. It was a good feeling, like the embrace of an old friend welcoming him home. Opening his eyes, he saw that the sun was creeping lower on the horizon and the first of the evening’s caddis flies were starting to play on the slower water, met with the occasional subtle rise of a trout. The man sat and watched until it was too dark to see.

The boy stood at the side of the creek, rod in hand. “This is stupid,” he thought, as the old man was nowhere to be seen and the boy had no flies to tie on to his line. He wandered aimlessly down the bank, tossing sticks into the water and watching them drift downstream with the current. Seeing a large stone half submerged in the water, he grabbed its edges and pulled with all his childish might, managing to turn it partway over.
“What’s under there?” a voice behind him asked. Startled, the boy turned around to see the old man watching him from further up the bank.
“Oh. Umm, nothing, really.”
“Really?” said the man, “are you sure?” The old man walked down the bank toward the boy. “I bet if you looked a little closer you might see something.” The boy looked at the underside of the rock again, and sure enough, there were a few little “things” crawling across it.
“What are those?” he asked.
“Well, let’s see” said the man. Taking a knee among the cobbles, the old man stuck his hand in the hole the rock had left in the bank and brought it back up in a clenched fist. The boy looked on in puzzlement. Opening his hand, the man revealed several of the squirming little creatures. “Look closely” he said. The boy looked closely, very closely, and saw several of the most horrible looking beings imaginable, truly the stuff of nightmares.
“EEEWWWW!!!” The old man chuckled as he brushed all but one of them off of his hand.
“They’re nothing to be afraid of, they’re just little bugs,” he said. “They can’t hurt you, in fact, they’re going to help you fish.”

“Whaddayamean?” asked the boy.
“Well, this is a stonefly” said the man, holding out his open hand. “They live on the bottom of the stream, under rocks and such and sometimes they get washed downstream. The fish sit in the water and wait for these little guys to float by so they can eat them. If they don’t get eaten, then at some point they will crawl up out of the water and start flying around.”
“Soo that’s what my flies are supposed to be?”
“Some of them, but there’s lots of different types, different bugs and flies to match them depending on what the fish are eating. Here, let’s see what you’ve got in your box.”
The boy, looking rather sheepish, said “I don’t have a box. And I don’t have any more flies, I lost them all.”
The man reached into his pocket and pulled out a small box. Opening it, he showed it to the boy. “Now which of these do you think the fish are going to want to eat?”
“I don’t know, maybe that one.” The boy didn’t see any that looked like the stonefly.
“Hmm, maybe” said the man. “Hold on a second.” He turned and walked over to the bushes, looking for something. A moment later he returned and again opened his hand for the boy to see. A bug scurried about in it, its wings laid flat against it back, its antennae waving about. “Find one that looks like this.” The boy looked back at the box and found what he thought sort of resembled the bug.
“How about this one?” He held it up for the man to see.
“That one will probably work,” said the man. “This is the adult version of that little stonefly from under the rock and that fly you’re holding is meant to imitate it. Let’s give it a try”
The boy eagerly tied the fly on to his line and splashed into the water, waving his rod about in an attempt to cast. The old man sat back and watched as he tied on his own fly.
“Can I make a suggestion?” he asked from the bank. The boy stopped and turned around again.
“Ok, let’s start with your cast.”

