Monday, September 26, 2005

Fly Fish with Mel: One Fish Is All It Takes To Make My Day

Catskills Work on Peacock Bass

Third day in a row that I've been fishing. Back at 'White House' today but with a twist.

Today, I left all my heavy gear home and went with only my sidearm, my trusty Sage SPL 0-wt.

The reason: To test if Catskills style dry flies work on Peacock Bass.

Arriving dark and early, Jimmy and I went through the usual routine of rigging up as we walked down the slope to the water's edge.

Unlike yesterday, there was hardly a whisper of a breeze. The Water Striders were already up and about; gracefully waltzing across a mirror calm surface. In the pre-dawn, darkness, you can only see the gentle rippling of the surface as they skimmed around.

Unlike yesterday, there was not a single rise. I was about to begin fishing; blind. Not knowing where a fish might be lurking. I only wished for a tell-tale sign.

I placed the first probing cast to where I knew would be the best bet for a peacock bass to be hiding; close to the bank. As the tiny #16 Red Quill softly landed in the water, I retrieved my line till I saw my 4x tippet come tight to the fly and the smallest of ripples emanate from it. Then, I let it sit.

Silently, vulnerably it sat on the surface but not a hint of movement. Using a figure-of-eight retrieve, I worked the fly across the water then roll cast it a little further than the first cast. Again, all quiet on the waterfront.

By now, the sun had eased itself partially above the horizon. In the growing light, a shadow vaguely caught my sight. As the water refracted what little light there was, the shallow depth remained cloak in shadow; hiding all that knew how to be still.

Using my peripheral vision, I scanned the shadowy depth for that one minute movement that would give my furtive adversary away.

Then, there it was. Three faint, black bars against a lighter surface hardly moving a hair's-breadth but movement nonetheless.

I lifted the fly and sailed it back through the air. Flicking the rod at the end of my backcast, I shook off what water had collected in the hackles then propelled the fly towards the lurking shadow.

Landing 3 feet behind the fish, I twitched the fly back across its back but it did not even glance. A haul and cast placed the fly just beyond the fish. This time, it turned but not an inch closer. I waited for the ripples from the fly to dissipate then twitched the fly again. The shadow rose from the dark depths and the unmistakable form of a Peacock Bass revealed itself. Two more quick, successive twitches and the fish lunged at the fly.

My rod hand and line hand drifted apart in one swift motion to set the hook firmly. Now, the surface of the water reverberated with the struggles of the desperate peacock bass.

Though only a small specimen, the fish felt like a 5-pounder on my very well-seasoned rod. Each swipe of its tail telegraphed through the line and the rod bucked and bowed in response. In the end, the 4x tippet held out and I triumphantly raised the fly-weight fighter up for a few victory shots.

The fly was well and truly inhaled. It was set at the back of the mouth between the gills. With a pair of forceps, I removed the fly and attached it lightly to the lip of the fish for another shot before releasing the lovely fish back to its watery abode.

That was to be the only fish I caught the whole morning but it was one that really made my day.