There's a certain comfort to be found in old
things, that hat that finally fits just right
after a few floats. Old Dogs that seem to
understand that just one more cast it is an
innocent lie, that all to soon turns true. But
this ain't about old things, well not completely
anyway. Like good whisky most fly fishing stories
are a blend of the old and the new. For most of
us our first real challenge with a fly rod comes
in our younger days. Between childhood innocents
and the arrogance of pre-reality, making a living.
Then there's that group of folks who come to the
sport of fly fishing later in life. Those who put
it off to the back burner well into the years of
middle age, and this is just one such story.
There's really no way for a guide to know how any
given trip is going to turn out. Sure, we all try
and thumb the scale of fate in favor of our charges,
but to be honest, I've learned to never discount the value
of plain ole dumb luck, when it comes to fishing.
With pale moonlight silhouetting the dream craft
of the more affluent in the marina stable, smoke
rose from the boat launch area as Larry cursed and
coaxed life out of the second or possibly third-hand
"Where there's smoke there's hope in outboard terms"
at least that's what it sounded like he said. One
thing was certain, the tone of relief was unmistakable
in his voice. We were going fishing after all, and
hope has a great deal to do with that.
Being a person of some responsibility, Larry informed
me of his time limit for the evening and so I opted
for one of the more promising destinations for
tonight's quest. Shallow water, white sand bottom,
a soft light illuminating a good strike zone and
with just a bit of luck the guest of honor would
be in a cooperative mood.
Having achieved our destination I entreated Larry
to deploy the anchor, and while the devise itself
was an appropriate size, a length of chain attached
was of such proportion that the likes of which would
surely have caused the HMS Queen Mary to list
With an amusing flare of pride in ownership, this
fly fishing neophyte armed himself with his weapon
of choice. Liberated from a hall closet came a
complete $39.95 K-Mart Combo to challenge the best
the evening had to offer. It wouldn't be a long wait.
With the confident touch of someone whose entire
fly fishing career consisted of subduing a single
bluegill, he began his quest.
Employing a technique not to be found in Lefty's
Little Books of Wisdom, Larry brought his full
prowess to bear testing the limits of his skill
and equipment. To say nothing of pushing me to
rediscover moves I had not called upon since my
childhood days on the dodge-ball court. Yes, I
was in the presents of a true master of "The
double dip," were a fly is seemingly presented
in two remote locations at the same time one
hundred and eighty degrees apart, confusing both
prey and patron's alike. He had indeed perfected
the art of turning flycasting into a one-man team
With the final breaths of wind fading to mark the
close of day, shadows began to appear under the
glow of the dock lights. The cycle of life pulsing
on the flats is not confined to the daylight hours.
Faint silhouettes cruising along the bottom, mullet,
trout, sheephead and a bit further off, a lone
redfish. Just as we were drawn to the lights, so
were the rest, prey and predator alike.
The first duty of a guide is to be vigilant,
constantly aware of those in their charge and
of the environment, monitoring for both hazard
and opportunity. Therefore it came as no surprise
that Larry was first to spot a large mass of mullet
entering the arena from the faint edges of the
lights as I was to busy digging in my gear bag
for who knows what. In general, mullet are not
a cause for concern or even comment as they are
considered vegetarians and not very prone to
taking a fly without inducement or chum.
Mullet do however serve as unwitting accomplices
to other game fish on the flats. Redfish and trout
will at times travel in the company of mullet to
prey upon dislocated crustaceans or other creatures
as they root in the sand and vegetation on or near
the bottom. Whether Larry was or was not keenly
aware of that fact I cannot say; he is after all
a fisherman by any stripe and thus allowed benefit
of latitude in claims by others of our ilk.
With the mullet closing to his range, he drew on
something from deep inside, obviously being indulged
if not guided by the hand of the divine fisherman
himself; he laid out a Hail Mary cast. The light
refracting thru the mist from the arching line
hung like a halo in the air. A quick glance to
the front deck told me lighting had struck on a
cloudless nite, and the fly had found its mark.
