Fly Fishing

Castwell and Tantalus go a-Angling

In a short story by G.E.M. Skues, Theodore Castwell is an angler who, after death, finds himself fishing the hole of his dreams, for eternity. In Greek mythology, Tantalus is such a jerk that he finds himself surrounded by things he desires, just out of reach, for eternity. Here at The View From Fish in a Barrel Pond, Quill Gordon finds himself relating to both predicaments although he eventually has the good sense to extract himself.

Inspired by an old copy of The Compleat Angler and a jug of cider, what follows imagines Castwell and Tantalus as Piscator and Venator, in the style of Izaak Walton, Charles Cotton and oh, I don’t know, Ed Zern, I guess. Illustrations by J. Eyre, in a Collins’ Pocket Classic Edition of the Compleat Angler published in Great Britain in the 1930s(?).

~~~

*the first hour*

TANTALUS. Wait, sir! Wait! I can’t keep up with you.

CASTWELL. I hold back for your benefit but you’ve still not caught up. What’s keeping you?

TANT. Trout are swirling, right there, not fifteen feet from shore! A few minutes is all I ask, to ascertain what they feed on. After that, it won’t take long to bring a few to hand.

CAST. Spent mayflies, no doubt, perhaps a few cripples that never made it off the water last night. Or little brown beetles that crashed, trying to fly before they were fully warmed by the morning sun. Take your pick. The breeze brings them here, nearly every day at this time. But this is not a time to be fishing. There’s work to be done!

TANT. Half an hour at most! I see them right there! Twelve casts, and I will be all about business. Honest.

CAST. Your first business this fine day is a leaking commode but don’t worry yourself one bit; with each other for company, time for us will drag by only twice as slowly. Fishing may come later, after the commode. Bring a hammer, just in case.

Trout

~~~

*the third hour*

TANT. Well played with the hammer, sir; that commode didn’t stand a chance. To think we nearly didn’t have this opportunity to fish from this small boat! In order to have just the right fly, I’ve brought along an entire bag of fly boxes to cover all situations.

CAST. As for the commode, you did your part, too, being so quick with the mop, but there is not time to tie on even a fraction of your collection!

TANT. You’ve caught a fish, sir. What delicate bit of art have you chosen from your tin that formerly held mints?

CAST. It is a size-14 cream-colored dubbing wad with crumpled deer hair legs.

TANT. But it looks like nothing!

CAST. It also looks like anything and anything will catch more fish than your fly, which is nowhere near the water.

TANT. But now we have drifted or they have moved and my fly falls short. In order to cast further I shall stand!

CAST. Then widen your stance and find your center before you pitch us both overboard! And observe, Nimrod, that the fish on your side have now seen you in the sun and are even further away. I choose to stay low and cast into the shade of the shoreline.

TANT. But you cast so close to the shore that your fly will surely land in a shrub! Hey! You’ve caught another fish with your cream-colored dubbing wad with crumpled deer hair legs!

CAST. No, I changed my fly while you churned the water with that ball of tinsel you lob so recklessly.

TANT. Did you change to an Elk Hair Caddis? Queen of the Waters? Hare’s Ear? Are the wings up or down? Did you select a Wulff style fly? Is it wet? Is it dry? Is it red or is it green? Yellow? I probably have one of whatever it is in my bag.

CAST. Same fly, but brown. I have a black one, too.

TANT. And another fish! How many is that?

CAST. This makes three and the rest are a given, as long as the breeze blows this way, so that’s that. There’s work to do before lunch and more to do after. Take us ashore.

TANT. But I do not yet know, precisely, what the fish are feeding on!

