Immutable Baker’s Dozen of Laws Concerning Fly Fishing

Over the years we each come to understand and codify our own laws governing fly fishing. Yours will reflect your own experience. I offer mine here:

LAW 1: You’re totally on your own when you are on the river.

LAW 2: The best time to fish is when you can go. Even if the fish aren’t biting, you are fishing, which beats hell out of just about anything else you might be doing.

LAW 3: The key to having fun on the river is to become deaf to what others are telling you. “This is hatching, this isn’t, you shoulda been here yesterday, better stay for tomorrow, etc.” Do your own thing and to hell with the rest of them.

LAW 4: Don’t rush down to the river and begin fishing blindly. Sit on the bank and watch what’s going on. Then get up and start fishing blindly, because most of the time you won’t see a damned thing during the observation period. But the rest will let you catch your breath after the long walk from the truck.

LAW 5: At the exact moment when you’ve had a pretty good day and you start thinking you’re beginning to get the hang of it, the whole thing will go south and the next day it will be like you never had a fly rod in your hand before.

LAW 6: Getting skunked is part of the sport.
In some circles, lying about being skunked is also part of the sport.

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Troutbumming

A couple of years ago, from my log book:

Friday a doe crashed through the woods, leaped into the river without pause. Pyschology in Action: Flight over Fight.

I hooked a good fish, whacked the hook to him thrice. He jumped, alligator-rolled, and the white streamer popped free.

Two eagles hovered just downstream, either pre-coital or post-, I’m too busy fishing to contemplate either.

A group of Boy Scouts came past us in canoes, craft filled with colored plastic containers and coolers. “How far to FS 4001?” one of them asks.

We said, “One hour to Mckinley, three hours to 4001, if you paddle hard.”

“Shit!” the boy cursed, and furiously dug his paddle into the river.

My friend’s lab, Kukla (aka Miss Kookleberry), stood by my leg (below Werewolf Bend) while I cast to a rising fish with a white-glove Howdy. Fish to net, she sniffed it once, rolled her eyes toward Bob as if to say, “I’d rather chase birds.”

I spent half of Saturday looking for the car keys, hidden so carefully in the pocket of my waders to keep them safe and locatable.

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Obits That Grab Your Attention

Over the weekend I’ve been reading 19th century obituaries from all around the Upper Peninsula. Such fare is good for finding unusual names, not to mention the seeds of a potentially interesting novel.

To wit: Saturday, May 1, 1897 this obituary was published. “Christine Bounekessel died at Bessemer Sunday, aged 99 years. She had the unique distinction of being married 18 times, the last time only enjoying wedded bliss six months. She was one of the best known women in the northern part of the Upper Peninsula.”

I have one comment. Ya think?

God Speaks

I wrote in Covered Waters how I get to fish with God — not the God of on-high, but Godfrey W. Grant, a Loosiana boy [BAH-TAWN ROUGE Cher!] transplanted to Michigan and a by-god trout-chasing machine. Over the years God and I have seen some stuff — as they say. In one of his former lives he was a university English professor.

This morning I got a note from him, declaring me an “expletive deleted” tease for not having trout recipes in place. But he also had a comment on Grady Service and the Woods Cop series that I think comes pretty close to nailing why I write what I write, and without his permission, I share it here. We steal rods, flies, reels, and leaders from each other. Why not words?

Wrote God: “You have, you know, interestingly, ‘left behind’ the external/international/quasi-political/business/war environment that shaped your earlier work and, it might be fair to say, found your true subject in the internal world of private obsession/devotion. Never mind that Grady Service ‘serves the public’ and gets caught up in investigations that cross borders and reflect shit going on in the world writ large. Basically his mind and heart are worlds away from the ‘big issues’ of war and and nations and power and money and corporations and politics. He cares about them only to the extent that they have real potential to fuck up what he actually does care about: Maridly and his kid and good food and wine, then the woods and rivers and animals and natural wonders that we may carelessly destroy before we can destroy one another. In short, love, family and fishing. I don’t mean that he overtly frets in stark terms about THE ENVIRONMENT, just that he knows in his gut that somebody (specifically GS) has to step up or indisputable assholes will destroy the things that matter, for money and power. And it ‘deserves’ to consume all his energy and heart. He is, in my mind, the sort of ‘moralist’ the world needs more of.”

