Bait & Switch

The author’s deep, dark fly fishing secret will make purists cringe.

Sometimes the best fly fishing fly isn't a fly at all. (Photo by Chris Fertnig via iStock)

 

Recently, I was reading some correspondence and discovered that Bentley now makes an SUV that costs more than $300,000 and is marketed at the fly fisherman. It has a built-in tackle box, a dehumidifier, storage for rods, wood and leather interior, and is powered by a 600-horsepower motor with 12 cylinders, capable of moving in excess of 180 mph. (I presume the rapid velocity is to avoid the repo man. Then again, folks who buy this beast would never have to look at the price tag.) It is a reminder to me that, in some ways, the outdoors is going to the wealthy.

What I am about to share with you is a secret so sinister that it might even shock a priest who is a 40-year veteran of the confessional. Are you sitting down? I have used live bait with a fly rod. There. I said it. Now, let me explain.

In rural, northern Pennsylvania, I grew up fishing tributaries of the rivers that you might know. Small streams that eventually made it to the Allegheny or Susquehanna rivers. These were not the picturesque rivers that allow for sophisticated casting with a fly line majestically arcing through the air high above your head. Primarily, this was because the vegetation did not allow for such a thing. Oh, and you could jump across some of these streams, so there was no need to have waders. Some guys used barn boots.

Stealth was the name of the game as you chased native brookies. Some of these trophy trout topped out at 11 inches in length. They all felt like Leviathan, fighting with ferocity.

The preferred method was to use a live minnow jig and drift the line downstream. Casting-reels were common, but the classy method was to put bait on a fly rod. I told this story to a high-ranking member of Trout Unlimited, and he had the same look that my stepson did when he learned the truth about the Tooth Fairy. Oh well, at least the kid stopped trying to remove his own teeth in order to get some walking-around money.

I don’t think my prominent Trout Unlimited friend ever recovered. We still get along fine, it is just that I feel like I have let him down, even though he tells me otherwise. Perhaps the real problem is the shame I sometimes impose on myself for this practice.

Anyway, the $300,000 car reminded me of a favorite pastime of mine. I call it the “bait and switch.” It is an occasional practice where I allow myself to indulge in the sins of my youth. Here is how it goes: I drive to a spot where the luxury vehicles are parked along Spring Creek, here in central Pennsylvania where I currently live. It is definitely a stream that allows for wading and casting. Many of the purists will snooze in their BMWs and Mercedes until the hatch. The thought of using a nymph is nauseating to them. Then, they go to the stream to evaluate what the hatch is producing at the appointed hour and choose the appropriate fly for the day.

Spring Creek allows all tackle but is catch-and-release only. I have a nice pickup truck, but I like to go there in a 2001 Saturn that we keep in case one of our primary vehicles has a breakdown. It was new when we got it and has gaudy red paint that is fading and peeling. There are some scratches on the passenger side door where it was vandalized. In other words, it is the antithesis of the Bentley flyfishingmobile.

I then proceed to put the biggest fly that I can find on my line. I think it was designed for saltwater fishing. Hell, it might be some new-age sinker. It looks slightly smaller than those rubber bats that they sell for Halloween decorations. I cast and it lands with the subtle kiss of a brick landing from 20 feet. I do this a few times, then change to a live minnow—or, better yet, a crayfish. I let it drift and haul out a big trout, which I gently hold in the air to admire, making sure the other anglers see me. I release the fish and put the giant bat back on the line. A few more spasmodic casts later, I switch back to the live bait and reel in another beauty before returning to the monstrous fly. This can be done successfully with spinners, jointed minnows, or the most appalling of lures—the night crawler.

People travel from all over the country to fish this stream. To be honest, I typically use a fly on Spring Creek myself. Every once in a while, however, I worry that outdoor pursuits will become the hobby of the elites, and those of us possessing more moderate means may find it increasingly difficult to participate. I get nostalgic about the abhorrent fishing tactics of childhood.

My factory-working father taught me to fish, and the minnow on the fly rod was his favorite technique. Of course, we were fishing for the supper table. Stealth was the most important skill for those wily natives. Keep the sun in your face, let no shadow cross the water, and make no sound as the bait enters the water. Remaining silent as you crawl through underbrush is an altogether different game than fishing along a world-class trout stream that is groomed and maintained for recreational fishermen arriving from all points across North America.

Anyway, you may wonder how long I do the bait and switch, alternating between the drifting live bait and the big fly? Well, I never let the competition see me switching, so I do it until everyone that arrived by luxury car has started utilizing the biggest fly at their disposal, slapping the water the way I had done. At that point, I return to the aging Saturn, start the engine, listen to the rattling muffler, and drive away for home, giving a polite wave and nod of the head to the anglers as they thrash the water.

Score one for the working man.

 

3 thoughts on “Bait & Switch

  1. As a youth I too fished “buckeye” minnows,nightcrawlers and even small crayfish with a flyrod,crane and derricking the bait,often weighted with small split shot, into likely lies in the small streams of Upstate NY between Tug Hill and the Fingerlakes. It taught me much about where trout feed and hide that became invaluable as I morphed into a flyfisherman at age 13.I too,sometimes long for the pleasant smell of wet ferns and the weight of a damp wicker creel. But I know now those seemingly simple days are gone,along with the men who taught me that art.

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