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April 17th, 2000

How Could I Have Been So Stupid
By James Castwell

Years ago, in the late 1960's in fact, I was running a 'Fly-fishing School.' Really, it was just a weekend meeting with whomever was willing to pay the fee and drive to the AuSable river in Michigan. A big push was on then to use barbless hooks and I was right on the front lines, for fly fishing they are a good thing.

There are many reasons to use them and by now I am sure you know what they are, so let's move on to landing fish.

These days it is popular to grind and strip a trout to net with so much dispatch I am surprised the automatic reel is not in fashion. The difference may be in semantics, to play or to fight a trout. Fight is in now, play is out. Play used to be 'in' back then, many did it, including me and all the people who attended my classes.

You see, I smoked a pipe in those days, smoked it a lot, have been accused of taking a shower with it, tried it, worked fine when I turned it upside down, but that is another story. On with playing a trout. I figured as long as I had been fortunate enough to fool and hook a trout I had the right to enjoy the event. Also, to see the trout did not find it a completely obnoxious experience.

Often the recruits would challenge the use of barbless hooks, alleging the fish would get off. "Balderdash," I would say, and then straight off set about to prove my point by example. I would, that is, if a willing accomplice could be engaged.

With twenty or so observing, my dry fly cast would be presented and a trout hooked. I then raised my fly rod enough to place the butt section into the front of my waders and just leave it there. The obliging trout would simply go to the bottom and rest, as it had not been gigged up and lip-ripped at that point, as is today's fashion of fighting a fish. Nope back then it was play, that was the game. Articles were even written about how to 'play' a fish. How things have changed. And how wrong I was.

After I had placed the reel-end of my fly-rod into the waders, I would take out my pipe, tamp it out, re-load and light it, then with no particular flourish, and pipe firmly clenched in my teeth, re-acquire my hold on the fly-rod and proceed to adjust the attitude of the waiting fish. A gentle reminder with the flipping of the tip of my rod and he would resume the game.

As I was not very interested in completely ruining any chance of playing with any of the possible other fish in the immediate area, I chose not to make a wild and splashy scene of the event. A slow and gentle nudging would soon convince the trout I was in control, and grudgingly he would acquiesce to my side of the contest. They seemed more annoyed with me than dangerously out of oxygen and near exhaustion. One hand under offered all the grip necessary and with a practiced move with my hemostats the hook would pop out.

I had found if I did not totally aggravate the fish, he would be mostly content to rest on the bottom of the stream and try to figure out what was going on. No attempt to fight would be made if he was not positive he indeed had been hooked.

Not so this morning. I watched again as a 'Nimrod' of excellent report on TV would hook a fish, allow it to get downstream from him (it never did seem to occur to him to go down stream and get behind the fish) and have his highly paid guide slash with a great long handled net until by the mere odds of chance it would be bagged. How thrilling. I kept hoping to see any semblance of line mending on his part, but too was disappointed on that. Sometime, but not always, a confederate battle cry accompanies these episodes.

Seems in the good-old days we did not spend much time reviving trout either, odd thing, they never seemed to need it. Occasionally, but not often. Perhaps they were stronger back then, wild or something maybe.

I have no way of knowing, but today it appears that one should get the fish to bag or whatever as quickly as possible, perhaps it's a macho thing, perhaps to get another cast made and repeat the event as many times as possible within a given period of time. So much I need to learn about this sport.

In all fairness, I will admit I have seen a few on TV who actually seem to understand how to play and release a fish. To them I say, congratulations and thank you for showing how it can be done. To the others, please remember who might be watching. They may actually think that how you fight a fish is the way it is supposed to be done. ~ JC

Till next week, remember ...

Keepest Thynne Baakast Upeth

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