Here's a tale of how I got bit by the fly fishing bug. It all started while watching my boyfriend prepare for a day of fishing. I longed to learn more about this sport, not knowing what I was getting myself into …
Getting up early is not for one who doesn’t like to do so and doesn’t drink coffee. My alarm roared at 5:30am on a Saturday morning. I cautiously opened one eye. The sun had not even come up over the horizon, so why was I awake? After brushing my teeth and washing my face, I turned to the fishing clothes that were strewn upon the end of the bed: a beige fishing shirt that was two sizes too big because it belonged to my boyfriend’s brother, a matching pair of fishing pants that I had bought weeks before, and my black flip flops, as I had not gotten a pair of water shoes yet. A colorful blue buff went around my neck to ward off bugs, and a pink baseball cap with a white greyhound was flung onto my head.
I went downstairs and began loading the car with fly rods, reels, fly boxes, jackets, gloves, boots, waders, a cooler for lunch, and snacks for me. No one wants to deal with a beginner fly fisher, not only frustrated by trying to fly fish, but hungry. We finished loading everything, made trips to the bathroom, and we were on our way. While driving the 45 minutes to the Little Wolf river, I was experiencing anticipation and nervousness. I had practiced my casting, but standing in water and casting to a fish is much different than standing on grass, casting to a garbage can lid.
We parked on the side of the road and started the tedious production of donning all the appropriate gear, (in the beginning I took more time doing this than I ever did putting on makeup). My waders were also borrowed from my boyfriend’s brother, so they were, (again) two sizes too big. Proper fitting waders sit comfortably mid-chest; on me, these came up under my armpits, and belting them made me look like I had a skirt on upside down, but I didn’t mind. I wasn’t competing in a beauty contest, for heaven’s sake.
I was goin’ fishin’!
Then it was putting on wool socks and my new wading boots. And when I say boots, I mean clunky Herman Munster shoes. Once we were suited up, we turned our attention to the fly rods. I had borrowed one of my boyfriend’s 8 weights and pulled it out of its protective tube. You must be precise when you put a rod together; otherwise your fly line will be a mess. I snuck glimpses of my boyfriend as he put his rod together, and I mimicked him as he lifted it to make sure the guides lined up. I pulled out my reel, a big, heavy silver spool with neon yellow fly line. I lined it up to the butt of my rod and looked confused.
My boyfriend saw me looking down at the rod and reel and said, “Other side.” I attached the reel to the rod and fed the fly line through the guides. My boyfriend tied a new leader onto the end of my line as I hunted around one of the boxes for my first fly of the day. I gravitated toward a yellow popping Boogle Bug. I hadn’t mastered the art of tying a fly to a leader, (and believe me it IS an art) so I had my boyfriend tie it for me. Once our rods were ready, we put on the rest of our gear: a fishing vest and net for him, a fishing pack for me, complete with flies, extra leader, toilet paper in a Ziploc bag, and granola bars for snacking. We slung lanyards around our necks complete with nippers and forceps, added our hats and sunglasses, and were ready to go.
We headed down to the bank, stepped into the river and waded for about a mile until we found an ideal spot to start. The sky was clear; no clouds in sight. The sun was a large yellow ball beating down on us. The water was cold and fast. It roared at us between huge boulders jutting out from the water’s edge. I took the right side of the river and my boyfriend crossed to the left after giving me last minute advice: fish the bank, not too many casts, mend your line, twitch it, let it rest, twitch it again. Keep making your way up the bank after a couple of casts. If you feel something, set the line. Patience. Have fun! With this he turned and made his way to the other side of the river. I took a deep breath, unhooked the fly and pulled out some line.
I have rhythm. I am skilled in music and I can dance. I thought with this experience the rhythm of casting would come naturally. Boy, did I think wrong! I made at least four false casts each time, which I felt in my arm at the end of the day. In the beginning, my forward and backward casts didn’t match. I didn’t allow the line to fully extend behind me before shooting it forward, and it would end up on top of the water in a tangled mess. On the reverse, I would wait too long and the fly would slap the top of the water, thus losing momentum. It was complete trial and error, extremely frustrating and exhausting.
I walked up the bank, finding my footing among the uneven rocks under the water. Along the bank were beautiful flowers that poked out of the green grass. I stopped for a second and took in my surroundings. Eagles and hawks flew overhead, their shadows falling over the water, and up ahead a turtle sunned himself on a rock in the middle of the river. I took a deep breath, moved steadily up the bank and came to a large birch tree lying in the water. The fast water had subsided and was now slow and smooth. I moved quietly, dodging rocks, trying not to fall in. As I moved toward the tree, I saw a shimmer under the water and my heart skipped a beat.
It was a bass. I never thought I would be so excited to see a fish. I stopped in my tracks and squatted down to watch the water. There was one, then two, then three; all bass. I pulled out my fly line to cast. In my excitement, everything went right out the window and my casts were less than perfect. But I soon got a rhythm down and landed a few right in the middle of the slow water. Cast, let the fly sit, twitch it a couple of times, then recast. I started to lose hope and was getting tired of casting to the same place. I moved a couple of steps and cast again.
No sooner had the fly hit the water and all I saw was a fish lunging toward it. It latched onto the fly fast and slapped the water as it dove back down. I could hear my boyfriend from across the river shouting “Set it, set it!” as he rushed toward me. Adrenaline rushed through me, and without realizing it, I lifted my rod and I had a fish on my line. He was a fighter, for sure. I tried to remember everything I was taught: keep your elbow tight to your body, strip in your line, keep the fish in front of you. We danced for what felt like 10 minutes, but was probably only seconds. He swayed back and forth forcefully. My boyfriend was at my side, talking me through reeling him in.
Finally the fish was close enough for me to grab the end of my line. He was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen; a smallmouth bass, with brown and green coloring that shimmered in the sunlight. He was twitching at the end of my line, clearly pissed off, but then you would be too if you had a hook in your lip. With the line in my left hand, I grabbed the fish gently with my right, dropping the line, and taking out the hook. As soon as I released the hook from his mouth, he jumped out of my hand and headed down the river.
As I reeled in my fly line, I noticed my heart was beating fast and my arms were shaking, not to mention the huge grin that was spread across my face. I fastened the hook onto one of the guides on my fly rod and moved once again up the river. As I shuffled along the bank, looking for my next spot to fish, a damsel fly landed on my fly rod. He had thin black wings which jutted out from his bright green body. He stayed there as I walked, soaking up the sun. I stopped to unhook my line, and as I moved my fly rod, the damsel fly flew away. But I knew he’d be back. I released the hook and pulled out some fly line.
Here we go again …