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.
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.
Fly fishing is a beautiful thing. To me, there is neither a simpler nor greater pleasure than hopping into my waders, threading the line through my guides in early morning darkness, and finding myself on the creek at sunrise. That is my perfect morning. It’s a lot of people’s perfect morning, but as we know – perfection is hard to obtain. However, people need to remember perfection is purely based upon a state of perspective. Any moment can become perfect. All it takes is one cast. So why do so many anglers get pissed when they find someone else on the water with them in these beautiful moments? Strangers be damned – share the love!
I’m not sure about you dear reader – but getting the stink eye for merely being in the vicinity of another angler is not something I take too kindly to. It’s kind’ve like being blatantly ignored at a packed bar while trying to order drinks. It’s rude, unnecessary, and ultimately something that negatively impacts more than one individual’s experience. We’re all there for the same reasons – fun having, catching fish, exploration, relaxation in nature, finding yourself, learning a craft, etc - so why the need to be a dick (for lack of a better word)? While you’re staring down that approaching angler like they’re a leper – you could be fishing.
I always find it a little funny when I see other anglers get visibly infuriated. I’ve seen foot stomping, arm waving, whistling, yelling, and of course, bird giving, over the years - more childish responses to the slightest bit of adversity than anything else. So naturally, I don’t let it phase me. But it is a little disconcerting that so many anglers are missing the big picture. That they actually think they have this sport all to themselves. News flash: sport fishing is a $6 billion industry per year. I guess the word got out somehow…
I know we all like to think of ourselves as the biggest badasses on the river. Conditioned to think this way over instagrammed propaganda and countless dollars forked out for $50 trucker hats, $100 “Trout Bum” shirts, $500 ProGuide waders, and fancy $150 fish-friendly nets (not to mention that rod outfit in your hand), but having the best gear or looking cool in fish pics doesn’t get you anywhere in this sport. Respect does. Respect for the environment, the fish, and yes, your fellow anglers.
Simply put, no one person owns the water (unless you’re fishing the Jackson River in Virginia). Instead, anglers need to adopt the mindset that the water is all of ours to share. We are all responsible. If we all do our part to keep fisheries sustainable and water clean there will be many more perfect moments to be had. But part of the reason there is such a mad dash for the best spots is that there are only so many of these places left. Because so many anglers over the years thought they were the biggest badasses on the river, promptly discarding their waste into the river, keeping everything they caught, and using the threat of imminent violence to keep productive water to themselves – fish populations and water clarity are not what they used to be.
In recent years, our angling community has become aware of these issues –science and conservation leading the way to a brighter future. But it takes the like-minded effort of an angling community and local governments to truly implement the change we need. You may have noticed our slogan: “Above All Else, Stay Fly”. Well, here at FlyTimesDC – we truly believe in message behind the words. It’s about keeping things in perspective, enjoying every second of this one life we have to live (and fish), having respect and awareness for your environment, and in doing all of this – knowing that the world will be a better place because of your efforts. Call it zen, hippie bullshit, a fresh perspective, or what-have-you – but try it out before you dismiss it as youthful ramblings. It’ll probably help you become a better person and fisherman.
So the next time you get the stink eye when you get on the water, instead of looking at your boot laces and sheepishly walking further downstream or shaking your fists in preparation for the equalizer – introduce yourself, strike up a few lines of friendly conversation, or maybe even share some tips. Remember, we’re all here for the same reason – it’s about time we start acting like it.
Most people I have come into contact with have been asked the somewhat silly question, “Where do you think you will be in 5 years?” No one can answer it for certain. So I don’t like asking it. If I wanted to experience random and irrational future gazing, I’d hit up Punxsutawney Phil for a weather report. But since we’re asking the question – in five years, I would ideally own, manage, and operate my own trophy trout stream and fly shop somewhere in the peaceful serenity of the mountains with a loving wife, loyal Labrador/trout retriever, and a chunky, healthy offspring. But in reality, I have no idea where I will be (probably still fishing whenever I can get on the water and trying to promote this site) - a lot can happen in 5 years. Just look at DC sports.
As recently as 5 years ago, Gilbert Arenas was a star in the NBA, Jason Campbell was the starting QB for the ‘Skins, the Caps were just starting their run of division championships and playoff heartbreak, and the Nationals’ best player was not Stephen Strasburg or Bryce Harper - but some dude named Lastings Millege (Zimmerman was hurt most of that season). Since then, a lot has happened. Arenas was replaced with the electrifying John Wall due to injuries and a hand gun fetish and now finds himself playing “professionally” in China, Campbell was jettisoned to the Raiders for a draft pick that would eventually help land RGIII and is now Jay Cutler’s backup in Chicago, the Caps are starting to fade but I’ll always rock the red, and Lastings Millege has thankfully been replaced by Bryce Harper. In short - a lot has changed. Our city, once filled with the allegiances of a transplant, non-local community, now has a little local pride. We no longer suck. People have jumped on the bandwagon. Even ESPN wrote about it. We even have a local brewery that promotes our most righteous quest for statehood. But before the success, there was a lot of heart break, misery, and Steve Spurrier. Our Nation’s River has had a similar rise to prominence.
