Monday, January 18, 2010

Things people tell you

Readers of the Classical Angler seem to enjoy observational humor. At least that is what I gather from feedback.

We have all been given advice regarding fly-fishing. Some is good and some bad. Most of the advice is well intentioned, but sometimes it is hard to sort out the useful tips from the silly ones.

What is it that makes a person want to give you advice when they see you with fishing equipment?

An old adage worth noting states “Better to keep silent if you have nothing worth while to say, than to open your mouth and remove any doubt as to your ignorance.”

Here are a few of my favorite pieces of advice or opinions that should have been left unsaid.

Around six o’clock on an August evening, I made my way down to the river at a local park. It was cool and overcast, and a downstream wind was blowing steadily. I thought it was the perfect time to work on my errant double-spey cast.

There was a small gathering of executive types near the river. It looked to me like a corporate retirement party or something. Wine and cheese were being served. As I passed the gathering, a tall distinguished looking executive type sporting perfectly trimmed graying hair and a Ralph Lauren button-down oxford dress-shirt came over to me.

“You’re a little early,” he said.

“Pardon?” I replied.

“I usually start fishing in early October, the salmon don’t run before that,” he stated.

“I am just practicing my casting,” I told him.

He just would not accept that I was just going to practice my casting, and not fish. Then he started to offer me advice regarding fly selection (glo-bugs again) and tactics for fishing to our zombie salmon.

Now, you must understand that I was wearing a waxed cotton Filson wading jacket, carrying a 14’ spey rod and Hardy reel, wearing a ballcap with the logo “Born to speycast…Forced to work”, adorned with a muddler and a weathered full dress Ackroyd Dee fly, and had a Hardy canvas and bridal leather stream bag slung over my shoulder containing dozens of lines to try on the rod.

My point in mentioning this is not to call attention to myself as the overdressed angler, but simply to state that to most observers, I probably looked like I knew what I was doing.

Not to this gentleman though.

I missed the opportunity. I held my tongue, mentioned how lovely the river looked, and bid him farewell.

Here is what I wanted to ask him:

“Say, do you mind me asking what you do for a living… because I thought you might want to hire me to help you with critical thinking…”

O.K. so, it went unsaid. I was polite. Perhaps he was a GM executive? It would explain a lot.

Once a guy yelled to me from across the river that I was “Doing it all wrong.” He explained that I had to “Wave the rod back and forth like this,” his arms flailing above his head. He knew this, he said, because his friend fished with a fly rod.

I was casting a 14’ spey rod…. Thanks for the advice.

People show me their flies and actually present me with a lucky fly. I will finish swinging through a nice piece of water with a classic fly, and when headed to another run, meet a fly fisherman on the trail. We will exchange greetings, and then often enough, the person will offer me one of their glo-bugs. They are actually being quite kind and generous. It is hard to reject the offering with some curt statement, so now I have a bunch of egg patterns at home that I will never use.

This worked the other way last fall when a guy stopped me as I was walking by the river and wanted to know if he could buy some flies. He had driven to the river with only two and had lost them. I gave him four of my lesser-used classic hair-wings, and refused monetary payment. As he thanked me, he tied on one of the flies and then reaching into his pocket, squirted fish scent goo all over the fly. Ugh! So much for generosity…

Then there are the guys that are always catching huge numbers of fish. A guy came into my shop one day wanting me to donate gear for a charity auction. In way of introduction, he mentioned that he loved fishing for steelhead. The conversation turned in that direction. He told me that he had caught 37 fish in an hour and a half. It turns out he was gravel raping in a river no bigger than a trout stream. He was trying to impress me, but ended up making me sick.

People often wrinkle their noses at me when they see me in my local river, their impression being that the water is polluted and nasty. It has become my response to reply to the incessant question “Did you catch anything?” or “Any luck?” with the reply “Just typhus, I was trying for cholera, but couldn’t get any.”

One guy entered the water near me while I was practicing with the two-hander. He was fly-fishing for smallmouth bass. He told me that the key was to use a rubber twister tail on the end of the fly. He waded into the river, stood in the best water, and cast his chartreuse lure into places where no bass in his right mind would ever live. I briefly ‘hooked’ two bass on the yarn I was using for practice instead of a fly. I guess I would have done a lot better if I had a chartreuse twister tail fly.

Somebody wrote that they “Never let their steelhead get into the backing.”

This one baffles me. Is he using piano-wire for a leader? He sure must not be catching the same fish I am. Was this meant to be bravado? As in “I just clamp down on the line and bust my rod?” Talk about missing the best thing about steelhead…

Another guy wrote to me: “You don’t need a two-handed rod to fish this river.” His opinion is both correct and incorrect at the same time. If I am fishing in low flow and flipping glo-bugs, I certainly do not need a two-hander. However, if I wish to fish runs where by necessity my back is against the trees and bank side brush, or if the water is high, then a two-hander is a real advantage. I also can cover the entire river and don’t have to wade all over the place.

A friend was told that if he was going to use an orange General Practitioner then he was “Only taking up space in the river.” He caught a fish on his very first cast, much to the chagrin of the other angler who had just offered his sage advice.

A guy told me that Lake Erie tributaries were “The best steelhead fishing in the world,” and that I “Should really fish there.” He then asked where I spend time fishing. I replied, “Mainly crappy places like the Columbia and Snake tributaries.” He had never heard of these rivers so he asked me if they were any good. I told him “Nah… not as good as Ohio apparently.”

It seems that anglers that are numbers fishermen tend to immediately dispense advice if they find out that you have caught one less fish than they have. Apparently, I need to: “use more weight, use less weight, use a black leech, use a glo-bug, cast farther, cast shorter, nymph with my spey rod, add split-shot, use a stone fly, use a yellow fly, and stay in the same spot.”

I also have been very privileged to receive guidance and mentoring from some of the finest fly-fishermen I know. One of the reasons that I tend to know the difference between horse-hockey and the real McCoy is that I listened to them first.

I have learned by now that when offered advice that is obviously spurious or specious, to just smile and nod. Helps keep the peace anyway.

So, thanks for all the advice!

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