Wednesday, August 2, 2017

hands free commandos

It was an early September morning, the beginning of what we call the “Fall Run” and the fishing had been unbelievable. It wasn't because I had cracked any code, I had just wandered into the right place at the right time. Things had started as the sun rose over slack-water at the top of the tide and had stayed consistent during the first of the drop. The fish were all cookie-cutter twenty to twenty-two-inch striped bass. I was casting from a high spot into a rock garden that held about six feet of water. The water was exceptionally clear and as the sun climbed higher and the tide dropped I could see the fish swimming back and forth among the rocks. The stripes had a mix of bait penned into the rocks and were feeding sub-surface. It was a big school. I had fished this spot several times during the fall in the past out of my boat and had seen schools of hundreds of stripers in these rocks. I probably would have walked by on this morning had it not been for a few tails splashing that I caught out of the corner of my eye while rigging the nine-weight.

About halfway through the drop I saw two other fly fishermen a good distance down the beach. I designated them Tango One and Tango Two. In between casts I would check their position and noticed Tango One moving closer with each fish that I caught. After I had released a half dozen or so fish he was no more than thirty feet off my right shoulder.  He made a few casts and would make the infamous “rod-under-the-arm-two-handed-high-speed-turbo-retrieve.” As he did this I could hear him talking. I didn’t pass judgment; I talk to myself when I’m fishing. 

The water had dropped enough that he could get out to a small section of sandy bottom that I had been fishing the edge of. He started to walk out and I went tight to another fish and as I was stripping it in I heard him say, “Get up here, he caught another one…it’s on fire up here!”

At this point I realized Tango One was talking to Tango Two via Blue Tooth. I looked down the beach at Tango Two and saw him begin to make his way up to where we were. It was about to get crowded and I don’t like crowds. There was plenty of beach to move to but I had a good thing going and was not keen on giving it up. I decided to hold my ground and let things play out.

I released my fish and watched as they took up spots thirty feet in front of me and to my right. I was casting straight out from the rocks. The current was running at a soft angle from my left to the right which brought my fly just a few feet in front of them on the last few strips. I thought this would send them a message to back off a little. It did not. Instead they both started casting up-current and perpendicular to my casting lane. I stood in disbelief and watched them cast. They were both two-handed-turbo stripping but they couldn’t keep up with the current and their flies were making it back to them before the lines. Situational awareness was weak with these two.

I moved another thirty or forty feet to my left and went back to casting. All morning I had been retrieving the line in short, staggered strips. Nearly every fish had taken the fly on the drop in the pause between strips. These were happy fish and not expending a lot of energy to feed because there was so much bait in front of them. I think I could have drifted a Beanie Baby in front of them and they would have eaten it. The slow strip continued to work and I brought a couple more fish to hand. Each time the Tango Twins saw me hooked up they began to cast and turbo strip faster and faster. I understand the reasoning for the two-handed strip but it’s a tool, not necessarily something needed in every circumstance. Watching them made me think of the first fight between Batman and Bane in The Dark Knight Rises where Bane says, “You fight like a younger man, nothing held back…admirable but mistaken.”

I hooked up again and Tango Two broke out his fly box. He and Tango One spent several minutes thumbing through the box. I threw another cast and let my mind wander as I Granny-stripped the fly.

I had a Caesar Salad once at Carmichael’s in Chicago. It was amazing. I was there with my friends Jay and Z (not to be confused with the rapper) to watch the Patriots play the Bears. We didn’t have tickets. We watched the game at Mother Hubbard’s with about two hundred other Pats fans and my buddy, Mike Davis from who had driven in to meet us. The night is a blur. I don’t remember who won the game, I’ve tried to forget saying I would cover the bar tab and I think it was snowing when we walked around the corner to Rossi’s. But I remember everything about that salad. The Romaine was torn to perfect fork size, the dressing had just enough anchovy and the grated parmesan added extra taste and texture to make it a full meal. I ate slow and savored every bite. For ten minutes, I blocked out everything around me other than that salad and the Jack and Diet in front of me. Salads like that don’t come along very often. Neither do mornings like that one. So, I did my best to block out the fly fashion show the two Tango’s were having and kept fishing.

Eventually they tied on new flies and went back to casting into the current and turbo stripping. I went tight to another fish and decided it was time to move. This time I held the fish up out of the water before I released it. Tango Two dug the fly box back out.

As I made up my line I walked over to them and said, “It ain’t the fly.”

Neither one said anything but confusion was in their eyes. And they were in fact both equipped with Blue Tooth’s.

“It ain’t the fly, anything you throw will get bit. Cast straight out, let the current swing the fly and work it back with slow strips. Let the current make the fly breath. Strip it with one hand. Slow.”

They both took heed and made casts straight out. It only took a few SLOW strips and Tango Two was on. Tango One stuck his rod under his arm and dug his camera out to capture the moment. As Tango Two held the fish for the photo, Tango One, who had left line in the water got bit and as the fish took the slack up in the line his rod went flying out from under his arm. It was a shit show for a few seconds but he grabbed it before it got too far.

All I could say was, “Wow. Hands free.”

I turned to head up the beach and one of them asked me if I was done for the day.

“Nah, I’m gonna’ go get a salad.”

From the Journal
2 August 2017


  1. I've always suspected that sticking a radio next to one's brain could have adverse effects. Nice salad and post, Mike.

  2. "Hands Free!!" Great story!