Once considered one of the most polluted water ways in the United States in the 60s and 70s, the Potomac River has undergone aJared-esque makeover. In the dark days, it was more common to pull up a dead body from our murky river than a Northern Snakehead in this day and age. The shad, the poor shad, were denied their natural spawning rights because of manmade obstacles (dams) and pollution en route to their spawning grounds. To put it bluntly – the only fish made to feel at home were catfish. Gross.
Since those dark days, our Nation’s River has become aware of its importance to the Eastern Seaboard - the Potomac and its tributaries the life blood of the Chesapeake Bay and of vital importance to several anadromous fish species. The local governments, conservationist groups, and robust angling community responsible for leading the charge against fish barriers, over fishing, pesticide runoff, raw sewage, and other detriments dumped into the river. But there is still more to be done. We can always improve our home waters.
In last week’s hatch, I talked about how we are not in control of the car driving our lives. My aspirations of a peaceful mountain lifestyle and our District’s newly founded sports relevancy could crumble just as quickly as RGIII’s knee or the Obama economy. One slip of tire treading or missing the last step on the way out the door in the morning could affect the rest of your life. So why estimate what the future may bring? To me it’s not worth it. All we can do is live in the present. Do a little bit every day to make this world we live in a better place. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – fish how you live and you’ll love your life.
So where will I be in 5 years? I have no idea - probably fishing.
When you tell your friends that you’re coming down for a long weekend of revelry and catching up on good times – the last thing on their minds is a world record grass carp. But then again, there is no such thing as a “normal” trip to Memphis.
When I travel, I’m about as close as it gets to being narcoleptic. The minute I step on a plane, I find my seat and promptly pass out until landing, dreaming of fish all along the way. It’s a fairly sweet system I’ve developed. Yet, on the flight back to Memphis to visit my alma mater and see the old friends, favorite bars, and eateries I left behind en route to the “real world”– I couldn’t sleep. The amalgamation of memories – Stauffer Field, frat row, tailgates, the “Barnett Library”, Zinnies, finals anxiety, fried chicken friday, Alex’s Tavern, the sight of long lost faces, and the return to my fly origins - encouraging my mind to race faster than if it were on Adderall . But I think the real reason I couldn’t sleep was a much simpler one - I brought my fly rod with me.
Most people know Memphis for its music and food. Whether it’s munching down Rendezvous dry ribs, Huey’s burgers, or Gus’s Fried Chicken while listening to the Sun Studios crooning of B.B. King or Elvis Presley along Beale Street or bumping bass to 107.1 (where hip hop lives) along Summer Avenue – Memphis is defined by its willingness to please your senses. Unfortunately, it will never be confused with a world class fly fishery. But what Memphis is – is a city defined by its opportunities and those individuals who seek them.
I like to think that I sought out my opportunities in college. I came to the Bluff City an obnoxious undergrad bent on dominating beer pong tables and the baseball diamond and left a relatively sane, rational-minded fly fisherman with a bum elbow and a healthy perspective on life. The person I was on my first day of college radically differed from the man I was on my last. Memphis forced me to blaze my own path to happiness - every cast into the unknown teaching me something new about life. Every dumb golf course bass a cure for the pangs of home sickness. I can only hope to repay this good fortune down the road - to inspire those around me to find true happiness in whatever they do.
I guess fishing will always be what I want to do. It will be the first thing on my mind whenever I see water or travel to a new place. It drove me to wonder onto an empty golf course on a cold night in the pursuit of largemouth bass and happiness my freshman year. I know for a fact it is the reason I convinced my best friend to move to Mudd Island instead of living closer to campus my junior year (there are neighborhood ponds). And despite an incredibly supportive group, is how I kept my sanity in Memphis despite all the obstacles that school, baseball, and life threw my way. Simply put, fishing has never asked me for anything more than a chance. I will always give it one….
The return trip to Rhodes College and Memphis was one of mixed emotions. I knew I would be walking into a situation where time had visibly passed me by. I would feel old and unwanted. There would be new buildings, new faces, and the inevitable first introductions to people I would probably never see again. Yet, I also knew that the faces and places that I came to love in Memphis would be there - that my friends, surrogate family, and most importantly - my fish would be there.
