a very dark day needs some light to balance it out. this article cum memoir kindly sent in by Mark Surtees gleams with childhood fears that turn to admiration, magic, the realisation and appreciation that fly fishing is a lot more than just catching fish and most importantly, at least in my eyes, how we as sharers or teachers share and teach our passions. all too often, the what takes over the how but as with light and darkness, one doesn’t really mean anything without the other.
thanks again Mark for giving our readers another gem to reflect on and enjoy.
Was it for fun as a kid on holiday or day trip? Perhaps it was in adolescence to distract you from a life of petty criminality, a developing meth habit or a wicked and dangerous career out on the cultural edge in politics, accountancy or law. Maybe it was as an adult just to help de-stress. Whenever it was, the chances are, one way or another, you were actively taught to fish. Very few people pick up fishing tackle of any description without encouragement and brief instruction from a third party.
My Grandfather taught me. Over cold fishless winters he would sit, black suited, in his high back chair, smoking bitter navy cut cigarettes, sour as wormwood, silent, waiting. Sometimes he looked at me with his old crow eyes and I wondered if he would lean forward and peck out my soul…..he didn’t, but I was only six years old and very, very afraid of him.
One spring, when the grasses were still flat from the snow and the primroses bloomed on the banks, I went with him to fish the local river. We sat among the streamside flowers and I watched him tackle up. He cast a beaten up bamboo rod with a broken tip that was patched with a short length of brass tubing, a greased kingfisher silk line and flies from an old mock tortoiseshell fly box which contained a few nondescript patterns he had tied himself long ago. I could see his fly land on the surface of the water, float a little, then disappear as a trout rose amongst the ripples in the run and took it.
For an impressionable little boy it was an act of unimaginable and astonishing magic, a fish conjured seemingly from nowhere. This relatively simple, deliberate and entirely expected catch on the part of my Grandfather caused a radical and entirely unexpected transformation in my childish opinion of him. I moved instantly from fear to fascination. I was six, he was a caster of spells, so I naturally concluded that he was, very obviously… a Wizard.
I begged him to teach me the magic, and, as I grew up, he did. It was of necessity an inexact, imperfect, ad hoc sort of instruction but it was a gift from Grandfather to Grandson of almost inestimable value. I think he knew that…me? I had no idea and he died long before I realised.
Of course we all know that magic tricks do not happen by accident. They are repeatable, infused with purpose and completely within the control of the magician. Their objective is to deceive, just as ours is to deceive a trout in the stream when we fish.
Whilst, hopefully, we do not seek to actively bamboozle our clients in quite the same way, our lessons too are not, in many respects, significantly different to a well executed trick. If we structure and objectivise them properly then we too may surprise, amaze and delight.
Useful objectives should be observably measurable as far as is reasonably practicable and when we pick them they should be within the power of the student to achieve.
Appropriate selection of these achievable objectives allows students to build a succession of small but consistent learning wins. Each win a learned skill and each learned skill used to develop a new one and/or reinforce an old one.
For an instructor teaching within a “whole, part, whole” schema, it becomes critical to select suitable objectives so that common faults can be actively taught out without introducing negativity to the process. By doing this, within reason of course, new skills can be made to compound and combine largely error free.
That there are objectives for a student is a given. What is not so obvious, or maybe just not so often admitted, is that there are personal objectives for the instructor too. Whilst we may all wear the ego boosting insignia of our qualifications, the official regalia and psycho-protective badgery cannot really mask the ghastly truth, which is that we all, (well, most of us), have the same wonky limbic system and full complement of cognitive frailties as everyone else. So, I too want wins because this gives me a sense of achievement and I know I will instruct better and my student will learn better in a teaching environment which is giving us both positive rather than negative feedback.
In this context, although we clearly need subsets of grimly practical casting targets, there is no need to be emotionally dry with more abstract over-riding aims. Instruction isn’t just about a perfect PULD (Pick Up and Lay Down) or tail free loop, a quintuple toe hauled Jelly Roll or a cast out to the backing knot, it’s also a little bit about making people feel happy.
As a goal, I have to admit that this is very easy to say, not as easy as I ever first imagined to achieve and very difficult to objectively measure. But, sometimes, just sometimes, when you have had to do your very best sorcery to make it all happen, when those casts pop out from the turmoil like my Grandfathers perfect little trout from the ripple in the run, when you are dancing in a monastery garden with a beautiful laughing woman or being hugged by a big beardy biker on a wet suburban rugby pitch when the lessons end, then, you feel happy…and I like that…my Grandfather would have liked it too I think.
