"Hawg Johnson is the biggest fish in the river. He doesn't come easy to the fly. Very few people land him. A lot of people have encounters with him. He's a shape shifter. He may be a 12 inch golden trout in the High Sierras or he may be a 36 inch rainbow trout on the Zhupanova River. It's just that one fish that everyone is after." Ryan Peterson, Eastern Rises
If you Google this quote, you’ll likely find about a gajillion fly fishing blogs who attempted to dissect its meaning, peer into its soul, and reveal a new confounding, bewildering truth to their legions of follows about why fly fishing is the coolest, life changing pastime that anyone could or should embrace. How unoriginal. But for those of us who have seen Felt Soul Media’s Eastern Rises (or if you’re lucky enough and wrapping this quote around your head for the first time), you can probably tell that there is a lot more to Hawg Johnson than simply catching a monster fish. See, Hawg Johnson is not just any monster fish (if you can even call him one).
Hawg Johnson is a specter. A ghoulishly large leviathan that rises from the depths of the stream bed when the moon and stars line up right just to torment your sanity and single-handedly shatter whatever perception of reality you had before stumbling onto his lair that day. With one flash of his powerful flank, Hawg has the ability to not only shred tippet, steal flies, or snap rods -- but change lives.
He is a fish so powerful and beautifully elusive that all who encounter him are forever doomed to a life in reckless pursuit attempting to find him just one more time. He is the manifestation of the last cast, the survivalist success story of the century, and all that is right in the world all rolled into a package of scales, muscle, and elusiveness.
The mere chance of an encounter with him is why you wake up at ungodly hours of the morning, drive hundreds of miles to fish a particular stretch of water, or fish deep into the heart of darkness on an evening you should otherwise be in bed. He is the product of luck, skill, faith, perseverance, and a dash of madness. The rationale fueling an obsessive all consuming passion. Hawg is everywhere and nowhere at once.
He doesn't limit himself to one stream. No way. That sick bastard is in EVERY river, pond, lake, and ocean on our planet (as he should be). He is at the soul of the sport and the subject of our earliest fish porn (cave drawings). A fish so primal and mythically beastly that it has captured imaginations and inspired individuals for millions of years.
More importantly though, and at his core, Hawg Johnson is the physical embodiment of an unforgettable moment. The fish you can still feel in your hands when you close your eyes and still, after all this time, make your knees tremble. He is the sunrise on the Gulf of Mexico, a crisp morning in the Shenandoah Valley, and a breathtaking sunset collapsing into Vineyard Sound rolled into one. He is screaming reels and bent rods. He is high flying theatrics and stubborn, never ending runs. He is the pursuit AND culmination of a life's body of work. The only fish that ever has or will matter.....
Ok, that was my attempt to get deep on Hawg.
So is Hawg Johnson a fish, ghoul, or sublime moment?
I'm not entirely sure.
All I know is that he sure makes beer taste good.
Remember when you were a little kid?
The world was some combination of the unmanageable, unexplainable, and to sound as cliché as possible—endless. You know what I’m talking about though. Bubbles were fascinating, candy the staple of a healthy diet, and dinosaurs/sharks what the cool kids were into. In other words, we didn’t know shit. I mean, we are talking about the days when mom and dad controlled everything - drove you places, filled your days by signing you up for passionless things you didn’t want to do (piano lessons, soccer, math tutoring, etc), and ultimately were the naysayers for all things fun –that time in our lives when any new experience was well, mind-blowingly exciting and upon further reflection - completely out of our hands.
As we grow older though, we start to realize how much our lives are out of our control. We gain awareness for the things around us (dogma) and begin that fruitless adolescent fight against the parental units for every inch of free will that we can get (driver’s licenses, curfews, and friend circles be damned). It’s funny, but just as the struggle reaches a fever pitch, the higher ups cut the line and release us back into the real world on our own. More times than not with the hook still stuck in our mouth…. as if they knew what they were doing all along or something (thank god for catch and release).
