Fly fishing is a lot of great things. But one of the best things is the way mini-friendships can happen spontaneously on a river.
Saturday, my fishing buddy, Doover2, and I drove to what we knew would be a flooded and chilly Farmington River. We were hoping that the rising river would mean active trout and the cloudy water would hide some of our fishing inadequacies. Wishful thinking strikes again.
This was D2’s first experience with winter fishing and I tried to set expectations. I opined: “In the winter catching three trout is a good day. Catching just one is average, and getting skunked is not to be unexpected. At least that’s been true for me.” That statement turned out to be prophetic, and I would have been skunked had it not been for a new friend I made on the Farmy.
D2 and I first went to a pool in the Trout Management Area where I had had success in under similar conditions in previous years. The parking pull-off was empty when we arrived about 11 am. That should have been a clue.
The river was even higher than I had expected but we were still able to wade around to the places we wanted to fish. After about 1.5 hours, we had no takes and decided to move on, being somewhat discouraged because I thought that pool would be our best shot.
Then we went to the most popular pool on the river; you might say that people worship at that pool. There were two guys fishing there, both bait-casting without success. We left after about an hour, still waiting on a tug.
D2 suggested that we go to a place that was new to him, but I knew it was heavily fished and probably would yield nothing. But since we had struck out at the two places I had suggested, I tried to be a good sport about it and went along with his choice.
When I made my way down to the river, I was directly across from a guy who was fly fishing upstream against the bank on his side. There was another guy about 40 yards upstream on my side of the river. He was not fishing in the best deep water, but in some shallow water. A novice, no doubt. I figured it would only be a matter of time before he would start closing the gap between us and one of us would have to make way.
It’s always a little awkward when at first you encounter another fly fisherman on the river. Is this friend or foe? Will he be upset by my presence? Will he try to mark his territory? Will he try to intrude upon mine?
The guy across from me had a ridiculous amount of fly line out and was trying to make long casts. He obviously didn’t know what he was doing. I was trying to keep my drifts on “my side” of the river while he was careful to do the same. After a while, when it became obvious that neither of us was going to catch any fish in this location, I broke the silence.
“Have you had any action today?” I doubted he would catch one in a million years the way he was slinging that fly rod around, but it never hurts to assume the possibility.
In a friendly way I wasn’t expecting, he replied, “Yes, I caught one on a Woolly Bugger. I thought I had recorded it on my camera, but when I went to check the video, I realized that my battery had died.”
“Bummer! Maybe the cold sapped the battery. Was it a brown or a bow?”
“It was a 21” brown. This is the first time I’ve been fishing in two years.”
“Say what? Did you say you caught a 21” brown right here before I arrived?”
His nod made me consider whether I should take a two-year hiatus from the sport. About this time he pointed upstream and said, “Look, he’s got a fish on too.” Sure enough, this guy fishing in the wrong spot was bringing a nice brown to the net. There was too much beginner’s luck going on around here. No wonder I wasn’t catching anything.
I looked down and saw my feet moving five yards upstream towards where the guy had caught his fish. Five minutes later, when he was landing his next trout, I gave a hardy “Hoorah” in his direction. I’m always happy to see another man catch a trout. It gives me hope. He acknowledged my cheer, read my mind, and said in a thick British accent, “Squirmy and Flashback Pheasant Tail.”
He caught his third trout while I was feverishly tying on a pink squirmy wormy and a Quasimodo PT. By this time, I found myself standing about 30 yards from him. He said, “I’m catching them in the softer water; they aren’t in the deep run.”
After following his counsel for about 15 minutes, I still hadn’t caught anything. I tried a little levity with my new British friend and shouted at him, “How are you holding your mouth?”
“My what? My mouth?”
Apparently that old joke about not holding your mouth right hadn’t made it across the Atlantic. I felt a little foolish.
Still, he was doing something different than I was and since I wasn’t catching anything, I pulled my line in and walked up to where he was standing as he was playing his fourth trout.
“Do you mind if I take a look at your set up?” I asked after his trout made an unfortunate unscheduled exit. He showed me his dropper combo which was very comparable to mine. I walked back towards where I had come from, stopping about 20 yards away from him. “Am I crowding you if I fish from here?” I asked. I probably was, but he was very gracious and assured me that I was okay.
From 20 yards away, it was easier to chat. I found out that his name was David, he was originally from London, he had a couple of daughters who live in the southern part of the United States, and he had a brother-in-law who had a PhD from M.I.T. I consoled him for the misfortune of having to endure a brainiac in-law, but once again my humor didn’t hit its mark. It’s beginning to become apparent to me why I don’t have more friends.
As we were talking, I managed to catch a nice rainbow on the Pheasant Tail and had a brown trout take my squirmy and make a premature departure from it. David was as happy about my success as I was relieved to get the skunk off me.
About this time, Doover2 had made his way up from downstream and was fishing across the river from us. I told him what David had told me and before long he had brought two to the net.
D2 and I went home with a smile on our face, largely because a guy that we’d never met shared his expertise with us and even shared his spot, as if we were fast friends.
This isn’t all that unusual. I’ve often had fellow fishermen that I just met give me one or two of the flies that have been working for them that day. They’ve shown me where to fish, left their spot so that I could catch some fish there, given casting tips, and taken my picture when I’ve caught a fish that’s picture-worthy.
And it’s not just fishing help that they share. They talk about where they are from, about their families, about their health issues, about their favorite sports teams, and about the trouble they are going to be in if they don’t get home soon. You know, the kinds of things that friends share with each other. I even had one fellow, when he found out that I was a campus chaplain, pray for me and my ministry, right there in the river where the trout and God could hear it.
I don’t go to the river looking for social interaction. I go to catch fish. But I’m amazed at how easy it is to make friends on a river. I suppose it’s because we share the common bond of fly fishing. But it may have something to do with my deft sense of humor.