I’m obsessed with a fish I’ve never caught. Hell, a fish I’ve never fished for. Okay, that’s not entirely true. I did fish for them once in a younger and more misguided era and gave them a quick poke with an ultralight spinning rod and some Salmon eggs. I know, I know, spare the crucifixion. It was a blissful moment of ignorance, but to reiterate my opening statement, I didn’t catch a damn thing. The sad truth is that I am not that far removed from successfully stocked and reproducing streams in the small, cool, rocky streamed mecca that is Oklahoma.
To my east, about 2 hours, is the tail water of Broken Bow Lake known as Lower Mountain Fork, a 12 mile stretch that has become a well maintained habitat with regularly scheduled stocking that has begun to yield a reproducing population year round, a veritable success story if you will. To the north and west I have the Upper Blue River, whose cool waters are fed from underground spring that originates somewhere up north and has a stretch from November to March with regular stockings, but does not hold a steady population throughout the year like the Lower Mountain Fork. This occurs for reasons of which I am uncertain, but more than likely has something to do with water temperature and the amount of oxygen.
Maybe I should have done some more research before I started to pretend to write a book like my heroes Gierach and McGuane, and to provide you with a little better insight to my situation and knowledge of my local fisheries. If you have not yet gathered, I am new to both of these endeavors of chasing fish and writing whatever this is sure to turn out to be. Plus, I am more of a Chris Curtin kind of guy myself. Trust me, look those authors up and thank me later. Oh, by the by, if you haven’t already surmised from my less than noble and knowledgeable jibber-jabber, I am talking about Trout fishing.
Thank the Lord for oil changes! That is how this all began, an oil change. You see, I have to get my regular service done on Saturday mornings and this Saturday morning happened to be somewhere in the late summer/pre-fall/near the second summer season we have here in southeastern Oklahoma. This just happens to be dangerously close to the stocking season of the Upper Blue River that I am now accustomed and to the only season that matters here, deer season. Naturally, after the service, I leant myself to the local farm and home store and shopped their wonderful sporting goods section in search of those last minute, absolute musts a hunter desperately needs. Looking back, Lord only knows how I made it through last season without hooks to hang my junk on in the tree stand.
So, here I am wading through the wares of grunt calls, burlap concealment and cherry flavored doe estrus, and there she shines, the pique of my curiosity. I said, "What the heck is that? Why in the hell do you need a rod that is nine feet long? It’s a fly rod!" Interestingly, I had never actually stopped and looked at them, but for some strange reason I am convinced I've always wanted to try it. $22.50 for a whole rig, hell I should have gotten “always” interested in this a long time ago, this stuff is cheap; Poor, ignorant soul. Long story, longer, I bought it.
I was so proud that when I reached home, I just had to brag to my bleary eyed, freshly pregnant wife as she waded the early Saturday minutiae of howling pancake orders, leftover pizza boxes, and a doofus husband with this new contraption in hand. I was as proud as an idiot dog with the neighbors half eaten Croc in his mouth. My wife would say, “Oh cool… Where is the line? How do you cast it? How do you reel it? What kind of fish do you use it on?” She loves to string together questions in that fashion.
She likes to “know all the things” in her words. She is a beautiful, understanding woman and my biggest cheerleader when it comes to my hair brained endeavors. I, on the other hand, get lost in all the syllables spewed at me and can only compute minor amounts of information at a time. So, “I’ll have to order some fly line,” is my reply. What a laugh. You don’t just type in your google search bar and order fly line.
If you are an astute fly fisherman and are still reading this, you know well why a beginner with less than entry level knowledge doesn’t just order any old fly line. What about line weight? Weighted forward? Floating line? Double taper? Leader? Tippet? What in the world happened to 15lb braided Trilene? As fortune would have it, I am not easily discouraged and have a proclivity for obsession, especially when it comes to something that has so quickly absorbed my attention after all these years of curiosity. I thought, “This line looks pretty big and it’s weighted, so I wonder how many reels you can spool with this stuff. 1? One freakin' reel!! The dadgum cheaper stuff costs more than a regular fishing line and that crap spools a whole bunch of reels!! Hell, the cheap line costs more than the rig I just bought. Well, I’ve come this far, so Rio WF-5-F it is.”
The following week at work I was still so proud of my find and I was bragging to any and every one that would listen. During my incessant braggadocio, a co-worker offered me the opportunity to score another deal, but I felt it was too good. I had just entered a deal for an Okuma 4/5 weight reel that already had some line on it for twenty bucks. Man, at this rate I am gonna be loaded up with gear for next to nothing. I slapped the new line I had just bought on the Okuma and that reel on the rod I had just bought and set the reel that came with the combo back as a spare with the older line on it. I thought, "By God I am ready to roll! Um, I need flies. Hell, I need to learn to cast this thing too."
I started watching videos on the beginning techniques of fly fishing after work and then decided that putting the blasted thing in my hands and whirling it around the yard was the best way to learn. I’m a hands-on learner, reading about and watching only confuses me further when it comes to something that is a physical activity. So, out in the yard I go. Your yard is a good place to practice if you don’t have water nearby. The tension from the grass helps mimic the surface tension of water, which is good for working your back cast. Now, what do I tie on here to practice with? I grabbed some monofilament line from my tackle box and rooster tail jig and cut the hook off of it so it wouldn’t hang up in the grass or me and my soft parts.