CAST. Something small, with crumpled legs. See? I’ve caught another one! Take us in now or you won’t get to clean septic filters later.

~~~

*the fifth hour*

TANT. There is no breeze and the lake is like glass!

CAST. A breeze would be a blessing, right about now. Or a thousand fragrant posies, of which this stench is the opposite. Be quick with that bucket and brush! The sooner you put that filter back in place the sooner we close the hatch on this foul portal.

TANT. I see a rise! And another!

CAST. Let me tell you there are no fish in this vault. You are overcome by fumes and we will both succumb to the miasma if you are not careful and quick.

TANT. Oh, sir, not in the septic tank. I speak of the lake. From shore to shore its surface is dimpled by rising fish!

CAST. Look at your work and watch which way you scrub and swish that thing. Gobs of grease and shreds of wipes spray in every direction!

TANT. I’m trying to be careful, I should have worn gloves, but the fish are feasting on something like children on candy!

CAST. I shall impart to you, Nimrod, that the trout are feeding on ants. I will also tell you my eyes are burning and I wish you would hurry.

TANT. Sir! Ants can not swim. Do they walk to where the fish are?

CAST. If you would only finish this task I would tell you of ants on their nuptial flights.

I would tell you of new queens, fat and tasting of lemons, flying for the first and only time on wings meant to last less than a day, each with a tiny consort, who hangs on for dear life until the ride is over. You would learn that sometimes they land on loamy earth and the two start a colony together, but sometimes their wings give out over water where they wallow helplessly until they are eaten by trout. Oh, never mind. Now that I’ve told you, put the lid back over this hole!

TANT. Watch your step, sir!

I am pleased greatly to offer my collar for you to grab onto. I am more pleased to see only one of your legs went in, and only part way, but you are choking me. Follow me to the ground and you will be clear. That’s it.

First, I will replace the cover so no one important falls in. Then I will bring my bucket and brush. I shall have your pants scrubbed clean in a jiffy and we can fish for trout. They still rise!

CAST. Take this rule with you: the busier you are, or the busier you should be, the more fish will rise within your sight. And remember this also: When ants sprinkle from the sky the fishing will go one of two ways. You will either have a fly close enough to the real thing and feel like an expert until you tire of the sport, or nothing at all will do and you will abandon your rod so no one will see you surrounded by rises yet fishless.

Stay away from me with that brush and gather the dirty linens from yon camp while I burn these britches and bathe. I shall return forthwith, bearing fresh sheets for the important anglers due to arrive this very afternoon.

TANT. The anglers just now pulling in, three hours early? Should we sing them a song? I will sing if you will sing but if you don’t I won’t because I’m not that kind of fellow.

CAST. There will be no singing and it looks for us like no fishing, either, at least not while these ants fall. I advise you to busy yourself preparing the camp until I return. I dread the wrath of anglers who find all is not in readiness.

TANT. But we are not late. They are early.

CAST. To men such as them it is much the same thing.

Men Such as These

~~~

*the seventh hour*

TANT. The waste lines have been cleared from inlet to outlet, the beds are dressed with fresh sheets that smell of lavender, and the anglers have all settled in. Some are in boats, surrounded by rises yet fishless, while others are in their cups, contemplating their own fishlessness. We ourselves enjoy small cups of barley wine here on the porch and I see, as the shadows creep out from the western shore, mayflies rising like upwardly trending snowflakes above feeding trout. What now?

CAST. My friend, you have kept time with my thoughts. But with conditions such as these, the fishing can go one of two ways…

TANT. I am confident which way it would go, with your guidance and sagacity and what not.

CAST. Another cup to seal the deal, then you will procure a boat and again you’ll do the rowing. We’ll find fish, fret you not. Now, take your nourishment.

TANT. I would like to think I have just the right fly. I’ll bring my bag.

~~~

*the eighth hour*

TANT. You had me row all the way to the far end of the lake and now we must sit and wait? My hopes of catching a fish fade with the light.

CAST. Fishing for trout requires patience and fortitude, Nimrod. One must study to be quiet.

Look to the east, atop yonder hill. The moon rises there and the fish rise here.

TANT. Indeed they do! Dainty sippers in all directions and did you see that mayfly? The one the size of a small pterodactyl? I know for a fact I have a pattern for that in a box at the bottom of my bag. At last I am witness to a legendary hatch, at the right place at the right time and with the right fly!

CAST. You would do well to look again and perhaps reconsider.

TANT. No, I’m sure of it. You go ahead and cast while I find that fly. Oh, I see you already are. I see, too, that you’ve caught a fish. I’ll join you shortly and we can both relish such merry making sport.

CAST. I’ve caught another while you rummage.

TANT. So now my knot is tight and my fly is there, to the right of where that fish just sipped. Another fish missed my fly, this time to the left! I see my fly but the fish evidently do not. Nor do I see your fly, obscured as it is in the mouth of that trout you’re bringing in. Oh, another close rise to mine and now two more! Mayflies emerge on all sides of our boat but the fish seem blind to everything but your fly, about which I hesitate to ask. Another size-14 dubbing wad, no doubt.

CAST. Do not forget the crumpled deer hair legs, but in black, imitating adults of another, smaller species, landing exhausted and spent from the exertions of propagation. They are easy pickings as they lay prostrate on the surface while what you refer to as pterodactyls launch themselves into the air. They, too, will return, exhausted and spent, in the hours before sunrise and truly large fish will come out to gorge on them in the dark. Until then, a black dubbing wad with crumpled legs will do, but when things are like this the fishing can go one of two ways…

TANT. Before sunrise you say? ‘Tis a match, sir: I’ll not fail you, God willing, to be at this very spot tomorrow morning before first light. Surely I will catch a trout then!

CAST. You’ll not fail me if you’re not here, for I won’t be either.

Tomorrow is another day in a long succession of days. Something will need scrubbing while, not a hundred yards away, brown trout chase minnows. Something else will require percussive maintenance and, while you pick up the pieces, a pod of rainbows will swirl past, plucking at midges. And I know, as I bring in one more fish, there will be no shortage of sheets that no longer smell of lavender. Now row us away from here before my drifting fly snags another one right in the lip.

TANT. Where to, sir? Shall we go ashore and bide time until the pre-dawn pterodactyl spinner fall? A quaff and a song or two, perhaps?

CAST. A quaff, yes, and who knows what we may bay beneath the moon. But your task now is to stop rowing in circles and find the dock.

We’ve Lost the Cork