Often, this newly found freedom doesn’t translate directly to the happiness one thinks it would. Similar to a dog that finally catches the squirrel in the backyard and doesn’t really know what to do with it; we spend most of our lives thinking about THE FUTURE so much so that we’re unprepared for it when it finally comes. If we could just harken back to our youthful beginnings and that original thirst for life that thrust us into this world like a bat out of hell– everything would probably be fine. But I feel like that would require a lot more coffee at this point.
For the sake of caffeine abuse, I ask you dear reader to ask yourself a simple question. What do you want to do? Think for a good long minute. It can be about fishing or any part of your life that you feel isn’t up to snuff. Found it? Good. Now, that you know what you want to do – ask yourself what’s stopping you from going out there and actually doing it? What ACT OF GOD is standing in your way? What impassable river separates you from the thing you desire most on the other bank? Time is often a culprit. There simply isn’t enough of it. Prior commitments to family or work and physical limitations are all valid excuses as well, but outside of that – who/what is drawing the line in the sand for you and telling you not to cross it these days?.... Look in the mirror, boss, more often than not— it’s you.
I don’t mean to rub anyone the wrong way. We all live busy lives. This may well be youthful ignorance. But whenever I hear about fellow young persons finding themselves in ruts or pissed off about their whereabouts in life, obviously jaded over the places they’ve been or continue to be in, I can’t feel sorry for them. Don’t like your job? Go and pursue your happiness. Tired of that same old bar? Find a new scene. Tired of fishing the same places? Go and research new water. It’s called Google.
There are a lot of things we cannot control in our lives. Weather, death, and the feeding patterns of 20”+ brown trout being a few that come off the top of my head. But the few things we can control –the outlook we take into every day and the effort we put in to getting what we want out of life – are absolutely within our hands. If you don’t believe me, check out the powerful work done by Project Healing Waters.
The work this national organization does to rejuvenate the minds and souls of wounded veterans through fly fishing is truly remarkable. In teaching these heroes the ways of the wand, how to read the stream, and the endless possibilities of the vice – Project Healing Waters helps veterans learn a new sense of normal in their lives despite their physical limitations. By employing fly fishing and all the technical skills associated with it (knot tying, casting, fly selection, etc) these heroes learn to use their new appendages in a stress free environment while doing something new and challenging. Through time on the water, they gain a new lease on life. It’s funny how chasing a silly little fish in a silly little stream can do that for someone.
I’ll admit I’ve experienced the aforementioned feeling of finding yourself rutted in misery, despite not having an excuse to (people who fish Four Mile Run and Duck Pond often know exactly what I’m talking about). Maybe it's the pangs of boredom or that lackluster feeling of being unchallenged - but when times get tough, the tough get going. Challenge yourself. Try to innovate your life. It’s important to realize that the parental units or whatever guiding forces from your past are no longer driving the car that is your life. Sure, they are along for the ride, but they are no longer running the show by filling your schedule with piano lessons or foreboding you to hang out with that Pikos kid because he’s a bad influence.
Simply put, there is nothing preventing you from driving five hours to go fishing on a famous stretch of trout water or chase stripers in the surf if that’s where your heart is at. There are no rules except for those of society (stop at red lights, don’t murder anyone, mandatory clothing in public, etc). We should stop living like we CAN’T do what we want to (as long as it’s within reason). Pick up that fly rod and make the cast. You’ll never know what will happen if you don’t. Your future is now.
Over the past year, our cozy little website has conjured up over 20K unique visitors to its fun-filled pages. It's no surprise that so many people dig the FlyLife. Who can deny the allure of great music, cold beer, wild fish, and above all else, staying fly? Not many. But then again, some people do (those sick bastards). We're not huge yet. Not rolling in the dough by any means. But then again, it was never really about the dough. I guess that's why we can't quit... there are more people out there to brainwash. More masses that could use a friendly reminder to take a deep breath when times get hard, breathe, and take their next cast. No matter how impossible it may seem. Seriously though, when considering the humble origins of this cyber publication - it's amazing to think how far we've come in the past year. It's like I've said before, truly losing yourself in this sport will help you find yourself outside of it.
