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!
Over the past year, our cozy little website has conjured up over 20K unique visitors to its fun-filled pages. It's no surprise that so many people dig the FlyLife. Who can deny the allure of great music, cold beer, wild fish, and above all else, staying fly? Not many. But then again, some people do (those sick bastards). We're not huge yet. Not rolling in the dough by any means. But then again, it was never really about the dough. I guess that's why we can't quit... there are more people out there to brainwash. More masses that could use a friendly reminder to take a deep breath when times get hard, breathe, and take their next cast. No matter how impossible it may seem. Seriously though, when considering the humble origins of this cyber publication - it's amazing to think how far we've come in the past year. It's like I've said before, truly losing yourself in this sport will help you find yourself outside of it.
FlyTimesDC started in a Latin American studies course at Rhodes College in the fall of my junior year as a doodle. That’s right. A doodle. An original logo that hath since been revamped, the hammerhead/flytimesdc hybrid logo was dumb (albeit drawn on just about every single beer pong table at Rhodes College from 2011-2012). A confused and mangled assortment of lines that if you glanced upon it at the right angle, somewhat resembled a shark with FlyTimesDC crudely scribbled on its back. However, that silly logo stood for the pursuit of a dream and the commitment to a lifelong passion that grabbed me by the reins at 3 years old and steered me to places I honestly never thought I’d be. I’m sure Brogan, Tony, Tom, Hunter, Trent, and Kenny would agree that they’ve experienced a similar pull to the sport.
At the time of said doodle, I was a relative novice to fly fishing. I owned a fly rod. Sure, I could cast and catch a fish. But there was no rhyme or reason to it. I was a semi-pro bass fisherman, more accustomed to ripping lips and fishing fast and recklessly on 65lb braid - not 7x tippet. I didn’t understand the nuances of the game. Yet, it fascinated me. So naturally, I urged myself to get better with the wand. I fly fished every single day while in school for two years straight until I graduated….and kept on fishing.
I ventured out to the Little Red and Spring Rivers in Arkansas to chase trout on free weekends and organized small expeditions to harass urban bass in the dead of the Memphis night with friends. Carp, bass, catfish, and sunfish were all constantly messed when not in classes or baseball practice in the ponds behind my apartment. The tug was and still is the drug. It’s what prompts one to hit the outgoing tide at Gravelly Point at odd hours of the night or makes it a goal to learn every fishy hole in Rock Creek Park on your own. Those first few milestones (first carp, big trout, bass, bonefish) were the budding chapters in a story that hopefully isn’t even close to being entirely written. Yet, as the milestones get bigger and my quarries more elusive (f*ck you, snakeheads) the further down this road I go, I will always remember those precious first few steps.
Two years later, FlyTimesDC.com emerged from the ether of the Internet as a crudely pasted together compilation of HTML, poor grammar, and random fish pictures in an attempt to convince my parents I didn’t need a real job coming out of school. As you can expect, that lasted for all of one month before threats of disownment starting coming down the line from the higher ups. Eventually I got a “corporate job” to get them off my back but all the while, FlyTimesDC kept evolving.
As my passion for fly fishing continues to grow and I become more adept/experienced on the water with the wand in my hand, it has became harder to imagine myself doing anything else the rest of my life. No passion will rival that I already have for this sport. The places this sport takes you both physically and emotionally change you…in a good way though….
Fly fishing forces you to at least reconsider those things which you first thought were “priorities”. Beers, girls, work, etc all fall to the back burner when there is a prolific hatch, fantastic weather, or run of fish. I’ll be the first to admit that my life usually unravels when the fishing is on fire. No shave shad run was a testament to that. But if you’ve ever seen bonefish tailing on the gin clear flats of the Bahamas, a Smoky Mountain star show out performing a night at ULTRA, or witnessed the wild par markings of a native brook trout swimming in the same place it’s been since the dinosaurs – you probably get it. If you haven’t –you should probably fish more.
So as we hopefully continue to get weird with some fish words and instagrammed glory shots for some time down the road - I'd like to extend a big thank you to not only the fly fishing community at large, but to all the friends, family, and followers who have had to deal with me speaking in tongues about tippet, tying flies, the wonders of trout, my snakehead tormention, and ultimately made FlyTimesDC a part of their life for the past year - thank you. We're not done by any means.
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.
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.
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