Over the past two years, our cozy little website has conjured up over 75K unique visitors to its fun and fish filled pages. Between our first year and now- our reach has doubled...wow.
It's no surprise that so many people dig the FlyLife though. Who can deny the allure of great music, cold beer, wild places, big fish, and above all else, staying fly?
But then again, some people do (those sick bastards). We're not huge yet. Not rolling in the dough by any means. But 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 or fruitless 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 two years. But if you’ve fished enough, you know that 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 confusing, 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 - 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…the snowy banks of the Salmon River…Boca Grande Pass…Smoky Mountain National Park….and the list goes on. I’m sure Brogan, Connor, Clarence, and Kevin would agree that they’ve experienced a similar pull to the sport. We vicariously fish through each other after all.
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 stick in my hand. I fly fished every single day my last two years of college until I graduated….and kept on fishing…..Here I am now.
I ventured out to the Little Red and Spring Rivers in Arkansas to chase trout on free weekends. We 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 me 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. We added a few more chapters with our first steelhead encounter this past winter. 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 on the water, it has become harder and harder for me to imagine myself doing anything else the rest of my life. No passion will rival that which I already have for this sport. The places this sport takes you physically, spiritually, 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. The annual #SHADNESSMADNESS and #NOSHAVESHADRUN are testaments 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 and our sponsors Urban Angler and Trout Unlimited, 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, and my snakehead conspiracy theories to ultimately make FlyTimesDC a part of their life.
Thank you. We're not done by any means.
Somewhere on the cusp of Appalachia, where the vast stretch of suburban metropolis that is Northern Virginia gives way to the Highlands and Shenandoah Valley, is a special place in Madison County where positive change is put into the world as the lives of warriors, young and old, are given a true sense of renewal through the simple action of casting rod and line. You could probably guess that at the crux of this special space –a river runs through it. For once though, this isn’t entirely about what swims beneath the surface, but the courageous men and women who stand above it.
Sure , you could say there are some fish in this glorious mile or so long stretch of pristine, restored trout water— a lot of fish actually. The Rose is a piece of God-given perfection to those with fish on the brain. But most streams have fish. There are some big ones, some small ones, some with spots, some you should throw out, and others so beautiful and rare that they ratify your faith in this thing we call life. But that would be calling these magnificent organisms something more like a vehicle for spiritual and physical renewal rather than what they actually are— fish.
Hell, you can catch them on a variety of things. They all fall victim to worms and this manmade goo called “Powerbait” ALL THE TIME. That said, homemade concoctions comprised of what appear to be mostly belly button lint, thread, and feathers tied onto steel is the preferred method by most fly anglers. Sometimes you’ll even convince a fish that the feather metal combo is real and they’ll rise from the depths to sip your fly in what can only be described as the soft-core porn of natural predations in the Animal Kingdom. Despite that description, it’s one of the more heart-stopping moments in all of sport. Fool a fish once on a dry fly and ironically, you’ll be the one that’s hooked. It’s a proven fact (and pun). Regardless of success, you keep fishing.
Then in that same hole, you’ll find a fish propel itself from the depths with such violence and reckless abandon at your fly that you have no time to react and things get strangely quiet on the water. There was no hook set. For all you know it missed the fly. Maybe it wasn’t even your fly that it flung itself at. But even as you scratch your head on the bank trying to put together what just happened, your rig completely thrashed and possibly in a tree—there is no better feeling. Regardless of success, you keep fishing.
But then the fish adapt. Times get tough and they stop rising. They instead take on a new form, gluing themselves on the bottom – mere specters flashing and teasing their potential presence in the depths. But being the stubborn creatures we are--we adapt. We overcome their survivalist instinct and put weight on the line ahead of the fuzz and thread to make it sink to their level. We boldly drift our creation through their place of refuge, attempting to imitate which we can only hope is “natural”. A silver flash in a deep, green pool signals the eat, provoking a primal instinct and reassurance in the unknown that is ultimately comprised of the elements that define this sport –wishful thinking, perseverance, and blind faith. Regardless of success, you keep fishing.
