If Mark Twain deemed golf to be a good walk spoiled, I can only imagine what he'd think about fly fishing. There are easy ways to fish. Really all you need is a stick and some string, but this is a method that relies on supreme stupidity of the fish. Bear Grylls fashions hooks out of pop cans and ties those to a giant parachute chord and then he catches fish. These are stupid fish. This is not the easiest way to fish. If you can find a fishing pole and some fishing line and a reasonable hook looped with a giant worm, this is the easy way. This is the way that the meat fishermen fish in the Abbey Harbor, but this is not the way that I fish.
I can't quite say why I find fly fishing to be so enticing. It is not easy, nor is it particularly effective. That isn't exactly true, as there is no easier way to entice a brown trout out from beneath an undercut stream bank than to tumble a tied nymph past it. Correction- it would be easier with a hook and some worms, and I suppose that's the point. Fly fishing isn't easy and it isn't always effective, but it is always a challenge that combines a bit of art with the distinct possibility of lodging an airborne hook into your own ear. The gear is oppressively expensive, the flies easily lost, the tangles irritatingly curse-worthy. Even so.
I've been spending a bit of time casting a five weight rod not up a small creek in the Driftless but off the bow of my white boat into Geneva Lake. I cruise the shallows, casting again and again. False casts for a while until the line is out enough and then a double haul, some better than others, into the release. Sometimes the cast is perfect, others not, and still others aborted mid cast when the fly catches the flag pole or antenna of the boat. The fly is not a nymph but a streamer, and on a sunny Sunday morning a week ago I found smallmouth willing to eat that little white and yellow fly. The shoreline south and west of Uhlein's creek isn't particularly remarkable from a fishing standpoint, but when a roaming school of smallmouth appeared in the shallow water under my boat, there were false casts and then the release, and with a few slow trips a fish had found my presentation believable enough.
That fish, a slender but legal bass, won't be entered into the record books. No one would find it particularly impressive. But on that warm morning with the water lying still and my son looking on, it was everything I had hoped it would be. I spent the winter dreaming about a morning like that. About the way the sun looked when it rose over Cedar Point and the way the water would stir around 8 am and go lazy and flat again by 9. About the varied shades of green that would pop along the shore, first the willows and then others, some bright, others dull, but all a shade of green that artists have tried in vain to capture. The sun warming my back and my fly in the air, the just released bass swimming slowly back into the depths; this was the morning I had waited all these months for.
Between the last fishing morning of 2011 and the first fishing morning of 2012, there were plenty of other fishing mornings. There was fishing in oceans and in streams, and fishing with a surround of cold snow and other still standing on baked sand. These other mornings were fine, but they were nothing like that Sunday from March. Yes, I argued with my son some about the positioning of the boat. He has a hard time keeping it parallel to the shore so that I can cast, but just writing that provides me admonishment enough. At eight years old he's a perfect fisherman, able to set hooks with skill that most 38 year old's lack, or lost.
That morning, with my fly aloft, my son caught more fish than I did. He was fishing with minnows that we had netted in the shallow water east of the creek earlier in the morning, the same minnows that winter weary bass cannot pass up. The morning wore on, and when the fishing slowed we did too. Cruising back into the Abbey Harbor, there were other fishermen around. Those with bobbers and giant clumps of worms, likely catching more fish that we did. They might have been more productive than we were, but I doubt they felt as lucky as we did to spend that morning on that beautiful big lake.