Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Losing my virginity on the Miramichi

You may have seen the movie Dances with Wolves...and perhaps you've heard of the "running with the bulls" that takes place in Pamplona, Spain, every year.

Well, now I'll share with you a new experience: snickered at by salmon.

There's nothing quite like it ... especially when you can almost swear they're sticking their tongues out at you as they jump all around your boat. But I'm getting ahead of myself, here.

So after learning to tie flies two days ago, then getting a lesson in fly-casting the next day, it was time to put all that learning to the ultimate test: it was time to try to catch fish with a fly rod.
My technique needs work ...

As I've mentioned previously, I've never fly-fished before, never even held a fly rod in my hand.

But today, I am no longer a fly-fishing virgin.

However, whether or not the loss of this virginity was a pleasant experience all depends on how you define "pleasant."

I was the last of our group to head out; the first two came back with no bites, but some good photos and videos of other anglers landing salmon. The next two both caught big fish (and have the pictures to prove it).

Then, it was my turn.

I headed out with Brian Peterson, my guide for the afternoon, and we zipped down the Miramichi River to our first pool of the day.

And once I began casting, it was obvious that my technique needed some work. I only tangled the line, oh, 10 or 12 times (the first 15 minutes) and missed my guide with every cast but one (hey, it was barely embedded into the back of his shell, and came out easily leaving just a pinprick of a hole - and like Brian said, "Couldn't have been that bad if I didn't feel it...")

The fish were there - they were jumping - they just weren't jumping to bite my fly.
Guide Brian Peterson steers us downriver

At one point, needing to take some pictures and videos of someone actually fishing, I traded places with Brian and he started casting.

That's when a salmon nailed the hook.

Brian said, "You want to play this one?" and so of course, I immediately exchanged my camera for the rod.

It was about a three to four pound fish I had on my line. Following Brian's exhortations, I kept the tip of my rod pointed up and and the line tight. The fish jumped - once, then twice - a beautiful flash of piscine silver splashing in and out of the water, as I worked to reel him in.

He got closer and closer ... Brian got the net ready to bring him into the boat ... and then the fish spit out the fly and was gone.

No, I don't have pictures or videos to prove it - other than the one featured here of Brian asking me if I want to play it - so you'll just have to take my word for it.

Lemmee at that fish!

And another thing: unless you're a New Brunswick resident, and unless the fish you catch is a grilse (a salmon that has returned to fresh water after a single winter at sea) the practice for all salmon fishing on the Miramichi is catch-and-release.

So as far as I'm concerned, I caught it - I just released it a bit earlier than is usual, that's all. And, hey - don't a lot of virgins have a problem with early release?

Anyway, they continued to jump, tease and at least metaphorically, if not literally, stick their tongues out at us. No more bites were forthcoming, even though my casting did improve a bit over the course of the 2-1/2 hours I spent on the river.

Still, it was a good day. I spent it on the river, and to modify that old maxim about fishing, a bad day spent on the river beats a good day doing pretty much anything else. And this was anything but a bad day.

And like another fly fishing guide, Bev Gaston, told us: "A day spent fishing the Miramichi doesn't count as a day of your life."

So I not only did my bit to prolong the lives of Miramichi salmon, I also added a day to mine.

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