I have a fishing client, who over the years has become a friend, and who always asks a question that never fails to bring a smile to my face, not to mention a rueful shake of the head.
“So, what’s the secret fly today?” Or another variation – “Where’s the secret spot today?”
Flattered as I am, it shows a fundamental lack of appreciation for what a guide brings to the table, and the realities of the life of a fish. For starters, they don’t eat twenty four / seven like teenagers. The assumption of many fishermen also seems to be that esoteric knowledge is granted us by some dark pact with Beelzebub. We trade our souls in return for a life spent on the river, carefree and immune to the laws of economics and aging. Like Faustus, essence is exchanged for the key to mysteries, mysteries denied mere mortals and especially those who only get to fish a few times a year.
The reality, of course, is quite different. In some ways, the life of a guide could be compared to being subjected to a form of Chinese water torture. Instead of the steady drip drip drip of water on the forehead, we are exposed to the daily drip drip drip of dropped back casts, poor line control, and a stoic disbelief on the part of the fisherman that fish could actually live within three feet of the bank.
As a result, you might think that when the chance of a day off comes along, most guides would retreat to the confines of their hovels, there to explore the dark recesses to be found at the bottom of a bottle of cheap scotch. While this may be true for some, most of us are drawn, like a moth to a flame, back to the river. There is a need to reaffirm for oneself that fish actually do live where you tell your clients they do, and a good drift with a mend or two makes a difference. There is a need to see a fly presented without three feet of fly line coiled around it like a protective cobra, and to see a gentle, measured hook set rather than an excited, agricultural heave.
But there is also a need to be reminded that we all make mistakes. We like to think that we are immune to the same foibles and failings to which our clients are susceptible, but the truth is usually quite different. You also relearn that fishing from a boat is difficult. With everything that is going on, it is easy to over cast, or mess up a mend, or excitedly pull the fly away from an eager fish. There is a need to remind oneself that it is really only about getting out on the water, enjoying a few belly laughs, and not taking it all so seriously.
So the answers to the questions posited above, as revealed to me by my connection to the Dark Side, are: Whatever fly is presented to where the feeding fish are, and any spot you find yourself on the river.