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.
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