A Bowhunter Goes Fly Fishing – Part II

Jon's first brown trout of the morning, caught on his Sage fly rod.Hello and welcome! If this is your first time reading Life and Longbows, STOP here and read my last post before proceeding. You won’t have the back story otherwise.

We proceeded up the Rogue, Rob in the lead, your’s truly in the rear, and Jon in the middle to better soak up the buffoonery around him. We fished every riffle and every run Rogue provided for the next several hours. Had it not been for a constant stream of Memorial Day kayakers, we’d have had the river to ourselves in addition to the perfect weather.

Nymphing wasn’t at all what I expected. My idea of fly fishing was an arching rod angling skyward, streaks of neon-colored line snapping the air, and colorful monsters leaping into landing nets. Nymphing wasn’t any of those things. It reminded me of bait fishing. You found a place you thought a fish would be, you tossed your line upstream of it, then let the current take it to the spot – rinse and repeat. There wasn’t anything graceful or romantic about it to my novice eyes but my opinion changed after watching Mudry hook his first trout of the morning.

I’d never seen a trout caught on a fly rod in person. Jon was watching his line drift through a riffle one minute and drawing line through a bent rod the next. It happened that fast; no dramatic hook set, no breaching behemoth, no dramatic exclamations. Jon gave a quick jerk of the line with his left hand and continued to draw and pinch until the little brown was splashing around in front of him. He leaned the rod back, gently pulled his catch from the water, removed the fly from its jaw, and returned it to the murky depths of the Rogue. It was quick and he was calm throughout the whole ordeal.

“You didn’t even use your reel.” I said.

“Nah. He was a little guy.” Jon laughed. “You don’t need to use the reel on those guys. You have to watch how you set them. Too light and they’ll get off. Too heavy and you’ll either hit yourself in the face or launch them to the next county.”

“Do you ever use the reel?”

“Oh yeah. If I have a decent fish I do. You’ll know the difference.”

He caught two more that way, leaving me to question my technique or lack thereof. His calmness threw me the most. His movements seemed simple – effortless. He never looked as though he was working, whereas I was analyzing every step of the process and trying not to get snagged.

“Your casting too much. Let your line drift upstream until it starts to work its way in front of you, then let it float a bit longer.”

I did what I was told. I flicked my line upstream and let the nymph drift with the current until my line was straight out in front of me. Suddenly, the line went taut vibrating the rod from tip to cork.

“Woah!” I yelped.

“You’ve got one, man!” Jon laughed. “Keep that rod bent and start drawing line!”

I tried to do as instructed; drawing line with my left and pinching it with my right. Keeping the rod bent was my biggest challenge. I hadn’t fought a fish in over 15 years and was used to letting the reel do the work. This was an entirely different ballgame. Still, I managed to land the little brown and the memory that accompanied it. The size of the catch didn’t matter. I had landed a trout with a fly rod – something I’d only thought of doing a week prior. How quickly things had changed.

We fished well into the afternoon with little effort. Time slipped around us like the current at our waists – only a bit higher in Rob’s case. At around 1:30 he waded through a deep bend and climbed into a stretch of what he assumed was shallow rapids. Jon followed to put a little distance between us. I’d just suffered the loss of an overpriced nymph and stayed put to re-tie. This lucky bit of misfortune resulted in a pristine point of observation for the calamity that was about to befall my comrades.

What Rob thought was “shallow” rapids was actually a rock shelf that gave way into a 3-4 foot mucky hole. He ascended the shelf, lost his footing, then descended in the manner a toddler might a Fisher-Price plastic slide. Jon howled. I howled. Rob’s reaction was…complicated. He splashed. He thrashed. And he howled but not like Jon or I. This was something else entirely. Something I’d only heard at the John Ball Zoo when the chimpanzees discovered something they didn’t agree with.

“Ohh! Ohh! Ohh! Ohh! Ah! Ohh! Ohh! Ohh! Ee! Ohh! Ohh! Ohh! Ah!”

He bobbed around in the hole like this for several seconds, thrashing and spewing and making horrible noises until Jon waded over to help. When he leaned out to give him a hand, Rob took a whole lot more, pulling him and all of his gear in with him. Chaos ensued as my friends fought to retain their footing. The water exploded into a mess of waders, rods, line, and sunglasses. It reminded me of two boar hogs fighting for a wallow that wasn’t big enough for either of them. The ordeal was over in minutes but seemed like an eternity. Neither friend dried out the remainder of the trip. Both carried a little bit of the river back to the truck.

We pulled several fish out of that stretch, including a nice 12″ brown I excitedly butterfingered back into the brine after a solid fight. It would’ve been a major confidence boost but I couldn’t make it happen. The missed opportunity left a bittersweet taste in my mouth the remainder of the trip. I felt inadequate for missing the fish but more legit because of it. I knew the feeling all to well. I felt the same each time I’d slipped an arrow over a deer.

Our day concluded with a handful of trout caught and released, sunburns, squishy waders, and smiles as wide as the Rogue itself.

A new chapter of my life had begun and I’d just penned the first line.

My appetite for fly fishing knowledge has become insatiable between posts and I am happy to report I’ve made major improvements. My casting has improved, I’m catching fish, and I’m having fun. Having a wealth of information available on YouTube has made all the difference and I am thankful for all of the content available on the subject. Check out Joe Humphrey’s video on nymphing, for instance. It is unbelievable and totally changed my perspective on fishing nymphs and wet flies.

