Diary Of An Inexperienced Angler (a 14-year-old article)

Editor/writer’s caveat emptor: this piece, satirical and immature as it may be, was the way I took to writing about things Of which my grasp was, as some arrogant barrister would say, prima facie. This was truly written many years ago, and appeared in a newsletter for the now-defunct NCFTA (Northern California Fly-Tyers Association) Newsletter. Knowing this helps put perspective on my thinking “back in the day . Needless to say, it was before I knew anything about Tenkara.”

I have heard experience touted as a fundamental must when petitioning the services of those whose pronounced expertise is supposed to help us avoid a do-it-yourself nightmare. And you’ll get no argument from me or the person who now cuts my hair for me. Still, it has taken me a few years to realize that while experience is valuable by itself, experience and expertise is veritably priceless. It’s expertise without experience that causes the world around us to start running with a wheel in the sand. Try having an economist balance your checkbook for you if you don’t believe me.

Entire libraries bulge at the seams with the innumerable expertise of humanity from time immemorial. Countless words have been forged by the elevated and lofty in an attempt to convey the experiences of altitude to the rest of us hapless, boring scions down here at sea level. One or two of them have even supposedly been written by people with jobs, but I’m not laying my money on such baseless supposition.

But what about inexperience? Even I have plenty of that. And in many areas. Fly fishing being runner-up to none for me in this area, either. I figured that while the endless dronings of the experienced beat us into comas with their seenitbeentheredonethat sort of flatulent arrogance, I could rattle and yammer in the death throes of inexperience and be just as interesting. And twice as related to. Plus so far, my only experience is inexperience.

I have been involved in fly fishing for a paltry three months now, and have excelled remarkably in every aspect, except for casting, mending, wading, stripping, double-hauling, retrieving, setting, nymphing, reading the water, using an indicator, shooting line, skittering dry flies on purpose and not skittering dry flies accidently. I consider my catch and release convictions to be inordinately evolved and mature–insofar as I release them from the hook without ever actually having to reel them in all the way in the first place. These deficits do not prevent me, however, from at least sounding as qualified and inculcated as the next guy, in terms of fly fishing nomenclature, technique, banter, accessories, along with my own embellished accounts of hooking the Biblical Leviathan with a number twenty-two trico spinner.

This is why diaries are so important. We might pad the factual to our buddies. Well even fudge the numbers to that tax-collecting Gladys Kravitz that is Uncle Sam. But we don’t lie to our diaries. Instead we emblazon them with the cold clinical facts because that’s what makes them intrinsically valuable to us. Some of the very deepest thoughts and ruminations we’d never consider uttering to our fellow man can be found withing the pages of our private journals. And these private journals become public journals after we die, and this is how our family and friends find out what a real scoundrel we actually were. Or at least receive validation of their suspicions.

Not to imply that fisherman are guilty of either deep thoughts or ruminations, but to illustrate that the creek side journal can shed some light on the actual processes and shortages the angler perceives himself to be going through. So against my better judgement, and the advice of my attorney, I hereby relinquish a choice crossection of my own clandestine angling thoughts and thoughtlessness. Plus the astounding revelations that I point, run with scissors, and eat with my hands:

Thoughts on casting, (July 5, 1998)

Ten and two, ten and two, piece of pie, piece of pie bla bla bla . . .trying to get this confounded fly line out there in proximity to the water in front of me is a lot harder than it looks. This is primarily because I spend all my time unsticking the fly from the evergreens behind me. It seems that I’d actually get the fly out there if I would only attempt to cast into the trees. And what about all this talk of stealth? I have already read exasperatingly long treatises on the absolute necessity for remaining part of the plaid environment, keeping the smell of french fries off my Zug Bug, and maintaining a low profile near the water. So where in the midst of the puritan, absolutist rhetoric associated with fly fishing do we get tactical Quakers slapping florescent pink fly line at the water? No wonder fish shun me. And no wonder the British lost at Lexington. Every bit of advice from King George the III was probably pretty sound, until that final, kingly charge to the front lines:

Remember Mother England. Keep your guard up. Stay out of sight. Oh, and wear bright red coats and sissified powdered wigs while you’re at it. God save the King.

I am bad at not only one but two basic forms of casting. Both are dangerous to the quirky and unrefined, because of just how close a proper cast brings the dread implement to one’s head. On the rough water, I discovered that casting a weighted nymph with eighteen pounds of split shot immediately places you at risk for a self-inflicted concussion, self-inflicted hematoma, or a subpoena from the type of self that belongs to somebody else. Getting the dry fly in the correct zone is a different trial altogether–much more technical, insofar as the point is to present the fly with enough finesse to lightly sit atop the surface film without your attached eyelid dragging it underneath.

