The black flies are back, as are the tourists, and the fishing season is in full swing. Anglers are advised to use caution on the rivers, which remain swollen and murky. Anglers should be aware of some dramatic changes that have occurred with the recent flooding.
Familiar stretches of many local river bottoms have been silted in and the deeper pools may now be shallow and mucky. The opposite also holds true, where deep holes have been scoured in the middle of placid flatwater sections that historically were only knee deep.
River waters produce a very dynamic medium and they operate on an unabated continuum, which is ever changing and ever flowing. Experienced anglers understand this process, but very few have ever experienced the most recent high-water incidents, which have been considered a 500-year flood.
Caught by a fish
A few years back, I enjoyed a shore lunch along the banks of the AuSable River with an old friend, as we watched a group of fellow anglers surround a small holding pool that we had briefly fished earlier in the morning. We found it to be quite productive and we had each taken a few nice fish, which were released before we moved on.
But as we watched the scene unfold, it was apparent the new group was intent on sticking around for a while.
My old friend, the late Fran Betters, would have described the scene as a “New Jersey Firing Squad,” since they were lined up nearly shoulder to shoulder, flinging all their lines in the same direction.
They kept at it for over a half hour, and though a few fish were taken in the opening minutes of the angling assault, the fish were soon off feed.
“Look at that,” my buddy commented. “You know the problem with fishermen today?”
He didn’t wait for my answer, before declaring, “Nobody smokes anymore.”
I looked at him incredulously and asked, “What the hell does smoking have to do with trout fishing?”
“Well, in my day,” he replied, “we’d fish a pool like that for a while, maybe catch a few fish and then take a break to have a cigarette or smoke a pipe. It gave us a chance to regroup and recoup, but it also rested the pool and allowed the fish to calm down.
“Nowadays, fishing seems to have become an endurance race, rather than the relaxing pursuit it once was. They should slow the pace or move on. Those fish are now too spooked to bother with.”
It was a valuable lesson: Take your time, relax and don’t spook the trout. But most of all, it was a reminder of why we go outdoors in the first place.
We do it to escape, to lose ourselves in the moment and to find a bit of our past in the process. Despite the proliferation of the multi-million dollar bass fishing tournaments and the growing popularity of catch-and-release fly fishing contests — such as our own AuSable River Two Fly competition — the true competition should be between and angler and quarry. Not angler versus angler.
Angling is an extension of our past existence when man stalked and hunted for subsistence, rather than sport. But, as practiced in modern times, there are elements of our past that become evident: the thrill of the hunt, the stalk and finally the take.
Although I find no thrill in the act of actually killing a fish, I do take great pleasure in angling for them, with my attempts to deceive their instinct for food with an artificial fly or lure.
Don’t get me wrong, I also love to eat fish and I often keep a few. But the success of my time on the water is not measured by the quantity of fish in the creel. Rather, it is measured by the pleasures of getting lost in the moment, of enjoying the total scene and being able to forget about any lingering cares and concerns of the day.
In a sense, we don’t fish to catch something. We angle to lose, as a means to escape civilization and the ordinary orderliness of our existence.
The excitement of bringing a fish to the net lies in the discovery that awaits at the end of the line, the fight and the beauty. Fish catch the angler, as much as we catch the fish. It is not the actual size of the fish that matters, rather it is the length of its tale.
Photo by Joe Hackett
The success of a fishing trip should be measured by the pleasures of getting lost in the moment.