By Jerry Audet
The darkness was especially murky and complete on this new moon night; the woods were silent and still. The light from my headlamp stopped abruptly in front of me, inducing the feelings of being closed into a tunnel.
Distracted and distant, fishing wasn’t going to happen tonight; and so I was already walking back to the car.
As I walked, I was adrift in my mind, fully devoid of any awareness of what was going on around me. Trapped in my head. When I get stuck on thoughts, problems, like I was on this night, I have the ability to completely separate myself from reality and go within.
The tunnel of light, silence of the woods around me, and my own careening mind gave me the feeling of claustrophobia. I decided to risk a bruised toe and flip off my light, attempting to escape into the dark.
Clicking the button on my headlamp plunged me into blackness deep enough to make me stop. I stood frozen, letting my eyes adjust. Once I could vaguely make out the sky line and the path in front of me, I started to walk again.
As I walked, I felt the forest closing in on me. But not with malevolence. As I walked in the dark, I felt I was becoming part of the landscape; not something alien passing through it. I melted into it, just another passing animal in the night.
Fear of the dark is something we feel biologically. But just like anything else, we can psychologically train ourselves to not be afraid. I am not afraid of the dark anymore. However, I couldn’t help but feel I had been walking with my light on, not so that I could see, but so I could push out my surroundings. Now, in the quiet night, I could feel the dark enveloping me and drawing me back to the present.
Being out in the forest at night is not something people go looking for. It is something to be avoided; like getting your feet wet. When I talk to “normals” about my night-fishing adventures, I often get many raised eyebrows and empty stares. They are usually quick to change the subject; out of boredom, or confusion, or disinterest I’m not sure.
Light off, I continued to walk in the total darkness, feeling my mental focus going outwards even further. Pushing off the path and into the forest. I could now hear little chirps and squeaks in the underbrush I hadn’t noticed before.
I walked through a small depression in the trail, and was enveloped by a soft spot of cooler air. It reminded me of something, a feeling of sometime long ago. It was a memory of a smell and a feeling; but I couldn’t pull it into my present. Instead, for a few breaths it just hung around me like a presence.
Then, in the distance, a coyote let out a few fleeting yelps and a single short howl. There was a momentary pause of utter silence, and then the woods erupted in the calls of a full pack.
A smile crossed my face, and the memory crystallized.
I was transported back to being 11 years old. Living in Vermont, my bike was my life. I could go anywhere, as long as my legs could handle it. There was no traffic, no street lights. Just endless dirt roads, and friends who lived miles and miles apart. If I wanted to see them, before I could drive, sometimes it meant I would have to bike 10 miles. I never really had a curfew. No one worried about anything like kidnappers where I am from. You, literally, knew everyone. So, often I would be coming back at sunset, or even during the dark. For a kid with a big imagination and no flashlight, this sometimes took a fair amount of bravery.
There was a spot I used to pass through that was a small valley with a stream at the bottom. My friends Alana and Izzy- two neighbors that were practically sisters to me- used to always say that’s where the coyotes would get you at night. I guess someone saw one there, once, although I had never seen one- and haven’t yet in the 23 years my parents have lived there.
When I would get to the crest of the hill before the tiny ravine, before I plunged down the other side, I would slow to a crawl and take a deep breath, preparing myself for the assault at “coyote valley”. I would then launch myself down the hill, pedaling as hard as I could and shifting quickly, until my feet spun to a blur of motion. I would sail through the valley, and even in July, it would often be filled with cool, wet fog which would stick to my eyelashes and create a sheen on my arms and legs. I would drop into it, and it would blur my vision, making motion seemingly stop. I would careen along the dirt road, rocks and gravel shooting in all directions, absolutely positive a pack of coyotes was closing in on me from all sides in the mist. My lunges would be burning as I reached the hill on the other side, and I would stand up and pedal as hard as I could until I reached the crest again. Once at the top, I sometimes would be dizzy from effort and breathing hard enough to cause a stitch in my shoulder. However, once I “knew” I had survived, and was safe at the crest, I would again begin my leisurely ride home.
No head lamp; no cars. Just bird calls of late evening and tree frogs.
The calls of the coyotes dwindled to a single individual again, who seemed to be trying to chide the group on, and then suddenly it was completely silent.
I started to walk once more. I had completely forgotten the problems of only minutes ago.
Just another animal in the woods at night.
