Drive-By Fly Fishing

May 13, 2009

So last week was my “spring vacation.” A little premature, but I somehow got cornered into not being able to take a week off until like 2020 by inconsiderate people who did not consult with me before they scheduled their vacations. Hrmph!
   Therefore I decided to go early. The weather seemed to be cooperating except for some Sunday-Monday rain and a bit of wind. I reasoned that I’d be able to deal with that.
   First on the agenda was a trip to Kisatchie National Forest on Saturday with my best friend, Scott. I left the house at 5 a.m. and managed to arrive at the recreation area beside Kisatchie Bayou by 8:30 a.m. and I was hopping. Not through anticipation or eagerness, you understand, I was in desperate need of a restroom.
   Kisatchie Bayou, if you don’t recall, is not much of a “bayou” by our definition. It is a unique place in Louisiana. There at the recreation area – which is the best place for suitable parking and to check out the variables of fishing conditions such as water clarity and level – the stream flows over sandstone terraces, a small rapids, and upstream three more in easy view. Most of it is sand bars alternating with rocks in areas the stream – down 20 feet in the gully of its antiquity – has cut through to bedrock during the formation of the Kisatchie Wold, a geologic uplift that ended about 23 million years ago.
   As I rigged up Scott told me he had already had several bites just there at the recreation area, but they were apparently too small to take the hook. Once I had my rod strung up we sidled down the embankment of white sand and I stepped off into the cold water rushing around my ankles for the first time since October.
   This, I thought, is what I’ve needed.
   As it happens, we got four fish at the recreation area but oddly, once we moved upstream or down from the rapids, the water muddied up and nothing would bite, at least not for us.

Working a likely run among the rapids.

Then came the hatch.
   Fly fisherman who pursue trout pay very close attention to hatches. A caddis hatch, mayfly hatch, any sudden emergence of insects that flutter over a stream and inevitably fall into it for the trout to feed on. They use flies that imitate whatever species of insect is hatching at the time.
   We were just in time for the rubber hatch at Kisatchie Bayou.
   Of the two inorganic hatches that plague fishermen, the rubber hatch is probably worse than the plastic hatch. The plastic hatch is a sudden spawning of canoes, which at least meander by relatively quietly depending on the passengers aboard. The rubber hatch is a sudden flotilla of tubes, rafts and other inflatables. We caught the rubber hatch at the rec area, upstream, we passed five people carrying tubes to float back down. Later, we drove far to the south of the forest to catch Kisatchie Bayou way downstream, and there was a rubber hatch in progress there, too. Before we could even get our rods out of the truck, five more trucks of multicolored rubber rings showed up. There were four people under the bridge over Kisatchie Bayou, two Labs and enough tubes to float a small battleship. At one point, and I do not know how this was possible, we saw one tuber floating upstream.
   We ended the day mid-afternoon after sandwiches, chips and a couple salutes to the rubber hatch from a silver flask. I began to think of the day as “drive-by fly fishing” in that we had to rush past the floaters and try to get a few casts in before the armada came downstream.
   It rained like hallelujah, brethren, up there Sunday, and at home on Monday. Tuesday, I loaded my pirogue with my fishing tackle and Bogie, my yellow Lab (who’s feeling much better, thank you!) and we drove the levee from the north end of Lake Fausse Pointe all the way to Verdunville looking for a place dry enough to get the pirogue overboard without trudging hip-deep through mud. Worse, there had apparently been another hatch, this one an ATV hatch, and these had left ruts in all the put-in points two feet deep that were filled with water and wouldn’t dry out for a week. We ended up back home without success.
   That night, a buddy called and asked me if I’d like to go fish Lake Martin over in St. Martin Parish. I said I sure would, and Pete, my friend, advised me to bring a heavy fly rod with a heavy leader. Not because the bass are that enormous, though they tend to be large, but you gotta horse ‘em outta the cypress knees and stuff. So I loaded my 8-wt fly rod and a 16-lb. leader, that I usually use for redfish. By comparison for the non-fly fishing savvy, I usually use a 5-wt with a 10-lb. leader for bass.
   The wind was howling, and Pete was paddling us in his canoe, and we got not a bite. I took full blame. The gris-gris had followed me to Lake Martin. I kept seeing little swirls that I was sure was perch nibbling at the rubber legs on our popper flies, so I decided to go bluegill fishing. Problem was, all I had was my 8-wt redfish rod, but I rigged it up with a little bee fly and set about perch-fishing with my redfish rod.
   “Don’t you dare tell anybody about this,” I told Pete. We caught a few.
   We gave up before noon. Thursday, I loaded the pirogue and dog again and headed to a buddy’s local pond. Again the wind was howling, so I paddled upwind as far as my poor arms could manage. It was impossible to get the pirogue to track straight, all it would do was go broadside to the wind and ride perpendicular to the bank at near the speed of sound. All I could do was cast rapid-fire, rat-a-tat-tat, like a machine gun. If I got a bite, I had to paddle back upwind, let the pirogue go, and hope I could sneak in one, possibly two casts and make a hook-up before the pirogue was out of range.
   I ended the day catching 25 or so really nice perch, and kept eight for supper for Suzie and I. By the time Bogie and I got home that Thursday afternoon, three excursions into drive-by fly fishing left me exhausted, sore and aching, and I figured I was done with the mobster bit for the duration.
   The rest of the vacation was spent in relaxing bliss, for the most part. Suzie and I went to see a movie, we lounged around a lot being lazy, and we read a good bit. I finished up Pat McManus’ collection I Fish, Therefore I Am and just in time, too, because I nearly split my side reading about a fishing trip he made up a mountain with his friends Retch, Rancid and an old dog. It appears Retch was driving and smoking a cigar, which fell down his shirt just as they were boulder-hopping down the mountain. In the ensuing chaos, Pat said, he didn’t know three humans and one Labrador could bang around so much in such a small vehicle. He said when it was all over, Pat was driving, Retch and Rancid were in the back seat and the dog was up front smoking the cigar.
   Then I picked up my Robert Traver book, pen name of Michigan District Judge John Voelker, who also wrote the classic mystery Anatomy of a Murder. In Traver On Fishing I read with the same great satisfaction as always his classic “Testament of a Fisherman”:
   “I fish because I love to; because I love the environs where trout are found, which are invariably beautiful, and hate the environs where crowds of people are found, which are invariably ugly; because of all the television commercials, cocktail parties, and assorted social posturing I thus escape; because, in a world where most men seem to spend their lives doing things they hate, my fishing is at once an endless source of delight and an act of small rebellion; because trout do not lie or cheat and cannot be bought or bribed or impressed by power, but respond only to quietude and humility and endless patience; because I suspect that men are going along this way for the last time, and I for one don't want to waste the trip; because mercifully there are no telephones on trout waters; because only in the woods can I find solitude without loneliness; because bourbon out of an old tin cup always tastes better out there; because maybe one day I will catch a mermaid; and, finally, not because I regard fishing as being so terribly important but because I suspect that so many of the other concerns of men are equally unimportant – and not nearly so much fun.”
   Amen, judge. Services over.