As the summer days stretched on, the boy learned more and more. For an hour or two every day, the old man would appear through the bushes and show him different bugs, knots to practice, and how to actually get his fly where it needed to be. He showed the boy how the water moved around the stones and where the fish would be. Every day, he would give the boy a handful of flies to try. Eventually, the boy landed his first fish. The old man said he could take it home as long as he at it, and he promptly ran home carrying his trophy. It was a rainbow, much like the one he had seen the old man catch the first day they met. And just like that first day, the old man would always send the boy on his way before it got dark.
The boy’s curiosity got the better of him one day. He hadn’t seen the man actually fish since that first day and figured that the old man was waiting until he left to fish. He was right, of course. After the man sent him on his way, the boy crept back through the bushes and hid as best he could where the man wouldn’t see him. Instead of fishing right where he was, however, the man started moving upstream. The boy followed, careful not to make too much noise lest the man hear him. Further and further he went, to a bend in the creek the boy had never been to. It looked deep, and bushes hung over the bank, throwing shadows in the fading daylight. As he watched, the man stopped just below the pool and quietly moved into the water, almost without a sound. He peeled several arm lengths of line off his reel and stood there, fly in hand, just staring at the water. Just as the boy was beginning to wonder if he was ever going to cast, a slight disturbance on the surface caught his attention. It was subtle, so slight that the boy wondered if he’d really seen it. He stared more intently. What seemed like forever passed and yes, there it was again. Still, the man stood there, watching. Again, the surface rippled and from his hiding place behind a log the boy thought he saw a nose this time. The old man saw it too, and letting his fly drop onto the water, swept up his arm and began to cast.

The man cast his fly back and forth, letting line out with each cast but not setting the fly down on the water. The boy sat, transfixed on the graceful curve of the line, its shape unfolding on each cast. His casts looked nothing like that, often getting tangled in midair or slapping the water. Suddenly, the line dropped and the man’s fly touched down on the water without leaving so much as a ripple. It floated down the slow current and under the bushes to where the fish had risen. And there, it was again. The fly disappeared, and the man did nothing. The boy, overcome with excitement, had to stifle a gasp that would surely have given away his hiding spot. Letting his line drift further down with the current, the man quietly reeled it back in and slowly waded out of the water as quietly as he had entered.
Watching him walk back down the bank, the boy sat in his hiding spot, perplexed. Why hadn’t he set the hook? The fish had taken the fly and…what? It made no sense, and the boy puzzled over what he had just seen replaying it over and over as he made his way home.

That night the man sat down a desk that hadn’t seen use in a long time. Placing a hook in his old vice, he began to spin thread around it, carefully making sure each wrap sat evenly next to the last. Working his way around the hook, he added bits of hair and feather until he was satisfied with the way it looked. Taking the fly out of the vise, he pondered where to put it. A stack of little plastic boxes occupied one corner of the desk, but that just didn’t feel right. Setting the fly down, he reached down and opened the bottom drawer of the desk, producing two pieces of roughly cut mahogany. He held them up under the light, gently blowing the dust off. A photograph fell out from between the pieces. Picking it up, he looked at the familiar faces smiling back at him. Had it really been that long? He leaned the picture against the back of the desk and looked at the two pieces of wood. They looked the same as when he had put them away, dark grain with a shallow depression on one side of each. Perhaps it was time. Reaching into the drawer again he pulled out a small knife, its blade and handle worn with time. Testing the blade, he found it still as sharp as the day he had set it down. Taking one piece of wood in hand, he took a deep breath and began to carefully shave its edges.

The boy was getting better, sneaking up on riffles in the creek, picking a good fly to use, and casting with some success. He enjoyed watching his fly bob downstream on the current and suddenly disappear with a flash. He didn’t always land them, but he was getting better at that as well. As the days started getting shorter and the nights cooler, the old man would sometimes make a few casts before the boy went home. When he did, he usually caught fish. The boy thought that one day, he too would be that good. Before sending the boy home one night, the man asked to see the film can that held his flies.
“What for?” asked the boy.
“I just want to see what you have in there,” answered the man, knowing full well what was in there. After all, he had given the boy everything it contained. The boy handed it over and the man opened it, shook it around a bit, and said “ok, now hold out your hand.” The boy did as he was told, and the man promptly dumped the contents of the can into his hand.
“Why’d you do that?” the boy asked, confused.
“Because you don’t need the can anymore,” he said. Reaching into his pocket, he produced a wooden box. “It’s time your flies had a proper home.”
The boy set his flies down on a rock and held the box in his hands. It was polished almost to a shine, dark wood with a stonefly carved into one side. Turning it over, he saw that his initials were carved into the other side. There was a small groove on one edge, and pulling against it he heard a quiet click and the box opened on its tiny hinges. The inside of the box was recessed and lined with rippled foam. “Go ahead, you can put your flies in there any way you want.” The boy sat down and carefully arranged his small pile of flies into neat little rows in the box, sorting them by size and type. When he was finished, the old man said “ok, now run along, its getting late.”
“Um, thanks,” said the boy, still staring at the box.
“You’re welcome, and you’re probably going to miss dinner if you don’t get moving.”
“Ok, I’ll see you later,” he said, and with that picked up his rod and walked up the bank and through the bushes.
When he had gone, the old man walked up the bank toward his usual bend in the creek, a small smile playing across his face. The box was something he had waited a long time to finish, something he thought would sit in that drawer forever, just collecting dust. It felt good to finish it, just as it had to watch the boy learn. Reaching the bend in the creek, the man once again slipped into the water, watching that spot under the bushes. The boy, as usual, watched from his hiding place behind the log, the grass under his knees now well worn.

