Dave Micus, Plum Island Sound

March 10th, 2008

Graduate School
By Dave Micus, Missoula MT

It's winter and Montana and though some of my younger, heartier fly fishing brethren are still teasing fish with flies, I've traded fly poles for ski poles. I enjoy skiing, maybe because it seems the perfect metaphor for my life–going downhill fast–but it really is only a diversion to get me from fall fishing to spring fishing. In short, it doesn't compare to the defibulator jolt one feels when a large trout takes a tiny trico on a translucent pool. But what does compare?

So fishing is never far from a fisherman's mind and the off-season is a good time to relive the past season's successes and failures. Being human beings, and by nature a mess, as the Rev. Maclean so rightly observed, we focus on the failures which, in my case, far outnumber the triumphs.

And for me it isn't difficult memory to conjure, as there is one spot on the Bitterroot river that provides a constant reminder of my short-comings as an angler. It's a large eddy pool formed by the confluence of the main river and a large feeder creek introduced to me on two separate occasions by two different guides who are friends, a place where guides fish when they aren't guiding which says something about this place. The pool itself is flat calm and always loaded with fining trout leisurely feeding on the bug bouillabaisse served to them by the two segments of the river. Approaching the pool gives you that endorphin rush, the illusion of a harmonic conversion of fish and fisherman. Simply, it appears as easy as shooting fish in the proverbial barrel.

Until the first cast.

It is then that you realize that the trout, while scoring much lower than the fisherman on the intelligence quotient test, score well on the more important test of survival, and they have congregated at this spot because it is very nearly impossible to present a fly that, because of the conflicting currents, doesn't look as if it's riding on a jet ski. The currents form a pool, yes, but the perimeter of the pool is a wide band flowing in a constant circular motion, and the effect of that is a moat surrounding a castle. Sure you can get the fly into the castle, but the revolving current pulls it right out.

I've fished this pool from every angle and I've used every technique I know–reach casts, parachute casts, high sticking, etc.–all with the futility of, well, fishing for trout in an impossible lie. And once, maybe twice, I've actually caught a fish in this pool, but it was a more of a matter of a reckless mistake on the part of the fish than skill on the part of the fishermen. And catching one or two fish in a hundred outings isn't very impressive odds.

Yet I am continually drawn to this pool and its impossible trout, and I ponder it in the off season, knowing that mastering this pool is my Ph.D. thesis in entomology and ichthyology, that is, tying flies that look like bugs and then catching trout with those flies.

Maybe this is the year I earn my degree. ~ Dave

About Dave:

Until recently Dave Micus lived in Ipswich, Massachusetts. He just moved to Missoula, Montana. He is an avid striped bass fly fisherman, writer and instructor. He wrote a fly fishing column for the Port City Planet newspaper of Newburyport, MA (home of Plum Island and Joppa Flats) and taught a fly fishing course at Boston University.

Previous Dave Micus Columns

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