It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. It was a time of multitudes of fish; it was a time of no fish. It was a time of hope; it was a time of despair. It was a time of satisfaction; it was a time of frustration.
Ecclesiastes tells us that for everything under heaven there is a season. There is a time to for all our human activities and existence. This seems to be true even in fly fishing. There is a time for fishing and there is a time for catching. My recent trip to McClellanville brought the words of both Solomon and Dickens to living reality for me and my steadfast old friend Mike.
The day began, as most fishing days, filled with anticipation and optimism. In stark contrast, my recent trips had been filled with frustration. I seem to have been afflicted with what I refer to as “Fisherman’s Block.” It is the sporting equivalent of another of my maladies- writer’s block. Sometimes even the best writers sit for hours staring blankly into a computer screen, unable to coherently connect even two words, much less a plot. My theory is that fishermen have similar episodes when they suddenly seem incapable of connecting fly to a fish’s mouth. Today seemed such a day.
The weather was as good as it gets, unlike me. Mike, selfless friend that he is, pushed the boat over the flat with an eighteen foot long graphite rod as I stood scanning the water for redfish sign- a tail, a push of water, the fin of a cruising fish, even a ripple, or the subtle movement of spartina grass as a redfish pushes past it.
I was rewarded in short order by one of my favorite sights- a redfish tail swaying in the salty air. Mike expertly poled the boat into easy casting range without disturbing the merrily dining redfish. I took careful aim and discharged a cast towards the fish. It fell much too far to the left of the fish. I reloaded and shot once more. This effort dropped too far right of target. The line was retrieved and I readied yet a third cast, but too late as the fish had now disappeared, moving on to locate another crustacean lunch special. I was disappointed by my poor performance, but as we moved along, I had numerous shots at redemption. Each presentation seemed worse than the preceding one. We saw somewhere around fifteen tailing redfish in short order, but I now seemed to have never even cast a fly rod, so inept were my offerings. I implored Mike to come down off the platform and demonstrate his always impressive skills, so as not to allow these manifold opportunities to go for naught. He declined, insisting I continue until the spell had been broken.
I failed to connect the dots that day in every conceivable way, maybe some inconceivable ways. The one fish that haunts me even now was a smallish redfish, slowly swimming parallel to the boat’s path, stopping occasionally to go head down and tail up in pursuit of its quarry. It was uncomfortably close to the boat. I feared the smallest shift of my feet would send the fish bolting away. Yet, I managed three casts without spooking it before the redfish turned its head towards my fly and the boat, not more than twelve feet away. I stripped the fly and saw the fish’s mouth open around the fly. Like a rank novice, I over reacted and pulled the fly out of its mouth in an effort to insure a firm hook set. I hung my head and expected Mike to make me walk the plank, abandoned to my fate on the flats while he sped off to another spot to catch a few reds himself. But, he did no such thing, instead encouraging me to continue my quest.
It does seem to be true that such drubbings may be key to preventing fishing from becoming boring. Days such as these force me to become a better and more patient fisherman. It keeps me returning to the flats, determined to enhance my skills and demonstrate my improvement, mainly to myself. Despite my deep disappointment in myself, I felt even more ashamed of letting my friend Mike down. I am indeed fortunate to have a friend who is willing to overlook my failings.
Now when is the next high tide??