Fly fishing has become a habitual part of my life, intertwined with my daily thoughts and weekly activities, only surpassed by supporting the needs and connection to my family. Fly fishing is a hobby, habit, learning pursuit, and refuge. In life and in fishing, things don’t always go as expected. Pleasant surprises seem to happen less than degrees of disappointment in my mind. This week, items of sadness and disappointment stacked up on me. I was looking forward to spending some time on the river this weekend to clear my mind and reset my focus. I needed a refuge.
On Saturday, the morning was cold and windy, with an edge to the cold that cut through my winter clothing layers. Stocking has started on local streams, bringing crowds of anglers to stretches of streams. A crowded stream was not what I needed or what I was looking for yesterday. I made my way to a reach within the catch and release, non-stocked area hoping for some solitude.
I chose a nymph rig to start fishing, with two flies. A chartreuse mop fly was at the point (the bottom fly) and a size 18 little black stonefly nymph was off the tag. After another series of good drifts in fishy looking water with no observed fish movement, I started the process of switching out flies. I rotated in midge nymphs and emergers, pheasant tail frenchies, and hare’s ears without receiving one piece of positive feedback. I wasn’t dejected, but “it figures” was creeping into my mind. The “woe is me” mindset rarely produces anything positive.
It was time to switch up my approach. I haven’t had a lot of success with streamers, so I have tended not to fish them often. Streamers are larger flies, meant to emulate bait fish, crawfish, and other larger prey. The flies are typically retrieved by stripping line and using twitching of the rod tip to induce lifelike movements of the fly. This is different from the “dead drift” presentation with dry flies and nymphs.
I selected a black jig streamer, created by Lance Egan, and started to fish downstream through the reach I had just fished. A large blue heron silently flew upstream towards me and landed on a boulder directly across from me. I was hoping that during its flight the movement didn’t scatter any fish that may have been feeding in the reach. “It figures” started to creep in a little more. I stared at the gangly bird, perfectly designed to be an efficient hunter. Its long beak and longer legs minimize a silhouette and streamline its entry into water. Mother Nature is impressive in matching form to function.
The heron flew upstream, and I turned downstream. I fished a run by casting across the stream and varying the pace of retrieve and the head position of the fly. No fish flashed toward the fly and I felt no strikes. I moved into a riffle, with the shallow depths and faster flow I did not anticipate a fish would hit the streamer. Faster, shallow water requires higher levels of energy and in colder water, the metabolism of fish is lowered, and they avoid areas that increase stress.
On my second pass through the riffle, about halfway down the water column, a jolt hit the fly and tightened the line. A large brown trout attacked the fly. I was using a barbless hook and I had lost a similar sized fish on this streamer, in this reach, so I did not want to repeat that performance. I kept tension on the fish and moved to get downstream of the fish. Just as I was about to net the tired fish, it shook the hook loose and swam away. It figures.
Getting skunked was becoming a high probability. I took a deep breath and looked around. I was in a beautiful place, the crisp air felt clean in my lungs. My sour mood from the week had creeped into my head, but with each deep breath I was exhaling the negativity away. Oddly, my phone buzzed in my pocket. I needed to call my daughter.
Putting my rod under my arm, I called my daughter and left the streamer hanging in the current downstream of me. Near the end of the quick call, the rod began to shake under my arm. The line began to pull away from the reel as I ended the call. To my amazement, a trout had taken the streamer and hooked itself. I brought the fish to the net, shocked. I’ve caught fish while not paying attention before, but the timing of the catch was uncanny.
I sat down on the bank and shook my head. All the pressure I had put on myself to clear my mind and get myself back in a positive state of mind rushed out of me. I was trying to control my stress, activities at work, home, and outcomes of other pursuits. I let go of the attempt to control fishing and I caught a fish. The realization that I was overly wound up knocked me back.
When I arrived home, my stepson asked me how fishing went. I told him it was slow and the only fish I caught was when I wasn’t paying attention and on the phone. He said “that’s the Law of Detachment. Once you let go, things happen.” The philosophy is found within several religions and asserts that releasing the need to control the outcomes, situation and the actions of others allows one to be free to experience life. Deepak Chopra said, “In order to get anything from the physical world, you have to detach from the outcome, and be in the process.”
The Law of Detachment was new to me but fully described my experience of the surprise fish and my mindset leading up to catching it. If I can say I actually caught it. It also fits the mindset I was bringing to my fishing yesterday. I was trying to control too many elements in my life and was very disappointed. A controlling mindset makes me tight and prone to stress and being open with the learning mindset helps me feel light and creative. I’ve probably caught fish as a surprise 15-20 times in my life. I’m sure many of those were providing a trigger to an aggressive fish, but now I may think twice and see if I need a reminder to stay in the process.
3 Replies to “The Surprise Fish”
Love the heron picture!
Hey Scott! I can totally relate. That old say, “When you least expect it….”, so true. Still super exciting though with the big boy that got off. Any hookup on a fly is great, but those streamer smash hookups, they’re just awesome!! Thanks for sharing.
Thanks Scott! Streamer strikes are awesome! Especially unexpected ones.