Sunday, September 13, 2015

Fly Angler: Headhunter or Head Case?

First Thing first: Definitions, for the reader without a background in flyfishing slang.  "Head Hunting" refers loosely to the practice of pursuing fish that are poking their heads out of the water in the act of eating something floating on the surface.  In the context of fishing, it has nothing to do with attempting to separate the brainless head of another human being who lacks the courtesy to avoid the water you've been fishing for nearly an hour as they shirtlessly float through in their rental raft with a Coors Light in each hand.  (I nearly mentioned something about these rafts being slightly less unwelcome when one or more passengers are bikini-clad, but that's not always true and might be offensive to some, so I avoided mentioning it.)  Or the other angler who's positive that the only fish in the river are in your immediate proximity.  There's a special DSM-V classification for these poor souls: accute rectocranial impaction.

Next Thing: Declarations.  I go through phases of obsessive and compulsive fascination with flyfishing, especially fly rods and fly lines.  Currently, I'm stuck in the gravitational vortex of a black hole with "moderate action" rods at its heart.  This trajectory was triggered by two things that recently coincided:

  1. While fishing with a guide in August, I brought a relatively stiff Sage Approach 3-weight rod.  Dan also had me use his 3-weight Temple Fork Outfitters (TFO) Finesse Series rod.  The day was an exercise in casting for me, and I had better "feel" for the physics and mechanics of my line movement with the TFO.  The wheels began to turn.  Perhaps my style and limitations are more suited to something a little softer than a modern fast action rod?
  2. I became aware of a new series of rods introduced by Sage: The MOD.  This is described by their marketing materials as a moderate-action rod.  Experts claim that this new rod occupies an expensive slot between Sage's slower-action (very bendy and more delicate) CIRCA rods and their fast-action (stiffer and more powerful) ONE rods.
If you peek into the Armoury, you'll realize that I need another fly rod like I need a {insert something I don't need}.  Yet I can't stop doing Google searches and dreaming of visiting a fly shop where I could cast the MOD side-by-side with my beloved Sage Z-Axis and several other rods.  And then there's all the different fly line possibilities, which can make a huge difference in how a rod works and feels.

In the past, these obsessive episodes have lasted six to twelve weeks.  Purchases have not necessarily decreased duration or intensity, though they often trigger more frequent periods of fishing, which can be regarded a positive side affect.  Negative side effects include lighter wallet, empty bank account, excessive credit card balances, and brief episodes of guilt.  And if your spouse is an enabler, complicated and confusing strategies are sometimes necessary to prevent negative side effects.  For example, on the recent trip to Craig, I make the terrifying discovery that the HeadHunters Fly Shop had demo units of the Sage MOD available for casting.  I bashfully accepted their offer to try their 5-weight sample, on the condition that they would not judge my casting "skills."  Much to my dismay, it felt brilliant.  After just a few minutes, I managed to do something I've never been capable of in the past: shoot out extra line at the end of a forward casting stroke.

Why dismay and despair from something so stimulating and wonderful?  Retail price: $850.00 (plus newly instituted sales/resort tax in Craig, which is somewhat off-putting given that Montana has a long and glorious history of not having sales tax.)  And my wife would have bought it for me on the spot.  But this is akin to buying a Stradivarius for an eight-year-old just starting violin lessons.  Perhaps when my abilities are worthy of such an investment, it might be worth considering.  It took a great deal of effort to convince her that I did not want to see $850+ spent on a rod until I could cast several new models side by side with my Z-Axis.  As an alternative, I've been considering a much less expensive option: another St. Croix Imperial rod.  I own short and delicate 3-weight rod that's seven feet long, specifically for fishing small creeks in Southeast Minnesota's "driftless region."  I'd love to find out how this rod, at just over a quarter of the price of the MOD, compares in feel as a 4 or 5-weight.  I'm even considering having one custom built.  But again, this is probably like asking Hellen Keller if she preferred Picaso or Van Gogh.  I'd be better served channeling my resources into improving my casting abilities before considering another rod purchase, regardless of my out-of-control thought patterns.

Thankfully, these episodes are temporary, and punctuated with bright spots.  If you look back at the morning after we arrived in Craig, I caught a dream fish.  I've had excellent training from guides on the Missouri River and felt confident as I played this fish in toward shore.  My confidence took a union-mandated break when I saw that this rainbow trout was not in the 14" to 15" slot I'd estimated, but was easily 20".  I had not brought a landing net, and fear welled up into my chest.  How was I going to land and release this beastie?  Excellent training from excellent guides allowed me to bring the fish into hand.  I barely touched the size 18 black lighting bug and it fell out of the trout's lip.  A smile transformed my face and I started glowing from my core.  I laughed uncontrollably as I knelt in ten inches of water on the boat ramp in Craig, Montana, utterly alone except for this beautiful creature, the product of 14 billion years of supernovae explosions, coalescing into a perfect moment of space, time, and gravity.

Conclusion: Head Case.

Are many other fly angler afflicted thus?

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