By Jerry Audet
In the next installment of “Casting Cork” I figured I’d give you a little snippet of my thoughts on the hook.
Obviously the hook is important. The most important thing about it is it has to be strong enough for your application. If you’re going to throw a bigger popper, I think you need to consider saltwater grade hooks. However, if you’re making smaller poppers (like size 4 I’ve show here), you can get away with very typical freshwater stuff. In fact, using a slightly smaller hook can help in casting, further decreasing the chance of spinning, which I’ll talk about at length in the next video. I also believe a smaller hook can also help in situations where the fish may be pressured and leery of hitting an fly or artificial. When I first started using these, I lived on a highly pressured body of water, and I found using a size or two smaller hook than “typical” resulted in more strikes. So a thinner wire hook can be an asset, even though I'd rather err on the side of thicker than thinner.
Next, the hook has to be long enough that you can tie feathers (or bucktail) on to the back of the hook before it starts to bend downwards. This allows the feathers/bucktail to stick out straight behind the popper, which allows for better casting and better action (and a more realistic profile).
That's really it! Beyond that, if you’re trying to do this on the cheap like I am, it really comes down to what can you find that is the best deal! You do not need special popper hooks. I like to scour discount and closeout retailers to find hooks that will work. You might be surprised by some of the fish I’ve caught on my poppers, where the hooks cost me less than 10 cents each! In fact, for my small poppers, I like Eagle Claw hooks that cost less than a cent a piece.
Again, these are meant to be cheap and easy to make. It doesn’t have to be complicated. And, as you'll see in the coming months, the fish don't seem to care at all.
Next week look for a new installment of "Fly25" from me.
By Jerry Audet
I was wandering around a local surf show this past weekend- the Narragansett Surf Fishing Club’s annual show- when I had something of a profound moment.
This show is 90% flea market, 10% vendor show, and I really enjoyed myself. I love yard sales, and I used to hunt for “investments” a lot at thrift stores and pawn shops. As life has gotten busier, I’ve had less time to do so. But, this show felt something like that- it seemed like I could potentially stumble upon something special.
Anyways, I was hunting through some bins of old Gibbs and Atom plugs when I stumbled upon a few beat up containers of saltwater flies. The man at the booth clearly wasn’t pushing these as they were buried under a pile of other more lucrative items. The bins were marked “2/$3”, which for a saltwater fly is a steal.
There were dozens of flies, of various sorts mostly pugsili, clousers, and deceivers- but also more than a few epoxy flies and sand eel imitators. Typical stuff for inshore stirper, blue fish and albie fishing in New England.
I rummaged through them, excited at first because I could tell the materials and hooks were of superior quality. I started doing math in my head and I figured I could probably talk the seller down and buy 12 for $15. I’d start by offering him $12 though…
But as I dug through the boxes, I became less enthusiastic. Clearly, these flies were tied by someone who was either amateur or not into the details. Many of the flies were crooked on the shanks, and some of the hook points had been knocked off somehow, despite them looking new. Also the eyes were falling off some, others the thread was burred, and on still others the epoxy was sporadically or haphazardly gooped on.
“If you buy 10 I’ll sell them to you for a dollar each,” the guy said suddenly. He must have seen me solemnly, methodically, examining each one.
“You tie them?” I asked, dumping what I had in my hand back into the bin. I was assuming these were his, that he was just trying to make a few bucks from them on the side.
“Nah, I don’t fly fish. These were from an estate sale. Guy died, I just bought them. I know nothing about them, or fly fishing,” he replied, paying little attention now to me, and far more interest in the man next to me making a pile of used $5 pencil poppers.
I paused, about to close the lid of the last container. I gazed over the 60 or so flies scattered in the bins on the table, and thought to myself- “this was a lot of work. This was more than just a weekend warrior. This guy, although a little weak on the details, cared about these.”
I felt compelled to go through them again.
As I searched, I started thinking about a podcast I had listened to a few years ago about death, and dying, and what it means to really be dead. In it, they discussed the physiology, and evolution of medicine; how it used to be that when your heart stopped you were dead, but now, we consider it the brain.
But in the discussion, they also had a long piece on the fact that there are other kinds of death too. Personal, or I guess what you might call “societal” types of death. These are my words; it’s been a while since I listened to it. Regardless, the one “death” I found most compelling was: we only truly die when our name is finally forgotten. When history complete erases us, and there is no record of our existence.