I’m not sure this has been said before. It probably has and I’m infringing on intellectual property rights but it feels right. With each stream you fish the world gets bigger. With each fish you catch, the world gets slightly smaller. You progress from that quiet mountain trout stream in your hometown to the main river a few more miles downstream to chase bigger game. From the river you make your eventual way down to the bay in pursuit of even larger quarry. As time progresses, you’ll find yourself in the salt….then everything gets weird…and you can forget everything I mentioned above. You won’t though—because everyone remembers that first time they were rejuvenated by the flow.
But back to that quiet stretch of river in Madison County at Rose River Farm- the special place where the battle scars of warriors, young and old, are healed by a pure stream of mountain water and the efforts of Project Healing Waters. This is where the journey that is fly fishing has taken these heroes, to a celebration of their incredible efforts and the tangible evidence of their new lease on life. But that’s what this sport does for people. I guess you could say that Project Healing Waters and Rose River Farm are really on to something. But then again, they’ve been on this train for a while.
Since 2005, Project Healing Waters has been serving wounded military service members at Walter Reed Army Medical Center returning from combat in Iraq and Afghanistan. Since then, PHWFF has expanded nationwide, establishing its highly successful program in Department of Defense hospitals, Warrior Transition Units, and Veterans Affairs Medical Centers and clinics.
The Project Healing Waters Fly Fishing program provides basic fly fishing, fly casting, fly tying and rod building classes, along with clinics participants ranging from beginners who have never fished before, to those with prior fly fishing and tying experience who are adapting their skills to their new abilities. All fly fishing and tying equipment is provided to the participants at no cost. Fishing trips, both one day and multi-day, are also provided free of charge to participants.
Not so surprisingly, these heroes overcome it all—no arm, no leg, no problems—with the help of PHW. But often for these courageous men, it’s a long road to recovery. To relearn functionality in an appendage is a sobering lesson in the determination and the will power of all men to overcome any obstacle. But through the sport of fly fishing and all the repetition that goes with it (casting, knot trying, fly trying, stream knowledge, fly selection, etc) PHW teaches wounded veterans a new sense of normal. Says COO of PHW Dave Folkerts:
I think our biggest difference from other organizations is that we focus on the long term relationships we make with the participants in our programs. We are not a one event, shake their hand, then thank them for their service as they walk out the door. Our programs meet on a regular basis. Some meet up once a week, some every other and some once a month. They teach fly fishing 101, fly tying, rod building and pretty much anything to do with the sport of fly fishing. Many of our programs are doing 15+ fishing outings throughout the year for their programs participants. We continually keep them engaged with the program and give them the choice to stay connected as long as they want. The big events like the 2-fly tournament in Virginia and the fly fishing trips to places like Montana and Alaska are incredible experiences but are just a small part overall of what PHWFF offers.
In essence, fly fishing becomes the motivating factor and catalyst for their convalescence. But regardless of the fish, a group of men entirely committed and determined to overcome their limitations, transcend them, and find inner peace is an incredibly powerful thing to witness first hand. Talk about true strength. With the help of generous sponsors, volunteers, and tireless employees at Project Healing Waters, these moments are not so rare in this world. Throughout the year, PHW runs numerous events for wounded warriors all over the country. Branches of this great organization are starting to sprout up on primo fishing destinations all over and special events like the Two-Fly Tournament represent a celebratory culmination of their efforts to not only restore streams, but lives. I cannot stress this enough, the Two-Fly Tournament at Rose River Farm is only one weekend but the work PHW does with these heroes leaves a lasting impression.
Each year, a handful of veterans are selected to participate in the Two-Fly based on their participation in program classes, meetings, and clinics throughout the PHW calendar. Once selected, the participants are given the opportunity to put their newly honed skills to the test on the trout mecca that is the Rose while accompanied with a professional guide. As you could guess from the name, the tournament is based on the Two-Fly premise (two flies per angler, choose any fly you want but lose both, you’re done fishing for the day). The event raises a substantial amount of money each year for PHW events and helps sustain the operating costs for their wonderful mission. And it should.
For the farm is a place where a warrior with no left arm can successfully convince their first fish to rise to a dry fly while casting with their right. There are no words to describe how beautiful a moment that truly is.
It is that special place where a hero with no legs can provoke the equivalent of a Sean Taylor headshot on their properly presented fly, lose the fish, and at the end of the day— laugh about it over a beer. Tarnished rig be damned.
