Making my way west, away from the brutal hissing, rattling black highway, puts me in the folds of soft hills. Soft hills decked in the ochres, fawn, brown, yellow, maple orange and bare sticks of winter’s onset. The only hard lines are the escarpment, where the berg presses against the sky in a stark outline. It is an outline of a boundary against which we retreat. It reminds me of my prized dorm bed at boarding school, that fit in a corner against the walls of the basement boiler, and was warm in winter. So too, the berg is a boundary of comfort. Heading west puts me in place where my back is covered. The higher I go, the less of the downstream lowlands I see and the further I am from that highway. I can choose how high to go, and my decision depends on my need for escape from the lowlands….depends on how much of that brutal highway I have been absorbing of late.
The westward route extends past the railway lines and coffee shops and tourists who point out of their windows before taking sudden, lurching turns. Driving it now, I am rolling the vista back and forward in my mind. Back to summer, when it was rank and warm, and roadside grasses had aspirations of being giant elephant reeds. Forward to June, when the stems of bolted grass are stark sticks, losing husks and gathering dust. In between was the golden season. The season of crocosmias paniculata, lit like burgundy on fire. The season of falling stars: delicate blooms of Oros fake orange (6% real, the rest delivered along that highway from a factory somewhere). The golden season that went too quickly and took with it its red wine pin oaks and its amber London Planes; stole the spathes, spikelets and awns of the wild oat grass, and made off with its cool mornings and breezy warm days. We are left now with crows and sticks and dust; mornings too still to blow away the frost; days too hazy to feel the earth’s lines.
The contrast of our sport cuts like an old blunt knife. Like that cake knife back home, the one with the split wooden handle, bound with string. One that must be pressed and worked, and tilted to cleave the days and leave autumn aside, and winter to be coped with. Autumn with the rivers still open, and their small shy browns spooking at my clumsy casts. On that last day, my wading boots slid into the clean water. Water so clean I had to put my hand into it to be sure it was there. When it seeped through the neoprene onto my skin, my breath knew it was there, and it escaped from my chest in alarm. The fish were rather offish. The ones I found were the ones I spooked, or were rising, but there were few of both. The rising ones only needed one cast to dissuade them, and I couldn’t make them gentle enough. Not even with whisper fine 7X tippet on the two weight, and CDC dries. They just didn’t want them. And I suppose I just didn’t need them either. What I needed was the cold water, and warm sun weak enough not to roast me. I needed the Prussian blue and blackened purples of the shaded side of Baboon hill as my backdrop; and I needed the willows still with leaf but a sorry lemon lime hue leaf, not a lush green one. I needed silk surfaced fields, pale and dotted with bales, each one throwing a shadow as black as charcoal. I needed those trout too, but I only needed them to show themselves to me. I didn’t need to posses them. I only needed to possess autumn.
But the knife has pressed and cleaved the seasons now, and autumn can’t be possessed any longer. I drive further on rippled, bone shaking corrugations, and I throw dust clouds in the wake of the bakkie. At the bridge I pretend not to look at the river that jilts me. It runs clear, and strong enough to make me think of spring, although I deny the thought. My thoughts must run with the season.
I alight from the vehicle into wiry, tawny grass, and am greeted by warm sun and a raw breeze. The air is coming at me from the north across the cerulean ripples of the lake. I need a jacket. Later, I push the toe of my boot through iced muck, sticking to the cattails and reeds in the boggy margins. Just beyond, a band of still water laps in inky rolling waves that curl into the cattails and are tamed. At the outer edge of that bank, the mesmerizing ripples start, glinting fierce sunlight across at me and in, under the brim of my hat to hurt my eyes. Although I have to squint to look at it, its that transition that I am after, and I throw a team of flies across there. It is close enough that I am cautious not to move, and that a false cast is not needed. The black DDD alights, and the rice-bead corixa imitation plops just behind it. I hold the rod high, and still, poised expectedly. “The hang” they call it. It feels more like a long wait to me. Nothing happens. I try it a few more times, but winter fish are stubborn, and averse to our formulas. You will have more luck calling the cat.
