Guest Blogger: Phil Rispin, fly fisher, photographer & more, find Phil’s photography here
You are showing your age if you remember the song by Carly Simon “Anticipation”. The lyrics begin with
“We can never know about the days to come but we think about them anyway”.
These words only give a small hint at the forethought that goes into a fly-fishing trip. For me, aside from studying hatch charts, tying flies, buying new gear that I think will be needed and perhaps going to the extent of building a new fly rod for the occasion, the day dreaming is the most fun. It gets bad enough that I am nearly useless to my employer for about 2 weeks prior to departure, but please don’t tell him. In my day dream I am standing in my favorite stream in Alberta casting to a rising Rainbow Trout that is about 18” long. The walls of the river valley are fairly steep on either side of the river, there is high Cirrus cloud in the blue sky, a cool breeze wafts down the valley and the water is incredibly cold making me shiver just a little in spite of waders and a fleece liner. I’ve put a #16 Adams on the end of a long 15’ leader and tippet; the casting is going well, no tailing loops and thus no wind knots. The water flowing around my knees is so clear you can see every detail on the pebbles at my feet and there is the sound of riffled water just behind me. I wonder if I should be carrying some kind of Bear protection because a sow with a couple of cubs was spotted in this area a week ago. I talked with a Fish and Wildlife officer this morning and they were concerned about fishermen……… wait a minute this is just a day dream. You see I can get carried away. It is often true that the anticipation and preparation for a trip can be just about as much fun as the actual trip itself. Sometimes the trip doesn’t come up to expectations but as often as not it does.
That then begs the question “what makes a good fishing trip?” Well I can think of a number of elements that make good memories for me. The first is the people I fish with. I enjoy being out with one or two other fishermen or with a particular fisherwoman. They should have a sense of humor and be able to take a little teasing. These folks need to be comfortable in the outdoors, not too fearful of the large wildlife but knowledgeable enough not to be careless. They have to have a laid back unhurried manner. Each person should be in great shape so walking and fighting current all day long is not a chore. In the evening at the end of a long day they should be happy to share in the various camp chores without complaining. Laughter and story telling around the camp fire should come easily to them. In short these people need to be good companions.
Weather is always an issue; good fly fishing often takes place in poor weather and a person has to be prepared for it. In Alberta, where I spend most of my fishing money and time, I have seen snow, hail, sleet, hot sun and thunderstorms all in the same 8 hour period. If you hike any distance from the vehicle you need to be ready for a variety of weather situations. If not it’s possible to get dangerously cold and all the enjoyment of the trip disappears at that point.
Wilderness helps the trip to be a good one. I have a theory that goes something like this: The size and number of fish in a stream goes up exponentially as a function of the distance from the parking lot. On one trip my wife and I brought mountain bikes along. Karen devised a simple and effective way of attaching rod tubes to the bikes and we biked up Clark’s Creek in Pennsylvania well beyond walking distance from the parking lot. It helped that an old abandoned rail road bed left us a great path to follow with the bikes. What we found at the end of the ride was great water and great fishing.
Anyone looking at my physique would rightly conclude that I enjoy food and this is an important element on any fishing trip. Lots of drinking water, a thermos of good coffee, and gourmet sandwiches that can be savored at mid day beside a picturesque stream somehow make the trip more wholesome.
Proof” is part of what the modern fly fishermen must deal with. A recent book by Linda Greenlaw declares in its title “All Fishermen are Liars”. In my father’s day proof came in the simple act of keeping and eating the fish, usually at home after the trip. The evidence was very visible and tasted pretty good, especially if my mother was the cook. Sometimes if a particular fish was big enough it would get mounted and put on the wall. More recently when most of the fish we catch are released back into the wild we are left only with stories but telling stories is not enough. It is now necessary to produce what is called “fishporn” that is a hero shot with the fishermen holding his or her prize carefully just above the stream before graciously returning the brute to the water. These pictures are then put up on FACEBOOK or some other internet sight. The images point to a person’s prowess as a fly fisherperson. All of this of course requires the purchase of a water proof digital camera which can cost as much or more than a good fly rod. It might be better to get a video camera because the fish often doesn’t want to cooperate for the posed picture and escapes into the water before the picture can be taken. If caught on video this small drama is a lot more entertaining than the standard fishporn shot and can be uploaded to the internet too.
