Friday, August 31, 2012

Good times indeed

Fishing is an education.  Like those of you who fish didn't already know this an need *me* to point out the obvious. Well, sometimes I just can't help myself.  Those lessons usually make themselves perfectly obvious, and being a relatively simple man, I just spit it as it enters me ole noggin.

"Ah...a little giardia never killed anyone..."   -MS
To that end, I had a rare opportunity last week to fish with someone who taught me more than he will ever know.  It was my honor to play "guide" for a day with a very experienced writer and fly fisherman. Thanks for fishing with me Mike!  (That would be the one and only Mike Sepelak of Mike's Gone Fishing...Again fame..)

Perhaps I should back up a bit here...  My experience fly fishing, fly tying and now writing this page is entirely self taught.  I'm not bragging at all. I am simply telling it like it is.  I took on these hobbies, and in a stubbornness that I seem to have a natural gift for, suffered through a LOT of failures to learn what ever it is that I now know.  The ugly truth is, I am still self taught, and have had few opportunities to fish with people I believe are "good" fishermen.  Because of my relative inexperience and lack of any really good mentors; I am still suffering through a lot of unknowns.  I suppose we all are, but it sure seems like I am slow to pick up the things that everyone else seems to already understand as fact, or accepted method (at least according to the majority of blogs and magazines).

So when an invitation to go fishing with a guy whom I have been reading for a while and have learned to respect, popped up in my inbox, I jumped at it.  Maybe "lunged" would be a better adjective?  Whatever...  I was stoked.

But not unlike that rod repair that I stumbled though recently for a friend, it didn't take long to figure out that I may have (again) bitten off more than I could chew.  I am a mediocre fisherman and writer at best. I try hard, but I still have a lot to learn.  It could be said, with some philosophic undertones, that I don't know a hell of a lot more than I do know.  At least I realize it.  Right?  Sure, except that I find myself in these odd positions to try and show someone around a good fishing area, and moreover: they are relying on me to provide enough local and fishing knowledge to have them enjoy the outing.  To make things worse, he had fished with Len Harris the day before.  I doubt that Len knows who I am, but everyone who fishes the driftless knows who HE is.  Len catches big fish.  Often.

No pressure.

So when I took Mike to my favorite stream, I wondered what he would think?  I know why I like it, but would he like it for the same reasons?  Would he be disappointed in the stream?  Would he go home and wonder why the hell he followed me into the middle of nowhere to fish THIS stream?  Would he think I am an asshole in real life?  Would I be able to translate my poorly self educated fishing style into a worthwhile trip for him?  So many questions, so few ways to answer them...

I often joke that I have 3 talents in life.  (1) I have a good sense of direction.  Got it from my dad, and use it often.  (2) When I set my mind to something, there isn't much that can keep me from achieving my goal.  (this occasionally translates into stubborn adherence to pursuit of goals--sometimes at costs that are beyond the end result) and (3) I have an absolute natural ability to piss people off.  It's a gift, what can I say?

I'd like to add one more talent to my repertoire:  (4) A unique ability to get myself into situations that are above my ability. Especially when it comes to fishing.

So when we finally made it to the DNR parking area, and Mike asked "What should I use? A 3, 4, or 5 weight rod?", and "What size tippet?". and "What fly should we fish with"...I think I peed myself a little.  Can't be sure though because I was sweating like a hog.  (It was 90 degrees and I was nervous...cut me some slack).

Is he hunting, or fishing?  Yes, he is.
I fumbled my way through the answers.  I only have 2 rods to choose from and it was a touch I bluffed.  With absolute conviction in my voice, I said go with nothing less than a 5wt (I didn't mention that I only had two rods, and one was a 5wt).  Tippet?  More conviction in my voice: Oh...yeah...5x (nevermind that it is all I have...) And flies?  Well...its late August and I am partial to topwater fishing, so I suggest a hopper.  (At that moment...I thanked god in heaven above that a grasshopper flew between us just as I spoke...)

With the flight of single grasshopper and a bit of bluff, I felt I had gained a little bit of "street cred".  Off to the stream.  I suggested we walk a bit downstream and work our way back to the trucks. We would start at a hole that I knew held at least one good sized fish.  Once there, I pointed out where the fish would be lying, and suggested Mike take a shot at him.  After some gentlemanly back and forth, he insisted that I go first.  I had the impression that he was waiting to get an idea of how to make this cast with all the high weeds, so I went.  I made 2 casts, and promptly missed a strike from the fish.  We both took a few more swipes at him then left this one alone, assuming that the fish had been spooked or was now too cranky to feed.

