The Moment

 May 27, 2009

It was one of those rare moments that make a fly fisherman big-headed.
   They don’t come often. Fact of the matter is, choosing to be a fly fisherman is rather like choosing to be a vacuum salesman. You just kinda go door-to-door peddling your wares, hoping somebody will bite. You increase your odds of making a sale by offering the gosh-wow, new-fangled and sure-fire. Fly fishing is like that, except for fish.
   I knew when I took up the long rod four years ago (has it been that long?) that I was putting myself at a disadvantage. In fact, the transition was eventual. It was a year or so before I stopped washing earthworm juices off my fingers with dishwashing liquid and scrubbing with a fingernail brush.
   Buddy of mine, Glen “Catch” Cormier, has a saying: “Clear water favors the fly fisherman” and he’s absolutely right. Clear water, however, is something you don’t see much of down here. By taking on the fly rod and putting away my trusty casting gear, Idaho spinners and No. 10 Eagle Claw Aberdeen hooks, plastic worms and spinner baits, I knew I was probably halving my chances of catching fish.
   “Used to fly fish,” people say to me now and then. “Really enjoyed it.”
   “Me too,” I say. “I’m working on my casting though.”
   “Casting?” they ask, befuddled. You see, mostly – not always, but mostly – folks around here buy fly rods, put an underhand spinning reel on them and jig for sac-au-lait. “I tried that,” they say. “Doesn’t work.”
   Well, yeah, it does, it just takes a lot of practice and a certain amount of voodoo. My father could cast a fly rod like a wizard, and with a little yellow popper fly with feathers for a tail and rubber legs could mop up a school of perch sooner than you could say, “Pass me that coffee can of worms.” He had an eight-foot fiberglass fly rod that I think was either a Heddon or a Wright & McGill and let me tell you something, that man was a samurai with a fly rod. He taught me how to cast – not jig – when I was a boy, but I gave it up as a teen before I got proficient.
   So one evening recently I snuck off to a favorite pond. There was a bait fisherman there stalking the small bass that reside in this pond, nothing to write home about. We chatted for a bit, and he said, “Doing some fly fishing, eh?”
   “Yup,” I said, bracing myself.
   “Used to do that,” he said, and I felt like I had picked the right door and Monty Hall just told me I won a Jeep Wagoneer. “Gave it up, my timing wasn’t right.”
   “Well, I’m just going to give it a try. Which way are you fishing?”
   “Oh,” he said with a smile. “I’ll be all right. I could fish right behind you, with what you’ll be doing.”
   Hmm. I didn’t know how to take that, but decided to leave it alone. I had heard it all before. That smug self-assurance that nobody with a fly rod and a popper fly roughly the size of a dime could be threatening to a man with a Shakespeare Ugly Stik, 20-pound monofilament line and a one-ounce spinnerbait that he could chunk clear into Iberia Parish.
   Once, on another pond, a gentleman stopped and watched me fish for a time before asking, “You must be from up north.”
   I grinned back. “Nope, born and raised in Charenton.”
   “Hrmph,” he said. “Catch any fish on that thing?”
   “Sure!” sez I. “Bass, perch…some people catch huge redfish on them.”
   He shook his head. “That’s not true,” he said and walked off, leaving me fuming,
   So I walked down the edge of the pond and found a good spot. I was able to cast side-arm, rather than over my right shoulder, to drop the little popper along the shore to the left of me. I like poppers, they float on top and when you twitch the tip of the rod or just pull hard on the line, they make a great Pop! Thus the name. Bass, being brawlers, love a good commotion, If there were barrooms in bass’ world, they’d start bar fights just to keep from being bored. I once saw a bass leap out of the water and eat a black bird sitting on a water lily on Grand Avoille Cove. Bass are the Joe Pesci of the piscatorial world. If they had pockets, they’d carry brass knuckles.
   I cast the line out, and was ready to make the popper pop, when there was a fantastic explosion, a geyser of water shot skyward and a deafening thunder. The bass hit my popper soon as it hit the water, KAPOW! I lifted the rod, and it was hooked.
   I mean, that little greener hit like a redfish. I fought him to the bank, squatted down and put my thumb under his jaw to lift him out of the water. He wiggled so violently I nearly lost him. He was only about a pound and a half, but had about ten pounds of attitude. When I let go, he rolled over on his side and looked at me with contempt and disdain as if challenging me to try it again and see what a walloping he’d put on me.
   Then he shot off like a torpedo.
   I stood up and looked over to my compadre fishing across the pond…just in time to see his truck head down the road and disappear.
   Well, there you go. You put up with all the jabs, all the ridicule and disbelief; you suffer the smug grins and the little remarks. But you keep at it, because in your mind, you know what you’re doing is somehow important, though you haven’t the faintest idea how.
   Sometimes, it all comes together and…there’s nobody around to see it.
   Harry Middleton was once asked by a high schooler who had been assigned his book for a report, “So, really, what’s fishing go to do with anything?”
   “For chrissakes, that’s what I’d like to know!” Harry replied.
   Ah, heck. It’s just as well. If everybody started doing it, where would I be? I tell you where: I’d get me an Ugly Stik and a red-white-and-blue spinner bait and march over to the first fly fisherman I can find and say with the toothiest, most mocking smile I could muster, “You can’t catch anything with that.”