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July 30, 2013

Fly-fishing in the shadow of eagles

Posted in: Other interesting stuff

Only a fisherperson can appreciate the fishing part of this tale, but most anyone could love observing bald eagles.

I taught myself to fly-cast years ago, using my father’s (quite old) bamboo rod. I never could get very good at it or cast as far as I felt I should, but it was fun at times. I mostly enjoyed, in spring and early summer, casting floating popping bugs (”poppers”) when smallmouth bass were in shallow water and aggressively feeding, thus relatively easy to find. By late June, the bass were getting few and far between. I assume they move into deeper water and I prefer to fish topwater so don’t fish much as the summer goes on, except on the rare day when I can get myself out of bed really early to get on the water.

But recently, the old, slightly-bent bamboo rod gave up the ghost– it split in a couple of places and was no longer usable. Since it had sentimental value I hoped it might be restorable, but was told that would cost more than buying another rod; then I discovered a local fly-fishing store where I picked up a used bamboo fly rod for $100.

When I first tried casting the new rod, it was a revelation to me how much “feel” it had. There was spring to the rod tip, and I could actually feel the line running through the line guides for the first time! It was then I realized that all these years, I had been using a brittle and stiff old bamboo which did not allow me to improve my fly-casting technique. There was a HUGE difference in the new rod! In fact it is surprising I was able to cast the older rod at all!

Long story short– I became re-enthused about fly fishing and began going out frequently, and discovered I could find the bass in shallow water, even in July! A couple of good spots were below where the eagles sit on their high pine tree perches and keep watch on the water. The occasional bass was interested in my small (panfish-sized) topwater poppers even late into the morning. I wasn’t catching fish every time I went out, but I was really enjoying feeling my fly-cast improve, now that I had a responsive rod to play with. Besides, I can combine rowing exercise with the fun of fishing, because I fish from my rowing shell.

The two baby eagles of this year fledged at the first of July, and often I can hear and catch glimpses of them while I float fish and fly-cast offshore of their island. Within a week or so of leaving the nest, they had mastered the art of flight and were looking very graceful in the air, though they were still practicing landings. They sometimes sit in the same trees their parents prefer, over the water.

AND– just yesterday, I was row-fishing and in order to increase my distance, I was slow-rowing and trolling a bug on the surface which was sort of like a muddler minnow. I’d had nothing while casting it except tiny fish jumping over it or breaking the surface next to it, so I started trolling around a large island to check out the shallows. I rounded a point moving into s steady breeze rowing upwind when suddenly my fly line began to be stripped out of the reel. (I must row with the rod lying out the stern of the craft, while clamping the handle down with my foot so it won’t be totally loose in the boat.)

I grabbed the rod and gave it a good pull, and it felt like a bowling ball was on the other end. But it WAS a fish, and it was strong and diving as deep as it could. I played it and let our line whenever it pulled really hard, as my boat began drifting back downwind but fortunately I wasn’t blowing towards shore. (The leader on my line I figure is about 6-8 lbs. test; it started out as 4 but what with losing the tapered tip over time and retying, it was not so fine as when it was new.)

Finally I got the fish to surface enough that I could see it; I was starting to wonder if I had hooked a salmon, but it was a smallmouth and a large one. At last I got it into the net and admired its heft and weight. It was 16 inches long to the fork of the tail, and I figured at least 5 pounds, which is as large as any I have caught in Lake Winnipesaukee– maybe the largest! As I released it I felt that my day had been made. Funny thing, in 3 hours of fishing and 2 hours of trolling that same lure, nothing else came along except tiny baby bass. Fishing is often funny like that! Rowing nearly five miles was wonderful!

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