Sunday, July 24, 2016

You Know You're Doing It Right...

2:30 AM Eastern Time, Sunday July 18th... Yes, it's early, but I got about 8 hours of sleep.  I wandered into my hotel room in Syracuse, NY at about 6 PM the evening before, told my family good night, and was asleep when my head hit the pillow.

Saturday started at 4:00 AM in a hotel room in Utica, NY.  Shower, shave, pack, and into the car.  First stop: Dunkin Donuts aka "Double D."  I am a sucker for a couple of chocolate frosted donuts and a warm cup of joe with cream and sugar.  With carbs at the ready, I proceeded to the rendezvous point.  I would be meeting Bill at 6 AM.

No sooner did the donuts disappear than my benefactor arrived.  Bill Hickey is the mind and hands behind W. Jude Custom Fly Rod Company.  His name and web site were brought to my attention when I decided that I wanted an Epic 686 fly rod.  Bill built my custom "So Blue" Epic 686 rod and got it to me faster than expected.  I can say without reservation that I am completely satisfied with his work and would gladly go back to him when I want my next custom fly rod.  I'm still planning a more in-depth write up before the summer's over.

Click to enlarge - Bill's work is flawless.

Due to some family scheduling at home, I found myself with an opportunity to go fishing in Upstate New York, where I've been working on occasion for the past two years.  Lucky for me, Bill's shop isn't too far from where I've been working.  I reached out to him and he was able to meet for some Saturday morning fishing.  Also fortunate, he doesn't mind an early start.

I followed him to what he promised was some technical water.  As we hiked, we chatted about my new rod and I asked him if he'd be willing to try helping me.  Sadly, this is like teaching a pig to sing: difficult.  Nevertheless, he accepted the challenge.  When we hit the water, I watch his casting for several minutes.  He was using a custom CTS S-glass rod he built for himself, similar to mine.  I can't put my finger on it, but his cast is different than anything I've observed before.   His loops were tight and his distance formidable.  But it was a different arm movement than I'm used to.  I should have recorded some video for further study.

Sunlight still hadn't made it to the riverbed when we started tossing flies.
We found a few risers to target.  This involved some knee-to-hip depth wading in moderate current.  I am so very grateful that my wife bought me a wading staff!  The river bottom was a field stones mostly in the six- to thirty-inch size range.  In the deeper water, I found myself repeating a mantra: "Two points of contact at all times.  Make sure that forward foot is glued down."  I thought of the wading as a slightly risky full-body physical therapy session.  Not a doubt in my mind that's why I feel asleep immediately that evening.

The very interesting part of the day was this:  with each rising fish, I got a single strike.  Period.  No second chances at all.  If I missed a fish, it refused to rise again.  And miss them I did.  Out of about a dozen strikes for each of us, we each hooked perhaps 3 fish, and I was the closest to bringing one to hand.  Crazy as it sounds, this is a successful day for me.  I'm more concerned with the fact that I was able to entice a few fish into pursuit.  Later, Bill congratulated me on presenting an enticing drift.  Come to think of it, I did have a few strikes (and missed) before I remember Bill missing one.  

Lots of water to search, with lots of hidden pockets

Bill fished with me 'til noon.  He tried valiantly to explain a few things I could improve.  I'm a physics junky.  I've taken calculus-based classes in mechanical dynamics.  I understand much of the theory, but if I don't actually "feel" what's being explained, the words float around with nowhere to land.  But I listened and tried while Bill was around.  Later in the afternoon, I made a few casts that actual imparted a tactile feel for what he was offering.  When I accidentally do something right and remember how it feels, I can sometimes replicate it.  So, by the time I dragged my feet out of the river, I was no longer bouncing my fly off the end of an overpowered forward cast.  I even managed to employ a couple of Mark Raisler's tips on the reach cast... (Hehehehe.)

Bill wading in pursuit of risers near the trees
At 3, I was debating another hour.  Some small part of me knew this was not wise, so I emptied my boots, chaotically tossed me gear in the trunk, and drove away in search of bottled water, beer, and food.  You know you're doing it right when you leave exhausted and happy. 

Many thanks to Bill Hickey for his time and companionship.  Please check out his web site and Facebook pages for other examples of his work.


  1. Chris, that is a very beautiful rod for sure. Casting and learning from someone perceived as more experienced can be very rewarding. Thanks for sharing your exhaustion!

    1. It was challenging physical therapy, building balance, coordination, strength, and endurance. I will admit that I got a bit spooked once at a certain depth and current pressure. But I've learned that my wading staff has a built-in warning mechanism: it seems to start a resonant vibration when the current and depth reach a certain intensity, which is just about my physical limit.

      As far as being a student, pretty much EVERYBODY is perceived by me as "more experienced." And I do appreciate fly casting as a true form of art.

  2. The Epic is rightly named and the water looks really enticing Chris. I'd like to impart a few words of wisdom here myself. I can't take credit for it, but here goes. Never try to teach a pig to sing. It angers the teacher and annoys the pig.

    1. It warms my heart that you grasp the nature and true depth of the problem when it comes to casting lessons that involve me. Yet, sometimes I stumble into success in spite of myself. Even a stopped clock occasionally finds a nut...

  3. Its cool that you got to share some water. Nice looking stretch of stream.

    1. Sharing some water and time feels more valuable every day. I enjoy the solitude, but I'm started to need the companion ship more and more.

      "Are you lonely...?"