The Rules of Fly Fishing

Fly Fishing New England and beyond

Rule #600 Thou shall not have people meet you at your own house to leave for a fishing trip, and you still be late, sleeping inside said house.

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“You’ve got to be shitting me.”

“Nope.”

“He’s fucking late?”

“yup.”

“But we are at HIS HOUSE.”

This was the beginning to possibly one of the funniest conversations I ever had with Chris. After a couple of months of planning the annual Pulaski Steelhead trip the moment finally came. After some debate it was decided that half the group was going to meet at Jeff’s mother’s house in central mass. It was somewhat central to all of us, and was aimed in the right direction at least. Plus she had the yard space to park all of our trucks that weren’t going to make the trip. The plan was simple for Jeff. He was going to drive out to his mother’s the night before. Get packed up (since all of fishing stuff was there because of a recent move), meet us outside and off we go. This year we even decided that we should leave at like a reasonable hour like 7:00 am get there for noon fish a couple of hours to shake off the rust, and then have a solid meal before the trip begins. But like all well laid plans, something was bound to happen.

One of the most overstated and incorrectly spoken quotes in our hobby, is from the movie/book of A River Runs through it. It is said that in Montana they are never late to 3 things: Work, Church and Fly fishing. Jeff, didn’t read the book, and he forgot to give me back my copy of the movie for like 9 months and I’m fairly sure he only watched it once. But this never stuck to him. He is our perpetually late friend. If you have one of these friends, then you know what I’m talking about. He’s the one you lie too about what time to show up, because you know exactly what time he will show up. And even if you give yourself that 30 minute cushion, there is the possibility he will still be in late. In fact, in todays world he’s the guy you text when you are leaving your house (it’s early morning after all and you need to be considerate of his family) and the guy you call when you’re 20 minutes away, just in case he hasn’t woken up yet. By the time his phone makes it to 5 rings you know he’s not going to be ready when you get there. But hopefully you planned on this, and you still have an hour or so before the first morning gray skies start to lighten. But to Jeff’s credit, he will ALWAYS show if he says he’s showing, and he will always be that guy who is making the last cast of the day 2 hours after you were supposed to leave (planning on this is also imperative).

My buddy Chris on the other hand is sort of an old hand at this fly fishing thing. In fact, he and I have shared many similar experiences on the river over our years of fly fishing, but having really only met each other a few years ago. We are the ones who don’t need to catch all the fish in the river, and are quite content fishing and finding our John Gierach’s version of the St. Vrain (in short, home waters that your comfortable with). Chris and I are the type of guys who show up 15 minutes early, drink our coffees on the tail gate, shoot the shit for a few minutes, trying to take our excitement a bit and not rush into things. So it was no surprise to me when I pulled into Jeff’s Mother’s house 15 minutes early, and shut off the lights of my small pick up, and sat drinking my coffee waiting for 7:00 to hit the clock so we can start loading up, that Chris rumbles in his big construction F350, and kills his motor, a large coffee in hand as well. We get out, sit along my tail gate talking quietly about the exciting week ahead and laughing about old stories. He shot Jeff a text message to be considerate that we are outside a bit early. Our friend Ryan was on his way, and Jeff’s best friend Jon was with our other good friend Mike, already on there way out west.

A few minutes pass by in this conversation, and we check out phones and it’s now 7:05. 5 minutes late, but Ryan’s running late too, so we think nothing of it. No lights are on inside the house. About 10 minutes later Ryan shows up in his Jeep Cherokee, and sees us sitting on the tailgate, coffees emptied, and all of our stuff loaded into one truck. One look at the darkened windows, a quick glance at his own phone for the time, and we all start sharing that laugh of incredulousness. We start slowly rapping on the windows, and the door, our knocks getting progressively louder until finally one of us gets bold (I don’t remember who) and we ring the doorbell. We see Jeff come shooting around the corner inside the house wearing his boxers and he starts kind of laughing. We load up about 30 – 45 minutes late after meeting Jeff at his own house, and we start making our trip towards upstate NY, with a new rule. “Thou shall not have people meet you at your own house to leave for a fishing trip, and you still be late, sleeping inside said house.”

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Rule #67 Thou shalt not consume homemade Chili the night prior to a day in waders.

