A Few Thoughts...

With a new year ahead of us, and Spring ready to 'sprung' right around the corner, the pace of fishing is about to accelerate - along with the crowds and a little helping of less-than-desirable behaviors. Now, I am a strong advocate of juvenile behavior and my house is made of the same glass that can be found in Gerry Cooney's jaw. But, when playing with others on a river, here are a few thoughts that might help you avoid getting your butt kicked around like a cheap Hacky Sack during high school lunches.

Don't Be a Lenny

Ok, so we've all, at one point or another, unwittingly ruined the 'moment' for another angler by crashing through some bushes in our haste to get to the water. It happens, and when it does, it's apparent that it was an accident, so we tip our hats, and we sheepishly walk away with our tails between our legs.

On the flip side, there are those folks that know you're there, yet still insist on walking right through the section that you're working. Now, sight-fishing is a stealthy practice, and requires skills that would make a Delta Force member proud. And once you've managed to position yourself with a bevy of delectable targets at your feet, the last thing you want is a Gomer with cement boots scaring away all of your fun.

So here's some tips that you may want to file away under "Common Sense" - don't walk through someone's water and, if at all possible, don't walk through someone's backcast. Please use your 'indoor' voice when talking and, unless the other person is on XTC, assume that they are not out there to carry on an in-depth conversation about the universe or your feelings. If you must talk, keep it short and to the point and move on.

Thanks, But I Have a Shadow

Aw, geez. Where to begin on this one? Ever been on a river that isn't crowded only to have someone come up and start fishing within a very close proximity to where you're standing? Yes, I'm talking to you, Mr. Belvedere. With miles of open river, there is no reason to crowd someone else - unless you need a hug. And even then I can only imagine that that would peg the Creep-O-Meter out at 10 (or 11 for you Spinal Tap fans).

Hugs aside, most anglers are on the river to enjoy the peace and the solitude that only comes with playing in Nature's Cathedral. Now, sometimes, this one is unavoidable, especially during peak months on productive waters - the Taylor River on a Saturday in July comes to mind. Actually, that one goes beyond 'crowding' and simply moves into the realm of Combat Fishing - which is basically an MMA match involving a bunch of folks dressed in waders. But I digress...

Look, if you get to the water, and you find that someone is fishing in your 'special spot' move on and try back later - but don't crowd the person. Show some courtesy and try another section of the river - who knows, you may just find someplace a little better. If not, wake your lazy bones up earlier and get to the river first.

Keep America Beautiful

Remember this commercial? Although I haven't seen any Native Americans rowing their canoes along the waterways I fish, that doesn't mean you're free to leave your garbage behind.

Being that we're now in 2009, garbage cans are common-place, unlike in the '70s, as this commercial would lead one to believe.

And if there isn't a receptacle close by, pack your trash out. It's that simple. I don't want to see your empty can at the bottom of the river, or the remnants of your lunch at the edge of the water. And I also don't want to see your tangled mess of a line ratted up in the bushes. The sight of a brave Warrior crying is too much for me to bear, so if I see you littering, I will call you on it.

And speaking of crying...

A Little Harder, Please

Like Gary Condit, fish are slippery little things, and a little tough to get a hold of. But when you make a nice catch, it's only natural to want to take a picture to show to all of your friends and family, who will feign both interest and awe so as not to hurt your feelings. But how do you hold this slippery torpedo that refuses to hold still long enough to even snap a picture?

Well, for starters, being hooked and played can be a traumatic experience for a fish, and excessive handling and time out of the water only adds to the misery quotient. Proper handling of your catch is a responsibility that you are expected to observe when fishing 'catch and release' waters.

In this picture, note the death-grip around the tail. It reminds me of someone trying to wring out a wet towel, and I'm almost glad that we can't see the horror reflected on the face of this fish.

But, being that wild trout can pose a serious risk to both life and limb if not properly restrained, I fully understand this guy's concern. I, myself, subscribe to the idea that vigilance and brute force are an angler's best friend to insure a safe return home at the end of the day.