Several days later, as the man made his way down the path to the creek, he noticed the leaves on the bushes were starting to fade. The air had the scent of cold on the way, and he knew the summer was near over. Another season was passing, and a good one it had been. The boy had done well and the old man was proud of him. He found himself thinking of those first awkward casts and the boy’s reaction to seeing that stonefly. He chuckled softly to himself. Reaching the cobbled bank of the creek, the man looked upstream and down but the boy wasn’t there. This was strange, he thought, since the boy was always there before he was. Telling himself that the boy would be along shortly, he set down what he was carrying and sat in the grass, leaning against a tree trunk. He found himself looking at his old rod in the grass next to him, something his father had made for him when he was young. Despite its nicks and scratches, the cane still looked almost new. He could probably refinish it at some point, but it could wait. He’d seen enough of his workbench lately. His gaze shifted to the other item he’d been carrying. He resisted the temptation to unwrap the cloth and look at it again, just to make sure it was right. He’d gone over it and over it after finishing it, making sure it was perfect. “It wouldn’t have changed,” he told himself again. “Besides, it won’t be long now.”
He woke slowly, aware that his hands were cold. Opening his eyes, he saw that it had become late, the sun almost to the horizon. It wasn’t the first time he’d dozed off under this tree, but where was the boy? Usually the boy would wake him with a shout after landing a fish. But he was nowhere to be seen. Maybe… picking up his things, the man walked up the bank toward his bend. In the fading light, he could just make out a single rise under the bush. But the boy was nowhere to be seen, not even behind the log that he thought hid him so well.
Days passed, and the weather turned colder. Eventually the creek froze and the man hung up his waders for the winter. All winter the old man wondered about the boy as he sat at his desk and tied flies. The old picture leaning there had been joined by a newer one, this boy holding his first fish, smiling ear to ear. The old man had taken the picture that day and given a copy to the boy. He would also find himself looking at the cloth wrapper in the corner. He knew the boy lived somewhere near the creek and thought about leaving it on his doorstep, but which house? It would have to wait.

And wait it did, as spring, then summer came and went and the boy never returned to the creek. The old man still went every day, sometimes wetting a line and sometimes just sitting on the bank watching for rises. The years passed, and time wore on. Sometimes he’d see other people at the creek, but not the boy. Some of the other fishermen would sometimes ask to see what he carried in the cloth bundle, but he always politely declined. He would sometimes sit and think about opening it, but would dismiss the thought almost as soon as it came to him. It wasn’t his, and it would stay that way.

