The question is not how to fish, but why you do it. The author and his fishing buddies do it out of necessity. It’s more important than life and death to them to escape the human world, step in to water and wave a stick. Left on the shore is their misery and worries. Standing in the water they find freedom, healing and occasionally a fish.
Battles are lost and won with tongue in cheek and always celebrated with mountains of cake and an endless stream of fresh espresso coffee. To the band of brothers it’s more important who you fish with than how big the fish is; except for the ones lost.
You may not learn a lot about catching more and bigger fish, but reading these stories is like holding a mirror up in front of yourself getting a little wiser. The small why is a big one.
- This artickel is written by Danish photojournalist Søren Skarby
Let it rain
The Bricklayer and I were having an argument. We had just landed on the shore of the channel and were rigging our rods when it broke out. It wasn’t loud and agitated, just imagine two old salmon fishers discussing which of the old river keeper’s daughters are the prettiest and you’ve got the level and picture. Normally we get along without any differences and are both pretty tolerant but this time we had hit the high water mark. The controversy wasn’t about life and death it was much more crucial. We debated the weather or to be more specific the weather forecast.
In the days before the Internet and smart phones things were a lot less complicated. There was one authoritative source of the weather and we listened to it in silent respect every hour at the end of the radio broadcasted news.
Our country is so small that if a low pressure area moves just a few miles things won’t turn out as the meteorologists have predicted and you can find yourself standing in strong winds and heavy rain where it was supposed to be sunny. That has made us curse a shower of meteorologists more than once and talking about burning one of them as an offer to the weather gods, but as I once pointed out to The Bricklayer, they burn pretty badly when wet.
Things changed a lot when the world and especially the weather forecast turned digital. We have become Internet junkies when it comes to weather and current. I have to admit that I open at least one weather app in the morning and do it again several times during the day and in the days before a weekend when we usually go fishing it becomes nearly obsessive.
There are four websites that need to be consulted ahead of a fishing trip and that can sound a bit over the top but it makes sense. Two websites for the wind, one for the water level and most importantly the current is examined and discussed before we make the final decision about where to go.
It matters. I know that if the wind is right I can cast exactly five degrees to the right of the green buoy in the middle of the channel. That will make my fly swing in the current to the spot where the seatrout often are, but only if the current is eastbound and strong enough.
That’s why we study the weather forecast so meticulously again and again, there are quite a few factors that have to peak before everything is honky dory. Additionally, in late spring and early summer it has to be dark before the fun starts.
Why the trout very often stand in the same place is still a mystery to us, it can’t be seaweed or a slightly deeper hole. The thing is that all the “furniture” is moved around on the seabed every winter. Storms followed by really strong current can change everything.
We wade out one day on a meadow of seaweed and after a storm everything is covered in sand. That will again change after a storm that doesn’t have to happen in our area. The Baltic Sea is so small that heavy weather in the other end can create strong current in ours. Researchers in sea currents must be pulling the last few strands of hair out of their heads because of that small pond we fish in.
In spring there’s a kind of weather that keeps everybody indoors and me rushing out to the channel, rain. Not just a little rain, but pouring heavy rain and not too much wind. Rain that continues for hours and makes the world one big wet blur.
The rod is rigged on the dining table and I dress in waders in the living room it’s not fun to put your waders on standing in the rain. There’s no coffee gear in the bag only an insulated cup with ready-made coffee and some chocolate to keep me going. Then I jump in the car and drive the four miles to the channel.
Now I’ve got it all to myself nobody is stupid enough to go out in a weather like that except for one crazy fly fisher. I’ve seen people peaking out their windows shaking their heads when I park the car. What they don’t know is that I’m warm and dry under my wading jacket and waders and that the rain actually adds a feeling of comfort. It’s like lying in a good tent when it’s raining.
The half-mile walk to the beach on the small peninsula reaching out in the channel is filled with expectation. The cows on the meadow I have to pass have turned their rear end to the wind and calmly chew their dinner like they are meditating as cows do. Yes, it rains, but a cow has to eat and yes it’s raining, but a fly fisher has to fish.
