As previously published in Fly Fusion magazine.
Who did I think I was kidding?
My forehead rested heavily atop my hands; the cool river water from my stripping fingers helped to ease my heated discouragement.
My line slacked and bellied into my legs until the river’s current caught hold and pulled it taut on either side of my obstruction. It reshaped the flow into a broken ‘v’.
I stood in the middle of it all – fly hooked securely into a tall tree limb on the bank behind me, line rubbing against my legs like a florescent, unwelcome house cat.
The single-hand rod lay deceitful and light in my palm. For a moment I was tempted to donate it in shards to the rock bed beneath me.
Yes, I was frustrated.
The wind routed through the valley in one consistent gust and my lack of skill casting off my left shoulder had me ducking in an attempt to avoid contact. How absolutely embarrassing.
Ugh. One of those days. Alyssa Lloyd photo.
The cast finds its muscle memory, making itself comfortable in the bushes yet again – not the sort of habits I was looking to build.
My head remains stationary, eyes scanning from left to right beneath polarized sunglasses.
No laughing spectators. I unclench my jaw – we’ve all been there.
I was on a mission to prove a point, to prove a theory, to prove that tradition could be revived within my own angling practices. I’d committed to spending the day attempting a ‘greaseline’ presentation on said river with the use of a nine foot rod, delicate tapered fly line and lengthy, accurate cast.
But who did I think I was kidding? It was all I could do not to wish for my double handed rod, condensed shooting heads, and casts that didn’t matter to the non-judgmental current or the extremely discriminate wind.
Wind? Who cares? Right…
The cool water on my brow lightens the red in my cheeks and the situation broadens its spectrum.
Undeniably, long rods, short lines, heavy tips and large flies landed fish at my feet but I couldn’t help to feel as though I was robbing myself of specific methodology that required more skill – patience at least – and I was failing miserably at each of these right now.
It began close to three years ago when deeply sunk flies lost a great part of their appeal to me. The “out of sight” concept threw me into an “out of mind” state and I slowly lost the tranquility of silence in my head upon the mid-swing submergence of my fly.
I needed more – needed to see more.
Without this, too much noise emerged during a mindless, unfocused swing.
Dry flies were the obvious solution but upon facing an entire season of disinterested steelhead, my own enthusiasm was inevitably turned back towards my trusted wet flies. As compromise might suggest, I hoped a subsurface presentation would suffice to satisfy, so I purchased an old reprint of Greaseline Fishing for Salmon by Jock Scott (as per A.H.E. Wood).
The term greaselining is a method introduced in the early 20th century by the late Arthur Wood of Scotland. Silk lines and deeply sunk flies were a standard practise by anglers worldwide but it was Wood who popularized the greasing of lines with Mucilin, lanolin (or a grease substance of choice), resulting in a subsurface and somewhat drag-free presentation of the swung fly.
Wood sought to fish his Cairnton beat on the River Dee with a semi-natural presentation. By using the water’s current, hydraulics and speed, he played the eddies and used flies shockingly sparse in attempts to imitate fish or other small creatures in distress.
His casts varied but often angled on 90 degrees where he then mended regularly to ensure his fly presented itself broadside and at the same speed of the current. Wood cast a long line, the fly swinging slowly while maintaining a semi-natural drift. Low and clear water often meant difficult fishing, as increased water temperatures and changes in fish behaviour meant that the sunk fly could not be fished as efficiently as those on one that had been greased (a floating line by today’s standard).
As I turned each page with reignited fervour, the spine of my book arched in flexible delight; relieving its cramps from prolonged hibernation.
My right hand gradually gripped fewer pages and I dreaded the moment I would reach Wood’s conclusion – for he was gone and I had no where else to find him.
As Scott came to the final sentence of his masterpiece, I heard him clearly – “Very, very rarely have I known an angler who refused to succumb to the temptations of the greased line!”
And he was right. I was enamoured with the lost words of the art – a book so available yet so unknown amongst most of my peers in this sport.
