Welcome to Panfish!

Part Seventy-five

Resting the Pool
Musings of the Season Past

George E. Emanuel - aka Host Muddler


The leaves are gone from the trees here in the northeast, and the cold breath of winter is fast approaching.

I suppose that I like many fly fishers am saddened at the conclusion of another season on the stream.

The vivid portrait of a season well spent is emblazoned upon the canvas of my mind in the most vivid pigments, thanks to the magnificent brush strokes of our Great Creator.

There were as we all will attest, successes, and those days, which were something less. Though, the sum total of them, is the thread from which the cloth of my future fond recollections is woven.of my early sojourns found me on the banks of the Little Lehigh. Standing under the same weeping willows where Jim Leisenring gave us a new nypmhing technique with his 'Leisenring Lift' with which name I am sure he had little familiarity, for he was a simple toolmaker from Allentown, Pa.

Vince Marinaro studied the habits of this stream, as well as many others in Pennsylvania and New York. He went on to write A Modern Dry Fly Code, a tome of major significance, which I heartily recommend to your consideration. He also authored In the Ring of The Rise, which is a definitive treatise as well.

Ernest Schwiebert, Jr., the Princeton professor, fly fisher and author extraordinaire, fished here on many occasions and still does from time to time. His Matching the Hatch is the basis for much of our current thinking in modern imitation.

Charlie Meck, George Harvey, Lee Wulff, Lefty Kreh, and many, many other well-known anglers who have contributed so much to our heritage have plied these same waters.

Little Lehigh

If there is such a thing as Mecca, the Little Lehigh gets my vote hands down.

On this visit I did not catch any fish, but spent a most enjoyable day with many of the local anglers who are privileged to call this water home. In the end flyfishing is allegorical in nature, and this day taught me another valuable lesson.

My passion in our sport lies with the panfish, or as I like to refer to it the "Tom Sawyer Division." Perhaps my first experience so many years ago imprinted me emotionally in a most indelible fashion.

My very first fish was a catfish, caught on a kite string, with a safety pin and worm.

I have never quite recovered from what I like to refer to as "fish the fish at your feet, not the fish thousands of miles away."

In my current circumstance, the quarry is thankfully, panfish.

My present "home water" is an absolutely incredible stream about 45 minutes from my home, and while it is not in my state of residence, it certainly has done wondrous things for my state of mind.

As pretty as any freestone stream, as pleasant to fish as a tail water, and fertile as many spring creeks, it has nourished and sustained me with it's warm opportunities, and I find myself frequently in the fond embrace of it's charms.

The season past has provided me with much food to contemplate my experiences, and to smile at their remembrance.

My most regular companion and I were on stream earlier in the spring, after the newness of opening day had long since faded, along with the legions of it's adherents. Now for the sake of decorum he shall remain nameless, as I wish to cause him no embarrassment. Suffice it to say that he is a resident of Philadelphia, that enclave of "Brotherly Love" where the inhabitants consider three trees in a single grouping to be a Park.

Strange lights of Red, Yellow and Green punctuate the trail and regulate their passing. They abide where a stray cat or dog are thought to be truly wild animals.

Things go bump in the night, near his home. Usually such occurrences are preceded by a primordial screeching of rubber and concrete as tremendous amounts of friction are generated between the two.

Such is my friends' background. He has shown much promise however, having given up the spinning gear and worm for the long rod, he has become a quite capable angler, and this season caught his first fish on a fly of his own making.

On the before mentioned day however, he quite abruptly reminded me of his deficient origins.

The particular stream that we fish is a natural haven for all sorts of wild life. Deer, muskrat, beaver, geese, ducks, Osprey, Heron, Kingfisher and many, many other life forms.

Quietly stripping a soft hackle through a probable lie, I was suddenly and most profoundly called back into earthly consciousness by a commotion the like of which I prey will never befall my senses at any time again in the future.

It seems a Great Blue Heron, acting according to it's own natural instincts had become perturbed at the flailing of my urban companion.