Reliable transportation is a major issue in making an enjoyable trip. I was once coming home from a fishing trip with my father in an old green Plymouth equipped with those large tail fins. We had 60 or 70 miles of rough gravel road to travel from Cadomin to Edson before getting anywhere near civilization and I asked the question “Dad what would happen if we got two flat tires?” Within the next hour or so we had two flat tires. Getting back to civilization involved a long wait for someone to come down the road to give Dad a ride with the two tires to a fixit shop and then an equally long wait hitching a ride back with the repaired tires. Dad illogically looked at me as the cause of the inconvenience for having mentioned the possibility but the situation made an otherwise great fishing trip into a bit of a pain. However there is some compensation to this kind of problem because many years later you can start a conversation with “do you remember when……” and all the laughs and shaking heads are worth the hardship experienced in the distant past.
Over night lodging can make or break a fishing trip. This can run the spectrum from fishing with a hiking back pack on your back and sleeping under the stars all the way to staying in a high roller’s fishing lodge. I’ve never done the later but I have done some of the former. Most of my experience with sleeping places falls in between the two extremes leaning heavily towards the sleeping under the stars variety. In recent years the outdoors industry has come up with fantastic sleeping mats called Thermarests, good warm light weight sleeping bags, and small light weight tents. If you can find reasonably level ground with a minimum of rocks you can get a good night’s sleep making the hiking and fishing a very pleasant experience indeed. More recently, along with my aging body, my wife and I have tried bed and breakfast establishments from which you can base daytime forays. Costs are reasonable and there are often many rivers and streams within driving distance and the food………well you know.
Now what about the fish themselves? I am not one of those people who can enjoy a trip even if the fishing is poor. Good fishing conditions and catching fish is sort of like the Maraschino Cherry on top of the pudding, the trip is unfinished or unfulfilled if the fishing is poor. One must plan for success in this too. To my shame I have actually arrived at a stream in Alberta one week early for the season. Apart from feeling incredibly stupid it was costly and created some unhappy companions. Reading the rules and understanding the season dates is one thing but you should also know what types of bugs will be in and on the water at the time that you intend to go so that your trips to the fly shop or time spent at the tying bench is not wasted. Walking into a fly shop without the appropriate information sets you up for expensive mistakes. A lot of production fly tying is aimed at catching fishermen not fish. There are some incredibly attractive flies found in many fly shops. I really like the small nymphs tied with a gold bead head and a lot of shiny synthetic material. These will probably be ignored by the trout but quickly gobbled up by uninformed fly fishermen. The internet provides lots of great information about hatches that are expected in various streams of North America and there are excellent books like “Western Mayfly Hatches: From The Rockies To The Pacific” by Rick Hafele and Dave Hughes or Hatches II: A Complete Guide to the Hatches of North American Trout Streams by Al Caucci and Bob Nastasi. All of these resources are able to help you make informed decisions
So you see a major part of the fly fishing experience is the anticipation preparing for your next adventure. If you have a good imagination and a large repertoire of memories you can spend a lot of time fishing without even leaving the office but don’t let your boss catch you, he won’t understand you humming Carly’s “Anticipation”.
1) Western Mayfly Hatches: From the Rockies to the Pacific by: Rick Hafele and Dave Hughes, Published by Frank Amato Publications November 30, 2004
ISBN ISBN-10: 1571883045, ISBN-13: 978-1571883049
2) Hatches II, A Complete Guide to the Hatches of North American Trout Streams by: Al Caucci and Bob Nastasi, Published By: The Lyons Press; First edition June 1, 2004
ISBN-10: 1592283225, ISBN-13: 978-1592283224
3) All Fishermen Are Liars by: Linda Greenlaw, Published by Hyperion July 6, 2005
ISBN-10: 0786888784, ISBN-13: 978-0786888788