I won’t bore you with tales of how infuriatingly close I came to triumph or how several potential world record grass carp gave me the fin. I won’t tell you about how silly I looked hiding behind a tree and roll casting to a fish from someone’s backyard. I sure as hell won’t tell you what happened Saturday night. But I will tell you this, there are opportunities everywhere. All you have to do is look.
February - it’s close to 3am and there is a prodigious falling tide. I’m fairly sure that I’m supposed to be asleep because there are neither cars on George Washington Parkway nor the sleepy running lights of commercial vessels on the Potomac in any direction. Even Reagan National is still. But that’s not a bad thing. Far as I know, everyone in the Nation’s Capital is warmly dreaming of things to come in their beds. And here I am balls deep in a chilly morning on the Nation’s River all by myself. Despite the numbing sensation spreading through my extremities - I couldn’t be happier. But why am I here? I guess I hate normal.
As I stand in the nearly frozen water, Jack Frost doing his best to turn me into a frost giant from Joddenheim, my mind starts to wonder. Each roll cast, drift, and retrieve a test of my will to be there. But I chose to be in this moment. Normal people wouldn’t. This isn’t a normal situation. But honestly, there is no place on earth I’d rather be. All of this in spite of knowing that I’m playing against the odds this early in the season – that the water is too cold, the summer’s plentiful baitfish are no longer plentiful but on par with the unicorn, and that most sane striped bass have booked it to the Outer Banks by now. But fuck it. Anything could happen. There’s always a chance at the spectacular. You can’t have any doubts.
Unfortunately most people I speak with about fishing tell me that it’s a game of luck. I agree with them to some extent. But if you’ve only wet a line a couple times in your life, I can imagine that “luck” would be a convenient explanation for the inevitable successes and failures that belie this sport - similar to the ways magic, superstition, and blind faith were used to rationalize mystical concepts in medieval times. Simply put, anything can be attributed to luck. So naturally, I’d argue that this sport is about more than that. That skill, knowledge, and chance define fishing and life more than anything else. It’s about knowing what to do in certain situations and not being afraid to try something new when that fails. It’s about seeing the water on any given day and knowing, I’ve been here before. In other words, confidence under any condition is a valuable life trait. But damn, it’s hard to sound macho when your cajones might freeze off.
My contemplations continue for little over an hour. The time goes by without anything more than a powerful but brief thump. I’ve caught plenty of stripers here on past nights but looking at my phone, it’s now 6:30 AM. If there were fish here tonight, they would’ve shown themselves by now. But I have it all planned out from here anyway - leave at 6:45, in bed by 7, wake up for work at 8:30, in the office by 9:15. It will be a normal day. I’m not sure why this upsets me. My mind tells me, “Goddamn Rem - your hands are long past the point of being useless. Your ears hurt. You can’t feel your toes. You’re going to be tired for work. Why the fuck are we here?” But I decide to make one last cast, fully aware of what might happen.
The fly lands on the outter edge of the current flow. The line starts drifting and I mend to keep the fly in the strike zone. As it drifts through the main current seam, I give it a quick strip.
It’s now 8am. I have work in one hour. I’m still in my waders. I smell like I got jumped by a gang of striped bass. I’m tired and my day hasn’t technically started yet. But I feel fantastic and energized at the same time. Shaking my head and cracking a red bull, I can’t help but think - it’s amazing how one last cast turns into 100. Thank god I hate normal.
I doubt I will ever change.
Over drinks one evening, my older sister Catherine brought up an interesting question: "Would your 7 year old self like who you are now?"Probably, I thought to myself.Right?
The discussion began with us talking about how much had changed over the years. How our different life experiences and paths taken - like a trout somehow surviving the volatile, constant flow of a cold mountain stream - had forged our still maturing identities and led us to our current whereabouts in life. In short, we were lamenting our youth's ill-fashioned dreams and time's ability to make you forget them. In shorter - we were having the "we're grown up" talk.
A seemingly harmless question that's more complicated than a simple yes or no (evidenced by some profound head scratching from those involved in the discussion), Catherine's inquisition brought about some serious soul searching. But being the youngest, I remembered our aspirations. Embarrassing as it may seem now - Catherine wanted to be the star of Grease*, our brother Andrew yearned to be physically "unbreakable," and our sister Sarah chomped at the bit to become the NFL's first woman linebacker - I'm sad that we lost ourselves and grew up. But the more I thought about it, I was pretty sure that we all had done right by our little selves in one way or another. We were all healthy, content, and employed. All great things for this day in age. But would my 7 year old self approve of where I am now?