And, of course, just like biological death, this happens to everyone. Depending on the life you lead, the connections you have, it may take more or less time. But even Einstein, or Hitler, or Plato will be forgotten eventually. It may take ten thousand, or a hundred thousand years, or a million, but eventually time will erase us. I guess if we ever do eventually conquer the stars in some kind of Star Trek type scenario, it could be much, much longer. But it’ll still [very] likely happen. After all, humanity is a tiny moment in galactic time.
As I stood there, lost in these thoughts, I started pawing through the flies again, thinking of this man I didn’t know. Thinking that this was a way for him to live on. That, while I didn’t know him, he was continuing to exist in some theoretical way, through me, my interest and the utilization of his flies.
Who was he? Maybe he was a sharpie, an unsung diehard striper fisherman with several 50’s under his belt. Maybe he was more of a casual angler; a Dad with a good job, who liked Golf but lived for Saturday sunrises in his boat, and his two week vacation on the Cape. I don’t know- how could I? But I felt a connection to him regardless. I could see what he was trying to do. I could see that he loved this thing. Fishing. It gave me a tiny glimpse into who he was.
It made me think about my writing, too; how I hope that my pieces educate and entertain, long after I have forgotten them. Long after, I hope, I am even gone. That in some small but significant way, I will continue to live on through those that internalize my work. They carry me with them into the surf; onto the trails; along the river banks. At least, this is how I feel about my favorite authors and teachers- both those alive, and those now gone.
Then, I thought- these flies could have ended up in the garbage; discarded and forgotten. I frowned deeper, almost a scowl, thinking of that. That thought felt uncomfortable. Hell, given the lack of interest in them, a bunch of these flies still might end up int he trash.
I made a renewed effort to find a few I could use. I don’t have money to waste, now more than ever, but I had a sudden feeling of duty towards this long-passed stranger. I felt compelled to carry the torch a little further.
I ended up picking out the 3 flies pictured in this blog, which all were quite straight, well tied and well epoxied. I closed up the boxes, and made sure to put them on top of the beat up plastic rebels and red fins. I wanted them to be seen. I then took one more moment to look at the flies in my hands- I knew they would catch, I even could make a good guess when...
Come late May, I will make the same pilgrimage I always do to a spot I love more than any other. It’s not always dynamite, but when the tide and weather are right, it's almost a guarantee I will find teen bass practically at my feet. This spot has taught me so many things about surf fishing- like how to fish a bucktail, or how to fight with land owners, or the bait phases of a full season. It’s where I landed my first shore caught striper on a fly rod. I have a painting of the spot hanging in my bedroom, loving done by my wife for my 30th birthday.
Holding the 3 pieces of fluff in my hand, I thought "I know these flies will do well there".
And when they do, I’ll take a moment to thank this fellow angler.
Gone, but not yet forgotten.
I noticed the guy at the booth staring at me, as I had clearly drifted off for more than a moment. I gave him my most charming smile.
Since I was buying $8 worth of used lures from him anyways, I held up the flies too and said “Give you $10 for all this?”
“Sure,” he didn’t even hesitate, or pause to add up what I was holding.
Damn. I could have bought it all for seven.
By John P. Lee
Ice fishing is good for the soul. There is something about it. The starkness of winter, the long afternoon shadows, the sound of expanding ice cracking from cove to cove. I think it’s good for the mind to stand above the fish and drill holes and set tilts. It’s more trapping than fishing, more like setting lobster pots than casting plugs. This mindset is not for everyone, spreading out your tilts over a wide area, covering ground. But it is not passive, the drilling and moving, the thought about where the fish could be, takes energy. And then when the fish bites and the flag pops, there is that moment as you walk over to the hole and see the spool spinning and kneel before it, your fingers on the line, feeling, feeling, then setting with your wrists. The battle is fought with your hands. How old is that tradition? Then the fish’s head is at the hole and it comes through and flops onto the ice. The colors of the fish seem to bloom in defined contrast to the monochrome ice. The perch are vibrant, the bass, the trout. I also love how affordable it is, for all people, the opposite of trying to catch a grander marlin off the Great Barrier Reef or Kona. The fish are right there somewhere in the lake or pond, right there below our feet. Enjoy these photos. I took them early in the season this year, right when the black ice set up, ice so transparent you could see bottom. Clear and bitter cold, my blood felt both frozen and fully alive.
