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!
Sometimes you’ve got to experiment. Change things up. Put your left shoe on your right foot. Well, maybe not that extreme. But you catch my drift (above all else, stay fly). Without risk taking or experimentation – our great sport would be limited to its origins of dry flies and small streams (not a bad thing). But because we are a species that likes to push the envelope – innovation is inevitable. We will always continue to push the boundaries before us. Don't believe me? Just look around.
Already our sport has progressed from said stream to the salt and from those holy salt flats it has expanded to the blue water in the pursuit of an adrenaline rush so pure and profound that it alters the life paths of even the most determined individuals and puts our existence into sweet, sweet perspective. However, the books have already been written on how to catch most of the badass fish on the planet. Far away fisheries pioneered by the legendary rock star cowboys of previous generations. But where do we draw our inspiration to deviate from the doctrines previously set before us nowadays? Family? Friends? Fish? Boredom? In other words- where do we find the courage to pursue happiness on our own damn terms? Honestly, I don’t know. I just try to fish as often as my body and schedule will permit. I try to adapt as much as possible and figure out the game on my own. Sometimes it’s reinventing the wheel – other times it’s letting the wheel spin. But the confidence to branch off and do something “weird” is a rare trait these days. The desire to forge trails and bushwhack a dying desire - but innovation is inevitable. There will always be individuals weird enough to try something new.
Too many individuals fear failure or ridicule these days. For others it’s loneliness or a bruised ego. But what’s the difference between not catching anything doing the accepted technique and not catching anything on an unorthodox rig? There isn’t one. Except that I guess you fit in with the norm. Doubt will dwell in one’s mind regardless when they fail. So why not make the fresh attempt and try something new and go down swinging?
After only getting one snakehead in the mouth this past year on a fly out of the Tidal Basin throwing just about every fly you could imagine - I couldn’t help but get to thinking….
What was I doing wrong?
Was I doing anything wrong?
Was it me?
Was it the fish?
There were no books for me to reference. No words to follow from the badass rock star cowboys of our sport's distinguished past. There was nothing but blank pages and overzealous blog posts by those fortunate enough to “fool” one of these great fish. I think my heart just skipped a beat.
Long before I became a fly guide - I was an aspiring tournament bass fisherman. In my youthful wanderings, I learned how to flip, pitch, and skip baits under docks. I lost baits in trees, boats, ropes, docks, buoys, living rooms, and on one unfortunate occasion -a cormorant. But eventually, I learned how to read water. I perfected my retrieves and rod action. I avoided the birds and studied and read as much as I could to get inside the head of my quarry. Big fish became the expectation – not the exception. In the end, I realized that most predatory game fish are of an eerily similar like mindedness. Most live in the same places and eat the same variety of things. They rarely deviate from that previous doctrine set before them – their survival instinct too tough to breakdown. So what gives with snakeheads?
The answers are…. well…. still up for debate. With each catch we’re figuring these fish out but the limited catches on fly rods really leave a lot to be desired. In other words – the book on snakeheads is still in the process of being written. From my observations – they are a random beast that loves banded killifish, hates cinnamon, and favors those not looking for them. I’ve heard of one caught on shad flies at Chain Bridge. Another was caught on a nymph in the Tidal Basin. One individual with a good ole fashioned worm and bobber caught one at Fletcher’s Cove. Pretty much all were caught by accident. Hell, Jeremy Wade had to implore a local fisherman to spear one FOR HIM in Thailand. Now that really puts things in perspective.
When I think about the unique opportunity placed before us on our Nation’s River (whether or not you consider these invasives a blessing or curse) – I can’t help but flash to those first pioneering bone fishermen on the flats. How many times did they spook a fish with an errant cast? How many times were they given the fin before hitting pay slime? When did they realize these fish were leader shy? When did everything start to click for those rock star cowboys? The history of our sport is fascinating. However, it is the future that excites me the most. The possibility of pioneering an entirely new fishery can't help but get you excited.
I guess it’s time to write some pages in this snakehead book. Let’s get weird.
My life started to unravel a few weeks ago …
It all started with that damn shad run. I tied countless flashy pink flies. Kindergarten Specials and Brown Nosers. My apartment still looks like a pre-school arts and crafts classroom with no clean up time. I’m addicted to the vise. It won’t get any cleaner either as stripers, largemouth, and snakehead start picking up (sorry, Lorraine). But as we inch closer to summer – the Nats doomed by bandwagon fans, unrealistic expectations, and a revamped Braves team now playing the role of pissed off underdog – I can’t help but think about how quickly things can change. Damn those seasons.
