Thursday, January 29, 2015

Flyfishing For Aliens

What would possess an aging fly fishing dude to pull an equally aging old drift boat over 4 hours through the mountains in the dark in the middle of the winter, grab a Slim Jim, Diet Coke and Little Debbie Oatmeal Creme Pie for dinner because all the restaurants near his destination are closed when he rolls into town, then lie awake for most of the night anticipating his 4:30 AM alarm so he wouldn't miss this bucket list fishing trip?

Aliens!  That's it.  Aliens.  Something other-worldly.  Something resembling an illicit co-mingling of an alligator and a python with a bifurcated tail.  A quarry potentially three-quarters the size of myself, full of bad attitude and a reputation of trying to bite you even as you attempt a release.  We're not talking biting gums with a few rough spots to hold their prey.  We're talking some serious dental work that can cut you deep, wide and frequent.  This is the apex predator in these parts.  Nothing, absolutely nothing scares these critters, not even when they're hooked on the end of your line, thrashing in your net.  That's not fear motivating them, it's downright meanness and they are mightily offended that you had the audacity to interrupt their plans for that day.  We are talking, ladies and gentlemen, about the fish of 10,000 casts.  Esox masquinongy.  Muskellunge, more commonly referred to simply as musky.

The genesis of this escapade was some young friends whom I sort of mentored along their fly fishing way in life a few years back.  How they came to be obsessed with stalking only those finned creatures of legendary disappointment I do not know.  The fact is, these days they're chasing either steelhead or musky.  Ordinary trout, bass or bluegill have long since been cast aside for the unquenchable desire to fish only for those species no one catches on a regular basis.  As young as these guys still are, they've each got, on average, over 15 years of fly fishing experience but it's almost as if they skipped some of the stages we mere mortal anglers go through.  You remember, you want to catch a fish, then you want to catch a lot of fish.  Soon you want to catch a big fish which progresses into a desire to catch a specific big fish that requires a higher level of skill and then, finally, you want to catch the fish that no one else can catch.  I don't recall these guys going through some of these interim stages.  You should only desire those final two stages after a long life of fishing.

Yet, here we were.  Me right in there with them, wolfing down a gas station pork chop biscuit in the dark and cold while launching our boats.  Anticipation was high, but it always is with folks of this persuasion.  If you don't think every cast to these prehistoric monsters could be THE cast of the trip, then you don't belong here.  Perpetual optimism is mandatory.  You don't count catches in this game.  You count follows and hook ups.  Hoping the end of the day has you with at least one in one of the categories.  Seriously, it's like sighting an Ivory Billed Woodpecker!

The sun did come up that day, highlighting everything in a bright halo but failing to generate much heat.  It wasn't unbearable but I did leave all my clothes on all day and my fingers never worked to their full capacity.  It was actually during a brief moment in time while I was attempting to pull my fleece gloves on that I had my first and, so far, only encounter with old Esox.  With the boat anchored just upstream of a short set of rapids, I cast my fly down and across into a small back eddy and let it swing into the rapids as I tucked the rod under my armpit and adjusted my gloves.  Unexpectedly, less than 15 feet from my position in the front of the boat, the rapids exploded as a huge musky attacked my 12" long fly as it swam back and forth in the current.  Instinctively, I reacted by twisting my entire upper torso in an effort to set the hook while holding on to the Winston 10 wt. with a three-point anchoring position; underarm, right hand somewhere around the hook keeper, but certainly not on the grip, left hand just forward of the stripping guide.  I tell you it was poetry in motion as all my fellow anglers suddenly erupted into a cacophony of undecipherable screams and yells.

I leaned into that Winston rod like a roping horse into a calf and nothing was happening.  I couldn't budge the big fish so I leaned hard to my right trying to move it sideways rather than upstream.  The fish didn't like that at all and began taking line from a seriously cranked down Abel Super 9.  As it swam toward a log jam, I leaned harder but noticed the line as it curved around a mid-stream boulder.  "This ain't gonna be good." flashed through my mind.  Seconds later the line went slack.  My heart rate still pumping steadily at around 175, 180.  And all is quiet.  I can hear the swoosh of blood in my ears.  My fingers are no longer cold.  I have no desires right now other than just one more chance to do it right.

The consensus of the once screaming groupies was 35 to 40 inches at least.  I'm good with that.  It was over in the blink of an eye but, strangely, it's still with me.  I can still feel that unbelievably heavy pull.  Unlike anything I've tussled with since those 20 pound sea run brown trout at the end of the world in Tierra del Fuego.  It was that kind of essence with which I was briefly connected.  It was as if my first contact suddenly became an unforgettable part of my being.  Like my fishing life changed abruptly right then in less than a couple of minutes.  Like, like I've got to do this again some time soon.  Have my new young mentors warped my life the way I once warped theirs?  They do crazy things to have a shot at connecting with these fish.  Is this what I have to look forward to?


  1. Jimmy it was great having you fish ,or rather cast since that is what we do the most of, with us that weekend and look forward to doing it again.

  2. Nice fish, I'm heading over for a holiday next year, cant wait to get amongst the them.