 

 

 

 

Experience or Advertisement?

Arrowhead14

A few posts ago, I wrote about the next generation of traditional bowhunting content and the people who were keeping it alive and moving it forward. My opinion hasn’t changed since. I believe this group warrants the accolades and support they receive and commend them for their work. For the most part, I can relate to this budding group of traditionalist. I admire their passion, drive, competitive nature, and their creative blending of the past and the present, but there are elements of the modern traditionalist (as a whole) that give me pause. I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about where society is, where it is going, and how we’ll be effected.

The origin of these feelings are unclear to me. Whether clairvoyance or pessimism, I do not know, but feel I left several thoughts on the shelf that should be dusted and shared, on behalf of the past-time I love. Preservation, after all, is only worthwhile if the principles you wish to preserve are present. If they are not, it all feels a bit like life support.

When the archery bug bit me, I had two choices: a) go the compound route and buy the fastest contraption on the block, or b) do the exact opposite. I went with option (b) and instantly knew I had made the right decision the first time I picked a bowhunting magazine off the shelf and discovered the “stories” I was reading weren’t stories at all. They were advertisements – pure and simple. Were these successful bowhunters? Sure. Were their experiences worth sharing? Absolutely. Did I enjoy them? No. They seemed insincere to me. Why? Because of the branding. Forcing a brand into a story didn’t seem right to me.

“The buck turned from his smorgasbord of alfalfa and I could see he was a good one – a solid non-typical with one abnormally large brow tine. I reached for my Hoyt and centered the 40 yard pin on his chest. Then, holding my breath, I touched off the shot and watched my Lumenok-equipped arrow streak towards him. My RAGE Chisel Tip SC did the rest. Thank God for my Thermacell. The ticks were bad.”

I was very green at the time and hadn’t heard of magazines like Traditional Bowhunter. I assumed this was how bowhunters spoke; that gear was part of the equation; and that I was casting unnecessary judgement. I continued buying these bowhunting magazines, as a result, but never really warmed up to them. I kept my mouth shut to avoid becoming a pariah at the range.

I met others like me and, as I drew further into the traditional community, learned I wasn’t the only one with a distaste for the industry-saturated world of modern bowhunting. “Why do they do this?” I would cry to the heavens. “Why would they take an intimate experience – a personal feat – and credit a brand for it?” It made me sick to my stomach.

The writings of traditional giants such as E. Donnall Thomas Jr. cemented my beliefs. Thomas, who was/is notorious for not writing about his tackle, once dedicated an entire chapter to his beloved longbow “Sensei” (see Longbows in the Far Northand barely mentioned it was a Robertson. I loved that. It was stubborn, beautiful, and genuine – all at the same time. It was genius. He managed to immortalize his bow by not making it the center of attention and creating an aura of mystique around it. “What a concept.” I thought. “Why wasn’t everyone else emulating this?”

The answers were simple: money and product. Mystique doesn’t sell bows, expensive camouflage, or state-of-the-art broadheads. Branding does. I knew this. I worked in marketing and had a degree in advertising. I knew all about things like copywriting, product placement, and cultivating a brand by creating brand champions. This was a time-tested formula. An industry standard. I understood it. I lived it. But that didn’t make me feel any better about it.

Bowhunting was supposed to be a pure experience. We hunted in wild places to find something wild within ourselves. We withdrew from society to escape its hold on us – even if for a short time. Forcing a word, slapping on a sticker, or applying a hashtag on such a primal experience seems ludicrous. But that is exactly what is happening. We’re slowly turning into what the majority of us were trying to escape. We looked to the bow and arrow, as a means to strip away the industry and technology and re-discover the wild connections our ancestors coveted and we have forgotten.

Social media has changed everything. Being able to connect with the like-minded masses beyond geographical barriers is a powerful thing. It has expanded our tiny, traditional circles into much larger ones and has empowered us to share our experiences and spread our passions further than trailblazers like St. Charles, Bear, and Hill could have ever imagined. It is a wonderful idea, but a dangerous one unless restraint is practiced.

Wildfire

I am an avid social media user and witness what it can do on a daily basis. We are living in a world where everyone with a bow, a camera, and a cell phone can be somebody. Whether it be pro staff, field staff, brand champion, or uber consumer looking for a freebie – we all have the opportunity to turn passion into business and “make it” in the industry. In short, we are a danger to ourselves. We are literally sacrificing the purest part of lives to the bowels of the hunting industry and we don’t give a damn as long as our sites and podcasts are getting traffic and we are getting free shit in return.

I am a marketer by trade and specialize in digital storytelling. I understand hits and reach and frequency and click rates and all of the rest of the jargon my working life has taught me. I’m also well aware I sound like an old crankshaft hollering “Stay out of my flowerbeds and off my damned lawn!” to Trick-or-Treaters. But I’m going to do it anyway.

Knock that shit off. Please. Think about what you are doing. And this message is intended for ALL of the social media-using, traditional bowhunting community.

Quit abusing product hashtags when sharing your experiences on social media platforms. Stop going out of your way to insert brands into works of outdoor literature. And for the love of Ishi, please stop vomiting product into the camera whenever you step in front of it. You can plug the brands you love and the connections you’ve made without repeatedly beating your audience over the head with them. You can pass the torch without setting us all on fire.

Hold sacred your bowhunting experiences. Don’t make them a damn commercial.