As a youth, school was secondary, nap-time unnecessary, and broccoli the most sinister of foes (all themes that continue in my life to this day). A curly headed hellion whose post-preschool snack consisted of Skittles and ice cold Surge Cola (gotta love the 90s), I typically passed those useless days I didn't go fishing by either fishing in the house for furniture against my mother's wishes (pillows fought the hardest), drawing fish in the corner of our living room, or daydreaming about that next time on the water. I was obsessed and on those glorious afternoons where I marched down the hill to my godfather's farm pond armed with a cane pole and worms - you couldn't find anyone happier or more excited to be there (sound familiar anyone?).
Over time, something has had to change. I've grown taller (I'm 6'2, as opposed to 4'5), filled out (215 lbs compared to 60), overcome my fear of the baseball (four-year varsity pitcher in college) and instilled just enough discipline to pay attention in school (graduated college). Hell, I even learned to fly fish (big hands, small flies, and light line are not mutually exclusive entities). But physical growth is superficial, most people eventually gain literacy, and more often than not, you'll pick up a fly rod without breaking it. The bottom line here is that life forces us to change whether we like it or not. No one can stay the same forever. But maybe a small part of them can. Let's see if little Rem and I still see eye-to-eye over some of life's more important details.
Over time, you'll recognize that a rare shot at perfection exists each time on the water. That at any given moment, your cast and retrieve can come together in a brilliantly violent explosion of predatory instinct, primal fury, and indescribable beauty. More importantly though, you'll learn to take things away from your experiences - each catch and failure a lesson in life's grand scheme of things. These lessons will almost certainly make you a better fisherman. But the fish are only part of the equation. You will probably become a better person from all of this, too. You'll learn patience and an appreciation for the little things, the importance of savoring each second in life and inherent beauty in all that surrounds us. You'll come to know the definition of preparedness and the conditions necessary for something to be properly called "working hard." People will initially think you're weird for finding sunrises more appealing than sunsets, full moons giving you vehement mixed feelings (full moons are the best for tarpon and the worst for stripers), or having a pep in your step on a rainy day because the fishing will be badass at a local golf course - but you're fine. Don't worry about them. They're the weird ones. What do they know? THEY (non-fishers) know that our sport bottoms down to a brutal combination of physical skill, technical precision, and luck. Unfortunately, this is somewhat true. But as YOU know by now, it's more than that.
This sport helps defines your identity. You'll have to adapt, go beyond your comfort zone and get good at something new very quickly in order to succeed. But isn't that the same as life? If you want to succeed, you can't be afraid to take that cast. Because when everything works - that sweet moment of predatory malcontent, where the subtle thump and hookset become the culmination of your life's achievements to that point in time - time seems to stand still. But for every great day of fishing, you'll have days that you'll want to forget. Remember that karma works both ways.
There will be excursions where your physical and mental limits are pushed, sometimes even broken. Trips where it seems that some mysterious, dark force is ruining your life. Days where you are without a doubt cursed, your heart and rod breaking almost simultaneously. Hell, there will be some fish you will never, ever catch. But that is life. That is fishing. You can never give up the chase. One cast can change your life. I guess we're getting away from the original question though, so I should finish up.
A wise man once told me, "The only ways to get better at fishing are to fish with someone better than you or to fish water you've never fished before." I agree wholeheartedly with his sentiment. But there is something bittersweet in that notion. With that logic, the greatest fisherman in the world must be someone who has seen and accomplished everything. And while I'd love to fish with that individual (their process sounds fun), the end result doesn't. Because when it's all said and done, it's the mystery of this sport that keeps bringing me back to the water's edge.
I know that every day is a clean slate with a new accomplishment or milestone to achieve. There is the beautiful possibility that on any given cast, my life can change. That at any second, I can see something completely original and genuine. Once that surprise is gone, the elation of my shaky hands and butterflies replaced with dull content and smug expectation, there will be no thrill or joy for me in this sport. That, my friend, is the person my 7 year old self would not like to be around or, more importantly, fish with. Safely, I can say that I'm not there yet. I still get excited whenever I feel the thump of a hungry game fish. I still have time.
When life is all said and done, it's about the relationships made and roads traveled - the people met and waters explored. Fishing, although a staple of my life, is about putting things in perspective. Whether it's spooking that giant redfish on a quiet flat by making the slightest noise with your feet and having the coolness to laugh it off, seeing a big rainbow trout aggressively attack your strike indicator when you've seemingly thrown every fly in your box at it and not breaking your rod, or having a sailboat sail over your pod of tarpon on an otherwise empty flat and not engaging in homicidal behavior - this sport has undeniably left its mark on me. When something breaks or doesn't go my way, it's okay. Things will get better. The fish will bite again.
Last Cast: So would my 7 year old self like who I am now? I can't be entirely sure. I'm sure we'd get along on certain things and we wouldn't understand each other on others. But I do know one thing - we'd like fishing together.
*For the Record, Catherine states that she "never wanted to star inGrease," but "just really really really loved the movie", which even she admits, "might be weirder."
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