FlyTimesDC started in a Latin American studies course at Rhodes College in the fall of my junior year as a doodle. That’s right. A doodle. An original logo that hath since been revamped, the hammerhead/flytimesdc hybrid logo was dumb (albeit drawn on just about every single beer pong table at Rhodes College from 2011-2012). A confused and mangled assortment of lines that if you glanced upon it at the right angle, somewhat resembled a shark with FlyTimesDC crudely scribbled on its back. However, that silly logo stood for the pursuit of a dream and the commitment to a lifelong passion that grabbed me by the reins at 3 years old and steered me to places I honestly never thought I’d be. I’m sure Brogan, Tony, Tom, Hunter, Trent, and Kenny would agree that they’ve experienced a similar pull to the sport.
At the time of said doodle, I was a relative novice to fly fishing. I owned a fly rod. Sure, I could cast and catch a fish. But there was no rhyme or reason to it. I was a semi-pro bass fisherman, more accustomed to ripping lips and fishing fast and recklessly on 65lb braid - not 7x tippet. I didn’t understand the nuances of the game. Yet, it fascinated me. So naturally, I urged myself to get better with the wand. I fly fished every single day while in school for two years straight until I graduated….and kept on fishing.
I ventured out to the Little Red and Spring Rivers in Arkansas to chase trout on free weekends and organized small expeditions to harass urban bass in the dead of the Memphis night with friends. Carp, bass, catfish, and sunfish were all constantly messed when not in classes or baseball practice in the ponds behind my apartment. The tug was and still is the drug. It’s what prompts one to hit the outgoing tide at Gravelly Point at odd hours of the night or makes it a goal to learn every fishy hole in Rock Creek Park on your own. Those first few milestones (first carp, big trout, bass, bonefish) were the budding chapters in a story that hopefully isn’t even close to being entirely written. Yet, as the milestones get bigger and my quarries more elusive (f*ck you, snakeheads) the further down this road I go, I will always remember those precious first few steps.
Two years later, FlyTimesDC.com emerged from the ether of the Internet as a crudely pasted together compilation of HTML, poor grammar, and random fish pictures in an attempt to convince my parents I didn’t need a real job coming out of school. As you can expect, that lasted for all of one month before threats of disownment starting coming down the line from the higher ups. Eventually I got a “corporate job” to get them off my back but all the while, FlyTimesDC kept evolving.
As my passion for fly fishing continues to grow and I become more adept/experienced on the water with the wand in my hand, it has became harder to imagine myself doing anything else the rest of my life. No passion will rival that I already have for this sport. The places this sport takes you both physically and emotionally change you…in a good way though….
Fly fishing forces you to at least reconsider those things which you first thought were “priorities”. Beers, girls, work, etc all fall to the back burner when there is a prolific hatch, fantastic weather, or run of fish. I’ll be the first to admit that my life usually unravels when the fishing is on fire. No shave shad run was a testament to that. But if you’ve ever seen bonefish tailing on the gin clear flats of the Bahamas, a Smoky Mountain star show out performing a night at ULTRA, or witnessed the wild par markings of a native brook trout swimming in the same place it’s been since the dinosaurs – you probably get it. If you haven’t –you should probably fish more.
So as we hopefully continue to get weird with some fish words and instagrammed glory shots for some time down the road - I'd like to extend a big thank you to not only the fly fishing community at large, but to all the friends, family, and followers who have had to deal with me speaking in tongues about tippet, tying flies, the wonders of trout, my snakehead tormention, and ultimately made FlyTimesDC a part of their life for the past year - thank you. We're not done by any means.
Remick Smothers is a native son of the District of Columbia and the founder of FlyTimesDC. A self taught fly fisherman and fly tier, Rem graduated from Rhodes College with a double major in fly fishing and English in 2012. He has been celebrating the fly life ever since. Just remember, if it's dark out, there's a shark out. Above all else, stay fly. #flytimesdc