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Part One hundred seventy-nine

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A Little Sustenance

Jason Tinling

By Jason Tinling, Lancaster, PA


Saturday evening rolled around, and I knew this was going to be the only time I had to get out fishing for the weekend. Visiting relatives, work around the house, and a myriad of other tasks had already claimed most of my Saturday, and had a firm grip on Sunday's time as well.

Fall has descended on Lancaster rapidly this year. And while the weatherman continues to smile and promise a return to "normal" weather patterns, the chill remains in the night air, and the day time temperatures struggle to get out of the 60's. There seems little chance of a repeat of last year's extended Indian Summer, and the potential for a strong winter looms.

The wind was not blowing strongly, but the air was brisk as I stepped out the door. I had a handful of swap flies that I wanted to try, and I lifted the lid on the back of the truck, tossed them into one of the many boxes hidden away in the pockets of my vest and climbed in. An '80's weekend on the local radio station, and Thomas Dolby was being blinded by science as I headed up the street and out towards the pond.

I had on a peacock bugger I had received from a friend. A simple fly, with a hackle tip and herl tail, herl body, and black hackle palmered forward. The fly shot out over the green surface and dropped through the weeds into the water. The duckweed has receded to the upper end of the pond, much thinner and sparse than it was even a couple of weeks ago. A small blessing of the cold weather. With the cooling temperatures, I worked the fly slowly, with short 1-2" strips of the flyline. Holding the tip low to the water, each strip would tighten the line, pulling it up off the water's surface. The weight of the line would slowly settle it back into the water, occasionally interrupted by a sharp tug, or twitch. Even the bluegill felt cold, slightly lethargic, as I slid them back into the water.

The fish are fat and fattening, stocking up for the winter to come. The bright, vibrant colors of summer have begun to mute, but they still shine with a special sparkle. The feeding is slow, but strong. The dark cloudy sky, and the vegetation mat over the fish' heads probably aren't helping the black fly show up entirely well, either. I work up around the lily pad bed, catching and releasing several fish, missing as many more. As I work around the curve up towards the deeper water, I see the ripples of the fish running off the shallow bank that drops off into the depths here. I've always only caught small fish here, and so always dismissed the running fish as small ones up working the shallows. Something makes me stop this time, though, and I take a half dozen paces back away from the water's edge and wait. I work a couple of small fish out of the waters in the opposite direction of the flats.

I lay a soft cast out towards the flats, and the flyline goes tight almost the same instant the fly splashes softly into the water. The fish surges away from shore, with two or three other bulges of water following suit. The fly line cuts across the water and a flash of copper boils on the surface out at the end of my line. I play in the fat bull bluegill, and he comes to rest, spilling out the sides of my hand in all directions. The bright orange of his breast, the metallic purple on his back, and the iridescent blue gills all gain a more magical luster when the fish is held in the water. He swims off strong and slow into the depths.

Over the deeper water, the bugger is not producing as well, so I switch over to a gurgling foam spider. I've always been a "less is more" type fisherman when it came to freshwater. I can remember throwing 1/100th oz jig heads on 4# test with 1" plastic grubs in the brackwater estuaries of San Diego in my teen-age years. I caught some big fish on that little set-up, lost some big ones too. Caught a lot of small ones. This mentality has carried over to my warm water fly fishing, and I have only recently begun to appreciate that even a small bluegill or bass can eat a fairly big meal. I flipped the spider under the overhanging branches of a shoreline willow tree. A couple of twitches and a large head seemed to materialize from out of nowhere, beneath the fly for a brief instant...and then the fly exploded.

Water flew everywhere and the fish bulldogged hard for the bottom. I let the line slip from my fingers, until the reel began to spin and sing. The deep diving was replaced by tight circles and figure eights, and a large flash of copper in the depths of the water. Finally, the tired 'gill lay on the surface, and I lifted it gently up into the air, over the bank and into my hand. I had to cup under the fish to hold it, and slid the hook from the corner of its mouth. Not the biggest bluegill I've caught from this pond, but one of the top ones, certainly. I quickly moved around to where I could get down to the water's edge, and held the tired fish in the water. His pectoral fins began to wave slowly, and as I released the grip on his tail, he pushed away into the depths.

I continued to fish the deep end of the pond, catching a few more fish, missing and losing many. I had to slow the spider's retrieve down to a near crawl, watching the bluegill hover up beneath the fly to either drift back away or rise hard and fast to slash at the supposed meal. As darkness fell, large boils began to appear on the water as small, light colored flies began to rise off the water. I began sight casting to the larger rises, one cast rewarded with a 12" largemouth that threw the hook after a couple of acrobatic jumps in the dwindling sunlight. Several more bluegill came to hand and were released, with more coming off mid-fight.

I look at my watch, and note another sign of impending fall, the sky darkening so soon in the evening. A gibbous moon rises over the far hills, gray clouds streaked across its surface like brush strokes. Behind me, dark hued purples give way to reds, oranges, yellows, and finally light blues in the lingering sunset. I've caught more fish here, and bigger ones, but the couple hours spent here among the geese, the fish, and the odd dog walker always leave me refreshed and alive again. Times like these are truly "food for the soul." ~ Jason

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