I heard a song today that reminded me of a fishing trip I was on in the early 70’s. The song doesn’t remind me of myself and my life but of a specific trip. I was by myself at an eastern Washington lake in late April. I was by myself and set up a camp along the shoreline. On the drive over, I heard “I Drink Alone” by George Thorogood. I’ve always liked that song because of the way it sounded. So, that night on the shoreline with the stars shining as bright as they could, I sat by a small camp fire after a dinner of a PB&J sandwich with Cheetos; finished off with a chocolate chip cookie dessert. I was having an after-dinner drink of Johnny Walker Red with a Bud (and bud) chaser. I recalled the song I heard earlier in the day. I thought about how sad it would be to live that alone. I didn’t pay it much attention, but I DID think about it. I had my float tube, I tied up some flies I knew to be effective, I was ready to fish in the AM. I was to be here for a week without a fishing partner or my wife or anyone. This was the first time I had ever camped and fished more than a couple of days alone.
It was very strange. I never realized how I was controlled by the thoughts of how I thought someone else wants me to act, get up in the morning, what to eat for breakfast; no one to suggest or make silent demands of my actions. I don’t mean this in a hostile way. I just realized it on this second day of my trip. Every one of my actions was up to me. I had never experienced this. I even had a beer for breakfast for the first time in my life. Tasted pretty good. Pretty soon, I was in my float tube and catching fish through most of the day. I came in and had a lunch and a nap (never did that before, either) and went out for the evening. Had a great time. I was alone on the lake and felt like I owned the fishing world (at least my own world).
The next two days were repeats of the first day fishing and camping. I was having a good time, but I had to admit that I was alone without a friend to share this with. I started to think about fishing with someone for the week and about how it would have been different. This is kind of a double-edge sword. I liked my own schedule and thinking of only how I wanted to fish and approach the day and night. BUT, it would have been fun to fish with a good fishing buddy or be with my wife. I didn’t obsess over this, but it was an interesting thought process. I learned quite a bit about myself.
I had a real fishing puzzle to solve on the 3rd evening of fishing. I had worked my way into a bay at one end of the lake. I could see some fish rising. I knew the bay was fairly shallow, so I didn’t want to scare the fish. These were some REAL fish in that 20-plus range sipping midges. I didn’t know they were midges at the time. It just looked like they were taking a mosquito-like insect off the surface. I had several mosquito flies in the #16 and 18 range, which looked the right size. I would grease them up so they would float like a cork and put some sink on the leader so it would slightly sink. I had those fish in the palm of my hand. I was super careful about the casting; not false-casting over them; not water-loading my backcast; not letting any water drops from my line, leader or fly drop over them. I was really diligent about not spooking them. Well, I didn’t spook them but I also did not hook any. I was very sure to refloat any fly that started sinking. Nothing.
I was at that same bay the next evening and ready for them. When they started eating, I just looked at them. They actually did not show their mouth and head above the surface like a surface take. But, that didn’t register in my mind. I fished just like I did the evening before – with the same results. I was very frustrated. I finally just let my fly sink and started retrieving. BAM!! A strong hit and broke me off. I cast out another mosquito fly and with my sunk leader, I pulled it under and started retrieving slowly. No shit – wakes started appearing behind my fly every time I did this. I finally landed one big fish and released it. It was getting dark so I kicked back to my tent. To my surprise, my friend Bill Fairbanks had decided to come over and join me. I was so pleased to see him. I relived my 4 days while we ate some dinner (PB&J with Cheetos and chocolate chip cookies for dessert, as I recall). I followed up with my after-dinner drink (scotch with a beer chaser). Bill didn’t drink alcohol so had a cup of coffee. I talked to him about my evening situation with the midge-sipping fish in the bay. We came on the idea of taking a mosquito fly and clipping the front hackle off the bottom of the fly so it sat it the water with its body and tail just under the surface like a hatching midge. We did that and for the next two afternoons and evenings we had great fishing. That fly became my standard chironomid pattern. I hated tying #18 and 20 dries so I had a young friend (with good eyes) tie them up for me. The only difference was that I had him make the tail about twice as long as the standard pattern (to represent the shuck of the midge). I would cast it out and let it sit still on the surface (every once in a while a fish took it there). Then, after a short while, I would pull it under the surface. I did this especially when a fish showed close by. Killer technique. It is still a great pattern.
By the 6th night, after fishing, dinner and sitting around the campfire, I was telling Bill of yet another fishing story. He finally looked at me and said “Shut up. You haven’t stopped talking since I got here. Give me some peace, man”. He was right. I realized that I liked his company and missed him on the earlier days. I had talked his ear off for two days. I am forever glad he decided to come over and keep me company. I surly miss him now that he has passed away. I will have a scotch with a beer chaser the next time I am alone fishing to think of fishing with him on that eastern Washington Lake and other waters throughout the northwest and beyond.