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!
"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.
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