Sunday, September 30, 2012

River Enough and Time

"Time is but the stream I go a-fishing in."  - H.D. Thoreau

I've never hired a flyfishing guide and a boat to float a river and see how many trout I could catch, flies I could lose, wading anglers I could piss off, rafters and kayakers I could founder, or what have you. I've never had much interest in floating along with someone behind me paddling, telling me which fly to tie on and where to put it. Until this week I don't think I've ever been able to explain entirely, even to my own satisfaction, my indifference to this form of consumption. But I was fishing along the river earlier this week and I think I've figured it out.

First, I don't do this so I can have someone to talk to. If I can't fish in solitude I'd rather listen to a four-hour sermon on the seven deadly sins, which pretty much cuts a fishing guide out of the picture. Second, I'd rather watch the river myself to see where the fish might be lying, where the rises are, where the hatches are concentrated, whether the swallows or the flycatchers are concentrating their sorties anywhere in particular. That way, when I return, I'll remember where the fish live. And I'll know, when I see a fall swarm on the water, to stop what I'm doing and tie on a red quill.

Red quill

I was fishing a streamer fly in a current the other day when I noticed in a second current that funnelled between a pair of boulders ahead of me some large browns and rainbows in the light destroyer class, say the 15-18-inch range, hanging in the stream, rising rhythmically, sipping something from the top and falling back into the stream. So out of the water and up the bank I crept, retrieved a flyrod with a dry fly already rigged, tied a little gray emerger behind it, crept back down the bank, and began casting in the calmer moments of a nasty little headwind.

 RS2 emerger

Twenty-some minutes later I had caught and landed a big brown and a very respectable rainbow, twenty of those odd minutes having been devoted to persuading the respective objects of my affection that their struggles were for naught. Had I been floating along with a guide I would never have seen the feeders in the stream nor in all likelihood have got more than a couple of casts before floating on. When you have a 30-mile stretch of river to float there's no need to concentrate on any one piece of it until you know it by heart. Miss one spot, you can cast your fly into the next, you can cast as much as you like, indiscriminately without being concerned about making a good cast each time.

If the fish in one stretch of river are critical of your cast, the next stretch of river will bring other fish with a fresh perspective and perhaps a different critical canon. Make a mistake here, you can always make it up later.

Floating is probably a fine way to fish. You get to know the river, but in a different, perhaps grander and less refined way. You see a bigger picture, an unfolding panorama, but not a series of loosely connected pockets and riffles and seams and shelves and currents, each requiring a slightly different technique, a different fly, a different streamside manner.

Floating along, you are like an itinerant bandit, but less like a partner with the river. I suppose it's a different rationale for going fishing - covering more of the stream improves your averages to land a couple of nice fish. But you haven't had to think much about it, not like the poor old sap with time enough to spare who has to learn how to think like a fish in order to land the relatively few he may encounter in his splashings and stumblings.

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