People often ask me what the Woods Cop series is about. Now I think I’ll just get a copy of what God wrote and hand it to those who inquire with the comment, “What he said.”

I would add that his description of Grady’s motivation is pretty much the attidude of all the Michigan conservation officers I have met.

God, his Laurie-Darling, Robochef and J.P are coming for dinner Saturday night. It should be a raucous and fun night. Prediction: many fishing plans will hatch as the wine flows and the snow falls.

Thinking About Flies

It happens this way every January: The weather is clear and still (translation: clear up to our butts and still snowing). The fly shop catalogs start to arrive and my mind leaves the snow and starts to thinking about mosquito nights on U.P. rivers. I have it in mind this year that I need to locate some microcaddis flies — #20-24. So far I can’t find anything over #20 and even those are few and far between. Seems like every year I search for the “silver bullet,” when I know there’s no such thing. Still, it’s fun to look and to speculate.

Today, out of the blue, I remembered an old small stream trick. Most little streams are choked with tag alders and almost impossible to work with a fly rod, which also means the fish in them don’t see many artificial flies. Situation: You can’t make a roll cast, and you want to get your fly under some tags in the shadows where brook trout hang out. What to do? Pluck a leaf off the bank, see if it will float, that is not break surface tension (miniscus). If if floats, peel a bunch of line off your fly reel, put the fly on the leaf and let the leaf run downstream. When it gets past where you want to fish, simply give a tug, let it sink, and start working the fly. This works great with small streamers, wet flies and terrestrials.

If you want some reading fun, look up the names of flies. There are some beauties, and Kelly Galloup (who used to own the Troutsman fly shop in Traverse City, and now owns the Slide Inn in Montana, is one of the most creative streamer people in the country). The names alone make his flies worth trying. For example: Sex Dungeon; Heifer Groomer, Stacked Blonde, Butt Monkey, Articulated Rattlesnake, Zoo Cougar, Circus Peanut, and the Articuzonk. The great thing about Kelly’s flies is that they work. They’re also for the most part big, which makes it like casting a chipmunk all day, but he work is worth the effortr. They will attract some big trout.

I mean REALLY: Sex Dungeon? I’d rather think about that than the 2-4 inches of snow projected for tonight (70 percent) and the 2-4 tomorrow (90 percent).

Winter Musings

I had email from a young man this morning who used to play hockey for me — long long ago. He’s working on a novel and says he keeps re-writing the same 100 pages. I gave him the advice someone gave me a long time ago: Write the story through so that you have a full manuscript to work with. Most people who start out to write novels never get a full draft done and end up spinning their wheels trying to get each word and sentence perfect. If that works for you, great. But if you tell me you keep going over the same material and getting nowhere, I suspect it’s time to get the draft done, then go back and do the things you need to do. Another piece of advice: Once that first draft is finished, put the damn thing in a drawer and leave it there for at least a month. When you go back to it, you will see it differently.

So, writing was the first subject, but then my friend pointed out that he sees very few young people fishing; he lives in a fishing paradise on the west coast. Neither of us got our fishing bug from our fathers, so there has to be some sort of ancient gene from the hunter-gatherer days that propels some of us. And most people in know who my age , or even a little older, have few outdoor interests and seldom venture far from golf courses or backyard patios. Perhaps the gene for the outdoors is being bred out of Americans? The answer to what gets people out there? Got me: It’s a mystery.

And it makes rivers less crowded for those of us who do get out there.

Nose-Pinching Air

Sunday, January Something-or-tuther. Shanny and I took our daily walk this afternoon. Usually he’s off chasing around looking for rabbit or deer scent (best of all: something gross to roll in), but today he stayed close and, by the time we got back, I had to pull snowballs from between his foot pads. He nearly broke the front door down with his nose to get it. Temp today was 12, 1 this morning, a little wind from the west, not bad, but enough to pinch your nose and freeze your eyebrows, reminders of how easy it is in the soft days of summer. When I first moved to Kalamazoo 38 years ago, everyone told me how horrible the winters were. Then we went through the first one, which was the lightest I’d experienced in four years and the locals solemnly adjudged it “moderate.” I just laughed, and told them they’d never seen or experienced REAL winter. After 38 years, they still haven’t. Truth told: I’m not unhappy about that.