Needless to say, this is not the proper way to hold a fish if the intent is to release it. As a rule of thumb, the fish should rest lightly in your hands by it's own volition, with very little pressure applied. Even a slight grip can damage the fragile inner-workings of the fish, sealing it's doom, as well as removing the protective 'slime' from the body. Plus, any direct pressure you apply to a fish will automatically cause it to wiggle, so a soft touch is the best practice.

Always remember to wet your hands prior to handling a fish, and avoid the face and gills, placing your palms alongside (or behind) the pectoral fins. And whatever you do, never hold a fish up high, over solid ground or shallow water, for obvious reasons. If your catch is really feisty but you insist on getting a picture, with your net and fish still in the water, gently turn it onto it's back. Once still, gently turn him back over, lift him out and get your picture.

As a final note on this subject, here is a short blurb taken from an excellent piece written by Mark Glassmaker on handling fish:

"Holding a fish out of the water for 60 seconds or even 30 seconds would be like a human running full speed for a half an hour and then immediately being submerged in water for up to one full minute. Many of us would not fare very well under those conditions and if we did survive, we'd surely carry some ill effects, some possibly permanent."

Don't Be a Nosy Neighbor

Ok, maybe I'm splitting hairs on this, or perhaps I'm just old and crusty, but two of my biggest pet-peeves are having a stranger trying to engage me in a conversation while I'm trying to reel one in or being asked 'what are you using?'

Hey, I'm all for being friendly, provided you're not asking for money or trying to serve a warrant, and I fully understand that sometimes people are genuine in their motives. However, here's where the old, crusty dude inside of me comes out, and I'll explain why. Whether it's right or wrong, I'll leave that up to you to decide.

Most of us know that hooking a fish is one thing, but getting it into the net is a whole different ballgame. It takes a different set of skills and focused attention to get that wiggly fella in, and even a few brief seconds of distraction can sometimes make or break the deal. Especially in my case, being that I have the attention span of a circus monkey with acute ADD.

I think that most folks would agree that, in the heat of battle, the last thing they want to do is carry on a conversation with a stranger - after all, this is what we're up there for and we're basking in the thrill of the moment. If you have a burning (sometimes itching) desire to engage in conversation, wait until it's over and the fish is safely on it's way. Most anglers are flushed with the excitement of a catch when all is said and done, and will usually be more apt to engage in conversation at this point than at any other time.

As for asking what someone else is using? This is strictly my opinion, but I think it ranks up there with asking someone if they've ever seen the movie Ishtar. Yeah, I think it's in poor taste. And here's why: if you've done your homework and you've fished the river before, then you should have a fairly good idea as to what will work. If you're fishing unfamiliar water and you haven't taken the time to do your research, then shame on you. And if you're a beginner, let me move out of the way so you don't hook my eyeball. Sure, I have two, but they're a matched set and I'd like to keep it that way.

I've always likened fly fishing to chess, in that it's easy to learn, but can take a lifetime to master, They both require an array of skill sets, the most obvious being strategy and cognitive thinking. Being able to 'outwit' your opponent is the name of the game, and it requires effort on your part to be successful.

Having a basic understanding of river entomology and the biology of fish is a step in the right direction (know your adversary). Equally important is being able to read the water, gauge the depth, and having the skills necessary to successfully drift and present your fly. Being able to stop time would be a cool skill, too, but that really has nothing to do with the topic of this piece, so let's just forget that I even mentioned it.

As I was saying, taken as a whole, if you don't have some concept of what I've just typed, then knowing what fly I'm using is not going to help you very much when all is said and done. Understand the 'why' and you'll understand the 'what'.

Now don't get me wrong - as with most folks that fly fish, I am always eager to talk 'shop' or help someone learn the sport. It feels good to see someone take an interest in an activity that I love so much (unless it's the FBI) and put forth the effort to improve their knowledge and skills on the water.

And when you can't get to the river, go to your local fly shop and talk to the folks there. Pour over the fishing reports for particular rivers that you may fish. Go to the bookstore and get yourself something good to read for those days you can't make it out onto the water. In short, put forth the effort and make your own success on the river - it's much more rewarding that way.

Enough for now - time to hit the water and practice what I preach - unless I run into you, again, Mr. Belevedere. Then all bets are off.