Mark Surtees ☺
that’s maybe not so far-fetched as it might seem at first as it’s hard to think of a place where we fish that isn’t also inhabited by birds and these birds will more often than not want to eat the very same things the fish do.
so far, i’ve managed to not hook any but a bat caught my fly on my back cast once and since i was fishing/casting upstream, by the time i first realized what happened and then brought it back to me it had drowned. sad moment.
in the video we’ll see an unfortunate fish-chasing gull who gets out of this predicament seemingly just fine, yay !
i can’t help but remember all the countless times i’ve had to yank out a fly during a drift when it was approached by ducks. this brings grrrrrs but a few grrrrs are a million times better than accidentally catching a creature that will probably fly off…
as noted, if this happens to you stay calm, be gentle yet firm and try to wrap the bird in a towel, t-shirt or something just as you’d wrap up a wounded cat or other animal. if you can, cover their eyes. being wrapped and temporarily blinded usually immobilizes them, giving you a better opportunity to get rid of that hook. speaking of hooks, it’s obvious once again that a barbless hook will a lot easier to remove if it already hasn’t come off as you retrieved the animal.
this isn’t an enjoy ! post but something to keep in the back of the mind. enjoy anyway.
here’s a little something different from Lee Spencer, way different.
i can relate to Lee’s story as i used to live right next to a wee stream in the french Pyrenees that apart from making lovely gurgling noises, had a very healthy population of gorgeous native brown trout. they weren’t of course, but these where ‘my’ trout if you see what i mean. i’d go look at them every day to see how they where doing, dream off into that dream place that being streamside takes one and of course learned a lot about how they lived, behaved and interacted socially, some of them even had names.
by wee i mean that at this level the stream was often no more than one metre wide. being completely wild and untouched by man and with lush vegetation abound, the stream itself was more often than not a green tunnel with a flow. once the obstacles of actually getting an imitation into their feeding spots where figured out, this being a Bow and Arrow cast nine.nine times out of ten because that was the only possible solution, getting these beauties to take a fly was relatively simple, they didn’t know anything about fishing pressure and in their world things that look like food generally are food but hooking up quickly became a problem, something the Bow and Arrow cast only tactic might have alluded to; there was no room to move the rod up, across or down to fight and land the fish. at this point i was already getting into the ‘it’s more about the strike than the fight and land‘ frame of mind so, the idea of cutting off the whole hook bend of a completed fly came to mind and was perfect for this particular situation.
i got my strike thrill, the little fishies i loved so much never really knew what was going on and remained where they’re supposed to be and i could do all this without breaking any more rod tips…
of course, i’m not expecting a lot of other anglers to go fishing without hooks but it’s a little something to think about. like mentioned earlier, it’s different, enjoy !
“Back in 1998 Lee Spencer did two things that changed his relationship with the big steelhead of the North Umpqua River.
He agreed to become the first full-time FishWatch guardian of the Big Bend Pool on Steamboat Creek, where as many as 400 large steelhead spend the summer in startlingly plain sight after swimming up the North Umpqua to spawn.
And he started cutting the points off the hooks on his flies… “
actually, just the points:
“Everybody thought I was crazy, To me the whole peak of everything is the strike or the boil. Everything after that is downhill. Especially if you have to wait a long time to land the fish.
When you get a fish on, you get a run and a jump and at the jump it will throw the hook. That was satisfying enough for me.”
-click the image for the complete article on Deseret News-
reproduced in full with Mac Brown‘s kind permission, here’s a rant but it’s a good thought-provoking rant.
aimed at certain professionals in the fly fishing industry and other, as Mac calls them, profiteers, it’s about fishery welfare in the warmer months where water temps are simply too high and oxygen depraved to responsibly fish species such as salmonids that are poorly equipped to deal with the situation in it’s natural state and even less when they’ve had to also deal with having been caught.
now, most experienced anglers will know that once the water temps reach 68°F/20°C its time to back off but that’s not always the case. for local fishers who live in warmer climes and care to know, it’s a given but what about the well-intentioned novice or not-so-well-informed fishers or, traveling anglers ?
as an example, when i lived in Sweden the concept was completely unheard of as water temps tend to always stay cool enough even when air temps can be quite -actually downright- hot, and i’m guessing the same example can be equally valid for anglers in other parts of the world and all that leads us to the ‘Stewardship‘ part which is everyone’s responsibility. in my opinion it’s not just about setting professionals and profiteers right (actually, shaming sounds better… ), but also of sharing this information with those who don’t know. experience has taught me that if we take a minute, explain things simply with a good positive attitude, nine times out of the ten the message gets through and it’s readily accepted and everyone’s happy, specially the fish.
thanks again, Mac. keepem’ coming.
This short piece is my attempt to increase awareness about problems facing many of our trout waters, in my region as well as many around the globe. In our hemisphere, high summer water temperatures stress the local trout fisheries, and should be a sign to concerned anglers that it is time to leave the stream for another day.
Independent guides and fly shops who book trips should be ardent advocates for keeping streams healthy. But often they’re not. Conflicts arise because the summer tourist season occurs when most of our trout streams become stressed. July and August for trout fishing in Western NC is the off season! When the early morning water temps approach 70 F, it is best to look for something else.
