This Cow Tale Is From

Fly Fishing on the Cheap

(An Unpublished Work)

Brian K. Jones - September, 2000


On the Acceptability of Dogs

In which we discover: approaching a hole properly, imagining the cast, greasing the fly, making the first cast your best cast, retrieving flies from difficult places, the importance of tree climbing and fins and snorkel, trout have short memories, characteristics of subalpine fir, strike the hole while it's hot.

The brush parted and the hole appeared, dreamlike, framed above by the deep green of the fir trees, below by the encroaching willows. The small cascade fell, white and foaming into the deep green water where the big trout dwelled. In a flash of silver- brilliant energy, a fish magically appeared, arced into the air towards an unseen insect, then fell back to the water, its splash vanishing quickly in the current. I stepped onto the gravel bar at the lower end of the hole. There were no tracks. I was at last ahead of Angus and Bernie. I looked up toward the riffle. A second fish rose clear out of the water, struck, and fell back to the surface. At the same instant the right side of the pool boiled as a large fish surfaced, exposing its ample dorsal fin. This was it. This was the hole I had dreamed of. Frantically, I pulled the line out through the eyelets of the rod, the hastily tied knot on the end of the line catching at every opportunity. Angus would be shamed by this moment. His stories would fall flat on the water when he heard of the outcome of this hole. It only required one cast, one perfect cast at the base of the white water. The seventy-five dollar rod was up to it. I was certainly up to it.

Another fish exploded to the surface. I imagined the trajectory of the line, arcing upward toward the top of the hole. I imagined the gentle presentation of the fly, the number 16 Adams that so perfectly matched the mayflies hovering innocently over the still water at the base of the pool. I imagined the flash of silver as the fish struck. Certainly the largest fish in the hole would attack first, and it was vital that my first cast be my best. I began to let out line, false casting, over my head. The gap between the trees behind was surprisingly large, and as the line arced towards its target I was amazed at the ease with which Angus would be devastated.

Good lad that Angus, I thought. It wasn't his fault that he was such a bore. I'd been much to hard on him. He wasn't such a bad fellow, just unlucky, or stupid. That was it, he was stupid. So like him really to take the easy hole at the end of the trailhead, sit their, smoke his cigar, and flail at the water with that ridiculous one thousand dollar rod and reel.

What's that, I thought, pausing for a moment, watching the line go slack and the fly fall limply at the bottom of the pool. No grease on the fly. I found the small tin of Muceline tucked into my pants pocket, slipped my fingers down the line until they encountered the fly, dried it against my shirt, and applied a small amount of floatant. "No half baked attempts on this one," I said aloud, admiring another fish leaping high into the air.

The hackle bristles shimmered with the application of the oil, sticking straight out from the shank of the hook. Another fish surfaced, its remarkable dorsal fin and back remaining in view for a full second. I couldn't wait another moment. Letting out line, I imagined the pull of the fish. Determining my distance, I imagined the strike. Casting, I imagined the dramatic fight of man against aquatic beast in the pristine purity of this mountain brook. But most of all I imagined Angus's utter humiliation, his complete devastation, the apologies, the admissions, the exoneration. These I imagined clearest of all.

The line arced perfectly toward its target. The leader glistened in the sunlight. The fly sparkled along its silver, gleaming, well-oiled hackles. I had imagined everything, all of it perfectly in my mind, everything of course, except for one thing. I hadn't imagined the dog.

It was Luther. The beast appeared out of nowhere, crashed through the willows, launched himself from the sand bar and flew into the air toward the heart of the hole, a chaotic trail of severed tree limbs, twigs, leaves, rocks, mud and clumps of grass following close behind. The trajectory and timing of his jump was such that collision of dog and fly was imminent if I did not react immediately. Furthermore, the coincidence of dog and fly arriving at fishing hole at the same instant implied a relationship. It was possible that the dog was an insectivore; however, I doubted that a single, one-winged number 16 Adams would produce such a reaction from a 200 pound beast. Of more immediate concern was the fate of my fly should it be driven into the river bottom by a carelessly placed paw. Hence, I decided to retrieve the fly prior to impact, but I was too late. I pulled on the line and it became lodged in the muzzle of the dog and my attempt to retrieve same was met with a miniscule turning of the head and a mournful "yay- yawoooo" from his mouth. It was only then, with both dog and fly hooked together and suspended in air, that I finally realized the severity of the problem. I decided to let out line.

