December 23rd, 2002

The Premiere OnLine Magazine for the Fly Fishing Enthusiast.
This is where our readers tell their stories . . .

A Sheepish Beginning
By Cary Morlan (linemender)

I guess it was about 1975 that I first picked up a fly rod. It was something new and different to try. For a couple years prior I had been fishing mostly in search of the ever elusive Steelhead in the rivers surrounding the Seattle area.

The Green River had become my home away from home and countless hours were spent beating the water to froth with egg clusters and spoons in hopes of drawing a strike from one of the most exciting fish to grace a river. My success was limited. It took two years before I managed to get a fish to the beach and I was in complete awe of my brother Mike who managed, in one year, to fill two punch cards.

Of course I rationalized his superior fish catching ability by telling myself that he was unemployed and had more time to fish. Today I know that he is just a pretty good fisherman and if it were a contest he would probably win, one of the many things I have had to come to grips with as a mature adult. Fortunately, for me, my competitive nature has given way to the fact that the outdoors is there for all to enjoy despite the fish count at the end of the day. The thrill is truly in the journey and not the destination.

It was curiosity that that led me to embark on my next fishing venture. I was dreaming in a sporting goods store in search of the next sure-fire addition to my growing pile of fishing accoutrements, when I happened upon an 8 foot fiberglass fly rod. Now fly fishing was one of those intriguing pastimes that I had always thought to be above me. My low self esteem already telling me I can't catch as many steelhead as my brother, how could I ever expect to become a fly fisherman.

I have always been a great starter and a little short in the finishing department. I believe that is called an underachiever. While I had not yet reached the pinnacle of my avocation as a steelheader, at the time I saw nothing wrong with acquiring another fixation. It was with great satisfaction that I walked out the door with a new Wright McGill Denco weight 7, fiberglass fly rod. I was already visualizing all the fine fish that would be brought to net, as I effortlessly cast and retrieved till my arm fell off.

You can imagine that my dreams were trying their damnest to come true in the arm falling off aspect. Flog and flail, I would practice in the relentless pursuit of a tight loop and an accurate presentation. It was hard to believe that I actually thought bait casting for steelhead was fruitless knowing that I could at least get the lure in front of the fish with a bait casting reel.

It was a couple months later that during the course of conversation with Jan Bratton, a co-worker, I discovered he was also a novice fly fisherman. Over the next few weeks we contemplated taking a trip to eastern Washington for the trout opener and trying our hand at fly fishing in a new locale. We had heard of a place called Rocky Ford Creek that was a rather well known fly only fishery. The decision was made and on the opener we found ourselves parked at the end of a gravel road with the creek but 50 yards away.

We actually were situated only 150 or so yards away from Highway 17 and could watch the cars pass as we cast to the unknown waters. My father had been a county deputy for about 20 plus years in Grant County and we had arrived at our destination due to his directions. I tell you this to set up a fall guy for my soon to be known transgressions.

This fabled creek was rumored to hold large rainbow trout and I was chomping at the bit to get a hookup and beach a monster. Jan and I did our best to cast to every nook and cranny, every possible bit of holding water. Neither of us was a great caster but it was our good fortune that the creek was but 25 feet at its' widest along the stretch we were fishing.

We had started fishing around 8:00 and it was about 10:00 before I hooked what was to be the only trout of the day. A Rocky Ford hog of about 7" (I may be stretching the truth) took my #10 Teeny nymph on the lift at the end of the swing. To this day, I don't know what would have been worse, to catch a 7 incher in the land of hogs or to get skunked.

So I was once again on the prowl for a trout. I was still holding onto the dream of something in excess of 20 inches, for I had heard tales, I had read reports in Hunting and Fishing News, and I knew in my fisherman's heart that my dreams could come true. I just didn't know how long it would take.

