SO MUCH of the way I fish today began when I was very young. I have since visited new places, mastered different methods, and learned from hundreds of other anglers.
It is clear that I became an angler when I was a boy and I grew, like everyone does …but my foundation remains. I began catching sunfish and crappie on farm ponds. I used the gear that I was too young to buy and put trust in whichever adult took the time and told me what to use.
Cane poles, bobbers and rusted hooks were my only options so I accepted and did my best. As I grew and acquired the means to obtain personal items, I bought baseball cards and fishing gear ... a lot. I slowly developed my own approach to angling (and baseball), all the while reading outdoor magazines and watching fishing shows on television.
Today, almost 50 years old, the boy is still in me and he surfaces every day, whether I am on the water or not. Last week, I stood above a small pool on a backwoods stream. It was a hot, August day and the clicking sound of grasshoppers flying through the air sounded like the swarming cicadas of my youth. I was positioned in the dust of a gravel road while I tied a new leader to my 6-foot, two-weight fly rod.
The grasshoppers had been absent until recently and, on this day, they jumped, flew and made more noise than the birds. I reflected on those frequent days when I couldn’t buy worms or dig them up from the dry earth, my friends and I would precede each fishing trip with an hour of catching grasshoppers and putting them in the mason jars that my mom pleaded with me not to fill with bugs.
On this day, one landed on my leg and I cupped my hand over it, like I have done a thousand times. My hand slowly closed, changed shape and I was soon holding the insect between two fingers. Quickly, the bug showed displeasure by secreting a syrup-colored liquid from its mouth. Because of its resemblance to tobacco, I have always called it “chew spit” and as it stained my fingernail, observed that grasshoppers all over the world have the same reaction to being held.
Recognizing an opportunity to better understand the day’s angling conditions, I flicked the grasshopper into the cold, dark section of the brook and watched. Almost instantly, a trout rose and gobbled up the terrestrial treat that displayed the diminished swimming skills of any creature not equipped to navigate. One or two awkward kicks of a green leg was all it took to convince the trout of an easy meal. I sacrificed two or three more grasshoppers in the same fashion before I was ready to fish.
Not surprisingly, I selected a very small foam-bodied hopper pattern from my fly box. The size of the fly was directly related to the size of the stream and those trout that lived there. Had I been on a big river, the size of the fly would have been larger.
Flies tied with foam have become a preference of mine over natural materials like deer hair for several reasons. First, they float really well and I don’t have to change out a saturated fly after catching a few fish. This becomes ideal as my vision declines due to darkness and age.
Second, a terrestrial fly like this can’t be fished incorrectly. The buoyancy of it makes it easy to twitch, skate or drag across the water. Where small mayflies need to be perfectly drifted over fish, I can now ratchet down the precision and present a fly sloppily, at which I seem to be really good.
I landed over a dozen trout and will fly cast with grasshoppers for another month before the fish start to change their preferred menu and get harder to catch. For now, the kid in me rejoices at the nostalgia of catching a fish with “chew spit” on my fingers and a smile on my face.