An Off Wind and a Fly Hatch

 

When I was about 8 years old, my family took a trip to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.  I was already an accomplished fisherman, and had even become adept at catching sunfish with a flyrod that summer.  But fish were scarce on the U.P.  In the river, I caught only creek chubs on marshmallows and worms.  Camped near Lake Superior, I was busy helping my mother build a campfire just as the sun was setting.  Suddenly, my dad appeared, his black cattleman's hat silhouetted against the iron grey sky.  He was slightly out of breath, and went straight for the back of our wood-paneled station wagon, where he began rummaging through the fishing tackle.

 

That caught my interest.  I tugged on his sleeve and asked what was going on.

 

"There's an off wind and a fly hatch," he said, as if I should've already known this.  "Put your boots on."  It's a testimony to the seriousness of my upbringing that I was the proud owner of a pair of tall rubber boots at the tender age of eight.  I struggled to fit my ever-growing feet into my soon-to-be too small boots, squirming on the ground with my legs sticking up into the air. My father searched every nook and cranny of his giant, thoroughly disorganized tackle box.  "It's a little gray fly we need.  I don't know if I have any."  In the end, he found two flies, battered and a bit rusty, but serviceable.  He scowled. 

 

"It might work.  Maybe ... "  He stuck the two flies into the brim of his hat, grabbed his flyrod, and headed for the lake.

 

The trail to the lakeshore was brushy, winding, and steep.  The trail was almost invisible in the dark, but when we finally stumbled and clawed out from the shadow of the forest, the sky was still bright by the lake.  My dad frowned as he hurriedly strung up the old, weathered flyrod.  While he did this, I turned my eyes lakeward, and suddenly I realized that something important was going on in the world at that moment.

 

There was, as my father had said, an off-wind, blowing offshore toward the lake.  Not much more than a breeze, really - it barely rippled the water.  But the breeze was strong enough to blow insects far out into the lake, and my dad knew this.  It would draw in the fish like sharks to a chum line.  By shore in the shallows, there were small gray bugs fluttering clumsily about.  But beyond them, the lake was spectacularly alive with rising fish.  Lake Superior was calm, with only gently rolling waves.  Everywhere within my vision, the surface of the water was pockmarked with circular rings of ripples.  As I watched, agape, I saw a fish poke its head out of the water to grab a fluttering morsel.  I was astounded.  Finished preparing, my dad waded out into the lake.

 

Ever the adventurer, I followed as far as I could.  The water was crystal clear, as Superior always is, and the bottom was gradually sloped and covered with multicolored pebbles.  Fish were rising all around, but still we waded.  It was getting dark.  Suddenly I felt a cold sting as a wave slopped over the top of my boots.

 

I stopped there, cursing my too-short boots.  My father, in his hip boots, waded on.  I could hear fish rising all around me.  When I looked up, he was thirty feet away and casting, the line whistling through the air above me.  I had never seen my dad and his  flyrod in serious action, and it seemed strange and mysterious to me - more careful and smooth than flipping a popper at sunnies.  The line shot silently out lakeward, uncurled, and landed gently.  He was still then, just waiting, for what seemed like forever.  He was watching intently, neck outstretched with the brim of his hat perfectly level with the distant horizon. Waves rolled by us incessantly.  The darkness grew deeper, and the fish still rose.  Then I heard a splash, saw the long rod bend for a moment, and it was over.  My father waded back, trailing a limp and empty line behind him.

 

I remember him walking back up the trail with me, ignoring all of my questions until he'd sat by the fire a spell and smoked a pipeful of tobacco.  "But why?  Why did you quit?"

 

Finally, he spoke.

 

"We're out of flies," he said simply.  "One must've fell out of my hat on the walk down, and a fish took the other."

 

He would say nothing more on the subject, but I could tell he was pondering.  He was a man of big ideas, after all, and these kinds of problems could be avoided with proper foresight.

 

His plan came to fruition on Christmas of that same year. That year, Santa Claus kindly and presciently brought me a fly-tying kit, which started me down a path which I still follow today.  It was a spartan outfit, to be sure, with a balky vise that was tightened with a wingnut that stuck out of the jaws.  But it worked.  The first fly I made was a little gray one, and niether of us would ever run out of flies again.

 

 

 

Comments

andy's picture

For whatever reason, I hadn't read this story yet.  I don't know when you wrote it or posted it, but it really tells a good tale about our father and one small piece of his part in our Roughfishing life.  Thankfully, both of his sons have supplied him with plenty of flies over the decades...

 

That's why he had us after all  :D