Taking to wing, with a span of more than six feet, with a screech of monumental proportion, and heading in the direction of my now fleeing companion, and in which process discharging a generous amount of guano.

My friend being fleet of foot managed to gain the protection of the trees on the far bank in time to avoid the unpleasant prospect of imminent disaster posed by what he termed a 'Pterodactyl.'

To this day he does not understand why I sometimes glance his way with my peripheral vision and lapse into uncontrolled hysteria. And I know that one night this winter while recalling seasons past at my tying bench, I will lapse into seemingly un-provoked laughter.

Mikie. We all know a Mikie. The one of my acquaintance is very much like the little guy in the cereal commercial. You know the one, "Give it to Mikie, he don't like anything." Well our Mikie is another offbeat resident of the Quaker City. Mikies idea of an open field is a Wal Mart parking lot after hours.

Having asked my other companion if he could join us next time we went "bank" fishing. And he, having applied extreme pressure to my arm, I acquiesced. To this day I curse my obvious weakness. But, what the heck, maybe we can get another convert to flyfishing. So I loaded an extra rod and reel, and a set of flies into the car and drove off to pick up my friend, and Mikie.

Now there is something profoundly telling about a forty-something man who is known by everyone as Mikie.

Having made it to the stream in reasonably good humor, in spite of Mikies incessant chorus of "are we almost there?" At first I tried to attribute his anxiety to a highly stressed bladder, but alas, I was assured that this is normal for Mikie.

We set about rigging our rods as Mikie set about setting up his chair high up on the bank. When I inquired as to his intention, he said he thought, "we were bank fishing."

A look of sheer terror came across his face when I told him, "no, we are wading."

He opted not to try the fly rod, mumbling something about having the coordination of two bowling pins mating. So, with my spinning rod in hand he trundled off close behind the two of us.

Now we usually fish the water closest to us, and work our way down the stream about a mile, and then reverse and come back up.

My friend was not interested in custom on this day. I no sooner turned to see Mikie testing the water with his foot than my trustee friend was 100 yards downstream and fast disappearing to parts unseen.

I soon learned that Mikie had never fished with anything in his life. But, he had a natural aptitude. He was quickly able to distinguish which end of the rod to hold. Unfortunately, this effort seemed to have his ability to absorb information maxed out!

After placing a cast or two into a typical holding area, I turned to see Mikie holding the line with no hook on it in one hand, while in his other was the container of meal worms, which he was to use for bait.

Suddenly a pang of compassion came over me and I affixed a hook to the naked monofiliment and demonstrated the proper technique for impaling the worm on Mikies hook. A very obvious "cold chill" held him briefly in it's clutches as a bit of innards were expelled by the worm in apparent protest of his condition. I will admit that I do not miss "bait" fishing even a little bit, though I do grant it it's place in angling.

Carefully I positioned Mikie on the bank in a manner where a simple flick of the rod would have his bait traverse the thirty or so feet to the area where I knew nice Rock Bass regularly held.

Sure enough, wham, a nice sized Red Breasted Sunfish hit with a fury that belied its size and the battle was joined. To his credit Mikie stood his ground, and once he picked up the rod which he had unceremoniously tossed into the water when the fish struck, did a good job of following directions in "fighting" the frightening beast at the opposite end of his line.

Having reeled the totally confused bluegill completely up to the tip top, I thought he was going to use the rod as some sort of 5 foot long Ketchum Release. But this was not his intention, as he explained momentarily. Picking the fish up out of the water with the rod tip, he handed it to me, with the request that I should remove it from "his rod". Oh, but if only it were "his" rod.

The terrorized fish safely released I once again demonstrated baiting his hook for him. (seems he has the attention span of a, shall we say, much younger person.)

"OK, I showed you how to bait the hook, where to toss the bait, how to fight the fish, and how to remove it from the hook and release it properly. Now, you fish here, I am going down stream 50 yards."

Yeah sure!

