Vermont. February 01, 2011. One should never assume what one will catch while using a fly rod. The name of the game is fishing but it is not always fish that end up at the end of the line. While watching the blowing snow that insures there will be no flyfishing any time soon I thought about the curious catches other than sticks, twigs, rocks and leaves that I have made over the years.
First there are the birds. They along with trout eat insects and many species are bug catching experts like the swallows, chickadees, cedar wax wings and phoebes. They compete with fish for their favorite foods. There is something about a well tied insect imitation that some winged critters can’t resist.
One funny incident was a chickadee that raced a trout for my fly, swooping in and trying to take the insect as it settled on the water. In this case the trout was quicker to the fly and while the chickadee flew off to wait for another target I had a fish on. On two other occasions a swallow and a chickadee each captured my fly imitation at the point in the back cast where the fly is sitting still. Since they were not hooked the birds were easily released unharmed.
Enter seagulls that can be a nuisance surprise flyfishing for striped bass and blue fish. When game fish drive a school of bait fish to the surface while feeding not only do the fish feed but so do sea gulls and terns. When casting to churning fish the gulls are hovering and diving into the water to get their fair share. This seagull managed to get the fly line draped across its body and I was forced to reel it in. Seagulls bite, not hard but they do not take kindly to being reeled in on a fly rod. Despite all of its commotion, my friend held it while I removed the fly and released the bird.
Dragonflies are a bug eating species both in their underwater life form and as winged adults. On this particular day I discovered another dragonfly peculiarity. Dragonflies are stubborn. When this dragonfly first appeared it snatched my fly right out of the air on the forward cast and flew straight on until it felt the tug when it reached the end of the line. It flew in three different straight line directions and then tried its full repertoire of flight directions up, down, sideways and backward before letting the fly drop to the water. The dragonfly vibrated like a living miniature kite at the end of my line.
When they are in hot pursuit of prey dragonfly wings cause a unique clattering buzz so I heard the next attack coming from behind me. This time the dragonfly buzzed full speed along the pool chasing the artificial fly. Just as the flyline straightened out and my fly was about to settle on the water the dragonfly caught it and kept right on going with its prize. When the fly line became taut the dragonfly was yanked to a dead stop and its momentum flipped it upside down, head over tin cups into the stream. It struggled unsteadily out of the water and flew away on shaky wings. The next two attacks were tentative and the fly was never touched so not only are dragonflies stubborn but they learn from experience.
The next fish competitor for bugs is the bat. Sometimes you can swear there are no fish in the river until a heavy insect hatch gets underway and where there were no fish suddenly there are many. I had fishlessly worked up the river until I reached a covered bridge with a nice deep run along one side. As the sun sank lower the evening caddis hatch got underway. Once the hatch started there were insects everywhere and bingo the trout started feeding. Two nice fish rose along the edge of the deep run. I selected my fly, tied it on, waded into the right casting position and cast to the fish in the gather gloom under the bridge. Something took the fly and I felt a jerk at the end of the line. Something splashed into the water and then to my amazement my line lifted up into the air. When I pulled my line in it was a bat, still flying up in the air and it was excitedly unhappy.
My thoughts were alarmist. Didn’t all bats have rabies? Whenever a realistic answer to a problem escapes me my mind wanders. In this case I wondered if the were a Bats Unlimited organization and whether they would expect me to release the bat unharmed. All I wanted was the bat to be off my line. During my inattention the current swept the bat downstream and when I pulled my line back up to deal with the situation I was please to find the bat had released itself.
So you can have interesting memories of fishing with or without fish and despite my gloomy state of mind with the blowing snow outside on this bitter January day, I feel better.
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David Deen is River Steward for the Connecticut River Watershed Council. CRC has been a protector of the Connecticut River for more than half a century.