Some people make fly fishing look easy, when in reality, it can be either as easy as pie, or as hard as playing piano. Dustin Schouest gives us five ideas of ways fly fishing can be frustrating.
Murphy’s Law is ever present in life. Maybe you woke up and stepped in cat puke. Perhaps your car has a flat tire. And maybe you find out that the Girl Scout Cookies you ordered a week ago have gone stale and all you wanted today was some chocolate goodness to stop you from committing workplace violence. We have all been there.
But in fishing, Murphy’s Law, is exacerbated by many issues. Environmental problems like wind, and water turbidity can change quickly. Equipment malfunctions have been known to ruin a whole day of fishing.
All of these factors and more are even more prevalent in fly fishing, where skill, knowledge, and sheer luck are paramount to get a fish on the hook. I am now going to take you through a day of fishing with my good friend Thomas, and I will show you all the ways your day can go wrong while fly fishing.
Problem 1: The Weatherman is A Jerk, And So Are Cold Fronts
“Dude, this ain’t no six mile an hour winds.” The shout was as a whisper against the strong north wind that I and my podnah (Cajun talk for “Friend”) Thomas were fighting against. We had chosen this day above all else because the wind had been forecast to only be about 6 to 8 from the east. Instead we had about a ten to fifteen gale coming from the north. We gritted our teeth as we dug in, trying to get in position to float a pond looking for le poisson rouge, the redfish.
Not only had the weatherman been drunk when he predicted the mild winds that were oh so not present, but what we had estimated would be decently low water turned out to be almost-no-water. The previous weekend (as Louisiana has elected to only have winter on days beginning with an S) we had encountered a major front, which brought the temps close to the 37 mark, and pushed water out of the marsh. I had guessed that because the front this time was not as major, that we would have more water than what we saw.
Instead, my favorite redfish hole was only about six inches deep in some areas, and we had to do the “butt scoot” technique to get free of quite a few mud flats. If you have never done the “butt scoot boogie”, it goes like this: you shimmy your body back and forth along with paddling into the mud to get your boat unstuck from the mud, stump, cypress knees, and hopelessness you managed to get yourself caught on.
“C’mon man, we can handle this! After we get bowed up on a few redfish, we will be laughing over how hard we had to work for ‘em!” I shouted back at the urban camo colored Ocean Kayak Big Game II behind me. I turned to get in position for the float, and that is when I saw it…
Problem 2: You Will Never Factor the Wind When Casting
I don’t know if it was the big V”” I saw first, or if it was the tail that abruptly stopped and started wagging at me, drawing my attention like a siren song. But I knew that this was my first shot at a decent sized red all morning.
I had tied on one of my Doomed Shrimp patterns, a custom shrimp/minnow/abomination impression that had proved to be great on two sheepshead and a red already. And, now it was time to put another one on the list.
But, that was before the wind caught my boat, began turning me away from the fish as it swam away, and caused me to misjudge my cast, making my fly line land right on top of the fish’s back. And like a woman in a horror movie who just found the killer, the redfish ran off, making a giant wake behind it. I screamed an Ahab-like curse at the weather, at the ocean, at my own stupidity, and I got right back at it.
The next shot I had was at a school of redfish moving towards me. I guessed the fly placement perfectly, but what I didn’t factor is was that the wind would increase RIGHT as I started the cast, and my kayak was on top of the now-spooked school before I even realized what had happened. This time there was no yelling or cursing, only a sigh as my soul was ripped asunder.
Problem 3: Your Fly Line Has a Bondage Fetish, and Loves to Be Knotty
Now THIS was the perfect scenario. Let me lay it out for you, my humble reader. Thomas was on the leeward side of a bank. About twenty feet off his port bow was the back of a 30 inch class redfish, his dorsal fin going up and down as he rooted around for grub. Thomas had the perfect angle to get the fly a few feet in front of the fish. Now all he had to do was make the cast, strip the fly, and hold on.
But there was a factor that he had not equated into this situation. The fly line on the reel was brand new. It had been in its container for months on the shelf at the local Cabela’s. And just like monofilament or that one loudmouthed grandparent you embarrassed yourself in front of as a child, the fly line had memory. It had not been stretched, as all fly lines should be every once in a while.
The fly line was in a pile at his feet. And as he began to shoot it, the line twisted and coiled before going thru his fingers and down the guides. As it twisted and flailed about, it knotted. And that knot stopped his cast about two feet short of the redfish.
I was about fifty feet away, stalking a very picky sheepshead when I heard what sounded like an uncensored episode of Jerry Springer. He was struggling to get the knot undone, and just as he freed the fly line, the redfish had moved away and started chasing bait.
Little did he know that as I was firing my fly at this sheepshead for the seventh time, I hadn’t timed my back-cast right, and I had created a dreaded tailing loop. This looped, knotted line came forward, landing in a puddle just aft of the sheepshead, spooking the convict fish and making me want to weep like some grandmother.