Most importantly though, it is a space where the lessons learned from PHW mean more than the fish landed. A special place where persevering, critically thinking, and adapting your mental and physical game plan to overcome an obstacle most would deem vastly more insurmountable than fooling a large, finicky trout happens every single day.
Regardless of guide, it is a true challenge to any fly fisherman’s focus and determination to win this tournament. Lose your fly in a tree? Done. Lose that fly on a 20” rainbow? Done. Lose that second fly in your guide’s swollen lip (dip included)? Done…although the dip gets you points back at the gazebo. Despite their physical limitations, there are no exceptions on this stream. Everyone is equal. Lose your flies and you’re done.
But fishing isn’t all about losing flies and persevering, right? For there are perfect moments in this sport. Like when you catch that 23” rainbow that’s been hiding from the world for 5+years in the final 5 minutes of regulation with only one, difficult cast to make into a submerged rose bush with a size #18 stone fly and getting the drift just right so that holding that fish in your hands before time expires feels as if you’re holding your new born child? Legendary.
Ever wonder like it is to be a hero?
We’re about to find out.
Follow us APRIL 26th-27th at the Project Healing Waters’ Two-Fly Tournament on their National Home Water at Rose River Farm in Syria, VA. We’ll be bringing the action to you live on InstaGram and Twitter @FlyTimesDC using the hastag (#) #PHWFF2FLY. To find out more about this incredible organization check out https://www.projecthealingwaters.org/.
Every day is a gift, that’s why we live in the present.
With water temps finally starting to push 50 degrees after a seemingly endless, F*CK#*@#* TERRIBLE WINTER – spring has finally sprung in our beloved District.
With warm weather comes the instinctual urge to do funtivities outside. Joggers, bikers, and all those kept contained inside for way too long hatch in a glorious manifestation of life and passive fitness. It also means hell on the local traffic scene – but I digress.
For us in the District, spring means a few things...
Cherry blossoms and tourists…
Nats games (I’m an O’s fan but beer is beer) and times spent meandering around Cantina Marina….
We've been spared the Caps annual game 7 home loss (aka the Red Wedding) this year (thank god)…
And of course, fishing some…or a lot…or all the freaking time now that there is no need for a gajillion layers or routine trips down I-80 to chase the local population of brutish salmonoids.
How liberating is that?!
But if any of y’all read last year’s #WordHatches around this time of year, there’s a pretty distinct chance you saw a pattern of irrational and reckless behavior that resulted in some great catches and funny stories.
Well, I can’t make any promises (I like to think I’ve learned a thing or two), I’m just gonna say it comes with the territory—especially if the fishing is as spectacular as it was last spring. See, once spring finally rids itself from the demented clutches of winter – my fishing options not limited to one local stream and a handful of productive trout waters – I tend to lose my shit.
In short, I’m talking about the deterioration of all things resembling rationality and a normal, functional life...all for a shot at that one fish.
In other words, things are about to get awfully fishy around here (if it looks like I haven’t slept…I haven’t).
The next few months will be a total immersion into the fly life as I’m looking forward to fishing way too hard until this all starts slowing down….hopefully around next December.
But just in case you missed all the #WordHatches from last year, here is the typical spring rundown around these parts-
After a long winter pounding the trout water and occasionally Four Mile Run with a goddamn vengeance – the Nation’s River smiles on us all and finally warms up to 50 degrees. Giving everyone hope. Trout guys curse the oncoming flood of fair weather fishermen….and powerbait.
Everyone starts talking shad in late February despite the facts that global warming has decided to punish this region by extending winter well into March in recent years. Maybe one year we'll be graced with an early season...Until then Shad start showing up in early April and the line for a boat at Fletcher’s starts at 4am. All time before/after work is spent at Fletchers for three weeks straight as water temps everywhere start to get primo.
At this point I’ve stopped shaving. After another week, I’m seriously contemplating a No-Shave-Shad-Run for the entire two months period these mini-tarpon enter the river. Hell, I’ve even started to smell like a shad (hickory, not gizzard. Thank god).
But like an addict—come late-April, I’m done with shad…I need a stronger pull...and really want a spey rod….
By now the run is fully on. Fletcher’s becomes too crowded. The majority of folks are keeping all the shad they can despite the postings about river herring and shad being endangered. There are no rules. It’s gross.