Not ten minutes later I was afforded the opportunity to practice a new hook removal technique I had seen recently. It seems Mikie had decided to study my back cast from a very unfortunate vantage point. Thankfully it was only his shoulder that was struck. He now, however, had a much deeper appreciation for our insistence that he wear a hat and sunglasses.

For the rest of the day I decided, that for Mikies safety, and the sake of my conscience, that Mikie should stay within my field of view at all times.

Not too much later, out of the corner of my eye, I observed that Mikie had left the security of the bank some twenty feet behind him, and was now perched on a large rock in about 18 inches of water.

When quizzed about his strange perch, and the minimal depth of the water, he responded with, "Aren't the fish in the water?"

"Yes, certainly."

"Well, I think I am afraid of fish!"

Just then a big fish hit, bent his rod in two, and damn near pulled him from his throne there in the middle of the stream.

"Damn fish, why weren't you just a little stronger?"

"George, why are you mumbling?"

"Nothing Mikie, pay attention to the fish."

Mikie caught six more fish that day. I gained a new appreciation for baby sitting. The net result was that Mikie doesn't like fishing anyhow! A fact that surely makes every fish as happy as it makes me.

I do admit though, Mikie was a trip. I should not like to take it again, but he does make me chuckle every time he tosses his rod down in surprise, or is darn near yanked off of that rock in mid-stream, on that video tape in my mind!

I must admit that my own conduct upon setting the hook on the biggest fish of this season, a small mouth bass of better than 3 lbs, causes me to at once laugh uncontrollably and sob at my stupidity.

A nice 50 foot cast across some very tricky currents, a perfect mend and bang, he hit with a spray that would make a Marlin blush!

The contest was thus begun. He across a deep fast trough, and me on the near side of the stream, too far to gain the bank, and unprepared to land him. Plan ahead! Mistake one to me, round one to the fish.

OK, be calm. "Damn, who greased these Frigin rocks? Felt soles my Aunt Tillies tush. Damn."

"Ouch" Splash, "Damn that water is cold!" Fish two, me zilch!

"Hold on fish, my damn hip boots are full of water, and I can't," splash, "Ooooooooooooo," splash.

"Yeah it's easy for you to say, you don't have the damn fish on!" splash!

Tipple toe, tipple toe, over the slippery rocks I go, splash.

By now my friend had rejoined the pandemonium.

"Hey Captain Ahab, what are you trying to do with that whale?"

"George? do you want me to help you?"

"No Mikie, just stay the…." Splash.

Finally I determined that since the fish apparently wanted me in the stream with him, and on his level, I consented to meet him halfway and just sat there in the current applying as much side pressure as I dared.

After another five minutes or so of very careful give and take, the fish appeared ready to come to hand.

There is one thing about a bad habit. It seems that every time you bend over it will leap up and bite you right square in the ass.

I managed to get the bass "under control" and regained my own feet. I then, as I had done thousands of time with panfish, reached for my leader, and attempted to lift my bass out of the water using it, instead of bending over, and "liping" him.

Just as he came lose and I was falling backwards into the water, I swear I heard him say, "stupid, stupid, stupid."

My regular companion commented on my "humane manner of release" and observed, "you didn't even touch the fish!"

Me, I was cold, wet and totally humiliated.

I never did see that fish again.

Hurricane Floyd came by and paid our stream a late season visit.

Now when passing under bridges a hard hat is more appropriate that a Fedora. The beams are all but choked in a rather macabre tangle of stream side vegetation tenuously suspended there on.

There are two things on my Christmas list this year. Carbide spikes, and a wading staff!

I will practice my balance standing on a bowling ball during the off season.

I will recall these things as I sit at my tying bench performing the ritual of the off season.

But, as soon as Santa Claus, Cupid, and the Frigin Easter Bunny have seen their seasons come and go, I will be back on that stream, and that bass is history.

That is, if I don't do something equally stupid!

"OK, Mikie get in the damn car," "and you, not a single word, not one, you hear me!" ~ George E. Emanuel - aka Host Muddler"

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