The collection of paws, legs and fur descending toward the water would have struck a very comical chord were they not headed for my fishing hole and were they not now attached to one of my favorite flies. It was only in this last instant of descent that I discovered Luther's motivation for attacking the hole. It was not, as I had supposed initially, simply to wreck it, rather it was his intention to steal it. Directly above the water his mouth opened, his eyes fixed on something below the surface and his head lunged downward. A fraction of a second later the pool erupted in a silver cacophony of damp confusion. Luther's head submerged briefly below the surface and the waves from the explosion lapped against my pant leg. For a moment there was calm, then the triumphant head of the dog appeared, streams of water cascading off his head and sides, number 16 Adams firmly affixed in nose, and a large limp cutthroat trout (slightly smaller than our average catch) held tightly between his jaws. It was a magnificent spectacle, but one that did not interest me in the slightest. The dog had ruined the hole. Furthermore, he had my fly and I wanted it back

This of course brings us to the subject of retrieving flies from difficult spots. Fly hooked in a dog nose is something of a rare problem for the average fly fisherman, but the situation is not dissimilar to fly hooked in log or small tree. The easiest way to fetch a hook is to go and get it. That is why tree climbing is an important skill to develop for the Cheap Fly Fisherman and also why I always keep snorkel and swim fins in the trunk of my car. This particular situation represented some unique challenges, however, because the prudent man would not want to be within a furlong of Luther at the instant that the fly was removed.

When retrieving flies from inaccessible locations the basic rule is to remove the fly in the opposite direction from which it entered "the snag". The reasoning behind this is simple. If you initially became snagged by pulling the hook into the snag, pulling it more will only imbed it deeper. To release the hook, the objective would be to push the hook out, or pull it out from the opposite direction. Luther, in this case "the snag", had been more-or-less running away from me at the time of hooking. Now he was looking directly at me and if theory held true, all one had to do was to pull smartly on the line and the fly would pop out with a minimum of harm.

In this particular case, the snag would be royally pissed if there was any flaw in the plan, so, instructing Luther to stay, and backing up slowly, I let out line until I stood on the far bank of the river, next to an unusually tall subalpine fir with neatly spaced limbs that could be quickly climbed.

Luther stared at me from across the pool, absently gumming his fish. I reeled in line slowly until it was taut, then smiling sympathetically, pulled hard on the rod. The result was instantaneous. Luther's head lifted sharply off the ground, his eyes widened, he opened his mouth and the valley was filled with his lonesome yowl. I released the tension. Fortunately Luther continued to stay. I offered him comments of encouragement.

It was a puzzle. I couldn't loosen the fly and I couldn't break the line, not without risking dog attack. It was possible that the angle of entry of the hook was somewhat different than anticipated. I tried a different tactic. Sometimes if a fly won't come out of the snag (Luther) by pulling, it will come out easily if you firmly roll cast the slack line beyond the snag so that the fly pulls in the opposite direction. Because we had demonstrated unequivocally that the fly was firmly imbedded in the other direction, this seemed like the only logical course to follow. I determined to try this out.

I let out line so that there was enough slack to effect a large roll cast between Luther and myself. Ears back, eyes narrowed, the dog looked at me suspiciously. I flicked the line toward my target. A large bulge of excess line shot down its length, passed over the head of the dog and yanked on the fly in the opposite direction. That did it. The dog yelped, leaped into the air, the fly came loose. I jerked. The fly shot into the tree above me. The dog made his move. I tossed the rod into the willows and dashed up the tree to safety an instant ahead of his slavering jaws. Fortunately, after circling the base of the tree and growling for about twenty minutes, Luther lost interest in me and drifted off. I sat in the tree in silence for several minutes, much relieved.

One of the nice things about trout is that they have short memories. I had been sitting in the tree for no more than ten minutes when I noticed the first tentative boils from the pool below. Shortly the hole would be as good as new, and I could enjoy it, like none of this ugly incident had ever occurred.

But there was still the difficulty of the fly in the tree, which I gauged to be approximately fifteen feet above me in a northerly direction. The Cheap Fly Fisherman cannot abandon a prized dry fly, even if it was a bit worn. I began to climb. The arced fly line led to the leader which directed me toward the fly, unfortunately lodged on the far end of long limb hanging far out over the water. From this vantage, standing a full twenty feet above the ground, I could see multiple rings on the surface of the water. I quickened my pace.

The ultimate retrieval of the fly posed a new dilemma. The limbs were narrow, and the fly was at their end. I put my feet on two limbs near the trunk of the tree and holding the limb on which the fly was hooked with my hands, began to edge my way outward. There was a noticeable bending of the limbs with each incremental advance and after several feet I decided to rest and reevaluate my plan. Then I heard voices from below.

"Well, well," came Angus' booming voice. "A fishing hole that warrants my abilities."

"My, yes," agreed Bernie. "Look at all those fish."

"Now young Bernard," Angus proclaimed royally. "Observe as an expert applies his unique skills to this idyllic setting."

"But cousin Angus," Bernie objected. "I have observed your unique skills all morning. You haven't let me fish a single hole."

"Patience, young friend," Angus continued patronizingly. "One must learn, before one can do."