~~~

*the eleventh hour*

CAST. Aw, look at you, with your head on the table! Pick yourself up and go to bed.

TANT. What? I was visualizing the pre-dawn pterodactyl fall, sir. Besides, this bottle is not empty and we’ve lost the cork!

CAST. Then slosh some more in our cups, Nimrod, not on the table this time, and let me tell you that when it comes to pre-dawn pterodactyls the fishing can go one of two ways…

TANT. Sir, you’ve slumped to the floor again.

CAST. Well, hand me my drink; I can sing just as well from down here.

Mayflies in the mornin’

Mayflies in the evenin’

Mayflies at supper time!

Dubbin’ wads and crumpled legs!

Spinners done layed their eggs!

TANT. Sir, that song is just as bad as the one you sang last night and the one the night before that but I thank you heartily for it. Let me help you to your room and we’ll get a fresh start tomorrow. Things will be different then, I’m sure.

∼∼ END ∼∼

 

 

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From the Mixed Up Bookshelves of Quill Gordon: The Flying Fisherman

“The Flying Fisherman”

Roscoe Vernon Gaddis was born in Mattoon, Illinois, in 1896. When he was thirteen, his family moved to Great Falls, Montana, which is where, among other things, he caught his first rainbow trout and met Buffalo Bill. In 1915, he missed his chance to play professional baseball when he skipped a try-out with the St. Louis Cardinals because he heard the bass were running on the White River in Arkansas. Having passed up a career opportunity like that to go fishing, it is fitting that fishing eventually became his career.

Everywhere he went, whether working as a gandy dancer on a railroad gang in Iowa, selling vacuum cleaners in Minnesota, or driving mules in Louisiana, he fished. When the United States declared war on Germany, in 1917, he enlisted in the Army, signing up for the Signal Corps because that’s where the airplanes were and he had wanted to fly ever since he’d seen his first plane several years before. Shipped to San Antonio for basic training, while waiting for his air cadet application to be approved, he fished for bass in the Little Medina River. Continue reading

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A Book Suggestion: The Feather Thief

“I don’t think you want to write that story… Because we’re a tight-knit community, fly-tiers, and you do not want to piss us off.” — Roger Plourde, quoted in The Feather Thief

“…The Feather Thief proves that the most obscure, “candy-ass” activities can be made interesting for the general reader.” — The Times of London review of The Feather Thief

Kirk Wallace Johnson served with the U.S. Agency for International Development in Iraq, first in Baghdad and then in Fallujah, where he was the agency’s first coordinator for reconstruction. He has also worked extensively on behalf of Iraqi refugees and is the founder of the List Project to Resettle Iraqi Allies. If anyone ever could benefit from fly fishing, it was him, and it was while fishing that he heard a story that made him want to know more. The Feather Thief is the result of his investigation, which took more than six years.

Risking the wrath of fly-tiers and their tiny scissors, Mr. Johnson has taken a deep dive into the “feather underground” which, in this true story, consists mostly of people who tie Victorian salmon flies using authentic materials called for in the original recipes. Unfortunately, many of the feathers in those recipes are rare and expensive, heavily regulated by international treaties and acts intended to protect the endangered birds who possessed those feathers in the first place. Continue reading

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A Visit to Mossy Creek Fly Fishing

One of the most important things to remember when booking a guide for a fishing trip is to make your reservation early, especially for popular guides on popular water at popular times of year. Still, it never hurts to ask, and the folks at Mossy Creek Fly Fishing couldn’t have been nicer while explaining to me, in mid-April, why a guided float down the Shenandoah for smallmouth bass in early May was out of the question, though they still had spots open for May of 2019.