Thomas would end up fairing ok: not even a hundred feet away, he had another shot at an even bigger red, and he made it count: the fly landed, and the redfish inhaled it!
Problem 4: Fish Will Wrap Around Anything They Can
In the former freshwater areas of Pointe Aux Chenes, there are graveyards of dead cypress trees. The husks, knees, and stumps of the great old trees cover the banks and are testaments to the destruction that Louisiana’s coasts have suffered. Sometimes, they end up bringing a tear to my eye a la the old commercial with the litter and the crying Indian.
Redfish and sheepshead also love them. The convicts like to eat the barnacles and algae that cover the old bark. Crabs and small baitfish like to rest under or around them, bringing redfish to feed and swim around them.
And it was in such a pocket of dead trees and low water that I saw the back of a bull red against the bank, the fish moving slowly and methodically. This was a picture perfect set up. I didn’t even need the SaltLife Optics that displayed the entire copper body under the water to help me find the perfect spot to cast. I laid the fly about two feet from the fish, and I saw the body tip down. The fly line moved a single inch, and I stripped the line, lifting the rod. The fight was on!
Now, we joke in Louisiana that our redfish are “dumb”. This is partially true: we have so many redfish that the majority of them have never even seen a lure in their lives. I have personally seen a bull inhale a bare hook that was thrown in front of it. But, these fish know ways to avoid being hooked up.
This redfish, God bless it’s soul, ran right for a large number of standing cypress husks, going around it before turning around and doubling back around the tree. The struggle to paddle the Vibe SeaGhost 130 around the tree along with keeping tension on the rod and reel, along with keeping track of where the fish was going was almost too much. After getting the tree situation handled, the fish ran under a suspended log. I had to pull the fly line around to where the log had a break in it to continue the fight.
I pulled the redfish away from the minefield of timber, and got it boatside. With a kiss on the head and a tag in the fin, the bull was sent on his way.
I lucked out this time. But anyone who has caught snook around mangrove trees or bass around docks knows how badly this could end up. Not only could the fish break off, the fly line can get cut off by such things as barnacles or oyster shells, heck even really sharp pieces of bark. These are things that we never really think about until it happens. And when it does, it is heartbreaking.
Problem 5: Hooks Like To Bend At the Worst Possible Times
The beauty of tying your own flies is that you can select every single part that goes onto the lure. You get to decide how heavy you want the dumbbell (or bead chain) eyes to be. You can choose to use the cat hair you pulled off your Maine Coon Dumplin’s brush as dubbing to help build a body on a sand flea fly. What? It’s called using what the good Lord gave you!
But the biggest choice you will make will be the hook you decide to put everything on. If you are a Scrooge McDuck like me, you use whatever you can find. And sometimes what you can find is a sale of fly tying hooks on eBay from the same seller you buy your Warhammer 40k war gaming miniatures from. I won’t name this brand of hook, but after this next incident, I will never use them again.
I had just fought that redfish, and caught a second smaller one. And with the redfish feeding as they were, I knew that I could easily hook up to a few more. A few paddle strokes later, and a blue and brown tail greeted me, looking as gorgeous as any model on a runway. The cast and the eat were textbook: but the fact that the fight lasted only two minutes was very concerning. This became more alarming when the same thing happened three more times.
I took a break and decided to look at my fly. Sure enough, the bend of the hook had changed almost ten degrees, not allowing a good set, and also making it easier for any redfish to get away.
Not only was I cursing myself for not checking the fly as soon as the first missed fish happened, but I was angry that the brand of hook hadn’t lasted like I had hoped it would. Well, I would only be buying more Space Marine plastic models from that seller on eBay!
But for all the bad things that can happen in fly fishing, great things can happen as well.
Let’s go back to Thomas hooking up on that redfish. He had his rod bent deep, and I saw his reel spinning, letting more and more fly line go to the fish. As his fight began to get into round two, I saw a huge blow up not far from him: another red was feeding like a starving man at the cheap Chinese buffet serving MSG-flavored eggrolls in downtown Houma.
I paddled as fast as I could, and saw something unreal: tucked away by a tree were four, no, FIVE redfish. They were swimming and finning: happy and blissfully unaware that I was lurking. I smirked, made a cast right at the school, and I was rewarded with the most powerful explosion of power I had ever felt from a fish.
Mine got a tag as well, and swam away methodically, even swimming alongside my kayak as we began to paddle over toward the next pond. We both grabbed some cigars we had bought at the gas station earlier, lit up, and continued to explore our surroundings.
Even in a sport where mayhem can be at the drop of a hat, where every little mistake can lead to a broken heart or a long day, where frustrations can mount, the risk is always worth the slimy, scaled reward.