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It took friends to help me realize how much I’ve learned over the years about fly fishing. It’s an odd thing doing something for many years and then realizing how much you have actually learned, and even scarier is how little you know as well.  But over the years of fishing with my father and making my own mistakes, you begin to do things that are just second nature. As much as I warned the guys about eating chili the night before a day in waders, I guess they knew they had to make their own mistakes as well.

Our first steelhead trip was a learning session for everyone. I had a lot of new things that I had to learn, Jeff was just starting out, but he knew what fly fishing was at least. Jon on the other hand was about to attempt his first fly fishing trip in February, on the Salmon River, with lake effect snow about to blow in. I knew it was going to be a dire situation, but it was something that needed to be done. Might as well get the kinks out now, and start making some mistakes. We learned a lot that trip and a lot of rules were formed. We came to this trip well packed. We had fly rods, waders, reels, layers of clothing, face masks, gloves, a few 30 racks of beer, some of Jon’s home brewed cider, and an entire crock pock of Jon’s homemade chili.

I’m a huge fan of chili. I love the stuff, but it’s not a secret that this can just wreck havok with your stomach. It’s also no secret, that beans are good for your heart, and that the more you eat the more you… well you know. Now this is where my own personal experience kicked in, and I stayed away from that fantastic smelling, slow stewing chili.  I tried to warn them, but they just wouldn’t listen.

When I first started fly fishing, we didn’t have a lot of money, and well we just didn’t need to most expensive stuff on the market.  So we started with waders that a lot of people back then started off with. 3mm neoprenes. Or sweatsuits as they should have been called. These things were sweat factories, that I wore for my first 3 seasons through 100 degree summers and hot dogs and sauerkraut lunches on the stream bank.  You begin to learn that not only being a sweat factory, they are like mini personal capsules that capture everything. A simple human function like a fart can turn into a teary eyed choke fest with each wafting gust of air from your feet, with eat step you take. It’s one of those things, that you just experience and begin to learn is terrible.  You let out a little gas, and never smell it until you begin to move and little puffs of that personal methane is released upwards.  Then at the end of the day, you take off your waders, and you realize that not only are you all sweaty, but your clothes have also soaked in the stink of your own personal essence.

So it was on that night, with these experiences that I abstained from the chili, and despite my suggestions, the boys decided to consume a few bowls of chili and several home brew beers of apple ciders.  The next day as we are walking around in our waders trying to figure out what the hell steelheading is, you would hear that telltale butt whistle, and a few laughs would break out… Then a few steps later you would hear that awkward cough of, “oh god what is that stench?”  I couldn’t help but crack up just knowing what is about to happen. Afterall it’s only 6 am… and we we aren’t stopping until 6:00 PM. 12 hours later, as we are walking back to the truck, Jon and Jeff are gagging and dying. Each step, is a poof of nastiness. When we finally get back to the tailgate to consume a beer, and drink away our sorrows of no fish, unsafe wading, and broken dreams, Jeff and Jon tear off their waders, and we are all treated to a 12 hour fart sauna.  With the gagging, and their clothes reeking, we all decide that a shower and a change of clothes is necessary before heading to dinner. It was then that we decided, “Thou Shalt not consume homemade chili the night prior to a day in waders.”  Lets just chalk that one up to experience.

Rule #173 If you miss them on the back cast, make damn sure you get your fishing partner on the forward cast.

Fish Blitz.  They make you forget a lot of things.  Your manners, hunger pangs, dry lips, sea sickness, exhaustion, etc.  And probably even more dangerous… your casting abilities.

This rule stems from such a disaster. Jeff and I got invited out to Chris Mayo’s boat. An amazingly nice, economical, no frills fishing boat. It’s a 18 foot aluminum lund Alaskan SS. Probably slightly too small for three fly fisherman. But it works, runs perfect, and has been my true introduction to saltwater boat fishing.