To boot the banks are lined with dart chuckers (non-derogatory term, I enjoy spin fishing a lot) and the channel completely lined with row boats making it tough to get back to the boathouse at times without taking a dart to the jugular. That said, it’s an incredible time.
If you live in the District, you need to experience it at least once.
But it’s time to roll out—people are starting to give me funny looks.
The run will continue for another month or so.…until the Dogwoods blossom….
Late April-Late May
Striper run starts mid-late April with the bigger fish pushing through the system first. The stripers range from 8”-40”. The big ones are rare on fly gear –especially in places that are accessible from the shore. But I dream nonetheless.
I start planning my life around the Alexandria tide chart hitting up every tidal creek outflow and inlet I can at “good” times. Everything from dates to beers with friends and family affairs are all strained and meticulously calculated against the tides –all for a shot at that one fish.
3:30am wake up calls for outgoing tides on school nights becomes the norm as you make the transformation from human being to thing that goes bump in the night. Sleep deprivation is nothing but a thang. Coming back to the park to fish an hour before it closes seems like a good idea even when you've already fished there from 4am-7am that day and again from 6pm-8pm.
You start to lose yourself in the calmness of a DC sunrise…..only hours after losing yourself in the serenity of a cool, spring night…You start not to care about the little things. The cast, a natural extension of yourself at this point. The initial mend upon fly hitting the water, like breathing. The retrieve synchronized to the point that you don't even recognize yourself doing it anymore. It just does...and you make another cast.
In other words, my friend - you start fishing.
You swing until you can’t anymore- that point where either the fish or the elements decide your fate for you. Moments denied when you are betrayed by the tide and at other times by an oncoming monsoon. Some of the best tides are ruined by a flooded river. Moons wasted on angry, chocolate water. So you tie flies.
Big flies. Some with clouser eyes, others with the Clear Cure—in every “PROVEN” combo you can think of. Once your armory is restored - the river gets its act together and it’s game time again. You wonder if it will ever happen…And then it happens.
You feel the bump, strip set, and realize you hooked something that really, really didn’t like being stuck in the face. The rod loads and you can feel the power of this magnificent force as the line shoots through the guides. In the soft glow of the surrounding street lights you hear, not see, the fish break the surface. In your mind you know it’s a solid fish. Over 25”…whatever the hell it is.
You hope it’s that striper you’ve been chasing every week for the past month. The thought crosses your mind it’s a snakehead…but pshhh. You pray it’s not a big blue cat. And then, in that same soft light that prevented you from seeing said beast break the surface from 80yds away –your finally given that glorious gift of sight. The fish coming into view, broad silver stripes and burly shoulders busting through its prison bird suite lateral lines in full, furious glory…and things suddenly feel complete.
You can finally sleep.
But even when you eventually stick that nice fish or too mixed in with the schoolies, you tell no one. It may have taken you days, weeks, months, or even years to accomplish the rare fate of pulling a 30” striper out of the shallows. But the shad beard compels you to do weirder things.
A life of secrecy is hard to maintain on a blog with 3K+followers. But sometimes you gotta speak up….like when you almost get arrested for “entering the Potomac” (still sounds like some sort of sexual deviancy) at 2:30AM near a busy, National Airport…
Time to lay low for a while….the stripers are slowing down…
The next show is in town.
Snakeheads, largemouth, and smallmouth bass have long ago emerged from their winter slumber offering up fun for those not obsessed with shad or stripers.
For bass, this means moving from shelves in relatively deep water into the shallows to gorge themselves. The creeks become a playground for anyone with a clawdad, small clouser, or frog.
Those alien snakeheads? Not so much.
After rising from their muddy, wintry resting places—water temps in the mid-50s inspiring them to start shagging all over the place at Chain Bridge—these bastards won’t eat a single thing until their done with their biznazz. But in May that all starts to change with some fish finishing said biznazz and finally deciding to eat something –as the summer continues, it only gets better.
The Tidal Basin becomes a second home for these aliens. Urban whale watching and day dreaming become one and the same. It’s the fish that doesn't see you that eats the fly. Be seen and you’re done.
I chase them with abandon until the grass gets too thick to fish without a boat….and the target keeps moving.