I have to take it all in sitting for a while sipping coffee. It’s hard to see the bank on the other side of the channel through the wet curtains over the water. The sound of raindrops hitting water becomes a melody and sometimes reaches a crescendo when the rain steps up a gear or two. With a cap on and the hood of my wading jacket over it, it’s just dripping a little less than three inches from my nose.
At the end of the tippet I have tied a big bushy shrimp fly it has to be big to be seen in the very gray light that turns my vision into a black and white image with nearly no contrast. When I wade out I know that I will not be able to see any boils today, those heavy drops on the water makes it impossible, but on the other hand the fish will not see me. The weather makes me a stealth hunter armed with a thin but deadly stick.
A few steps out the current hit my legs from two sides both left and back the current takes a strange turn here. It’s hard to walk straight when your legs get pushed to the side every time you lift your feet. The trick is to do most of the walk in shallow water and then make a sharp turn to the deeper. Otherwise you have to use a lot of energy walking against the current.
I’m looking for the exact place to stand in between two lighthouses on each side of the channel. Of course the right place depends on the water level but normally it’s 10 inches more than knee deep. On my way out I’ve been casting in front of me getting more and more line off the reel. You’ll never know if a trout has decided to take a trip to the shallows and it would be stupid to spook it by wading too close. Sure it happens rarely but I’ve caught pretty good-sized fish in almost no water.
When I’ve found the right spot the meditative session starts, two back casts and then shoot the line, strip the fly back in and repeat. The only variation is the angle of the cast to the current and for how long the fly sinks before I strip it in. A perfect cast and drift will make the line straighten and the fly lift a bit in the water at the right spot and that can make me think “now”.
I’ve tried a few times that the take comes at exactly that moment and that is a triumph that is hard to describe, a flash of white light in my head is the closest I can get. I don’t know for how long I stand repeating the same movements but the thought of coffee and chocolate normally brings me back to the real world, time for a break.
The green buoy is having a hard time rocking as it is in the strong current. Normally I can hear it but the sound of water hitting water is too loud. I empty the cup and fight the current finding a new spot only a few yards from where I stood before but that can make the whole difference. It does.
A few casts and the fly make a sudden stop that makes me lift the rod. The answer is some very angry headshakes that sends Morse code through my rod hand arm and brain and there’s no way I can misunderstand the words in the telegram, “Watch out. Stop. This is pretty serious. Stop”. With everything wet I have to stray from the normal tactic that is to fight the fish line in hand unless it’s so strong that it rushes off with all the loose line, but the line will probably slip from my soaked fingers.
Instead I retreat fast backwards hoping that I won’t stumble over a stone while I franticly reel in the loose line. The plan works for a few steps and then the problem is solved by the angry fish that with all its mighty power and help from the current rushes of, tight line.
It’s hard to see where the line disappears in the water because of the fading light and the thick drape of rain, this has to be done by pure instinct. First I try to reel the trout in, but my violent opponent soon makes my reel sound tormented, this is going to be tough. A new rush and then the line slacks and I feel the panic creeping in on me. Then the line gets tight again and I grasp that the fish must have been jumping without me being able to see or hear it, damn this is scary.
I need to lead it to shallow water to make it harder for it to leap.
The thing is that I can still see a fat trout hanging in the air spitting my fly out some years ago, a mental Polaroid that will never leave me.
Slowly I escape closer to the beach trying to get the trout to swim to a place where the current is weaker, but it takes another rush. It’s not as strong as the one before and I’m beginning to feel a bit confident. Well, except for the fact that I have to get the fish in the net in total darkness since I have forgotten my headlamp in the bag on the beach. “You blockhead”, I mumble and try to reel the trout in. This time there’s only a heavy weight in the other end of the line. It makes a few splashes in the surface and then there’s only the sound of the rain.
Using the net as a blind mans cane I find the fish, secure it and wade for dry land or as dry as it can be in this weather. Feeling my way down in the bag I find the headlamp and turn it on. The trout is…. For the first time I feel wet on my face and I swear that it’s rain.
By the way The Bricklayer was right I had to give in, that weather app has left my phone.