And an addendum to my July 5 thoughts on casting the dry fly,

. . .seemed to get much easier after my second cast.

Thoughts on wading, (July 30, 1998)

The paramedic said I was standing straight up in a twelve foot hole and that a neoprene belt would prevent another bout of artificial respiration from a bearded blue-shirt. Nobody has to tell me more than once.

Further thoughts on wading (August 10, 1998)

The lower Sacramento River can provide some swift water this time of year–and some swift trout as well. Not wanting to disturb what portends to be a porky six-pounder, and I being placated center stream, refuse to acknowledge certain biological red flags–thus learning that there are actually two ways to fill up your waders.

Thoughts on fisherman’s etiquette, (August 16, 1998)

It has already become clear that there exists a bittersweet Hatfield and McCoy diplomacy between bait fisherman and fly casters. Or that is at least what I understand from the two bait fisherman that beat me up at the Girvan channels yesterday. They said that fly fishing was to angling what fencing is to sword fighting. Maybe they’re right. Fencing has a strict set of rules, boundaries, and bylines of gentlemanly conduct that can also be loosely compared to fly fishing. Sword fighting entails a crudely defined structure with the death of the opponent being second only to the gruesome nature of their dispatch. Foul-hooking a ten inch Brook trout through the eyeball made me a demi god in baitsville. And a devil in flydom.

It’s also wise not to upset a bait fisherman when he’s drinking. He has implements. The garden variety tackle box is full of sharp, heavy, and blunt potential weapons–all potentially usable upon the outnumbered and most likely solitary fly fisherman, who will find it hard to match rapier thrust against a set of stylized bolt cutters when armed only with a sinking-tip line and three feet of 4x tippet material. It is good to not say incendiary things like “Neanderthal” “knuckle-dragger” or “spinner dunce” while fishing in mixed company either–or you’ll learn the meaning of “live bait” from a whole new perspective.

Thoughts on tying flies, (August 30, 1998)

In the scant few months I have been tying my own flies, it has already become apparent that my total infatuation with affixing feather and fur to the hook has inadvertently cultivated an infatuation in those around me as well. Not the kind that goads one into studying the entomological manifestations of the Mayfly (latinwordus cerebellumis) , nor the buoyant, water-resistant proclivities of the Cul de Canard feather (posteriorum ci vous plais). And nobody but nobody’s following me down to the river’s edge to watch me eschew treble-hooks and bemoan Berkeley stink-putty out loud in my pursuit of the 20-plus inch native Trout (overanoverus escaposfrumus). Yet I have plenty of volunteers. And I have a veritable mountain of buzzard/crow/chicken feathers in my house to prove their iron-clad loyalty to my new-found hobby. My eyes bulge with disbelief at the endless supply of useless feather I have been given by hapless friends and helpful fly-tying rubberneckers who believe I need gargantuan piles of black wing feathers, parrot garnish, and Cockateel cow licks. And an antidote to the inexorable flow of people headed my direction with wayward feathers and fur does not appear to be well-funded or plausible.

The frenzied pace at which I am receiving follicular contraband along with the plumage onslaught is staggering as well. It scares me, quite frankly. I lay awake in fear at what kind of plucking holocaust lays in store for my neighbor’s parakeet when they realize I’m tying a Pale Morning Dun. One peripheral enthusiast is still trying to explain the disappearance of his horse’s entire tail to his wife. And I’m trying to figure out how to cast a size -36 Bird’s nest nymph without ripping my arm out of the socket. My cat is also missing.

The mind reels at the rate of speed at which I am receiving unsolicited feather, non-applied-for fur, undeserved dog shavings, and unidentified locks of unquantifiable fiber from probably unspeakable objects (note to my suppliers: I now have all the skunk I’ll ever need. Thanks).

But the uncontrollable hook-benevolence that has my tying area looking like the pinnacle scene from Children of the Corn is second only in magnitude to the oddball friend who not only wants to make my fly-tying endeavors really super, but wants to provide me with what is called “cutting edge” material. Vinyl, rocks, yarn, lead wire, paisley shirt collars, wig trimmings, carpet swatches, old Studebaker fenders, soda cans, and spare tires–all in the name of making me a maverick vice-ninja with flies so effective, the Trout will “voluntarily throw themselves onto my hook during my most erratic backcast.” Theories run amok. Ideas run rampant. My cup runneth over. And I’ll have no more 1970’s quasi-psychedelic Pinto upholstery to “really spruce up” my Griffith’s Knat. Put the golf pants down and step away from the hair-stacker.