If you’re up for it, challenge yourself. There is no better place to become an ALL-AROUND fly fisherman than the Potomac watershed and its surrounding area.
Sitting around the Thanksgiving table, surrounded by family and the renowned kitchen stylings of my sainted mother, a cold Lagunitas Brown Shugga in hand and turkey coma well on its way, one could think of a bevy of reasons to feel truly blessed this time of year. Family, friends, football, and the fall migration of steelhead and giant Great Lake run brown trout all fit the bill. But a certain someone in our company wasn’t content with simply eating delicious turkey chow and casually chatting about current events.
In the midst of sating ourselves on roasted fowl and adult beverage, my mother decided to push the envelope….Stir the pot…. Shake things up… You know, shake and bake? Alright, that was a stretch…. especially considering all she did was start the standard “what are you most thankful for?” Thanksgiving table conversation. But stick with me here.
After prompting each guest or family member to share something they were personally grateful for (quality employment, good health, togetherness, and my mom’s famous oyster casserole were a few memorable mentions) there were only a few peeps left before it was my turn to spit some truth.
What the hell would I say?
You know, between the absurd level of on-water shenanigans and near death experiences, it’s been kind of a crazy year, but also one to be truly thankful for. So naturally, I didn’t want to just say something for the sake of saying it. There have just been too many moments worthy of thanks this year. Some were beautiful, others ugly, and some that were truly moments of reckoning. I couldn’t play it safe here. I couldn’t cop out.
It goes without saying that I’m grateful for the three Fs in my life. Family, friends, and fly fishing are all wonderful things. So you may be asking, well, what are you thankful for, Rem? One word: Perspective.
Now it may sound dumb or vague….or even worse—like I’m trying to get deep on y’all—but the ability to cut through the bullshit and not be fooled by the powerbait of life is a blessing in onto itself. It wasn’t easy getting here. It took a few cold doses of Sweetwater to learn that floating the mainstream isn’t always the best idea. But people, similar to fish, are often doomed by the flashy things in their lives. Everyone falls for them from time to time. It’s human nature. But similar to the happenings in the surf and steam –it’s no coincidence that most cultures around the world share a relatively similar angling tradition that respects or even reveres big fish most. When you get down to brass tax, there is good reason for this—especially as more and more anglers these days have begun to embrace catch and release.
Big fish are those individuals who consistently avoid the temptations around them. They routinely find ways to avoid that fatal mistake. They overcome adversity with ease to throw the hook, wrap you around something sinister, or simply—whoop your ass—and leave you shaking at the knees. They are masters of survival. So much so that when these monsters are ultimately stuck in the face with one of life’s barbs – more often than not, they find themselves released out of respect.
The lessons we can learn from something as simple as fishing are limitless and in every instance (no matter how painful the learning process is/was), refreshing.
So let’s see what I’ve learned in the past year…..
I learned that to become a better fisherman, you must either fish water that challenges you or fish with someone who is truly better than you—for these are the tests of an angler’s true skill (the ability to overcome and the ability to learn/ignore your foolish pride, open your mind, and you know, try something different, man)….
I learned that fish hate cameras…. But that Hawg Johnson never takes a day off…so always bring a camera….just don’t call your shots…..
I learned that dry flies aren’t something you can actually be allergic to—but something that is highly, highly addictive….
I learned that 6 and 7x are way stronger than you’d think….but at the same time, not nearly as strong as you’d think….
I learned that tire treading is very, very essential for driving in the rain….
I learned that one cast can change the outlook on your entire day, week, month, year, or life…..
I learned to not fuck with beavers….they hate you….
I learned that there are bull sharks in the Potomac…..
I learned that even “garbage flies” get bit……
I learned that the fish are just part of the equation…..for the things you see on the water and in nature can change even the most verdant couch potato….
I learned that Bald Eagles are way better aerial fighters than Ospreys….
I learned that days on the water are more important than nights at the bar….
I learned that Snakeheads are curious, intelligent, and spiteful assholes….not fish…..
I learned that lyme disease does not come from limes…but ticks….
I learned that Four Mile Run will ruin your waders… pick your shots….
I learned that the fish you miss or lose are weirdly the ones you remember most….
I learned that paradise isn’t shit unless you have someone to share it with…..
