I promised myself that I would not do three things if I went fishing today. Then I went and broke two of my three promises.
As mentioned in a previous Blogflyfish article, a week from today I will undergo hip replacement surgery. It’s questionable whether I should be out trying to wade around in a river with a weak, wobbly hip. But the weatherman had predicted that the temperature would hit 50 degrees for the second day in a row, and I haven’t been fishing since early January, and I was caught up on all my work. It was almost a mandate from heaven – Go Fishing!
But I needed to be wise about this – maybe even mature, not my strong suit when it comes to fishing. A flop into frigid waters is fraught with peril, especially with feeble legs.
I told myself I could only go fishing if I promised to adhere to three conditions: 1- Stick to the easy access part of the river – it may only be 25 yards long, but it’d be foolish to venture upstream or downstream where the rocks are treacherous and the current is tricky. 2- Don’t wade out into the deep part of the river to retrieve a $1.25 fly when it gets hung on the bottom. It’s not worth the risk of losing my balance and floating down the river. 3- No grouching or complaining. Enjoy the day!
So last night, in preparation for fishing today, I re-introduced myself to my orphaned fly-fishing gear. Since fishing three times in Georgia over the Christmas holidays, I hadn’t bothered replenishing my fly boxes. I was almost bereft of my favorite flies, many of the remaining flies looked like they had been chewed on, and I didn’t have any confidence in the flies that were left. I quickly tied a few red and black zebra midges, hoping that they would be the hot fly on the morrow.
The leader on my tightline reel was in shambles too. I replaced the four feet of 4x tippet between the strike indicator and the lower tippet ring. When I went to add two tags to the lower tippet ring, the 5x tippet kept snapping when I would give it a good tug. I have a lot of confidence in Cortland Ultra Premium tippet. Since it is fluorocarbon, I didn’t think it had gone bad on me. It must be a jagged tippet ring.
Yeah, come to think of it, the last time I went fishing, I was getting a lot of breakage. So I replaced the tippet ring with a new one, but I realized I was in deep trouble. I now had tippet-ring-doubt.
Tippet-ring-doubt is somewhat akin to having a finicky starter on your car. You hope it will work, but you never fully trust it. You worry it will let you down at the worst possible time. In my experience, bad tippet rings come in sets. If you find one bad tippet ring, you might as well throw the whole set away. I used to buy my tippet rings from Ebay, 10 for $2. They worked great until I got a bad batch. Every time I’d test my knot, the tippet would snap. I thought it was my knot, then I thought it was my tippet. I would have trout-after-trout snap my line. It drove me crazy until I bought a new, more expensive (10 for $10), batch of tippet rings and all the line-snapping stopped. Now it’s happening again, with the expensive stuff. I hope I haven’t gotten into another bad batch.
All that to say, I now had tippet-ring-doubt, and it’s a wonder I slept at all last night.
I arrived at the lower Swift River at about 10:30am. This was the only place I could think of that wouldn’t be blown out by all the recent rain, sleet, snow, and more rain that we’ve had. I was pleased to see that the river was at its normal level and that no one else was standing in the short stretch I wanted to fish. I started with a Pats Rubber Legs and a zebra midge, and I hadn’t been fishing for three minutes before I caught something.
It was the bottom.
Keeping to my pledge to stay out of the deep water, I pulled until my line snapped. To my dismay, the 4x tippet snapped off at the lower tippet ring. It seemed strange that the 5x tippet below the tippet ring hadn’t given way first. Breaking above the tippet ring is the worse possible place because it means there’s the pain of tying on a tiny new tippet ring, then tying on the two tags, and then tying on the flies.
I decided to go up on the bank, sit down on a rock, and started replacing what I’d lost. But I wasn’t grouching or complaining. I was thinking about how lucky I was to be fishing, how blessed I was to have a wonderful wife and kids, how much I loved my job, etc…
When I’d gotten rigged up, I proceeded to fish the run in front of me with a Squirmy and a soft-hackle pheasant tail. I got hung on the bottom again, but this time when I pulled, the flies came free and proceeded to lodge in the tree over my head. I might have said a word of grouch.
After disengaging with the tree limb (not easy to do with a bad hip), I resumed fishing and managed to get caught on some moss on the bottom again. I’d had enough. I was not going to waste any more time breaking off my flies and tying them back on. I broke my promise and waded out to the deeper, faster water to salvage my two flies. Fortunately, I stayed dry.
After that, by God’s grace, I managed to “catch” a holdover 17” rainbow. I hesitate to say I “caught” it. I hooked it on the soft-hackle pheasant tail, but it took a leap and threw the hook, but got snagged in the tail by the Squirmy. As I was pulling it to the net, tail-first, I got 3/4s of it actually in the net. Then it wriggled free of the Squirmy and swam out of the net. So, if you count foul-hooked and 3/4s in the net as “caught,”as I do, then I caught one. I’m sure my fishing buddy, Doover, would take exception.
I moved a few yards upstream and managed to catch the bottom again (there was a lot of moss in this section of the river.) As I pulled to disengage it, to my dismay, the line broke once again above the lower tippet ring. Once again, a major re-rigging followed. There’s no question that a good bit of grouching and complaining went on as I broke another promise.
Fortunately, I had another batch of tippet rings with me, and the tippet ring from that batch proved to be faithful and smooth for the remainder of the morning.
It was noon and I needed to finish up by 12:30pm. I had already fished the same 25 yard stretch about three times and was pretty well convinced that I had either “caught” the only fish in there or spooked all the rest. But a friend once told me to never leave a river with an empty creel and a dry olive Wooly Bugger.
Although I cut my fly-fishing teeth on fishing with Wooly Buggers, it’s been 5-6 years since I had fished with one. Once I started tightlining, I was catching fish so much more consistently that I disdained fishing with streamers. But Blogflyfish writer Joel Watson’s success with WBs has made me re-think that. What would it hurt?
It didn’t take long before I was in a tug of war with another 17” rainbow, with the Wooly Bugger in the middle. This one came all the way into the net. I’ve never been great at taking pictures of trout. I got a quick photo of this one in the net, but it was too big, strong, and slippery to hold in one hand. When I picked it up out of the net for a better pic, it turned its head just as I snapped the photo and wiggled free before I could get another. But at least I got some proof that I had caught a trout and some pics for this article.
The orthopedic surgeon says that I shouldn’t go wade fishing for six months after my surgery. We’ll see. I’m not making any promises. I’m not much good at keeping them anyway.