Before long I am moving from spot to spot. My focus has changed to seeking warmth from the sun between wind gusts, casting in a direction in which I save my eyes the glimmer, and achieving crisp loops and pleasing distances. I have long since changed to a single fly, and I retrieve faster than I want to.
It seems slow, and there is a lot of time for considering the world, and the lake, and the season past. I am small and I am perched on a high vista in the wind, and the opening lines of the book of Ecclesiastes run repeatedly through my mind. I have to remind myself that this is what winter fly fishing is about. I consider a day back in the eighties, where I fished Triangle dam like this all day, and in which I was rewarded with one Rainbow. Only one Rainbow; but it was big and angry and I still have the photo. “Stick it out” I tell myself, but I needn’t, because I always do stick it out. It is merely an exercise in getting one’s mind alignment right. Standing there alone, with more thoughts than time, and all the time in the world to pick which ones to use, you never know if you have that alignment right. Never will.
Many hours later I am jolted by a silvery rainbow. It’s lively, but it is a small one. Later, another takes the fly as I lift it, but for the rest the fish are off the prod, and this day will remain one of wind and sun. “Meaningless. Meaningless”.
As I step out of the cab to close the last gate behind me in the gloom of evening, my senses are hit by the silage-like scent of dead, dewy winter grass, and my entire childhood washes over me in the time it takes to close the gate.
It is winter now.
With thoughts of reverse tied flies running through my head, and the recent sound of buzzers hovering in the cattails at the lake shore, I tied up these midge emergers:
Upside down: you know….get the hook point up into the hackle and have all that steel less obvious. The other benefit, is that your tippet is tied to something under the surface. If you consider this the dropper and tie a point fly on the eye of the dropper fly you have this:
…. and then you use a very small larva pattern to sink off the point and keep the tippet sunk, but without pulling the emerger down, A larva like this:
If they take the ‘dry’, that’s great…if they take that tiny point fly (#20)…well, you’re still a hero.
Then I got to thinking about those Parasol Post Buzzers like this:
If you are unsure about these or need some convincing that they aren’t some weird experiment that might not work, I suggest you watch Tim Cammisa on the subject HERE
Right…so now that you have bought that concept…..What if you put the parasol post ABOVE a surface fly. So instead of using it to float and hold a fly just under the surface, you take my reverse tied emergers in the first photo of this post, let the CDC and Coq de Leon float them*, and add a parasol post that sticks out ABOVE the water like this:
…* a note on the float: In the top photo I was using CDC and foam to float the fly. Now we have lost the foam…that is way up in the air. So here is what we do with CDC and Coq De Leon: The CDC is wrapped in a dubbing loop (Petitjean tool and all that), with lots of bulk CDC to trap air, and a long fibred Coq De Leon feather is wound to give the fly a broad surface sprawl…both of these working in unison make this thing float like a champagne cork (AKA a DDD)
And then, if the Parasol Post is not being used as part of the imitation (i.e. this is NOT the buzzer’s white breather filaments being imitated here), then why not make it something you can really see…I mean, so obvious that you can’t miss it out there on the waves:
30 yards away.
In a fog.
When you left your glasses at home.
In the words of Zuma when he has just done something offensive: …a deep throttly , deliberate …”he he he”
We came up with a name for this bright mesmerizing thing on top that you can’t pull your eyes away from, but its not very PC. Let’s just say it is abbreviated to “NT” .
Now the “NT” gets buffeted in the wind, and makes that midge WRIGGLE beneath it.
And if you are worried that this bright thing will scare fish away, take a look at the silhouette of the fly…in other words, as seen from below, like a fish would see it:
Not so scary hey?
But is the foam a bit heavy perhaps? What if we used very bright yarn only? Or better still….brightly coloured CDC. When Marc Petitjean was here this winter I saw his bright coloured CDC and I thought to myself “Now what would you use THAT for?!”. Now I know, and I am kicking myself for not buying a pack.
But if all this is just freaking you out, and you want something that matches your tweed jacket and your wicker creel a bit better, we could just stay all conservative like and go back to this:
There you go. Is your pacemaker managing that a bit better?