I learned that a four fly rig is nothing but non-essential, self-imposed trouble…..although it’s a cool premise….similar to those first airplanes with 100 wings…..
I learned that just because a fly looks good on the vice it doesn’t mean it will look good in the water…..
I learned that there is nothing stopping you from fishing but the absence of time…..make time for fishing….
I learned that those you trust and love (and love you back) are the only people who matter in life – for they are the only ones who care enough to look at your fish porn, listen to your nonsensical ramblings about tippet and marabou, and welcome you home with a hug despite the body odor, scraggily facial hair, and fish slime….
Thank god for turkey, blondes from Boston, and the lessons learned.
Let’s do it all over again next year!
Life is too short to be a streamer dreamer.
It is 6:00am and quite dark out. I can either go to sleep or fish for a few hours before work. In my mind, the choice is a simple one. In reality, there is still sleep in my eyes and I’m pretty sure this comforter might be the greatest man nest of all time. But sleep won’t come easy and I’ve got to move my car anyway to avoid the parking ticket ring of death that is Glover Park during morning rush hour. A cup of coffee, fat lip of tobacco (don’t dip kids), and smallmouth bass are all I need to get out of bed. The creek is calling my name.
As the horizon slowly emerges from the darkness, I make out some old athletic shorts and flip flops on the floor. A used Columbia shirt from a previous outing hangs on my door knob. Even in remote darkness, the living room is a relative mess. Bottles of craft beer lay wasted and empty on a wooden table covered in fly fishing stickers from the night before (two fantasy drafts in a row will turn anyone to the sauce). Additionally, various fly patterns are strewn randomly across the entire apartment, which throws an element of danger into turning on light switches or fumbling through random objects on the table. On my way out the door, I swipe a few of the more promising looking creations from the night before along with my can of Grizzly and I’m out the door.
On the agenda this morning is testing an antennae-ed variation of the #sexpanther on smallmouth bass and other creek fishes in Rock Creek Park. The revamped panther has been working well on the bass recently and I’m looking to push the envelope a little bit to coax a bigger bronzeback into coming out to play. The pattern is big, leggy, and to this point, only full of potential. It’s time to find out if its up to snuff. Hopping into my beloved, dust covered and fish sticker ridden Explorer, I turn on the headlights, switch on the bluegrass station and begin my short descent out of Glover and into the raising darkness of Rock Creek Valley.
Parking near the ambassador to-some-foreign-land’s residence, I throw on the studded boots and wet wading booties (I will not wet wade in Rock Creek, just a precaution in case I need to wet an ankle). In the early morning darkness, the valley seems to transform into a primitive place. Deer graze casually in the shadows of multi-million dollar homes and the parkway, where cars rush in upwards of 50+mph during rush hour, is silent. For a few precious minutes, the babble of the creek will overtake the commotion of the most powerful city on Earth. That is a beautifully refreshing sentiment in my mind. But soon things will start moving again. They always do.
Stringing up the 4wt to the bemusement of a few early morning joggers, I tie on the new panther pattern I put together last night. Compared to the last week or so, it actually feels refreshing to be outdoors. The morning air is cool and crisp, the coffee warm and inviting in my hand. Fall is definitely on its way and all is good in the world as I look out onto the trail. The clock reads 6:45AM.
Making my way down stream, the first few holes I hit aren’t entirely productive. I see a few fish rising here and there, but nothing is hungry and they seem small. As the sun rises higher in the sky, my fast retrieve brings nothing to hand signaling that it’s time to change things up. Sticking with the same panther that got me out of bed and onto the stream this morning, I work a few of the deeper holes in the creek making sure to get the fly down on the bottom. But still, the fish won’t cooperate.
Each empty hole I pass on my way down stream conjures up memories of past victories and fish stuck in the face. When I close my eyes I can see smallmouth bass erupting from behind rocks and flying out of fallen trees to gobble down streamers. In this instance, I’m reliving the times when everything lined up just right – the fly, current, and fish all cooperating in a beautiful amalgamation of chaos and natural order. But on this morning, I’ll have to be content with memories. The creek is eerily still.
