Fly Fishing frustration

Brad Smith, Member, Sun Lakes Fly Fishing Club

I am here with my friends in the Sun Lakes Fly Fishing Club, bobbing about in a small boat on a small lake within the White Mountain Apache Reservation in west central Arizona. The lake sits at over 9,000 feet, and my breath quickens as I row in the thin morning air. I am new here, having recently moved to Arizona after 40 years in Alaska. Things are different: The climate, the land, the people and the lakes. Unlike Alaskan lakes, this and all Arizona’s lakes did not originate during past glacial epochs, but were more recently made by damming depressions in the landscape. The lakes are small and shallow because of this; I know where these trout must be. I know what insects they (supposedly) feed on. I’ve read books, gone to meetings, tied fly patterns known to catch fish everywhere. I am ready.

The lake’s waters are very clear, and occasionally my adversaries reveal themselves. An iridescent flash of scales passes beneath the boat and another fish (got to be 16 inches!) breaks the surface off my bow for some unknown trout reason. But trout are inscrutable. I am trying to match wits with an organism whose brain is the size of a cashew, and I am losing. Worse, I know most of these are not among the trout Illuminati, those wizened lunkers that have outsmarted anglers for millennia, but rather “stockers,” 10-inch silvery clones lacking good parental guidance and known to recklessly pursue and eat anything in or on the water, except my offerings. Cast after cast goes unanswered. Damn fish.

Suddenly, a shout from my buddy fishing near shore and to my left; I turn to see a silvery explosion in the water in front of his boat. The fish leaps majestically. Hurray! And Damn! What am I doing wrong?? I audition another half dozen fly patterns, nothing.

Four hours now, and I remain skunked, but my fevered urgency to catch trout begins to give way to awareness. The blueness of the lake is framed by tall pines; an elk bugles. Clouds drift by over the mountain tops with the reminder of the approaching monsoon season. Two osprey circle above, one plummets to the water behind me. Like my buddy, the bird out-fishes me. Oh well…

It is late afternoon. The wind, that bane of the fly fisherman, freshens and signals it’s time to row back to shore. Once on land, I crack a beer with my friends, commiserating with the unsuccessful, interrogating those who did well. I listen. I learn. Next time…. Next time….

“A lake is the eye of nature, looking into which the beholder measures the depths of his own soul.” —Purposeful misquote of Thoreau—