A self-guided float down a nearby stretch of the Shenandoah, however, was more within the realm of possibility so, when rain chased us off the lake on Saturday afternoon, five damp-ish, possibly smelly, smart alecs mounted an expedition to Mossy Creek’s shop in Harrisonburg, VA, for advice and flies to use on Monday’s river run. Continue reading

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Castwell’s Curse is Lifted

In the short story “Mr. Theodore Castwell”, by G.E.M. Skues, the aforementioned and deceased Mr. Castwell approaches the Pearly Gates and presents himself as a fly fisher. Escorted to a perfectly lovely cottage next to a perfectly lovely piece of water, he catches fish after fish from the same spot, over and over again. When he decides to move along to another spot, he is told he may not, and it slowly dawns on him that he won’t, after all, be spending eternity in the place he thought he’d be spending it.

Halcyon Days

After eleven years fishing the same small watershed and lake in Vermont, Quill Gordon could relate. Same water, same fish, same “fellow” anglers — not all of whom treated him well — year after year. It was a classic case of Castwell’s Curse, exacerbated by the fact that there is some stuff up with which he will not put, and so it came to pass that Quill Gordon broke down his rods, packed up his gear and, unlike Castwell, got the hell out of there, making his way to a cozy hibernaculum at the top of the hill in which to pass the winter while waiting for the sap runs of spring.

“F*ck trout, those dainty, speckled beauties, always delicately sipping in their cold, limpid pools,” he thought to himself. “And f*ck those who are obsessed with them, too.”

Quill Gordon was in a serious f*nk. Continue reading

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More Macro Mayflies and Musical Mayhem

As if making the transition from aquatic nymph to airborne adult (imago) wasn’t enough, mayflies do so without passing through a pupal stage. Instead, they emerge from their nymphal shuck with fully formed wings as a subimago, somewhat drab and not yet sexually mature. After a short rest with nothing to eat, they shed their skin one more time, spread their clear wings and join others of their kind for the first and only sexual experience of their lives.

Long Arms for Grabbin’ the Ladies

Random handing-off of sperm packets is probably more like it and there’s no regretting one’s choice, for they all soon will be dead. Such is the life of a mayfly. Continue reading

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Macro Mayflies and Musical Mayhem for Your Monday

People come to these pages for many reasons. Some actually subscribe and come on purpose but others simply stumble in as the result of tragic search engine accidents. Either way, many go away confused, some even leaving before they get to the good stuff.

Short-form posts are not our forte here at Fish in a Barrel Pond. A thousand words is never out of the question, meaning someone could spend four or five whole minutes reading these ramblings. We do our best to reward intrepid readers and most posts end with a treat, whether it finally be the punchline or an interesting photo or video.

No guarantees as to word count, since we’re just getting going, but the plan for this post includes multiple treats. We’ll let you decide for yourselves which are the treats and we’ll also drop the pretense of referring to myself in the third person.

An Unblinking Stare

The so-called “major” hatches of mayflies have begun for the season. Some are sporadic but others come off like clockwork, albeit a different clock than we puny humans watch. Intricate, delicate and very nearly absurd, they exchange the drab coloration and digestive tracts of their nymphal stages for the reproductive organs and gaudy apparel of adults. I find them in boats, on porch screens, clapboard walls, and in spider webs. When someone asks “What’s hatchin’?” I know, and not because I’m fishing all the time. Continue reading

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Objects May Be Smaller Than They Appear

There are those who believe places like this simply emerge from the mist at the beginning of each season, like some rustic Brigadoon.

Fish in a Barrel Pond

Those people have never chased a possum from beneath a bunk with a broom. As long as the lights are on, the toilets flush, there’s a fire in the stove and — most importantly — the ice is off the lake, they are free to believe in magic but, just between you and me, there’s a bit more to it than that.

Getting six old camps up and running by the last Saturday in April is one thing; keeping them running is another. Throw in a bunch of anglers at the height of black fly season and May becomes a bit of a blur, even if one’s left eye isn’t swollen shut by a fly bite in the lashes. They can be enough to make a guy want to thrash his arms over his head and go running into the woods screaming but, deep in my heart, I love them and I try to remain stoic. For the flies, I just try to remember the bug spray.

