This past Thursday I arranged a fly fishing trip for five of my colleagues who are leaders in the organization for which we work. This is the eighth year in a row we have had our “fishing extravaganza” where we see if we can put a few good bends in our rods.
For the most part, these guys would rather golf than fish; and most of them never fish at all except for these annual outings. I’m not sure why they go every year, but my hunch is that they just enjoy each other’s company so much that they’d agree to go to a Tupperware party if it meant hanging out together.
Even though they don’t have much experience, after eight years these guys have slowly begun to accumulate some fly-fishing acumen. They are quick learners, realizing that if they do the opposite of what I say, they have the best chance of catching some trout.
On most years, we go to the East Branch of the Westfield (our overview here). There’s plenty of room there for us to spread out but still be able to see each other. When one person catches a fish, we all celebrate. When one person falls in, we all express concern until we are sure he is all right. Then we have a raucous laugh and archive and embellish the story for years to come.
The East Branch has given our rods many a bend. Some years we have caught 30 or more trout between us, most years it’s 15 to 20. I want very badly for everyone to catch at least one trout so that they can tell their kids about it and show them the picture. Even with the great camaraderie, it’s so much better to catch fish than to not.
But two years ago, that stretch and other rivers of New England were flooded badly in May and we had nowhere to go. There were rumblings among the guys that we should cancel the fishing and go bowling.
Desperate times call for desperate measures. On the day before our trip, I called Brian Gilbert of Hilltown Anglers. I had met Brian on the Deerfield a few times and he had been super friendly and laid back. After interacting with him, I decided that if I ever had the money to hire a guide, it would be him.
But on that rainy Wednesday two years ago, I knew that what I was going to ask Brian to do was ridiculous. I was just hoping he wouldn’t tell me that I could stick my fly rod where the sun don’t shine.
I asked Brian if he would be willing to meet us at the Deerfield and show us a few places where six guys could wade-fish when there was a high flow on the river. Providentially, Brian said it would work in his schedule and he not only met us at 8 am the next morning but he hung around and helped the guys get rigged up, gave some fishing pointers, and basically provided guide service for six guys until 1 pm. We passed the hat and came up with enough dough to help him buy a couple of tires for his daughter’s car, his main task for that day.
We had the same problem this past week. All the rivers were swollen and unwadeable, except the Swift (which is no place for inexperienced anglers) and the Farmington. At noon on Wednesday, it looked like the Farmington was going to be fish-able. I emailed all the guys and told them to go ahead and buy their Connecticut non-resident fishing licenses and trout stamps.
At 9 pm Wednesday night, I checked the flow rate again on the Farmington. Apparently, right after I had sent my email to the guys, the powers-that-be decided to change the dam release above the Farmington River from 200 cfs to 450 cfs. Now the Farmy had become a challenging place to wade too. I thought about cancelling the trip, but I knew everyone had already cleared their schedule for Thursday, forked out plenty of cash for a license, and had set their hopes on a day on the river with their friends. Let them stone me with bowling balls, but I wasn’t going to cancel the trip.
It would be hard for me to overstate the caliber of men with whom I have the honor of working. They have all sacrificed the opportunity to pursue lucrative careers because they want to make the world a better place. At the right moments, they can be funny and witty, they can be transparent and vulnerable, they can be encouraging and supportive, they can by honest and truthful, and they can be kind and considerate. It is always a great time whenever we can get together.
They say that every family has its misfit, and if you can’t identify the one in your family, it’s probably you. In this group of guys, it would be me. Hopefully, if I hang around with them long enough, they’ll rub off on me a bit.
We mustered at the Framingham Service Plaza on Mass Pike at 6:50 am and made our first stop at the Upcountry Fly Shop at 8:30 am. I asked the young man at the cash register, who had a master’s degree in brevity, if he had any suggestions for us: “Tough conditions, decent clarity, find wide pools, streamers and junk flies, good luck.”
I told my wife before I left the house that it’d be a miracle if we caught one fish among the six of us. And that was before I realized how bad the wind was.
We started at one big pool. It took us a while to get outfitted and to replace the old nubby leaders from last year. Mike and I were the last ones on the river because he was having a hard time putting a cinch knot on his chartreuse mop fly. When we arrived at the river, no one was fishing right in front of the trail, so I told Mike how good a spot it was and headed to my favorite pool, knowing that Mike didn’t have a prayer of catching a trout there with all that high water and wind.
My favorite pool is almost always good for at least one trout, but when I got to it, it was no longer a pool, but a rushing torrent. I gave a few half-hearted casts into it, but a trout couldn’t have held in that pool with an anchor. As I was making my way back to the other guys, I saw what I thought was a mirage. It was Mike stretching his 6’5” frame forward with a net in his hand, using his bent fly rod to guide a trout into it. Hallelujah! We caught a fish!
Not long after that, Mike caught another one on his mop fly. Then I caught a mediocre rainbow on a Kreelex and Andrew caught a very nice brown trout just below Mike. We also had a couple of long distance releases. At lunch time, we ate our sandwiches in the parking lot, then headed up-river to see if we still had any luck left.
Chris got on the board with a nice brown trout on a Tsunami nymph, then another one on a Pat’s Rubber Legs. I caught another mediocre rainbow on a Sexy Walt’s Worm. I guess I shouldn’t complain, but this trout’s rainbow was in black and white.
Just to give you an indication of how bad the flow conditions were on Thursday, it was a 60-degree day and there were hardly any other fishermen on the river. We drove by a popular pool and there wasn’t a soul around. The only other fishermen were guides with their clients, fulfilling reservations that were made weeks ago, I presume.
We stopped at two more pools and brought two more fish to the net. The final tally: four of us caught two fish each, one caught one, and one caught none. A triumph for such a day! We celebrated with some spicy chicken from Popeye’s, the perfect food after a great day of fishing with friends who are more like brothers.