Waiting For The Wow!

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Waiting For The Wow!

(First published in Fly Fishing and Fly Tying Magazine - October 2010)

Stevie on the ClydeOne step, two steps. Cast.

So this is what, my fourth proper day’s salmon fishing? So far it’s running true to form: An hour or so getting used to wielding a 15ft double-hander, and rediscovering that yawning gap between reality and what I think my casting should look like; puzzlement as to what exactly is meant by the right fly, the right depth and the speed to fish it; and that weird mixture of feelings as hope, determination and futility nose their way into their holding areas in the conscious part of my brain.

One step, two steps. Cast

Should I have mended the line just then? The river’s quite low (is that bad? Good?) and the fly isn’t skating across the top, but is it fishing deep enough? If I were wet fly fishing for trout, I’d be casting more square and mending to keep the flies dead-drifting and sinking to get them down to the trout. But people tell me I need to have the fly “swimming” so a bit of drag on the line should be good – shouldn’t it?

One step, two steps. Cast. Mend.

OK, lets see if that works. The fly is coming round a bit slower this time. Same end result though. Tell-you-what, I’ll alternate mending and not-mending; see if that makes a difference.

One step, two steps. Cast. Mend.

Didn’t mean to mend then! Residual trout fishing reaction there. I’ll have to do two casts without mending now to even up. But then, what if I should be mending and the only taking salmon in this river is two casts away, and my fly sails too quickly and too high in the water over its head, and I won’t know, and it’ll all be in vain, again! I know, I’ll mend my way down the pool and then go back through it without mending. Phew!

One step, two steps. Cast. Mend.

I know they’re there. Two days ago there were ten fish off this beat. Lovely silver grilse, one of them a stonker of ten pounds. So it can’t be impossible can it? I just need one fish to see my fly and take an interest. Just one. That’s not much to ask. If it’s just a matter of probability then I need to keep the fly in the water. Keep fishing. I think there’s always a time in learning any kind of fishing when you do just have to suck it up and put in the hours. You need to see the river in its different moods and work out what doesn’t work as much as what does. But you do need to keep thinking. If what you’re doing isn’t working try something different.

It’s easy to just get into the rhythm of casting and forget about the fish altogether – or to get fixated on a single way of fishing: easy to do if you had early success on your first day out.

Early success… I should be so lucky…

One step, two steps. Cast. Mend.

…Or should I? Be so lucky that is. I mean, I’d love to have caught a nice fresh salmon on my first try – first cast even, but I think I’ll enjoy that first salmon even more having worked a bit for it.

I don't feel I can properly count them...Deferred gratification the psychoanalysts call it. Supposedly it makes me a “better adjusted and more dependable” person. Someone should mention that to the love of my life when I come home late, tired, muddy, and smelling of wet nets.

I have actually caught the odd salmon here and there, but they have all been when I’ve been after trout or grayling, and while they’re fun on light tackle I don’t feel I can properly count them.

One of the important things about enjoying angling is catching fish on your own terms. We all set our own parameters as to what “counts” or not: Spinning, Worming, Strike-indicators, nymphs, downstream casting, synthetic fly materials, carbon. All of these things can fall either side of a wide and very grey line of game-fishing acceptability, depending on to whom you are talking and when you talk to them.

And for me, at present, my First Proper Salmon will be caught when I’m trying specifically to catch it, on a fly, hopefully on a double-handed rod.

Sometime soon-ish would be nice.

One Step. Two Steps. Cast. Mend.

Come on fish! Just one – that’s all. Just one. I’m talking to the fish again. I’m not religious so there isn’t any higher being to ask for divine intervention. Nope, this is between me and the fish – and they don’t speak English so I’m just relying on the fly to do the talking for me.

The fly as interlocutor, like a space probe looking for new life forms. Out it goes, “is anybody there?” Eons of silence in return. But the laws of probability say it’s a certainty that there is life out there. There can’t be nothing out there, can there?

And what a shock if I get a reply! Imagine that. I spend all that time and money to put the thing out there. I do everything I possibly can to maximise the chances of contact – and I’m still surprised when it comes. A WOW! signal.

One Step. Two Steps. Cast. Mend.

SETI stands for the Search for Extra Terrestrial Intelligence and is the collective name for a bunch of scientists looking for evidence of little green men. On the 15th August 1977 Dr. Jerry R. Ehman was listening in on space via The Big Ear radio telescope of Ohio State University when he detected a 72 second-long signal that looked very ET-like. He circled the data on the printout and scribbled, “WOW!” in red ink, next to it. It is now and forever known as The WOW! Signal.
You can just imagine it. The surge of adrenaline when he saw the numbers. A feeling like stepping off a kerb that he didn’t know was there. Raised hairs on the back of his neck. Even though he was looking for just that signal, I’m guessing that was his job, I bet he was pole-axed when it came through.
And that’s just like fishing isn’t it? We’re constantly looking for the WOW! signal. Setting ourselves up for a surprise. We constantly project forwards to the moment of the take. It’s one of the things that keeps us going when things are slow - like now.

One Step. Two Steps. Cast. Mend.

The sensation of the line tighteningIf I keep imagining a take I can keep my enthusiasm going for hours. I can almost feel the sensation of the line tightening around my right hand index finger, a slight heaviness in the rod that sets the heart pounding. And then a bouncing pull that confirms it’s not a rock and that another life-form has made contact. WOW!
The signal is much stronger, too, when we’re fishing blind; like bumping into someone in the dark. And don’t get me started on night fishing – the smash take of a nighttime sea trout or bass can feel like a violent mugging!

We trout fishers can get a bit sniffy about all of this: The pinnacle of the sport is supposedly the dry fly take, preferably from a fish that you’ve previously spotted and cast to. Everything else is just raking the river and only a little better than ledgering.

I wonder if people who say these things actually believe it.

One Step. Two Steps. Cast. Mend.

Sight fishing is more a game of controlled tension, like a tightrope walker on the high wire; you have a knot in your stomach right until you make contact with the other side, but you don’t get the sudden appalling shock that you get from a take when fishing blind.

In the split second that Wow! signal comes through you have no idea what is on the other end of the line, a trout, a six pound grilse, a twenty pound pike, or even a little green man with a TV aerial on his head! And that’s a feeling that takes me right back to my childhood, sitting there watching a float twitch and bob; hoping for a perch of an ounce or three, and dreaming of (and dreading) a monster big enough to pull me in.

That’s why, although I do a lot of sight fishing for trout, I still like fishing with sunk flies for trout, pike, bass, or whatever is out there. It’s also why I’m standing in the middle of a cold salmon river, in leaky waders, casting badly, and talking to myself.

I could be at this for some time.

One step. Two steps. Cast. Mend…

Is there anything out there?


© William Shaw