After about an hour of flinging and flailing and cuttin’ and hackin’ like a blind dog in a meat house (as my eloquent Uncle David Joe likes to say) and taking shots to the head, neck, legs, back, and arms from the jig, I started to gain some bearing. I also learned later on that you don’t put something with that much weight on the end of your line. Turns out that's what the damn weighted line is for, ya know, to propel the weightless things you put on the end, the flies. The ten and two concept makes sense and sinks in. Keep the rod tip high and stay in rhythm. Rhythm? Baby, I’ve got rhythm for days! I got so much rhythm I’d make that little shoe shine boy do back flips, a Johnny Cash reference for the unlearned!
Another thing to think about is watching your back cast. Don’t get in too much of a hurry, but don’t lag in the back and forward cast. Try to keep a nice, relatively uniform half circle in the line. Keep the rod tip up until your fly starts its descent then follow it to the water to let it lie gently, not disturbing the surface and causing a ripple. Mend, strip, and repeat. Man, I am really getting the hang of this! Then, OW!! Dammit, that jighead to the back of the ear freakin' hurts like all hell!!
I spent the better part of the next eighteen months reading and studying the art and researching and buying the gear I could before I ever set foot in a trout stream, but not before I fished. The first fly I ever got was given to me by an older gentleman in a Cabela’s. The local store, and by local I mean an hour and a half from my house because I live in BFE, hosts free casting classes the last Sunday of every month and a community tying circle every Saturday morning. They were a great bunch of fellas, as most fly fishermen are, and I got about an hour worth of information and pointers before the group I was with grew impatient and were more interested in leaving and heading to Top Golf, but in
the end I felt like an excited little kid. Partly because of the excitement of making new friends and gaining so much information, but mostly because, as I have read and learned from tiers at conventions, you always give a kid a fly not an adult. However, these guys were super helpful and in the end I walked away with a purple and black Chubby Chernobyl like a little kid skipping down the aisles with my lollipop.
This was in mid January and it would be 2 weeks later before I got the opportunity to fling my new bug around, but what a glorious experience it turned out to be… My little family and I did what we do most weekends and headed to our leased land in the Oklahoma edge of the Kiamichi Mountains. We have free reign over 6,000 acres that boasts some great hunting and has some really excellent small streams that are fed by underground springs, so they stay pretty cool year round. So, the urge got the best of me. I wanted, nay, needed to get out in the water and see what I could do in the water. There are only so many grass bass, tree trout and stray cats a man can hang into while practicing before the real thing screams with wanton desire to be caught or in my case cast to.
Now it is February in Oklahoma. It is fairly chilly and I decide to slip into one of these spring fed creeks with sans shoes, socks and waders. Yea buddy, 40 degree water temps in my bare feet and rolled up britches. At this time I didn't own waders nor wading boots, so I am going full hillbilly here! Once you get over the initial stinging pain of the cold and your feet and legs go numb, it’s a walk in the park, or a walk in the creek, rather.
So here I am slinging and slapping water, snagging trees and bushes, and wrapping line around myself that takes surgical precision to undo. You all know, I am having the time of my life. A long story short, I didn’t catch a thing but I learned a lot. The most important lesson I learned, however, is why it is a bad idea to wet wade into water so cold it numbs the extremities. I climbed out of the creek and sat on a log to let my feet and legs dry and when I raised my foot to put on my sock there was a substantial amount of blood on the ground right where my foot had previously rested. Strange, I thought. Did I step on a small woodland creature and squish it into oblivion? Oh! There is the culprit, a three inch gash in the bottom of my foot that I must have sustained from one of the jagged rocks in the stream bed. Good thing my foot was completely numb or that might have hurt.
I revisited this stream later in the spring when the water was still cold. I mean way too cold for my pansy feet to wet wade with my muck boots and an enthusiastic wife who, for some reason, likes to hang out and watch me behave like a child. Courtney sat just shy of the water on a low water crossing concrete slab that had been poured by the lumber company that owns our lease, snapped photos, and cheered me on as I missed fish after fish. Yes, you read that right. I was missing fish, which means I was also getting strikes. I was using the same black and purple chubby from before and it was accompanied by a few more I had bought, along with a couple tied in the Royal Wulff variety with a brown foam body, olive chenille, and a little red in the abdominal area. These are both panfish slayers, by the way, but I digress.
I swung and missed and swung and missed, in a fashion reminiscent of Casey’s famous at bat, for the better part of an afternoon. Then it hit me. You can’t set a hook with a limp line. I was releasing the line with my stripping hand when the fish would strike which would relieve the tension in the line and not allow the hook to firmly set. So I focused intently on my stripping hand. Stripping in line ever so gently as to not create drag on the fly but keep the line tight through the drift. Then… It happened! My black and purple chubby drifted alongside a rock and with the greatest of ease and like a flying trapeze it curled into the little eddy I had been targeting.
If you don't know, an eddy is a water feature created when structures in the water or drop offs or troughs obstruct the flow enough that the swift water will actually turn and push back upstream then curl around again and flow back out in the natural direction of the current. This creates a swirl in the water (like a toilet bowl), that is conducive for trapping whatever may be being carried by the current momentarily, thus creating a easier target for an opportunistic fish. Ok, ok, enough education, back to the action!
My chubby swings in the eddy and WHAM! FISH ON! We battle! He shoots right, then left, then upstream, then back to the eddy, then back out but his efforts are in vain because I am locked in with predatory tact and laser precision. As he comes to hand I am enveloped with the splendor and joy of Christmas morning. I have just landed my very first fish on the fly. A magnificent three inch Green Sunfish.
Thanks for reading!
Follow us on Instagram: