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THE FISHERMEN DIDN'T BELIEVE THAT FLIES WOULD WORK, BUT THE FISH BIT
Michael Baughman
November 09, 1981
It began as an ice skating trip to a high lake in the Cascades in southern Oregon. But before I had even parked the car, I noticed the ice fishermen, and on the way to the skate-rental shed I stopped to see how they were doing. "Go on and get started," I said to the two friends who were with me. "I'll be along in a while."
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November 09, 1981

The Fishermen Didn't Believe That Flies Would Work, But The Fish Bit

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"Well then give 'em to us," demanded the cold-looking, bored-looking wife of a fisherman stationed behind me.

It was at just about this point that the fat man made a good day perfect for me. He was one of several dozen skaters who were sprinting, gliding or struggling by, often no more than 20 yards from the area we were fishing. Ankles wobbling, arms waving in desperate attempts to maintain his balance, he crashed to the ice at least once every five minutes, flat on his huge backside.

He was skating a short, irregular circle that never took him more than 50 yards away, and I noticed that each time he sat down, all the fish I could see through my hole in the ice streaked toward deeper water, apparently frightened by the vibrations sent through the lake by the fat man's bottom. Once, a large brook trout had turned and was about to inhale my jigging fly when the skater hit the ice, and the trout stopped in mid-strike, hesitated for a moment, then disappeared in a panicky flash. After each of these pratfalls there was a lull of about a minute before anyone hooked another fish.

When I noticed this correlation, I began to use it to my own advantage or, more accurately, to the disadvantage of the bait fishermen surrounding me.

I was kneeling on the ice as I jigged my Golden Demon, and during periods when there were no fish in the immediate vicinity of the fly I would hit the ice fairly hard with one of my knees every eight or 10 seconds, hoping to frighten fish away from everyone else. Of course I couldn't pound the ice with as much force as the fat man but I was much closer than he was, right on top of things, and anyway, all I wanted was a muted version of the waterquakes he was creating. The trick worked. No one noticed what I was doing, and very few fish were caught while I banged away at the ice. Whenever a fish came into my view, I stopped the banging and jigged the fly, and nearly always had a quick strike. So I caught as many fish as ever, while everyone else caught less. In little more than an hour I had landed and released dozens of kokanee and at least 15 sizable brook trout.

Not long after the fat man quit skating, I quit fishing. My knees were sore, and I was cold. It had been well worth it, though. There is no way to prove it, but I'd be willing to bet a lot that all the bait fishermen at the lake that day gave at least passing thought to learning to fish with flies.

In any case, the fat man was responsible. It was his ample end that suggested the means.

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