As I make my way around the creek bend, a fishless fly and hour glass weighing against my confidence, I spy a nice bass (14=16”) holding at the tail end of some shallow riffles. Once in position to cast, I can feel the rod load in my hand as the line queues its eloquent unfurl into the oblivion. In less than a second, my fly is in the water, drifting towards its inevitable fate. In less time than that, the fish will make a split-second decision whether to devour the weird, food-resembling object drifting toward its general area or not. His decision will be based upon a myriad of things I will probably never fully understand. Still, I will take its refusal to eat quite personally.
The fly lands several feet upstream of my quarry and slowly tumbles towards the creek bed. I mend the line to get it down just a little bit farther and watch the fish in anticipation of the indescribable. Almost like it was prompted by some dark, unseen force, the fish races out to investigate the fly. I take the fish’s cavalier attitude as a sign of appetite and give the fly a quick twitch as if to speed things up. To this day, I have never seen a smallmouth bass exit stage left more rapidly in my life. The rejection is hard to take.
In the last half hour or so before I have to go home and get prepared for the work day (3 eggs, 2 English Muffins, and a quick shower are all I need), I change up the fly for a small foam hopper and proceed to wail on a dozen or so sunfish before calling it a day. Despite the action, I can't help but feel unsatisfied and begin to think introspectively.
On a different day, would the same fish have eaten that same fly no questions asked? Did that slight twitch essentially tell the fish to f*ck off? Is the new panther pattern salvageable? I’m not sure. “Probably,” is the most thorough answer I can give y’all. But I guess that’s why I’ll continue to get out of bed in the morning while my peers hit the snooze button.
Life is too short to be a streamer dreamer.
"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.
Sometimes you’ve got to experiment. Change things up. Put your left shoe on your right foot. Well, maybe not that extreme. But you catch my drift (above all else, stay fly). Without risk taking or experimentation – our great sport would be limited to its origins of dry flies and small streams (not a bad thing). But because we are a species that likes to push the envelope – innovation is inevitable. We will always continue to push the boundaries before us. Don't believe me? Just look around.
Already our sport has progressed from said stream to the salt and from those holy salt flats it has expanded to the blue water in the pursuit of an adrenaline rush so pure and profound that it alters the life paths of even the most determined individuals and puts our existence into sweet, sweet perspective. However, the books have already been written on how to catch most of the badass fish on the planet. Far away fisheries pioneered by the legendary rock star cowboys of previous generations. But where do we draw our inspiration to deviate from the doctrines previously set before us nowadays? Family? Friends? Fish? Boredom? In other words- where do we find the courage to pursue happiness on our own damn terms? Honestly, I don’t know. I just try to fish as often as my body and schedule will permit. I try to adapt as much as possible and figure out the game on my own. Sometimes it’s reinventing the wheel – other times it’s letting the wheel spin. But the confidence to branch off and do something “weird” is a rare trait these days. The desire to forge trails and bushwhack a dying desire - but innovation is inevitable. There will always be individuals weird enough to try something new.
Too many individuals fear failure or ridicule these days. For others it’s loneliness or a bruised ego. But what’s the difference between not catching anything doing the accepted technique and not catching anything on an unorthodox rig? There isn’t one. Except that I guess you fit in with the norm. Doubt will dwell in one’s mind regardless when they fail. So why not make the fresh attempt and try something new and go down swinging?
After only getting one snakehead in the mouth this past year on a fly out of the Tidal Basin throwing just about every fly you could imagine - I couldn’t help but get to thinking….
What was I doing wrong?
Was I doing anything wrong?
Was it me?
Was it the fish?
There were no books for me to reference. No words to follow from the badass rock star cowboys of our sport's distinguished past. There was nothing but blank pages and overzealous blog posts by those fortunate enough to “fool” one of these great fish. I think my heart just skipped a beat.
Long before I became a fly guide - I was an aspiring tournament bass fisherman. In my youthful wanderings, I learned how to flip, pitch, and skip baits under docks. I lost baits in trees, boats, ropes, docks, buoys, living rooms, and on one unfortunate occasion -a cormorant. But eventually, I learned how to read water. I perfected my retrieves and rod action. I avoided the birds and studied and read as much as I could to get inside the head of my quarry. Big fish became the expectation – not the exception. In the end, I realized that most predatory game fish are of an eerily similar like mindedness. Most live in the same places and eat the same variety of things. They rarely deviate from that previous doctrine set before them – their survival instinct too tough to breakdown. So what gives with snakeheads?