We woke up early, like we normally do for a Chris outting. For me that means waking up at 1:50 am.. leaving by 2:00 am to get to his place for 3:00 am.  For Jeff, that means waking up about the same time to arrive 15 minutes late even though he lives 10 minutes down the road. But that’s a different rule. We headed towards a North shore spot, and set sail on another highly anticipated trip for stripers. The exhaustion was slowly wearing off to excitement, and anticipation.  As we slowly motored along the river, we began to see bait all along the mussel beds that lined the river. We began to catch a lot of small stripers on the way out, warming up our casting arms, and re-learning everything we forgot from the week before about stretching your fly line, and just getting used to casting from the boat again.

We knew the day was going to get significantly tougher though when we motored out of the river and into the harbor. The seas were dead calm. There were lakes and ponds that bigger waves than this day.  Which meant for us, a smooth motoring ride, but the complete inability to sneak up on anything. Chris’ 2 stroke motor were putting down whatever busting fish we would see from a distance. The crew decided to give me bow that day, because I had the longer cast. But even dumping all 100 feet of fly line wasn’t enough, we couldn’t get to even within a 100 feet of these fish.  Several went by, and a lot of frustration was kicking in.  To say we were disheartened is an understatement. We headed into another cove to see if could duplicate the morning on some schoolies.  After motoring around we headed out to the harbor again to see if we could see anymore fish on the way in.  We immediately saw that the wind had picked up, and now there was a slight chop on the water. We saw a blitz of fish and motored over and they stayed up.

As we motored over, there was a lot of pressure. This may be our only shot.  I had all the line at my feet, and a loop of line loaded and ready to fire out at these fish.  I was on the bow, oblivious to who was behind me. We bombed towards the fish and I rolled casted the line in from me to get out as much line as I could as I loaded the rod on my back cast, I could faintly hear Jeff say something to the effect of “HEY!!”  then I double hauled the hell out of that line, and fired it right towards the fish. Now, I personally didn’t hear the fly thwack Jeff I thought if anything I was close.  After a few fish, Jeff shouted, “You hit me!”. I said no I didn’t I was close, but I didn’t hit you.  I strongly feel that this argument is going to continue for the rest of our days… but one thing was certain, if you do decide to hit a friend with a fly and you miss them on the back cast, make damn sure you get them hard on the forward cast… Then deny it until the day you die.

Rule #44 A human mouth is no place for a fly, even when trying to thaw one out.

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With November looming only a couple of months around the corner, that means steelhead season. Well, at least now it does. This year marks our 5th annual steelhead trip. Not that it counts as a tradition in my opinion just yet, but it’s enough that I look forward to this every year. 5 years ago now, Jeff was just getting into fly fishing, and Jon had started to show interest. Our first steelhead trip in 2008, was Jon Williams first trip fly fishing, Jeff’s first fly fishing trip for any sort of trout, and my first Fly Fishing trip away from home ever. The excitement was in the air.  

It all started, as many things in fishing, from a simple photo. Jeff apparently spied a picture of a steelhead online and a few clicks and a couple google searches turned up some awesome photos, and a destination of Pulaski, NY. He shot me a simple Sametime message during work that simply said, “ever fish for steelhead?” Nope. I saw them in magazines but was only sure that they excited only in Canada or Alaska or some other foreign wilderness. Once he sent me a link with directions that stated 5 hours away from central Mass. We hatched our plan. We got a couple of pieces of information on where to stay, and some holes on the river from a couple of older guys from an internet forum. Got our gear ready, Jon bought his first fly rod, and we prepped to make our journey, in late January, on the advice of men we had never met, to a place we had never been, fishing for something we had never fished for. Lessons were about to be learned, and some of the very first couple of fly fishing rules made. In fact, my next few posts, will be in dedication to this memorable trip.

When we arrived, to say we were excited isn’t even coming close to the truth. Dreams of huge trout, and muscular fish were right there at our grasps. We arrived at Whitakers, and found a steelhead fly fishing shop. Loaded to the gills with species specific gear, and all the colors of glo-bug yarn you could imagine. After settling in, loading up on Chili and beers(another lessoned learned for the new guys), we prepped for a couple of days of fishing. 

The fishing was relatively dismal. We had no idea what we were doing. The guys were looking to me for some sort of, “you have been fly fishing longer”, type of guidance. But I had nothing to offer on the subject, I had never done this, and barely even nymphed fish before. The water was cold, the air was getting colder, and so far all we had are a couple of stories and no fish, or fish fighting to speak of. This was getting bad. 