But a subject with such facets would be poorly represented by merely one sportsman. Given the century of growth that the 1903 greaselining birthing entailed, it was only inevitable that revisions would find their way laced through the margins.
I turned to the likes of Hill, Waddington, Kelson, Haig-Brown, Wulff and just about anyone else passed whose literature sat dusty on the shelf.
The philosophies, techniques, theories, prophecies, equipment, innovations, stories and passions wove themselves into my heart and mind.
Late nights were spent reading – early mornings spent practising what I had learned. Mentored through their words, I felt a connection with them and a revitalized flame in my journey as a young angler.
I would catch myself holding my breath through almost an entire chapter, other times having to put the book down to regain composure. My stomach tensed with realization that these books had been here for me from the start – what had taken me so long?
The value I placed on the the old guard began to expand as quickly as my reading list, and upon reaching out to a few of its select gentlemen (and one special lady), I was kindly received and warmly engaged. Their support was genuine but their underlying message to me was clear – “Your generation doesn’t read books…” They would trail off as though lost at the concept.
Adrienne Comeau photo.
I couldn’t tell them that they were wrong – for the most part, I had no reason to believe that they were.
So dive to the depths of knowledge I did, and in tribute to the education they offered me, here I now stood red-faced and statued in the water of a steelhead run where there was sure to be a fish.
The longline presentation of my single hand rod was putting me to the test. The wind threw my backcast for the long grass to catch eagerly – an uninvited game of catch and I was the ‘piggy in the middle’.
I was desperate for the shallow backcast of a short line on my double handed rod and was kidding no one other than myself. The double handed fly rod (commonly referred to as a Spey rod), has been around for several hundred years before my time. Though not originally from North America, double handers were in fact deemed traditional and I cursed myself for leaving mine behind. Even Mr. Wood himself would have asked me what in the world I was doing.
As obsessions tend to do, soon I’d committed to writing a book on the sport and history of fly-fishing as it migrated and evolved from the UK to the west coast of North America.
My workload exploded – I had just taken on the most ambitious project of my life.
Interviews, gear comparisons, copious reading, travel and experimentation all consumed my time and soon I was analyzing temperature changes, oxygen content, aquatic life cycles, fly size and just about every other technicality that I had never actually needed before to catch fish. It was only natural to question why I was bothering at all – fishing for me was always based around fun and awareness. Beyond that, was all of this just overthinking? Were the ghosts of the past leading me by way of disproven theories and solely emotional connection?
But then the fish came. Upon applying my findings from the books that I’d read, my fishing productivity increased and I finally had some understanding of why!
Today, every book that I read inspires me to further preserve some sense of our history within this sport.
My studies are showing that remarkably fewer books are being read by young people. While that argument is offset with theories that we are actually reading more (only by way of the internet and tablets) when it comes to fly-fishing, much of this knowledge is still only found over a crackling campfire or amidst the yellowing pages of a good old-fashioned book.
Adrienne Comeau photo.
Several years ago, I agreed to take on this column with Fly Fusion. The agreement was that I would inspire the reader and possibly evoke an excitement for them/you to get outdoors.
Naturally, I still aspire to do exactly this but I am a thirty one year old woman – excitement and inspiration can’t help but sparkle in my eyes. So what would it hurt to add an element of ‘yesterday’ into our rapidly transitioning ‘tomorrow’ – time taken to help us understand more about a sport that draws us closely together? For the next while, this column will be taking a soft turn on a backtracking road and I hope that I may share my reading list with you here as a preview to your own library.
True, evolution exists only with progression and there are no rights or wrongs – but there is invaluable information that seems to dim over time. It would be a shame to smother a flame that once gleamed so bright as to light a whole village.
Our community today thrives in the light of immediacy, but there is not one of us who can deny the warmth or appreciation for the slow burn of a campfire glow – sometimes flames are exactly what is needed to bring people back together.
Thank you for reading,
***Note – April has moved her more personal blog entries to our partner site www.aprilvokey.com/blog – feel free to have a look!