Warm water fishing for smallmouth bass, perch, bluegill, is a better choice. Carp is one of my favorite species to target during summer.
Shops and outfitters who tell you different are profiteers, not stewards of the resource. They look at the short-term, since even they know that trout caught in 70+ F water have a very dicey chance of survival.
These profiteers actually hurt the resources they claim to love and protect! This becomes an ethical decision for those customers that are hell bent on trying to catch a mountain trout during the wrong season!
If you want to trout fish in July or August for vacation then head to Montana, Wyoming, Idaho, or Colorado! Fly fishing has more appeal in recent years, and now vacationers throw it into the mix of rafting, horseback riding, zip-lining, mountain biking, hiking, and many other great activities the Smoky Mountains area offers. The difference with angling when it is too warm is that in no way can it be good for fish or angler!
Shops and profiteer guides should be offering clients a change of species during the hot summer months. Guides can teach learning to read water, casting, rigging, stream-side techniques, and a host of other aspects of the sport.
This might provide opportunities like targeting Chub for learning nymphing techniques through the middle of the day. Chub provide plenty of subtle strikes just like trout! Here is a trophy from a few days ago on one of my favorite streams in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park with my 10-year-old son.
Excessive fishing pressure is an increasing problem on many delayed harvest trout streams, due mostly to the increasing number of new fly fishers as well as an excess of fishing guides and outfitters. There is a big difference between how much room to leave fellow anglers on a Delayed Harvest stream versus a wild stream. The wild stream requires perhaps a mile or more out of sight. On the Delayed Harvest stream that may be only a 30 feet. Delayed harvest waters receive many numbers of trout that tend to stay together when they are first stocked.
Often, local guides work when and where they can, through shops or other outfitters. Part of the issue is that these guides’ experience levels are all over the place. In my region, The Smoky Mountains, there are too many fishing guides. An Ozark term my grandfather used to say is “the market is glutted.” Many shops and outfitters just look for bodies to fill slots on their books, regardless of experience and knowledge of the area. In my area, guide prices range from $80 to well over $500 for the same trip on the same water.
The difference of what you come away with learning and also catching is quite obvious if you really do your homework first. In fly fishing especially, you get what you pay for.
Most area tourists would hope the local shop will give them credible information. And this is typically true in the Western states for the hundreds of reputable shops.
But, in my opinion, the Southeast is a circus show, with the exception of a few quality shops. People pay hard-earned money for a quality trip. The older I get, the more twisted our sport seems to be growing.
And it’s happening all over the globe. Social media — like advertising on Google Ads, Facebook, Instagram — can enable anyone to compete for clients in their region or create a website or blog by paying SEO experts for internet exposure! I am sure you have all heard that if it is on the internet “it must be true”!
The important question folks should be asking is can the instructor teach casting and line control to provide a drag-free float? Can they teach techniques that will stay with you for a lifetime of enjoyment fly fishing? Will your trip have guides that are enablers to improve your overall skill set on the stream? Will it be a mundane afternoon of bobber lobbing with hearing only the words “mend it, mend it again, mend it” rather than adjusting to the rigging and tactic appropriate for the moment?
Another important question –, regardless of skill, teaching ability, qualifications, certifications, does it even matter to the client? Is it only about who is the cheapest price overall? So this Disney approach to the sport is something that will take me a while to get my head around since I have pushed hard for very high quality trips for close to thirty years now.
It seems to me that down the road this has to “Make America Dumb Again” in regards to tourism fly fishing mayhem.
this 51cm – 20″ beauty from a northern England limestone creek was a special fish, a two fisher fish.
i had spotted it holding in its shallow lie and covered it several times with several generic mayfly imitations but it wasn’t in the least bit interested so after a while i insisted that it was buddy Mark Legget‘s turn to temp it.
several “no, you spotted it, its yours” and “yeah, but it doesn’t like me and i really want you to catch it”s later, he not-really reluctantly gave in and positioned himself while i spotted from up on the bank and two perfect drifts later hooked up. after a good fight from both parties i landed it for Mark and we where able to briefly admire it from close up.
memory’s poor, i’ve always had a hard time remembering numbers, but i believe it was around 1,6kg – 3 1/2 lbs. that’s no record by any means but its really an awesome fish for such a small stream but a lot more than that, this was the nicest catch in ages.
Mark was of course happy but something deep inside tells me that i was a lot happier, reminding me of my youth and Hugo my godmother’s husband who was a ‘second father’ for me of sorts who so frequently brought me along on his fishing trips and who was always ecstatic when i’d manage to bring a fish to the net, no matter its size.
we’re of about the same age and Mark and i of course don’t have the mentor/parental or whatever else connection i had with Hugo but this fish left a similar feeling; of having shared and completed a scenario with its wished-for outcome as a team making it a much greater sum than its parts. the circle is complete.