"Well one is getting pretty bored," whimpered Bernie.

"All in good time," Angus said. "All in good time."

If it is possible to hear someone sulk that is precisely the sound that I heard, wafting through the trees. There was a quiet humph, followed by the sound of nothing at all. This combined with the swish of line quickly extended by Angus' false casts, led to a rather somber silence over the pool, over which I commanded an outstanding view.

By now the pool had entirely regained its vigor and large rolling boils appeared upon the surface continuously and were whisked away by the current at the bottom of the hole. My situation was complicated. I could see no way of extricating myself from the tree with dignity until they had completed their exploitation of the hole, and the prospect of being marooned on top of the tree while they caught fish after fish made me ill. But I had no desire to become the butt of some often repeated fishing story. I had no alternative other than staying put. Being the philosophically minded person that I am, I settled in for the duration.

However, holding my ground was no cinch either, the situation in the tree having deteriorated considerably over the past few minutes. In my zeal to retrieve my fly I had climbed out as far along the limbs of the tree as their diameter, gravity and the length of my legs would allow. The first two factors had resulted in considerable sagging. The third represented a more serious problem. The subalpine fir, by its nature, sprouts radiating limbs from its trunk at regular intervals. Near the trunk these limbs are close together, affording excellent footholds. Further from the trunk they are farther apart and, holding the limb above with both hands, one is forced to spread one leg forward and the other back in ever increasing amounts. Because of the considerable sag in the support structure, it was evident that all three limbs were necessary to support my weight, but I had extended to such a limit that I found myself doing the splits - assuming a most awkward pose. This was growing increasingly uncomfortable and I wished that Angus, blowhard that he was, would cast his stupid line and get on with it.

"Oh silly me," Angus said, retrieving his line. "I forgot to grease the fly."

"Oh just throw the stupid fly, you imbecile," I whispered from the tree.

That was just like Angus to draw out a moment like this. Stupid fool, everyone knows that you must attack the hole while it's hot. Frenzied feeding is nothing to dally about with. By this point my hip joint had become quite painful and the stretching sensation in my legs reminded me of the final instant of tension before ripping the leg off of a cooked chicken.

"Good lad, your friend, Bernie. Nice enough fellow and all that. Good of him to let me come along. Perhaps I've been a bit rough on him," Angus said.

He began to cast again. Evidently the fly was now properly dressed. I could have doused it with a whole bottle of floatant in the time he took.

"I could teach him a great deal about fly fishing if he wasn't so stubborn about everything. Oh well," he sighed. "Some people are just that way. Insecure, you know. Of course he'd be much better off if he set fire to that rod of his."

"I'll set fire to you, you pompous walrus," I screamed beneath my breath. "Throw the stupid fly, you idiot."

"Let the line out slowly," Angus continued. "Measure the distance, gauge the wind. You have to imagine everything in your mind in a situation like this, Bernie, every detail."

"Oh for Pete's sake," I whispered.

Then, quite suddenly there was a horrible sound. It was a sharp tearing crack, a sickening ripping sound that vibrated through my body from tip to toe. The vision of the chicken's dismembered body flashed before my eyes as the first tree limb swatted me smartly in the face.

"Oh my God," I shouted. "It's my leg."

It was not my leg, of course, it was the last gasp of the tree limb, and that sensation of flying wasn't flying at all, rather the effect of gravity on an unsupported mass. The feeling of anxiety, however, was completely justified because the swish of branches against my face indicated that impact with something was imminent. This thought occurred to me only when I crashed through the last tree limb and spotted the water a few feet below. I noted, thankfully, that it was rather deep, and was surprised to see a small mayfly attached to a tapered leader arching through the air right next me and aiming for the same spot as I. This was the last thing that I remembered, because in the next instant, my world erupted in an enormous cold splash. I submerged completely, hit gently against the bottom, then bobbed to the surface. Water streamed from my face for several seconds and the world was a cold blur, until finally most of the water drained away and I stared across the hole at the astonished expressions of Angus and Bernie. Very quickly, the astonishment vanished from Angus's face, the eyes narrowed, the mouth closed, arced sharply upward and he spoke to me with complete contempt.

"You idiot," he said. "You've spoiled the hole." And he walked away.

I was dumbfounded. That was it. That was all. If that was the best he could do after all I had been through, well, the hell with him.

"Are you alright?" Bernie asked, concerned.

"Quite alright, thank you," I said, standing fully upright for the first time. It was only then that I noticed that I still held the tree limb in my left hand and if memory served me adequately, at one time my number 16 Adams had been attached to the end of that same tree limb. I checked, and sure enough, there it was, just as pretty a little fly as you would ever want to see, one wing and all. I removed it from the limb, dried it, applied floatant and retrieved my rod, primed to attack the next hole.

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1999 by Brian K. Jones

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