My reverie was broken by my friends screaming. I about dropped my rod and ran for cover. When I looked to where he had been fishing I saw him screaming, yelling, cursing and running up the hill waving his fly rod as if he was assaulting San Juan Hill with the Rough Riders. It wasn't the Spanish army he was attacking; it looked to me to be a flock of sheep. Now I was getting really perplexed. He succeeded in chasing the flock away and stood at the top of the knoll, reveling in his conquest, victorious over all he surveyed, or so it appeared. He took a new position and looked as if he was praying to the Gods of War, giving thanks for his courage in facing the less than monstrous wooly beasts.

Needless to say I was rather curious at this point and I started walking to the scene of the bloodless battle with hopes of understanding what brought about this conflict between man and mammal. As I approached Jan I could see he had set aside his rod and was gently stroking the head of a lamb. The lamb was frozen in what I can only describe as a fetal sheep position, and the rest of the flock was about twenty feet away milling aimlessly as one that appeared to be the Momma bleated as only Momma's can. Still puzzled as to why Jan would want to separate the lamb from the flock, I listened as the story unfolded from the Hero's mouth.

It seems Jan had been fishing with even less success than I and that boredom was fast infecting his attitude. As he was aimlessly taking in the scenery rather than watching for the take that never came, he zeroed in on the spectator flock of sheep. Whilst he watched, a coyote had crept into the middle of the flock and nabbed a young lamb by the head. Jan, at that point, went on the offensive and sprinted to the rescue. It was all coming into focus know, and my image of him had gone from crazed lunatic, to angel of salvation. I mean, those little fuzzy guys are so cute. How could one not go into protective mode?

So we ministered as best we could to the little fella, and after about 15 minutes he was able to get up and wander over to Momma, who had remained at the scene with her friends and family, anxiously awaiting the release of her baby. It seems the lamb had been in shock, a protective state to spare them being cognizant of a horrible death. Jan, having done his good deed for the day, and I, meandered back to the creek to continue our fruitless efforts.

Within 10 minutes we were under attack by one of the old Bell 47 helicopters which circled and landed near our position. It was the owner of the property who kindly suggested we might be fishing on his land. After apologies and laying all the blame on my Dad, (remember the set up?) he said he knew my Dad and it was OK to stay if we made sure our car couldn't be seen from the highway. He also had to throw a wet blanket over Jan's hero persona by informing us the lamb would probably die from infection. We all said our thank you's and as he flew off we discovered we had lost our interest in the creek and decided to maybe give another venue a fighting chance.

So it became a search for new water that brought us to the NW end of O'Sullivan Reservoir and a little side pocket of water that flooded the trees in the spring. Only about 5 feet deep amongst the sand dunes, with the afternoon sun warming the shallow water it looked like a place that could hold sunfish. As Jan stretched out on a near sand dune to soak some rays I attempted to fish small poppers under the tree branches. I can't remember where I learned the technique, but I would cast under the limbs and wait for the rings to disappear, then with my first twitch a small hole appeared in the surface and the popper fell into the gaping maw of an 8" Bluegill. My first cast here, and already the biggest fish of the day.

Now I was stoked. What followed was an exercise in pure enjoyment. The bluegills were as ready for a fight as I was and more than co-operative. The real beauty of this was that every three or four casts, the hole in the surface would become much larger and rather than the ferocious bluegill I would end up with a largemouth bass bulldogging it into the trees. I am honestly unsure how my friend could sleep but twenty feet away, with all the shouting I was doing. I was at this for about two hours before I surrendered to fatigue. We had left Seattle rather early in the morning and still had a 3 hour drive home. I was grateful Jan got a nap for that meant I could let him do the driving.

I have often heard it said that one of the best ways to get children into fishing is to take them somewhere they can catch lots of fish and not get bored. I believe this is also true of getting adults interested in fly fishing. Had it not been for two hours of fast action I may have let my hours of fruitless casting at the Ford dissuade me from further excursions with a fly rod. Instead it only inspired me to try the long rod to fish for anything I could entice with bait or hardware.

It had started out as the opener of trout season and ended up being the opening of a whole new fishing experience in the world of fly fishing. I now reside in eastern Washington, and the bluegill hole is but a 20 minute drive, so come the spring trout opener I am compelled to drive down that old sand road and make a few casts under the trees to see if they still hang where I left them. ~ CM


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