The answers are…. well…. still up for debate. With each catch we’re figuring these fish out but the limited catches on fly rods really leave a lot to be desired. In other words – the book on snakeheads is still in the process of being written. From my observations – they are a random beast that loves banded killifish, hates cinnamon, and favors those not looking for them. I’ve heard of one caught on shad flies at Chain Bridge. Another was caught on a nymph in the Tidal Basin. One individual with a good ole fashioned worm and bobber caught one at Fletcher’s Cove. Pretty much all were caught by accident. Hell, Jeremy Wade had to implore a local fisherman to spear one FOR HIM in Thailand. Now that really puts things in perspective.
When I think about the unique opportunity placed before us on our Nation’s River (whether or not you consider these invasives a blessing or curse) – I can’t help but flash to those first pioneering bone fishermen on the flats. How many times did they spook a fish with an errant cast? How many times were they given the fin before hitting pay slime? When did they realize these fish were leader shy? When did everything start to click for those rock star cowboys? The history of our sport is fascinating. However, it is the future that excites me the most. The possibility of pioneering an entirely new fishery can't help but get you excited.
I guess it’s time to write some pages in this snakehead book. Let’s get weird.
My life started to unravel a few weeks ago …
It all started with that damn shad run. I tied countless flashy pink flies. Kindergarten Specials and Brown Nosers. My apartment still looks like a pre-school arts and crafts classroom with no clean up time. I’m addicted to the vise. It won’t get any cleaner either as stripers, largemouth, and snakehead start picking up (sorry, Lorraine). But as we inch closer to summer – the Nats doomed by bandwagon fans, unrealistic expectations, and a revamped Braves team now playing the role of pissed off underdog – I can’t help but think about how quickly things can change. Damn those seasons.
In a few weeks, summer will be here. The simple beauty of 78 degree days replaced with those approaching 100. Intense humidity and wild, random weather will become the norm (see: Derecho). The water temps will soar above 80 degrees and all the great action we’re having now will be gone. Not completely gone. Fish will certainly still be caught. But the fish won't be residing in the shallows – refugees of the heat in search of cold water and oxygen. Stalking fish in darkness will become the name of the game. The epic mixed bag bite we’re having now will not return until fall. Then it’s winter and we’re back to Four Mile Run banishment and driving to the mountains for trout streams... It’s amazing how those seasons change. Amazing to think just three weeks ago there was snow on the ground. But for now the water temps are in the mid-60s and our great river has sprung back to life in a big way. I plan on taking advantage of this until it ends.
I'll always remember what my dad told me last year after graduating college. I was down at his place in Siesta Key, FL with a certain Brogan Jayne trout bum chasing tarpon. We had 6 glorious days to get it done. I remember coming off the water one day and giving him a hug, he could tell I was getting tired but instead of ushering me to bed uttered the five most beautiful words I've ever heard - "fish your ass off, son." In this context - there is only one spring. Take complete advantage of it.
This is the season where the fish are in my wheelhouse- big streamers for largemouth, stripers, and snakehead. I’m making the most of this spring. Fishing as often and as furiously as I can. Last week, I averaged 5 hours of sleep and close to 4 hours of fishing a day. That’s almost a 1:1 sleeping to fishing ratio. Wow. But you know what? I'm fine. Exhaustion is a state of mind.
I wrote a previous Word Hatch about not being normal. The article (found here) focused on my affinity for fishing at weird times of day, making more fruitless casts on a frigid outgoing tide in darkness than I probably should have, almost giving up, and ultimately on the last cast – hooking into one of the better striped bass I’ve ever caught in the District (20”). My hands numb, work quickly approaching, and doggone tired –the article hinted at something much deeper than simply a love for ripping lips and sacrificing beers and sleep to play in the outdoors. That was in the winter….. Now that spring decided to show up, none of that has changed. In fact – it may have gotten worse…
I haven’t shaved since the shad run….
I almost chopped off the tip of my left index finger trying to slice a bagel….
I stepped on a nail while trying to pick off stripers at the Tidal Basin….
The tug is the drug…
I am a slave to tide…
I’m pretty sure I smell sometimes…
I’m so glad spring has sprung.
So what can I tell you about springtime in DC? Push your limits. The good times will eventually end.
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