The short time I have spent fly fishing is equal to the time I have spent fly tying. And here my trailblazing, pioneer underpinnings have already begun to manifest themselves to my angling contemporaries. And in this stunted chronological burp, I have already managed to engineer my own creation: the Adams Resistible–a fine dry fly for moderate to rough current that has made many an hour of pointless casting much more enjoyable.

Thoughts on reading the water/entomology, (right about now 1998)

Not quite as much fun as taking advantage of others’ lack of knowledge of the sport, (which, come to think of it, comes dangerously close to mine). But this is not, at least, the perception of my angling inculcation. My bait-slogging buddies think I have a doctorate in bug. My general acquaintances whisper in quiet deference to the giant entomological club I wield and wax envious at my razor sharp, Rolodex-like ability to classify river hatches by kingdom, sub-kingdom, class, order, family, genus and species faster than a Pentium chip mainframe with two hundred billion gigs of RAM. I can climb out as far as I want on the intellectual limb, just as long as I keep it on paths confusing and obfuscatory. All it takes is one solicited, earnest-mouthed utterance by a nearby troller to bring my expertise to a fever pitch:

“Man! What in the world are all of these bugs flying around?”

“Hmmm. Looks to me like a high-end PMD hatch. ”

“What are PMD’s?”

“Polypropeline Manifesto Diatribes–peculiar to the northern most regions of California and Newfoundland. Although rare at this time of year, this raucous little aquatic insect can reproduce at an astonishing rate in the surface film of the water, substantially lowering the average dry fly catch ratio, even by eighty-two percent or more.”

“Aren’t these called mayflies”

“Well they fall within the broader purview of mayfly, but give a much greater physiological nod to the antihistamine analgesic. Don’t worry, only the really saturated know all of this technical jargon, and anyway what do fish know? Sometimes I myself feel encumbered with all of this scientific information–it’s as if a giant millstone of knowledge has been placed around my neck. Believe me, there are days I would give anything to once again sit amongst the commonwealth of laymen.”

“So what fly are you going to use? Didn’t I hear that you have to try to ‘match the hatch’, or something like that?”

“Well, sure. That’s where a disciplined approach to stream jurisprudence renders itself so useful. A careful analysis of the obvious hatch coupled with a keen awareness of the more latent food sources for these native trout lead me to conclude which fly would serve me best.”

“And that is?”

“A Royal Coachman.”

“But that looks nothing like those bugs on the water. Are you sure. . .”

“Immediate logic contradicts, I realize. But there are other parameters–dynamics if you will. Factor in ambient light, refraction of the same by the chaotic ebbs of tumultuous water, time of day, and the subjective vantage point of the fish itself, and one begins to understand that there is more to sleighting a trout than meets the eye.”

“Looks an awful lot like this Rooster Tail spinner I bought from Wal Mart.”

“Aw, yes, at least at the outset. The difference is extremely subtle to the naked eye, but that’s where reading lots and lots of fly books and learning the finer aspect to entomology has paved the way for my own fishing enlightenment. Believe me, those trout can tell the difference between a crudely fashioned implement from the nether-worlds of spinner casting and the aristocratic pedigree of a finely tied Coachman. Only experience can bring this awareness about.”

Of course, my dot and tittle application of entomological particulars to the correct fly choice has solidified my reputation as real renaissance man as well. The importance of timely documentation in a creek side journal now has unprecedented justification:

        HATCH . . . . . . . . . . . . FLY

      Pale Morning Dun. . . . .Royal Coachman

      Caddisfly Emerger. . . . Royal Coachman

      Caddisfly Proper. . . . . Royal Coachman

      Damselfly. . . . . . . . . . . Royal Coachman

      Stonefly Larvae. . . . . . .Royal Coachman

      Mayfly(spent). .. . . . . . . Royal Coachman

      Terrestrials. . . . . . . . . . .Royal Coachman

      Everything Else . . . . . . .Royal Coachman

      After re-reading my diary entries, I’ve realized that there are at least five thousand Royal Coachmen out there in the possession of at least as many innocent bystanders whom I hope never compare notes, or find me if they do. It has also occurred to me That I am not only irresponsible, but also responsible for the proliferation of entomological malpractice. Time to call my lawyer about his advice. I’m afraid I’ve said too much.


About Ron Giesecke

Not much to tell.
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