Updated: May 9
Two ponds in tandem fed by the Florida river only 40 ft away...
I was slated to do a laundry list of work for a client who lived about 1/2 hr out of town. It was my kind of place... a gentrified summer cabin now inhabited permanently, nestled in the tall trees next to the river with its own pond.
It's a small community where, instead of the neighborhood kids running around in a small pack, all the dogs own the neighborhood. I was encouraged to bring Kaya while I worked. She fit in amazingly well.
It was midday. While eating my lunch on my tailgate with a tentative audience of K-9 fur kids, the owner came out to encourage me to rig my fly rod and take a few casts before heading back to the punch list. She tipped me off to a spot right off the deck. Yes the deck sits on pylons over a section of the pond... this didn’t suck.
I lined up the back cast so I didn’t bounce a bead head off her windows and I launched to a corner with a downed log. Slow retrieve, pause, twitch and repeat. My five casts were up and my net was still dry. I sighted a few rainbows but playing with me wasn’t of any interest – pond snobs. Still fixated on the corner with the downed log, I gambled the clock and decided to put on a size 16 elk hair caddis. I should note here that just above submerged log stands a Spruce with a few lower limbs jetting out over the water and only roughly 3ft above the surface. It’s summer time and it’s been a bit mothy lately, so why not try a moth imitation?
First launch landed outside of the branches that cast shadow to the water below. Not ideal but the bug is wet so play it out and don’t waist a cast. After the fly hit, I let it pause, then a twitch, then a few light tugs to emulate it pulsing. My little moth was met with an aggressive wake but no take. It laid motionless for a second before I resumed my twitch, pause and tug. Nothing. No interest. Damn.
Back to the punch list. This task included getting on the roof to fix some minor ice damage to the metal roof. I had to clip in my rope at the ridge even though my work was about mid pitch just above the dormer. Fixated on safety, I got down to business replacing roof screws and caulking vulnerable seams. When I finished up, the last thing to do was to return to the ridge and unclip my rope. I decided to straddle the ridge and take a look down at the pond. I’d spotted a few fish earlier but now I had the hawk's eye view of the entire pond. The area around the log I’d pitched to earlier had a nice drop off at the end of it, kind of a fade to dark green. I could make out a few larger rocks down in there... structure. I observed a pod in the center of the pond strait off the deck also.
This struck my curiosity as I fought to concentrate on climbing down the roof over the dormer of course. Over the dormer so if I slipped on this metal roof at least I’d have a chance to grab something before ending up on the ground and in Kathy’s roses.
It was now late afternoon after I cleaned up and packed up my tools. I had a quick check in with my client on the deck to go over tomorrow’s plan and I noticed the majority of the pond was now in shadow. I saw a few trout skimming the surface and a couple breaching in the middle, activity definitely up. I guess she could read my face, or more likely my fish brain, and grinned and said go fish.
I felt so giddy trying to re-rig my rod, I almost snapped off the tip of my 5wt while pulling it out of the back of the truck. I started with my size 16 elk hair caddis again and I was focused on the section with the log. This time I attempted a side arm cast to sling the fly well under the spruce limbs... it worked almost too well. I landed right at the bank and was able to nudge and tug the caddis just under the tree and out into the open water. My fly was twitching and pulsing down the side of the log towards the deep and now past the log over the structure. This is the spot. I know it, I saw it, I’m over it. Where is my opponent? The soggy elk hair started to sink and I withdrew it carefully without too much disturbance. Once back in the air, I gave it a few quick false casts to dry it out. My dry shake is back in the truck around the other side of the house. I at least have to do a few more presentations before I go back and get it... just make do. Next shot out not as accurate as the last but it will do. This time about 3ft outside the downed log and more of a dead drift with a random twitch. Slight retrieve into the spot – now dead drift. Here fishy fishy... come out and play... followed by a long silence of nothingness.
I caught myself groaning out of that ill feeling of being skunked and let down. You can only slightly anticipate a trout but not fully. You can think like a fish and imitate behavior but ultimately it’s their world, their call and their move. Handing them something tasty even if it’s artificial on a silver platter dropped right on their nose won’t always provoke a strike. Finicky bastards but for some reason we don’t give up. Your mind goes into the Rolodex of fly choice and presentation techniques. I know I go down the proverbial rabbit hole on how to out smart a creature that has a brain the size of a pea but powerful enough instincts to stay alive. I know, it’s an age old thing troubling man for our entire existence... but damnit, says the boy in me, I want to get one over on this fish. Maybe that’s the drive watered down from primitive to domestic... man that is.
By now the sun was starting to set and I could smell the cool air replacing the warm air from this nice summer day. I could also hear dishes clanking. My client was obviously starting to make dinner for herself and I felt I was wearing out my welcome.
It snapped me back into reality and also realizing the weight of responsibilities of my own creation. Is that it? If we were still “primitive” would I be here until I caught this fish? Damn right I would. And another question, if that were the case, would I have the same intensity as I do now and/or how would it differ?
On the drive home the dog was passed out from her new friends and all the shenanigans that I’m sure went on. It gave me a smile to see her wiped out. My earlier thoughts were somersaulting in my head the entire way home and into the evening. I finally answered my own questions. First: am I dehydrated? No. Have I been in the sun too long today? Maybe. Do I spend way too much time alone? Maybe so. I actually laughed out loud when I went through that “self check”.
But here is my answer to the main question: Yes – that primal drive is alive and well. The level of intensity is instinctual – not contrived – and just like the instincts of the trout... it is to keep them and I alive.
That night at the vice, I tied up new elk hair caddis with more dubbing and wrapped the bodies with double the Metz hackle. These babies were going to sit on the water higher up and hopefully last longer in the water. It's just like making new arrowheads from obsidian or sharpening a spear the night before tomorrow’s hunt.