By Dave Anderson
Nighttime is my time. I love fishing at any time, but I feel the most at home in darkness. When color is removed from your field of view you perceive the landscape using different senses; on one hand your eyes begin to hone in on nuance, picking up the subtle color changes of a gentle rise on the surface or the dark stain of a recent break. The black expanse of a grove of pines is given depth when your hearing fills in the blanks. Hollows gape and echo in a light wind, pine needles soften while leaves hiss – almost ring – in the breeze. When you really tune in and your subconscious takes over you may find that your mind is practically on fire, processing sound, using sight only on an ‘as needed’ basis. It’s these times when your mind takes the wheel that it is easiest to believe that we only use a tiny fraction of our brain’s potential.
Winter is a tough season for the night angler—unless you target holdover striped bass exclusively or maybe, walleye. For those of us that hunt trout and freshwater bass, the hits become fewer and the chances of blowing that opportunity become much more likely—complacency comes easy in the third hitless hour with your fingers frozen in the positions of holding a rod and reel.
I covered a lot more ground than usual last night, more than I ever had in this particular pond and I only had one solid hit and two nudges to show for it. Maybe it was the fact that it was a Sunday night, after a weekend of increased fishing pressure, or maybe it was the cooling waters and threatening stare of the super moon foreshadowing the whiteness of the coming winter. A light wind rose from the west, I wished I had worn one more layer.
I turned around after covering, what Google Earth tells me was, almost exactly one mile of prime shoreline (it felt like twice that!) and began walking back toward the car. As I rounded a shallow bend in the shore I heard the low calls of a pair of owls in the trees. When you spend a lot of time outside in the quiet darkness you learn that owls all have a unique call, not to the species but to the individual. These two were keeping a good rhythm going one of them was low and somber, with drawn out annunciations, Hooo-Hooo-H-Hoo-Hoo, the other was playing for style points with a much faster and complex call, Hoo-H-H-H-Hooo-H-Hoo-Hoo. Each one replicated to a tee during each round, each one sung in a “woe-is-me” minor key.
My mind snapped to a conversation I had with my friend Keith’s wife, Lauren. She works for the Audubon Society and conducts regular owl walks for groups of bird enthusiasts. I could hear her voice in my head telling me that owls can be brought in by playing—or in some cases—vocally imitating their calls. She uses an iPod and speakers to broadcast actual recordings of owl calls and they come to investigate—almost—without exception. Since I had a captive audience that was, clearly, feeling the night vibe and comforting each other with the dialogue of mated pair. I cupped a hand to my mouth and did my best to throw my own vocal stylings into the mix.
The pair went silent. The light wind seemed to bend with their confusion as a deafening silence crossed the pond like a sudden gust of wind. Their calls cautiously resumed as I did my best to move quietly along the gravelly bank. I called again, they called back—in sequence. I called again and the first owl rushed to fill the space at the end of my phrase, the other followed. I took a few more steps and called out, again the space right at the end of my phrase was filled. It was starting to feel like a competition. For a split second I felt a flutter of nervous excitement blooming in my chest—an osprey once tried to attack me… in the dark I might never see them coming! I weighed the risks and called again—they called back quickly and, once again, in sequence.
This continued with intermittent steps until I could tell I was right below the second caller. Hidden by the blackness of a tall, gangly pine I heard the call. I don’t know why, but I assumed that this owl was the female—low and somber, not as brash and braggadocios as Mr. Style Points. She called, I called back and she took to the air, crossing the clouded corridor of the full moon as she flew, I watched the black dart, soar across the pond and settle into the treeline. I pulled my camera, knowing (hoping) that he would follow her—he didn’t. I called again. I heard the snap and rustle of the foliage as he dropped into an iron cross and glided slowly through the same lane, I snapped the best shot I could. His slow movement sent a message of warning as he surveyed the area before crossing the water to join his mate.
I could hear them consoling each other for the rest of the night, the rhythm and phrasing unchanged. Even after taking several casts on the way back, in some of the most productive spots in the pond, there was not a fish to be had. The owl encounter made my night. It’s the incidentals that make fishing what it is to me. I have already shared this story with my wife and daughter and I will tell it many more times in my life. If I had caught a fish, I would most likely forget that fish within a few years, but this owl encounter will stick with me forever.