Fly fishing, like all types of fishing, can be full of “misses.” And with every “miss” there is usually a barrage of excuses that help explain such occurrences.
If we stay outdoors enough, we soon discover that “missing” can be a natural occurrence. Some examples of my life’s near misses may include both hunting and fly fishing experiences. To me, they all seem to run together.
One hot September Saturday afternoon, I expired 16 straight rounds of high-powered #8 shot and nary dusted a dove’s tailfeather. My poor lab looked at me after each consecutive “missed” shot with an exasperated and disgusted look, and I felt ashamed for both of us. I reasoned that I probably needed a new shotgun, along with booking an appointment with my ophthalmologist.
Several years ago, I “missed” a nice trophy buck. If that deer had been a tad closer, stood broadside, and not walked away from me, and if I had practiced my breathing instead of panting before I pulled the trigger, which, by the way, should have been adjusted to a lighter setting, I would have scored. Realistically, I probably got a severe dose of buck fever and “missed” the shot.
Many years ago, we were cruising the swamps of Lake Marion in lower South Carolina and had successfully caught bream and some bass by throwing popping bugs near the base of cypress trees. Finally, it was time to leave, as the darkness would be upon us soon, and this was the last place I wanted to be after dark. After an hour of cruising around the swamp, I looked at my buddy and confessed I must have “missed” a couple of the important landmarks and confessed that we were lost.
I used the word “missing” a lot as a verb trying to explain and justify to my wife why I had just charged a new fly rod on our credit card. I tried to correlate the action of this new rod I had cast at the fly shop to a rod I sold 15 years ago and had really “missed.” The flex on this new rod was similar and smooth, and I really had been attached to that old rod and fought depression for weeks after selling it. The plan almost worked, except that she noticed the separate fly reel purchase on the statement weeks later.
Being primarily a “die-hard” fly fisherman, I have discovered that “missing” a fish is a part of life and I have learned to accept it. That doesn’t mean I always have to like it, but the fact is, it’s an integral part of my fishing.
Over the years, I have tried to develop a standardized mental Dewey Decimal System catalog of excuses when I “miss” a fish. I revert to regularly.
I remember casting to an extremely large rainbow feeding on top (I can’t qualify his size because I didn’t catch it) but seeing the wake and rings he left after rising brought chill bumps.
I waded quietly to where I could place myself in the correct position to allow the fly to land feet above him, careful to cast only once and not line him. This would allow the fly to land softly, then gently ride the currents down. I carefully watch as he continued to feed. Like music, I felt a connection to this fish and could understand his rhythm of rising and feeding.
Finally, it was time. A perfect cast, the fly drifted slowly into his feeding lane and his body gently rose, breaking the surface first with his head and then his dorsal fin. He was huge and I was enamored with the sight. As he tilted up and opened his mouth to inhale my dainty little yellow fly and submerge, I lifted the rod up and could feel his strength pull back, the surge and power of a large fish. He was mine.
I instantaneously began thinking about all the pics of this monster I could send back to my buddies during these brief split seconds of action. And then it was over. My fish saliva-slimed fly floated downstream as my leader straightened out, and I stood there in cold thigh deep water. Broken-hearted, fishless, as my mind headed down the fish “missing” trail of thoughts about which excuse and reason I could use for this miss.
Lucky for me, I had a plethora of them.
Using barbless hooks, I accidentally gave it slack, and the hook dislodged during the hook set.
I am sure I just lifted the rod tip too high when setting the hook and surely did not perform a big fish” hook set.”
When I lifted and pulled the rod tip up, my tippet stretched excessively out of proportion.
The fly floatant made the fly too slick and it just slid out the fish’s mouth.
Maybe I had hung an unseen underwater snag, and it really wasn’t that fish I had almost caught after all.
The rocky river bottom is somewhat slick and I may have accidentally and unknowingly slipped backward without realizing it during all the fish-hooking commotion. Next time I’ll wear my wading shoes with a cleated bottom for more foot-gripping action instead of just plain felt.
I should have checked the fly more carefully when I got hung in the rhododendron and had to climb up the bank to dislodge it. Or when I hooked the lower limb of a sycamore tree or caught a piece of bark off an old water-soaked log behind me, not to mention the wet leaves the fly dragged underwater while I crossed over a small rock dam.
Depressing as it may sound, in its haste to catch a meal, maybe the fish just “missed” my fly outright and I happened to snag the body instead. I would never repeat this excuse out loud.
But there is always a silver lining. I still had my fly. It was a perfectly proportioned upright winged fly tied 35 years ago when my eyesight was much better. I had kept it in the fly box with several others like it for good luck all these years. Although it may have gotten damp a few times, there wasn’t much rust on the hook point when I tied it on.
“Missing” a nice fish does lend itself to bragging rights. I can proudly boast about the large fish I “missed” while my buddies steadily caught smaller ones.
Being a repeat “missed” offender on fish, one of these days, I will man up and say, “I missed it,” with absolutely no excuse. Either way, I’ll keep fishing and practicing my “misses.” And maybe I will write a story about my “saltwater miss” excuses one day.