Emerging

Continue reading

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Vermont Tenkara Finally Mainstream

We at The View from Fish in a Barrel Pond are not above tooting our own horn, especially when it comes to spotting important fly fishing trends, six years in advance. It may take longer for folks to recognize the genius of the Portable Long-Range Angler Management and Training System™ or the practicality of concepts like Gordon’s Getaway Club® (“for anglers who expect less from Nature”™) but we saw this Tenkara thing coming a long time ago.

Stalking wild brook trout in Vermont’s small streams is a delightful way to spend time on (and in) the water. Stealth and a delicate presentation are essential to success. Tight quarters and tiny pools add to the challenge, but there is no denying the beauty of native brookies or the pleasure of a few hours spent following a small, shady stream as it winds beneath a leafy green canopy on a warm summer day. For some, Tenkara provides a perfect set of fishing techniques and equipment to meet these circumstances.

And now, a little more than six years after we first wrote about it in these pages, Tenkara in Vermont has finally gone mainstream, if mainstream can be defined as being featured on Vermont Public Television’s long-running series, “Outdoor Journal”.

The segment below, recently posted on their You Tube page, follows host Lawrence Pyne as he fishes with angler and guide Bill Whitehair, using Tenkara rods to catch lovely little fish on a lovely little stretch of a lovely little stream.

The folks at Tenkara USA should be pleased.

The folks at The View from Fish in a Barrel Pond are pleased for them, I can tell you that much, especially after the fuss in their forum when we first wrote about Tenkara six years ago(!). Confusion was also reflected in a forum on a Tenkara site in Russia but the translation was poor, I have lost the link and, given the current political climate, I hesitate to search for things ending in “.ru”.

From November of 2006, here is our original post:

Vermont Hand Crafted Tenkara Rods

And, while they have not quite come around to our way of thinking, here is the fine piece from the Vermont PBS show “Outdoor Journal,” a very acceptable way to spend the next ten minutes:

(My favorite quote: “Cast it exactly like you would a fly rod. No trick to it at all.”)

Categories: Fly Fishing, Humor, Vermont | Tags: , , , , , | 6 Comments

An Idea That Will Revolutionize Fly Fishing

Having at least a rudimentary command of fly fishing skills and knowledge, I have spent the last ten years in close observation and study of anglers and their ilk. One conclusion I have reached is that a vital segment of the fly fishing community remains chronically under-served. I aim to correct that situation and I do not want you to miss out on this Important Investment Opportunity!

According to this article by Kirk Deeter on Field & Stream‘s Fly Talk blog, the American Fly Fishing Trade Association estimates that, in the U.S. alone, close to 4.5 million of us fly fish at least once a year. As Kirk points out, some sources put the number higher, some lower, and some prefer to look at only those who are regular consumers of fly fishing products. With estimates as high as 10 million and as low as 1.5 million, we’ll stick with 4.5 million as a conservative average.

Obviously, a certain percentage of us fish more than just once or twice a season, in a wide range of weather and other conditions, and manage to have a fine time doing so. We find the time we spend outside, doing something we love, to be an invigorating balm for our souls.

But what about those others, the ones who don’t fish much at all because to do so would mean actually getting outside? The ones who constantly find it too hot, too cold, too rainy, or too windy. The ones who say they’d like to feel they were part of something larger than themselves, if only it weren’t made up of so many things smaller than themselves, like black flies and mosquitoes, spiders and mice. The ones who react with anger at otters and loons, and at the end of the day knock baby birds from their nests for pooping on the porch.

I have seen far too many fly fishing experiences absolutely, completely ruined by the great outdoors. Making allowances for, among other things, the fact that some anglers will struggle on their own for a week, or that an entire camp can be demoralized in a weekend, my observations lead me to believe that at least 25% of all fly fishers would fish a lot more if they didn’t have to do it outdoors.

Over a million anglers, for whom the traditional fly fishing experience holds little charm? Sounds to me like Oppotunity knocking and that’s why, working closely with the same folks who brought you Vermont Hand Crafted Tenkara Rods and our famous gear-for-guides Angler Management Device, I am pleased and proud to invite you in on the ground floor of our latest concept, Gordon’s Getaway Club®, the ultimate fly fishing destination for anglers who “expect less from Nature”™. Continue reading

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