The members of the Neverwas Nonesuch Angling Society are wonderful people, each and every one a shining example of virtue and sportsmanship. Go ahead; ask them yourself. They’ll tell you. It’s those other guys that are the problem.
I don’t think the trout of Fish in a Barrel Pond really give a carp one way or the other. All men are equal before trout, as the saying goes, so as another season of fishing comes to an end, with the slopes of Nonesuch Mountain bathed a gaudy, autumnal glow, I take a moment to reflect on the ways of both people and fish, circa 2012.
I know of a big rock that sits off by itself, where if I cast a small nymph so it tumbles down the submerged face, there is a decent chance my fly will be picked up by a trout before it reaches the bottom. Not every time, by any means, and the chance is actually quite a bit less than 50/50, but it works often enough that it’s worth the wander if I make it to that end of the lake with rod in hand.
At low water that rock sits kind of high and, even though its upper edge affects less than .001% of the lake’s surface, there is a decent chance someone will clatter their way across it, dinging up their prop or maybe even burning out their motor in the process. That’s a given, and even I have hit a rock or two, my own self. Never, however, did it occur to me to row back to the dock — with the motor still down, making it even harder — and verge on a coronary as I showed others the damage and looked for someone to hold responsible.
Most of my fishing time consists of an hour or two here and there, sometimes from a boat, other times from shore or a dock. If I scare up a couple of trout I am happy, but not as happy as when I hook them. Still, I’m not too proud to admit that, with my limited time on the water, I’ll settle for a couple of splashy refusals or even a decent fish coming up slow to give my fly the stink-eye, real nice and close. Don’t get me wrong, I can go just as insane as the next guy in a blizzard of June drakes, and in August, when a good ant fall is coming down, I play the gleeful fiend, releasing so many fish I lose count.
Some anglers I know spend all day on the water and have a wonderful time, numbers be damned. Some do well enough to feel competent, which is plenty for them, while others keep tallies and make notes, diligently adding mileposts along their road to enlightenment, which requires them to touch every possible fish. Even those who don’t measure their days strictly in terms of fish take the sport seriously enough to learn and share and strive for improvement, and I don’t doubt the most studious of anglers derive a large measure of enjoyment from this silliness, but I find there are those among us that fall into neither of those two camps. Like that rock, they are the .001 percenters, the blameless ones.
These anglers can fish all day and catch not a thing, although to be fair I should point out that some fish not at all, yet still complain. The boat and the wind, the sun and the clouds, the moon, the devil, and Quill Gordon could be to blame for all I know, and what I know is that some folks can come off the water skunked, pissed, and looking for the proper someone to speak to.
Regarding the aforementioned ant fall: In late summer, the ant colonies of the woods and fields go forth and multiply, sending thousands upon thousands of plump, winged females aloft to seek their fortunes, each accompanied by her own tiny, winged stud. Sometimes, when the breeze is just right, or maybe when there’s no breeze at all, their weak, temporary wings give out over the lake and ants come sprinkling down. Some years the ant falls are sporadic and isolated, hit-and-miss affairs, but a few years ago the breeze did not stir and it rained ants for the better part of a day and a half. With their succulent, cinnamon-colored abdomens and lemon-y snap (yes, they taste like lemon), they were irresistible to the trout, and the angler without a #14 dry-fly that looked like a cinnamon-colored ant was just S.O.L.
Since witnessing my first ant fall here and seeing the lake light up with the splashes of trout in an ant frenzy, I have kept a box full of ant flies handy for that one special time when, for the next twenty minutes or five hours (you never know), nothing but a winged cinnamon ant will do. I carry enough of them that if I see someone who desperately needs one, I can give them three. I hand the darn things out like candy to everyone I meet, and success comes to all, but ding-dang me all to heck if some sad sack won’t gripe about missing four out of twenty because the hooks on the only flies that worked for him all day didn’t have barbs.
I know that if I say something like, “Dude, you need to sweep the floor (or clean your boat, or pick up your dog’s poop)” to someone before they check out at the end of their stay, the response could range from, “No problem! Last thing before we’re out the door!” to, “Oh, we thought that was your broom.” Much to my surprise, I now know I can also expect a response that might be best described as a shit storm of indignation that will last most of the season, distract from real issues and engulf countless innocent bystanders in its tidal surge of crap. Of course, the outcome of each of the above scenarios is the same, in spite of the bluster and strongly worded letters to the board, and it is that I will sweep the floors, clean the boat and pick up the dog poop, anyway, like I always do.