The rod bowed deep under the load, like a willow
branch lifting an anvil. A rooster tail rose up,
and startled mullet parted as something large and
menacing took center stage and a test of wills had
begun. You could almost hear the knots in the
leader tightening as Larry stood his ground,
straining against the shadow in the dark. "Your
mine now sucker," he growled. A line that sent
a chill down my spine by its well-practiced tone,
and left no doubt. The taxman was here to collect.
Mustering a facade of professional calmness, I
suggested that he temper the death grip on the
string restraining his quarry. His plastic pride
turned into a screaming blur as yard after yard
disappeared into the night.
Turning my concern to the task of raising the anchor
and its generous chain, I took a misstep toward the
transom, committing a prate fall onto the rear deck.
A throbbing over my left eye was likely the reason
I didn't notice the essence of life dripping down
my left hand, from two cuts. With the rear deck
nearly covered with rusty chain, I plundered for
the landing net, which was hidden in the darkest
Relocating it for fast access, the action on the
front deck required immediate attention. From the
tone of experlatives streaming off the front deck.
I was struck that the very bowels of the nether
world had opened up, placing us in imitate danger
of becoming guests to the dark soul barbecue master.
It was with scant relief I realized the cause for
Larry's sudden reciting colorful terms of
disappointment was nothing more than a slack line.
A situation not unfamiliar to any stalker of the flats.
Because when a fish turns on itself and charges an
anglers' position, the line may relax. Not so the
anxiety of the pursuer. Retrieving seventy-five yards
plus on a reel better suited for duty as a sewing machine
bobbin, is enough to test any angler. This however wasn't
a seasoned flyfishing hand matching wits with just
another fish. This was his first in saltwater and
was proving to be a worthy adversary. The feverish
winding of the reel stopped even tho the line came
taught. It was now moving in a sweeping path back
toward the dock. He managed to turn its head away
from the barnacle laden piling, Larry was by no means
controlling the fight, completing its full circle
advance around the boat, backing found the trolling
motor forgotten and protruding beneath the hull.
What earlier had been an aid for hot pursuit had
become an obstruction. Scrambling for the draw
string on the bracket I found myself contorted
and straining to maintain balance while attempting
to lift the motor, the whole while trying to explain
to Larry that "Put your tip down" was actually fishing
guide code language for PUT YOUR ROD TIP DOWN as in
reverse the angle on your dangle, probe the depths,
draw circles in the sand, I don't care which one you
chose but do it now. With one foot hooked around the
pedestal seat post and the trolling motor raised half
way up I carefully groped in the dark for the fouled
backing. With the line free again a voice came from
the dock, "You fellas going to land that fish or just
chase him around all night?" Yup we had at some point
gained a cheering section, an elderly gentleman had
come down the dock and was amusing himself by what
must have appeared like a staged episode of the keystone
cops go fishing. "Boys I ain't getting any younger over
here." Came a voice from the dock "and sure would like
to see what ya got" "So would I," Larry fired back over
Grudgingly inch by inch he begin to turn the tide of
battle in his favor. New sensations and old skills
combined to close the gap between Larry and the fish.
More than a few trophy fish have been liberated in
the final moments of being brought to hand or net.
It became obvious to me that Larry was going to need
some schooling in basic fish anatomy as he tried to
back his catch into the net.
The resulting lapse of judgment and unfortunate
positioning of the handle in my right hand, which
was desperately over extended, was met with full
distain, punctuated by a tail slap to the net that
nearly sprained my wrist. The resulting pain that
shot up my arm, caused some rather loosely chosen
language to spring forth. And I admonished Larry to
make a greater effort of arranging the beasts various
parts in such a way as to encourage the pointy end
toward the mesh mitt. Weight in the net is quite
possibly the second most satisfying moment of a
fly fishermen's experience. I'll leave to other
more poetic minds to wax and wrangle with what
occupies first place. But this was Larry's first.
His first saltwater fish on a fly, his first redfish
on a fly. Outside the commonality fly fishing has to
all other types of angling everything about it was a
first. Ya, he'd come late to fly fishing but on this
night and in this moment he was shining like a freshly
minted penny. ~ Capt. Paul Darby