Dave Micus, Plum Island Sound

March 8th, 2004

Superstitions
(a non-story by Dave Micus)

Commercial fishermen have the reputation of being a superstitious lot. It goes back for centuries, and is understandable when you consider that, before the advent of sophisticated navigational and fish finding electronics, catching fish was in good part luck, and even if you weren't the superstitious type it wouldn't hurt to hedge your bets.

Some of the more common superstitions were: never end a boat name in a vowel; never paint a boat blue; don't leave port on a Friday; and never have a minister on your boat.

Though I don't adhere to any of these rituals (well, except the minister one), I do have rites in which I partake to try and appease the striper gods. My superstitions are homegrown with no basis in tradition: never wash a fishing hat; be on the water before the sun rises; and always fish hungry to sharpen the predatory instinct. I'm not sure how these rituals developed, but for some reason I cling to them.

I wondered about those who have earned the reputation of bringing the sport of fly-fishing to a higher level. Do they have superstitions or rituals that, at least in their own minds, give them the edge? I decided to find out.

J. Kenney Abrames is leading a quiet renaissance in North Eastern salt-water fly-fishing, where a small but growing group of striped bass anglers opt for the longer, softer rods and floating lines of days gone by and the controlled drift, wet fly swing, and greased line methods more familiar to traditional salmon angling. As the high priest of this neo-salmon fishing, I suspected that Ken would also have some interesting idiosyncrasies, like only using an antique wooden salmon reel or fishing old silk lines.

I was wrong. Ken informed me that he didn't have any rituals, but strove for a proper frame of mind in which to see the big picture when fishing and not take things out of context. Ken's is a valuable perspective, but hardly the scoop I was hoping for.

I moved on to Ray Bondorew, author of Stripers and Streamers and creator of the "Ray's Fly" which, with the clouser and deceiver, must rate as one of the most productive striped bass flies of all time. Ray, along with Ken, adheres to the Rhode Island school of fly tying, a philosophy that deems less is more, and that the fleeting image of a bait fish is more enticing to stripers than a big, bulky precise imitation. Unfortunately, like Ken, Ray doesn't partake in any ritualistic voodoo before wetting a line. My interesting story about superstitions was heading south like the striped bass in late October.

Eminent fly tier and author A.K. Best shared his fly-fishing rituals with me. There wasn't much to share. "Ritual might be always suiting up before gearing up. Always spend some time looking before entering the water or casting," he said. "Not very interesting, I guess," and while I appreciate his response I have to agree with his assessment.

Perhaps the most legendary striped bass fisherman of all time, Russell Chatham, was kind enough to reply to my query. Chatham is old school, and I was sure he only fished with Dame Juliana's Jury of Twelve, or held his rod and reel up over his head while facing the rising sun like that scene in The Lion King.

"I guess I have no superstitions or rituals. Sorry," Chatham apologized. I was getting skunked.

My last chance was fisherman, hunter, and writer, William Tapply. His stories make the reader long for the days of yore, when sporting gentlemen gathered after the hunt in the dining rooms of old hotels, their dogs at their feet, a bottle of bourbon passed from hand to hand. Surely Tapply would have an interesting eccentricity, like only fishing bamboo, or wearing an old, lucky hat given to him by Sparse Gray Hackle, or, well, anything!

"I have one inflexible ritual," Tapply told me, and I thought at last, a glimpse into the secret world of the master sportsman! "Whenever I arrive at a fishing destination, whether it's a stream or a pond or the ocean, (yes, yes, go on) the first thing I do is walk down to the edge of the water. (Here it comes. He anoints his forehead. Or something). I check the level and clearness of the water and look for insects and signs of fish (oh, oh, he's losing me) - but mainly I stand there for five minutes or so just soaking in that delicious feeling of Being There Again. (A wonderful sentiment. But, Damn!)

"Absence is presence," assert the post-modernists, and that might be the case here. Some of the most well respected fly fishermen alive don't partake in any rituals, and maybe the ritual is no ritual--just quality stream craft. And who am I to argue? While it might not make for an interesting story, it makes a hell of a lot more sense than waking before dawn, putting on a dirty hat, and skipping breakfast... ~ Dave

About Dave:

Dave Micus lives in Ipswich, Massachusetts. He is an avid striped bass fly fisherman, writer and instructor. He writes a fly fishing column for the Port City Planet newspaper of Newburyport, MA (home of Plum Island and Joppa Flats) and teaches a fly fishing course at Boston University.


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