I’m drawn to the obscure places when I fish, those places outside the mainstream, unheard-of and often overlooked. They interest me. I’m curious about what they may or may not hold. I’m the same way when it comes to the people in fly fishing. While I read, watch and listen to a great deal of the ”how-to/when-to/you-should” stuff that’s in-print and online, I’m more interested in what’s between the lines, outside the page edges and behind the images; the blood and guts, if you will, of not only the story but the story teller. To hijack a line from Robin Williams in Good Will Hunting:
“Personally…I don’t give a shit about all that, because you know what, I can’t learn anything from you I can’t read in some fuckin’ book. Unless you want to talk about you, who you are. Then I’m fascinated. I’m in.”
Everything has a story in it. Everyone has a story in them. Life is a library
About a year and a half ago this kid ordered some flies from me and we started messaging about flies and fishing philosophy. We finally met in person this past spring and put faces to names. A short time ago we had the chance to trade some stories and thoughts over cheap beers in a dingy bar. We told the same tales, different in the details but the same in spirit. So, while Backwater Flats has been my place to vomit out my story and what I’ve seen, I’m taking a year-end breather here to let Nick Jones put his out there.
Why I converted from spin to fly only.
I suppose, like all fishing stories, I should try to get the facts right and to leave the exaggeration out of it, for once. It was at a very young age that I fell in love with this obsession we call fishing. It started like most, with my old man catching bass and pickerel in ponds around my old haunts on the south shore — all memories close to the heart. It wasn’t until my stepfather came into my life that I discovered the salt at age 14. Every season was spent on his boat, throwing plugs and trolling tube and worms. I would spend my summer nights out on the beaches of Scituate throwing mackerel with fish finders, while my mornings were spent surfing and spear fishing. I would chase the last of the schoolies in November and ditch class only to show up for last period covered in bait and smelling like a beer can. I became a “canal rat” through my high school years, waiting for the new moon tides in the hopes of catching a fish in the 40’s. Following in the footsteps of my uncles—who spent their whole lives chasing “the one” at the ditch—I was in love. I would obsess over thoughts like, “Why weren’t they there today?” or “Maybe I’ll try low on the east end tomorrow.” This fishing disease kept me going and was all I thought about.
For all the good fish that I pulled from the ditch, it almost became boring and routine. The etiquette that was once found on the canal had changed and I couldn’t watch people ride off with 40-inch fish on their handle bars anymore. Something was missing and the obsession went dormant. I didn’t fish for 3 years. I’ve lived in Boston since I was 18—well, not technically. A lot of those years were spent on friends’ couches and, although one of those friends happened to be an avid fly fisherman, I never thought much about it. Being so close to Boston Harbor, I would break out the rod when friends weren’t around and go hit some of my favorite spots around town, catching a few schoolies if I was lucky and having a burger at Sully’s. The obsession started to wake up again. I realized, regardless of how bad things got in life, fishing was always there for me.
I fished more and more. My lifelong friend who fly fished came out with me one night. I remember watching him cast; it was like watching an artist and—at the same time—an absolute idiot! I would say, “Dude, a 50-foot cast ain’t gonna get you into any fish.” Much to my dismay, he out-fished me that night and pretty much every night after that. Weeks, maybe even months, later he brought me to Plymouth and we went fishing for trout. He lucked into one and handed me his fly rod; it was like I had just caught my first fish all over again. I felt like I was back on Houghton’s Pond with my old man catching my first bass. Or even like that feeling I’m sure some people get when they see the grass at Fenway Park. I could never express that feeling in words. I dove headfirst into fly fishing. My obsession went from semi-dormant to an explosion.
I find that fly fishing is more enjoyable because of its intimacy. You’re tying your own fly, your casting needs a perfect rhythm and, while you’re getting all your line in order, you’re hoping your technique might be coy enough to trick this fish into eating this fly. There is no better feeling than catching a fish on something that you created. I still have a lot of love for all my Gibbs plugs and my collection of Penn’s, but so much more goes into this side of the sport. This may hurt the ears of my spinner friends—and I don’t take one day I’ve had on a spin rod for granted—but having done both styles, I think it takes a lot more skill to catch fish on the fly. Now, I’m the one who’s hearing, “All you catch is schoolies,” and “Can’t you cast out a little further than that?” The truth is I would rather catch a thousand schoolies on a fly rod than try to catch “the one” at the ditch on a buck tail jig any day. The fly is the only thing that does it for me anymore. I’m a junkie and there are no interventions that will change it.
There are so many different retrieves to try, so many new flies to tie and my personal best isn’t about the size of my catch. Looking back I don’t think it ever was. Hand-stripping a fish on a fly rod has brought me closer to nature and the fishery as a whole. I feel more connected to the fight and at the end of the brawl we get to shake hands and go our separate ways. When you catch a decent fish on the fly and you’re into your reel, the handle will bust your knuckles up and now you know you’re in it. This is a feeling I never felt on a spin rod. Nobody really understands fly fishing for stripers until you try it for yourself; I’ll gladly do the same thing my friend did for me for anyone who wants to try it. If I hook a fish, I’ll hand the rod over in hopes that they will feel what I did. Watching my fly line and seeing my fly land perfectly flat on the water is a personal best for me every time it happens. I don’t care about a picture of me holding some cow out of the ditch anymore. I just want to watch my fly hit the water, fish or no fish. You learn to appreciate your skunks a lot more because every cast you get a little better and you figure out a little more about yourself. So get out there, bruise your knuckles up, strip that fish in, and watch the best moments of your life between the casts.
24 December 2018