As we came into the fly shop on the final night, we were told some even more dismal news. There was a storm approaching with lake effect snow, and temperatures dropping well into the low teens. As we were just about to be educated on, this meant slush water, and snow that was going to accumulate at 6 -8 inches an hour. We woke up bright and early the next morning prepping to go home, but wanting to fish one more spot. The air was viciously cold, and we headed towards the parking lot. After gearing up, the snow because to fall. Lake effect snow is a weird thing, it doesn’t look like our standard New England snowflakes, they are in fact like little balls of snows. Almost like soft hail. But it began just sparsely, nothing major yet.  I remember being the first quit early. It was so cold that we saw the water slowly begin to turn to slush, and clumps of ice just floating down the river like icebergs. I lost hope and started wandering back up river towards Jeff and Jon.  Jon saw me, and started out of the water as well. The snow was beginning to accumulate rapidly, and it was making walking difficult. As any fly fisherman will tell you, with wet felt bottom boots, snow clings to it, and you find yourself walking on platform type of shoes. We began to approach Jeff, as he was still determinedly standing in the water, defiant of the conditions, and our lack of fish. But we noticed something strange in his manners. He is isn’t fishing, he’s just standing there. His hands are in his pocket, his hat on tight, and his fly line is running from the end of his rod, right up into his mouth. John and I looked at each other, and couldn’t quite figure out what the hell was going.

Jeff eventually turns around and starts talking kinda mumbled, and then he opens up his mouth and pulls the fly out of his mouth, and continues talking, thinking nothing of actions.  He makes a few more casts, and then we start seeing his fly becoming an encapsulated ball of ice. And like ice in coke, it’s causing the fly to float. Jeff also sees this and retrieves his fly, and without a thought, sticks it back in mouth to thaw it out.  At this point he could see the crazy looks that john and I were giving him, but he said nothing. I eventually dropped my fly reel in the water, and when I pulled it out of the water, it had frozen solid, and would no longer even turn to retrieve line. I stuck my reel down into my waders next to my body to thaw it out. Officially ending my trip. Jon, also called defeat, and eventually Jeff came to the same sad conclusion.

The drive home was just as chaotic and crazy, that involved broken windshield wipers, gloves, uncomfortable seating, and even the impossibility of removing ones waders. But those are a couple of other stories. It wasn’t until we began to thaw out in the car that Jeff thought outloud, “Maybe a human mouth is no place for a fly, even when trying to thaw one out.”  In fact… let’s make that rule. 

The Rules of Fly Fishing

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This is my first blog. Ever. I figured this would be a great start to something I have been wanting to write about for a long time. The Rules of Fly Fishing.

Here’s the quick synopsis. I’ve been fly fishing since I was 12. So about 17 years or seasons, if you want to sound that pompous. It’s just the way I like to fish. I have no explanation for it. It’s everything about it. I could get poetic, and talk about the casting and the fluid motion, tradition, and one with nature, but that’s not it entirely. As the owner of The Lower Forty, Jim Bender, once told me, it’s just the most fun way to fish.

Anyway, a few years ago I got a friend into fly fishing, and as he was learning fly fishing, I found myself relearning fly fishing. He was the first fly fishing partner of mine, other than my dad, so it was a nice change of pace. After only a few months, we started to notice that there were certain rules, about fly fishing, that I had just become used to, and that he was just beginning to learn. As a joke, we just began to write them down. Arbitrary numbers, a simple one or two sentences, and a tradition was born. Now it wasn’t always fly fishing so there are definitely some stories in here that involves,:gasp: gear, but bear with me. The way that this really started, is that we just started to notice, that not a single fishing trip, not one simple fishing trip, is ever boring. Everytime we go fishing, there is something maybe really small, but just something incredibly funny, dangerous, humorous, sad, or just strange that happens. I can’t explain it. But if you ever got together with one or more friend, you probably know what I mean when I say, it’s never uneventful.  Like most fishing trips, it’s rarely about the fishing, or the fish caught or the size of the fish even. More often then not, it’s the company, the journey, and everything between.  In fact, fishing sometimes seems like the excuse to just get away.

So here it begins. The Rules of Fly Fishing according to me, my friends, and a couple of other hooligans that joined the party.