It was getting tougher to walk on the cobbled bank, he thought. The wading staff helped a little, but his balance just wasn’t what it used to be. All the same, he made his way slowly upstream. Reaching the bend he was so familiar with, he set down his bundle in front of a log and watched under the bush. Every few minutes he thought he saw a subtle rise give away the presence of a fish. “Well, I guess it’s now or never,” he muttered to himself while rubbing his eyes. Pulling a box out of his faded jacket, he selected a small fly. Tying it on was also getting tough. He took a deep breath and tried to steady his shaking hand. After several tries he managed to get the leader through and tie the knot. Peeling off a few arm lengths of line, he held his fly and stared at the water. Seeing another rise, he dropped his fly in the water and swept up his arm into a cast. Suddenly the years forgot their hold, and the line danced through the air as gracefully as ever, a perfect loop unfolding with each stroke. A single tear rolled slowly down his weathered face. “You know you’re not as sneaky as you used to be,” he said mid-cast.
“I wasn’t sure you’d be here.”
The old man’s gaze stayed focused under the bush. A small smile crept into his face. “If you’d come out from behind that log, you might find something interesting.” His fly touched down just upstream of the fish. It disappeared a split second later, the water barely moving with the take.
“You’re not going to set that are you?”
“Why not?”
“Because it’s not my fish. Look down.” The young boy, now a young man, looked down and saw a cloth bundle tucked against the front of the log. He picked it up and turned it over in his hands, knowing immediately what it was. There was a name stitched onto the side.
“That’s…” Looking up, he found the old man standing in front of him. He’d slipped out of the water as silently as ever and was now looking directly at the boy. “That was my father’s name, how did you…” Looking into the old man’s eyes, suddenly the boy knew. He knew those eyes from a long time ago, from before he’d ever met the old man.
“I never got to finish it for him. So I finished it for you. I knew one way or another you’d get it. I just hoped it would be here.” He could see the astonishment on the boy’s face. “He was just like you, you know. Even used to hide behind that old log there.” The old man wiped a tear from his eye. “He never got a chance to cast to that fish over there. I think it’s time you did.”

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Hurt So Good

What the hell am I doing here? It's a question that I ask myself nearly every time I'm waist deep in that gin-clear water and the trout are laughing at me. They're right there, in plain sight, sitting just below the surface, seemingly without a care in the world. Fly after fly visits the water via the end of my line and produces nothing. OK, that drift was bad, that little current pulled my line, that fly was too big, too flashy, too dull, that fish is blind in one eye. This GODDAMNED WIND! After a while it gets to be too much and that big rock in the sun looks like a great spot to sit for a while, so I do what anyone might do in this situation. Sit on the rock, eat a sandwich, and stare at those devil fish. This sucks. The dog's bored and staring at me as if to say "what's the matter with you, why aren't you catching anything?"

So I do the only thing I can really do in this situation. I finish my sandwich and tie up a different rig of absurdly small tippet and flies and hope this one works. There are bugs everywhere, on the water, in the air and up my nose. Usually, this makes fly selection easy. In this case, however, the miniature size and diversity of said bugs make it extremely difficult to narrow down just what the fish want. The size selection is easy, it's going to be the smallest thing I can find in my box. As far as color and shape, well, that's a different story entirely if you happen to be "prepared" for this sort of thing and have a bunch of different ludicrously small flies in there. Wasn't this supposed to be fun?

And then it happens. The one. Suddenly, whatever I just did worked and there's a spunky rainbow yanking my line through a maze of boulders, trying to break free. Nonsensical muttering ensues. "Nooo dont go that ok over he craaaap not the moss you basta yeah this nooooooo you don ok come this way and get..." Finally there's a fish in my net. It's not a monster by any means, but it's a fish. And suddenly I remember the answer to that question. This is why I'm here. Because that fish didn't come easy. Because four hours of beating my head against a wall finally paid off and I know what they want and how they want it. The dog's on her feet now, staring intently at the water, tail wagging with excitement.

We've all got those places that we return to. Whether it's a tiny spring creek or a particular turtlegrass covered flat, they have a pull on us. For some, it's the promise of lots of fish and constant action. For others, it's the promise of a challenge. Whatever the reason, we have to go back. We can try and resist, pushing the thought from our minds, going to different and exciting places, exploring new waters. But at some point, that place calls us back, and we must answer the call...
Quit reading this now and go fishing