When a tree falls along the shores of Fish in a Barrel Pond, it is policy to leave it where it fell unless it creates a real hazard to navigation, blocks the approach to a dock, or otherwise seriously interferes with enjoyment and use of the lake. Downed trees are left to fester, providing a base upon which to establish a food chain, from algae and micro-organisms to crayfish and insects, right on up to the trout. Casting into a dead tree can be tricky business, but sometimes a few twitches of a bright streamer will bring a large trout charging out, and more than once I’ve watched big fish delicately picking bugs off submerged branches or blasting through a shoal of dace, leaving behind a twinkling cloud of scales. A good downed tree is a food factory in a lake like this.
One man’s good downed tree is another man’s fit of apoplexy, as trolled flies get hung up, or casts go awry, and I understand, to a point. Lost flies are part of the price one pays to fly fish, but at upwards of two bucks a pop, I would think a guy would stop cruising over that place he “always gets snagged” if it’s costing him ten dollars a day, and after a while I would either improve my cast or stop tossing line into branches if it kept happening “again and again”. I would never think of suggesting that Quill Gordon go out by himself in a row-boat, with a chainsaw, to “just take care of it”.
And I would never see an otter, an osprey, a heron, a loon, a mink or an eagle and shout, “Quill, get your gun!” Quill Gordon ain’t going to jail because a bird or a weasel might eat a few fish. And just how is it that a boat can show up at the dock with a 3-inch hole punched through the plywood hull, from the inside, and no one know anything about it? And why wait until Sunday morning to tell me the toilet seat broke on Friday night and you just threw it away?
I know that sometimes the solution to catching a fish is just as likely to be something absurd, like a #8 pink Zonker or a giant Chernobyl Ant, as it is to be a #20 pheasant tail nymph, and sometimes I’ll cover the bases by dangling a teeny-tiny nymph beneath a huge, crazy dry-fly. Sometimes the fish will take one over the other and I will eliminate the less attractive fly, but I give each a fair shot and pay attention to what the fish tell me, unlike one angler of my acquaintance. I call him Sitting Bill because he sits more than he fishes, mostly because he spends so much time changing flies.
One day, I watched Sitting Bill as he fished from the dock. I saw him miss rise after rise, sit down, select a new fly, cast it out, and miss rise after rise again. I wandered over and saw that Sitting Bill was fishing a nymph, suspended beneath a bright yellow piece of foam. It was the foam the fish were hitting, the nymph that he was changing, and I could not help but speak up.
“They’re sure pounding your bobber,” I observed.
“It’s not a bobber. It’s a strike indicator,” said Sitting Bill, switching his #14 hare’s ear for a #14 Prince Nymph.
He cast again, and again a large trout smacked the bright yellow foam.
“Strike indicator’s working,” I offered. “I think they’re trying to tell you something.”
“Yeah, well, they’re getting under my skin, dammit,” retorted Sitting Bill. “When is someone going to do something about the fishing around here?”
“I don’t know, man, but if it were me, I’d get a big, fluffy dry-fly on ASAP, while they’re looking up,” I said.
“Well, I’m fishing nymphs” said Sitting Bill, changing over to a #14 pheasant tail. “If you’re such a great fisherman, why don’t you get a big, fluffy dry-fly and see if you can do any better?”
In a flash, I was to my front porch and back, rod in hand, with a big yellow humpy tied on at the end of my tippet. One, two, three false casts, and I let out 30 feet of line from shore, to a point not far from the corner of the dock, where Sitting Bill was changing over to a #14 pheasant tail with flashing mylar on its back. Three times my humpy went down and three times I released a fish, all before Sitting Bill had made another cast. When he did, the fish were all over his yellow foam again and, as I released number four, he said, “Of course you can catch them. You fish all the time!”
The season is almost over, here at Fish in a Barrel Pond, and I’d like to think everyone learned something over the course of the summer, but I doubt it. Even today, with the trees about as pretty as pretty can be, it’s not enough for some. Maybe it’s the over-stimulated digital world we live in, or maybe it’s an over-inflated sense of entitlement, or a lost sense of beauty and serenity; I don’t know, but it is beyond me how someone can stand in stillness, basking in the quiet, warm glow of a tree-covered hillside, even with a little rain, and say, “I expected better. I’m really disappointed.”
Hell, the fish are easy. It’s the people I can’t figure out.