Those recent comments from a friend reminded me of a short conversation from years ago. Back in the college days –my early 20s- I asked my fiancé one of the silly questions that men dread to answer. “Does my butt look big?” His reply that I will never forget: “Lisa, I love you just the way you are, but you are a little out of proportion.” I still consider that response to be one of the nicest things anyone has ever said to me. I got back into shape.
Whether it’s about physique, fishing, or something else… To take the risk in a relationship, to trust that the questioning person really wants the truth, and to be the one to provide that eye-opening answer takes guts. It’s a likely oddity, but sometimes I’m so surprised by what I learn that I forget to remember it and apply it. Years ago, I told the same fishing friend that I wanted him to smack me upside the head to get me to listen- if that was what needed to be done. Either it took a while for him to believe I meant it or maybe I just fished that poorly during this recent trip, but after the initial shock and mortification evoked by his words wore off, I actually felt a stronger appreciation for our friendship. When it mattered, he simply gave to me what I had asked of him in a way that really made me listen.
The Path Less Traveled
“You should fire that fly”, I was told. Maybe that particular fly, but I stubbornly fished it a little longer. That white fly, despite being a fly that moved with a little wiggle but mostly like a stick with a marabou tail, had had a couple follows and a strike when I fished alone the previous day. These flies, originally tied by Rich McElligott, are great bass flies, but I threw some estrogen into the recipe, added 5/0 hooks and they became musky flies. I think if they could, the popular fur, feather, big profile, articulated, testosterone flies would bully these inexpensive, quick-to-tie, yarn and marabou flies. I think other anglers might similarly snub them, requiring that the nerd flies hook up twice as many musky prior to proving their worth. I tied up a couple for my Wisconsin, 5-day musky fishing trip.
Funny thing, though, I think that some of the time (spring, early summer) these hopped-up versions of a Shannon’s Fly could out-perform traditional, artistically-rendered musky flies. When the tail is wrapped with just the right amount of tension –the tricky part- the action of the nerd fly is amazing. It zigs, it zags. It looks like an injured baitfish struggling on & just below the water’s surface.
On day 4 of my trip, I fished my variegated version of this fly on new water. I did have a couple follows when initially fishing a more traditional fur/feather pattern of mine called BB’s Forage, but the follows, no matter how exciting, weren’t strikes. I switched to the variegated fly and cast to a steep drop-off near the bank. After a few strips, fish on! Following a decent fight, I landed my only musky during a trip that had been graced with musky follows and strikes to both traditional and non-traditional flies. Despite some laughable esox-angler antics at the watery landing zone, the 36-inch long musky with a surprisingly narrow head was safely released. I yelled and whooped it up under the drizzling, clouded sky of a beautiful October day.
To grow and be the best fly fisher one can be, it is necessary to be open-minded and willing to learn from others. However, it’s also important to balance this with acting on one’s own thoughts even if they don’t follow the norm. Under particular circumstances –often pertaining to big fish opportunities- I ask myself, “Will I regret this if I don’t do it?” When the answer has been “Yes”, I’ve done it & now have a surprising number of memorable smallie, trout, and musky stories.
My fly fishing recipe to success includes learning from others, learning from myself, exploring the path less traveled, and practice. Ironic, but when I strike out on my own and am finding success by my own hand, what others have taught me becomes vitally active in my mind. While I might find success on the path less traveled to be more satisfying, I can’t honestly say that I’ve ever landed a fish in solitude without the help of my angling friends. And, by the way, when I haven’t technically found success, I’ve still learned something and generally enjoyed the journey. I’m betting that anyone who is passionate about fly fishing & the outdoors understands this.
If You Keep Doing What You’ve Always Done…
…you’re going to get what you’ve always gotten. When fishing, I often mumble this to myself. Usually, it comes after a couple of mild cuss words or a “Dangnabbit!” I really try not to cuss but those “duh” moments that occur when fishing tend to set me off for a few seconds. I have mini fisher-tantrums.
I can only imagine how a guide or helpful friend feels after coaching the angler, again and again, how to do something differently & more effectively, only to have the angler continue to do what he/she has always done, despite that angler’s best or nonexistent efforts to change.
And so that was the way it was during my 2nd full day of the October musky fishing trip. I’d spent that day with a friend, who is sort of a “Professor Musky”. Ironic, but I think this was the first time I came relaxed, well-rested and prepared, compared to other whirlwind fishing outings with this man. And it was possibly my worst day of fly casting for musky.
It struck me that all of the tight quarters, small water casting I’d been doing for smallies, salmon, and even musky during the previous 4 months had unknowingly bred some bad casting habits in me. I was still having trouble mastering a couple basic skills when using a musky rod versus a trout rod. At times, I was embarrassed. He coached. He repeated himself. I questioned and casted. He repeated himself. I debated things. I tried to understand and change my bad habits. He coached, and I took deep breaths & practiced new techniques. I had a beer. He did not. He’s never taken a beer with me until a musky has been boated. We grew more silent.
Other than a few crows, all of land, sky, and water appeared barren of life. The absolute best I can say for myself is that I strip-set the heck out of the snags I got. If one had been a strike, the fish would have been mine. But there weren’t any strikes. It was just one of those days; hope for a miracle. At one point, I realized that the fun was feeling more like work, & likely for both of us. Whether true or not, I sensed that my friend was becoming bored & my spirits waned. I didn’t give up. I never give up, but…
But that is when he said what he said, “Stop going through the motions. I know it’s a tough day but you’ve got to put some life into that fly…”
Enough! The Musky Don’t Care
“…and you’ve got an excuse for everything I say.” So, I livened up the fly and I think the shock of his words shut down my mouth. I was glum and irritated, but after a few minutes that changed. He was right about my fishing, but was he right about everything? Had I been offering excuses or reasons to my failings following his instruction? Both?
Then, I realized that it didn’t matter. The musky don’t care. They don’t care why the angler chokes on a back cast or why a fly is presented in a particular manner. They don’t care! What the musky cares about is if the object in front of it either looks like a suitable meal or looks like a threat. It doesn’t care how or why the object appears, it just has be there and look the part to elicit an attack.
My friend, he thinks like em. Reasons & excuses are the same to him and he doesn’t care. He cares about the outcome of the cast & if the fly presents like a meal or a threat. He cares that I catch fish and he cares that I want to become a better angler. So, he did everything he could do for me on an exceptionally challenging day of fishing. That’s a friend I’ll fight to keep. Strip-set!!
No More Words
When I started fly fishing, throughout all of the snags, knots, failed attempts to hook a fish, & despite the embarrassment of believing a shiner was a different strain of trout simply because it came from a “trout stream”… I could still sense how good it would feel to have just enough skill to cast to and land a couple fish. Funny, but I truly knew what the pleasure would feel like before I felt it. That’s what kept me going. Then, the instruction, intermittent practice, and a fair amount of fishing time improved my skills to where they are today.
To be completely honest, I’d place myself at the lower half of average when it comes to overall fly fishing ability. But now there are the occasional glorious days when I sense how good it would feel to consistently fish as a better-than-average angler.
At this time, guides and friends can’t do much more to push me off my angling plateau & up to that next level of fly fishing. Instruction alone won’t take me farther. Excuses certainly won’t do it. Thanks in part to friends, I now know what needs to be done yet I’m the only one who can finish the job. Only work –consistent practice- will take me to the next level & to yet another path less traveled. I'd like to go there. I think that's where one finds the big musky. ~Twitch (11/24/2014)