In a few weeks, summer will be here. The simple beauty of 78 degree days replaced with those approaching 100. Intense humidity and wild, random weather will become the norm (see: Derecho). The water temps will soar above 80 degrees and all the great action we’re having now will be gone. Not completely gone. Fish will certainly still be caught. But the fish won't be residing in the shallows – refugees of the heat in search of cold water and oxygen. Stalking fish in darkness will become the name of the game. The epic mixed bag bite we’re having now will not return until fall. Then it’s winter and we’re back to Four Mile Run banishment and driving to the mountains for trout streams... It’s amazing how those seasons change. Amazing to think just three weeks ago there was snow on the ground. But for now the water temps are in the mid-60s and our great river has sprung back to life in a big way. I plan on taking advantage of this until it ends.
I'll always remember what my dad told me last year after graduating college. I was down at his place in Siesta Key, FL with a certain Brogan Jayne trout bum chasing tarpon. We had 6 glorious days to get it done. I remember coming off the water one day and giving him a hug, he could tell I was getting tired but instead of ushering me to bed uttered the five most beautiful words I've ever heard - "fish your ass off, son." In this context - there is only one spring. Take complete advantage of it.
This is the season where the fish are in my wheelhouse- big streamers for largemouth, stripers, and snakehead. I’m making the most of this spring. Fishing as often and as furiously as I can. Last week, I averaged 5 hours of sleep and close to 4 hours of fishing a day. That’s almost a 1:1 sleeping to fishing ratio. Wow. But you know what? I'm fine. Exhaustion is a state of mind.
I wrote a previous Word Hatch about not being normal. The article (found here) focused on my affinity for fishing at weird times of day, making more fruitless casts on a frigid outgoing tide in darkness than I probably should have, almost giving up, and ultimately on the last cast – hooking into one of the better striped bass I’ve ever caught in the District (20”). My hands numb, work quickly approaching, and doggone tired –the article hinted at something much deeper than simply a love for ripping lips and sacrificing beers and sleep to play in the outdoors. That was in the winter….. Now that spring decided to show up, none of that has changed. In fact – it may have gotten worse…
I haven’t shaved since the shad run….
I almost chopped off the tip of my left index finger trying to slice a bagel….
I stepped on a nail while trying to pick off stripers at the Tidal Basin….
The tug is the drug…
I am a slave to tide…
I’m pretty sure I smell sometimes…
I’m so glad spring has sprung.
So what can I tell you about springtime in DC? Push your limits. The good times will eventually end.
She's trying to eat the reel.
Two weeks ago it was snowing, our Nation’s River filled with shivering shad and eager anglers – individuals like me who held onto the slightest glimpse of hope that spring would finally come in mid-April. Now it’s 90 degrees. I guess we should be careful what we fish for. I mean wish for. For weeks, Washington was mired in the misanthrope that is an extended winter. But like the Cherry Blossoms and Nationals Park, so too has the Potomac River sprung back to life.
To me (and every other living thing on this planet) – spring is that clichéd “renewal of life”. The magical time of year when the sun warms the earth, baseball starts its marathon-long season, sundresses and shorts become the norm again, oh and shad, bass, snakeheads, and stripers return to our local waters. In short - hope for good weather, sunny days, and good fishing abound within everyone (well, maybe just the weather and sunshine). For the next couple months, our water temps will remain below 80 or so degrees. Game fish of all shapes and varieties will go through their life cycle of pre-spawn gorging, spawning lockjaw, and post-spawn exhaustion. It will undoubtedly be the best fishing of the year for everything that swims everywhere… But call me crazy - I will miss winter.
I will miss winter a lot actually. More than I probably should. But there is a special serenity to be found on a quiet, crisp morning in an otherwise empty forest dotted with fresh snowfall. A simple beauty in relishing the breath in front of your face, knowing you’re the only person on the water that day, and realizing you should’ve worn 7 layers instead of 6. It’s the way a hot cup of coffee warms your entire body when everything else is frozen around you. It’s your favorite winter hat, the sunburns from a sunny, 20 degree day, and knowing with every cast you make – you’re telling Jack Frost to suck it. But most of all – I will miss the fish and the incredible rush that comes from sticking a fat trout in a seemingly empty pool. The satisfaction of knowing you’re doing what you love despite the elements. But not everything about this past winter was perfect- RGIII's knee being at the top of my list.
But there were many trips were I froze my ass off and came back with nothing to show. Mornings were my rod guides and hands froze. I lost two nets and half of a G Loomis rod on one trip. Almost lost my life on another. But if I've learned anything from winter, it’s that even though the forest is barren – life still exists in the stream.
So before the trees bud and the shad run reaches its fever pitch (look for cast netting poachers near Chain Bridge) – let’s raise our glasses to winter. Thank you for every minute of your miserable biting winds, freakish fronts, short days, and regulation to trout streams and Four Mile Run. You've versed me well in patience and perseverance. Lessons that will pay off come summer doldrums. But now that spring has sprung, who cares about any of that?
Time to party with some fish.
Stay fly.o edit.
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.
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