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Saturday, October 4, 2014

Scotch Ale, Rainbows, and the Legacy of Ed Muskie

By Alan Yuodsnukis

An advance warning: if you are disturbed, upset, easily offended, or just bored by fishing reports that have no photos of actual fish, skip this post.  No gratuitous fish porn here. (After losing almost $600 in camera gear to two separate wading "accidents," I admitted defeat some years ago.)  There are, however, allusions to certain adult situations that may make some viewers uncomfortable.  There is also some bass fishing involved.  So stop here if you think there is any possibility that your head may explode if you read further.

For the past year or so, I have been on an old school fly tying jag.  By old, I mean 19th century, pre-Irish invasion, Scottish salmon stuff native to the Spey and Dee valleys.  This lovely Lady, in particular has been an inspiration,


along with these guys:


Unfortunately, I don't live on a Scottish salmon river.  And I'll never have the means to fish one.  But I do have access to rivers that are full of wild, hard pulling, acrobatic fish that will slam a swung fly and, lucky for me, are largely ignored.  Those fish eat a lot of these:


I've been looking for a pattern that looks (kind of) like those things, but also (kind of) like my favorite Scottish Lady. But everything I tied looked like this:


But, one day after a little inspiration from a different Scottish friend, 433959.jpg?2

this came out of my vise:


She introduced herself as the Lady McEwen and said she wanted to go for a swim. So I took her (and a few of her sisters and friends).

I tied her to a short leader and tied that to a fast sinking Skagit head and let her swim through the top of a favorite run. She didn't find any fish, but while I watched her swim, I did see a good one make that beautiful, deliberate, I'm-the-baddest-thing-in-this-river-so-I can-eat-slowly-if-I-want-to, head to dorsal roll just below us.  That's almost always the sign of a good fish, and sometimes, a VERY good fish.  Little guys will splash and slash.  But the bruisers often eat with a delicacy that belies their size.  They don't get big by wasting energy. I stepped down, swung the Lady again...and didn't get a bump.  But I saw Mr. Big do his thing again.

Change of plan.  Time for a  floating head and a waker.  I do love Speys and everything about them, but if there are fish showing on top, I become an unapologetic dry fly trollop.  (As one fly fishing writer put it, "Fishing dry is our sport's equivalent to doin' it with the lights on.")  What can I say?  The flesh is weak.  I gave the Lady a rest, rejoined the 21st century, and tied on her crazy American friend, the Flying Circus:


On the first swing, just before the end of the arc, there was a boil and a splash ever so slightly behind the fly.  Now, I'm not one of those super-human lords of self discipline who normally has the ability not to strike when that happens.  Had I been fishing any other way, I would have pulled the fly straight away from the fish, hooked nothing, sworn like a drunken pirate, and hoped for a comeback on the next swing.  But I learned from a steelheading friend that it's a good idea to leave a short loop of slack between your top hand and the reel.  When a fish takes, drop the loop.  This gives the fish an instant to turn with the fly, so that when you do bring the line tight, you get a solid hook set in the corner of the jaw.  Or at least that's how it should work.  Anyway, I actually remembered to drop the loop.  The fly paused, slid backwards with the current for half a heartbeat, and then it was gone in a splash.  Fish on (yes!), but probably not Mr. Big.  The hit was too showy.  The pull was decent, but not powerful, and I thought probably from a middling size bass.  Turned out to be an 18 inch chub.

Mr. Big was still out there, then. Keep hunting. Step down, cast, swing. "Be there...right there....." Nada.  This time, two steps down. Cast. Swing.  At the risk of sounding hopelessly corny, moments like that remind me that fishing is like the rest of life.  There is the way you want things to happen, and then there is the way they actually happen.  Often enough, they aren't the same.  But half way through the swing, like it had been scripted and shot in slow motion, Mr. Big's head rose up in front of the fly, the fly slid into his mouth like a car going into a tunnel (really - that's what it looked like), a spiny dorsal followed the head, and the water was flat again.  Honest, if I hadn't had my eyes glued to the fly, I would have missed it.  Classic big smallmouth take.  The kind I see only a few times in a season.  I dropped the loop, came tight, and felt that immensely satisfying STOP that feels like a rock. But you know it isn't a rock, because you just saw a fish eat your fly.  There was a strong pull the other way, and the rod bent into a C.  And then nothing.  The fly bobbed back up to the surface.  A clean swing and a miss to end the inning. Crap.

I fished out the rest of the run and tailout with the waker, but came up empty.  At that point, the river gathers most of its volume and sends it in a fast, deep rush hard against the near bank.  Because of the powerful flow, the only thing left on the bank for the 100 yards or so where the river slams against it is a series of very large boulders and the trunks of blow downs either too big to be moved by the season's high water, or wedged too tightly among the boulders.  Any sand or smaller rocks that might make for good footing at the water's edge have long been washed away.  In fact, there is nothing to stand on below the water's edge; the boulders simply give way to more deep, fast water. It reminded me of the Niagara gorge, only with much, much warmer water.  Still, keep your feet dry, or you're going for a very fast, very wet ride. But it's nice looking water.  Just the kind of water where smallmouths will stack up among the rocks and food rich, oxygenated flow.

And man, was there food.  As I scrambled along on the boulders, I came across hundreds of stonefly nymph cases, countless caddis remains caught in spider webs, minnows schooling in the eddies, and the occasional crayfish darting away from my shadow.  At one point, two different species of mayfly settled on my vest and shirt.  What...wait...crayfish?  Too lazy to change the floating head back to the sinker, I clipped off the Flying Circus and put the Lady M back on.  I dropped her quartering upstream, flipped a couple of quick mends to sink her a bit, and then let her swim. She had just started to swing when there was a gentle pluck and that unmistakable pull and wiggle.  Chub number two, for sure.  Only that chub had spots and silvery flanks with just a bit of reddish blush.  A rainbow trout.  Not much of a fight on a 12 1/2 foot 6 weight, but a pleasant surprise.  From there to the end of the run where the river flow swings back out to the middle and then the far bank, more rainbows and a few middling bass grabbed the Lady on what seemed like every third swing.  All but that first trout came on the dangle or as I stripped the running line back in to make the next cast.  All but one of the bass came on the swing.  (Props to the bass for that ;).)

Those rainbows weren't noteworthy for their size - the biggest taped out at a shade over 16 inches - but rather, for their presence.  I caught them so close to a paper mill that I could hear the hum and clank of conveyors and tell management from rank-and-file by the color of their hardhats.  This mill is on the upper portion of a river that was once so foul, it was dangerous to wade. (Many people still think it is.  In a kind of twisted way, that's OK with me -  helps keep the riff-raff away.) In the late 60's and early 70's, there was more than one river like that in Maine, and many hundreds, perhaps thousands across the country.  That's when the good senator Edmund Muskie (D-Maine) drafted, pushed, prodded, and eventually passed through Congress the Clean Water Act.  So thanks largely to him, I don't have to go to Scotland, or Canada, or even northern Maine to find good sport with a swung fly.

The next one of these beer_879.jpg  is for you, Ed.


  1. Fun read, Aldo! The image inserts were perfect.

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