OK...whew!  At that point at least he knew there really ARE fish in this water...  I was also glad to get into the task of the day: fishing.  We fished together as much as possible, but the stream was small, and the weeds were high, with very little sign of any other fishermen having tromped through.  Guerrilla bushwhack fishing at its best.  I did my best to linger so that Mike would get the bigger holes and holding water first, but on a stream like that sometimes you find the stream by stepping in it before you see it, so I tried extra hard to make sure he had the fist shot a fishy water.

At one point, he set himself up on at the tail end of a large pool.  I could tell by his posture that he was on the hunt and had found some fish, so I hung back and watched.  The man was clearly on his game.  Low, stealthy and with buttery smooth casts...I was truly in awe.  He hooked one, then lost it just before bringing it to hand.  Sweet! He is into fish!  That is the only sure way I was going to figure out if he was enjoying himself or not...

Mr. Sepelak in his element
As he patiently waited for another opportunity, He looked over at me and half whispered, half shouted "OH MY GOD.  There must be 40 fish in this pool!".  I know, I whisper-shouted back.  And just like that, I knew that this was, at a minimum, not going to be the worst fishing he had ever done.

After a solid 3+ hours of fishing, we ended up back at our trucks, and drinking a well deserved beer.  As we broke our equipment down, my nerves had definitely subsided.  I was genuinely grateful to have made a new friend, and learned a lot just from watching him (though until now hadn't verbalized).  Those questions of insecurity had taken care of themselves.  And while the day could best be described as Epic Bushwhacking and occasionally catching trout, I think, no I HOPE that Mike enjoyed himself.

(The truth is, he is the consummate southern gentleman, so even if he hated it-he would lie to keep from hurting my feelings)

As we chatted, I was also relieved to learn that I am not the only one out there who gets frustrated with all of the folks who write about fishing, and every trip seems to be perfect.  They always catch fish, never get skunked, never seem to spend any time untying wind knots and seem to have only the best, most expensive gear...that was sent to them by the manufacturer to "test".

What I took out of fishing with Mike wasn't fully realized for a couple of days.  I eventually realized that in 3 hours of trout fishing and good conversation, I had quite successfully learned a quite a bit, unwound, unclenched my jaw and forgotten myself in midst of a great little stream, a cool fishing partner, and an experience that I truly enjoyed.

Thank you sir. Much appreciated.

Til later,



  1. honestly, it might be quite hard to find anywhere in the driftless to be disappointed in

  2. Mark, I didn’t realize that I was such an intimidating character. (Typing that elicited a hysterical giggle here, I have to say). There’s no need to downplay your choice of fishing water or your skill in placing a fly upon them. Each was top notch, exceeded only by the fine companionship. Thanks for being a terrific host and affording me an engaging opportunity on a lovely and unique stretch of water. I’d lunge at the chance to do it again.

    And I, too, thought that we were alone on that sweet little Driftless trickle, but apparently not. The fisherman you saw “…clearly on his game. Low, stealthy and with buttery smooth casts” must have been some interloper who snuck in while I was retrieving my caddis, backcast deep into the streamside weeds.

  3. Blake-couldn't agree more. The driftless offers so much that I wondered if I had picked the right one. (Not everyone likes bushwhacking as much as I do). Next time you are north of the border, let me know!

    Mike-I had an absolute blast. I was glad you were able to come up. Just a little nervous, that's all. It DID help to ease my troubled mind when we got that whole question of whether or not either of us was a serial killer out of the way though.

  4. Insert Sh*t eating grin HERE.

  5. Mark,
    Come up this way some time and we can fish a little.


  6. Len-

    Thanks so much for the invite! It would be an honor to fish with you (and learn from you).

    Be careful what you offer! You might just find yourself standing on a stream waiting for me to untangle a wind knot. :)


  7. Rest assured, Mac, that he is quite happy to wait. I speak from experience. :-)

  8. I too have had the opportunity to fish with Mike and found him to be the consummate partner - kudos to you MacLoosh for taking it in stride despite the jitters.

    I appreciate your undiluted, straight-from-the-water dialogue that tells it like it is. Keep up the good work!

  9. Wow, thanks Austin! I appreciate the show of support.

    By the way, I've been called a LOT of things in my life...but never "undiluted". Love it!