"What ARE you doing?” I said to myself. (Aloud....with people around.)
It was a hot, early summer day in May and I was standing in the Davidson River near Brevard, North Carolina. I was trying my best to look like I knew what I was doing. I was casting over a pod of trout that you could easily call “monsters” by anyone's standards and in the clear, cold water I swear I could see the biggest one in the back of the pod smiling at me. He wore a sort of fishy smirk, like he knew I didn't have a shot at tempting him or any of his buddies into biting.
My leader wouldn't turn over. My flies were too big. My casting was horrible, keeping me in a constant battle with trees and rocks rather than with brown or rainbow. I was wading like a circus clown, kicking up silt and clanking rocks together as if I actually wanted to telegraph my presence to the fish. I'm almost positive, as I stumbled and nearly went for a swim tripping on one grapefruit-sized rock, that I scared a feeding deer in the next county.
To say that I was “off my game” would have been the understatement of the decade. I didn't have a game that day and I knew it. Even worse, the fish seemed to know it as they cruised incredibly close to my boots, looked up at me with those little beady eyes and...I swear it's true...snickered. I'd be doing you a disservice if I didn't tell you that the fish were almost certainly laughing at me. I don't want it to happen to you, friend. No angler should ever have to suffer that kind of humiliation – after all, you might have a buddy around and if that kind of talk ever got on the internet you might find yourself the subject of a fishing article somewhere. (Ahem.) Anyhoot...
I was just getting into position downstream of the “car bridge” on the Davidson that morning. The river runs just along side a fish hatchery and although the fish are a mix of escapees, stocked trout and wild fish – they all act as if they're what I call “mentally challenged fish.” Unlike truly wild fish, they won't find the nearest rock to hide under when they see you coming or when your cast sails right over their heads – they just won't bite. They'll sit there, finning calmly in 2 ft. of clear-green water and laugh at you. Ignore you. Turn up their collective noses at every offering you have and, in a hypothetical theory kinda way – every offering you don't have, too! If they could talk, I'm sure they'd make a concerted effort not to talk to you. You've heard of snobby fishermen? These are snobby trout!
Well, I'd just settled in to a nice run with some big fish in it, when upstream about 100 ft. I hear a commotion. Some other angler is already catching fish. “Great” thought I, this is going to be a good day on the river! Then he caught another one. And another one. And twelve more. Then a massive brown. Then another three. Then he changed flies or fiddled with something on his leader and caught six more. Then he landed a behemoth rainbow, talked to a man on the bridge above him and wrestled in five more before replying to the man on the bridge that yes, in fact he had caught over 100 trout that afternoon and it was only because he was having an “off day.”
My confidence was instantly and irrevocably shot. Over 100? That afternoon? Of those big fish ? Of those mentally-challenged-never-bite-need-a-stick-of-dynomite fish? I wouldn't have believed him myself if I hadn't just witnessed him landing trout after trout right before my very eyes – and that's where my problems began. I couldn't fish for his catching! Every time I'd tie on a fly, he'd catch another fish. When I cast, he'd yell with glee. My drift looked decent, but with every bounce of my caddis, I heard splashing from upstream as this joker continued to land trout after trout after trout.
What was he using? Did he have a secret fly? A special fly? Was it a technique? Maybe he was cheating? I wasn't close enough to see his fly – maybe he was using corn or Powerbait on this fly fishing only section of river? I didn't see him go into his vest for more of whatever it might have been – I really think the fellow was fishing legally – but it shot my confidence to heck and back. I stumbled. I nearly fell. I cast into the trees. I cast into the far bank. I wrapped my leader around my head and put three knots into my tippet on one cast. I'm pretty sure had the river been full of angry, two-pound bluegill I couldn't have managed even one of those. On one long backcast, I thought I heard a cat screech as if in pain. “What ARE you doing?” I kept asking myself.
Then, on a whim, I tied on a “green weenie.” Don't laugh, it's a sort of “worm” fly that imitates the little green inch worms that are so common in early summer around there. A short roll cast near the far bank. A good drift. A 21 inch rainbow trout eased out of the shadows and followed it downstream, hovering just under the fly for several feet and, as if having pity on the poor fool stuck in the trees all day, made his move and sucked the little green squiggle down in a swirl the size of a dinner plate. Of course I promptly set the hook with such vengeance that the 7X tippet exploded.
Luckily though, the fish was off the hook just in time for me to see Ole Fish Magnet up there catch another nice trout, whine about them all being 18 inchers,.... and quit for the day.
So what's the Fifth Rule of Fly Fishing? Who knows? But the First Rule of Fly Fishing is: If a guy is catching more trout in two hours than you've caught all year, for heaven's sake ask him what he's using!
Owl Jones is a guy who knows that fly fishing is supposed to be fun. You can find more of his writing on his blog at www.owljones.com. You can check out his unique one-of-a-kind bass and bream poppers at www.zazzypop.com.